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Truthe, Reste, and Pes


1 On account of false witnesses, who misreport [the] truth

2 Truth does not seek out corners where reputation is crippled

3 Justice is appointed as God's representative


2 For. MS ffor. I substitute capital F for ff at the beginning of lines throughout this poem. RHR, of the complaints in 1401-02, quotes the following from English Chronicle: "And aboute this tyme the peple of this land began to grucche ayens kyng Harri, and beer him hevy, because he took thair good and paide not therfore; and desirid to haue ayeen king Richarde. Also lettri cam to certayn frendis of Richard, as thay hadde be sent from hymself, and saide that he was alive; wherof moche peple was glad and desirid to haue him kynge ayeen." Kail and RHR base their dating of the poem (1401) on allusions like this.

45-46 A kyng may not al aspie. Embree has identified the content of these two lines as a topos: the "king's ignorance." See "The King's Ignorance: A Topos for Evil Times," Medium Ævum 54 (1985), 121-26 at 121. See also The Simonie lines 313-24.

52 the lawe to telle. This looks like dittography from line 50. Perhaps the correct reading in line 52 = the lawe to selle (?).

55-56 Rathere . . . bighe hym pes. See Luke 22:36: "But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip, and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword." And compare Matt. 19:21: "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." See also the note to lines 57-60.

57-60 A worthi knyght . . . the firste het. These lines include a rough paraphrase of a famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount: "But I say to you not to resist evil: but if one strike thee on thy right cheek, turn to him also the other: And if a man will contend with thee in judgment, and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him" (Matt. 5:39-40).

60 at the firste het. RHR: "at the first go."

76 Wel lyvyng man, hardy of kynde. The man who lives well (as opposed to the "wikked lyvere"), is by nature courageous. Living well here means living virtuously. See also line 79: "The good lyvere hath God in mynde." The syntax of lines 76-80 is difficult.

78 mes. Kail glosses this as "adversity," while RHR has "mass, sacrament." The idea is that death is the final rite of passage for the soul, whether for a "wel lyvyng man" or for a "wikked lyvere."

94 In the margin next to this line appears the word nota, "note."

98 For the concept of the "comoun profit," see Russell A. Peck, Kingship and Common Profit in Gower's Confessio Amantis (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978), and Alford, Glossary, s.v. Commune Profit.

140 To felle Goddis foon. "Written apparently in support of the statute De Haeretico Comburendo passed in 1401" (RHR). This statute authorized the burning of heretics and had a chilling effect especially on the Lollards.

145 chery fayre. "A frequent symbol for the transitoriness of life; compare Gower, Conf. Amantis, Pro. I.19: 'For al is but a chery feire / This worldes good'; Hoccleve, De Reg. Principum, clxxxv.47: 'Thy lyfe, my sone, is but a chery feire"' (RHR). See also Chaucer's Troilus: " . . . and thynketh al nys but a faire, / This world that passeth soone as floures faire" (5.1840-41).

159 math. Syncopated form of maketh.

163 The MS lacks a line here.

[What Profits a Kingdom (1401)]

(Bodleian Library Oxford MS Digby 102 fols. 100r-101v)

For drede ofte my lippes I steke,
For false reportours that trouhte mys-famed. 1
Yut Charitee chargeth me to speke
Though trouthe be dred, he nys not ashamed.
Trouthe secheth non hernes ther los is lamed; 2
Trouthe is worschiped at every des.
In that kyngdom ther trouthe is blamed,
God sendes vengeaunce to make trouthe have pes.
Trouthe is messager to ryght,
And ryght is counseille to Justice;
Justice in Goddis stede is dyght. 3
Do evene lawe to fooll and wyse.
Set mesure in evene assise,
The righte weye as lawe ges.
And lawe be kept, folk nyl not ryse.
That kyngdom shal have reste and pes.
Yif suche a tale-tellere were,
To a kyng apayre a mannys name,
The kyng shulde bothe partyes here,
And punysche the fals for defame.
Than fals men wolde ases for blame;
For falshed, body and soule it sles.
Falshed endes ay in shame,
And trouthe, in worschipe and in pes.
Whanne lawe is put fro right assise,
And domes man made by mede,
For fawte of lawe yif comouns rise,
Than is a kyngdom most in drede.
For whanne vengeaunce a comouns lede,
Thei do gret harm er they asses.
There no man other doth mysbede,
That kyngdom shal have reste and pes.
Whan craft riseth agens craft
In burgh, toun, or citée,
They go to lordes whan lawe is laft,
Whoche party may strengere be.
But wyse men the sonere se
By witles wille they gedre pres,
Or lordis medle in foly degré,
Let lawe have cours in reste and pes.
Yit there is the thridde distaunce
Bryngeth a kyngdom in moche noyghe:
Ofte chaunge of governaunce
Of all degré, lowe and hyghe.
A kyng may not al aspie,
Summe telle hym soth, summe telle hym les.
The whete fro the chaff ye tryghe,
So mowe ye leve in reste and pes.
I speke not in specyale
Of oo kyngdom the lawe to telle;
I speke hool in generale
In eche kyngdom the lawe to telle.
Also is writen in the Gospelle
A word that God Hym-selven ches:
Rathere than fighte, a man go selle
On of his clothes, and bighe hym pes.
A worthi knyght wol worchip wynne;
He wil not yelde hym though me thret,
But rathere as Malice doth begynne,
Quenche hit at the firste het.
For, and ye lete it growe gret,
Hit brenneth breme as fyre in gres.
Laweles novellerye loke ye lete,
So mowe ye lyve in reste and pes.
Old speche is spoken yore:
What is a kyngdom tresory?
Bestayle, corn stuffed in store,
Riche comouns, and wyse clergy;
Marchaundes, squyers, chivalry
That wol be redy at a res,
And chevalrous kyng in wittes hyghe,
To lede in were and governe in pes.
Among philosofres wyse
In here bokes men writen fynde
That synne is cause of cowardyse;
Wel lyvyng man, hardy of kynde;
Wikked lyvere, graceles, blynde,
He dredeth deth, the laste mes.
The good lyvere hath God in mynde,
That mannys counseil maketh pes.
What kyng that wol have good name,
He wol be lad by wys counsayle
That love worschip and dreden shame,
And boldely dar fende and assayle.
There wit is, corage may not fayle,
For wysdom nevere worschip les.
Corage in querell doth batayle,
And ende of batayle bygynneth pes.
Defaute of wit maketh long counsayle;
For witteles wordes in ydel spoken.
The more cost, the lesse avayle;
For fawte of wyt, purpos broken.
In evyl soule no grace is stoken,
For wikked soule is graceles.
In good lyvere Goddis wille is loken,
That mannys counsell maketh pes.
To wete yif parlement be wys,
The comoun profit wel it preves.
A kyngdom in comouns lys,
Alle profytes, and alle myscheves.
Lordis wet nevere what comouns greves
Til here rentis bigynne to ses.
There lordis ere, pore comons releves,
And mayntene hem in werre and pes.
Make God youre ful frend;
Do the comaundement that He bede.
Though all the world agen yow wend,
Be God youre frend, ye thar not drede:
For there as God His frendis lede,
He saveth hem bothe on lond and sees.
Who-so fighteth, God doth the dede,
For God is victorie and pes.
What kyngdom werreth hym-self with-ynne
Distroyeth hym-self, and no mo.
With-oute here enemys bygynne
On eche a syde assayle hem so.
The comouns, they wil robbe and slo,
Make fyere, and kyndel stres.
Whan ryches and manhode is wastede and go,
Than drede dryveth to trete pes.
The world is like a fals lemman:
Fayre semblaunt and moche gyle.
Withouten heire dyeth no man,
God is chief Lord of toun and pyle.
God maketh mony heire in a whyle,
For God ressayveth eche reles;
God kan breke hegge and style,
And make an hey wey to pes.
God made lordis governoures
To governe puple in unyté.
The puple, ne ryches, nys not youres:
Al is Goddis, and so be ye.
Eche day ye may youre myrrour se:
Eche man after other deses.
Youre auncetres arn gon, after shal ye,
To endeles werre or endeless pes.
Eche kyng is sworn to governaunce
To governe Goddis puple in right.
Eche kyng bereth swerd of Goddis vengeaunce
To felle Goddis foon in fight.
And so doth everons honest knyght
That bereth the ordre as it wes;
The plough, the chirche, to mayntene ryght
Are Goddis champyons to kepe the pes.
The world is like a chery fayre,
Ofte chaungeth all his thynges.
Riche, pore, foul, and fayre,
Popes, prelates, and lordynges,
Alle are dedly, and so ben kynges.
Or deth lede yow in his les,
Arraye by tyme youre rekenynges,
And trete with God to gete yow pes.
What bryngeth a kyngdom al above?
Wys counseil and good governaunce.
Eche lord wil other love,
And rule wel labourers sustynaunce.
God maketh for His frendis no destaunce,
For God kan skatre the grete pres.
God for His frendis math ordynaunce,
And governeth hem in werre and pes.
Good lyf is cause of good name;
Good name is worthi to have reveraunce.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Synne is cause of grevaunce.
Eche kyngdom hongeth in Goddis balaunce;
With hym that holdeth, with hym that fles.
Ye have fre wille, chese youre chaunce
To have with God werre or pes.
keep shut
(see note)
fearful; is not
equal justice
If; will not rebel
harm; man's
When law is deprived of true justice
judgments; bribery
before; cease
Which; stronger
more quickly see
gather [a] crowd
take [its]
third dissension
great distress
observe; (see note)
wheat; sift
may; live
a single
(see note)
(see note)
gain honor; (see note)
yield; someone threaten
Stop; blow; (see note)
It burns as fiercely as fire in grease
innovation see that you prevent
Cattle; wheat; reserve
Merchants, squires
with keen wits
find written
(see note)
mass (extreme unction); (see note)
ward off
in vain
without grace; (see note)
behavior; locked up
know whether
(see note)
know; oppresses
Until their incomes; cease
show mercy
turn against you
If God is; need not fear
when; leads
wars with itself
itself; no other
each side
fires; ignite straws
fear impels
appearance; guile
heir dies
many heirs
receives; release
hedge; stile
Neither people nor riches are
mirror see
ancestors are
bears [a] sword
slay; foes; (see note)
upholds; was
I.e., the commons
(see note)
Before; untruth
quickly; accounts
i.e., into peace
scatter; mob; (see note)
makes [an] ordinance
(see note)
runs away

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