Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Flower and the Leaf
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 13401400)
Poems commonly attributed to Chaucer
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
The Flower and the Leaf, written, according to internal evidence, by a lady, and about 1450, follows out a fancy of French origin which had already in Chaucers time found its way into the stock poetical material of the age, and to which he makes reference in The Legende of Goode Women.
But helpeth, ye that han conning and might,
Ye lovers, that can make of sentëment;
In this case oughtë ye be diligent
To ferthren me somewhat in my labour,
Whether ye been with the leafe or with the flour.
The followers of the Flower
Are such folk that loved idlenesse,
And not deliten in no businesse,
But for to hunte and hauke and play in medes
And many other suchlike idle dedes:
whereas the company of the Leaf, wearing laurel chaplets, whose lusty green may not appaired be by winter storms or frosts, represent the brave and steadfast of all ages, the great knights and champions, the constant lovers and pure women of past and present times.
The poem opens with the usual spring morning, and the description of a woodland arbour hedged round with sycamore and eglantine, and haunted with the songs of birds. Thence the poet sees the rival companies of the Flower and the Leaf scattered over the plain outside, and describes their dresses and equipments with a length and wearisome detail which would alone mark off the poem from Chaucers work. A storm comes on, which drenches the flower-chaplets and green dresses of Floras train, while it leaves those of the Leaf unharmed. These bring shelter and friendly help to the followers of the Flower, and then the two companies pass singing out of sight, and a fair lady, herself a servant of the Leaf, explains to the poet the meaning of the vision.
Drydens paraphrase of this poem, which he of course believed to be by Chaucer, is well known.
[The author having passed a sleepless night, though why she knows not, as she has neither sickness nor disease, wanders out early.]