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)
“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.