THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN
THE PROLOGE OF .IX. GOODE WIMMEN.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #25
A thousand tymes have I herd men telle, That ther is Ioye in heven, and peyne in helle; And I acorde wel that hit is so; But natheles, yit wot I wel also, That ther nis noon dwelling in this contree, That either hath in heven or helle y-be, Ne may of hit non other weyes witen, But as he hath herd seyd, or founde hit writen; For by assay ther may no man hit preve. 10 But god forbede but men should leve Wel more thing then men han seen with ye! Men shal nat wenen every-thing a lye But-if him-self hit seeth, or elles dooth; For, god wot, thing is never the lasse sooth, Thogh every wight ne may hit nat y-see. Bernard the monk ne saugh nat al, parde!
Than mote we to bokes that we finde, Through which that olde thinges been in minde. And to the doctrine of these olde wyse, 20 Yeve credence, in every skilful wyse, That tellen of these olde appreved stories, Of holinesse, or regnes, of victories, Of love, of hate, of other sundry thinges, Of whiche I may not maken rehersinges. And if that olde bokes were a-weye, Y-loren were of remembraunce the keye. Wel oghte us than honouren and beleve These bokes, ther we han non other preve.
And as for me, thogh that I can but lyte, 30 On bokes for to rede I me delyte, And to hem yeve I feyth and ful credence, And in myn herte have hem in reverence So hertely, that ther is game noon That fro my bokes maketh me to goon, But hit be seldom, on the holyday; Save, certeynly, whan that the month of May Is comen, and that I here the foules singe, And that the floures ginnen for to springe, Farwel my book and my devocioun!
40 Now have I than swich a condicioun, That, of alle the floures in the mede, Than love I most these floures whyte and rede, Swiche as men callen daysies in our toun. To hem have I so great affeccioun, As I seyde erst, whan comen is the May, That in my bed ther daweth me no day That I nam up, and walking in the mede To seen this flour agein the sonne sprede, Whan hit upryseth erly by the morwe; 50 That blisful sighte softneth al my sorwe, So glad am I whan that I have presence Of hit, to doon al maner reverence, As she, that is of alle floures flour, Fulfilled of al vertu and honour, And ever y-lyke fair, and fresh of hewe; And I love hit, and ever y-lyke newe, And ever shal, til that myn herte dye; Al swete I nat, of this I wol nat lye, Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve.
60 And whan that hit is eve, I renne blyve, As sone as ever the sonne ginneth weste, To seen this flour, how it wol go to reste, For fere of night, so hateth she derknesse! Hir chere is pleynly sprad in the brightnesse Of the sonne, for ther hit wol unclose. Allas! that I ne had English, ryme or prose, Suffisant this flour to preyse aright! But helpeth, ye that han conning and might, Ye lovers, that can make of sentement; 70 In this cas oghte ye be diligent To forthren me somwhat in my labour, Whether ye ben with the leef or with the flour. For wel I wot, that ye han her-biforn Of making ropen, and lad awey the corn; And I come after, glening here and there, And am ful glad if I may finde an ere Of any goodly word that ye han left. And thogh it happen me rehercen eft That ye han in your fresshe songes sayd, 80 For-bereth me, and beth nat evel apayd, Sin that ye see I do hit in the honour Of love, and eek in service of the flour, Whom that I serve as I have wit or might. She is the clerness and the verray light, That in this derke worlde me wynt and ledeth, The herte in-with my sorowful brest yow dredeth, And loveth so sore, that ye ben verrayly The maistresse of my wit, and nothing I. My word, my werk, is knit so in your bonde, 90 That, as an harpe obeyeth to the honde And maketh hit soune after his fingeringe, Right so mowe ye out of myn herte bringe Swich vois, right as yow list, to laughte or pleyne. Be ye my gyde and lady sovereyne; As to myn erthly god, to yow I calle, Bothe in this werke and in my sorwes alle.
But wherfor that I spak, to give credence To olde stories, and doon hem reverence, And that men mosten more thing beleve 100 Then men may seen at eye or elles preve? That shal I seyn, whan that I see my tyme; I may not al at ones speke in ryme. My besy gost, that thrusteth alwey newe To seen this flour so yong, so fresh of hewe, Constreyned me with so gledy desyr, That in my herte I fele yit the fyr, That made me to ryse er hit wer day -- And this was now the firste morwe of May -- With dredful herte and glad devocioun, 110 For to ben at the resureccioun Of this flour, whan that it shuld unclose Agayn the sonne, that roos as rede as rose, That in the brest was of the beste that day, That Agenores doghter ladde away. And doun on knees anon-right I me sette, And, as I coude, this fresshe flour I grette; Kneling alwey, til hit unclosed was, Upon the smale softe swote gras, That was with floures swote enbrouded al, 120 Of swich swetnesse and swich odour over-al, That, for to speke of gomme, or herbe, or tree, Comparisoun may noon y-maked be; For hit surmounteth pleynly alle odoures, And eek of riche beautee alle floures. Forgeten had the erthe his pore estat Of winter, that him naked made and mat, And with his swerd of cold so sore greved; Now hath the atempre sonne al that releved That naked was, and clad hit new agayn. 130 The smale foules, of the seson fayn, That from the panter and the net ben scaped, Upon the fouler, that hem made a-whaped In winter, and distroyed had hir brood, In his despyt, hem thoughte hit did hem good To singe of him, and in hir song despyse The foule cherl that, for his covetyse, Had hem betrayed with his sophistrye. This was hir song -- "the fouler we defye, And al his craft!" And somme songen clere 140 Layes of love, and Ioye hit was to here, In worshipinge and preisinge of hir make. And, for the newe blisful somers sake, Upon the braunches ful of blosmes softe, In hir delyt, they turned hem ful ofte, And songen, "blessed be seynt Valentyn! For on his day I chees yow to be myn, Withouten repenting, myn herte swete!" And therwith-al hir bekes gonnen mete, Yelding honour and humble obeisaunces 150 love, and diden hir other observaunces That longeth unto love and to nature; Construeth that as yow list, I do no cure.
And tho that hadde doon unkindenesse -- As dooth the tydif, for new-fangelnesse -- Besoghte mercy of hir trespassinge, And humblely songen hir repentinge, And sworen on the blosmes to be trewe, So that hir makes wolde upon hem rewe, And at the laste maden hir acord. 160 Al founde they Daunger for a tyme a lord, Yet Pitee, through his stronge gentil might, Forgaf, and made Mercy passen Right, Through innocence and ruled curtesye. But I ne clepe nat innocence folye, Ne fals pitee, for "vertu is the mene," As Etik saith, in swich maner I mene. And thus thise foules, voide of al malyce, Acordeden to love, and laften vyce Of hate, and songen alle of oon acord, 170 "Welcome, somer, our governour and lord!"
And Zephirus and Flora gentilly Yaf to the floures, softe and tenderly, Hir swote breth, and made hem for to sprede, As god and goddesse of the floury mede; In which me thoghte I mighte, day by day, Dwellen alwey, the Ioly month of May, Withouten sleep, withouten mete or drinke. A-doun ful softely I gan to sinke; And, leninge on myn elbowe and my syde, 180 The longe day I shoop me for to abyde For nothing elles, and I shal nat lye, But for to loke upon the dayesye, That wel by reson men hit calle may The "dayesye" or elles the "ye of day", The emperice and flour of floures alle. I pray to god that faire mot she falle, And alle that loven floures, for hir sake! But natheles, ne wene nat that I make In preysing of the flour agayn the leef, 190 No more than of the corn agayn the sheef: For, as to me, nis lever noon ne lother; I nam with-holden yit with never nother. Ne I not who serveth leef, ne who the flour; Wel brouken they hir service or labour; For this thing is al of anther tonne, Of olde story, er swich thing was be-gonne.
Whan that the sonne out of the south gan weste, And that this flour gan close and goon to reste For derknesse of the night, the which she dredde, 200 Hoom to myn hous ful swiftly I me spedde To goon to reste, and erly for to ryse, To seen this flour to sprede, as I devyse. And, in a litel herber that I have, That benched was on turves fresshe y-grave, I bad men sholde me my couche make; For deyntee of the newe someres sake, I bad hem strawen floures on my bed. Whan I was leyd, and had myn eyen hed, I fel on slepe in-with an houre or two; 210 Me mette how I lay in the medew tho, To seen this flour that I love so drede. And from a-fer com walking in the mede The god of love, and in his hande a quene; And she was clad in real habit grene. A fret of gold she hadde next hir heer, And upon that a whyt coroun she beer With florouns smale, and I shal nat lye; For al the world, ryght as a dayesye Y-corouned is with whyte leves lyte, 220 So were the florouns of hir coroun whyte; For of a perle fyne, oriental, Hir whyte coroun was y-maked al; For which the whyte coroun, above the grene, Made hir lyk a daysie for to sene, Considered eek hir feet of gold above.
Y-clothed was this mighty god of love In silke, enbrouded ful of grene greves, In-with a fret of rede rose-leves, The fresshest sin the world was first bigonne. 230 His gilte heer was corouned with a sonne, In-stede of gold, for hevinesse and wighte; Therwith me thoughte his face shoon so brighte That wel unnethes mighte I him beholde; And in his hande me thoughte I saugh him holde Two fyry dartes, as the gledes rede; And aungellyke his winges suagh I sprede. And al be that men seyn that blind is he, Al-gate me thoughte that he mighte see; For sternly on me he gan biholde, 240 So that his loking doth myn herte colde. And by the hande he held this noble quene, Corouned with whyte, and clothed al in grene, So womanly, so benigne, and so meke, That in this world, thogh that men wolde seke, Half hir beautee shulde men nat finde In creature that formed is by kinde. And therfor may I seyn, as thinketh me, This song, in preysing of this lady fre.