Author Archives: Christene

The Ongoing “Complaynt”


I am approaching the midpoint of Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” and I absolutely love how it is all coming together (as Lydgate’s works often do). I knew it was going to be a long trek when I started, but having now spent as much time with the poem, I have gotten to know aspects of it that I had never culled out in casual reading, and have gained so much more appreciation for it. Per usual, this is a cursory reading, so for more in-depth discussions, read my sources, but in the meantime here is more of my work, starting from where I left off last time:

“What meneth this? What ys this wonder ure
Of purveance, yf I shal hit calle,
Of God of Love that fals hem so assure,
And trew, alas, doun of the whele be falle?
And yet, in sothe, this is the worst of alle:
That Falshed wrongfully of Trouth hath the name,
And Trouthe, agenwarde, of Falshed bereth the blame.

The knight begins simply enough with a common set of questions, echoing Mars’ inquiries in Chaucer’s “Complaint of Mars:” “What meneth this? What is this mystihed?” (line 224). He wonders about “purveance,” that is used throughout Chaucer’s Boece in reference to an omniscient God, but applies it here to the God of Love. Further, the God of Love is also paralleled to Fortune where Love appears to have a say as to who is at the top or bottom of the “Whele” – a clear reference to Fortune’s Wheel that moves according to her whims. Boethius believes Philosophy should be trusted over Fortune for the very reason of Fortune’s fickleness. Her wheel changes direction without reason, as opposed to Philosophy’s adherence to rationale when deciding a course of action. By equating Love with Fortune, Lydgate creates an image of Love as capricious or flighty, yet fully aware of man’s state, much like an omniscient God. Thus, in Lydgatean terms, Love is a powerful force.

“This blynde chaunce, this stormy aventure,
In love hath most his experience,
For who that doth with Trouth most his cure
Shal for his mede fynde most offence,
That serveth Love with al his diligence;
For who can feyne under loulyhede
Ne fayleth not to fynde grace and spede.

The first line is a direct reference Chaucerian texts. First to Criseyde when she debates the pros and cons of allowing herself to fall in love “ffor loue is yet the mooste stormy lyf, / Right of hym self, that euere was bigonne ” (Book 2, lines 778-779). It is also a reference to the Troy Book: “The trowble and aduersite / That is in Loue, and his stormy lawe” (Part II, Lines 2544-2545). The “stormy” concept is not uncommon in Chaucerian composition outside of references reserved solely for Love, as seen in the Clerk’s Tale: “O stormy peple! unsad and evere untrewe! Ay indiscreet and chaungynge as a fane!” (Part IV, lines 995-996).

In all of these passages “stormy” is used to electrifying ends to describe chaotic, and hence inconstant, conditions. Love is lawless, volatile, and fickle. This is the state in which Lydgate receives and reuses the term. “Stormy” is not simply synonymous with “tumultuous,” but rather represents something outright violent and ultimately destructive. The catalogue of lovers that is about to begin will solidify this claim.

“For I loved oon ful longe sythe agoon
With al my hert, body, and ful myght,
And to be ded my hert cannot goon
From his hest, but hold that he hath hight.
Thogh I be banysshed out of her syght
And by her mouthe damned that I shal deye,
Unto my behest yet I wil ever obeye.

This falls into the same category as a previous catalog in which those who are untrue are rewarded, while the those true are punished.

Clearly the knight is distraught over his complete loss of interaction with his lady. Even when his love was not necessarily reciprocated, he took solace in her presence that she now denies. However, it must be noted that he is to be out of her sight, but it is not specified that she must remain out of his sight, hinting at the potential for further voyeuristic encounters. It is easy to forget, but must not be forgotten that the knight’s words come to us through the narrator’s spying, and thus via one act of voyeurism, with the possibility of an act within an act where we may indirectly (thrice removed!) see the lady. The audience receives the same satisfaction from perhaps viewing the lady in this instance as they did when first seeing Criseyde from Troilus’s point of view.

“I take recorde of Palamides,
The trwe man, the noble worthy knyght,
That ever loved, and of hys peyne no relese;
Notwithstondyng his manhode and his myght,
Love unto him did ful grete unright,
For ay the bette he did in chevalrye,
The more he was hindred by envye;

The knight begins another catalogue of figures with whom the audience would be familiar, and who would best illustrate his point. These are the men who truly loved but were denied any reward for their love, and the men who loved falsely but were allowed to enjoy their lovers’s reciprocation. Palamides was the saracen Arthurian knight who loved Isolde but was unable to obtain her love in return. Instead, she gave it via trickery and deceit to Tristan (which is not a statement meant to villainize him, but rather remark upon the nature and origin of their relationship).

“And ay the bette he dyd in every place
Throgh his knyghthode and besy peyn,
The ferther was he fro his ladys grace,
For to her mercie myght he never ateyn,
And to his deth he coude hyt not refreyn
For no daunger, but ay obey and serve
As he best coude, pleynly til he sterve.

Palamides not only faithfully loved Isolde, but was overall chivalrous and an excellent knight. His unrealized love is a combination of Fate, Love, and Fortune acting cruelly towards him, along with basic human elements such as Envy, that repays his prowess and acumen with hardship and pain. In other words, he suffered for being true – to his love, and to himself.

“What was the fyne also of Ercules,
For al his conquest and his worthynesse,
That was of strengthe alone pereles?
For, lyke as bokes of him list expresse,
He set pilers thro his high prouesse
Away at Cades for to signifie
That no man myght hym passe in chevalrie;

Hercules, who has been depicted in numerous composition from every time period since antiquity, is known for his love of Deianira, who nevertheless doubted his love due to rumors she had heard about his newfound love for Iole. In an attempt to regain his love she inadvertently caused his death (her culpability fluctuates with each version read, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Heroides, to Boccacio’s  Genealogia Deorum Gentilium, to Gower’s Confessio, and Chaucer’s “Monk’s Tale” and Parliament). Whether or not she intentionally provided him with a poisoned cloak as retribution for what she perceived as lack of loyalty to her, or whether she unknowingly provided it believing it would restore him to her, does not change the fact that he died despite having lived with honesty and truth, as “no man myght hym passe in chevelrie.”

As for the “pilers,” they are a reference to the pillars Hercules built to symbolize one of his twelve labors, namely taking the cattle from the giant, Geryon.

“The whiche pilers ben ferre by-yonde Ynde
Beset of golde for a remembraunce.
And, for al that, was he sete behynde
With hem that Love list febly avaunce;
For him set laste upon a daunce
Agens whom helpe may no strife –
For al his trouth, he lost his lyfe.

It is important to remember the reason for Hercules’ labors – he murdered his first wife and children. Granted, it was due to a madness instilled by Hera, he was nevertheless greatly grieved by his deeds and sought out atonement, leading to Apollo’s advice that he should subject himself to the king and serve him in his nearly impossible labors. He faithfully completed each one as penitence for his actions.

His second attempt at love, with Deianira, is here referenced through love’s “daunce,” an idiom often used to allude to love’s failure. These lines have been translated before endowing Hercules with agency as he initiates his movement towards love, but such a translation remains unconvincing. If love is as fickle as the poem makes it out to be, and chance and fortune are at the forefront of human activity, then it becomes very unbelievable that any man, even Hercules, would be in full control over his decision to love, without even taking into the account the even more meager amount of control he holds over his love choice.

For other examples of word usage, the “daunce” appears in Chaucer’s Troilus: “Now, thonked be God, he may goon in the daunce / of hem that Love list febly for to avaunce” (lines 517-518), and “Pandarus . . . wel koude ech a deel / Th’ olde daunce, and every point therinne” ( Book III, lines 694-695). Then, it was used to describe the Wife of Bath, who  “Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce, / For she koude of that art the olde daunce” (GP 475-476). The idiomatic expression is certainly not restricted to these examples and abounds throughout medieval literature, but the general gist remains the same.

From here the catalogue of lovers continues as Lydgate revisits Pheobus and Daphne from earlier in the poem, and in my my next post, I will, too.


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.

Lydgate’s Complaynt, Continued, Still


Per usual, I am going to start where I left off with Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” and hopefully at some point this summer the entirety of the poem will have been looked at.

I left off with the lover experiencing bouts of cold, shivering and behaving as if in a fever. His turmoil continues…

“For evere the better that in trouthe I ment
With al my myght feythfully to serve,
With hert and al to be dilygent,
The lesse thanke, alas, I can deserve.
Thus for my trouthe Daunger doth me sterve,
For oon that shuld my deth of mercie let
Hath made Dispite now his suerde to whet

There is a clear parallel here with the Romaunt not only in the language (in which the lover will “serve his love with herte and alle” line 1883), but also in theme. Once again we are reminded of Daunger who will thwart the lover from reaching the rose every chance he gets, for no reason other than that he can.

Further, through a series of personifications a catalog of allegories is created that adhere to typical medieval concerns and retain structures that would be familiar to an audience who had  most likely read the likes of Chaucer or Gower, among others. The scope of this catalog is to enact the relations between the knight and his lover while likening it to other forms of interpersonal contact.

The language used for Daunger is that of war, portraying it as militaristic, much like it is described in the Romaunt (line 3435).
“Agens me and his arowes to file
To take vengeaunce of wilful cruelté;
And tonges fals throgh her sleghtly wile
Han gonne a werre that wol not stynted be;
And fals Envye of wrathe, and Enemyté
Have conspired agens al ryght and lawe,
Of her malis, that Trouthe shal be slawe.

The imagery shifts at the end of this stanza to that of law, and justice, (not unlike Chaucer’s Complaint unto Pity, line 53). Envye and Trouthe are both derived from the aforementioned sources, the Romaunt and Pity, respecitively. Also, Gower in Confessio, discusses Envy in Book 2, and Wrath in Book 3. Envy also makes an appearance in Part I of Pilgrim’s Progress (among numerous other medieval texts).

“And Male-Bouche gan first the tale telle
To sclaundre Trouthe of indignacion,
And Fals-Report so loude ronge the belle
That Mysbeleve and Fals-Suspecion
Have Trouthe brought to hys damnacion,
So that, alas, wrongfully he dyeth,
And Falsnes now his place occupieth

The personification of character traits continues, and Male-Bouche, or Foul Mouth comes from the Romaunt (line 3024), but the rest of them are originally Lydgatean, such as Fals-Report, and Mysbeleve. The last one, Fals-Suspecion comes from the Romaunt (line 2507), but the personification is Lydgate’s product. The grouping of four villains found in the Romaunt (Foul Mouth, Shame, Fear, and Danger)  is here recreated, acting to prevent the lover from reaching his interest, the lady.

“And entred ys into Trouthes londe
And hath therof the ful possessyon.
O ryghtful God, that first the trouthe fonde,
How may Thou suffre such oppressyon,
That Falshed shuld have jurysdixion
In Trouthes ryght, to sle him giltles?
In his fraunchise he may not lyve in pes.

There is an interesting play on words in this stanza. Falsnes from the previous paragraph is usurping Trouth’s “londe,” with an echo of the Romaunt (line 2783) where hope resides, or holds land, within the knight. Here though, Falsnes falsely resides in the knight. In other words, the lady perceives Falsnes in the knight, and wrongly attributes it to him, but in reality he is Trouth’s property. He bemoans that he cannot make his lady see this truth.

“Falsly accused and of his foon forjuged,
Without unsuer while he was absent
He damned was and may not ben excused,
For Cruelté satte in jugement
Of hastynesse, without avisement,
And bad Disdeyn do execute anon
His jugement in presence of hys fon.

“Atturney non ne may admytted ben
To excuse Trouthe, ne a worde to speke;
To feyth or othe the juge list not sen;
Ther ys no geyn, but he wil be wreke.
O Lorde of Trouthe, to Thee I calle and cleke:
How may Thou se thus in Thy presence
Without mercy mordred Innocence?

Love is often found punishing Trouthe and siding with Falsity. Chaucer and Langland make use of the trope – think of the extended trial scene in Piers Plowman, Passus 3, in which Trouth is placed on trial and actually condemned. Cruelte is first personified by Chaucer in Part II of Pity. Also, think of the contradiction between this trial scene and the one that figures in Chaucer’s Parliment. When Nature is the judge, justice and truth stand to win, perhaps implying Love exists in an unnatural state, and by virtue of its unnatural existence it is flawed and unable to deliver justice.

There is also a disparity between manuscripts on the word “cleke,” with the possibility that, according to the OED and MED, it implies foolishness, but depending on which manuscript you reference, Lydgate may have used it prior to the first instances of it in either of the reference sources. If this is the case, then it would simply  mean the knight is calling out, or crying, but not necessarily in vain.

“Now God that art of Trouthe sovereyn
And seest how I lye for trouthe bounde,
So sore knytte in Loves firy cheyn,
Even at the deth, thro-girt wyth mony a wounde
That lykly ar never for to sounde,
And for my trouthe am damned to the dethe,
And noght abide but drawe alonge the brethe,

The knight appeals to the sovereign of Trouth, similar to the plea in Chaucer’s Anelida. Love as the source of imprisonment, binding its followers with chains is also not a new concept. It appears in the Romaunt, in the Knight’s Tale, and Love’s “firy” chain is a reminder of Cupid’s “fyry dart” in Chaucer’s “A Complaint to his Lady.” Lydgate also uses these terms in Temple of Glas (line 574) and the Troy Book (Part IV, line 1550).

Nevertheless, even as the lover is condemned to death in lines reminiscent of the Knight’s Tale (lines 1010), he will tarry as long as he can in Chaucerian terms once used to translate Boethius  (to drawe along, prolong from Latin “protrahit”).

“Consider and se in Thyn eternal sight
How that myn hert professed whilom was
For to be trwe with al my ful myght
Oonly to oon, the which now, alas,
Of volunté, withoute more trespas,
Myn accusurs hath taken unto grace
And cherissheth hem my deth for to purchace.

He ends his plight by reiterating his faithfulness and loyalty to the one he loves, only to lament that his love has been turned against him by false “accursurs.” However, he does not acquiesce, and will continue questioning the rationality and/or justice behind such an ending. Next time I shall discuss his argument.



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

Leach, Elizabeth Eva. Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages.

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.

Lydgate’s Complaynt


At this point it has become quite clear I will not be using Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” for my Kalamazoo paper, but nevertheless I’m enjoying going through the poem, stanza by stanza. I will be continuing forth from where I left off last time. Per usual, my sources listed at the bottom offer far more information should you be interested in reading more than the glimpse I offer here.

But I, alas, that am of wytte but dulle
And have no knowyng of suche mater
For to discryve and wryte at the fulle
The wofull compleynt which that ye shul here,
But even like as doth a skryvener
That can no more what that he shal write
But as his maister beside dothe endyte,

Modesty was most certainly a virtue in the medieval period, and a trope many writers made use of when beginning their works. While we are indeed 200 lines into the poem, here the narrator is only just beginning to relate his story. Until recently it was the frame narrator speaking, and not the poet within the tale persona who is voyeuristically spying on the knight. Another famous example of negations of talent can be found in the General Prologue and Legend of Good Women.

Interestingly he attributes the tale to a master of various natures and considers himself no more than a mere scribe transcribing what was given. Of course, with recent scribal scholarship there is a great deal more we have learned about scribal culture and its function, making it hard to believe that they did little more than copy texts like xerox machines. More often than not they interjected themselves into the text by making corrections or emendations well out of line with what was being asked. Their motives were usually to improve the text, and even on occasion make it more aesthetically pleasing as they re-envisioned the mise en page, sometimes at the actual expense of the text. Nevertheless, here Lydgate relies on the very conventional understanding of a scrivner.

Ryght so fare I, that of no sentement
Sey ryght noght, as in conclusion,
But as I herde when I was present
This man compleyn wyth a pytouse son;
For even lych, wythout addissyon
Or disencrese, outher mor or lesse,
For to reherse anon I wol me dresse.

Compare this with this stanza from the Canterbury Tales (lines 715-746):

Now have I toold you soothly, in a clause,
Th’ estaat, th’ array, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this compaignye
In southwerk at this gentil hostelrye
That highte the tabard, faste by the belle.
But now is tyme to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke nyght,
Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;
And after wol I telle of our viage
And al the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.
But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,
That ye n’ arette it nat my vileynye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,
To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,
Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.
For this ye knowen al so wel as I,
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large,
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, althogh he were his brother;
He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,
And wel ye woot no vileynye is it.
Eek plato seith, whoso that kan hym rede,
The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.
Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde.
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.

This is not to argue that the Lydgatean narrator is necessarily mimicking Chaucer’s since again, this was a common trope. However, I wanted to use one of the best known examples as evidence for the different ways in which the meek narrator can exist. He asserts his deep rooted desire to relate the events as closely as possible with little regard for his own opinions and sentiments, followed by an apology for his own shortcomings and ineptitude to do justice to the piece.

Returning to the narrator in the Complaynt

And yf that eny now be in this place
That fele in love brennyng or fervence,
Or hyndered were to his lady grace
With false tonges that with pestilence
Sle trwe men that never did offence
In worde ne dede, ne in their entent –
Yf eny such be here now present,

The narrator bids any men who have been either in love or a hindrance to love to show themselves. There is a intonation that one or both types of men will be the main topic of his forthcoming telling, and thus they would have the most to gain from hearing him.

Let hym of routhe ley to audyence
With deleful chere and sobre contenaunce
To here this man, be ful high sentence,
His mortal wo and his perturbaunce,
Compleynyng, now lying in a traunce
With loke upcast and reuful chere,
Th’effect of which was as ye shal here.

Again, these men, who have known love from one side or another, are best suited to hear the complaint of the knight as the narrator will here tell us. The lover’s complaint was another often used trope that entailed the lover bemoaning the effects of his lovesickness. He is on the brink of death and only his love’s attention could resurrect him enough to continue living. While Troilus is first to come to mind, Aurthuriana is rich with such examples of men swooning and lamenting their fate as lovers.


And thus the complaint commences.

“The thoght oppressed with inward sighes sore,
The peynful lyve, the body langwysshing,
The woful gost, the hert rent and tore,
The petouse chere pale in compleynyng,
The dedely face lyke asshes in shynyng,
The salt teres that fro myn yen falle,
Parcel declare grounde of my peynes alle.

Interestingly, the actual complaint, while describing emotion, relies purely on logic and reason through a series of complicated rhetorical exercises. It has been noted that much like Chaucer in the Parlement, Lydgate uses anaphor (look for this as one of the words in the last line of each stanza is repeated in the first line of the following stanza), and parison, but turns these concepts into a catalogue meant to emphasize the key elements of love. Over the next few stanzas certain words are indeed underlined in MS Fairfax 16, suggesting they are the keys to understanding love, and the lover.

“Whos hert ys grounde to blede on hevynesse,
The thoght resseyt of woo and of compleynt,
The brest is chest of dule and drerynesse,
The body eke so feble and so feynt.
With hote and colde my acces ys so meynt
That now I shyver for defaute of hete,
And hote as glede now sodenly I suete:

Once again lovesickness becomes an actual physical ailment where the lover experiences bouts of hot and cold, much like a fever peaking, breaking, and returning full force. Similarly like strong fevers, lovesickness was serious enough to believe it could kill a person. The direct comparisons to the knight can be found in the Troilus, but also in Lydgate’s own Temple of Glas.

“Now hote as fire, now colde as asshes dede,
Now hote for colde, now cold for hete ageyn,
Now colde as ise, now as coles rede
For hete I bren; and thus betwext tweyn
I possed am, and al forcast in peyn,
So that my hete pleynly, as I fele,
Of grevouse colde ys cause everydele.

Recall Troilus who “For hete of cold, for cold of hete I dye” (1.420), and the process of hot and cold representing the various forms of anguish that are there referred to as an “axcess,” much like the “acces” here.

“This ys the colde of ynwarde high dysdeyn,
Colde of dyspite, and colde of cruel hate;
This is the colde that evere doth besy peyn
Agens trouthe to fight and debate;
This ys the colde that wolde the fire abate
Of trwe menyng, alas, the harde while;
This ys the colde that will me begile.

The coldness felt by the lover can be interpreted in several ways. His heart may be hardening to the indifference of his loved one. He is slowly feeling the progressive cold of death. The rest of his lament will help us glean his inner most thoughts and understand the situation he faces. In the next installment we will see the causes and results of this cold he feels.


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

Leach, Elizabeth Eva. Sung Birds: Music, Nature, and Poetry in the Later Middle Ages.

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.