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THE PROLOGE OF NINE GOODE WYMMEN.

ATHOUSANDE tymes I have herde telle,
That there ys joy in hevene, and peyne in helle,
And I acorde wel that it ys so;
But, natheles, yet wot I wel also,
That ther nis noon dwellyng in this countree,
That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe,
Ne may of hit noon other weyes witen,
But as he hath herd seyd, or founde it writen;
For by assay ther may no man it preve.

But God forbede but men shulde leve
Wel more thing than men han seen with eye!
Men shal not wenen every thing a lye .
But yf himselfe yt seeth, or elles dooth;
For, God wot, thing is never the lasse sooth,
Thogh every wight ne may it not ysee.
Bernarde, the monke, ne saugh nat al parde!1
Than mote we to bokes that we fynde,
(Thurgh which that olde thinges ben in mynde)

1 In the margin of Fairfax MS. 16 is written in red letters the following gloss:—' Bernardus monachus non vidit omnia.' This appears to have been a proverbial expression of equivocal import, meaning either that however wise St. Bernard may have been, there were yet some things which had escaped him; or, with a sly inuendo, that St. Bernard asserted more than he ever saw, and that his statements are, therefore, to be taken cum gram eaUs. St. Bernard is considered the last of the Fathers. He was born in 1091, at the Castle of Fontaine, within half a league of Dijon, and died on the zoth of August, 1153. His father was of the family of the Counts of Chatillon; his mother was Elizabeth, daughter of the Count of Montbard. At the age of z2he resolved to embrace the monastic profession, and by his extraordinary powers of persuasion induced his uncle, and other members of his family who came to dissuade him from his purpose, to join with him in founding a more than usually severe order of monachism. He and his infant community, by the labour of their own hands, changed the rugged valley of Absinthus into an agricultural paradise, and raised, in the midst of the wilderness, the first few sheds, which afterwards expanded into the Abbey of Clairvaulx. Here his father tallowed him to die, in 1117, His works are chiefly sermons explanatory of scripture. But, though he was well versed in the Latin classics, his style is entirely spoiled by being interwoven with the Hebraisms of the Scriptural language.

And to the doctrine of these olde wyae,
Yeve credence, in every skylful wise,
That tellen of these olde appreved stories,
Of holynes, of regnes, of victories,
Of love, of hate, and other sondry thynges,
Of whiche I may not maken rehersynges:
And yf that olde bokes were awey,
Ylorne were of remembraunce the key.
Well ought us, thanne, honouren and beleve
These bokes, ther we han noon other preve.

And as for me, though that I konne but lyte,
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 yt be seldome on the holy day,
Save, certeynly, whan that the monethe of May
Is comen, and that I here the foules synge,
And that the floures gynnen for to sprynge,
Farwel my boke, and my devotion,!1

Now have I thanne suche a condition,
That of al the floures in the mede,
Thanne love I most these floures white and rede,
Suche as men callen daysyes2 in our toune.
To hem have I so grete affeccioun,
As I seyde erst, whanne comen is the May,
That, in my bed ther daweth me no day,
That I nam uppe and walkyng in the mede,
To seen this floure ayein the sunne sprede,
Whanne it up ryseth erly by the morwe;
That blisfull sight softeneth al my sorwe,

■ What an interesting picture does tbe great poet here give of his tastes! His books occupy all his leisure, and for them he is content to forego the pleasures of society; but when May returns, and the landscape puts on its summer garb, his devotion to his books is superseded by his still more ardent devotion to Nature.

3 See vol. ii. p. J6j, note 2.

So glad am I, whan that I have presence
Of it, to doon it alle reverence,
As she that is of alle floures flour,
Fulfilled of al vertue and honour,
And evei-e ylike faire, and fressh of hewe.
And I love it, and ever ylike newe,
And ever shal, til that myn herte dye;
Al swere I nat, of this I wol nat lye, \
Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve^A \
And, whan that hit ys eve, I renne blyve,
As sone as evere the sunne gynneth weste,
To seen this flour, how it wol go to reste,
For fere of nyght, so hateth she derkenesse!
Hire chere is pleynly sprad in the brightnesse
Of the sunne, for ther yt wol unclose.
Allas, that I ne had Englyssh, ryme, or prose,
SufEsant this flour to preyse aryght!
But helpeth ye that han konnyng and myght,
Ye lovers, that kan make of sentement;
In this case oght ye be diligent,
To forthren me somewhat in my labour,
Whether ye ben with the leef or with the flour,1
For wel I wot, that ye han herbeforne
Of makynge ropen, and lad awey the corne;
And I come after, glening here and there,
And am ful glad yf I may fynde an ere
Of any goodly word that ye han left.
And thogh it happen me rehercen eft
That ye han in your fressh songes seyede,
Forbereth me, and beth not evele apayede,
Syn that ye see I do yt in the honour
Of love, and eke in service of the flour,
Whom that I serve as I have witte or myghte.
She is the clerenesse and the verray lyghte,

1 Thia is an allusion to the allegory upon which is founded the poem Of The Flower and Vie LeaJ.—See vol. iy. p. J48

Vol. in. v

That in this derke world me wynt and ledyth,
The herte in with my sorwful brest yow1 dredith,
And loveth so sore, that ye ben, verrayly,
The maistres of my witte, and nothing I.
My worde, my werkes, ys knyt so in youre bonde
That as an harpe obeieth to the honde,
That maketh it soune after his fyngerynge,
Ryght so mowe ye oute of myne herte bringe
Swich vois, ryght as yow lyst, to laughe or pleyne;'
Be ye my gide, and lady sovereyne.
As to myn erthely God, to yow I calle,
Bothe in this werke, and in my sorwes alle.

But wherfore that I spak to yeve credence
To olde stories, and doon hem reverence,
And that men mosten more thyng beleve
Then they may seen at eighe'or elles preve,
That slial I seyn, whanne that I see my tyme;
I may nat all attones speke in ryme.
My besy gost, that trusteth alwey newe,
To seen this flour so yong, so fressh of hewe,
Constreyned me with so gredy desire,
That in myn herte I feele yet the fire,
That made me to ryse er yt wer day,
And this was now the firste morwe of May,
With dredful herte, and glad devocion,
For to ben at the resurreccion
Of this flour, whan that yt shulde unclose
Agayne the sunne, that roos as rede as rose,
That in the brest was of the beste that day,
That Agenores doughter" ladde away.

1 Here the poet addresses the lady directly in the second person.

2 The poet compares his heart to a harp, from which his mistress evokes such music as she pleases, whether joyful or sad. This idea has been often imitated by modern poets.

3 Agenorts dmigltter was Europa, and the beast which led her away, that is, took her captive, was the bull into whose shape Jupiter transformed himself. By this periphrasis is meant that the sun had now entered Taurus, that is, that it was May.

And doune on knees anoon ryght I me sette,

And as I koude, this fressh flour I grette,

Knelyng alwey, til it unclosed was,

Upon the smale, softe, swote gras,

That was with floures swote embrouded al,

Of swich swetenesse, and swich odour over al,

That for to speke of gomme, or herbe, or tree,

Comparison may noon ymaked be;

For yt surmounteth pleynly alle odoures,

And of riche beaute of floures.

Forgeten had the erthe his pore estate

Of wynter, that him naked made and mate,

And with his swerd of colde so sore greved;

Now hath thattempre sunne al that releved

That naked was, and clad yt new agayn.

The smale foules, of the seson fayn,

That of the panter and the nette ben scaped,

Upon the foweler, that hem made awhaped

In winter, and distroyed hadde hire broode,

In his dispite hem thoghte yt did hem goode

To synge of hym, and in hire songe dispise

The foule cherle, that for his coveytise,

Had hem betrayed with his sophistrye.

This was hire songe, ' The foweler we deffye,

And al his crafte.'1 And somme songen clere

Layes of love, that joye it was to here,

In worshippyng and preysing of hire make;

And, for the newe blisful someres sake,

Upon the braunches ful of blosmes softe,

In hire delyt, they turned hem ful ofte,

1 The picture drawn iu this passage belongs to mediaeval times, and foreign countries. It can scarcely be said to have a counterpart in modern English life. In the classical and middle ages small birds were a common article of food, as they are on the Continent at the present time, and the season for catching them with a panter, or bagnet, was winter, when the scarcity of food made them tame. The poet here represents their songs in the spring, as the expression of their exultation at having baffled the stratagems, quaintly termed sophistries, by which the fowler had endeavoured to allure them to their destruction.

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