Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Flower and the Leaf
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
Poems commonly attributed to Chaucer

Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
  The Flower and the Leaf, written, according to internal evidence, by a lady, and about 1450, follows out a fancy of French origin which had already in Chaucer’s time found its way into the stock poetical material of the age, and to which he makes reference in The Legende of Goode Women.
 ‘But helpeth, ye that han conning and might,
Ye lovers, that can make of sentëment;
In this case oughtë ye be diligent
To ferthren me somewhat in my labour,
Whether ye been with the leafe or with the flour.’
The followers of the Flower
       ‘Are such folk that loved idlenesse,
And not deliten in no businesse,
But for to hunte and hauke and play in medes
And many other suchlike idle dedes:’
whereas the company of the Leaf, wearing laurel chaplets, ‘whose lusty green may not appaired be’ by winter storms or frosts, represent the brave and steadfast of all ages, the great knights and champions, the constant lovers and pure women of past and present times.
  The poem opens with the usual spring morning, and the description of a woodland arbour hedged round with sycamore and eglantine, and haunted with the songs of birds. Thence the poet sees the rival companies of the Flower and the Leaf scattered over the plain outside, and describes their dresses and equipments with a length and wearisome detail which would alone mark off the poem from Chaucer’s work. A storm comes on, which drenches the flower-chaplets and green dresses of Flora’s train, while it leaves those of the Leaf unharmed. These bring shelter and friendly help to the followers of the Flower, and then the two companies pass singing out of sight, and a ‘fair lady,’ herself a servant of the Leaf, explains to the poet the meaning of the vision.
  Dryden’s paraphrase of this poem, which he of course believed to be by Chaucer, is well known.
[The author having passed a sleepless night, though why she knows not, as she has neither sickness nor disease, wanders out early.]

AND up I roos three hourës after twelfe,
Aboute the [erly] springing of the day;
And on I putte my geare and mine array,
And to a pleasaunt grove I gan to passe,
Long or the brightë Sonne up-risen was;        5
In which were okës grete, streight as a line,
Under the which the gras, so fresh of hew,
Was newly spronge; and an eight foot or nine
Every tree wel fro his fellow grew,
With branches brode, ladën with levës new,        10
That sprongen out ayen the sunnë shene,
Some very red, and some a glad light grene;
Which, as me thoughte, was right a plesant sight;
And eke the briddës songës for to here
Would have rejoycëd any earthly wight;        15
And I that couthe not yet, in no manere,
Herë the nightingale of all the yere,
Ful busily herkned with hart and ere,
If I her voice perceive coude any-where.
And, at the last, a path of little breede 1        20
I found, that gretly hadde not used be;
For it forgrowen was with grasse and weede,
That well unneth a wight [ne] might it se:
Thoght I, ‘This path some whider goth, pardé!’
And so I followëd, till it me brought        25
To right a pleasaunt herber, 2 well ywrought,
That benched was, and eke with turfës newe
Freshly turvëd, whereof the grenë gras,
So small, so thicke, so short, so fresh of hewe,
That most ylike grene wool, I wot, it was:        30
The hegge also that yede in this compas, 3
And closëd in all the grenë herbere,
With sicamour was set and eglatere. 4
*        *        *        *        *
And as I stood and cast aside mine eie,
I was ware of the fairest medler-tree,        35
That ever yet in all my life I sie, 5
As full of blossomes as it mightë be;
Therein a goldfinch leaping pretilie
Fro bough to bough; and, as him list, gan ete
Of buddës here and there and flourës swete.        40
And to the herber side ther was joyninge
This fairë tree, of which I have you told;
And at the last the brid began to singe,
When he had eten what he etë wolde,
So passing sweetly, that by manifolde        45
It was more pleasaunt than I coude devise.
And when his song was ended in this wise,
The nightingale with so mery a note
Answerëd him, that all the woodë rong
So sodainly, that, as it were a sote, 6        50
I stood astonied; so was I with the song
Thorow ravishëd, that till late and longe,
Ne wist I in what place I was, ne where;
And ay, me thoughte, she song even by mine ere.
Wherefore about I waited busily,        55
On every side, if that I her mighte see;
And, at the last, I gan full well aspie
Where she sat in a fresh grene laurer tree,
On the further side, even right by me,
That gave so passing a delicious smell,        60
According to the eglantere full well.
*        *        *        *        *
And as I sat, the briddës harkening thus,
Me thoughte that I herde voices sodainly,
The most sweetest and most delicious
That ever any wight, I trow truly,        65
Herd in here life; for sothe the armony
And sweet accord was in so good musike,
That the voice[s] to angels most were 7 like.
And at the last, out of a grove faste by,
That was right goodly and pleasant to sight,        70
I sie where there cam, singing lustily,
A world of ladies; but, to tell aright
Her grete beautie, it lieth not in my might,
Ne her array; neverthelesse I shall
Telle you a part, though I speake not of all.        75
Note 1. breadth. [back]
Note 2. arbour. [back]
Note 3. went round about. [back]
Note 4. eglantine. [back]
Note 5. saw. [back]
Note 6. sot, fool. [back]
Note 7. Old ed. was. [back]
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