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.

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