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The Lufaris Complaynt


1 And hold [myself] henceforth always continually in truth (or true love)

2 Without whose help nothing exists nor can [anything] be certain

3 Which leads to the end, by just (divine) providence


Abbreviations: MS: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B.24, fols. 219r-221v; W: Wilson.

1-14 The complaint itself is presented as a therapeutic activity, assuaging the grief of the speaker. Following the usual humility topos, the lover claims that, whatever his shortcomings as a poet, he will at least be recounting true emotional pain. We need not, of course, assume that this is the literal truth, any more than we need believe that the other poets are describing "real" prison experiences.

15-21 It takes a lover to recognize a lover, and both must be "noble." Moreover, it is the duty of the lover to help and comfort other lovers who are less successful than he (the world of late medieval English courtly poetry is largely a man's world).

28 it. We take this to refer to "hert" of line 23.

29-35 The poet makes the rather large claim that his pain exceeds that of Troilus, one of the greatest unsuccessful lovers of all time. Perhaps it is consciousness of his own limited talents that causes the poet to claim that Chaucer "would have" written his story, had he known about it.

50-51 The image of the house built on sand that will not stand comes from Matthew 7:26-27, in which Jesus says, "And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof." As Wilson notes, Boethius, from whom our poet took his idea, describes the opposite situation: a house built on rock will not be "leveled by the loud-moaning East Wind"; build on low-lying rock rather than on a hill of sand and you may live without care and anxiety. "Blessed with powerful ramparts" you "will pass a tranquil lifetime" (De cons. 2.me4). Wilson points out that this "paraphrase does not resemble either the translation attributed to Chaucer or that by Walton."

52 gif it sall nocht fawe. The word fawe means not only "fade" but "fall to ruin." The word or cognates in MED do not seem to fit the meaning of the line, paraphrased from Scripture, that a house built upon a rock is less likely to fall. One would suppose that the scribe had miscopied "falle" except that this word must rhyme with "lawe" of line 50.

58 It is slightly unusual to find a poet writing about love who acknowledges that God is actually the determiner of all things, although Fortune seems to be governing our lives. He does not, however, dwell on the question of why God allows suffering and may be merely demonstrating that he has, in fact, read the text from which so much love-theory flows, Boethius' De cons. (and when he returns to the complaint mode, in line 75, he has apparently forgotten all about his rhetorical question).

66 buteles Tantalus. Wilson took buteles to be the name of yet another mythical entity (Buceles?), concluding, "I am unable to identify this person"; but it seems more likely to be the adjective, meaning "without remedy, hopeless" (MED boteles adj. [1]b.), as some names have adjectival modifiers, e.g., "wise Mercurius" (line 68), "soroufull Troilus" (line 69). Oedipus, Pluto, and Tantalus are invoked here not as unrequited lovers but as others who had been exposed to endless suffering and would therefore understand the narrator's pain. Oedipus suffered a long banish-ment from Thebes, self-blinded and led by his daughter Antigone, after he had discovered that he was the murderer of his father Laius and husband of his mother Jocasta. Chaucer twice mentions Oedipus in TC (2.102 and 4.300), and Lydgate's Siege of Thebes devotes almost five hundred lines to telling his story (lines 328- 822); since Sophocles' works were unknown to medieval England, these poets probably derive their accounts ultimately from Statius' Thebaid 1.42-91. Pluto was god of the underworld; he may be included in this list because of his having to inhabit the world of the dead endlessly or because of his suffering when his wife Persephone spent half of each year in the world of the living. Tantalus was the son of Zeus and a titaness also with the name of Pluto. Because of some offence to the gods (various offences are named in various myths), he was punished by being placed in or below fruit trees whose branches blew aside whenever he reached to pluck the fruit and near a pool of water that receded whenever he tried to drink from it. Thus he is "buteless," variously meaning "without profit or reward," "unsuccessful," "without relief." James I compares his own situation with that of Tantalus in KQ, line 484 (see note).

67 Piramus. This author might know the story of the tragic love of Pyramus for Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses (3.55-465), Chaucer's LGW (lines 724 ff.), or Gower's CA (3.1331 ff.); all three are listed by Wilson in his note to this line. There is nothing in his story to connect him with cruell stedfastnese, so we conjecture that this phrase applied to another figure named in the lost two half-lines of this stanza that would have come between Piramus and with. See textual note to this line.

68 Adon. Adonis. See note to line 134, below.
Mercurius. Mercury. See note to line 138, below.

69 Phebus. See note to line 137, below.
Jove. See note to line 136, below.
Troilus. Undoubtedly known to the author through Chaucer's poem since at line 35 he echoes Chaucer in referring to the "double sorou" of Troilus (see TC 1.1).

70 Mars. See note to line 135, below.

84 Out of the trio of "enemies" (Love, Fortune, and his lady), the speaker picks Fortune as the real source of all his problems (despite the fact that he has admitted in line 58 that she cannot be).

88 double ladyis countenance. Fortune is "double" in that she is two-sided (she can bring good luck or ill luck, joy or pain, etc.), but double, when used of persons, can also mean false, deceitful, or treacherous.

89 Is suetast quhen scho will hir grace remufe. Fortune is particularly "double," or deceitful, because she smiles on you with her sweetest countenance just before she is about to cause you to fall from health and prosperity.

108-23 If this 16-line stanza (or two 8-line stanzas) is the center of the poem, it calls for our special attention. The poet has cleverly arranged the rhyme-scheme so that it falls into two mirrored halves (aaabaaab bbbabbba); the 10-syllable lines shift abruptly to shorter, 8-syllable lines; and the poet turns to address the God of Love directly in the opening apostrophe: O Lufe (line 108). The first eight lines he puts in the form of a question; the second (to the God of Love as Lord of Pitee, line 116), in the form of a plea for help against the powers of Fortune. This is the fulcrum on which the poem balances.

122 argewe. Here in the sense of arguing a case in court, i.e., before the court of Love.

124-26 Notice that, though he argues precisely the same as Charles d'Orléans does in his double ballade, he never comes up with the idea of Fortune's "stabilnes" (see lines 4680-87).

128 grene. The color, combined with "pale" for someone who is faint; see Chaucer's TC 4.1154: "And thus she lith with hewes pale and grene."

133-41 I cry on Venus . . . my wo redresse. Wilson has pointed to the "startling resemblance of this stanza" to Chaucer's TC 3.720-35, in which Troilus apostrophizes Venus, asking her for the love she bore to Adonis to inspire him and to intercede on his behalf when he is to meet with Criseyde, and also calling on Jove, Mars, Phebus, and Mercury as the poet does here (p. 726, note to lines 132 ff.). Wilson concludes, "Troilus appears to have been fresh in our poet's mind, if it was not actually open before him." The speaker is at this point a very long way from his brief perception of God as ruler of the world, and his catalogue of classical lovers places him firmly in the world of the courtly rather than that of the religious or devotional poet.

133-34 Venus . . . Adon. Adonis, the product of the incestuous union between King Cinyras and his daughter Myrrha, was so beautiful that Venus fell in love with him. He was killed while hunting by being gored by a wild boar. The story is told in RR, lines 15668-15750, in Ovide Moralisé 10.1960-2493, and in Ovid's Meta-morphoses 10.519-53, 708-39. It is also alluded to in John Lydgate's Complaint of the Black Knight, lines 386-88. This catalogue of lovers echoes the catalogue of those "that ar in pane endlese" in lines 66 ff.

135 Mars . . . Cipres. The love between Mars and Venus (Cyprus, another name by which she was known, deriving from the island where she was worshiped) was well known in the Middle Ages. Chaucer also uses the name Cipres to refer to Venus in this love affair in the stanza from TC (3.725) that Wilson refers to (see note to lines 132-41, above). In Chaucer's Knight's Tale, Arcite also called on Mars to aid him for the love he had had for Venus (CT I[A]2373).

136 Jove . . . Eroupe. Jove's, or Jupiter's, carnal love for Europa was also well known in the Middle Ages from Ovid's Metamorphoses 2.843 ff. and 6.103-08. Chaucer refers to it in the stanza from TC (3.722-24) that Wilson refers to (see note to lines 132-41, above).

137 Phebus . . . Dyane. The story of Diana turned into a laurel tree to escape pursuit by Phebus (Apollo) comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses 1.452-567; Chaucer also referred to it in the stanza from TC (3.726-28) that Wilson refers to (see note to lines 132-41, above).

138 Mercury . . . Harisse. The story of Mercury's love for Herse comes from Ovid's Metamorphoses 2.708-832. Chaucer also referred to it in the stanza from TC (3.729-31) that Wilson refers to (see note to lines 132-41, above).

154-55 The narrator likens himself to mourners who wail and lament, dressed in mourning clothes, in rain or shine; he might sing the same sad song as they and behave as they do, [mourning?] for his own death.

160-68 The speaker returns to the idea that God is superior to Fortune and Nature (see lines 57-58). What is more, he gestures toward an attitude of humility in the face of God's omniscience (With pacience as I may I sall endure [line 161] and gyde or reule all to his hie plesance [line 165]), words that sound much like those of George Ashby's speaker, and the closing line of the stanza certainly sounds like a prayer (Defend my gost ay fro desperance! [line 168]).

160-168 This penultimate stanza, a prayer to God, defines the personal appeal of the poem with solemnity.
"And as best I can, I shall endure the fatal outcome of my life and hold [myself] henceforth always continually in truth [or true love], praying to the Lord [who is above] Fortune and Nature - without whose help nothing exists nor can be certain - to guide and rule everything according to his true design, which leads by just/divine providence to the end of every man, i.e., that the Lord the Creator defend my spirit from despair!"
169-77 Beginning his final stanza, or envoy, with Lo here the fyne (line 169), however, he signals his return to the world of Chaucer, specifically the end of TC: ("Swich fyn hath, lo, this Troilus for love!" [5.1828] and "Lo here, of payens corsed olde rites!" [5.1849]), not to pick up his appeal to God's mother, Mary, but to reiterate his denunciation of Fortune and hir doubilnese (line 171) and to wish for death.


Abbreviations: MS: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Arch. Selden. B.24, fols. 219r-221v; W: Wilson.

1 Because. MS: written large in bold script.
playnte. MS: playntee, followed by W.

3 hertis. MS: hert is, with i written over an h.
faynte. MS: fayntee, followed by W.

8 thocht. MS: added above line by original scribe.

11 Wappit. So MS. W misreads as waxxit.

20 a. MS: written above the line by original scribe; on the line a q has been blacked out.

28 bitter. W: bittir. The MS appears to be missing a crossing mark to the first t, reading buter or biiter.

48 that hir. MS: originally thair, but this crossed through and that hir added above the line by original scribe.

49 sojurn. So W. Another letter has been marked for insertion into the word so that the MS reads an unlikely sojiurn.

63 Explicit Prologus. Written in an enlarged, bold script in MS.

64 Quho may compleyne. MS: written in enlarged bold script, with ihs (= "Jhesus") inside the Q.

67 Help, Piramus, . . . with thy cruell stedfastnese. There is a line missing at this place in the stanza: usually stanzas have nine lines, rhyming aabaabbab; but this one has eight, rhyming aababbab, so it is missing an "a"-rhyming line between 3-4 or 4-5. We propose, because of the misfit of descriptor with Pyramus in this line, that the missing line is the last half of this and first half of the next; in other words, that the half-line following Help, Piramus is missing and that the first half of the next line preceding with thy cruell stedfastnese is missing. Line 67 as it survives is there-fore made up of two half-lines.

106 and making. MS: and mate making; mate is not expunged but should be.

111 serve. MS: seve. W suggests the emendation in his note to the line.

118 quho. MS omits, followed by W.




































Because that teres, weymenting, and playnte
Scloknis the fyre that langour doith encresse
In wofull, cald, disparit hertis faynte
And suagis oft the furiouse, wood distresse,
I am determyte, the wofull tyme to lesse,
Sum thing to writt, that every wycht may knawe
How Fortune has my joy and blisse ourethrawe.

And thocht I be nocht in endite expert
Nor eloquent, my simpilnese excuse
And have compacioun of my trublit hert,
Wappit in dred, of all the warld refuse.
I will non othiris dolouris feyne nor use,
Nor borow teris in my pen to rayne,
Bot sic as fallis fro myn eyne twayn.

And every noble, stedfast hert and trew
That has ressavit of Fortune the disdeyne
Suld on my bittir rage and sorow rewe.
Suppose I can nocht counterfete nor feyne,
Yitt every noble wicht that mycht acteyne
Sulde help a lovere and his wo redrese;
And gife thai mycht nocht, pleyne his hevynes.

The blak, cloudy thochtis of dispaire
Ar enterit in myn hert, cald and wod,
And it opprest so cruelly and sare
That of the awin verray propir blud
Is went to every eye a diverse flud,
Quhilk beris witnese of my discomfort
Thocht it my bitter woo no wise support.

And gif that worthy Chaucere wer on lyve,
Quhilk was of poetis the honour and the glore,
Myn unresty turment to discrive,
He wald have put it rather in memore
Than ony othir that he wrate before:
The accident is trew and more pitouse
Than was the double sorou of Troilus.

For all my yeris gone of tender age,
I levit at ese in quiete and plesance,
Withoutyn drede, doloure, or yit damnage,
Wele fortunat under Lufis govirnans,
Butt traist of change or ony variance;
Bot quhen Fortune semys most trewe and stable
Than to begyle a wicht scho is most hable.

And syne that Fortune unto non estate
Can be sure, no wise, in no degree,
Is non suld traist ay to be fortunate
For ony hecht or promise, as think me,
Sen in hir giftis is no propirtee,
Thai ar begilit, sen that hir quhele mon turn,
That traistis alway in wele for to sojurn.

Herefor, as Boece sais, nouthir hie nor lawe,
Big nocht thy house bot on a sekir stane,
Mak thare thy foundment, gif it sall nocht fawe:
Thir hie rochis ar dangerouse ilkane
And law valais with fludis ar ourgane;
Lyve mediate lyf, quho list lang to endure,
For that is baith most proffitable and sure.

Bot syn thare is, as clerkis all diffyne,
Abufe Fortoun a God and Lord eterne,
Quhat is the cause or quhat wicht can devyne
He sufferis Fortune trewe folk to disperne?
I lat it pas, for I can nocht discern;
Bot furth my letter, as I can it write,
I will proceid thareof to thee endite.
   Explicit Prologus

Quho may compleyne my langoure and distresse
But help of you that ar in pane endlese,
Edippus, Pluto, buteles Tantalus?
Help, Piramus, . . . with thy cruell stedfastnese,
Help, Adon and wise Mercurius,
Phebus and Jove, with soroufull Troilus,
Help, Mars, and all that felt hath hevynes,
Me to compleyne my paynis dolorus!

My pure goste, that quakith evir in drede,
I am so baisit, how I sall proceid
In this mater, or quhom on for to pleyne?
Lufe, Fortune, and my lady all, indede,
Ar fremmyt, cruell, and list tak no hede
Unto my pane nor sorow be no meyne.
For treuth I dee and can no grace atteyne:
Thus confortlese, disparit nevir to spede,
I lyve, and false ar cherist that can feyne.

Quham sall I wyte of all this fremmyt chance,
This payn, this turment, wo, and grete pennance?
Fortune? My lady? Or thou, god of Lufe?
May nane bot Fortune and hir govirnance,
Quhilk can nocht suffir no wicht in plesance
Long to remane, apoun hir quhele abufe.
I will non othir chide, nor yit reprufe:
This fals, double ladyis countenance
Is suetast quhen scho will hir grace remufe.

Now gif pane, turment, langoure, and distresse
Without comfort, or punysing giltles,
May cause any lufare to have care,
I have enuch thereof and more, doutlese.
Lak of cherising and all hevynes
That is or may be to my ese contrare,
Dred of deth, manasing of dispare,
Persing thouchtis with cold and hote seiknese,
Me to consume ay hourly mare and mare.

The lang nycht without slepe I lye allone,
With sychis hote as glede full many one,
Aye cursyng kynd and Nature that me wrocht,
Remembring on my wrechit lyf ygone,
Criand, "Thou Jove, my distany dispone!"
Full pitousely and scharp, bot all for nocht:
Is no remede nor reskewe to me brocht!
Thus turnyng faynt and making my mone,
I ly with turment, and with sorow socht:

O Lufe, advert, behold and see:
Tak hede to myne adversitee!
Sen evirmore in all degree
To serve thee myn entent was trewe.
Quhat honour may it be to thee
To sla thine awin with crueltee,
That will on na wise fro thee flee,
Bot humily thy grace persewe?

Being Lord of Pitee, rewe,
Help me the dangere to eschewe
Of fals Fortune quho has rest of newe
My joy, blis, and prosperitee;
For wele thou wist thyself and knewe
Giltlese this Lady me ovrethrewe,
Bot no remede is to argewe
Agaynis hir mutabilitee.

Allace, to long I all this wrong sustene
Agains rycht; was nevir wicht, I wene,
Punyst so sare with pane and care as I!
In vellis tuo ar changit for wo myne eyne.
I wepe, I wale, with hew full paile and grene,
Strekit on ground almost confound I lye,
And oft on deide this to remed I crye!
But Fortune will that I aye still contene:
No medycyne I can nor fyne aspye.

I cry on Venus to relesch my pane
For lufe of Adon, that with the bore was slane!
I crye on Mars for lufe of fresch Cipres;
On Jove for lufe of Eroupe his sovirane;
On Phebus for lufe of hir that hicht Dyane!
I crye on Mercury for Harisse love, I gesse!
I cry on every god and on goddesse
Me to restore unto my blis agane,
But all for nocht: none will my wo redresse.

My grete pennance, my hevy chance and wo,
My sad entent, and scharpe turment also,
Without comfort, quha may report or tell?
My paynis strong sufferit to long ago,
That be no way can nor may have ho?
My hevynes is nothing lese than hell!
My bittir thocht I may it nocht expell
Quhill that my hert with deth departit atwo,
Into this pane I aye remane and duell.

Exempt fro joy, blisse, and comforting;
Fulfild of langoure and vommenting;
With harmes, douchtis, in the sad regne,
I may go dance in habite of murnyng,
To syng the samyn, sory sang thai sing
For lak of comfort and cherising.
My life I feile is evir vanyssing
And non that may will remede to me bring:
Therefor all mirth and gladnese I resing.

And of my life the dedly aventure
With pacience as I may I sall endure
And hald forth aye in treuth contynuance,1
Praying the Lord of Fortune and Nature,
Without quhais help is nocht nor may be sure,2
To gyde or reule all to his hie plesance,
Quhilk ledis the fyn, be just purviance,3
Of every wicht, that Lord the Creatoure
Defend my gost ay fro desperance!

Lo here the fyne, but feyne, of this endite,
Nocht said of malice no wicht to dispite
Bot onely Fortune and hir doubilnese,
Quhilk reft has all my plesance and delite
And maid me both of hope and comfort quite;
Under the traist of treuth and sekirnese,
My deth I sewe with all my besynes
And sa fer as I cunnyng have to writt;
This is my bittir langoure and distresse.

Here endis the Lufaris Complaint, etc.
lamenting, and complaint; (see note); (t-note)
cold, despairing, faint hearts; (t-note)
assuages; mad distress
determined; decrease
every man

though; writing; (t-note)

compassion for; troubled
Stunned (struck down); rejected; (t-note)
no others' sadnesses
tears; rain
But such; two eyes

(see note)
Should; take pity
Given that I cannot
man that might be able
relieve; (t-note)
if they; not, commiserate

cold and [inducing] madness
its very own blood
Which bears
Though; [can] endure; (see note); (t-note)

if; alive; (see note)
Who; glory
restless; describe
in writing
any; wrote

lived at ease
sorrow, or yet harm
Very; Love's governance
Without expectation
when; seems
Then to beguile a man she

no way, to any degree
should trust always
any vow
Since; substance
They are; since; must; (t-note)
Who trust; good fortune; remain; (t-note)

Therefore; neither; (see note)
Build; except; stable rock
foundation, if; fade; (see note)
These; every one
low valleys; overflowed
[a] moderate; whoever wishes long

since there
(see note)
What; what man
[Why] he allows; despair
let; not understand
to write to/for you
"Here ends the Prologue"; (t-note)

Who; (t-note)
Without; pain
hopeless; (see note)
(see note); (t-note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
[of] my sorrowful pains

pure spirit
matter; [to] whom

distant; wish to
by no means
In truth; die
despairing; succeed
cherished; feign

tell; bad fortune

none but; (see note)
Which can not allow any man
atop her wheel
lady's [i.e., Fortune's]; (see note)
Sweetest when she; remove; (see note)

if pain
punishment guiltless

contrary to my comfort
piercing thoughts; sickness
more and more

long night
sighs; a burning coal
the natural order and Nature
wretched past life
Crying; dispose
loudly; for naught
remedy or rescue
with sorrow sought [as follows]

turn around; (see note)

slay thine own
in no way
humbly; pursue

have pity
taken away recently; (t-note)

well you yourself were aware
(i.e., Fortune)
remedy [it] is to argue; (see note)

Alas, too; (see note)
never was anyone, I believe
Punished so sorely
Into two wells are; eyes
wail; pale and green; (see note)
death; as a remedy (relief)
always still remain (persist)
I know nor end can [I] see

release [me of]; (see note)
love of Adonis; by a boar
for the sake of his love of; (see note)
sovereign; (see note)
is called; (see note)
(see note)

naught; my woe relieve

bad luck
spirit (state of mind)
too long
by no means; have ending
thought; not
While; divided in two
Within; pain I always

Filled; wailing (lamenting)
misfortunes, doubts; rain
dressed for mourning; (see note)
same sad song they sing

feel; ever
can; remedy (relief)
resign (give up)

fatal event; (see note)
as [well as] I may I shall

guide; high (true)

Of every man
spirit; despair

end, without pretense; (see note)
Not; to disparage anyone
Which has taken away
made; deprived
Trusting in truth and security
beg for; diligence
to the extent that I have cunning