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John Lydgate: The Floure of Curtesye


1 Wrongly conveying [an impression] that should damage his name


2 Phebus. Phoebus (Apollo); the sun.

4-7 Saynt Valentyne . . . Everyche his make. Lydgate is almost certainly situating himself in relation to Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls, lines 309-10: "Seynt Valentynes day, / Whan every foul cometh there to chese his make."

20 Cipride. "Cypriot," another name for Venus derived from Cyprus, a center for Venusian worship. The "doubling" of Venus here perhaps derives from a misunderstanding of Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls, lines 260-79, where the goddess is first called "Venus" (line 261) when seen, then called "Cypride" in a later reference (line 277).

27 closed. Thynne: closet.

33-35 faste gan me hye . . . to sene everyche chose his make. The narrator's eagerness to see nature in operation echoes the dreamer's eagerness in Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls and Legend of Good Women to see and hear the birds choose their mates and see the flowers open.

45 laurer grene. A tree for poets and lovers, where Daphne, Apollo's first love, was preserved against the eager god's assault by being turned into a laurel tree. Feeling her heart beating still beneath the bark, Apollo even so still loved her and made the laurel his sacred tree as the leaves of the laurel crown perpetually proclaim her beauty (see Ovid's Metamorphoses 1.452-567).

49 crampisshed. Thynne: crampessh at. Both MacCracken and Skeat emend Thynne's reading.

84 Male Bouche. An allegorical figure, in English known as Wicked Tongue or Foul Mouth (i.e., slander or gossip); this figure, as well as "Daunger" (line 81) and Envye (line 84), all representing impediments to successful courtship, are originally found in The Romance of the Rose.

96 shake. Thynne: slake.

142 secree. So Skeat. Thynne reads "wyse"; MacCracken supplies "fre."

157 tonges that ben large. Cp. Troilus and Criseyde 5.804, where Diomede is said by some to be "of tonge large" (i.e., deceitful, dishonest). See Floure of Curtesye, line 160.

158 hem that lysten to hewe. Skeat (Chaucerian, p. 509) notes an allusion to the proverb, "He that hews above his head, the chip falls in his eye," a warning to men who attack their betters. See Whiting C235 and Tilley C357.

188 her commende. Thynne: commende.

190ff. A very similar list of exemplary female worthies is found in Lydgate's A Valentine to Her that Excelleth All (IMEV 3065), though both seem mainly to be echoing the dreamer's spontaneous song when he first meets Alceste, who exceeds in beauty Esther, Penelope, Marcia Cato, Adriane, Phyllis, Canace, Dido, Hypsipyle, and others (LGW F249-69). See various notes below.

190-96 Polycene . . . Antygoné. Polyxena (Polycene [line 190]), the daughter of Priam of Troy and, by some accounts, betrothed to Achilles, was sacrificed on Achilles' tomb in order to appease his ghost. See Lydgate, Troy Book 4.6640-6893, and Ovid, Metamorphoses 13.448-80. Helen of Troy (Helayne [line 191]) was, of course, proverbially beautiful. Dorigen (Dorigene [line 192]), the heroine of Chaucer's Franklin's Tale, considers suicide when her wifely fidelity is threatened. In Chaucer's version of the legend, in the wake of Anthony's suicide, the despondent Cleopatra (Cleopatre [line 195]) throws herself into a snake-pit (LGW 580-705). As Skeat notes (Chaucerian, p. 509), in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, "fresshe Antigone the white" (2.876) is Criseyde's circumspect niece.

195 secree. Thynne: setrone.

197 Hester . . . Judith. In the Old Testament Book of Esther, Esther's meek and humble supplications to her husband, King Assuerus, saved the Israelites from massacre (15:1-19). Her meekness was proverbial; see Lydgate, A Valentine to Her That Excelleth All (lines 36-42), and Chaucer, The Merchant's Tale (CT IV[E] 1744-45). As described in the Book of Judith, the eponymous heroine beheads Holofernes and helps to deliver the Israelites from the Assyrians. Chaucer regularly lists her, along with Esther, Sarah, Rebecca, and Abigail, as an exemplary figure for wives.

198-99 Alcest . . . Marcia Catoun . . . Grisylde. Alceste is the heroine of Chaucer's Legend of Good Women, who, "for hire housbonde chees to dye, / And eke to goon to helle, rather than he" (LGW F513-14). For the story of Alceste and Admetus see also Confessio Amantis 7.1917-43. Marcia Cato is perhaps either the wife of Marcus Cato Uticensis who remained devoted to her husband even after his divorce, or their daughter, who remained faithful to her first love. She is also mentioned by Chaucer (LGW F252). Griselda is the patient and obedient heroine of Chaucer's Clerk's Tale.

200-03 Ariadné . . . Lucrece . . . Penelopé. Ariadne is deserted on an island after Theseus absconds with her sister (LGW 1886-2227, Ovid's Heroides 10, Confessio Amantis 5.5231-5495). Lucretia commited suicide after being raped by Tarquin (LGW 1680-1885, Confessio Amantis 7.4754-5130). Penelope is Ulysses' patient and faithful spouse (Confessio Amantis 4.146-233, Heroides 1).

204-06 Phyllis . . . Hipsyphilee . . . Canacé. Phyllis hanged herself after being abandoned by Demophon (LGW 2394-2561, Heroides 2, Confessio Amantis 4.731-878). Jason deserted Hipsyphilee and their two children (LGW 1368-1579; Heroides 6). Canacee most likely refers to the comely heroine of Chaucer's Squire's Tale.

211-14 Dydo . . . Medee. Dido committed suicide after Aeneas departed for Italy (LGW 924-1366, Heroides 7). Medea, having been spurned by Jason, killed their two children (Confessio Amantis 5.3227-4222, Heroides 12, LGW 1580-1670).

220-21 And beautie foloweth . . . That she ne fende. That is, beauty is ruled so completely by virtue that she does not offend or fight virtue in any way.

232 supprise. Skeat (Chaucerian, p. 510) suggests "undertake, endeavor to do," which the MED tentatively accepts.

234 out of lose. Skeat (Chaucerian, p. 510) suggests the phrase means "out of praise, discreditable," but the phrase appears to mean something closer to "out of turn; loosely." The claim of poetic ineptitude, itself a rhetorical trope, is common both with Lydgate and among many fifteenth-century writers. See Lawton, "Dullness."

236-38 Chaucer is deed . . . / Of fayre makyng . . . / Fayrest in our tonge, as the laurer grene. Compare the naming of the death of "Fraunceys Petrak, the lauriat poete" in the Clerk's prologue - "He is now deed" (CT IV[E]29-38).

237 that was. Thynne: that. I have followed Skeat's emendation.

242 Clye and Caliopé. Chaucer invokes both Clio (the muse of history) and Calliope (muse of epic poetry) in Troilus and Criseyde (2.8 and 3.45).

256 lynde. Thynne: lyne.

257 ynde. Blue is the color of constancy.

261 wodde-bynde. Skeat (Chaucerian, p. 510) notes that the woodbine "is an emblem of constancy, as it clings to its support.
In Feverier, whan the frosty moone
Was horned, ful of Phebus firy lyght,
And that she gan to reyse her streames sone,
Saynt Valentyne, upon thy blisful nyght
Of dutie whan glad is every wight,
And foules chese, to voyde her olde sorowe,
Everyche his make, upon the next morowe,

The same tyme, I herde a larke synge
Ful lustely, agayne the morowe gray:
"Awake, ye lovers, out of your slombringe,
This glad morowe, in al the haste ye may!
Some observaunce dothe unto this day,
Your choyse agen of herte to renewe,
In confyrmyng forever to be trewe.

"And ye that be, of chosyng, at your large
This lusty day, by custome of nature,
Take upon you the blisful holy charge
To serve love, whyle your lyfe may dure,
With herte, body, and al your besy cure,
Forevermore, as Venus and Cipride
For you disposeth, and the god Cupyde.

"For joye owe we playnly to obey
Unto this lordes mighty ordynaunce,
And, mercylesse, rather forto dye,
Than ever in you be founden varyaunce;
And though your lyfe be medled with grevaunce,
And, at your herte, closed be your wounde,
Beth alway one, there as ye are bounde."

That whan I had herde and lysted longe,
With devoute herte, the lusty melodye
Of this hevenly comfortable songe,
So agreable as by ermonye,
I rose anon, and faste gan me hye
Towarde a grove, and the way take,
Foules to sene everyche chose his make.

And yet I was ful thursty in languisshyng;
Myn ague was so fervent in his hete,
Whan Aurora, for drery complaynyng,
Can distyl her chrystal teeres wete
Upon the soyle with sylver dewe so swete;
For she durste, for shame, not apere
Under the lyght of Phebus beames clere.

And so, for anguysshe of my paynes kene,
And for constraynte of my sighes sore,
I set me downe under a laurer grene
Ful pitously; and alway more and more,
As I behelde into the holtes hore,
I gan complayne myn inwarde deedly smerte,
That aye so sore crampisshed myn herte.

And whyle that I, in my drery payne
Sate and behelde, aboute on every tre
The foules sytte, alway twayne and twayne,
Than thought I thus: "Alas, what may this be,
That every foule hath his lyberté
Frely to chose, after his desyre,
Everyche his make thus, fro yere to yere?

"The sely wrenne, the tytemose also,
The lytel redbrest, have free election
To flyen yfere and togyther go
Where as hem lyst, aboute envyron,
As they of kynde have inclynacion,
And as Nature, empresse and gyde
Of every thyng, lyst to provyde.

But man alone, alas, the harde stounde!
Ful cruelly, by kyndes ordynaunce,
Constrayned is, and by statute bounde
And debarred, from al suche plesaunce.
What meneth this? What is this purveyaunce
Of God above, agayne al right of kynde,
Without cause, so narowe man to bynde?

"Thus may I sene, and playne, alas!
My woful houre and my disaventure,
That doulfully stonde in the same caas
So ferre behynde from al helth and cure.
My wounde abydeth lyke a sursanure;
For me fortune so felly lyste dispose,
My harme is hyd, that I dare not disclose.

"For I my herte have set in suche a place
Where I am never lykely forto spede,
So ferre I am hyndred from her grace
That, save Daunger, I have none other mede;
And thus, alas, I not who shal me rede,
Ne for myne helpe shape remedye,
For Male Bouche, and for false Envye.

"The whiche twayne aye stondeth in my wey
Malyciously, and false Suspection
Is very cause also that I dey,
Gynnyng and rote of my distruction,
So that I fele, in conclusyon,
With her traynes that they wol me shende
Of my labour, that dethe mote make an ende.

"Yet or I dye, with herte, wyl, and thought,
To God of Love this avowe I make:
As I best can, howe dere that it be bought,
Where so it be that I slepe or wake,
Whyle Boreas dothe the leaves shake,
As I have heyght plainly, tyl I sterve,
For wel or wo, that I shal her serve.

"And for her sake, nowe this holy tyme,
Saynt Valentyne, somwhat shal I write;
Although so be that I cannot ryme,
Nor curyously by no crafte endyte,
Yet lever I have that she put the wyte
In unconnyng than in neglygence,
Whatever I saye of her excellence.

"Whatever I say, it is of duté,
In sothfastnesse, and no presumpcion;
This I ensure to you that shal it se,
That it is al under correction,
What I reherce in commendacion
Of her, that I shal to you, as blyve,
So as I can, her vertues here discryve.

"Ryght by example as the somer sonne
Passeth the sterre with his beames shene,
And Lucyfer, amonge the skyes donne,
A-morowe sheweth to voyde nyghtes tene,
So verily, withouten any wene,
My lady passeth, whoso taketh hede,
Al tho alyve, to speke of womanhede.

"And as the ruby hath the soveraynté
Of ryche stones and the regalye,
And the rose of swetenesse and beauté
Of fresshe floures, without any lye,
Ryght so, in sothe, with her goodly eye,
She passeth al in bountie and fayrenesse,
Of maner eke, and of gentylnesse.

"For she is bothe the fayrest and the beste,
To reken al, in very sothfastnesse,
For every vertue is in her at reste;
And furthermore, to speke of stedfastnesse,
She is the rote, and of semelynesse
The very myrrour, and of governaunce,
To al example, withouten varyaunce.

"Of porte benygne, and wonder glad of chere,
Havyng evermore her trewe advertence
Alway to reason, so that her desyre
Is brideled aye by wytte and provydence;
Thereto of wytte and of hye prudence
She is the welle, aye devoyde of pride,
That unto vertue her selven is the gyde.

"And over this, in her dalyaunce
Lowly she is, discrete and secree,
And goodly gladde by attemperaunce,
That every wight, of hygh and lowe degré,
Are glad in herte with her forto be;
So that, shortly, if I shal not lye,
She named is The Floure of Curtesye.

"And there to speke of femynyté,
The leste mannysshe in comparyson,
Goodly abasshed, havyng aye pyté
Of hem that ben in trybulacion;
For she alone is consolacion
To al that arne in mischefe and in nede,
To comforte hem of her womanhede.

"And aye in vertue is her besy charge,
Sadde and demure, and but of wordes fewe;
Dredful also of tonges that ben large,
Eschewyng aye hem that lysten to hewe
Above her heed, her wordes for to shewe;
Dishonestly to speke of any wight -
She deedly hateth of hem to have a syght.

"The herte of whom so honest is and clene,
And her entent so faythful and entere
That she ne may, for al the worlde, sustene
To suffre her eeres any worde to here
Of frende nor foe, neyther ferre ne nere,
Amysse resowning that hynder shulde his name;1
And if she do, she wexeth reed for shame.

"So trewely in menyng she is in-sette,
Without chaungyng or any doublenesse,
For bountie and beautie are together knette
In her persone, under faythfulnesse;
For voyde she is of newfanglenesse,
In herte aye one, forever to persever
There she is sette, and never to dissever.

"I am to rude her vertues everychone
Connyngly to discryve and write;
For wel ye wote, colour have I none,
Lyke her discrecion craftely to endyte,
For what I say, al it is to lyte;
Wherfore to you thus I me excuse,
That I aqueynted am not with no muse.

"By rethorike my style to governe
In her preise and commendacion,
I am to blynde so hylye to discerne
Of her goodnesse to make discrypcion,
Save thus I say, in conclusyon,
If that I shal shortly her commende,
In her is naught that Nature can amende.

"For good she is, lyke to Polycene,
And in fayrenesse to the quene Helayne,
Stedfast of herte, as was Dorigene,
And wyfely trouthe, if I shal not fayne,
In constaunce eke and faythe, she may attayne
To Cleopatre, and therto as secree
As was of Troye the whyte Antygoné.

"As Hester meke, lyke Judith of prudence,
Kynde as Alcest or Marcia Catoun,
And to Grisylde lyke in pacience,
And Ariadné of discrecioun,
And to Lucrece, that was of Rome toun,
She may be lykened as for honesté,
And for her faythe, unto Penelopé.

"To fayre Phyllis and to Hipsyphilee,
For innocence and for womanhede,
For semelynesse unto Canacé;
And over this, to speke of goodlyhede,
She passeth al that I can of rede,
For worde and dede, that she naught ne fal,
Acorde in vertue, and her werkes al.

"For though that Dydo with wytte sage
Was in her tyme stedfast to Enee,
Of hastynesse yet she dyd outrage,
And so for Jason dyd also Medee;
But my lady is so avysee
That, bountie and beautie bothe in her demeyne,
She maketh bountie alway soverayne.

"This is to meane, bountie gothe afore,
Lad by prudence, and hath the soveraynté,
And beautie foloweth, ruled by her lore,
That she ne fende her in no degré;
So that, in one, this goodly fresshe fre,
Surmountyng al, withouten any were,
Is good and fayre in one persone yfere.

"And though that I, for very ignoraunce,
Ne may discryve her vertues by and by,
Yet on this day, for a remembraunce,
Onely supported under her mercy,
With quakyng honde, I shal ful humbly
To her hynesse, my rudenesse forto quyte,
A lytel balade here byneth endyte,

"Ever as I can supprise in myn herte,
Alway with feare, betwyxt drede and shame,
Leste out of lose any worde asterte
In this metre, to make it seme lame;
Chaucer is deed, that had suche a name
Of fayre makyng, that was, without wene,
Fayrest in our tonge, as the laurer grene.

"We may assay forto countrefete
His gay style, but it wyl not be!
The welle is drie with the lycoure swete,
Bothe of Clye and of Caliopé;
And, first of al, I wol excuse me
To her that is grounde of goodlyhede,
And thus I say untyl her womanhede:

Balade Symple

"'With al my might and my best entent,
With al the faythe that mighty God of kynde
Me gave syth he me soule and knowyng sent,
I chese, and to this bonde ever I me bynde,
To love you best whyle I have lyfe and mynde.
Thus herde I foules in the daunynge
Upon the day of Saynte Valentyne synge.

"'Yet chese I, at the begynnyng, in this entent,
To love you, though I no mercy fynde,
And if you lyste I dyed, I wolde assent,
As ever twynne I quicke out of this lynde;
Suffyseth me to sene your fethers ynde.
Thus herde I foules in the mornynge
Upon the daye of Saynte Valentyne synge.

"'And over this, myne hertes luste to bente,
In honour onely of the wodde-bynde,
Holy I geve, never to repente
In joye or wo, where so that I wynde
Tofore Cupyde, with his eyen blynde.
The foules al, whan Tytan dyd springe,
With devoute hert, me thought I herde synge.'"


Princesse of beautie, to you I represent
This symple dyté, rude as in makynge,
Of herte and wyl faythful in myn entent,
Lyke as this day foules herde I synge.

Here endeth the Floure of Curtesy.
crescent-shaped; (see note)
rays soon
(see note)
birds choose, to relieve their
Each; mate

anticipating; morning

diligent attention
(see note)


without mercy

healed; (see note)


hasten; (see note)

each; mate

fever [of lovesickness]
Began to


sharp pains

laurel; (see note)

dark grove
began; pain
cramped; (see note)

always two by two

Each; mate

insignificant; titmouse
robin; free choice
together (in company); together
it pleases them, all around
nature; instinct


law of nature

say, and lament
miserably stand
waits; superficially healed wound
cruelly chooses


except for Aloofness; reward
do not know; advise

Wicked Tongue; (see note)

The beginning and root

their tricks; [so] rob (deny)

however dearly

the North Wind; (see note)
promised; die

compose [a poem]
I would rather; blame


at once

the morning star; dark
In the morning; affliction
truly; doubt




All in all; truthfulness



reason; discretion

social interactions
Gracious; (see note)

mannish (masculine)
Courteously humble

attentive care

unrestrained (untruthful); (see note)
desire; strike; (see note)


waxes red

purpose; set

virtue; joined


fall away

know; literary skill
too little


(see note)
improve upon

(see note)


discreet; (see note)

(see note)
(see note)

(see note)


(see note)


mature judgment; (see note)



instruction; (see note)
does not offend

without doubt

one after another


endeavor; (see note)

loosely; slip out; (see note)

dead; (see note)
doubt; (see note)

(see note)


gave since


depart; tree; (see note)
indigo (blue); (see note)

woodbine; (see note)
the Sun


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