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[ 266 ]

IX. THE FLOUR OF CURTESYE.

In Fevrier, whan the frosty mone
Was horned, ful of Phebus fyry light,
And that she gan to reyse her stremes sone,
Saint Valentyne! upon thy blisful night
Of duëtee, whan glad is every wight,       5
And foules chese (to voyde hir olde sorowe)
Everich his make, upon the nexte morowe;

The same tyme, I herde a larke singe
Ful lustely, agayn the morowe gray—
'Awake, ye lovers, out of your slombringe,       10
This gladde morowe, in al the haste ye may;
Some óbservaunce doth unto this day,
Your choise ayen of herte to renewe
In cónfirming, for ever to be trewe!

And ye that be, of chesing, at your large,       15
This lusty day, by custome of nature,
Take upon you the blisful holy charge
To serve lovë, whyl your lyf may dure,
With herte, body, and al your besy cure,
For evermore, as Venus and Cipryde       20
For you disposeth, and the god Cupyde.

For joye owe we playnly to obeye
Unto this lordes mighty ordinaunce,
[ 267 ]And, mercilesse, rather for to deye
Than ever in you be founden variaunce;       25
And, though your lyf be medled with grevaunce,
And, at your herte, closed be your wounde,
Beth alway one, ther-as ye are bounde!'

Thát whan I had herd, and listed longe,
With devout herte, the lusty melodye       30
Of this hevenly comfortable songe
So ágreable, as by harmonye,
I roos anon, and faste gan me hye
Toward a grove, and the way [gan] take
Foules to sene, everich chese his make.       35

And yet I was ful thursty in languisshing;
Myn ague was so fervent in his hete,
Whan Aurora, for drery complayning,
Can distille her cristal teres wete
Upon the soile, with silver dewe so swete;       40
For she [ne] durste, for shame, not apere
Under the light of Phebus bemes clere.

And so, for anguisshe of my paynes kene,
And for constraynte of my sighes sore,
I sette me doun under a laurer grene       45
Ful pitously; and alway more and more,
As I beheld into the holtes hore,
I gan complayne myn inward deedly smerte,
That ay so sore †crampisshed myn herte.

And whyl that I, in my drery payne,       50
Sat, and beheld aboute on every tree
The foules sitten, alway twayne and twayne,
Than thoughte I thus: 'alas! what may this be,
That every foul hath his libertee
Frely to chesen after his desyre       55
Everich his make thus, fro yeer to yere?
[ 268 ]
The sely wrenne, the titmose also,
The litel redbrest, have free eleccioun
To flyen y-ferë and †togider go
Wher-as hem liste, abouten enviroun,       60
As they of kynde have inclinacoun,
And as Nature, emperesse and gyde,
Of every thing, liste to provyde;

But man aloon, alas! the harde stounde!
Ful cruelly, by kyndes ordinaunce,       65
Constrayned is, and by statut bounde,
And debarred from alle such plesaunce.
What meneth this? What is this purveyaunce
Of god above, agayn al right of kynde,
Withoute cause, so narowe man to bynde?'       70

Thus may I [soothly] seen, and playne, alas!
My woful houre and my disaventure,
That dolefully stonde in the same cas
So fer behyndë, from al helth and cure.
My wounde abydeth lyk a sursanure;       75
For me Fortune so felly list dispose,
My harm is hid, that I dar not disclose.

For I my herte have set in suche a place
Wher I am never lykly for to spede;
So fer I am hindred from her grace       80
That, save daunger, I have non other mede.
And thus, alas! I not who shal me rede
Ne for myn helpe shape remedye,
For Male-bouche, and for false Envye:

The whiche twayne ay stondeth in my wey       85
Maliciously; and Fals Suspeccioun
Is very causë also that I dey,
Ginning and rote of my distruccioun;
So that I fele, [as] in conclusioun,
[ 269 ]With hir traynes that they wol me shende,       90
Of my labour that deth mot make an ende!

Yet, or I dye, with herte, wil, and thought
To god of lovë this avowe I make,
(As I best can, how dere that it be bought,
Wher-so it be, that I slepe or wake,       95
Whyl Boreas doth the leves shake)
As I have hight, playnly, til I sterve,
For wele or wo, that I shal [ay] her serve.

And, for her sake, now this holy tyme,
Saint Valentyne! somwhat shal I wryte       100
Al-though so be that I can not ryme,
Nor curiously by no crafte endyte,
Yet lever I have, that she putte the wyte
In unconning than in negligence,
What-ever I sayë of her excellence.       105

What-ever I saye, it is of duëtee,
In sothfastnesse and no presumpcioun;
This I ensure to you that shal it see,
That it is al under correccioun;
What I reherce in commendacioun       110
Of herë that I shal to you, as blyve,
So as I can, her vertues here discryve.—

¶ Right by example as the somer-sonne
Passeth the sterre with his bemes shene,
And Lucifer among the skyës donne       115
A-morowe sheweth to voyde nightes tene,
So verily, withouten any wene,
My lady passeth (who-so taketh hede)
Al tho alyve, to speke of womanhede.

And as the ruby hath the soveraintè       120
Of riche stones and the regalyë;
And [as] the rose, of swetnesse and beautè,
Of fresshe floures, withouten any lyë;
Right so, in sothe, with her goodly yë,
[ 270 ]She passeth al in bountee and fairnesse,       125
Of maner ekë, and of gentilnesse.

For she is bothe the fairest and the beste,
To reken al in very sothfastnesse;
For every vertue is in her at reste;
And furthermore, to speke of stedfastnesse,       130
She is the rotë; and of seemlinesse
The very mirrour; and of governaunce
To al example, withouten variaunce.

Of port benigne, and wonder glad of chere,
Having evermore her trewe advertence       135
Alway to reson; so that her desyre
Is brydeled ay by witte and providence;
Thereto, of wittë and of hy prudence
She is the wellë, ay devoide of pryde,
That unto vertue her-selven is the gyde!       140

And over this, in her daliaunce
Lowly she is, discret, wyse, [and secree],
And goodly gladde by attemperaunce,
That every wight, of high and low degree,
Are gladde in herte with her for to be;       145
Só that, shortly, if I shal not lye,
She named is 'The Flour of Curtesye.'

And there, to speke of femininitee,
The leste mannish in comparisoun,
Goodly abasshed, having ay pitee       150
Of hem that been in tribulacioun;
For she aloon is consolacioun
To al that arn in mischeef and in nede,
To comforte hem, of her womanhede.

And ay in vertue is her besy charge,       155
Sadde and demure, and but of wordes fewe;
Dredful also of tonges that ben large,
Eschewing ay hem that listen to hewe
Above hir heed, hir wordes for to shewe,
[ 271 ]Dishonestly to speke of any wight;       160
She deedly hateth of hem to have a sight.

The herte of whom so honest is and clene,
And her entent so faithful and entere
That she ne may, for al the world, sustene
To suffre her eres any word to here,       165
Of frend nor fo, neither fer ne nere,
Amis resowning, that hinder shulde his name;
And if she do, she wexeth reed for shame.

So trewëly in mening she is set,
Without chaunging or any doublenesse;       170
For bountee and beautee ar togider knet
In her personë, under faithfulnesse;
For void she is of newëfangelnesse;
In herte ay oon, for ever to perséver
Ther she is set, and never to dissever.       175

I am to rude her vertues everichoon
Cunningly [for] to discryve and wryte;
For wel ye wot, colour[es] have I noon
Lyk her discrecioun craftely t'endyte;
For what I sayë, al it is to lyte.       180
Whérfor to you thus I me excuse,
That I aqueynted am not with no muse!

By rethoryke my style to governe,
In her preyse and commendacioun,
I am to blind, so hyly to discerne,       185
Of her goodnesse to make discripcioun,
Save thus I sayë, in conclusioun,
If that I shal shortly [her] commende,
In her is naught that Nature can amende.

For good she is, lyk to Policene,       190
And, in fairnesse, to the quene Helayne;
Stedfast of herte, as was Dorigene,
[ 272 ]And wyfly trouthë, if I shal not fayne:
In constaunce eke and faith, she may attayne
To Cleopatre; and therto as †secree       195
As was of Troye the whyte Antigone;

As Hester meke; lyk Judith of prudence;
Kynde as Alceste or Marcia Catoun;
And to Grisilde lyk in pacience,
And Ariadne, of discrecioun;       200
And to Lucrece, that was of Rome toun,
She may be lykned, as for honestè;
And, for her faith, unto Penelope.

To faire Phyllis and to Hipsiphilee,
For innocencë and for womanhede;       205
For seemlinessë, unto Canacee;
And over this, to speke of goodlihede,
She passeth alle that I can of rede;
For worde and dede, that she naught ne falle,
Acorde in vertue, and her werkes alle.       210

For though that Dydo, with [her] witte sage,
Was in her tyme stedfast to Enee,
Of hastinesse yet she did outrage;
And so for Jason did also Medee.
But my lady is so avisee       215
That, bountee and beautee bothe in her demeyne,
She maketh bountee alway soverayne.

This is to mene, bountee goth afore,
Lad by prudence, and hath the soveraintee;
And beautee folweth, ruled by her lore,       220
That she †n'offendë her in no degree;
So that, in one, this goodly fresshe free
Surmounting al, withouten any were,
Is good and fair, in oon persone y-fere.

And though that I, for very ignoraunce,       225
Ne may discryve her vertues by and by,
[ 273 ]Yet on this day, for a rémembraunce,
Only supported under her mercy,
With quaking hondë, I shal ful humbly
To her hynesse, my rudenes for to quyte,       230
A litel balade here bineth endyte,

Ever as I can suppryse in my herte,
Alway with fere, betwixe drede and shame,
Lest out of lose any word asterte
In this metre, to make it seme lame;       235
Chaucer is deed, that hadde suche a name
Of fair making, that [was], withoute wene,
Fairest in our tonge, as the laurer grene.

We may assaye for to counterfete
His gaye style, but it wil not be;       240
The welle is drye, with the licour swete,
Bothe of Clio and of Caliopè;
And first of al, I wol excuse me
To her, that is [the] ground of goodlihede;
And thus I saye until hir womanhede:—       245

Balade simple.

¶ 'With al my mightë, and my beste entente,
With al the faith that mighty god of kynde
Me yaf, sith he me soule and knowing sente,
I chese, and to this bonde ever I me bynde,
To love you best, whyl I have lyf and mynde':—       250
Thus herde I foules in the dawëninge
Upon the day of saint Valentyne singe.

'Yet chese I, at the ginning, in this entente,
To love you, though I no mercy fynde;
And if you liste I dyed, I wolde assente,       255
As ever twinne I quik out of this lynde!
Suffyseth me to seen your fetheres ynde':—
[ 274 ]Thus herde I foules in the morweninge
Upon the day of saint Valentyne singe.

'And over this, myn hertes lust to-bente,       260
In honour only of the wodëbynde,
Hoolly I yeve, never to repente
In joye or wo, wher-so that I wynde
Tofore Cupyde, with his eyën blynde':—
The foules alle, whan Tytan did springe,       265
With dévout herte, me thoughte I herde singe!

Lenvoy.

¶ Princesse of beautee, to you I represente
This simple dytè, rude as in makinge,
Of herte and wil faithful in myn entente,
Lyk as, this day, [the] foules herde I singe.       270

Here endeth the Flour of Curtesye.


From Th. (Thynne, ed. 1532). Title: Th. The Floure of Curtesy; (ed. 1561 adds—made by Ihon Lidgate). I note here the rejected spellings. 1. Feverier. 2. firy. 3. streames. 5. dutie. 6. her. 7. Eueryche; next. 9. agayne. 11. glad. 12. dothe. 15. chosyng. 18. whyle; lyfe. 20. Cipride. 22. obey.

26. lyfe. 26. closet. 27. there. 29. herde. 30. deuoute. 32. ermonye. 33. rose. 34. Towarde; supply gan. 35. eueryche chose. 39. distyl; (read distille); chrystal teeres. 41. Supply ne. 42. beames. 45. set; downe. 47. behelde. 48. inwarde. 49. aye; crampessh at (read crampisshed). 50. whyle. 51. Sate; behelde; tre. 52. sytte (read sitten). 53. thought. 54. foule. 55. chose (read chesen). 56. Eueryche; yere to yere.

57. tytemose. 58. election. 59. togyther (read togider). 60. Where as; lyst aboute envyron. 61. inclynacion. 62. empresse (read emperesse). 63. lyst. 64. alone. 66. statute. 67. al suche. 69. agayne. 70. Without. 71. Supply soothly; sene. 73. doulfully; caas. 74. ferre. 75. lyke. 76. lyste. 77. harme; dare. 79. lykely. 80. ferre. 81. none. 83. myne. 85. aye. 86. false suspection. 88. distruction. 89. Supply as; conclusyon.

91. dethe mote. 94. howe. 95. Where so. 96. Whyle; dothe; leaues. 98. wel; supply ay. 99. nowe. 103. put. 106. say; dute (read duetee). 107. presumpcion. 108. se. 109. correction. 110. commendacion. 111. her (read here). 114. beames. 115. amonge. 122. Supply as; swetenesse. 123. without. 124. eye.

125. bountie; fayrenesse. 128. reken (read reknen?). 131. semelynesse. 136. reason. 137. aye. 138. hye. 139. aye. 142. discrete and wyse (read discret wyse; and supply secree for the rime). 144. lowe. 145. glad. 147. Floure. 148. femynyte (!). 149. mannyshe; comparison. 150. aye pyte. 151. ben; trybulacion. 152. alone; -cion. 153. arne; mischefe. 155. aye. 157. Dredeful. 158. aye. 159. her (twice.)

164. worlde. 165. eeres; worde. 166. frende; foe; ferre. 167. Amysse. 169. trewly; is in sette (om. in). 171. bountie; beautie are togyther knette. 173. voyde; newfanglenesse (or read voide and newfangelnesse). 174. aye one. 175. There; sette. 176. euerychone. 177. Supply for. 178. colour; none. 179. Lyke; to endyte. 180. say. 181. Wherfore. 184. commendacion. 185. blynde; hylye. 186. discrypcion. 187. say; conclusyon. 188. Supply her. 190. lyke. 191. fayrenesse.

193. wyfely. 194. faythe. 195. setrone (!); read secree (see note). 197. lyke. 198. Alcest. 199. lyke. 202. lykened. 203. faythe. 206. semelynesse; Canace. 208. al. 209, 210. fal, al. 211. Supply her. 216. bountie; beautie. 217. bountie. 218. meane bountie gothe. 220. beautie foloweth. 221. ne fende (!); degre. 222. fre. 224. fayre; one.

228. Onely. 230. rudenesse. 233. feare; betwyxt. 234. Leste; worde. 236. had. 237. fayre; supply was; without. 239. assay. 240. gay. 241. lycoure. 242. Clye (!). 244. Supply the; grounde. 245. say. 246. might; best entent. 247. faythe. 248. yaue; sent. 250. whyle; lyfe. 251. daunynge. 252, 259. saynte Valentyne (? om. saynte). 253. begynnyng (read ginning); entent. 255. assent. 256. quicke; lyne (misprint). 257. sene; fethers.

258. mornynge (for morweninge). 260. myne; luste. 261. onely; wodde bynde. 262. Holy. 263. where so. 265. al. 266. deuoute hert; thought. 267. Lenvoye. beautie; represent. 269. entent. 270. Lyke; supply the. Colophon: Floure; Curtesy.