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I Have a Lady (The Descryvyng of a Fair Lady)


Abbreviations: see the Introduction to the Antifeminist Tradition.

1 The subtitle is taken from the explicit in T. Stow calls the poem "A balade pleasaunte" (p. 344r).

4 wrought. L: i wrouht.

7 ys. L: as.

11 yelow. L: yyleve.

15 And as a bolt hyr browes byn y-bent. Her brows are arched like an arrow or a bolt for fastening; i.e., her brows are straight, not arched. Arched brows were then, as now, a conventional sign of beauty.
hyr. T: hys.

16 byttyl-browyd. Shaggy, prominent brows.
ys. L omits.

26 That. T: Then.

30 vertulesse. "Lacking the quality of moral excellence; also, lewd, lecherous" (MED).

31 ay all good. L: al good ay.

32 as a she-ape she ys harmelese. Although sometimes a byword for a dupe, an ape is also often associated with trickery; therefore, she is not innocent at all.

35 That. T: Than.

38 werke. L: warkys.

40 quene Jane. Utley (Crooked Rib, pp. 147-48) notes that Jane refers to Joan of Navarre who was married to Henry IV in 1403 when the subject of the poem was fifteen years old. To suggest that there are "nat many suche alyve" that witnessed that event is a not very subtle way of saying that the fair lady is advanced in years. The allusion also allows editors to date the poem to the middle of the fifteenth century.

42 ar. L omits.

44 There nys creature. Satirical descriptions of a mistress sometimes close with similar, unusual benedictions. See, for instance, The Lover's Mocking Reply (IMEV 2437), printed in Robbins, Secular Lyrics, p. 220.

48 be. L: ben.

49 I dyd. L: did I.

I have a Lady, whereso she be,
That seldom ys the soverayn of my thought;
On whos beawté when I beholde and se,
Remembryng me how well she ys wrought,
I thanke fortune that to hyr grace me brought,
So fayre ys she but nothyng angelyke --
Hyr bewty ys to none other lyke.

For hardely, and she were made of brasse,
Face and all, she hath ynowgh fayrenesse:
Hyr eyen byn holow and grene as any grasse,
And ravynnysshe yelow ys hyr sonny tresse.
Thereto she hath of every comlynesse
Such quantyté gevyn hyr by nature,
That with the leest she ys of hyr stature.

And as a bolt hyr browes byn y-bent,
And byttyl-browyd she ys also withall,
And of hir wytte as sympyll and innocent
As ys a chylde that can no good at all.
She ys nat thyk; hyr stature ys but small.
Hyr fyngers byn lytyll and nothyng long,
Hyr skyn ys smothe as any oxys tong.

Therto she ys so wyse in dalyaunce,
And besette hyr wordes so womanly,
That hyr to here hit doth me dysplesaunce.
For that she seyth ys sayde so connyngly,
That when that there be mo then she and I,
I had lever she were of talkyng styll,
Then that she shuld so goodly speche spyll.

And slowth noone shall have in her entresse,
So dylygent ys she and vertulesse,
And so besy ay all good to undresse,
That as a she-ape she ys harmelese,
And as an hornet meke and pytelesse;
With that she ys so wyse and circumspecte,
That prudent noon hyr foly can infecte.

Ys hit nat joy that suche oone of hyr age,
Withyn the boundys of so gret tendyrnesse,
Shuld in her werke be so sad and sage,
That of the weddyng sawe all the noblesse
Of quene Jane, and was tho, as I gesse,
But of the age of yeres ten and fyve?
I trowe ther ar nat many suche alyve!

For as Jhesu my synfull sowle save,
There nys creature in all thys world lyvyng
Lyke unto hyr that I wold gladly have,
So pleseth myn hert that goodly swete thyng,
Whos sowle in haste unto hys blysse bryng,
That furst hyr formyd to be a creature.
For were she wele, of me, I dyd no cure.

Explicit the dyscryvyng of a fayre lady.
wherever; (see note)

fashioned; (see note)

(see note)

assuredly, even if

dark blond; (see note)

arched; (see note)
beetle-browed; (see note)


ox's tongue

Also; conversation

more; (see note)

sloth; entry
(see note)
(see note)
innocent; (see note)

prudence; (see note)

steadfast and wise; (see note)
then; (see note)

believe; (see note)

is not; (see note)

(see note)
do not care; (see note)

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