Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
 
Extracts from The Romaunt of the Rose
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
 
        
Poems commonly attributed to Chaucer

Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
  
  IT has already been said that Chaucer translated the Romaunt, and that a version has been current under his name for centuries. There is only one MS. of this translation, in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow, so that we have no means of comparing texts, and thus settling the difficult questions that have been raised about it. As it stands, the poem contains various features which, in the opinion of the most advanced school of Chaucerian criticism, mark it out as being not Chaucer’s; the principal difficulty being connected with the rhymes, some of which seem to be irreconcileable with Chaucer’s principles of pronunciation. The question cannot be properly discussed here, but in deference to what seems to be the balance of opinion we quote the Romaunt under the head of ‘Poems attributed to Chaucer.’ The passage given is remarkable as the original of the ‘May morning’ passages which abound in Chaucer and his successors. Whether by Chaucer or not, it is a vigorous and exact rendering of the French.

THAT it was May me thoughtë tho, 1
It is .v. yere or more ago;
That it was May, thus dremëd me,
In tyme of love and jolité,
That al thing gynneth waxen gay,        5
For ther is neither busk nor hay 2
In May, that it nyl shrouded been,
And it with newë levës wreen. 3
These wodës eek recoveren grene,
That drie in wynter ben to sene;        10
And the erth wexith proud withalle,
For swotë dewes that on it falle;
And the pore estat forget,
In which that wynter had it set.
And than bycometh the ground so proud,        15
That it wole have a newë shroud,
And makith so queynt his robe and faire,
That it had hewes an hundred payre,
Of gras and flouris, ynde and pers, 4
And many hewës full dyvers:        20
That is the robe I mene, iwis,
Through which the ground to preisen is.
  The briddës, that han left her song,
While thei han suffrid cold so strong
In wedres gryl 5 and derk to sighte,        25
Ben in May for the sonnë brighte,
So glade, that they shewe in syngyng,
That in her hertis is sich lykyng,
That they mote syngen and be light.
Than doth the nyghtyngale hir myght,        30
To mak noyse, and syngen blythe.
Than is blisful many sithe, 6
The chelaundre, 7 and the papyngay.
Than youngë folk entenden ay,
For to ben gay and amorous,        35
The tyme is than so savorous.
  Hard is the hert that loveth nought
In May, whan al this mirth is wrought;
Whan he may on these braunches here
The smalë briddës syngen clere        40
Her blisful swetë song pitous,
And in this sesoun delytous:
Whan love affraieth 8 alle thing.
  Methought a nyght, in my sleping,
Right in my bed ful redily,        45
That it was by the morowe erly,
And up I roos, and gan me clothe;
Anoon I wissh 9 myn hondis bothe;
A sylvre nedle forth I drough
Out of an aguler 10 queynt ynough,        50
And gan this nedle threde anon;
For out of toun me list to gon,
The song of briddës for to here
That in thise buskës syngen clere,
And in the swete seson that leve is;        55
With a threde bastyng my slevis,
Alone I wente in my playing,
The smalë foulës song harknyng.
They peyned hem ful many peyre,
To synge on bowës blosmed feyre. 11        60
Joly and gay, ful of gladnesse,
Toward a ryver gan I me dresse,
That I herd rennë fastë by;
For fairer playing non saugh I
Than playen me by that ryvere,        65
For from an hille that stood ther nere,
Cam doun the streme ful stif and bold,
Cleer was the water, and as cold
As any welle is, sooth to seyn,
And somdele lasse 12 it was than Seyn,        70
but it was straiter, wel-away!
And never saugh I, er that day,
The watir that so wel lyked me;
And wondir glad was I to se
That lusty place, and that ryvere;        75
And with that watir that ran so clere
My face I wissh. Tho saugh I wel,
The botme paved everydel 13
With gravel, ful of stonës shene.
The medewe softë, swote, and grene,        80
Beet right up on the watir-syde.
Ful clere was than the morow-tyde,
And ful attempre, out of drede. 14
Tho gan I walke thorough the mede,
Downward ay in my pleying,        85
The ryver-syde costeying. 15
 
Note 1. then. [back]
Note 2. hedge. [back]
Note 3. cover. [back]
Note 4. azure and blue-gray. [back]
Note 5. horrible storms. [back]
Note 6. times. [back]
Note 7. goldfinch. [back]
Note 8. disturbs. [back]
Note 9. washed. [back]
Note 10. needle-case. [back]
Note 11. blossomed fair. [back]
Note 12. less. [back]
Note 13. everywhere. [back]
Note 14. attempered, without doubt. [back]
Note 15. following. [back]
 
 
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