Lydgate’s Complaynt, Continued, Still


The end of Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe” draws ever more near, and here I will be starting from where I left off last time, as the tirade against love continues:

“But Lesynges with her fals flaterye,
Thro her falshed and with her doublenesse,
With tales new and mony feyned lye,
By false semlaunce and contrefet humblesse,
Under colour depeynt with stidfastnesse,
With fraude cured under a pitouse face,
Accept ben now rathest unto grace,

Love is found in the company of Lies, who was also found as one of the representations on the wall of Venus’s temple in Chaucer’s Knight’s Tale (line 1927). Love keeps bad company, and is even described in a manner that Lydgate will use to describe fickle Fortune in the Troy Book who bears “Feyth in hir face & fraude ay in þe tail” (Book I, Line 3314).

These lines also bear resemblance to the “fals semblaunt” in the Romaunt (line 7297).

“And can hemself now best magnifie
With feyned port and presumpsion.
They haunce her cause with fals surquedrie,
Under menyng of double-entencion,
To thenken on in her opynyon
And sey another, to set hemselfe alofte
And hynder Truthe, as hit ys seyn ful ofte.

In continuing with the parallel of fickleness, Love wears a “feyned port” that was also the complaint of the lover in Belle Dame (line 338) who argued that a real lover would surely complain far more. In other words, the false lover can only hope to magnify their own untrue feelings to match that of the real lover, but generally to no avail.

The idea of the lover using words to deceive, along with the contradiction between thought and speech is well documented in other medieval poems (without implying the notion was solely a medieval one, which it most certainly was not, and persists to this day). Some of the potential sources for Lydgate would have been the Romaunt, (lines 2538-2542), and Roman (lines 2409-2410).

Lydgate also borrows from the last part of this stanza in the Troy Book (Book II, Lines 4280-4281).

“The whiche thing I bye now al to dere,
Thanked be Venus and the god Cupide,
As hit is seen by myn oppressed chere
And by his arowes that stiken in my syde,
That, safe the dethe, I nothing abide
Fro day to day – alas, the harde while!
Whenevere hys dart that hym list to fyle,

The idea of Cupide wounding his lover with his arrows has numerous parallels, among which are the Romaunt (lines 1715-1926), and the Metamorphoses where Cupide demonstrates to Apollo the prowess of his weapon, the arrow, by shooting him and Daphne with apposing arrows after Apollo ridicules his choice of weapon. Here Cupide’s arrow flays the lover haphazardly, on a whim, whenever he “list” to do so. The imagery creates another direct reference to Parliament: “Cupide our lord his armes forge and fyle” (line 212), showcasing Cupide’s care for his tools.

“My woful hert for to ryve atwo
For faute of mercye and lake of pité
Of her that causeth al my peyn and woo
And list not ones of grace for to see
Unto my trouthe throgh her cruelté.
And most of al I me compleyn
That she hath joy to laughen at my peyn

Love is as cruel and piercing as Cupide’s arrow, ripping the lover’s heart in two. The stanza echo’s the sentiment in Analida: “And shal I pleyne – alas! the harde stonde – / Unto my foo that yaf myn herte a wounde / And yet desireth that myne harm be more” (lines 238-2-40) and the verbiage earlier in Analida, (that appears at the end of Lydgate’s stanza): “Ryght as him list, he laugheth at my peyne” (line 234).

“And wilfully hath my dethe sworone
Al giltles and wote no cause why,
Safe for the trouthe that I have hade aforne
To her allone to serve feythfully.
O God of Love, unto thee I crie
And to thy blende, double deyté
Of this grete wrong I compleyn me,

The Lydgatean lover laments his lack of reciprocation in the same style as Aurelius in The Merchant’s Tale: “Lo, lord, my lady hath my deeth y-sworn” (lines 1038-1039). The lover, much like Aurelius, remains faithful to the end. He begins to pray to Venus, who is depicted as blind, which, according to Henryson, links Venus directly to Fortune from whom the blindness was transferred. This serves to greater establish the connection between Love and Fortune, hinting at their potentially parallel natures, namely fickleness and mutability.

“And unto thy stormy, wilful variaunce,
Imeynt with chaunge and gret unstablesse:
Now up, now down, so rennyng is thy chaunce
That thee to trust may be no sikernesse,
I wite hit nothinge but thi doublenesse;
And who that is an archer and ys blynde
Marketh nothing, but sheteth by wenynge.

“And for that he hath no discrecion
Withoute avise he let his arowe goo,
For lak of syght and also of resoun,
In his shetyng hit happeth oft soo
To hurt his frende rathir then his foo.
So doth this god with his sharpe flon
The trwe sleeth and leteth the fals gon.

Cupide’s inconsistent nature is further noted, relying on common means of viewing him. Lydgate’s Cupide has a stormy temperament much like in Troilus (Book II, line 778) and later in the Troy Book (Book II, lines 2544-2545).

As for Cupid’s blindness, it is not uncommon to depict him this way, as is done in the Romaunt (lines 3702-3703). Considering he is an archer, such imagery plays well into the notion of his “doublenesse” as it can be interpreted that he shoots his arrow haphazardly, without a specific target, leading others to confound his lack of aim for lack of stability.

“And of his woundyng this is the worst of alle:
When he hurteth he dothe so cruel wreche
And maketh the seke for to crie and calle
Unto his foo for to ben his leche;
And herd hit ys for a man to seche
Upon the poynt of dethe in jupardie
Unto his foo to fynde remedye.

“Thus fareth hit now even by me,
That to my foo that gaf my hert a wounde
Mot axe grace, mercie, and pité,
And namely ther wher noon may be founde,
For now my sore my leche wol confounde;
And God of kynde so hath set myn ure
My lyves foo to have my wounde in cure.

The beloved is simultaneously the foe, and the doctor who can provide the necessary remedy. This is a conceit that has it’s roots in Troilus (Book I, line 874), the Canterbury Tales (line 2780), and Anelida (line 272), with the “leche” providing consolation in Belle Dame (line 201).

The lover’s sentiments now shift, and when I continue next time, we will see how his lament turns towards other concerns.


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

Henryson, Robert. Testament of Cresseid

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.