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 Parlement of Foules
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
(See full text.)

          [Chaucer dreams that he sees the birds assembled on St. Valentine’s Day to choose their mates, the Goddess Nature presiding. Among the mates is a formel, or female eagle, wooed by three tercels: the formel being probably Anne of Bohemia, and the tercel royal King Richard II.]

AND in a launde, upon an hille of floures,
Was set this noble goddessë Nature;
Of braunches were hir hallës and hir boures
Ywrought, after hir crafte and hir mesure;
Ne ther nas fowl that cometh of engendrure,        5
That there ne werë prest, 1 in hir presence,
To take hir dome, 2 and yeve hir audience.
*        *        *        *        *
There myghtë men the royal egle fynde,
That with his sharpë look perceth the Sonne;
And other egles of a lower kynde,        10
Of which that clerkës wel devysen konne;
There was the tiraunt with his fethres donne
And grey, I mene the goshauke that doth pyne 3
To briddës, for his outrageous ravyne.
The gent faucoun, 4 that with his feet distreyneth        15
The kyngës hond; the hardy sperhauk eke,
The quaylës foo; the merlyon that peyneth
Hymself ful ofte the larke for to seke;
There was the dowvë, with hir eyën meke;
The jalouse swanne, ayens 5 hys deth that syngeth        20
The owle eke, that of dethe the bodë bryngeth.
The crane the geaunt, with his trompes soune:
The thefe the chough, and eke the janglyng pye;
The scornyng jay, the eles foo the heroune;
The falsë lapwyng, ful of trecherye;        25
The starë, that the counseyl kan bewrye; 6
The tamë ruddok, 7 and the coward kyte;
The cok, that orlogge ys of thropës lyte. 8
The sparow, Venus sone, and the nyghtyngale
That clepeth forth the fresshë levës newe:        30
The swalow, mordrer of the beës smale,
That maken hony of flourës fressh of hewe;
The wedded turtel, with hys hertë trewe;
The pecok, with his aungels fethers bryghte;
The fesaunt, scorner of the cok by nyghte.        35
The waker 9 goos, the cukkow ever unkynde,
The papinjay, ful of delycacye;
The drakë, stroyer of his owën kynde;
The storkë, wreker of avowterie;
The hootë cormeraunt, ful of glotonye;        40
The ravene and the crowe, with voys of care;
The throstel old, the frosty feldëfare.
*        *        *        *        *
[The question as to which tercel is to have the formel eagle is referred to the Parliament of Birds. Some of the opinions given are as follows.]

The watir foulës han her hedës leyd
Togedir, and of shorte avysëment,
Whan everych had hys large golee 10 seyd,        45
They seyden sothly al by on assent,
How that the goos, with hir faconde gent, 11
That soo desireth to pronounce our nede,
Shal telle our tale, and preyde to God hir spede.
And for these watir foulës tho began        50
The goos to speke, and in hir cakëlynge,
She seydë, ‘Pes now, tak kepe 12 every man,
And herkneth which a resoun I shal forth bringe!
My wyt ys sharpe, I love no taryinge!
I sey I rede 13 hym, though he were my brother,        55
But she wol love hym, lat hym love another.’
‘Loo! here a parfyte resoun of a goos!’
Quod the sperhaukë. ‘Never mote she thee! 14
Loo, suche hyt ys to have a tongë loos!
Now pardé, fool, yet were hit bet 15 for the        60
Have holde thy pes, than shewed thy nycëté;
Hyt lyth not in hys wyt, nor in hys wille;
But sooth ys seyd, a fool kan noght be stille.’
The laughtre aroos of gentil foulës alle,
And ryght anoon the sede-foul 16 chosen hadde        65
The turtel trewe, and ganne hir to hem calle;
And prayden hir to seyë the soth sadde
Of thys matere, and asked what she radde. 17
And she answerde, that pleynly hir entente
She woldë shewe, and sothly what she mente.        70
‘Nay, God forbede a lover shuldë chaunge!’
The turtel seyde, and wex for shame al reed:
‘Thoogh that hys lady evermore be straunge,
Yet let hym serve hir ever, tyl he be deed.
Forsoth, I preysë noght the gooses reed;        75
For though she deyed, I wolde noon other make; 18
I wol ben hirs til that the deth me take.’
‘Wei bourded,’ 19 quod the dukë, 20 ‘by my hat!
That men shulde alwey loven causëles,
Who kan a resoun fynde, or wyt in that?        80
Daunceth he murye 21 that ys murtheles?
Who shulde rechche 22 of that ys rechcheles?
Ye! quek! yet,’ quod the dukë, ‘wel and faire!
There ben moo sterrës, God woot, than a paire.’
‘Now fy, cherl!’ quod the gentil tercëlet,—        85
‘Out of the dunghil com that word ful ryght;
Thou kanst noght see which thing is wel beset;
Thou farest be love as owlës doon by lyght,—
The day hem blent, ful wel they see by nyght;
Thy kynde ys of so lowe a wrechednesse,        90
That what love is thou kanst not see ne gesse.’
Thoo gan the cukkow put hym forth in pres 23
For foule that eteth worm, and seydë blyve:— 24
‘So I,’ quod he, ‘may have my make in pes,
I rechë not how longë that ye strive.        95
Lat ech of hem be soleyn al her lyve,
This ys my reed, syne they may not acorde;
This shortë lessoun nedeth noght recorde.’
‘Yee, have the glotoun fild ynogh hys paunche,
Thanne are we wel!’ seydë the merlyoun:— 25        100
‘Thou mordrere of the haysogge 26 on the braunche
That broghtë the forth! thou rewful glotoun!
Lyve thou soleyn, wormës corrupcioun!
For no fors ys of lak of thy nature; 27
Goo, lewëd be thou while the world may dure!’        105
‘Now pes,’ quod Nature, ‘I commaundë here,
For I have herd al your opynioun,
And in effect yet be we never the nere;
But fynally, this ys my conclusioun,—
That she hir self shal have the eleccioun        110
Of whom hir lyst, who-so be wrooth or blythe;
Hym that she cheest, 28 he shal han hir as swithe.
Note 1. ready. [back]
Note 2. judgment. [back]
Note 3. causes torment. [back]
Note 4. the peregrine. [back]
Note 5. against. [back]
Note 6. that talks and reveals secrets. [back]
Note 7. robin. [back]
Note 8. that is clock to small villages. [back]
Note 9. wakeful. [back]
Note 10. mouthful. [back]
Note 11. gentle eloquence. [back]
Note 12. pay attention. [back]
Note 13. advise. [back]
Note 14. may she thrive. [back]
Note 15. better. [back]
Note 16. the fowls that feed on grain. [back]
Note 17. advised. [back]
Note 18. mate. [back]
Note 19. jested. [back]
Note 20. duck. [back]
Note 21. merrily. [back]
Note 22. reck, care. [back]
Note 23. among the crowd. [back]
Note 24. the merlin. [back]
Note 25. hedge-sparrow. [back]
Note 26. failure of thy whole species would not matter. [back]
Note 27. chooses. [back]
Note 28. swiftly. [back]
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