Thomas Hoccleve (1368 - 1426 / England)
The Letter of Cupid
Cupido, unto whos commandement
The gentil kinrede of goddes on hy
And peple infernal been obedient,
And the mortel folk seruen bisyly,
Of goddesse Sitheree sone oonly,
To alle tho that to our deitee
Been sogettes greetinges senden we.
In general, we wole that yee knowe
That ladies of honour and reverence
And other gentil wommen han ysowe
Swich seed of complainte in our audience
Of men that doon hem outrage and offense
That it our eres greeveth for to heere,
So pitous is th' effect of hir mateere;
And passing alle londes on this yle
That clept is Albioun they moost complaine;
They sayn that ther is croppe and roote of guile,
So can tho men dissimulen and faine
With standing dropes in hir eyen twaine,
Whan that hir herte feeleth no distresse.
To blinde wommen with hir doublenesse,
Hir wordes spoken been so sighingly
And with so pitous cheere and contenance,
That every wight that meeneth trewely
Deemeth that they in herte han swich greuance.
They sayn so importable is hir penance
That but hir lady list to shewe hem grace
They right anoon moot sterven in the place.
"A, lady min," they sayn, "I yow ensure,
Shewe me grace and I shal evere be,
Whiles my lif may lasten and endure,
To yow as humble in every degree
As possible is, and keepe al thing secree
As that yourselven liketh that I do;
And elles moot min herte breste on two."
Ful hard is it to knowe a mannes herte,
For outward may no man the truthe deeme
Whan word out of his mouth may ther noon sterte,
But it sholde any wight by reson queeme
So is it seid of herte, it wolde seeme.
O faithful womman, ful of Innocence,
Thou art betrayed by fals apparence!
By procees wommen, meved of pitee,
Weening al thing were as that tho men saye,
Granten hem grace of hir benignitee,
For they nat sholden for hir sake deye,
And with good herte sette hem in the weye
Of blisful love -- keepe it if they konne!
Thus other while been the wommen wonne.
And whan the man the pot hath by the stele,
And fully of her hath possessioun,
With that womman he keepeth nat to dele
After, if he may finden in the toun
Any womman his blind affeccion
On to bestowe -- foule moot he preeve!
A man for al his ooth is hard to leeve.
And for that every fals man hath a make,
As unto every wight is light to knowe,
Whan this Traitour the womman hath forsake
He faste him speedeth unto his felowe;
Til he be ther his herte is on a lowe,
His fals deceit ne may him nat suffise,
But of his treson telleth al the wise.
Is this a fair avaunt? Is this honour
A man himself to accuse and diffame?
Now is it good confesse him a traitour,
And bringe a womman to a sclaundrous name,
And telle how he hir body hath doon shame;
No worship may he thus to him conquere
But ful greet repreef unto him and here.
To her nay yit was it no repreef,
For al for pitee was it that shee wroghte;
But he that breewed hath al this mescheef,
That spak so fair and falsly inward thoghte --
His be the shame as it by reson oghte;
And unto her thank perpetuel
That in a neede helpe can so wel.
Althogh that men by sleighte and sotiltee
A sely, simple, and ignorant womman
Betraye is no wonder, syn the Citee
Of Troie, as that the storie telle can,
Betrayed was thurgh the deceit of man,
And set afir and al doun overthrowe,
And finally destroyed as men knowe.
Betrayen men nat Remes grete and kinges?
What wight is, that can shape a remedie
Againes false and hid purposed thinges?
Who can the craft tho castes to espye,
But man whos wil ay reedy is t' applye
To thing that souneth into hy falshede?
Wommen, be waar of mennes sleighte, I rede;
And ferthermore han the men in usage,
That wheras they nat likly been to speede
Swiche as they been with a double visage,
They procuren for to pursue hir neede;
He prayeth him in his cause proceede
And largely him quiteth his travaille;
Smal witen wommen how men hem assaille.
To his felawe another wreche sayth,
"Thou fishest fair! Shee that hath thee fired
Is fals and inconstant and hath no faith.
Shee for the rode of folk is so desired
And as an hors fro day to day is hired,
That whan thou twinnest from hir compaignie
Another comth and blered is thin eye.
Now prike on faste and ride thy journeye;
Whil thou art ther, shee behinde thy bak
So liberal is shee can no wight withsaye,
But quikly of another take a snak,
For so the wommen faren al the pak.
Whoso hem trusteth hanged moot he be!
Ay they desiren chaunge and noveltee.
Wherof procedeth this but of envye?
For he himself here ne winne may,
Repreef of her he speketh and villenye
As mannes labbing tonge is wont alway.
Thus sundry men ful often make assay
For to disturbe folk in sundry wise
For they may nat acheven hir emprise.
Ful many a man eek wolde for no good
That hath in love spent his time and used
Men wiste his lady his axing withstood
And that he were of his lady refused,
Or waast and vain were al that he had mused
Wherfore he can no bettre remedie
But on his lady shapeth him to lie:
"Every womman," he sayth," is light to gete;
Can noon sayn `nay' if shee be wel ysoght.
Whoso may leiser han with hir to trete
Of his purpos ne shal he faille noght."
But on madding he be so deepe broght
That he shende al with open hoomlynesse
That loven wommen nat as that I gesse.
To sclaundre wommen thus what may profite
To gentils namly that hem armen sholde
And in deffense of wommen hem delite
As that the ordre of gentillesse wolde
If that a man list gentil to be holde
Al moot he flee that is to it contrary
A sclaundring tonge is therto Aduersary.
A foul vice is of tonge to be light
For whoso mochil clappeth gabbeth ofte
The tonge of man so swift is and so wight
That whan it is araised up on lofte
Reson it sueth so slowly and softe
That it him nevere overtake may.
Lord, so the men been trusty at assay!
Al be it that men finde o womman nice,
Inconstant, rechelees, or variable
Deinous, or proud, fulfilled of malice,
Withoute faith or love and deceivable,
Sly, queinte and fals, in al unthrift coupable,
Wikked and feers and ful of crueltee --
It folweth nat swiche alle wommen be.
Whan that the hy god angels fourmed hadde
Among hem alle whether ther was noon
That founden was malicious and badde?
Yis, men wel knowen ther was many oon
That for hir pride fel from hevene anoon.
Shal man therfore alle angels proude name?
Nay, he that that susteneth is to blame.
Of twelue apostles oon a traitour was;
The remanaunt yit goode were and true.
Thanne, if it happe men finden par cas
O womman fals, swich is good for t' eschewe
And deeme nat that they been alle untrue.
I see wel mennes owne falsenesse
Hem causeth wommen for to truste lesse.
O, every man oghte han an herte tendre
Unto womman and deeme her honurable,
Whether his shap be either thikke or sclendre
Or he be badde or good; this is no fable.
Every man woot that wit hath resonable
That of a womman he descended is.
Than is it shame speke of hir amis.
A wikked tree good fruit may noon foorth bringe
For swich the fruit is, as that is the tree.
Take heede of whom thou took thy beginninge
Lat thy moder be mirour unto thee;
Honoure her if thou wilt honoured be.
Dispise thou nat her in no maneere
Lest that therthurgh thy wikkednesse appeere.
An old proverbe seid is in English
Men sayn that brid or foul is dishonest,
What so it be, and holden ful cherlish
That wont is to deffoule his owne nest.
Men to saye of wommen wel it is best
And nat for to despise hem ne deprave
If that hem list hir honour keepe and save.
Ladies eek complainen hem on clerkes
That they han maad bookes of hir deffame
In whiche they lakken wommennes werkes
And speken of hem greet repreef and shame
And causelees hem yeue a wikked name.
Thus they dispised been on every side
And sclaundred and belowen on ful wide.
Tho wikked bookes maken mencion
How they betrayeden in special
Adam, Dauid, Sampson, and Salomon
And many oon mo. Who may rehercen al
The tresoun that they have doon and shal?
Who may hir hy malice comprehende?
Nat the world, clerkes sayn; it hath noon ende.
Ovide in his book called Remedie
Of Love greet repreef of wommen writeth,
Wherin I trowe he dide greet folie
And every wight that in swich cas deliteth;
A clerkes custume is whan he enditeth
Of wommen, be it prose rym or vers,
Sayn they be wikke, al knowe he the revers.
And that book scolers lerne in hir childhede
For they of wommen be waar sholde in age,
And for to love hem evere been in drede,
Syn to deceive is set al hir corage.
They sayn peril to caste is avantage;
Namely swich as men han in be trapped,
For many a man by wommen han mishapped
No charge what so that the Clerkes sayn
Of al hir wrong wryting do we no cure
Al hir labour and travaille is in vain
For betwixt us and my lady Nature
Shal nat be suffred whil the world may dure
Clerkes by hir outrageous tirannye
Thus upon wommen kithen hir maistrye
Whilom ful many of hem were in our chaine
Tied and -- lo! -- now what for unweeldy age
And for unlust may nat to love attaine
And sayn that love is but verray dotage;
Thus for that they hemself lakken corage
They folk exciten by hir wikked sawes
For to rebelle again us and our lawes.
But maugree hem that blamen wommen moost
Swich is the force of oure impressioun
That sodeinly we felle can hir boost
And al hir wrong imaginacioun
It shal nat been in hir elleccioun
The foulest slutte in al a town refuse
If that us list, for al that they can muse.
But her in herte as brenningly desire
As thogh shee were a duchesse or a queene
So can we mennes hertes sette on fire
And as us list hem sende joye and teene
They that to wommen been ywhet so keene
Our sharpe strokes how sore they smite
Shul feele and knowe and how they kerve and bite.
Pardee, this greet clerk, this sotil Ovide
And many another han deceived be
Of wommen, as it knowen is ful wide.
What no men more and that is greet daintee
So excellent a clerk as that was he
And other mo that koude so wel preche
Betrapped wern for aght they koude teche.
And trusteth wel that it is no meruaille
For wommen knewen plainly hir entente
They wiste how sotilly they koude assaille
Hem and what falshode in herte they mente
And tho Clerkes they in hir daunger hente
With o venym another was destroyed
And thus the Clerkes often were anoyed
Thise ladies ne gentils nathelees
Weren nat they that wroghten in this wise
But swiche filthes that wern vertulees
They quitten thus thise olde Clerkes wise
To clerkes forthy lesse may suffise
Than to deprave wommen generally
For honour shuln they gete noon therby.
If that tho men that lovers hem pretende
To wommen weren faithful, goode, and true,
And dredden hem to deceive and offende,
Wommen to love hem wolde nat eschewe;
But every day hath man an herte neewe
It upon oon abide can no while.
What force is it swich oon for to beguile?
Men beren eek the wommen up on honde
That lightly and withouten any paine
They wonne been; they can no wight withstonde
That his disese list to hem complaine.
They been so freel they mowe hem nat restraine.
But whoso liketh may hem lightly have
So been hir hertes esy in to grave.
To Maistir Iohn de Meun as I suppose
Than it was a lewde occupacioun
In makinge of the Romance of the Rose
So many a sly imaginacioun
And perils for to rollen up and doun --
So long procees, so many a sly cautele,
For to deceive a sely damoisele!
Nat can we seen, ne in our wit comprehende
That art and paine and sotiltee may faille
For to conquere and soone make an ende,
Whan man a feeble place shal assaille,
And soone also to venquishe a Bataille
Of which no wight dar make resistence,
Ne herte hath noon to stonden at deffense.
Than moot it folwen of necessitee
Syn art asketh so greet engin and paine
A womman to deceive, what shee be,
Of constance they been nat so bareine
As that some of tho sotil clerkes feine,
But they been as that wommen oghten be:
Sad, constaunt, and fulfilled of pitee
How freendly was Medea to Jasoun
In the conquering of the flees of gold!
How falsly quitte he her affeccion,
By whom victorie he gat as he hath wold.
How may this man for shame be so bold
To falsen her that from deeth and shame
Him kepte and gat him so greet prys and name?
Of Troie also the traitour Eneas
The feithlees man how hath he him forswore
To Dido that Queene of Cartage was
That him releeved of his greeves sore.
What gentillesse mighte shee do more
Than shee with herte unfeined to him kidde?
And what mescheef to her of it betidde!
In our Legende of Martyrs may men finde
Whoso that liketh therin for to rede
That ooth noon ne beheste may men binde;
Of repreef ne of shame han they no drede;
In herte of man conceites true arn dede;
The soile is naght; ther may no trouthe growe.
To womman is hir vice nat unknowe
Clerkes sayn also ther is no malice
Unto wommannes crabbed wikkednesse.
O womman, how shalt thou thyself chevice,
Syn men of thee so mochil harm witnesse?
Yee, strah! Do foorth! Take noon hevynesse!
Keepe thin owne, what men clappe or crake
And some of hem shuln smerte, I undertake.
Malice of wommen what is it to drede?
They slee no men, destroyen no citees,
They nat oppressen folk, ne overlede,
Betraye Empires, Remes, ne Duchees,
Ne men bereve hir landes ne hir mees,
Folk enpoisone or houses sette on fire,
Ne fals contractes maken for noon hire.
Trust parfit love and enteer charitee,
Fervent wil and entalented corage.
To thewes goode as it sit wel to be
Han wommen ay of custume and usage;
And wel they can a mannes ire assuage
With softe wordes discreet and benigne
What they been inward sheweth owtward signe.
Wommannes herte to no crueltee
Enclined is; but they been charitable
Pitous, devout, ful of humilitee,
Shamefast, debonair, and amiable,
Dreedful, and of hir wordes mesurable;
What womman thise hath nat par aventure
Folweth nothing the way of hir nature.
Men sayn our firste moder nathelees
Mede al mankinde leese his libertee
And naked it of joye doutelees,
For goddes heeste disobeyed shee
Whan shee presumed to ete of the tree
Which god forbad that shee nat ete of sholde,
And nad the feend been, no more she wolde.
Th' envious swelling that the feend our fo
Had unto man in herte for his welthe
Sente a serpent and made her to go
To deceive Eve; and thus was mannes welthe
Bereft him by the feend right in a stelthe,
The womman nat knowing of the deceit.
God woot ful fer was it from hir conceit!
Wherfor we sayn this good womman Eve
Our fadir Adam ne deceived noght
Ther may no man for a deceit it preeve
Proprely, but if that shee in hir thoght
Had it compassed first or it was wroght;
And for swich was nat hir impressioun,
Men calle it may no deceit by resoun
No wight deceiveth but he it purpose
The feend this deceit caste and nothing shee.
Than is it wrong for to deeme or suppose
That shee sholde of that guilt the cause be.
Witeth the feend and his be the maugree,
And for excused have hir innocence,
Sauf oonly that shee brak obedience.
Touchinge which, ful fewe men ther been --
Unnethes any dar we saufly saye --
Fro day to day as men mowe wel seen,
But that the heeste of god they disobeye.
This have in minde, sires, we yow preye
If that yee be discreet and resonable
Yee wole hir holde the more excusable
And wher men sayn in man is stedfastnesse
And womman is of hir corage unstable,
Who may of Adam bere swich witnesse?
Telleth on this: was he nat changeable?
They bothe weren in a cas semblable,
Sauf willingly the feend deceived Eve.
So dide shee nat Adam, by your leeve!
Yit was that sinne happy to mankinde:
The feend deceived was for al his sleighte.
For aght he koude him in his sleightes winde,
God to discharge mankinde of the weighte
Of his trespas cam doun from hevenes heighte,
And flesh and blood he took of a virgine,
And souffred deeth man to delivere of pine.
And god fro whom ther may nothing hid be,
If he in womman knowe had swich malice,
As men of hem recorde in generaltee
Of our lady of lif reparatrice
Nolde han be born; but for that shee of vice
Was voide and of al vertu wel he wiste
Endowed of her be born him liste.
Her heped vertu hath swich excellence
That al too weyk is mannes facultee
To declare it; and therfore in suspense
Her due laude put moot needes be.
But this we witen verraily: that shee,
Next god, the best freend is that to man longeth.
The keye of mercy by hir girdil hongeth.
And of mercy hath every wight swich neede
That, cessing it, farwel the joye of man!
Of hir power it is to taken heede;
Shee mercy may, wole, and purchace can;
Displese her nat! Honureth that womman
And other wommen alle for hir sake;
And but yee do, your sorwe shal awake.
Thou precious gemme, martyr margarete,
Of thy blood dreddest noon effusioun;
Thy martyrdom ne may we nat foryete.
O constant womman, in thy passioun
Overcam the feendes temptacioun,
And many a wight converted thy doctrine
Unto the feith of god, holy virgine.
But understondeth: we commende hir noght
By encheson of hir virginitee
Trusteth right wel it cam nat in our thoght
For ay we werreie again chastitee
And evere shal; but this leeveth wel yee:
Her loving herte and constant to hir lay
Drive out of remembrance we nat may.
In any book also wher can yee finde
That of the wirkes or the deeth or lif
Of Jhesu spekth or maketh any minde
That wommen him forsook for wo or strif
Wher was ther any wight so ententif
Abouten him as wommen pardee noon
Th' apostles him forsooken everichoon
Wommen forsook him noght for al the feith
Of holy chirche in womman lefte oonly
This is no lees for thus holy writ sayth
Looke and yee shuln so finde it hardily
And therfore it may preeved be therby
That in womman regneth al the constaunce
And in man is al chaunge and variaunce
Now holdeth this for ferme and for no lye
That this treewe and just commendacioun
Of wommen is nat told for flaterye
Ne to cause hem pride or elacioun
But oonly -- lo! -- for this entencioun
To yeue hem corage of perseverance
In vertu and hir honur to enhaunce
The more vertu, the lasse is the pride;
Vertu so noble is and worthy in kinde
That vice and shee may nat in feere abide
Shee putteth vice cleene out of minde
Shee fleeth from him shee leveth him behinde
O womman that of vertu art hostesse,
Greet is thin honur and thy worthynesse.
Than thus we wolen conclude and deffine:
We yow commaunde our Ministres echoon
That reedy been to our hestes encline
That of tho men untrue, our rebel foon,
Yee do punishement and that anoon
Voide hem our Court and banishe hem for evere
So that therinne they ne come nevere.
Fulfilled be it! Cessing al delay,
Looke ther be noon excusacion.
Writen in th' air the lusty monthe of May
In our Paleys wher many a milion
Of lovers true han habitacion
The yeer of grace joyeful and jocounde
One thousand four hundred and secounde.
Comments about this poem (The Letter of Cupid by Thomas Hoccleve )
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