Verse > Anthologies > Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. > Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry
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Ralph Waldo Emerson, comp. (1803–1882).  Parnassus: An Anthology of Poetry.  1880.
 
Gentility
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
 
(See full text.)

  BUT for ye speken of such gentillesse,
As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore shullen ye be gentilmen,—
Such arrogance n’is not worth an hen.
  Look who that is most virtuous alway,        5
Prive and apart, and most entendeth aye
To do the gentil dedés that he can,
And take him for the greatest gentilman.
Christ wol we claime of him our gentillesse,
Not of our elders for their old richesse:        10
For though they gave us all their heritage,
For which we claim to be of high parage,
Yet may they not bequethen, for no thing,
To none of us, their virtuous living,
That made them gentilmen callèd to be,        15
And bade us follow them in such degree.
  “Wel can the wise poet of Florence,
That highté Dant, speken of this sentence:
Lo, in such maner rime is Dante’s tale.
  Ful selde upriseth by his branches smale        20
Prowesse of man, for God of his goodnesse
Will that we claime of him our gentillesse:
For of our elders may we nothing claime
But temporal thing, that man may hurt and maime.
  “Eke every wight wot this as wel as I,        25
If gentillesse were planted naturelly
Unto a certain linage down the line,
Prive and apart, then wol they never fine
To don of gentillesse the faire office,
They mighten do no vilanie or vice.        30
  “Take fire and beare it into the derkest hous
Betwixt this and the mount of Caucasus,
And let men shut the dorés, and go thenne,
Yet wol the fire as faire lie and brenne
As twenty thousand men might it behold;        35
His office naturel ay wol it hold,
Up peril of my lif, til that it die.
  “Here may ye see wel, how that genterie
Is not annexed to possession,
Sith folk ne don their operation        40
Alway, as doth the fire, lo, in his kind,
For God it wot, men may full often find
A lordé’s son do shame and vilanie.
And he that wol have prize of his genterie,
For he was boren of a gentil house,        45
And had his elders noble and virtuous,
And n’ill himselven do no gentil dedes,
Ne folwe his gentil auncestrie, that dead is,
He n’is not gentil, be he duke or erl;
For vilains’ sinful dedés make a churl.        50
For gentillesse n’is but the renomee
Of thine auncestres, for their high bountée,
Which is a strange thing to thy persone:
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God alone.
Than cometh our very gentillesse of grace,        55
It was no thing bequethed us with our place.
 
 
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