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

Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
  The Court of Love (date about 1500) is a poem of the Chaucerian school, containing many echoes of Chaucer, and making distinct reference to The Compleynte of Pite and The Legende of Goode Women. ‘Philogenet, of Cambridge Clerk,’ who, in the days of unreflecting Chaucerian criticism, was always supposed to represent the young Chaucer himself, repairs to the Court of Venus, where he finds Admetus and Alceste, the heroine of The Legende of Goode Women, with her ‘ladies good nineteene’ presiding over the Castle of Love. The Queen’s handmaid Philobone takes him in charge and shows him the wonders of the place. He swears allegiance to the Twenty Statutes of Love, and is then introduced to the Lady Rosial, with whom he has already fallen in love in his dream, and whose presence inspires him with long protestations of devotion. Rosial is for the time obdurate, and sends him away again with Philobone to wait her pleasure. After a graphic description of the Courtiers of Love, an unequal but vigorous piece of writing, there appears to be a break in the poem, for we find ourselves suddenly in the middle of a tender speech of Rosial, who describes how Pite, risen from the shrine in which Philogenet had seen her buried within the temple of Venus, had softened her breast towards him. The poem ends with one of the favourite bird-scenes of the time, a curious paraphrase of the Matins for Trinity Sunday. This song in honour of Love, sung on May morning by a chorus of birds, should be compared with the last scenes of the Parlement of Foules.
  The first of the following extracts, a beautiful sketch of Privy Thought or Fancy, among the Courtiers of Love, is full of delicate imagination, and represents the author better than the tedious Statutes of Love, or the hymn to Venus, taken from Boethius, of which his master, Chaucer, had before him made more successful use. The second piece, which represents the close of the May festival, is so characteristic of the school of poetry and of the time, that it will bear quoting, in spite of its conventionality.

AND Prevye Thought, rejoycing of hym-self,
Stode not fer thens in abite mervelous;
‘Yon is,’ thought I, ‘som sprite or [els] som elf,
His sotill image is so curious:
How is,’ quod I, ‘that he is shaded thus        5
With yonder cloth, I note 1 of what coloure?’
And nere I went and gan to lere and pore,
And framed him a question full hard.
‘What is,’ quod I, ‘the thyng thou lovest best?
Or what is bote 2 unto thy paynës hard?        10
Me think thou livest here in grete unrest,
Thow wandrest ay from south to est and west,
And est to north; as fer as I can see,
There is no place in courte may holden the.
‘Whom folowest thow? where is thy harte iset?        15
But my demaunde asoile 3 I thee require.’
‘Me thoughte,’ quod he, ‘no creature may lette
Me to ben here and where as I desire:
For where as absence hath don out the fire,
My mery thought it kyndelith yet agayn,        20
That bodily me thinke with my souverayne
‘I stand and speke, and laugh, and kisse, and halse, 4
So that my thought comforteth me ful ofte:
I think, God wot, though all the world be false,
I wil be trewe; I think also how softe        25
My lady is in speche, and this on-lofte
Bryngeth myn harte in joye and grete gladnesse;
This prevey thought alayeth myne hevynesse.
‘And what I thinke or where to be, no man
In all this erth can tell, iwis, but I:        30
And eke there nys no swalowe swifte, ne swan
So wight 5 of wyng, ne half so yerne 6 can flye;
For I can ben, and that right sodenly,
In Heven, in Helle, in Paradise, and here,
And with my lady, whan I wil desire.        35
‘I am of councell ferre and wide, I wot,
With lord and lady, and here 7 privité
I wot it all; and be it cold or hoot,
Thay shalle not speke withoute licence of me.
I mynde, in suche as sesonable 8 bee,        40
Tho 9 first the thing is thought withyn the harte,
Er any worde out from the mouth astarte.’
*        *        *        *        *
And furth the cokkowe gan procede anon,
With ‘Benedictus’ thankyng God in haste,
That in this May wold visite hem echon,        45
And gladden hem all while the feste shall laste:
And therewithal a loughter out he braste,
‘I thanke it God that I shuld ende the song,
And all the service which hath ben so long.’
Thus sange thay all the service of the feste,        50
And that was done right erly, to my dome; 10
And furth goth all the courte, bothe moste and leste,
To feche the flourës fressh, and braunche and blome;
And namly hawthorn brought both page and grome,
With fressh garlantis, partie blewe and white,        55
And hem rejoysen in her grete delite.
Eke eche at other threw the flourës brighte,
The prymerose, the violet, and the golde; 11
So than, as I beheld the riall 12 sighte,
My lady gan me sodenly beholde,        60
And with a trewe love, plited many-folde,
She smote me thrugh the very harte as blive, 13
And Venus yet I thanke I am alive.
Note 1. know not. [back]
Note 2. remedy. [back]
Note 3. absolve, solve. [back]
Note 4. embrace. [back]
Note 5. swift. [back]
Note 6. eagerly, briskly. [back]
Note 7. their. [back]
Note 8. ripe for, inclined to love. [back]
Note 9. Then = when. [back]
Note 10. in my judgment. [back]
Note 11. marigold. [back]
Note 12. royal. [back]
Note 13. swiftly. [back]

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