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From “Merciles Beaute”

November 28, 2016

Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit thourhout my herte kene.

And but your word wo! helen hastily
My hertes wounde, while that hit is grene,
Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene.

Upon my trouthe I sey you feithfully
That ye ben of my lyf and deeth the quene;
For with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene.
Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene,
So woundeth it thourghout my herte kene.

–Geoffrey Chaucer ~1390

COMMENTARY: This poem is pure music (partly why I didn’t bother modernizing the spelling). There is a paraphrasable meaning: manipulative, emotionally adolescent knight-of-love is so enraptured by the gaze of his beloved that he feels it will kill him. Unless she takes pity on him and her words cure the wound of his heart while it is still green (new), he will be martyred to his love, and, in so dying prove the truthfulness of his protestations. This little paraphrase, of course, savages the poem, the real power of which comes from the sonorous refrain, the way the s’s and w’s and y’s of yen, slay, sodenly, sustene, and wounde make the lines slip out, momentarily, of the harder grip of the t’s and k’s of “two” and “beautee” and “kene”–like water splashing on rocks.

According to the footnote in my book, this is poem was published in its original manuscript as one of a group of three “roundels.” The title, “Merciles Beaute” referred to all three.

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One Comment
  1. richibi permalink

    this poem was gibberish to me the first time around, then with your help, moonbeam, I read it again a second time, aloud, and it was wonderful – thanks – Richard

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