Thomas Humphry Ward, ed. The English Poets. 18801918. Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Court of Love
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 13401400)
Poems commonly attributed to Chaucer
Critical Introduction by Thomas Humphry Ward
The Court of Love (date about 1500) is a poem of the Chaucerian school, containing many echoes of Chaucer, and making distinct reference to The Compleynte of Pite and The Legende of Goode Women. Philogenet, of Cambridge Clerk, who, in the days of unreflecting Chaucerian criticism, was always supposed to represent the young Chaucer himself, repairs to the Court of Venus, where he finds Admetus and Alceste, the heroine of The Legende of Goode Women, with her ladies good nineteene presiding over the Castle of Love. The Queens handmaid Philobone takes him in charge and shows him the wonders of the place. He swears allegiance to the Twenty Statutes of Love, and is then introduced to the Lady Rosial, with whom he has already fallen in love in his dream, and whose presence inspires him with long protestations of devotion. Rosial is for the time obdurate, and sends him away again with Philobone to wait her pleasure. After a graphic description of the Courtiers of Love, an unequal but vigorous piece of writing, there appears to be a break in the poem, for we find ourselves suddenly in the middle of a tender speech of Rosial, who describes how Pite, risen from the shrine in which Philogenet had seen her buried within the temple of Venus, had softened her breast towards him. The poem ends with one of the favourite bird-scenes of the time, a curious paraphrase of the Matins for Trinity Sunday. This song in honour of Love, sung on May morning by a chorus of birds, should be compared with the last scenes of the Parlement of Foules.
The first of the following extracts, a beautiful sketch of Privy Thought or Fancy, among the Courtiers of Love, is full of delicate imagination, and represents the author better than the tedious Statutes of Love, or the hymn to Venus, taken from Boethius, of which his master, Chaucer, had before him made more successful use. The second piece, which represents the close of the May festival, is so characteristic of the school of poetry and of the time, that it will bear quoting, in spite of its conventionality.
AND Prevye Thought, rejoycing of hym-self,
Stode not fer thens in abite mervelous;
Yon is, thought I, som sprite or [els] som elf,