The Last of Lydgate’s Lover


I have reached the last leg of this journey, and will be wrapping up Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” starting from where I left off last time.

And I as fast fel doun on my kne
And even thus to her I gan to preie:
“O lady Venus, so feire upon to se,
Let not this man for his trouthe dey,
For that joy thou haddest when thou ley
With Mars thi knyght, whom Vulcanus founde
And with a cheyne unvisible yow bounde

“Togedre both tweyne in the same while,
That al the court above celestial
At youre shame gan laughe and smyle.
O feire lady, wel-willy founde at al,
Comfort to carefull, O goddesse immortal,
Be helpyng now and do thy diligence
To let the stremes of thin influence

In the first stanza the narrator plays a common role as can be found in the Canterbury Tales, Troilus, Temple of Glas, and Confessio, among others, in which a speech to Venus is in order. However, unlike other instances, especially in cases that retell the discovery of Venus and Mars, here is one of the few instances that incorporates the public disquiet associated with the affair, along with the punishment Venus and Mars incurred.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Venus and Mars were having an affair, of which Venus’s husband, Vulcan, was suspicious. In an attempt to catch them he forges an invisible net that traps them while conducting their affair. While they remain ensnared, he gathers the other gods to come witness their shame. Generally this part is either left untold, or as within the Confessio, the lovers are seen in a more positive light. Lydgate quite brusquely makes mention of it, but without commentary, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusion.

This second stanza is a parallel to Troilus’s assessment of Venus in Book III, where he refers to “Venus mene I, the wel-willy planete” (line 1257).

“Descende doune in furtheryng of the trouthe,
Namely of hem that lie in sorow bounde:
Shew now thy myght and on her wo have routhe
Er fals Daunger sle hem and confounde.
And specialy let thy myght be founde
For to socour, whatso that thou may,
The trew man that in the erber lay.

“And al trew further for his sake,
O glad sterre, O lady Venus myn,
And cause his lady him to grace take,
Her hert of stele to mercy so enclyne
Er that thy bemes go up to declyne,
And er that thou now go fro us adoune
For that love thou haddest to Adon.”

The narrator begs Venus to descend upon the saddened knight before “fals Daunger” gets a hold of him, in a reference to both Danger as personified in the garden, constantly attempting to thwart the lover, but also danger in the literal sense, alluding  to what occurred to Venus’s other previous love interest, Adonis.

And when she was goon to her rest
I rose anon and home to bed went
For verry wery, me thoght hit for the best,
Preyng thus in al my best entent
That al trew that be with Daunger shent
With mercie may, in reles of her peyn,
Recured be er May come eft agen.

This is the traditional ending of the topos, in which the narrator must depart to return to his own home/dwelling/reality. Here it appears he is leaving because night has fallen, he is tired, and wishes to go to sleep. Thus his narrative was spent across the larger part of a day.

And for that I ne may noo lenger wake,
Farewel, ye lovers al that be trewe,
Prayng to God, and thus my leve I take,
That er the sunne tomorowe be ryse newe,
And er he have agen his rosen hewe,
That eche of yow may have such a grace
His oune lady in armes to embrace.

I mene thus: that in al honesté,
Withoute more, ye may togedre speke
Whatso yow list at good liberté,
That eche may to other her hert breke,
On Jelosie oonly to be wreke,
That hath so longe of his malice and envie
Werred Trouthe with his tiranye.

He follows one convention with another, and bids farewell to lovers and ladies everywhere. While he was unable to console the knight, he will offer some kind words to others, namely his audience.


Princes, pleseth hit your benignité
This litil dité to have in mynde,
Of womanhede also for to se,
Your trew man may summe mercie fynde,
And pité eke that longe hath be behynde
Let him agein be provoked to grace.
For, by my trouthe, hit is agens kynde
Fals Daunger to occupie his place.

L’envoye de quare

Go, litel quayre, go unto my lyves quene
And my verry hertis sovereigne,
And be ryght glad for she shal thee sene –
Such is thi grace, but I, alas, in peyne
Am left behinde and not to whom to pleyn,
For Mercie, Routhe, Grace, and eke Pité
Exiled be, that I may not ateyne
Recure to fynde of myn adversité.

Lydgate closes in an envoy de quare addressed to princes everywhere. Note, that princes is used as a generic term to indicate an elevated status and is not restricted to men, especially considering the large number of women who were active participants in literary culture.

The envoy de quare is an envoy addressed to the book, or work itself. Chaucer makes use of this at the end of the Canterbury Tales in which he bids “Go, litel bok, go, litel myn tragedye.”

The conceit was borne from the Latin Classics poets, namely Horace and then Ovid. The form changed over time, and was again taken up by Dante and Boccaccio. Lydgate may or may not have read any of these previous non-English uses of the envoy, especially since his use of the envoy de quare has his unique flare, and one of the facets of his writing for which he is well known.

With this, the poem ends, and we are left with a knight in the same state of sadness and woe as he was found at the beginning of the poem. His lady does not grant him her grace. Even as he laments his disappointment at having had his true and noble endeavors spurned, the reader cannot help but notice his words that juxtapose his stated intentions as he ends by blaming all others for his pain, as opposed to perhaps reconsidering his own actions at wooing his lady, and the reasons for why she may have been hesitant to acquiesce to his requests.

We are left with an image of the knight as barely being able to adequately express his conundrum, at best launching off into a tirade of rhetorical lists that span through the stanzas with dizzying effects. As an early work, this serves well as an exercise for Lydgate’s ability to make references, while inadvertently later serving medievalists everywhere an opportunity at identifying and understanding them. It has been enjoyable.


Krausser, E. “The Complaint of the Black Knight.”

MacCracken, Henry Noble, ed. The Complaint of the Black Knight. In The Minor Poems of John Lydgate.

Norton-Smith, John, ed. A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe. In John Lydgate, Poems.


Even More of Lydgate’s Lover’s Complaynt


I can feel how close we are getting to the end of Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” and perhaps to a possible resolution. Withal, I will begin this post from where I left off last time.

“For that in sothe suffiche me,
And she hit knowe in every circumstaunce,
And after I am welpayed that she,
Yf that her lyst, of deth to do vengeaunce
Unto me that am under her legeaunce;
Hit sitte me not her doom to dysobey
But at her lust wilfully to dey.

The lady takes on the godlike features of the powerful figure in the previous stanzas, and she becomes the knight’s liege. His obedience is sworn to her, and she holds complete power over his self and actions.

“Wythout gruching or rebellion
In wil or worde holy I assent,
Or eny maner contradixion,
Fully to be at her commaundement.
And yf I dye, in my testament
My hert I send and my spirit also,
Whatsoever she list with hem to do.

“And alderlast to her womanhede
And to her mercy me I recommaunde,
That lye now here betwext hope and drede,
Abyding pleynly what she list commaunde;
For utterly – this nys no demaunde –
Welcome to me while me lasteth brethe,
Ryght at her chose, wher hit be lyf or dethe.

The knight further promises the lady control over him even after death, of his body and spirit. Compare these lines to the Romaunt:

“And make in haste my testament,
As lovers doon that feelen smerte:
To Bialacoil leve I myn hert” (lines 4610-4612).

As the lover is bequeathing himself to his lady in the Romaunt, he uses various physical components of himself to denote the intangible attributes he relinquishes as her loyal vassal. Lydgate’s knight also pledges himself at length.

“In this mater more what myght I seyn,
Sithe in her honde and in her wille ys alle:
Bothe lyf and dethe, my joy and al my peyn.
And fynally my hest holde I shall
Til my spirit be destanye fatal
When that her list fro my body wynde.
Have her my trouthe, and thus I make an ynde.”

Lydgate’s lady is here far more autonomous and in control than in other renderings of this scenario. For example, in the Romaunt the lover would at this point swear his oath to the god of Love (lines 1955-1956). Lydgate’s lady does not require an intermediary, and she acts as the sole force acting upon the knight, while also being the sole receptor for all that is promised through his oath. Even though several other deities and powerful beings have made an appearance throughout the poem, as we approach our closing, it is only she who matters.

And with that worde he gan sike as sore
Lyke as his hert ryve wolde atweyne
And holde his pese and spake a worde no more.
But for to se his woo and mortal peyn,
The teres gan fro myn eyen reyn
Ful piteusly, for verry inwarde routhe
That I hym sawe so languysshing for his trouthe.

The pain the knight experiences is a conventional manner of expressing grief. Lydgate uses similar language in Belle Dame: “His woful hert, almoost it brast atwayne” (line 799); Thebes: “hertys felt almost ryve asonder” (line 4500); and Troy: “Þan for to se þe wo he dide make, / It wolde haue made a pitus hert as blyue / Of verray dool asondre for to rive” (Book 1, lines 4268-4270).

As for the narrator’s pity, that too is a convention in which whoever speaks of an unrequited lover must also make note of the pain caused by watching them in their wretched state.

And al this wile myself I kep close
Amonge the bowes and myself gunne hide,
Til at the last the woful man arose
And to a logge went ther besyde
Wher al the May his custom was to abide,
Sole to compleyn of his peynes kene
Fro yer to yer under the bowes grene.

Much like Palamon in the Knight’s Tale (line 1072), the knight here retires to privately complain of his woes, under “bowes greene” like Troilus (line 821).

And for because that hit drowe to the nyght,
And that the sunne his arke diurnall
Ipassed was, so that his persaunt lyght,
His bryght bemes, and his stremes all
Were in the wawes of the water fall,
Under the bordure of our occean
His chare of golde his course so swyftly ran;

“Parfourned hath the sonne his ark diurne” in the Merchant’s Tale is when Chaucer coined the term “diurnal,” that Lydgate uses here.

Lydgate will revisit the imagery and language of this stanza in his Troy Book:

“The hour whan he made his stedis drawe
His rosen chariet lowe vnder the wawe
To bathe his bemys in the wawy see,
Tressed lyche gold, as men myghte see,
Passyng the bordure of oure occian (Prologue, lines 127-131).

The last lines of the stanza are a reference to Phebus who drives his chariot across the sky.

And while the twilyght and the rowes rede
Of Phebus lyght wer deaurat a lyte,
A penne I toke and gan me fast spede
The woful pleynt of this man to write,
Worde be worde as he dyd endyte:
Lyke as I herde and coude him tho reporte
I have here set, your hertis to dysporte.

Iff oght be mys, leyth the wite on me,
For I am worthy for to bere the blame
Yf enything mysreported be
To make this dité for to seme lame
Thro myn unkynnyng. But for to sey the same,
Lyke as this man his compleynt did expresse,
I axe mercie and forgevenesse.

This stanza starts with the imagery from where the previous one left off, namely with the sun, and his effect upon the sky; “rowes rede” is a reference to dawn that comes from Chaucer’s Complaint of Mars (line 2), which Lydgate will recycle in his Troy Book (Book I, lines 1199-1200).

In the following line, instead of borrowing from other sources, “deaurat” is a Lydgatean neologism, derived from Latin “deauratus,” meaning “gilded.”

Now that we have heard the knight’s lament, the narrator continues to interject with his own intentions of writing down all that he has heard, for better or worse. His speech begins another conceit, that of the apologetic writer, who, much like the narrator in the Canterbury Tales, along with numerous other medieval works (Troilus, Book II, lines 17-19), feels inadequate to the task, and begs his audience to blame him if he has in any way mistold the tales of others.

And as I wrote me thoght I sawe aferre
Fer in the west lustely appere
Esperus, the goodly bryght sterre,
So glad, so feire, so persaunt eke of chere:
I mene Venus with her bemys clere
That hevy hertis oonly to releve
Is wont of custom for to shew at eve.

In the midst of his speech, the narrator gazes upon the clearest of stars, Esperus, that is a compilation of Chaucer’s idea of Venus as the evening star in Boece, along with Lydgate’s own idea that he fully flushes out in Temple of Glas (lines 326-331).

Next time, as I wrap up the poem, we will see where the story goes from here and find out whether the narrator and lover will ever interact, or if the narrator will only serve as a voyeuristic presence, unseen by the knight.


Krausser, E. “The Complaint of the Black Knight.”

MacCracken, Henry Noble, ed. The Complaint of the Black Knight. In The Minor Poems of John Lydgate.

Norton-Smith, John, ed. A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe. In John Lydgate, Poems.

More of Lydgate’s Lover’s Complaynt


I am admittedly running behind on Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” but I am still hopeful that I will have it done by the end of summer. With that said, here is the newest installment following where I last left off.

“Alas the while now that I was borne
Or that I ever saugh the bright sonne!
For now I se that ful longe aforne,
Er I was borne, my destanye was sponne
By Parcas sustren, to sle me if they conne,
For they my dethe shopen or my shert,
Oonly for trouthe I may hit not astert.

The reference is to the goddesses of Fate, the Parcae, who spun the thread of life. Thus the lover’s fate was spun before his birth, and just like a shirt, they have already spun, or shaped, his death. This echoes back to Troilus in which Pandarus states:

“O fatal sustren, which er any cloth
Me shapen was, my destine me sponne,
So helpeth to this werk that is bygonne” (Book III, lines 733-735).
Similar conceits can be found in the Knight’s Tale (line 1566) and Good Women (lines 2629-2630).

“The myghty goddesse also of Nature,
That under God hath the governaunce
Of worldly thinges commytted to her cure,
Disposed hath thro her wyse purveaunce
To give my lady so moche suffisaunce
Of al vertues and therwithal purvyde
To mordre Trouthe hath taken Daunger to guyde.

“For bounté, beauté, shappe, and semelyhed,
Prudence, wite, passyngly fairenesse,
Benigne port, glad chere with loulyhed,
Of womanhed ryght plenteuous largesse,
Nature in her fully did empresse
Whan she her wroght, and altherlast Dysdeyne
To hinder Trouthe she made her chambreleyne,

“When Mystrust also, and Fals-Suspecion
With Mysbeleve, she made for to be
Chefe of counseyle, to this conclusion:
For to exile Routhe and eke Pité,
Out of her court to make Mercie fle,
So that Dispite now haldeth forth her reyn
Thro hasty beleve of tales that men feyn.

Natur,e acting with godlike capacity, is also not a new concept, and had been seen in other works, notably Parliament in which Nature becomes the arbiter for the birds’ conundrum.  The concept is also present in the Physician’s Tale, and the Roman.

Further, Nature imbues the lady with qualities to better resist the knight, and supposedly maintain her virtue. This brings into question the knight’s intentions, in that if they were pure, or natural, Nature would not recoil against them. The lover positions Nature in line with Daunger, and other malignant forces. Such tactics were used in Romaunt and Roman, where these entities keep the lover away from the lady. The knight’s lament echoes Troilus’s, who curses every creature, real or otherwise, that is postponing his assumed reunion with Criseyde:

He corseth Ioue, Appollo and ek Cupide,
His burthe, hym self, his fate and ek nature,
And, saue his lady, euery creature (line 207-209).

For the lover, reaching his lady becomes an insurmountable task. The parade of characters who work against him continues to grow, and he is left relying on Pity to counter the rest, and make his way into the lady’s heart on his behalf. For further comparisons of these key figures, look at the Roman (lines 2800-3300) and Romaunt (lines 3000-3500).

“And thus I am for my trouthe, alas,
Mordred and slayn with wordis sharp and kene,
Giltles, God wote, of al trespas,
And lye and blede upon this colde grene.
Now mercie, suete, mercye my lyves quene!
And to youre grace of mercie yet I prey,
In your servise that your man may dey.

The lover’s death brought about by lovesickness is just as common as the other tropes Lydgate employees in these stanzas. For instance, Troilus on several occasions bemoans his fate, believing himself to be on his deathbed, with no other cure than love from Criseyde. Or, in Belle Dame, the lover actually dies from lack of love (even if the lack of love is a result of his lady’s death). Lovesickness in the Middle Ages was no trifling matter.

Also, there is a quick reference to Chaucer’s Complaint in “Myn hertes lady and hool my lyves quene” (line 54), referring to the lady as the queen of the lover’s life since she has the power to end it by withholding her love.

“But and so be that I shall deye alagate,
And that I shal non other mercye have,
Yet of my dethe let this be the date
That by youre wille I was broght to my grave.
Or hastely, yf that ye list me save,
My sharpe woundes that ake so and blede
Of mercie charme, and also of womanhede.

“For other charme pleynly ys ther noon,
But only mercie, to helpe in this case;
For thogh my wounde blede evere in oon,
My lyve, my deth, stont in your grace;
And thogh my gilt be nothing, alace,
I axe mercie in al my best entent
Redy to dye yf that ye assent.

“For theragens shal I never strive
In worde ne werke, pleynly I ne may,
For lever I have then to be alyve
To dye sothely, and hit be her to pay;
Ye, thogh hit be this ech same day,
Or when that ever her lust to devyse,
Sufficeth me to dye in your servise.

The plea for love continues, and the knight refers to the lady’s love as a “charme,” a thing, that will further harm the lover if his affection remains unrequited, in the same way as Troilus used the word (Book II, line 1314). The knight appears content in abandoning everything to love’s guidance, even if it leads to his death.

“And God, that knowest the thoght of every wyght
Ryght as hit is in everything Thou maist se,
Yet er I dye, with al my ful myght
Louly I prey, to graunte unto me
That ye, goodly, feir, fressh, and fre,
Which sle me oonly for defaut of routhe,
Er then I die, may know my trouthe.

When all else fails, the lover turns his complaint towards God, to be heard by Him before what he believes will be his death.

Similar complaints towards God are made in Belle Dame:

“Sith that of grace o goodly worde aloone
May not be had, but alwey kept in store,
I pele to God, for He may here my moone
Of the duresse whiche greveth me so sore.
And of pité I playne me furthermore,
Whiche He forgate in al His ordenaunce,
Or ellis my lif to have endid bifore,
Whiche He so soon put oute of remembraunce” (lines 781-788)

then twice in Book IV of Troilus:

“O verrey lord of loue, O god, allas,
That knowest best myn herte and al my thoughte,
What shal my sorwful lif don in this cas,
If I for-go that I so deere haue boughte?
Syn ȝe Criseyde and me han fully broughte
In-to ȝoure grace and bothe oure hertes seled,
How may ȝe suffre, allas, it be repeled? (lines 288-294)

and later:

“Now god, to whom ther nys no cause y-wrye,
Me glad, as wys I neuere vnto Criseyde,
Syn thilke day I saugh hire first with ye,
Was fals ne neuere shal til that I dye” (line 1654-1657).

Ironically, even as the lover speaks to God, he acknowledges God’s omnipotence in knowing all men’s thoughts. Basically, even without voicing his lament, God would have been privy to the knight’s trials. Thus the lament is more of an aside, less destined for God as the audience, but nevertheless serving as a means of confession along with the release that that entails.

The knight laments away, and when I return to this piece we will see how the godlike figure in his life morphs throughout the narrative.


Krausser, E. “The Complaint of the Black Knight.”

MacCracken, Henry Noble, ed. The Complaint of the Black Knight. In The Minor Poems of John Lydgate.

Norton-Smith, John, ed. A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe. In John Lydgate, Poems.