Verse > Anthologies > Robert Bridges, ed. > The Spirit of Man: An Anthology

Robert Bridges, ed. (1844–1930).  The Spirit of Man: An Anthology.  1916.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
FLEE 1 fro the pres, and dwelle with sothfastnessë,
Suffyce unto thy good, though it be smal;
For hord hath hate, and climbing tikelnessë,
Pres hath envye, and welë blent overal;
Savour no more than thee bihovë shal;        5
  Reule thyself, that other folk canst redë;
And trouthë shal delivere, it is no dredë.
Tempest thee not al croked to redressë,
In trust of hir that turneth as a bal:
Gret restë stant in litel besinessë;        10
And eek be ware to sporn ageyn an al;
Stryve not, as doth the crokkë with the wal.
  Daunte thyself, that dauntest otheres dedë;
And trouthë shal delivere, it is no dredë.
That thee is sent, receyve in buxumnessë,        15
The wrastling for this worlde axeth a fal.
Her is non hoom, her nis but wildernessë:
Forth, pilgrim, forth! Forth, beste, out of thy stal!
Know thy contree, look up, thank God of al;
  Weyve thy lust, and lat thy gost thee ledë:        20
And trouthë shal delivere, it is no dredë.
Explicit Le bon counseill de G. Chaucer.
Note 1. Chaucer, Truth. The MSS. of this poem vary much. One of the best preserves a fourth stanza, thus
Therfore, thou vache, leve thyn old wrecchedness
Unto the worlde; leve now to be thral;
Crye him mercy, that of his hy goodnesse
Made thee of noght, and in especial
Draw unto him, and pray in general
For thee, and eek for other, hevenlich mede;
And trouthe shal delivere, it is no drede.
This Vache, or cow, puzzled every one until Miss Edith Rickert (in ‘Modern Philology’, 1913) showed that Sir Philip la Vache, K.G., was probably a friend of Chaucer, whence it seems that the poem was sent to him with the Envoy, but was circulated without it, as of general application; and this agrees with the artistic inferiority of the Envoy.
  I have ventured to make my own text from the MSS. Finding that the 6th line of the 2nd stanza has overwhelming authority for its ‘nine’ syllables, and that the most poetic reading of III, 6 is also a ‘nine-syllable’ line, and that the Lansdowne MS. gives a ‘nine-syllable’ line in I. 6 (which I preferred also on other grounds), I was led to conclude that it was part of the construction of the original poem to have a ‘nine-syllable’ line in this place in each stanza: and so I have printed it. It is very effective; and if it was originally thus, the ‘emendations’ would be accounted for. Thus one of the best MSS. [Add. B. M. 10, 340], the one that gives the Envoy, reads Rewle weel thyself.
  There are difficulties for the modern reader.—l. 2. If Skeat’s choice, which I adopt, be right, it means ‘Do not despise and neglect your talent, though it be but one.’ Suffice thin owene thing has good authority; but among sixteen imperatives to change the subject of one of them is awkward: therefore suffice unto is preferable.—l. 4. Blent = blindeth, as stant in II. 3 is also 3rd sing. pres. Welë blent overal means ‘Prosperity blinds a man completely.’ overal is read as a disyllable: Chaucer said ov’rall as we say o’erall.—II. 1. Tempest (= disturb) is a rare verb.—4. Sporn against an al (awl) is to ‘kick against the pricks’, and in the next line crokkë is the proverbial earthenware pitcher. These seem the unworthiest lines in the poem.—III. 6. Skeat adopts Hold the hye wey, and lat thy gost thee lede; which has much authority; but his explanation that hye wey = high road makes nonsense of it: and he is right in saying that it means this in Chaucer. The reading Weyve thy lust is also supported by a passage in Chaucer’s ‘Boethius’, which has, Weyve thou Joy, dryf fro thee drede … that is to seyn, lat none of thise passions overcomen thee or blende thee.
  I have marked with the double dot the final E’s that are pronounced syllabically. My friend Dr. Henry Bradley, who showed me Miss Rickert’s paper, is my authority for this, and other M. E. scholarship: though I do not know that he approves of my results. [back]
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