I have reached the last leg of this journey, and will be wrapping up Lydgate’s “A Complaynt of a Loveres Lyfe,” starting from where I left off last time.
And I as fast fel doun on my kne
And even thus to her I gan to preie:
“O lady Venus, so feire upon to se,
Let not this man for his trouthe dey,
For that joy thou haddest when thou ley
With Mars thi knyght, whom Vulcanus founde
And with a cheyne unvisible yow bounde
“Togedre both tweyne in the same while,
That al the court above celestial
At youre shame gan laughe and smyle.
O feire lady, wel-willy founde at al,
Comfort to carefull, O goddesse immortal,
Be helpyng now and do thy diligence
To let the stremes of thin influence
In the first stanza the narrator plays a common role as can be found in the Canterbury Tales, Troilus, Temple of Glas, and Confessio, among others, in which a speech to Venus is in order. However, unlike other instances, especially in cases that retell the discovery of Venus and Mars, here is one of the few instances that incorporates the public disquiet associated with the affair, along with the punishment Venus and Mars incurred.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Venus and Mars were having an affair, of which Venus’s husband, Vulcan, was suspicious. In an attempt to catch them he forges an invisible net that traps them while conducting their affair. While they remain ensnared, he gathers the other gods to come witness their shame. Generally this part is either left untold, or as within the Confessio, the lovers are seen in a more positive light. Lydgate quite brusquely makes mention of it, but without commentary, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusion.
This second stanza is a parallel to Troilus’s assessment of Venus in Book III, where he refers to “Venus mene I, the wel-willy planete” (line 1257).
“Descende doune in furtheryng of the trouthe,
Namely of hem that lie in sorow bounde:
Shew now thy myght and on her wo have routhe
Er fals Daunger sle hem and confounde.
And specialy let thy myght be founde
For to socour, whatso that thou may,
The trew man that in the erber lay.
“And al trew further for his sake,
O glad sterre, O lady Venus myn,
And cause his lady him to grace take,
Her hert of stele to mercy so enclyne
Er that thy bemes go up to declyne,
And er that thou now go fro us adoune
For that love thou haddest to Adon.”
The narrator begs Venus to descend upon the saddened knight before “fals Daunger” gets a hold of him, in a reference to both Danger as personified in the garden, constantly attempting to thwart the lover, but also danger in the literal sense, alluding to what occurred to Venus’s other previous love interest, Adonis.
And when she was goon to her rest
I rose anon and home to bed went
For verry wery, me thoght hit for the best,
Preyng thus in al my best entent
That al trew that be with Daunger shent
With mercie may, in reles of her peyn,
Recured be er May come eft agen.
This is the traditional ending of the topos, in which the narrator must depart to return to his own home/dwelling/reality. Here it appears he is leaving because night has fallen, he is tired, and wishes to go to sleep. Thus his narrative was spent across the larger part of a day.
And for that I ne may noo lenger wake,
Farewel, ye lovers al that be trewe,
Prayng to God, and thus my leve I take,
That er the sunne tomorowe be ryse newe,
And er he have agen his rosen hewe,
That eche of yow may have such a grace
His oune lady in armes to embrace.
I mene thus: that in al honesté,
Withoute more, ye may togedre speke
Whatso yow list at good liberté,
That eche may to other her hert breke,
On Jelosie oonly to be wreke,
That hath so longe of his malice and envie
Werred Trouthe with his tiranye.
He follows one convention with another, and bids farewell to lovers and ladies everywhere. While he was unable to console the knight, he will offer some kind words to others, namely his audience.
Princes, pleseth hit your benignité
This litil dité to have in mynde,
Of womanhede also for to se,
Your trew man may summe mercie fynde,
And pité eke that longe hath be behynde
Let him agein be provoked to grace.
For, by my trouthe, hit is agens kynde
Fals Daunger to occupie his place.
L’envoye de quare
Go, litel quayre, go unto my lyves quene
And my verry hertis sovereigne,
And be ryght glad for she shal thee sene –
Such is thi grace, but I, alas, in peyne
Am left behinde and not to whom to pleyn,
For Mercie, Routhe, Grace, and eke Pité
Exiled be, that I may not ateyne
Recure to fynde of myn adversité.
Lydgate closes in an envoy de quare addressed to princes everywhere. Note, that princes is used as a generic term to indicate an elevated status and is not restricted to men, especially considering the large number of women who were active participants in literary culture.
The envoy de quare is an envoy addressed to the book, or work itself. Chaucer makes use of this at the end of the Canterbury Tales in which he bids “Go, litel bok, go, litel myn tragedye.”
The conceit was borne from the Latin Classics poets, namely Horace and then Ovid. The form changed over time, and was again taken up by Dante and Boccaccio. Lydgate may or may not have read any of these previous non-English uses of the envoy, especially since his use of the envoy de quare has his unique flare, and one of the facets of his writing for which he is well known.
With this, the poem ends, and we are left with a knight in the same state of sadness and woe as he was found at the beginning of the poem. His lady does not grant him her grace. Even as he laments his disappointment at having had his true and noble endeavors spurned, the reader cannot help but notice his words that juxtapose his stated intentions as he ends by blaming all others for his pain, as opposed to perhaps reconsidering his own actions at wooing his lady, and the reasons for why she may have been hesitant to acquiesce to his requests.
We are left with an image of the knight as barely being able to adequately express his conundrum, at best launching off into a tirade of rhetorical lists that span through the stanzas with dizzying effects. As an early work, this serves well as an exercise for Lydgate’s ability to make references, while inadvertently later serving medievalists everywhere an opportunity at identifying and understanding them. It has been enjoyable.
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.