Chaucer's Works (ed. Skeat) Vol. I/Notes XVIII
[ Text of the Poem ]
XVIII. Compleynt of Venus.
This poem has frequently been printed as if it formed a part of The Compleynt of Mars; but it is a separate poem, and belongs to a later period.
The Compleynt of Mars is an original poem; but the present poem is a translation, being partly adapted, and partly translated from three Balades by Sir Otes de Graunson (l. 82). The original Balades have been lately recovered by Dr. Piaget, and are printed below the text. See the Introduction.
It consists of three Ballads and an Envoy, and bears a strong resemblance, in metrical form, to the poem on Fortune, each Ballad having three stanzas of eight lines each, with a refrain. It differs from 'Fortune' only in the arrangement of the rimes, which occur in the order a b a b b c c b, instead of (as in Fortune) in the order a b a b b c b c. One rime (in -aunce) occurs in the second Ballad as well as in the first; but this is quite an accidental detail, of no importance. It must be remembered that the metre was not chosen by Chaucer, but by Graunson. The Envoy, which alone is original, consists of ten lines, rimed a a b a a b b a a b. This arrangement is very unusual. See further in the note to l. 82.
In the MSS. T. and A. we have notes of some importance, writtenby Shirley. T. has:—'The Compleynt of Venus. And filowing begynnethe a balade translated out of frenshe in-to englisshe by Chaucier, Geffrey; the frenshe made sir Otes de Grauntsome, knight Savosyen.' A. has:—'Here begynnethe a balade made by that worthy Knight of Savoye in frenshe, calde sir Otes Graunson; translated by Chauciers.' At the end of the copy in T. is:—'Hit is sayde that Graunsome made this last balade for Venus, resembled to my lady of york; aunswering the complaynt of Mars.' We certainly find that Chaucer has materially altered the first of the three Balades; so perhaps he wished to please his patron. But the title (probably not Chaucer's) is a bad one. See the Introduction. Cf. note to l. 73.
1. We must suppose Venus, i. e. the lady, to be the speaker. Hence the subject of the first Ballad is the worthiness of the lover of Venus, in another word, of Mars; indeed, in Julian Notary's edition, the poem is headed 'The Compleint of Venus for Mars.' But Mars is merely to be taken as a general type of true knighthood.
I have written the general subject of each Ballad at the head of each, merely for convenience. The subjects are:—(1) The Lover's worthiness; (2) Disquietude caused by Jealousy; (3) Satisfaction in Constancy. We thus have three movements, expressive of Admiration, Passing Doubt, and Reassurance.
The lady here expresses, when in a pensive mood, the comfort she finds in the feeling that her lover is worthy; for every one praises his excellence.
9. This portrait of a worthy knight should be placed side by side with that of a worthy lady, viz. Constance. See Man of Law's Tale, B 162-8.
11. Wold, willed. The later E. would is dead, as a past participle, and only survives as a past tense. It is scarce even in Middle English, but occurs in P. Plowman, B. xv. 258—'if God hadde wolde [better wold] hym-selue.' See also Leg. Good Women, 1209, and note.
22. Aventure, luck; in this case, good luck.
23. Here is certainly a false rime; Chaucer nowhere else rimes -oure with -ure. But the conditions under which the poem was written were quite exceptional (see note to l. 79); so that this is no proof that the poem is spurious. There is a false rime in Sir Topas, Group B, l. 2092 (see my note).
25. In this second Ballad or Movement, an element of disturbance is introduced; jealous suspicions arise, but are put aside. Like the third Ballad, it is addressed to Love, which occurs, in the vocative case, in ll. 25, 49, and 57.
The lady says it is but suitable that lovers should have to pay dearly for 'the noble thing,' i. e. for the valuable treasure of having a worthy lover. They pay for it by various feelings and expressions of disquietude.
26. Men, one; the impersonal pronoun; quite as applicable to a woman as to a man. Cf. F. on.
31. The French text shews that we must read Pleyne, not Pleye; besides, it makes better sense. This correction is due to Mr. Paget Toynbee; see his Specimens of Old French, p. 492.
33. 'May Jealousy be hanged, for she is so inquisitive that she would like to know everything. She suspects everything, however innocent.' Such is the general sense.
37. The final e in lov-e is sounded, being preserved from elision by the cæsura. The sense is—'so dearly is love purchased in (return for) what he gives; he often gives inordinately, but bestows more sorrow than pleasure.'
46. Nouncerteyn, uncertainty; as in Troilus, i. 337. A parallel formation to nounpower, impotence, which occurs in Chaucer's tr. of Boethius, bk. iii. pr. 5, l. 14.
49. In this third Ballad, Venus says she is glad to continue in her love, and contemns jealousy. She is thankful for her good fortune, and will never repent her choice.
50. Lace, snare, entanglement. Chaucer speaks of the lace of love, and the lace of Venus; Kn. Tale, 959, 1093 (A 1817, 1951).
52. To lete of, to leave off, desist.
56. All the MSS. read never; yet I believe it should be nat (not).
62. 'Let the jealous (i. e. Jealousy) put it to the test, (and so prove) that I will never, for any woe, change my mind.'
69. Wey, highroad. Wente, footpath.
70. The reading ye, for I, is out of the question; for herte is addressed as thou. So in l. 66, we must needs read thee, not you.
73. Princess. As the MSS. vary between Princesse and Princes, it is difficult to know whether the Envoy is addressed to a princess or to princes. It is true that Fortune seems to be addressed to three princes collectively, but this is unusual, and due to the peculiar form of that Envoy, which is supposed to be spoken by Fortune, not by the author. Moreover, the MSS. of Fortune have only the readings Princes and Princis; not one of them has Princesse.
The present case seems different. Chaucer would naturally address his Envoy, in the usual manner, to a single person. The use of your and ye is merely the complimentary way of addressing a person of rank. The singular number seems implied by the use of the word benignitee; 'receive this complaint, addressed to your benignity in accordance with my small skill.' Your benignity seems to be used here much as we say your grace, your highness, your majesty. The plural would (if this be so) be your benignitees; cf. Troil. v. 1859. There is no hint at all of the plural number.
But if the right reading be princess, we see that Shirley's statement (see p. 560, l. 6) should rather have referred to Chaucer, who may have produced this adaptation at the request of 'my lady of York.' Princesses are usually scarce, but 'my lady of York' had the best of claims to the title, as she was daughter to no less a person than Pedro, king of Spain. She died in 1394 (Dugdale's Baronage, ii. 154; Stowe's Annales, 1605, p. 496); and this Envoy may have been written in 1393.
76. Eld, old age. See a similar allusion in Lenvoy to Scogan, 35, 38.
79. Penaunce, great trouble. The great trouble was caused, not by Chaucer's having any difficulty in finding rimes (witness his other Ballads), but in having to find rimes, to translate somewhat closely, and yet to adapt the poem in a way acceptable to the 'princess,' all at once. See further in the Introduction.
Chaucer's translation of the A B C should be compared; for there, in every stanza, he begins by translating rather closely, but ends by deviating widely from the original in many instances, merely because he wanted to find rimes to words which he had already selected.
Moreover, the difficulty was much increased by the great number of lines ending with the same rime. There are but 8 different endings in the 72 lines of the poem, viz. 6 lines ending in -ure, -able, -yse, and -ay, and 12 in -aunce, -esse, -ing, and -ente. In the Envoy, Chaucer purposely limits himself to 2 endings, viz. -ee and -aunce, as a proof of his skill.
81. Curiositee, i. e. intricacy of metre. The line is too long. I would read To folwe in word the curiositee; and thus get rid of the puzzling phrase word by word, which looks like a gloss.
82. Graunson. He is here called the flower of the poets of France. He was, accordingly, not an Englishman. According to Shirley, he was a knight of Savoy, which is correct. Sir Oto de Graunson received an annuity of £126 13s. 4d. from Richard II., in November, 1393, for services rendered; see the mention of him in the Patent Rolls, 17 Rich. II., p. 1, no. 339, sixth skin; printed in Furnivall's Trial Forewords, p. 123. It is there expressly said that his sovereign seigneur was the Count of Savoy, but he had taken an oath of allegiance to the king of England. The same Graunson received a payment from Richard in 1372, and at other times. See the article by Dr. Piaget referred to in the Introduction.