Page images
PDF

first dark Ymagining of Felony, Cruel Ire, Pale Dread, the Smyter with the knife under his cloak, Wodeness (madness) laughing in his rage, Strife with bloody knives, the Slayer of himself, his hair bathed in his heart's blood, are some of the figures in this sublime and horrible group. The form of the god himself is yet more boldly sketched :

The statue of Mars upon a cart (a) ystode.
Armid, and lokid grym as he were wode.
A wolfe ther stod before him at his fete
With eyin red, and of a man he ete.

This noble poem is paraphrased by Dryden, as has been mentioned. In his works it may be seen in modern English and flowing numbers ; but we cannot help regretting, that Chaucer's emendators have so often, in eking his lines, lopped his thoughts:

Ther mayst 'ou (6) see, commyng with Palamon,
Lycurgus himself, the grete king of Thrace ;
Blake was his berde, and manly was his face :
The circles of his eyin in his hede
They glowdin betwixtè yalowe and rede ;
And like a lyon lokid he about,
With kempid heris on his browis stout :
His limis grete, his brawnis herd and strong,
His shulderes brode, his armis round and long.
And as the guise ywas in his contre
Full high upon a char of gold stode he:
With four grete white bullis in the tracis.
Instead of court cote armur, on his harneis

[merged small][ocr errors]

With yalowe nailes, and bright as any gold,
He hath a beris (a) skinn cole-blak for old.
His long here was kemped behind his bak,
As any raven's fether't shone for blak.
A wrethe of golde armgrete, (b) of huge weight,
Upon his hed, sett ful of stonis bright,
Of fine rubies, and clere diamondes.
About his char ther wentin white alandes, (c)
Twentie and more, as grete as any stere,
To huntin at the lyon or wild bere;
And folowid him with mosil (d) fast ybound,
Coleres of gold and torretes (e) filid (f) round.
A hundrid lordis had he in his rout,
Armid ful wele, with hertis stern and stout.
With Arcitè, in storys as men find,
The grete Emetrius, the king of Ind,
Upon a stedè bay, trappid in stele,
Coverid with clothe of gold diaprid (g) wel,
Cam riding like the god of armis, Mars :
His cote armure was of the clothes of Tars, (h)
Couchid with perles white, and round, and grete;
His sadill was of brent (i) gold new ybete.
A mantlet upon his shuldères hanging,
Bretfull (k) of rubies redde as fire sparkling.
His crispè here like ringes (l) was yronne,
And yt was yalowe, glittering as the sonne.
His nose was high, his eyin bright citryn, (m)
Ruddy his lippes, his colour was sangyn.
And a fewe frekles in his face yspreint, (n)
Betwixt yalowe and somedele blak ymeint. (0)

(a) A bear's. (6) As big as your arm. (c) Greyhounds. (d) Muzzle. (e) Rings. The fastening of dog's collars. (f) Filed; highly polished.

(g) Embroidered ; diversified.

(h) Not of Tarsus in Cilicia; it is rather an abbreviation for Tartarin, or Tartarium. (1) Burnt ; burnished. (k) Quite full. (1) Rings. (m) Lemoncolour. (n) Sprinkled (0) A mixture of black and yellow.

And as a lyon he his eyis kest. (a)
Of five and twenty yere his age I ghest.
His berde was well begonning for to spring.
His throte was as a trompet thondiring.
Upon his hede he wered, of laurer grene
A garlond freshe, and lustie for to sene.
Upon his honde he bore for his delite
An egle tame, as ony lilie white.
An hundrid lordis had he with them there,
All armid, saaf their heddis, in their gere. (b)
About this king ther ran on every part

Full many a tamé lyon, and libart. Contemporary with Chaucer was John Gower, a poet of some celebrity. The date of his birth is not ascertained ; but he died in 1408, some years after Chaucer. It is said that there is a flattering tradition in the Stafford family that he was of Sti. tenham. Whatever might be his birth, he was a learned and an accomplished man,-whom his great contemporary compliments as the moral Gower. Succeeding eulogists adopt the more equi. vocal epithet of ancient, to which his title is indis. putable. Poets have from very early periods courted the patronage of the great. Ancient Gower attached himself to Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. He wrote in Latin and French ; and his sonnets in the latter language are still reckoned elegant. His principal work in English, en. titled CONFESSIO AMANTIS, consists of a series of tales illustrative of the moral virtues and the vices which contrast them. These stories are gleaned, as was then common, from existing collections of

[blocks in formation]

Gestes, Romances, and Tales. Without a spark of the fire of Chaucer, he writes with considerable amenity for the rude period in which he lived. A part of his works were printed by Caxton in 1483, and are thus among the earliest specimens of English typography. Gower was blind for some years before his death, which calamity appears to have been the frequent fate of poets. His tomb, decorated with his volumes and his effigy, the head garlanded with roses, is still to be seen in the church of St Mary Overey in Southwark, to the erection of which edifice he had liberally contributed. Gower's will is still extant, from which it appears that he was too rich a man to be a great poet.

Gower's verses show such uniform mediocrity, that it is impossible to find any tolerable specimen. The entire devotion of a lover to the wishes or caprices of his lady is expressed as follows. The allusion with which the passage concludes is to the Troilus and Creseide of Chaucer, probably not long written at that time :

That when her list on nights wake
In chambre, as to carol and daunce,
Methinke I maie me more avaunce,
If I may gone upon hir honde,
Than if I wynne a kynges londe.
For whan I maie her hand beclip, (a)
With such gladness I daunce and skip,

(a) Clasp

Methinketh I touch not the floore:
The roe which renneth on the moore
Is than nought so light as I.-
And whan it falleth other gate, (a)
So that hir liketh not to daunce,
But on the dyes to cast a chaunce,
Or aske of love some demaunde;
Or els that her list commaunde
To rede and here of Troilus.

This complaisance of a romantic lover is nothing to the absolute submission of Aristotle, who, after giving his pupil Alexander many counsels against love, falls in love himself with a Queen of Greece, who saddles and bridles the amorous philosopher, and rides him round her chamber. This tale or apologue is told in that mine of stories, called the Gesta Romanorum, from which our elder poets drew copiously.

Passing over several obscure names, half-forgotten even by antiquaries, the next English poet who continues the golden chain which links Chaucer to modern times, was John Lydgate, who is supposed to have been born about 1375. He was a monk, and lived in the Abbey of Bury; a scholar accómplished in all the learning of his time, and familiar with the works of the poets of France and Italy. Lydgate was the first author or versifier of all. work on record in our annals ; and as he always attempted bravely, and with full confidence in his own powers, he sometimes succeeded.“ If, says

(a) Gaiety, or way.

« PreviousContinue »