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.