Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
Duchesse Blanche
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
(See full text.)

IT happed that I came on a day
Into a place, there that I say,
Truly the fairest companey
Of ladies that ever man with eye
Had seen together in one place,—        5
Shall I clepe it hap or grace?
Among these ladies thus each one
Sooth to say I saw one
That was like none of the rout,
For I dare swear without doubt,        10
That as the summer’s Sunne bright
Is fairer, clearer, and hath more light
Than any other planet in Heaven,
The moone, or the starres seven,
For all the world, so had she        15
Surmounten them all of beauty,
Of manner, and of comeliness,
Of stature, and of well set gladnesse,
Of goodly heed, and so well besey,— 1
Shortly what shall I more say,        20
By God, and by his holowes 2 twelve,
It was my sweet, right all herselve.
She had so stedfast countenance
In noble port and maintenance,
And Love that well harde my bone 3        25
Had espied me thus soone,
That she full soone in my thought
As, help me God, so was I caught
So suddenly that I ne took
No manner counsel but at her look,        30
And at my heart for why her eyen
So gladly I trow mine heart, seyen
That purely then mine own thought
Said, ’Twere better to serve her for nought
Than with another to be well.        35
I saw her dance so comely,
Carol and sing so swetely,
Laugh and play so womanly,
And look so debonairly,
So goodly speak, and so friendly,        40
That certes I trow that evermore
N’as seen so blissful a treasore,
For every hair on her head,
Sooth to say, it was not red,
Nor neither yellow nor brown it n’as,        45
Methought most like gold it was,
And such eyen my lady had,
Debonnaire, good, glad, and sad,
Simple, of good mokel, 4 not too wide,
Thereto her look was not aside,        50
Nor overtwhart, but beset so well
It drew and took up every dell.
All that on her ’gan behold
Her eyen seemed anon she would
Have mercy,—folly wenden 5 so,        55
But it was never the rather do.
It was no counterfeited thing
It was her own pure looking
That the goddess Dame Nature
Had made them open by measure        60
And close; for, were she never so glad
Her looking was not foolish sprad 6
Nor wildly, though that she played;
But ever methought her eyen said
By God my wrath is all forgive.        65
Therewith her list so well to live,
That dulness was of her adrad,
She n’as too sober ne too glad;
In all thinges more measure
Had never I trowe creature,        70
But many one with her look she hurt,
And that sat her full little at herte:
For she knew nothing of their thought,
But whether she knew, or knew it not,
Alway she ne cared for them a stree; 7        75
To get her love no near n’as he
That woned 8 at home, than he in Inde,
The foremost was alway behinde;
But good folk over all other
She loved as man may his brother,        80
Of which love she was wonder large,
In skilful places that bear charge:
But what a visage had she thereto,
Alas! my heart is wonder wo
That I not can describen it;—        85
Me lacketh both English and wit
For to undo it at the full.
And eke my spirits be so dull
So great a thing for to devise,
I have not wit that can suffice        90
To comprehend her beauté,
But thus much I dare saine, that she
Was white, ruddy, fresh, and lifely hued,
And every day her beauty newed.
And nigh her face was alderbest; 9        95
For, certes, Nature had such lest
To make that fair, that truly she
Was her chief patron of beauté,
And chief example of all her worke
And moulter: 10 for, be it never so derke,        100
Methinks I see her evermo,
And yet, moreover, though all tho
That ever lived were now alive,
Not would have founde to descrive
In all her face a wicked sign,—        105
For it was sad, simple, and benign.
And such a goodly sweet speech
Had that sweet, my life’s leech,
So friendly, and so well y-grounded
Upon all reason, so well founded,        110
And so treatable to all good,
That I dare swear well by the rood,
Of eloquence was never found
So sweet a sounding faconde, 11
Nor truer tongued nor scornèd less,        115
Nor bét 12 could heal, that, by the Mass
I durst swear, though the Pope it sung,
There was never yet through her tongue
Man or woman greatly harmèd
As for her was all harm hid,        120
No lassie flattering in her worde,
That, purely, her simple record
Was found as true as any bond,
Or truth of any man’es hand.
Her throat, as I have now memory,        125
Seemed as a round tower of ivory,
Of good greatness, and not too great,
And fair white she hete 13
That was my lady’s name right,
She was thereto fair and bright,        130
She had not her name wrong,
Right fair shoulders, and body long
She had, and armes ever lith
Fattish, fleshy, not great therewith,
Right white hands and nailès red        135
Round breasts, and of good brede 14
Her lippes were; a straight flat back,
I knew on her none other lack,
That all her limbs were pure snowing
In as far as I had knowing.        140
Thereto she could so well play
What that her list, that I dare say
That was like to torch bright
That every man may take of light
Enough, and it hath never the less        145
Of manner and of comeliness.
Right so fared my lady dear
For every wight of her mannere
Might catch enough if that he would
If he had eyes her to behold        150
For I dare swear well if that she
Had among ten thousand be,
She would have been at the best,
A chief mirror of all the feast
Though they had stood in a row        155
To men’s eyen that could know,
For whereso men had played or waked,
Methought the fellowship as naked
Without her, that I saw once
As a crown without stones.        160
Truely she was to mine eye
The solein 15 phœnix of Araby,
For there liveth never but one,
Nor such as she ne know I none.
To speak of goodness, truely she        165
Had as much debonnairte
As ever had Hester in the Bible,
And more, if more were possible;
And sooth to say therewithal
She had a wit so general,        170
So well inclinèd to all good
That all her wit was set by the rood,
Without malice, upon gladness,
And thereto I saw never yet a less
Harmful than she was in doing.        175
I say not that she not had knowing
What harm was, or else she
Had known no good, so thinketh me:
And truly, for to speak of truth
But she had had, it had been ruth,        180
Therefore she had so much her dell
And I dare say, and swear it well
That Truth himself over all and all
Had chose his manor principal
In her that was his resting place;        185
Thereto she had the moste grace
To have stedfast perseverance
And easy attempre governance
That ever I knew or wist yet
So pure suffraunt was her wit.        190
Note 1. Beseen, appearing. [back]
Note 2. Saints. [back]
Note 3. Boon, petition. [back]
Note 4. Quantity. [back]
Note 5. Thought. [back]
Note 6. Spread. [back]
Note 7. Straw. [back]
Note 8. Lived. [back]
Note 9. Best of all. [back]
Note 10. Monster. [back]
Note 11. Eloquence. [back]
Note 12. Better. [back]
Note 13. Was called. [back]
Note 14. Breadth. [back]
Note 15. Sole. [back]

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