The Floure and the Leafe


1 When the Sun; chariot; high

2 Nor with thoughts unpleasant or disagreeable

3 With voice sweetly modulated, delicately fine, and high-pitched

4 Of delicate silk cloth (from Tartary) that was exquisitely embroidered

5 And as it appeared, they had nothing to learn

6 And certainly, they had no need to go and find out

7 And every boss (stud) of the breast-piece of horse armor


1-14 The spring opening was conventional in courtly love-allegory, as a way of suggesting the renewal of love and love's expectation, or the unhappiness by contrast of unrequited love (both suggestions are explicitly denied here, in lines 18-21).

1-3 Astronomical allusion as a way of indicating the season was equally conventional. The opening lines of the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales are the best-known example. These lines are directly imitated from the closing lines of the Squire's Tale ('Apollo whirleth up his chaar so hye', V.671). Readers of poems like FL would be familiar from the Calendars in their Books of Hours with pictures of Phoebus passing across a starry sky in his golden chariot; the reference of course is not to the rising of the sun but to its northward course through the zodiac and its entry into Taurus (on 12 April, in Chaucer's time).

8 maketh: It is difficult to find a subject for this verb, but loose and diffused syntax of this kind is not uncommon among those who tried to imitate Chaucer's consummate mastery of the long verse sentence (e.g. General Prologue, 1-18).

18-21 The narrator seems aware of the usual cause of sleeplessness, in love-longing and love-sickness, as in Chaucer's Book of the Duchess.

27-126 The description of the garden is full of echoes of Chaucer, Lydgate, and the French poets. Like the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women, it is meant to be recognized as a tapestry of literary allusion (rather than a description of a 'real' garden).

34 The sun seems to have risen very suddenly (cf. 28); consistency of realistic visualization is not in general much sought after in these descriptions.

35 Some very red: this, on the other hand, is a piece of precisely observed botanical detail.

40 nightingale: it was thought a good omen, foretelling success in love, to hear the nightingale before the cuckoo upon the advent of both with spring.

49 herber: The enclosed arbor was a favorite feature of medieval gardens, real and literary; lovers discourse there privately, and poets fall asleep. This poet, for a change, does not fall asleep, and the arbor exists as a vantage-point from which to view operations outside.

50 benched: earthen benches topped with turf were very popular in medieval gardens (as in the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women).

78-84 The sweet scents of gardens are much emphasized; they were not only pleasant in themselves, but were believed to have healing power.

86 medle: The medlar tree is stunted and has low-hanging branches; the fruit is small, hard and round, and fit to eat only when decaying, when it turns brown (its popular name was 'open-ers'; see Chaucer, Reeve's Tale, I.3871).

141 surcotes: sleeveless over-garments, often richly embroidered and decorated, worn over a lighter under-garment. In the fifteenth century the arm-openings became so exaggeratedly large that the top became almost like a pinafore.

142 semes: In the richest clothes, ornamental strips of material, sometimes studded with precious stones, were inserted or laid over the seams.

160 Agnus castus: a willow-like plant, emblematic of chastity.

176 roundell: a dance-song, led by a soloist, at the head of a chain or in the middle of a circle (as here), the soloist singing the verses of the song and the chorus repeating part of the verse as a refrain.

177-8 Popular songs were often quoted in courtly poems to give an air of freshness and topicality. The lines quoted here are a garbled version of the opening of a fifteenth-century song from Normandy: 'Dessoubz la branche d'ung verd moy, / S'est mon jolli cueur endormy' (Beneath the branch of a green May-tree / My joyful heart has gone to sleep). It is the song of a woman, describing how she is waiting for her lover, and affirming the constancy of her love.

202 Pretir John: Prester John, the fabulously wealthy legendary Christian monarch ('Prester' is from the same root as 'priest'), first associated with Asia, later with Ethiopia.

209 okes seriall: directly imitated from the Knight's Tale, I.2290, where Emelye wears a 'coroune of a grene ook cerial' as an emblem of her service to Diana. The association intended is clearly with the evergreen or holm-oak (ilex), though the original reference in Boccaccio's Teseide (which Chaucer follows), is to the deciduous Turkey oak.

220 kings of armes: heralds in royal employ. Here, there is one in attendance on each of the Nine Worthy (see 240).

233 veluet: trisyllabic here, as in Chaucer.

271 kene: 'noble, brave'; by hypallage, the epithet appropriate to those who bear the oak is transferred to the oak itself.

285 steeds: i.e., the riderless horses.

316 enclining: One expects a finite verb, but this rather loose use of participles is common in fifteenth-century poetry (cf. 320 below; 8 above).

329 green: The symbolism of white (for purity), worn by the company of the leaf, was clear enough; green was commonly associated with, among other things, fickleness in love and frivolity, as in Chaucer's poem Against Women Unconstant ('In stede of blew, thus may ye were al grene').

331-3 These lines refer to the women in the company.

348 bargaret: from French bergerette, a shepherd's song, which gave its name to a fixed-form court-song in the fifteenth century. The praise of the daisy is a convention in the French poetry of the fourteenth century and in Chaucer's Prologue to his Legend of Good Women.

350 Si douce, etc.: 'So sweet is the daisy.' Probably the refrain of a popular song (cf. 177-8).

356 whote: a spelling indicative of the development of a strong rounded on-glide before ho (with long vowel), as in whole, whore, where the spelling survives.

403 to make their justs: It sounds as if they plan to joust with them afterwards, but this seems unlikely. The line may be corrupt.

407 hearbs: The botanical part of the natural history in the Middle Ages was largely the study of the medicinal properties of plants. Everyone would have known what plants to gather to make a sunburn lotion.

412 salades: Parsley and lettuce, specifically, are recommended for those who are over-heated (lettuce, incidentally, was also thought to be an antiaphrodisiac).

425 palfray: A palfrey would be a saddle-horse for ordinary riding, especially suitable for ladies.

437 service: The idea that the song of the birds in spring was a 'service' in honor of God, or Nature, or Love, was a popular conceit with medieval poets, characteristic of the way religious language was appropriated to the celebration of love.

456 happed: Such 'chance' meetings are common in allegorical poetry, where some kind of fictional guide is needed to explain the significance of what has been happening.

471 yis: 'yes'; was originally, as here, the emphatic form of ye or yea, and used to answer questions in a negative form.

504 The Nine Worthy (properly so, not 'the Nine Worthies') appear frequently in late medieval literature and art as types of nobility, illustrious examples for the present, and, in the Ubi sunt ('Where are ... ?) topos, as examples of the power of death. They were, traditionally, three Jews (Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus), three pagans (Hector, Alexander, Julius Caesar), and three Christians (Arthur, Charlemagne, Godfrey of Boulogne). Their presence here may seem odd, but the Middle Ages had little difficulty in imaging forth the past in terms of idealized contemporary chivalry. Julius Caesar, indeed, is seen as the founder of medieval chivalry (see 530-2 below).

516 Douseperis: Les douze pers, the twelve peers of France, were Charlemagne's paladins (Roland, Oliver, etc.), who fought with him against the Saracens.

519 Garter: The Order of the Garter was established by Edward III in 1349.

530 The reference is to Julius Caesar, who was much venerated in the Middle Ages, and credited with the founding of chivalry.

532 Titus Livius: Livy (59 BC - AD 17) is not renowned as a historian of Caesar, but he is an unimpeachable historical authority, which is the reason he is alluded to here.

536 idlenes: for moralists, the 'mother of all vices'; she is also, it is worth remembering, the portress of the Garden of Love in the Roman de la Rose.

541 and: this word upsets the grammar of the sentence, to modern taste, but such sentences are not uncommon in fifteenth-century poetry.

550 For wele to better: an echo, perhaps, of the idiom of the French motto, De bien en mieulx. Cf. De mieulx en mieulx, used as a motto in the fifteenth century by the Paston family of Norfolk.

554 keping: another loosely related participle.

565 no such occupacion: i.e. no such occupation (function) as to symbolize perseverance and fidelity.

574 this yeere: refers to honour, of course, not tell. In the courtly cult of the Flower and the Leaf, the choice was made on the first of May and was binding for the ensuing year.

580 Male Bouch: 'Wicked Tongue,' or Slander, a personification in the Roman de la Rose (called 'Wykked-Tonge' in Chaucer's translation, 3027).

591-95 A good example of the 'modesty epilogue,' which Lydgate, in particular, develops in an immodestly elaborate way. The 'little book' is probably an echo of Chaucer's Troilus V.1786. The characterization of the little book as blushing at its own boldness is an unusual and effective touch.
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The Floure and the Leafe

When that Phebus his chaire of gold so hie1
Had whirled up the sterry sky aloft,
And in the Boole was entred certainly;
When shoures sweet of raine discended soft,
Causing the ground, fele times and oft,
Up for to give many an wholsome aire,
And every plaine was clothed faire
With new greene, and maketh small flours
To springen here and there in field and in mede -
So very good and wholsome be the shoures
That it renueth that was old and deede
In winter time, and out of every seede
Springeth the hearbe, so that every wight
Of this season wexeth glad and light.
And I, so glad of the season swete,
Was happed thus upon a certaine night:
As I lay in my bed, sleepe ful unmete
Was unto me; but why that I ne might
Rest, I ne wist, for there nas earthly wight,
As I suppose, had more hearts ease
Then I, for I nad sicknesse nor disease.
Wherefore I mervaile greatly of my selfe,
That I so long withouten sleepe lay;
And up I rose, three houres after twelfe,
About the springing of the day,
And on I put my geare and mine array,
And to a pleasaunt grove I gan passe,
Long or the bright sonne up risen was;
In which were okes great, streight as a line,
Under the which the grasse so fresh of hew
Was newly sprong; and an eight foot or nine
Every tree well fro his fellow grew,
With braunches brode, lade with leves new,
That sprongen out ayen the sonne shene,
Some very red and some a glad light grene;
Which as me thought was right a plesaunt sight,
And eke the briddes song for to here
Would have rejoised any earthly wight.
And I, that couth not yet in no manere
Heare the nightingale of all the yere,
Full busily herkened with hart and with eare
If I her voice perceive coud any where.
And at the last a path of litle breade
I found, that greatly had not used be,
For it forgrowen was with grasse and weede
That well unneth a wight might it se.
Thought I, this path some whider goth, parde,
And so I followed, till it me brought
To right a pleasaunt herber, well ywrought,
That benched was, and with turfes new
Freshly turved, whereof the greene gras,
So small, so thicke, so short, so fresh of hew,
That most like unto green welwet it was.
The hegge also, that yede in compas
And closed in all the green herbere,
With sicamour was set and eglatere,
Wrethen in fere so wel and cunningly
That every branch and leafe grew by mesure,
Plain as a bord, of an height, by and by -
I see never thing, I you ensure,
So wel done; for he that tooke the cure
It to make, y trow, did all his peine
To make it passe all tho that men have seyne.
And shapen was this herber, roofe and all,
As a pretty parlour, and also
The hegge as thicke as a castel wall,
That who that list without to stond or go,
Though he would all day prien to and fro,
He should not see if there were any wight
Within or no; but one within well might
Perceive all tho that yeden there without
In the field, that was on every side
Covered with corne and grasse, that, out of doubt,
Though one would seeke all the world wide,
So rich a field coud not be espide
On no coast, as of the quantity,
For of all good thing there was plenty.
And I, that all this pleasaunt sight sie,
Thought sodainly I felt so sweet an aire
Of the eglentere, that certainly
There is no heart, I deme, in such dispaire,
Ne with thoughts froward and contraire2
So overlaid, but it should soone have bote,
If it had ones felt this savour soote.
And as I stood and cast aside mine eie,
I was ware of the fairest medle tre
That ever yet in all my life I sie,
As ful of blosomes as it might be.
Therein a goldfinch leaping pretile
Fro bough to bough, and as him list he eet,
Here and there, of buds and floures sweet.
And to the herber side was joyning
This faire tree, of which I have you told.
And at the last the brid began to sing,
Whan he had eaten what he eat wold,
So passing sweetly that, by manifold,
It was more pleasaunt then I coud devise.
And when his song was ended in this wise,
The nightingale with so merry a note
Answered him that all the wood rong,
So sodainly that, as it were a sote,
I stood astonied; so was I with the song
Thorow ravished, that, till late and long,
I ne wist in what place I was, ne where;
And ayen, me thought, she song even by mine ere.
Wherefore I waited about busily
On every side, if I her might see;
And at the last I gan full well aspy
Where she sat in a fresh greene laurey tree,
On the further side, even right by me,
That gave so passing a delicious smell
According to the eglentere full well.
Whereof I had so inly great pleasure
That as me thought I surely ravished was
Into Paradise, where my desire
Was for to be, and no ferther passe
As for that day, and on the sote grasse
I sat me downe; for, as for mine entent,
The birds song was more convenient,
And more pleasaunt to me, by many fold,
Than meat or drinke, or any other thing.
Thereto the herber was so fresh and cold,
The wholsome savours eke so comforting
That, as I demed, sith the beginning
Of the world was never seen or than
So pleasant a ground of none earthly man.
And as I sat, the birds harkening thus,
Me thought that I heard voices sodainly,
The most sweetest and most delicious
That ever any wight, I trow trewly,
Heard in their life, for the armony
And sweet accord was in so good musike
That the voice to angels most was like.
At the last, out of a grove even by,
That was right goodly and pleasant to sight,
I sie where there came singing lustily
A world of ladies; but to tell aright
Their great beauty, it lieth not in my might,
Ne their array; neverthelesse I shall
Tell you a part, though I speake not of all.
In surcotes white of veluet wele sitting
They were clad, and the semes echone,
As it were a maner garnishing,
Was set with emerauds, one and one,
By and by; but many a rich stone
Was set on the purfiles, out of dout,
Of colors, sleves, and traines round about,

As great pearles, round and orient,
Diamonds fine and rubies red,
And many another stone, of which I went
The names now; and everich on her head
A rich fret of gold, which, without dread,
Was full of stately rich stones set.
And every lady had a chapelet
On her head, of leves fresh and grene,
So wele wrought, and so mervelously,
That it was a noble sight to sene.
Some of laurer, and some ful pleasantly
Had chapelets of woodbind, and sadly
Some of Agnus castus were also
Chapelets fresh. But there were many of tho
That daunced and eke song ful soberly;
But all they yede in maner of compace.
But one there yede in mid the company
Soole by her selfe, but all followed the pace
That she kept, whose heavenly figured face
So pleasaunt was, and her wele-shape person,
That of beauty she past hem everichon.
And more richly beseene, by manyfold,
She was also, in every maner thing;
On her head, ful pleasaunt to behold,
A crowne of gold, rich for any king;
A braunch of Agnus castus eke bearing
In her hand; and to my sight, trewly,
She lady was of the company.
And she began a roundell lustely,
That Suse le foyle de vert moy men call,
Seen & mon joly cuer en dormy.
And than the company answered all
With voice sweet entuned and so small,3
That me thought it the sweetest melody
That ever I heard in my life, soothly.
And thus they came, dauncing and singing,
Into the middes of the mede echone,
Before the herber where I was sitting,
And, God wot, me thought I was wel bigone,
For than I might avise hem, one by one,
Who fairest was, who coud best dance or sing,
Or who most womanly was in all thing.
They had not daunced but a little throw
When that I heard, not fer of, sodainly,
So great a noise of thundering trumps blow
As though it should have departed the skie.
And after that, within a while, I sie,
From the same grove where the ladies come out,
Of men of armes comming such a rout
As all the men on earth had ben assembled
In that place, wele horsed for the nones,
Stering so fast that all the earth trembled.
But for to speake of riches and stones,
And men and horse, I trow, the large wones
Of Pretir John, ne all his tresory,
Might not unneth have bought the tenth party.
Of their array who-so list heare more,
I shal rehearse, so as I can, a lite.
Out of the grove that I spake of before
I sie come first, all in their clokes white,
A company that were for their delite
Chapelets fresh of okes seriall
Newly sprong, and trumpets they were all.
On every trumpe hanging a broad banere
Of fine tartarium, were ful richely bete -4
Every trumpet his lords armes bere;
About their necks, with great pearles set,
Colers brode; for cost they would not lete,
As it would seeme, for their scochones echone
Were set about with many a precious stone.
Their horse harneis was all white also.
And after them next, in one company,
Came nine kings of armes, and no mo,
In clokes of white cloth of gold, richly,
Chapelets of greene on their heads on hye.
The crowns that they on their scochones bere
Were set with pearle, ruby, and saphere,
And eke great diamonds many one;
But all their horse harneis and other geare
Was in a sute according, everichone,
As ye have heard the foresaid trumpets were.
And by seeming they were nothing to lere -5
And there guiding they did so manerly.
And after hem cam a great company
Of herauds and pursevaunts eke
Arraied in clothes of white veluet;
And hardily, they were no thing to seke6
How they on hem should the harneis set;
And every man had on a chapelet.
Scochones and eke horse harneis, in-dede,
They had in sute of hem that before hem yede.
Next after hem came in armour bright,
All save their heads, seemely knights nine;
And every claspe and naile, as to my sight,
Of their harneis were of red gold fine;
With cloth of gold and furred with ermine
Were the trappours of their stedes strong,
Wide and large, that to the ground did hong.
And every boose of bridle and paitrell7
That they had was worth, as I would wene,
A thousand pound; and on their heads, well
Dressed, were crownes of laurer grene,
The best made that ever I had sene.
And every knight had after him riding
Three hensh-men, on him awaiting;
Of which ever the on on a short tronchoun
His lords helme bare, so richly dight
That the worst was worth the raunsoun
Of a king; the second a shield bright
Bare at his neck; the thred bare upright
A mighty spheare, ful sharpe ground and kene.
And every child ware, of leaves grene,
A fresh chapelet upon his haires bright;
And clokes white of fine veluet they were;
Their steeds trapped and raied right
Without difference, as their lords were.
And after hem, on many a fresh corsere,
There came of armed knights such a rout
That they besprad the large field about.

And all they were, after their degrees,
Chapelets new, made of laurer grene,
Some of oke, and some of other trees.
Some in their honds bare boughes shene,
Some of laurer, and some of okes kene,
Some of hauthorne, and some of woodbind,
And many mo which I had not in mind.
And so they came, their horse freshly stering
With bloody sownes of their trompes loud.
There sie I many an uncouth disguising
In the array of these knights proud.
And at the last, as evenly as they coud,
They took their places in middes of the mede,
And every knight turned his horse hede
To his fellow, and lightly laid a speare
In the rest, and so justes began
On every part about, here and there.
Some brake his spere, some drew down hors and man;
About the field astray the steeds ran;
And to behold their rule and governaunce,
I you ensure, it was a great pleasaunce.
And so the justes last an houre and more;
But tho that crowned were in laurer grene
Wan the prise - their dints were so sore
That there was none ayenst hem might sustene.
And the justing all was left of clene,
And fro their horse the nine alight anon,
And so did all the remnant everichon.
And forth they yede togider, twain and twain,
That to behold it was a worthy sight,
Toward the ladies on the green plain,
That song and daunced, as I said now right.
The ladies, as soone as they goodly might,
They brake of both the song and dance,
And yede to meet hem with full glad semblance.
And every lady tooke ful womanly
By the hond a knight, and forth they yede
Unto a faire laurer that stood fast by,
With leves lade, the boughes of great brede;
And to my dome there never was indede
Man that had seen halfe so faire a tre;
For underneath there might it wel have be
An hundred persons at their own plesance,
Shadowed fro the heat of Phebus bright,
So that they should have felt no grevance
Of raine ne haile, that hem hurt might.
The savour eke rejoice would any wight
That had be sicke or melancolius,
It was so very good and vertuous.
And with great reverence they enclining low
To the tree, so soot and faire of hew;
And after that, within a little throw,
They began to sing and daunce of new;
Some song of love, some plaining of untrew,
Environing the tree that stood upright,
And ever yede a lady and a knight.
And at the last I cast mine eie aside,
And was ware of a lusty company
That came roming out of the field wide,
Hond in hond, a knight and a lady;
The ladies all in surcotes, that richely
Purfiled were with many a rich stone;
And every knight of greene ware mantels on,
Embrouded well, so as the surcotes were.
And everich had a chapelet on her hed,
Which did right well upon the shining here,
Made of goodly floures, white and red.
The knights eke, that they in hond led,
In sute of hem ware chapelets everichone.
And before hem went minstrels many one,
As harpes, pipes, lutes, and sautry,
All in greene; and on their heads bare,
Of divers floures, made full craftely,
All in a sute, goodly chapelets they ware.
And so dauncing into the mede they fare,
In mid the which they found a tuft that was
All oversprad with floures in compas.
Whereto they enclined everichon
With great reverence, and that full humbly.
And at the last there began anon
A lady for to sing right womanly
A bargaret in praising the daisie;
For, as me thought, among her notes swete
She said Si douce est la Margarete.
Then they all answered her in fere
So passingly well and so pleasauntly
That it was a blisful noise to here.
But I not how, it happed sodainly,
As about noone, the sonne so fervently
Waxe whote that the prety tender floures
Had lost the beauty of her fresh coloures,
Forshronke with heat; the ladies eke tobrent,
That they ne wist where they hem might bestow.
The knights swelt, for lack of shade nie shent.
And after that, within a little throw,
The wind began so sturdily to blow
That down goeth all the floures everichone
So that in all the mede ther laft not one,
Save suche as succoured were among the leves
Fro every storme that might hem assaile,
Growing under hegges and thicke greves.
And after that there came a storme of haile
And raine in feare, so that, withouten faile,
The ladies ne the knights nade o threed
Dry on them, so dropping was her weed.
And whan the storm was cleane passed away,
Tho in white, that stood under the tre -
They felt nothing of the great affray
That they in greene without had in ybe -
To them they yede for routh and pite,
Them to comfort after their great disease,
So faine they were the helplesse for to ease.
Then I was ware how one of hem in grene
Had on a crown, rich and well sitting,
Wherefore I demed wel she was a quene,
And tho in greene on her were awaiting.
The ladies then in white that were coming
Toward them, and the knights in fere,
Began to comfort hem and make hem chere.
The queen in white, that was of great beauty,
Tooke by the hond the queen that was in grene
And said, 'Suster, I have right great pity
Of your annoy, and of the troublous tene
Wherein ye and your company have bene
So long, alas! and if that it you please
To go with me, I shall do you the ease
In all the pleasure that I can or may.'
Whereof the tother, humbly as she might,
Thanked her; for in right ill array
She was with storm and heat, I you behight.
And every lady then, anon right,
That were in white, one of them took in grene
By the hond; which when the knights had sene,
In like wise ech of them took a knight
Clad in grene, and forth with hem they fare
To an hegge, where they, anon right,
To make their justs they would not spare
Boughes to hew downe and eke trees square,
Wherwith they made hem stately fires great
To dry their clothes that were wringing weat.
And after that, of hearbs that there grew,
They made, for blisters of the sonne brenning,
Very good and wholsome ointments new,
Where that they yede the sick fast annointing.
And after that they yede about gadering
Pleasaunt salades, which they made hem eat
For to refresh their great unkindly heat.
The lady of the Leafe then began to pray
Her of the Floure (for to my seeming
They should be, as by their array)
To soupe with her, and eke, for any thing,
That she should with her all her people bring.
And she ayen, in right goodly manere,
Thanketh her of her most friendly cheare,
Saying plainly that she would obay
With all her hart all her commaundement.
And then anon, without lenger delay,
The lady of the Leafe hath one ysent
For a palfray, after her intent,
Araied well and faire in harneis of gold,
For nothing lacked that to him long should.
And after that, to all her company
She made to purvey horse and every thing
That they needed; and then, full lustily,
Even by the herber where I was sitting,
They passed all, so pleasantly singing
That it would have comforted any wight.
But then I sie a passing wonder sight:
For then the nightingale, that all the day
Had in the laurer sete and did her might
The whol service to sing longing to May,
All sodainly gan to take her flight,
And to the lady of the Leafe forthright
She flew, and set her on her hond softly,
Which was a thing I marveled of greatly.
The goldfinch eke, that fro the medill tre
Was fled for heat into the bushes cold,
Unto the lady of the Flower gan fle,
And on hir hond he set him, as he wold,
And pleasantly his wings gan to fold;
And for to sing they pained hem both as sore
As they had do of all the day before.
And so these ladies rode forth a great pace,
And all the rout of knights eke in fere.
And I, that had sene all this wonder case,
Thought I would assay, in some manere,
To know fully the trouth of this matere,
And what they were that rode so pleasantly.
And when they were the herber passed by
I drest me forth, and happed to mete anon
Right a faire lady, I you ensure;
And she come riding by hir selfe alone,
All in white, with semblance ful demure.
I saluted her, and bad her good aventure
Must her befall, as I coud most humbly,
And she answered, 'My doughter, gramercy.'
'Madam,' quod I, 'if that I durst enquere
Of you, I would faine, of that company,
Wit what they be that past by this arbere?'
And she ayen answered right friendly:
'My faire doughter, all tho that passed hereby
In white clothing, be servants everichone
Unto the Leafe, and I my selfe am one.
Se ye not her that crowned is,' quod she,
'All in white?' 'Madame,' quod I, 'yis.'
'That is Diane, goddes of chastity;
And for bicause that she a maiden is,
In her hond the braunch she bereth, this
That Agnus castus men call properly.
And all the ladies in her company
Which ye se of that hearb chaplets weare
Be such as han kepte alway her maidenhede.
And all they that of laurer chaplets beare
Be such as hardy were and wan by deed
Victorious name which never may be dede;
And all they were so worthy of ther hond,
In hir time, that none might hem withstond.
And tho that weare chapelets on ther hede
Of fresh woodbind, be such as never were
To love untrue in word, thought, ne dede,
But aye stedfast; ne for pleasance, ne fere,
Thogh that they shuld their harts all to-tere,
Would never flit, but ever were stedfast,
Till that their lives there asunder brast.'
'Now, faire madame,' quod I, 'yet I would pray
Your ladiship, if that it might be,
That I might know, by some maner way -
Sith that it hath liked your beaute
The trouth of these ladies for to tell me -
What that these knights be, in rich armour,
And what tho be in grene, and weare the flour,
And why that some did reverence to the tre
And some unto the plot of floures faire?'
'With right good will, my fair doghter,' quod she,
'Sith youre desire is good and debonaire.
Tho nine crowned be very exemplaire
Of all honour longing to chivalry,
And those, certaine, be called the Nine Worthy,
Which ye may se riding all before,
That in her time did many a noble dede,
And for their worthines ful oft have bore
The crowne of laurer leaves on their hede,
As ye may in your old bookes rede;
And how that he that was a conquerour
Had by laurer alway his most honour.
And tho that beare bowes in their hond
Of the precious laurer so notable,
Be such as were, I woll ye understond,
Noble knights of the Round Table,
And eke the Douseperis honourable;
Which they beare in signe of victory -
It is witnes of their dedes mightily.
Eke there be knights old of the Garter,
That in her time did right worthily;
And the honour they did to the laurer
Is for thereby they have their laud wholly,
Their triumph eke and marshall glory;
Which unto them is more parfit riches
Then any wight imagine can or gesse.
For one leafe given of that noble tre
To any wight that hath done worthily,
And it be done so as it ought to be,
Is more honour then any thing earthly.
Witnes of Rome that founder was, truly,
Of all knighthood and deeds marvelous -
Record I take of Titus Livius.
And as for her that crowned is in greene,
It is Flora, of these floures goddesse.
And all that here on her awaiting beene,
It are such that loved idlenes
And not delite of no busines
But for to hunt and hauke, and pley in medes,
And many other such idle dedes.
And for the great delite and pleasaunce
They have to the floure, and so reverently
They unto it do such obeisaunce,
As ye may se.' 'Now, faire madame,' quod I,
'If I durst aske what is the cause and why
That knights have the signe of honour
Rather by the leafe than by the floure?'
'Sothly, doughter,' quod shee, 'this is the trouth:
For knights ever should be persevering
To seeke honour without feintise or slouth,
Fro wele to better, in all maner thing;
In signe of which, with leaves aye lasting
They be rewarded after their degree,
Whose lusty green May may not appaired be,
But aye keping their beauty fresh and greene,
For there nis storme that may hem deface,
Haile nor snow, wind nor frosts kene;
Wherfore they have this propertie and grace.
And for the floure within a little space
Woll be lost, so simple of nature
They be, that they no greevance may endure,
And every storme will blow them soone away,
Ne they last not but for a season -
That is the cause, the very trouth to say,
That they may not, by no way of reason,
Be put to no such occupacion.'
'Madame,' quod I, 'with all mine whole servise
I thanke you now, in my most humble wise;
For now I am acertained throughly
Of every thing I desired to know.'
'I am right glad that I have said, sothly,
Ought to your pleasure, if ye will me trow,'
Quod she ayen, 'but to whome doe ye owe
Your service? and which woll ye honour,
Tell me, I pray, this yeere, the Leafe or the Flour?'

'Madame,' quod I, 'though I least worthy,
Unto the Leafe I owe mine observaunce.'
'That is,' quod she, 'right well done, certainly,
And I pray God to honour you avaunce,
And kepe you fro the wicked remembraunce
Of Male Bouch, and all his crueltie;
And all that good and well-condicioned be.
For here may I no lenger now abide;
I must follow the great company
That ye may see yonder before you ride.'
And forth, as I couth, most humbly,
I tooke my leve of her as she gan hie
After them, as fast as ever she might.
And I drow homeward, for it was nigh night,
And put all that I had seen in writing,
Under support of them that lust it to rede.
O little booke, thou art so unconning,
How darst thou put thy self in prees for drede?
It is wonder that thou wexest not rede,
Sith that thou wost ful lite who shall behold
Thy rude language, full boistously unfold.
(see note)
Bull (Taurus)
flowers; (see note)
plant; creature
Happened to be in this situation
sleep a very remote prospect
might not; (see note)
knew not; was not; creature
Than; had not; grief
did; (see note)
from its
broad; laden; leaves
toward the bright sun; (see note)
(see note)
also; hear
throughout; (see note)
hardly; see
somewhere; by God
a very; arbor; made; (see note)
(see note)
went around
intertwined together
according to a set pattern
flat; one; in every detail
saw; assure
I believe
surpass; those; seen
whoever; wished
peer about
those; went
region; abundance
saw; (see note)
once; sweet
aware; medlar; (see note)
From; it pleased him; ate
wanted to eat
by far
than; describe
knew not
again; sang
by far
supposed; since
before then
creature; believe
outer garments; fitting; (see note)
each one of the seams; (see note)
kind of
one after another
In order
of supreme excellence
every one
hair-net; doubt
[a willow-like plant]; wore; (see note)
also sang
went in circular formation
surpassed them all
arranged by far
dance-song; (see note)
(see note)
meadow each one
knows; situated
large company
Driving on
horses; palace-dwellings
(see note)
hardly; part
evergreen oaks; (see note)
Collars; spare
coats of arms
royal heralds; more; (see note)
many a one
matching kind
their; properly
junior heralds
(see note)
Coats of arms
matching them
mounted squires
the first; staff
spear; whetted; sharp
young man
arrayed entirely
large company
wore; ranks
noble; (see note)
horses; urging on
blood-curdling sounds
unfamiliar mode of dressing
in as regular a formation
socket for couching spear; jousts
(see note)
discipline; conduct
Won; prize; blows
against; endure
off entirely
just now
hand; went
laden; breadth
in my opinion
full of healing power
(see note)
sang; complaining; infidelity
aware; vigorous company
outer garments
Ornamented at the hem
had on (wore); (see note)
(see note)
looked; hair
wore matching
psaltery (small harp)
matching; wore
all around
pastoral song in praise [of]; (see note)
(see note)
in unison
know not
hot; (see note)
All shrivelled up; scorched
knew not
fainted; nearly exhausted
was left
had not; one single
dripping wet; their clothing
went; pity (ruth)
distress; distress
jousts; (see note)
(see note)
Wherever; busily
salad herbs; (see note)
it seems to me
dine; by all means
palfrey; in pursuance of; (see note)
belonging; (see note)
stepped; happened; (see note)
A very
greeted; fortune
many thanks
yes; (see note)
[see note l. 160]
tear to pieces
(see note)
want (to)
(see note)
That which
(see note)
[him] of Rome; (see note)
(see note)
her in green that is crowned
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
according to their rank
vigorous; impaired
(see note)
is not
function (use); (see note)
(see note)
advance you to honor
Slander; (see note)
And [so with]; of good disposition
In the hope of support; desire
ignorant; (see note)
[the] throng
rough; set forth in homely fashion

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