John Skelton (1460 - 1529 / Norfolk, England)
The Bowge of Courte
In Autumpne, whan the sonne in vyrgyne
By radyante hete enryped hath our corne,
Whan Luna, full of mutabylyte,
As Emperes the dyademe hath worne
Of our pole artyke, smylynge halfe in scorne
At our foly and our unstedfastnesse,
The tyme whan Mars to werre hym dyde dres,
pole artyke: Arcturus of the Corona Borealis
I, callynge to mynde the great auctoryte
Of poetes olde, whyche full craftely
Under as coverte termes as coude be,
Can touche a troughte and cloke it subtylly
Wyth fresshe utteraunce full sentencyonsly,
Dyverse in style, some spared not vyce to wrythe,
Some of moralyte nobly dyde endyte,
Wherby I rede theyr renome and theyr fame
Maye never dye bute evermore endure.
I was sore moved to a force the same,
But Ignoraunce full soone dyde me dyscure
And shewed that in this arte I was not sure,
For to illumyne she sayde I was to dulle,
Avysynge me my penne awaye to pulle
And not to wrythe, for he so wyll atteyne,
Excedynge ferther than his connynge is,
His hede maye be harde, but feble is his brayne!
Yet have I knowen suche er this;
But of reproche surely he maye not mys
That clymmeth hyer than he may fotynge have;
What and he slyde downe, who shall hym save?
Thus up and down my mynde was drawen and cast
That I ne wyste what to do was beste;
Soo sore enwered that I was, at the laste,
Enforsed to slepe and for to take some reste,
And to lye downe as soone as I me dreste.
At Harwyche Porte, slumbrynge as I laye
In myne hostes house, called Powers Keye,
Me thoughte I sawe a shyppe, goodly of sayle,
Come saylyng forth into that haven brood,
Her takelynge ryche and of hye apparayle;
She kyste an anker and there she laye at rode.
Marchauntes her borded to see what she had lode.
Therein they founde Royall marchaundyse,
Fraghted with plesure of what ye coude devyse.
But than I thoughte I wolde not dwell behynde,
Amonge all other I put myselfe in prece.
Than there coude I none aquentaunce fynde;
There was moche noyse, anone one cryed, cese!
Sharpely commaundynge eche man holde hys pece.
Maysters, he sayde, the shyp that ye here see,
The Bowge of Courte it hyghte for certeynte;
The awnner thereof is lady of estate,
Whoos name to tell is Dame Saunce Pere.
Her marchaundyse is ryche and fortunate,
But who wyll have it muste paye therfore dere;
This royall chaffre that is shypped here
Is called favore-to-stonde-in-her-good-grace.
Than sholde ye see there pressynge in a pace
Of one and other that wolde this lady see,
Whiche sat behynde a traves of sylke fyne,
Of golde of tessew the fynest that myghte be,
In a trone whiche fer clerer dyde shyne
Than Phebus in his spere celestyne,
Whoos beaute, honoure, goodly porte,
I have to lytyll connynge to reporte.
But of eche thynge there as I take hede,
Among all other was wrytten in her trone
In golde letters, this worde, whiche I dyde rede:
Garder le fortune que est mauelz et bone.
And as I stode redynge this verse myselfe allone,
Her chyef gentylwoman, daunger by her name,
Gave me a taunte, and sayde I was to blame
To he so perte to prese so proudly uppe.
She sayde she trowed that I had eten sause;
She asked yf ever I dranke of saucys cuppe.
And I than softly answered to that clause,
That, so to saye, I had gyven her no cause.
Than asked she me, Syr, so God the spede,
What is thy name? and I sayde it was Drede.
What movyd the, quod she, hydder to come?
Forsoth, quod I, to bye some of youre ware.
And with that worde on me she gave a glome
With browes bente and gan on me to stare
Full daynnously, and fro me she dyde fare,
Levynge me stondynge as a mased man,
To whome there came another gentylwoman.
Desyre her name was, and so she me tolde,
Sayenge to me, Broder, be of good chere,
Abasshe you not, but hardely be bolde,
Avaunce your selfe to aproche and come nere.
What though our chaffer he never so dere,
Yet I avyse you to speke for ony drede;
Who spareth to speke, in fayth, he spareth to spede.
Maystres, quod I, I have none aquentaunce
That wyll for me be medyatoure and mene;
And this an other, I have but smale substaunce.
Pece, quod Desyre, ye speke not worth a bene!
Yf ye have not, in fayth, I wyll you lene
A precyous jewell, no rycher in this londe:
Bone aventure have here now in your honde.
Shyfte now therwith, let see, as ye can,
In Bowge of Courte chevysaunce to make;
For I dare saye that there nys erthly man
But, and he can Bone aventure take,
There can no favour nor frendshyp hym forsake.
Bone aventure may brynge you in suche case
That ye shall stonde in favoure and in grace.
But of one thynge I werne you er I goo:
She that styreth the shyp, make her your frende.
Maystres, quod I, I praye you tell me why soo,
And how I maye that waye and meanes fynde.
Forsothe, quod she, how ever blowe the wynde,
Fortune gydeth and ruleth all oure shyppe.
Whome she hateth shall over the see boorde skyp.
Whome she loveth, of all plesyre is ryche
Whyles she laugheth and hath luste for to playe,
Whome she hateth she casteth in the dyche,
For whan she fronneth, she thynketh to make a fray;
She cheryssheth him, and hym she casseth awaye.
Alas, quod I, how myghte I have her sure?
In fayth, quod she, by bone aventure.
Thus in a rowe of martchauntes a grete route
Suwed to Fortune that she would be theyre frynde.
They thronge in fast and flocked her aboute,
And I with them prayed her to have in mynde.
She promysed to us all she wolde be kynde;
Of Bowge of Court she asketh what we wold have,
And we asked favoure, and favour she us gave. 120
Thus endeth the prologue; and begynneth
the Bowge of Courte brevely compyled.
THE sayle is up, Fortune ruleth our helme,
We wante no wynde to passe now over all;
Favoure we have toughther than ony elme,
That wyll abyde and never frome us fall.
But under hony ofte tyme lyeth bytter gall,
For as me thoughte in our shyppe I dyde see
Full subtyll persones in nombre foure and thre.
The fyrste was Favell, full of flatery,
Wyth fables false, that well coude fayne a tale;
The seconde was Suspecte whiche that dayly
Mysdempte eche man, with face deedly and pale;
And Harvy Hafter, that well coude picke a male;
With other foure of theyr affynyte:
Dysdayne, Ryotte, Dyssymuler, Subtylte.
Fortune theyr frende with whome oft she dyde daunce:
They coude not faile, thei thought, they were so sure.
And oftentymes I wolde myselfe avaunce
With them to make solace and pleasure;
But my dysporte they coude not well endure;
They sayde they hated for to dele with Drede.
Than Favell gan wyth fayre speche me to fede.
Noo thynge erthely that I wonder so sore
As of your connynge that is so excellent;
Deynte to have with us suche one in store,
So vertuously that hath his dayes spente.
Fortune to you gyftes of grace hath lente:
Loo, what it is a man to have connynge!
All erthly tresoure it is surmountynge.
Ye be an apte man, as ony can be founde,
To dwell with us and serve my ladyes grace.
Ye be to her, yea, worth a thousande pounde;
I herde her speke of you within shorte space,
Whan there were dyverse that sore dyde you manace.
And though I say it I was myselfe your frende,
For here be dyverse to you that be unkynde.
But this one thynge ye maye be sure of me,
For by that lorde that bought dere all mankynde,
I can not flater, I muste be playne to the.
And ye nede ought, man, shewe to me your mynde,
For ye have me whome faythfull ye shall fynde;
Whyles I have ought, by God, thou shalt not lacke,
And yf nede be, a bolde worde I dare cracke.
Nay, naye, be sure, whyles I am on your syde
Ye maye not fall, truste me, ye maye not fayle.
Ye stonde in favoure and Fortune is your gyde,
And as she wyll so shall our grete shyppe sayle.
Thyse lewde cok wattes shall nevermore prevayle
Ageynste you hardely; therefore be not afrayde,
Farewell tyll soone, but no worde that I sayde.
Than thanked I hym for his grete gentylnes,
But as me thoughte he ware on hym a cloke
That lyned was with doubtfuIl doublenes.
Me thoughte of wordes that he had full a poke,
His stomak stuffed ofte tymes dyde reboke.
Suspycyon, me thoughte, mette hym at a brayde,
And I drewe nere to herke what they two sayde.
In fayth, quod Suspecte, spake Drede no worde of me?
Why, what than? wylte thou lete men to speke?
He sayth he can not well accorde with the.
Twyst, quod Suspecte, goo playe, hym I ne reke!
By Cryste, quod Favell, Drede is soleyne freke.
What, lete us holde him up, man, for a whyle.
Ye, soo, quod Suspecte, he maye us bothe begyle.
And whan he came walkynge soberly,
Wyth 'Whom' and 'Ha' and with a croked loke,
Me thoughte his hede was full of gelousy,
His eyen rollynge, his hondes faste they quoke;
And to mewarde the strayte waye he toke.
God spede, broder, to me quod he than,
And thus to talke with me he began:
Ye remembre the gentylman ryghte nowe
That commaunde with you, me thought, a praty space?
Beware of him, for I make God avowe,
He wyll begyle you and speke fayre to your face.
Ye never dwelte in suche an other place,
For here is none that dare well other truste;
But I wolde telle you a thynge, and I durste.
Spake he, a fayth, no worde to you of me?
I wote and he dyde ye wolde me telle.
I have a favoure to you, wherof it be
That I muste shewe you moche of my counselle;
But I wonder what the devyll of helle
He sayde of me, whan he with you dyde talke;
By myne avyse use not with him to walke.
The soveraynst thynge that ony man maye have
Is lytyll to saye and moche to here and see;
For but I trusted you so God me save,
I wolde noo thynge so playne be.
To you oonly, me thynke, I durste shryve me,
For now am I plenarely dysposed
To shewe you thynges that may not be disclosed.
Than I assured hym my fydelyte,
His counseyle secrete never to dyscure,
Yf he coude fynde in herte to truste me.
Els I prayed hym with all my besy cure
To kepe it hymselfe, for than he myghte be sure
That noo man erthly coude hym bewreye.
Whyles of his mynde it were lockte with the keye.
By God, quod he, this and thus it is,
And of his mynde he shewed me all and some.
Fare well, quod he, we wyll talke more of this.
Soo he departed there he wolde be come.
I dare not speke, I promysed to be dome.
But as I stode musynge in my mynde,
Harvy Hafter came lepynge, lyghte as lynde.
Upon his breste he bare a versynge boxe;
His throte was clere and lustely coude fayne;
Me thoughte his gowne was all furred wyth foxe;
And ever he sange, Sythe I am no thynge playne.
To kepe him frome pykynge, it was a grete payne;
He gased on me with his gotyshe berde;
Whan I loked on hym, my purse was half aferde.
Syr, God you save, why loke you so sadde?
VVhat thynge is that I maye do for you?
A wonder thynge that ye waxe not madde.
For and I studye sholde as ye doo nowe,
My wytte wolde waste, I make God avowe.
Tell me your mynde, me thynke ye make a verse,
I coude it skan and ye wolde it reherse.
But to the poynte shortely to procede,
Where hathe your dwellynge ben, er ye cam here?
For as I trowe, I have sene you in dede
Er this, whan that ye made me royall chere.
Holde up the helme, loke up and lete God stere:
I wolde be mery that wynde that ever blowe,
Heve and how, rombelow, Row the bote, Norman, rowe!
Prynces of youghte can ye synge by rote?
Or Shall I sayle wyth you a felashyp assaye?
For on the booke I can not synge a note,
Wolde to God it wolde please you some daye
A balade boke before me for to laye,
And leme me to synge Re my fa sol!
And whan I fayle bobbe me on the noll.
Loo, what is to you a pleasure grete
To have that connynge and wayes that ye have;
By Goddis soule, I wonder how ye gete
Soo greate pleasyre or who to you it gave.
Syr, pardone me, I am an homely knave
To be with you thus perte and thus bolde;
But ye be welcome to our housholde.
And I dare saye there is no man hereinne
But wolde be glad of your company:
I wyste never man that so soone coude wynne
The favoure that ye have with my lady.
I praye to God that it maye never dy;
It is your fortune for to have that grace,
As I be saved, it is a wonder case.
For as for me, I served here many a daye,
And yet unneth I can have my lyvynge—
But I requyre you no worde that I saye.
For, and I knowe ony erthly thynge
That is agayne you, ye shall have wetynge;
And ye be welcome, syr, so God me save,
I hope here after a frende of you to have.
Wyth that, as he departed soo fro me,
Anone ther mette with him, as me thoughte,
A man, but wonderly besene was he:
He loked hawte, he sette eche man at noughte,
His gawdy garment with scornnys was all wrought;
With Indygnacyon lyned was his hode;
He frowned as he wolde swere by Cockes blode.
He bote the lyppe, he loked passynge coye,
His face was belymmed as byes had him stounge;
It was no tyme with him to jape nor toye.
Envye hathe wasted his lyver and his lounge,
Hatred by the herte so had hym wrounge
That he loked pale as asshes to my syghte;
Dysdayne, I wene, this comerous carkes hyghte.
To Hervy Hafter than he spake of me,
And I drewe nere to harke what they two sayde.
Now, quod Dysdayne, as I shall saved be,
I have grete scorne and am ryghte evyll apayed.
Than, quod Hervy, why arte thou so dysmayde?
By Cryste, quod he, for it is shame to saye,
To see Johan Dawes that came but yesterdaye
How he is now taken in conceyte,
This Doctour Dawcocke, Drede, I wene he hyghte.
By Goddis bones, but yf we have som sleyte,
It is lyke he wyll stonde in our lyghte.
By God, quod Hervy, and it so happen myghte.
Lete us therfore shortely at a worde
Fynde some mene to caste him over the borde.
By him that me boughte, than quod Dysdayne,
I wonder sore he is in suche cenceyte.
Turde, quod Hafter, I wyll the nothynge fayne,
There muste for hym be layde some prety beyte.
We tweyne, I trowe, be not withoute dysceyte:
Fyrste pycke a quarell and fall oute with hym then,
And soo outface hym with a carde of ten.
Forthwith he made on me a prowde assawte,
With scornfull loke meuyd all in moode.
He wente aboute to take me in a fawte;
He frounde, he stared, he stampped where he stoode.
I loked on hym, I wende he had be woode.
He set the arme proudly under the syde,
And in this wyse he gan with me to chyde.
Remembrest thou what thou sayd yesternyght?
Wylt thou abyde by the wordes agayne?
By God, I have of the now grete dyspyte;
I shall the angre ones in every vayne.
It is greate scorne to see suche an hayne
As thou arte, one that cam but yesterdaye,
With us olde servauntes such maysters to playe.
I tell the I am of countenaunce;
What weneste I were? I trowe thou knowe not me.
By Goddis woundes but for dysplesaunce
Of my querell soone wolde I venged be.
But, no force, I shall ones mete with the;
Come whan it wyll, oppose the I shall,
Whatsomever aventure therof fall.
Trowest thou, drevyll, I saye, thou gawdy knave,
That I have deynte to see the cherysshed thus?
By Goddis syde, my sworde thy berde shall shave!
Well, ones thou shalte be chermed, I wus.
Naye, strawe for tales, thou shalte not rule us,
We be thy betters and so thou shalte us take,
Or we shall the oute of thy clothes shake!
Wyth that came Ryotte russhynge all at ones,
A rusty gallande, to ragged and to rente,
And on the borde he whyrled a payre of bones;
Quater treye dews, he clatered as he wente:
Now have at all, by Saynte Thomas of Kente.
And ever he threwe, and kyst I wote nere what,
His here was growen thorowe oute his hat.
cast I never knew what
Thenne I behelde how he dysgysed was,
His hede was hevy for watchynge overnyghte,
His eyen blereed, his face shone lyke a glas,
His gowne so shorte that it ne cover myghte
His rumpe, he wente so all for somer lyghte;
His hose was garded wyth a lyste of grene,
Yet at the knee they were broken, I wene.
somer lyghte: dressed for summer. lyste: strip
His cote was checked with patches rede and blewe,
Of Kyrkeby Kendall was his shorte demye;
And ay he sange, In fayth, Decon, thou crewe.
His elbowe bare, he ware his gere so nye,
His nose a.droppynge, his lyppes were full drye,
And by his syde his whynarde and his pouche,
The Devyll myghte daunce therin for ony crowche.
Counter he coude (O lux) upon a potte,
An eestryche fedder of a capons tayle
He set up fresshely upon his hat alofte;
What, revell route, quod he, and gan to rayle
How ofte he hadde hit Jenet on the tayle,
Of Felyce fetewse and lytell prety Cate,
How ofte he knocked at her klycked gate.
What sholde I tell more of his rebaudrye?
I was ashamed so to here hym prate,
He had no pleasure but in harlotrye.
Ay, quod he, in the devylles date,
What arte thou? I sawe the nowe but late.
Forsothe, quod I, in this courte I dwell nowe.
Welcome, quod Ryote, I make God avowe.
And, syr, in fayth, why comste not us amonge
To make the mery, as other felowes done?
Thou muste swere and stare, man, aldaye longe,
And wake all nyghte and slepe tyll it be none;
Thou mayste not studye or muse on the mone.
This worlde is nothynge but ete, drynke and slepe,
And thus with us good company to kepe.
Plucke up thyne herte upon a mery pyne,
And lete us laugh a placke or tweyne at nale;
What the devyll, man, myrthe was never one.
What, loo, man, see here of dyce a bale;
A brydelynge caste for that is in thy male!
Now have at all that lyeth upon the burde,
Fye on this dyce, they be not worth a turde!
Have at the hasarde or at the dosen browne,
Or els I pas a peny to a pounde;
Now wolde to God thou wolde leye money downe!
Lorde, how that I wolde caste it full rounde!
Ay, in my pouche a buckell I have founde,
The armes of Calyce, I have no coyne nor crosse,
I am not happy, I renne ay on the losse!
Now renne muste I to the stewys syde,
To wete yf Malkyn, my lemman, have gete oughte:
I lete her to hyre that men maye on her ryde,
Her harnes easy ferre and nere is soughte.
By Goddis sydes, syns I her thyder broughte,
She hath gote me more money with her tayle
Than hath some shyppe that into Bordews sayle.
Had I as good an hors as she is a mare,
I durste aventure to journey thorugh Fraunce;
Who rydeth on her, he nedeth not to care,
For she is trussed for to breke a launce.
It is a curtel that well can wynche and praunce;
To her wyll I nowe all my poverte lege.
And tyll I come have, here is myne hat to plege.
Gone is this knave, this rybaude foule and leude;
He ran as fast as ever that he myghte.
Unthryftynes in hym may well be shewed,
For whome Tyborne groneth both daye and nyghte.
And as I stode and kyste asyde my syghte,
Dysdayne I sawe with Dyssymulacyon,
Standynge in sadde communicacion.
But there was poyntynge and noddynge with the hede,
And many wordes sayde in secrete wyse;
They wandred ay and stode styll in no stede.
Me thoughte, alwaye Dyscymular dyde devyse;
Me, passynge sore, myne herte than gan aryse,
I dempte and drede theyr talkynge was not good.
Anone Dyscymular came where I stode.
Than in his hode I sawe there faces tweyne,
That one was lene and lyke a pyned goost,
That other loked as he wolde me have slayne.
And to mewarde as he gan for to coost,
Whan that he was even at me almoost,
I sawe a knyfe hyd in his one sIeve,
Wheron was wryten this worde, myscheve.
And in his other sleve, me thought I sawe
A spone of golde, full of hony swete,
To fede a fole, and for to preye a dawe.
And on that sleve these wordes were wrete,
A false abstracte cometh from a fals concrete.
His hode was syde, his cope was roset graye,
Thyse were the wordes he to me dyde saye:
How do ye, mayster? Ye loke so soberly,
As I be saved at the dredefull daye,
It is a perylous vyce, this envy.
Alas, a connynge man ne dwelle maye
In no place well, but foles with hym fraye.
But as for that, connynge hath no foo
Save hym that nought can: scrypture sayth soo.
I knowe your vertu and your lytterkture
By that lytel connynge that I have;
Ye be malygned sore, I you ensure
But ye have crafte your selfe alwaye to save.
It is grete scorne to se a mysproude knave
With a clerke that connynge is to prate:
Lete theym go lowse theym, in the devylles date.
For allbeit that this longe not to me,
Yet on my backe I bere suche lewde delynge;
Ryghte now I spake with one, I trowe, I see—
But, what, a strawe! I maye not tell all thynge.
By God, I saye, there is grete herte brennynge
Betwene the persone ye wote of, you—
Alas, I coude not dele so with a Jew!
is not my business
I wolde eche man were as playne as I,
It is a worlde, I saye, to here of some;
I hate this faynynge, fye upon it, fye!
A man can not wote where to become;
Iwys I coude tell—but humlery, home,
I dare not speke, we be so layde awayte,
For all our courte is full of dysceyte.
Now, by Saynte Fraunceys, that holy man and frer
I hate this wayes agayne you that they take!
Were I as you, I wolde ryde them full nere,
And by my trouthe but yf an ende they make,
Yet wyll I saye some wordes for your sake
That shall them angre, I holde thereon a grote,
For some shall wene be hanged by the throte.
I bet money on it
I have a stoppyng oyster in my poke,
Truste me and yf it come to a nede;
But I am lothe for to reyse a smoke,
Yf ye coude be otherwyse agrede;
And so I wolde it were, so God me spede,
For this maye brede to a confusyon,
Withoute God make a good conclusyon.
Naye, see where yonder stondeth the teder man,
A flaterynge knave and false he is, God wote;
The drevyll stondeth to herken and he can.
It were more thryft he boughte him a newe cote;
It wyll not be, his purse is not on flote.
All that he wereth it is borowed ware,
His wytte is thynne, his hode is threde-bare.
More coude I saye, but what this is ynowe;
Adewe tyll soone, we shall speke more of this.
Ye muste be ruled as I shall tell you howe,
Amendis maye be of that is now amys.
And I am your, syr, so have I blys,
In every poynte that I can do or saye.
Gyve me your honde, fare well and have good daye.
Sodaynly, as he departed me fro,
Came pressynge in one in a wonder araye;
Er I was ware, behynde me he sayde Bo!
Thenne I, astonyed of that sodeyne fraye,
Sterte all at ones. I lyked no thynge his playe,
For yf I had not quyckely fledde the touche,
He had plucte oute the nobles of my pouche.
He was trussed in a garmente strayte
(I have not sene suche anothers page)
For he coude well upon a casket wayte,
His hode all pounsed and garded lyke a cage.
Lyghte lyme fynger, he toke none other wage.
Harken, quod he, loo here myne honde in thyne,
To us welcome thou arte, by Saynte Quyntyne.
But by that Lorde that is one, two and thre,
I have an errande to rounde in your ere.
He tolde me so, by God, ye maye truste me.
Parde, remembre whan ye were there,
There I wynked on you, wote ye not where?
In (A) loco, I mene juxta (B),
Woo is hym that is blynde and maye not see!
But to here the subtylte and the crafte,
As I shall tell you, yf ye wyll harke agayne:
And whan I sawe the horsons wolde you hafte,
To holde myne honde, by God, I had grete payne;
For forthwyth there I had him slayne,
But that I drede mordre wolde come oute;
Who deleth with shrewes hath nede to loke aboute.
And as he rounded thus in myne ere
Of false collusyon confetryd by assente,
Me thoughte I see lewde felawes here and there
Game for to slee me of mortall entente.
And as they came, the shyphorde faste I hente,
And thoughte to lepe, and even with that woke,
Caughte penne and ynke, and wroth this lytyll boke.
I wolde therwith no man were myscontente,
Besechynge you that shall it see or rede,
In every poynte to be indyfferente,
Syth all in substaunce of slumbrynge doth procede.
I wyll not saye it is mater in dede,
But yet oftyme suche dremes be founde trewe;
Now constrewe ye what is the resydewe.
Comments about this poem (The Bowge of Courte by John Skelton )
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