Tuesday, January 4, 2011

"Truth" by Geoffrey Chaucer


Or “Balade de bon conseyl”1

Flee fro the prees,° and dwelle with soothfastnesse,°                crowd / truthfulness
Suffyse unto thy thing,2 though it be smal;
For hord hath hate, and climbing tikelnesse,3
Prees hath envye, and wele blent° overal;                                      prosperity blinds
Savour no more than thee bihove shal;°                                            is good for you
Rule wel thyself, that other folk canst rede;°                                                   advise
And trouthe shal delivere,° it is no drede.°                                 set (you) free / fear

Tempest thee° nought al crooked to redresse,°       Trouble yourself / put to rights
In trust of hir that turneth as a bal.4
Moche wele stant° in litel besynesse;°                    Great well-being rests / activity
Bewar therfore to sporne° ageyns an al;°                   kick / an awl (a pointed tool)
Stryve nat, as doth the crokke° with the wal.             piece of (breakable) crockery
Daunte° thyself, that dauntest otheres dede;°              Control / the deeds of others
And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

That thee° is sent, receyve in buxumnesse,°                 That which to you / humility
The wrastling for this world axeth° a fal.                                                      asks for
Here is noon hoom,° her nis° but wildernesse.              not (your) home / is nothing
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beste,° out of thy stal!                                           beast
Know thy contree, look up, thank God of al;°                                    for everything
Hold the hye° wey, and lat thy gost° thee lede,                             high, main / spirit
And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.


Therfore, thou Vache,6 leve° thyn old wrecchednesse;°                      cease / misery
Unto the world leve now to be thral;°                                                               slave
Crye him mercy,° that of his hye goodnesse              for mercy from him (i.e., God)
Made thee of nought,° and in especial                                                  from nothing
Draw unto him, and prey in general
For thee, and eek for other,° hevenlich mede;°    also for others / heavenly reward
And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.

1. “Ballad of good counsel”
2. Let your own possessions be enough for you. (This was a literary and philosophical commonplace.)
3. For hoarding (greed) brings about hate, and advancement (social and professional ambition causes) insecurity.
4. In trust of her who turns like a sphere. (The allusion is to the goddess Fortune and her revolving wheel.)
5. The “envoy” (in French, “a thing sent,” i.e., a letter) is a coda to the poem that traditionally sends it off to a prince . . . or alternatively to a lady.
6. Sir Philip de la Vache was a friend and associate of Chaucer’s who was temporarily out of favor during the late 1380s, at the time Chaucer may have written a version of this poem: the word “vache” also means “cow” in French, linking the envoy to the pattern of reference in line 18.

Source of the text – Chaucer, Geoffrey. Dream Visions and Other Poems, edited by Kathryn L. Lynch. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007, pp. 219-220.

TJB: Deadpan epigram. In aphorisms & tightly-locked rime royal, this epistle, from a wealthy civil servant, counsels patience, modesty, & prayer.

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