Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, QUEEN ANNELIDA AND FALSE ARCITE, by GEOFFREY CHAUCER



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QUEEN ANNELIDA AND FALSE ARCITE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: O thou fierce god of armies, mars the red
Last Line: And sent it to her lover, to arcite.


I

O THOU fierce God of armies, Mars the red,
Who in thy frosty country called Thrace,
Within thy grisly temples full of dread,
Art honored as the patron of that place,
With the Bellona Pallas, full of grace!
Be present; guide, sustain this song of mine,
Beginning which, I cry toward thy shrine.

II

For deep the hope is sunken in my mind,
In piteous-hearted English to indite
This story old, which I in Latin find,
Of Queen Annelida and false Arcite:
Since Time, whose rust can all things fret and bite,
In fretting many a tale of equal fame,
Hath from our memory nigh devoured this same.

III

Thy favor, Polyhymnia, also deign
Who, in thy sisters' green Parnassian glade,
By Helicon, not far from Cirrha's fane,
Singest with voice memorial in the shade
Under the laurel which can never fade;
Now grant my ship, that some smooth haven win her!
I follow Statius first, and then Corinna.

IV

When Theseus by a long and deathly war
The hardy Scythian race had overcome,
He, laurel-crowned, in his gold-wrought car,
Returning to his native city home,
the blissful people for his pomp make room,
And throw their shouts up to the stars, and bring
The general heart out for his honoring.

V

Before the Duke, in sign of victory,
The trumpets sound, and in his banner large
Dilates the figure of Mars -- and men may see,
In token of glory, many a treasure charge,
Many a bright helm, and many a spear and targe,
Many a fresh knight, and many a blissful rout
On horse and foot, in all the field about.

VI

Hippolyte, his wife, the heroic queen
Of Scythia, conqueress though conquered,
With Emily, her youthful sister sheen,
Fair in a car of gold he with him led.
The ground about her car she overspread
With brightness from the beauty in her face,
Which smiled forth largesses of love and grace.

VII

Thus triumphing, and laurel-crowned thus,
In all the flower of Fortune's high providing,
I leave this noble prince, this Theseus,
Toward the walls of Athens bravely riding, --
And seek to bring in, without more abiding,
Something of that whereof I 'gan to write
Of fair Annelida and false Arcite.

VIII

Fierce Mars, who in his furious course of ire,
The ancient wrath of Juno to fulfil,
Had set the nations' mutual hearts on fire
In Thebes and Argos, (so that each would kill
Either with bloody spears,) grew never still --
But rushed now here, now there, among them both,
Till each was slain by each, they were so wroth.

IX

For when Parthenopaeus and Tydeus
Had perished with Hippomedon, -- also
Amphiaraus and proud Capaneus, --
and when the wretched Theban brethren two
Were slain, and King Adrastus home did go --
So desolate stood Thebes, her halls so bare,
That no man's love could remedy his care.

X

And when the old man, Creon, 'gan espy
How darkly the blood royal was brought down,
He held the city in his tyranny,
And forced the nobles of that region
To be his friends and dwell within the town;
Till half for love of him, and half for fear,
Those princely persons yielded, and drew near, --

XI

Among the rest the young Armenian queen,
Annelida, was in that city living.
She was as beauteous as the sun was sheen,
Her fame to distant lands such glory giving
That all men in the world had some heart-striving
To look on her. No woman, sooth, can be,
Though earth is rich in fairness, fair as she.

XII

Young was this queen, but twenty summers old,
Of middle stature, and such wondrous beauty,
That Nature, self-delighted, did behold
A rare work in her -- while, in stedfast duty,
Lucretia and Penelope would suit ye
With a worse model -- all things understood,
She was, in short, most perfect fair and good.

XIII

The Theban knight eke, to give all their due,
Was young, and therewithal a lusty knight.
But he was double in love, and nothing true,
Ay, subtler in that craft than any wight,
And with his cunning won this lady bright;
So working on her simpleness of nature,
That she him trusted above every creature.

XIV

What shall I say? She loved Arcite so,
That if at any hour he parted from her,
Her heart seemed ready anon to burst in two;
For he with lowliness had overcome her:
She thought she knew the heart which did foredoom her.
But he was false, and all that softness feigning, --
I trow men need not learn such arts of paining.

XV

And ne'ertheless full mickle business
Had he, before he might his lady win, --
He swore that he should die of his distress,
His brain would madden with the fire within!
Alas, the while! for it was ruth and sin,
That she, sweet soul, upon his grief should rue;
But little reckon false hearts as the true.

XVI

And she to Arcite so subjected her,
That all she did or had seemed his of right:
No creature in her house met smile or cheer,
Further than would be pleasant to Arcite;
There was no lack whereby she did despite
To his least will -- for hers to his was bent,
And all things which pleased him made her content.

XVII

No kind of letter to her fair hands came,
Touching on love, from any kind of wight,
But him she showed it ere she burned the same:
So open was she, doing all she might,
That nothing should be hidden from her knight,
Lest he for any untruth should upbraid her, --
The slave of his unspoken will she made her.

XVIII

He played his jealous fancies over her,
And if he heard that any other man
Spoke to her, would beseech her straight to swear
To each word -- or the speaker had his ban;
And out of her sweet wits she almost ran
For fear; but all was fraud and flattery,
Since without love he feigned jealousy.

XIX

All which with so much sweetness suffered she,
Whate'er he willed she thought the wisest thing;
And evermore she loved him tenderly,
And did him honor as he were a king.
Her heart was wedded to him with a ring,
So eager to be faithful and intent,
That wheresoe'er he wandered, there it went.

XX

When she would eat he stole away her thought,
Till little thought for food, I ween, was kept;
And when a time for rest the midnight brought,
She always mused upon him till she slept, --
When he was absent, secretly she wept;
And thus lived Queen Annelida the fair,
For false Arcite, who worked her this despair.

XXI

This false Arcite in his new-fangleness,
Because so gentle were her ways and true,
Took the less pleasure in her stedfastness,
And saw another lady proud and new,
And right anon he clad him in her hue;
I know not whether white, or red, or green,
Betraying fair Annelida the Queen.

XXII

And yet it was no thing to wonder on,
Though he were false -- It is the way of man,
(Since Lamech was, who flourished years agone,)
To be in love as false as any can;
For he was the first father who began
To love two; and I trow, indeed, that he
Invented tents as well as bigamy.

XXIII

And having so betrayed her, false Arcite
Feign'd more, that primal wrong to justify.
A vicious horse will snort besides his bite;
And so he taunted her with treachery,
Swearing he saw thro' her duplicity,
And how she was not loving, but false-hearted --
The perjured traitor swore thus, and departed.

XXIV

Alas, alas, what heart could suffer it,
For ruth, the story of her grief to tell?
What thinker hath the cunning and the wit
To image it? what hearer, strength to dwell
A room's length off, while I rehearse the hell
Suffered by Queen Annelida the fair
For false Arcite, who worked her this despair?

XXV

She weepeth, waileth, swooneth piteously;
She falleth on the earth dead as a stone;
Her graceful limbs are cramped convulsively;
She speaketh out wild, as her wits were gone.
No color, but an ashen paleness -- none --
Touched cheek or lips; and no word shook their white,
But 'Mercy, cruel heart! mine own Arcite!'

XXVI

Thus it continued, till she pined so,
And grew so weak, her feet no more could bear
Her body, languishing in ceaseless woe.
Whereof Arcite had neither ruth nor care --
His heart had put out new-green shoots elsewhere;
Therefore he deigned not on her grief to think,
And reckoned little, did she float or sink.

XXVII

His fine new lady kept him in such narrow
Strict limit, by the bridle, at the end
O' the whip, he feared her least word as an arrow, --
Her threatening made him, as a bow, to bend,
And at her pleasure did he turn and wend;
Seeing she never granted to this lover
A single grace he could sing 'Ios' over.

XXVIII

She drove him forth -- she scarcely deigned to know
That he was servant to her ladyship:
But, lest he should be proud, she kept him low,
Nor paid his service from a smiling lip:
She sent him now to land, and now to ship;
And giving him all danger to his fill,
She thereby had him at her sovereign will.

XXIX

Be taught of this, ye prudent women all,
Warn'd by Annelida and false Arcite:
Because she chose, himself, 'dear heart' to call
And be so meek, he loved her not aright.
The nature of man's heart is to delight
In something strange -- moreover, (may Heaven save
The wrong'd) the thing they cannot, they would have.

XXX

Now turn we to Annelida again,
Who pined day by day in languishment.
But when she saw no comfort met her pain,
Weeping once in a woeful unconstraint,
She set herself to fashion a complaint,
Which with her own pale hand she 'gan to write,
And sent it to her lover, to Arcite.





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