THE PROLOGUE TO THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN.
difference of opinion exists as to the date at
which Chaucer wrote "The Legend of Good
Women." Those who would fix that date at a
period not long before the poet's death -- who
would place the poem, indeed, among his closing
labours -- support their opinion by the fact that the
Prologue recites most of Chaucer's principal
works, and glances, besides, at a long array of
other productions, too many to be fully catalogued.
But, on the other hand, it is objected that the
"Legend" makes no mention of "The Canterbury
Tales" as such; while two of those Tales -- the
Knight's and the Second Nun's -- are enumerated
by the titles which they bore as separate
compositions, before they were incorporated in the
great collection: "The Love of Palamon and
Arcite," and "The Life of Saint Cecile" (see note 1
to the Second Nun's tale). Tyrwhitt seems perfectly
justified in placing the composition of the poem
immediately before that of Chaucer's magnum
opus, and after the marriage of Richard II to his
first queen, Anne of Bohemia. That event took
place in 1382; and since it is to Anne that the poet
refers when he makes Alcestis bid him give his
poem to the queen "at Eltham or at Sheen," the
"Legend" could not have been written earlier. The
old editions tell us that "several ladies in the Court
took offence at Chaucer's large speeches against
the untruth of women; therefore the queen enjoin'd
him to compile this book in the commendation of
sundry maidens and wives, who show'd themselves
faithful to faithless men. This seems to have been
written after The Flower and the Leaf." Evidently it
was, for distinct references to that poem are to be
found in the Prologue; but more interesting is the
indication which it furnishes, that "Troilus and
Cressida" was the work, not of the poet's youth,
but of his maturer age. We could hardly expect the
queen -- whether of Love or of England -- to
demand seriously from Chaucer a retractation of
sentiments which he had expressed a full
generation before, and for which he had made
atonement by the splendid praises of true love sung
in "The Court of Love," "The Cuckoo and the
Nightingale," and other poems of youth and middle
life. But "Troilus and Cressida" is coupled with
"The Romance of the Rose," as one of the poems
which had given offence to the servants and the
God of Love; therefore we may suppose it to have
more prominently engaged courtly notice at a later
period of the poet's life, than even its undoubted
popularity could explain. At whatever date, or in
whatever circumstances, undertaken, "The Legend
of Good Women" is a fragment. There are several
signs that it was designed to contain the stories of
twenty-five ladies, although the number of the
good women is in the poem itself set down at
nineteen; but nine legends only were actually
composed, or have come down to us. They are,
those of Cleopatra Queen of Egypt (126 lines),
Thisbe of Babylon (218), Dido Queen of Carthage
(442), Hypsipyle and Medea (312), Lucrece of
Rome (206), Ariadne of Athens (340), Phiomela
(167), Phyllis (168), and Hypermnestra (162).
Prefixed to these stories, which are translated or
imitated from Ovid, is a Prologue containing 579
lines -- the only part of the "Legend" given in the
present edition. It is by far the most original, the
strongest, and most pleasing part of the poem; the
description of spring, and of his enjoyment of that
season, are in Chaucer's best manner; and the
political philosophy by which Alcestis mitigates the
wrath of Cupid, adds another to the abounding
proofs that, for his knowledge of the world,
Chaucer fairly merits the epithet of "many-sided"
which Shakespeare has won by his knowledge of
A THOUSAND times I have hearde tell,
That there is joy in heav'n, and pain in hell;
And I accord* it well that it is so;
But, natheless, yet wot* I well also,
That there is none dwelling in this country
That either hath in heav'n or hell y-be;*
Nor may of it no other wayes witten*
But as he hath heard said, or found it written;
For by assay* there may no man it preve.**
But God forbid but that men should believe
Well more thing than men have seen with eye!
Men shall not weenen ev'ry thing a lie
*But if* himself it seeth, or else do'th;
For, God wot, thing is never the less sooth,*
Though ev'ry wighte may it not y-see.
Bernard, the Monke, saw not all, pardie! <1>
Then muste we to bookes that we find
(Through which that olde thinges be in mind),
And to the doctrine of these olde wise,
Give credence, in ev'ry skilful* wise,
That tellen of these old approved stories,
Of holiness, of regnes,* of victories,
Of love, of hate, and other sundry things
Of which I may not make rehearsings;
And if that olde bookes were away,
Y-lorn were of all remembrance the key.
Well ought we, then, to honour and believe
These bookes, where we have none other preve.*
And as for me, though that I know but lite,*
On bookes for to read I me delight,
And to them give I faith and good credence,
And in my heart have them in reverence,
So heartily, that there is *game none* <2>
That from my bookes maketh me to go'n,
But it be seldom on the holyday;
Save, certainly, when that the month of May
Is comen, and I hear the fowles sing,
And that the flowers ginnen for to spring,
Farewell my book and my devotion!
Now have I then such a condition,
That, above all the flowers in the mead,
Then love I most these flowers white and red,
Such that men calle Day's-eyes in our town;
To them have I so great affectioun,
As I said erst, when comen is the May,
That in my bed there dawneth me no day
That I n'am* up, and walking in the mead,
To see this flow'r against the sunne spread,
When it upriseth early by the morrow;
That blissful sight softeneth all my sorrow,
So glad am I, when that I have presence
Of it, to do it alle reverence,
As she that is of alle flowers flow'r,
Fulfilled of all virtue and honour,
And ever alike fair, and fresh of hue;
As well in winter, as in summer new,
This love I ever, and shall until I die;
All* swear I not, of this I will not lie,
There loved no wight hotter in his life.
And when that it is eve, I runne blife,*
As soon as ever the sun begins to west,*
To see this flow'r, how it will go to rest,
For fear of night, so hateth she darkness!
Her cheer* is plainly spread in the brightness
Of the sunne, for there it will unclose.
Alas! that I had English, rhyme or prose,
Sufficient this flow'r to praise aright!
But help me, ye that have *cunning or might;* *skill
Ye lovers, that can make of sentiment,
In this case ought ye to be diligent
To further me somewhat in my labour,
Whether ye be with the Leaf or the Flow'r; <3>
For well I wot, that ye have herebefore
Of making ropen,* and led away the corn; <4>
And I come after, gleaning here and there,
And am full glad if I may find an ear
Of any goodly word that you have left.
And though it hap me to rehearsen eft*
What ye have in your freshe songes said,
Forbeare me, and be not *evil apaid,*
Since that ye see I do it in th'honour
Of love, and eke in service of the flow'r
Whom that I serve as I have wit or might. <5>
She is the clearness, and the very* light,
That in this darke world me winds* and leads; *turns,
The heart within my sorrowful breast you dreads,
And loves so sore, that ye be, verily,
The mistress of my wit, and nothing I.
My word, my works, are knit so in your bond,
That, as a harp obeyeth to the hand,
That makes it sound after his fingering,
Right so may ye out of my hearte bring
Such voice, right as you list, to laugh or plain;* *complain, mourn
Be ye my guide, and lady sovereign.
As to mine earthly god, to you I call,
Both in this work, and in my sorrows all.
But wherefore that I spake to give credence
To old stories, and do them reverence,
And that men muste more things believe
Than they may see at eye, or elles preve,*
That shall I say, when that I see my time;
I may not all at ones speak in rhyme.
My busy ghost,* that thirsteth always new
To see this flow'r so young, so fresh of hue,
Constrained me with so greedy desire,
That in my heart I feele yet the fire,
That made me to rise ere it were day, --
And this was now the first morrow of May, --
With dreadful heart, and glad devotion,
For to be at the resurrection
Of this flower, when that it should unclose
Against the sun, that rose as red as rose,
That in the breast was of the beast* that day *the sign of the Bull
That Agenore's daughter led away. <6>
And down on knees anon right I me set,
And as I could this freshe flow'r I gret,*
Kneeling alway, till it unclosed was,
Upon the smalle, softe, sweete grass,
That was with flowers sweet embroider'd all,
Of such sweetness and such odour *o'er all,*
That, for to speak of gum, or herb, or tree,
Comparison may none y-maked be;
For it surmounteth plainly all odours,
And for rich beauty the most gay of flow'rs.
Forgotten had the earth his poor estate
Of winter, that him naked made and mate,* *dejected,
And with his sword of cold so sore grieved;
Now hath th'attemper* sun all that releaved** *temperate **furnished
That naked was, and clad it new again.
anew with leaves
The smalle fowles, of the season fain,*
That of the panter* and the net be scap'd,
Upon the fowler, that them made awhap'd* *terrified,
In winter, and destroyed had their brood,
In his despite them thought it did them good
To sing of him, and in their song despise
The foule churl, that, for his covetise,*
Had them betrayed with his sophistry*
This was their song: "The fowler we defy,
And all his craft:" and some sunge clear
Layes of love, that joy it was to hear,
In worshipping* and praising of their make;** *honouring
And for the blissful newe summer's sake,
Upon the branches full of blossoms soft,
In their delight they turned them full oft,
And sunge, "Blessed be Saint Valentine! <7>
For on his day I chose you to be mine,
Withoute repenting, my hearte sweet."
And therewithal their heals began to meet,
Yielding honour, and humble obeisances,
To love, and did their other observances
That longen unto Love and to Nature;
Construe that as you list, I *do no cure.*
And those that hadde *done unkindeness,*
As doth the tidife, <8> for newfangleness, against natural
Besoughte mercy for their trespassing
And humblely sange their repenting,
And swore upon the blossoms to be true;
So that their mates would upon them rue,*
And at the laste made their accord.*
All* found they Danger** for a time a lord, *although
Yet Pity, through her stronge gentle might,
Forgave, and made mercy pass aright
Through Innocence, and ruled Courtesy.
But I ne call not innocence folly
Nor false pity, for virtue is the mean,
As Ethic <9> saith, in such manner I mean.
And thus these fowles, void of all malice,
Accorded unto Love, and lefte vice
Of hate, and sangen all of one accord,
"Welcome, Summer, our governor and lord!"
And Zephyrus and Flora gentilly
Gave to the flowers, soft and tenderly,
Their sweete breath, and made them for to spread,
As god and goddess of the flow'ry mead;
In which me thought I mighte, day by day,
Dwellen alway, the jolly month of May,
Withoute sleep, withoute meat or drink.
Adown full softly I began to sink,
And, leaning on mine elbow and my side
The longe day I shope* to abide,
For nothing elles, and I shall not lie
But for to look upon the daisy;
That men by reason well it calle may
The Daye's-eye, or else the Eye of Day,
The empress and the flow'r of flowers all
I pray to God that faire may she fall!
And all that love flowers, for her sake:
But, nathelesse, *ween not that I make* *do
not fancy that I
In praising of the Flow'r against the Leaf, write
No more than of the corn against the sheaf;
For as to me is lever none nor lother,
I n'am withholden yet with neither n'other.<10>
*Nor I n'ot* who serves Leaf, nor who the Flow'r; *nor do I know*
Well *brooke they* their service or labour! *may they profit
For this thing is all of another tun, <11>
Of old story, ere such thing was begun.
When that the sun out of the south gan west,
And that this flow'r gan close, and go to rest,
For darkness of the night, the which she dread;*
Home to my house full swiftly I me sped,
To go to rest, and early for to rise,
To see this flower spread, as I devise.*
And in a little arbour that I have,
That benched was of turfes fresh y-grave,* <12>
I bade men shoulde me my couche make;
For dainty* of the newe summer's sake,
I bade them strowe flowers on my bed.
When I was laid, and had mine eyen hid,
I fell asleep; within an hour or two,
Me mette* how I lay in the meadow tho,**
To see this flow'r that I love so and dread.
And from afar came walking in the mead
The God of Love, and in his hand a queen;
And she was clad in royal habit green;
A fret* of gold she hadde next her hair,
And upon that a white corown she bare,
With flowrons* small, and, as I shall not lie, *florets
For all the world right as a daisy
Y-crowned is, with white leaves lite,*
So were the flowrons of her crowne white.
For of one pearle, fine, oriential,
Her white crowne was y-maked all,
For which the white crown above the green
Made her like a daisy for to see'n,*
Consider'd eke her fret of gold above.
Y-clothed was this mighty God of Love
In silk embroider'd, full of greene greves,*
In which there was a fret of red rose leaves,
The freshest since the world was first begun.
His gilt hair was y-crowned with a sun,
lnstead of gold, for* heaviness and weight; *to
Therewith me thought his face shone so bright,
That well unnethes might I him behold;
And in his hand me thought I saw him hold
Two fiery dartes, as the gledes* red;
And angel-like his winges saw I spread.
And *all be* that men say that blind is he,
Algate* me thoughte that he might well see;
*at all events
For sternly upon me he gan behold,
So that his looking *did my hearte cold.*
*made my heart
And by the hand he held this noble queen,
Crowned with white, and clothed all in green,
So womanly, so benign, and so meek,
That in this worlde, though that men would seek.
Half of her beauty shoulde they not find
In creature that formed is by Kind;*
And therefore may I say, as thinketh me,
This song in praising of this lady free:
"Hide, Absolon, thy gilte* tresses clear;
Esther, lay thou thy meekness all adown;
Hide, Jonathan, all thy friendly mannere,
Penelope, and Marcia Catoun,<14>
Make of your wifehood no comparisoun;
Hide ye your beauties, Isoude <15> and Helene;
My lady comes, that all this may distain.*
"Thy faire body let it not appear,
Lavine; <16> and thou, Lucrece of Rome town;
And Polyxene, <17> that boughte love so dear,
And Cleopatra, with all thy passioun,
Hide ye your truth of love, and your renown;
And thou, Thisbe, that hadst of love such pain
My lady comes, that all this may distain.
"Hero, Dido, Laodamia, y-fere,*
And Phyllis, hanging for Demophoon,
And Canace, espied by thy cheer,
Hypsipyle, betrayed by Jasoun,
Make of your truthe neither boast nor soun';
Nor Hypermnestr' nor Ariadne, ye twain;
My lady comes, that all this may distain."
This ballad may full well y-sungen be,
As I have said erst, by my lady free;
For, certainly, all these may not suffice
*T'appaire with* my lady in no wise;
*surpass in beauty
For, as the sunne will the fire distain,
So passeth all my lady sovereign,
That is so good, so fair, so debonair,
I pray to God that ever fall her fair!
For *n'hadde comfort been* of her presence,
I not the
I had been dead, without any defence,
For dread of Love's wordes, and his cheer;
As, when time is, hereafter ye shall hear.
Behind this God of Love, upon the green,
I saw coming of Ladies nineteen,
In royal habit, a full easy pace;
And after them of women such a trace,*
That, since that God Adam had made of earth,
The thirde part of mankind, or the ferth,*
*Ne ween'd I not* by possibility,
*I never fancied*
Had ever in this wide world y-be;*
And true of love these women were each one.
Now whether was that a wonder thing, or non,*
That, right anon as that they gan espy
This flow'r, which that I call the daisy,
Full suddenly they stenten* all at once,
And kneeled down, as it were for the nonce,
And sange with one voice, "Heal and honour
To truth of womanhead, and to this flow'r,
*That bears our aller prize in figuring;*
*that in its figure bears
Her white crowne bears the witnessing!" the
prize from us all*
And with that word, *a-compass enviroun* *all around
in a ring*
They sette them full softely adown.
First sat the God of Love, and since* his queen, *afterwards
With the white corowne, clad in green;
And sithen* all the remnant by and by,
As they were of estate, full courteously;
And not a word was spoken in the place,
The mountance* of a furlong way of space.
I, kneeling by this flow'r, in good intent
Abode, to knowe what this people meant,
As still as any stone, till, at the last,
The God of Love on me his eyen cast,
And said, "Who kneeleth there? "and I answer'd
Unto his asking, when that I it heard,
And said, "It am I," and came to him near,
And salued* him. Quoth he, "What dost thou here,
So nigh mine owen flow'r, so boldely?
It were better worthy, truely,
A worm to nighe* near my flow'r than thou." *approach, draw
"And why, Sir," quoth I, "an' it liketh you?"
"For thou," quoth he, "art thereto nothing able,
It is my relic,* dign** and delectable, *emblem
And thou my foe, and all my folk warrayest,* *molestest, censurest
And of mine olde servants thou missayest,
And hind'rest them, with thy translation,
And lettest* folk from their devotion
To serve me, and holdest it folly
To serve Love; thou may'st it not deny;
For in plain text, withoute need of glose,*
Thu hast translated the Romance of the Rose,
That is a heresy against my law,
And maketh wise folk from me withdraw;
And of Cresside thou hast said as thee list,
That maketh men to women less to trust,
That be as true as e'er was any steel.
Of thine answer *advise thee right weel;* *consider
For though that thou *renied hast my lay,*
*abjured my law
As other wretches have done many a day,
By Sainte Venus, that my mother is,
If that thou live, thou shalt repente this,
So cruelly, that it shall well be seen."
Then spake this Lady, clothed all in green,
And saide, "God, right of your courtesy,
Ye mighte hearken if he can reply
Against all this, that ye have *to him meved;* *advanced against him*
A godde shoulde not be thus aggrieved,
But of his deity he shall be stable,
And thereto gracious and merciable.*
And if ye n'ere* a god, that knoweth all,
Then might it be, as I you telle shall,
This man to you may falsely be accused,
Whereas by right him ought to be excused;
For in your court is many a losengeour,*
And many a *quaint toteler accusour,*
*strange prating accuser <21>*
That tabour* in your eares many a soun',
Right after their imaginatioun,
To have your dalliance,* and for envy; *pleasant
These be the causes, and I shall not lie,
Envy is lavender* of the Court alway,
For she departeth neither night nor day <22>
Out of the house of Caesar, thus saith Dant';
Whoso that go'th, algate* she shall not want. *at
And eke, parauntre,* for this man is nice,** *peradventure **foolish
He mighte do it guessing* no malice; *thinking
For he useth thinges for to make;*
Him *recketh naught of * what mattere he take; *cares nothing for*
Or he was bidden *make thilke tway*
*compose those two*
Of* some person, and durst it not withsay;* *by
Or him repenteth utterly of this.
He hath not done so grievously amiss,
To translate what olde clerkes write,
As though that he of malice would endite,*
*Despite of* Love, and had himself it wrought. *contempt
This should a righteous lord have in his thought,
And not be like tyrants of Lombardy,
That have no regard but at tyranny.
For he that king or lord is naturel,
Him oughte not be tyrant or cruel, <23>
As is a farmer, <24> to do the harm he can;
He muste think, it is his liegeman,
And is his treasure, and his gold in coffer;
This is the sentence* of the philosopher: *opinion,
A king to keep his lieges in justice,
Withoute doubte that is his office.
All* will he keep his lords in their degree, --
As it is right and skilful* that they be,
Enhanced and honoured, and most dear,
For they be halfe* in this world here, --
Yet must he do both right to poor and rich,
All be that their estate be not y-lich;*
And have of poore folk compassion.
For lo! the gentle kind of the lion;
For when a fly offendeth him, or biteth,
He with his tail away the flye smiteth,
All easily; for of his gentery*
Him deigneth not to wreak him on a fly,
As doth a cur, or else another beast.
*In noble corage ought to be arrest,*
*in a noble nature ought
And weighen ev'rything by equity,
to be self-restraint*
And ever have regard to his degree.
For, Sir, it is no mastery for a lord
To damn* a man, without answer of word;
And for a lord, that is *full foul to use.*
*most infamous practice*
And it be so he* may him not excuse,
But asketh mercy with a dreadful* heart,
And proffereth him, right in his bare shirt,
To be right at your owen judgement,
Then ought a god, by short advisement,*
Consider his own honour, and his trespass;
For since no pow'r of death lies in this case,
You ought to be the lighter merciable;
Lette* your ire, and be somewhat tractable!
This man hath served you of his cunning,*
And further'd well your law in his making.* *composing
Albeit that he cannot well endite,
Yet hath he made lewed* folk delight
To serve you, in praising of your name.
He made the book that hight the House of Fame,
And eke the Death of Blanche the Duchess,
And the Parliament of Fowles, as I guess,
And all the Love of Palamon and Arcite, <25>
Of Thebes, though the story is known lite;*
And many a hymne for your holydays,
That highte ballads, roundels, virelays.
And, for to speak of other holiness,
He hath in prose translated Boece, <26>
And made the Life also of Saint Cecile;
He made also, gone is a greate while,
Origenes upon the Magdalene. <27>
Him oughte now to have the lesse pain;*
He hath made many a lay, and many a thing.
Now as ye be a god, and eke a king,
I your Alcestis, <28> whilom queen of Thrace,
I aske you this man, right of your grace,
That ye him never hurt in all his life;
And he shall sweare to you, and that blife,*
He shall no more aguilten* in this wise,
But shall maken, as ye will him devise,
Of women true in loving all their life,
Whereso ye will, of maiden or of wife,
And further you as much as he missaid
Or* in the Rose, or elles in Cresseide."
The God of Love answered her anon:
"Madame," quoth he, "it is so long agone
That I you knew, so charitable and true,
That never yet, since that the world was new,
To me ne found I better none than ye;
If that I woulde save my degree,
I may nor will not warne* your request;
All lies in you, do with him as you lest.
I all forgive withoute longer space;*
For he who gives a gift, or doth a grace,
Do it betimes, his thank is well the more; <29>
And deeme* ye what he shall do therefor.
Go thanke now my Lady here," quoth he.
I rose, and down I set me on my knee,
And saide thus; "Madame, the God above
Foryielde* you that ye the God of Love
Have made me his wrathe to forgive;
And grace* so longe for to live,
*give me grace
That I may knowe soothly what ye be,
That have me help'd, and put in this degree!
But truely I ween'd, as in this case,
Naught t' have aguilt,* nor done to Love trespass;** *offended
For why? a true man, withoute dread,
Hath not *to parte with* a thieve's deed.
*any share in*
Nor a true lover oughte me to blame,
Though that I spoke a false lover some shame.
They oughte rather with me for to hold,
For that I of Cressida wrote or told,
Or of the Rose, *what so mine author meant;*
*made a true translation*
Algate, God wot, it was mine intent
*by all ways
To further truth in love, and it cherice,*
And to beware from falseness and from vice,
By such example; this was my meaning."
And she answer'd; "Let be thine arguing,
For Love will not counterpleaded be <30>
In right nor wrong, and learne that of me;
Thou hast thy grace, and hold thee right thereto.
Now will I say what penance thou shalt do
For thy trespass;* and understand it here:
Thou shalt, while that thou livest, year by year,
The moste partie of thy time spend
In making of a glorious Legend
Of Goode Women, maidenes and wives,
That were true in loving all their lives;
And tell of false men that them betray,
That all their life do naught but assay
How many women they may do a shame;
For in your world that is now *held a game.* *considered a sport*
And though thou like not a lover be, <31>
Speak well of love; this penance give I thee.
And to the God of Love I shall so pray,
That he shall charge his servants, by any way,
To further thee, and well thy labour quite:*
Go now thy way, thy penance is but lite.
And, when this book ye make, give it the queen
On my behalf, at Eltham, or at Sheen."
The God of Love gan smile, and then he said:
"Know'st thou," quoth he, "whether this be wife or maid,
Or queen, or countess, or of what degree,
That hath so little penance given thee,
That hath deserved sorely for to smart?
But pity runneth soon in gentle* heart; <32>
That may'st thou see, she kitheth* what she is.
And I answer'd: "Nay, Sir, so have I bliss,
No more but that I see well she is good."
"That is a true tale, by my hood,"
Quoth Love; "and that thou knowest well, pardie!
If it be so that thou advise* thee.
Hast thou not in a book, li'th* in thy chest,
The greate goodness of the queen Alceste,
That turned was into a daisy
She that for her husbande chose to die,
And eke to go to hell rather than he;
And Hercules rescued her, pardie!
And brought her out of hell again to bliss?"
And I answer'd again, and saide; "Yes,
Now know I her; and is this good Alceste,
The daisy, and mine own hearte's rest?
Now feel I well the goodness of this wife,
That both after her death, and in her life,
Her greate bounty* doubleth her renown.
Well hath she quit* me mine affectioun
That I have to her flow'r the daisy;
No wonder is though Jove her stellify, <33>
As telleth Agathon, <34> for her goodness;
Her white crowne bears of it witness;
For all so many virtues hadde she
As smalle flowrons in her crowne be.
In remembrance of her, and in honour,
Cybele made the daisy, and the flow'r,
Y-crowned all with white, as men may see,
And Mars gave her a crowne red, pardie!
Instead of rubies set among the white."
Therewith this queen wax'd red for shame a lite
When she was praised so in her presence.
Then saide Love: "A full great negligence
Was it to thee, that ilke* time thou made
'Hide Absolon thy tresses,' in ballade,
That thou forgot her in thy song to set,
Since that thou art so greatly in her debt,
And knowest well that calendar* is she
To any woman that will lover be:
For she taught all the craft of true loving,
And namely* of wifehood the living,
And all the boundes that she ought to keep:
Thy little wit was thilke* time asleep.
But now I charge thee, upon thy life,
That in thy Legend thou make* of this wife, *poetise,
When thou hast other small y-made before;
And fare now well, I charge thee no more.
But ere I go, thus much I will thee tell, --
Never shall no true lover come in hell.
These other ladies, sitting here a-row,
Be in my ballad, if thou canst them know,
And in thy bookes all thou shalt them find;
Have them in thy Legend now all in mind;
I mean of them that be in thy knowing.
For here be twenty thousand more sitting
Than that thou knowest, goode women all,
And true of love, for aught that may befall;
Make the metres of them as thee lest;
I must go home, -- the sunne draweth west, --
To Paradise, with all this company:
And serve alway the freshe daisy.
At Cleopatra I will that thou begin,
And so forth, and my love so shalt thou win;
For let see now what man, that lover be,
Will do so strong a pain for love as she.
I wot well that thou may'st not all it rhyme,
That suche lovers didden in their time;
It were too long to readen and to hear;
Suffice me thou make in this mannere,
That thou rehearse of all their life the great,* *substance
After* these old authors list for to treat;
For whoso shall so many a story tell,
Say shortly, or he shall too longe dwell."
And with that word my bookes gan I take,
And right thus on my Legend gan I make.
Thus endeth the Prologue.
Notes to The prologue to The Legend of Good Women
1. Bernard, the Monke, saw not all, pardie!: a proverbial saying,
signifying that even the wisest, or those who claim to be the
wisest, cannot know everything. Saint Bernard, who was the
last, or among the last, of the Fathers, lived in the first half of
the twelfth century.
2. Compare Chaucer's account of his habits, in "The House of
3. See introductory note to "The Flower and the Leaf."
"ye have herebefore
Of making ropen, and led away the corn"
The meaning is, that the "lovers" have long ago said all that can
be said, by way of poetry, or "making" on the subject. See note
89 to "Troilus and Cressida" for the etymology of "making"
meaning "writing poetry."
5. The poet glides here into an address to his lady.
6. Europa was the daughter of Agenores, king of Phrygia. She
was carried away to Crete by Jupiter, disguised as a lovely and
tame bull, on whose back Europa mounted as she was sporting
with her maidens by the sea-shore. The story is beautifully told
in Horace, Odes, iii. 27.
7. See "The Assembly of Fowls," which was supposed to
happen on St. Valentine's day.
8. The tidife: The titmouse, or any
other small bird, which
sometimes brings up the cuckoo's young when its own have
been destroyed. See note 44 to "The Assembly of Fowls."
9. Ethic: the "Ethics" of Aristotle.
10. "For as to me is lever none nor lother,
I n'am withholden yet
with neither n'other."
i.e For as neither is more liked or disliked by me, I am not
bound by, holden to, either the one or the other.
11. All of another tun i.e. wine of another tun -- a quite
12. Compare the description of the arbour in "The Flower and
13. Flowrons: florets; little flowers on the disk of the main
flower; French "fleuron."
14. Mr Bell thinks that Chaucer here praises the complaisance
of Marcia, the wife of Cato, in complying with his will when he
made her over to his friend Hortensius. It would be in better
keeping with the spirit of the poet's praise, to believe that we
should read "Porcia Catoun" -- Porcia the daughter of Cato,
who was married to Brutus, and whose perfect wifehood has
been celebrated in The Franklin's Tale. See note 25 to the
15. Isoude: See note 21 to "The Assembly of Fowls".
16. Lavine: Lavinia, the heroine of the Aeneid, who became the
wife of Aeneas.
17. Polyxena, daughter of Priam, king of Troy, fell in
love with Achilles, and, when he was killed, she fled to the
Greek camp, and slew herself on the tomb of her hero-lover.
18. Mountance: extent, duration. See note 84 to "The House of
19. Relic: emblem; or cherished treasure; like the relics at
the shrines of saints.
20. Losengeour: deceiver. See note 31 to the Nun's Priest's
21. "Toteler" is an old form of the word "tatler," from the
Anglo-Saxon, "totaelan," to talk much, to tattle.
22. Envy is lavender of the court alway: a "lavender"
washerwoman or laundress; the word represents "meretrice"in
Dante's original -- meaning a courtezan; but we can well
understand that Chaucer thought it prudent, and at the same
time more true to the moral state of the English Court, to
change the character assigned to Envy. He means that Envy is
perpetually at Court, like some garrulous, bitter old woman
employed there in the most servile offices, who remains at her
post through all the changes among the courtiers. The passage
cited from Dante will be found in the "Inferno," canto xiii. 64 --
23. Chaucer says that the usurping lords who seized on the
government of the free Lombard cities, had no regard for any
rule of government save sheer tyranny --
but a natural lord, and
no usurper, ought not to be a tyrant.
24. Farmer: one who merely farms power or revenue for his
own purposes and his own gain.
25. This was the first version of the Knight's tale. See the
introductory note, above
26. Boece: Boethius' "De Consolatione Philosophiae;" to which
frequent reference is made in The Canterbury Tales. See, for
instances, note 91 to the Knight's Tale; and note 34 to the
27. A poem entitled "The Lamentation of Mary Magdalene,"
said to have been "taken out of St Origen," is included in the
editions of Chaucer; but its authenticity, and consequently its
identity with the poem here mentioned, are doubted.
28. For the story of Alcestis, see note 11 to "The Court of
29. "For he who gives a gift, or doth a grace,
Do it betimes,
his thank is well the more"
A paraphrase of the well-known proverb, "Bis dat qui cito dat."
("He gives twice who gives promptly")
30. The same prohibition occurs in the Fifteenth Statute of "The
Court of Love."
31. Chaucer is always careful to allege his abstinence from the
pursuits of gallantry; he does so prominently in "The Court of
Love," "The Assembly of Fowls," and "The House of
32. Pity runneth soon in gentle heart: the same is said of
Theseus, in The Knight's Tale, and of Canace, by the falcon, in
The Squire's Tale.
33. Stellify: assign to a place among the stars; as Jupiter did to
Andromeda and Cassiopeia.
34. Agathon: there was an Athenian dramatist of this name,
who might have made the virtues and fortunes of Alcestis his
theme; but the reference is too vague for the author to be
identified with any confidence.