On Valentine’s Day, of course, a fifteenth-century Valentine’s ballade. By coincidence, I found this one in the manuscript which preserves the proverbial text translated for Margaret of Anjou which I’ve been working on for the last few weeks. It was printed once in Skeat’s multi-volume Works of Chaucer, but not much looked at since, I think. I like the tone of voice in this lyric: the histrionic lover, completely and utterly devoted, but also full of a sense of his own absurdity and the unfairness of love.
He’s lovesick but also a bit grumpy about it: he picks a fight with St Valentine in the second stanza as well as pledging his commitment to love. He switches his prayers to Venus and Cupid, and asks them, in a vivid image, to fold and press (as if it were a wet bit of cloth going through a wringer) his lady’s heart into pity for him. He finishes by pledging his love to his lady, grumbling all the while. I’ve tried to capture the grumpiness in the translation which you’ll find interleaved with the original below. I wouldn’t mind a witty Valentines like this…
Al hoolly youres, withouten otheres part!
Wherefore, y-wis, that I ne can ne may
My service chaungen; thus of al suche art
The lerninge I desyre for ever and ay.
And evermore, whyl that I live may,
In trouthe I wol your servant stille abyde.
Although my wo encrese day by day,
Til that to me be come the dethes tyde.
[I am all wholly yours, and nobody else’s! To such a degree that, indeed, I am not willing or able to change my devotion; thus I desire to learn everything about the art of love for ever and ever. And for as long as I live, I will remain your devoted servant, even though my pain will increase day by day until the moment of death comes to me.]
Seint Valentyne! to you I renovele
My woful lyf, as I can, compleyninge;
But, as me thinketh, to you a quarele
Right greet I have, whan I, rememberinge
Bitwene, how kinde, ayeins the yeres springe,
Upon your day, doth ech foul chese his make;
And you list not in swich comfort me bringe,
That to her grace my lady shulde me take.
[Saint Valentine, I rededicate my woeful life to you, as far as I can, complaining; but, as far as I can see, I have a really big bone to pick with you, when I, remembering from time to time, see how nature, every spring, on Valentine’s Day, leads each bird to choose his mate; whilst you don’t care to bring me such a comfort, i.e. that my lady should take me to her grace.]
Wherfor unto you, Cupide, I beseche,
Furth with Venus, noble lusty goddesse,
Sith ye may best my sorowe lesse and eche;
And I your man, oppressed with distresse,
Can not crye ‘help!’ but to your gentilnesse:
So voucheth sauf, sith I, your man, wol dye,
My ladies herte in pite folde and presse,
That of my peyne I finde remedye.
[Therefore I pray to you, Cupid, and afterwards to Venus, noble beautiful goddess, since you are best able to lessen and improve my sorrow; and I, who am your servant, overwhelmed with sorrow, can’t help but ask for help from your nobility: so promise that (since I, your servant, will surely die) you will fold and press my lady’s heart in pity, so that I might find a cure for my pain.]
To your conning, my hertes right princesse,
My mortal fo, whiche I best love and serve,
I recommaunde my boistous lewednesse.
And, for I can not altherbest deserve
Your grace, I preye, as he that wol nat swerve,
That I may fare the better for my trouthe;
Sith I am youres, til deth my herte kerve,
On me, your man, now mercy have and routhe.
[To your discerning mind, my heart’s true princess, my mortal foe, she whom I love best and serve, I recommend my unruly lack of elegance. And even though I don’t entirely deserve your grace, I pray, as he who will never deviate, that I will fare better as a result of my devotion, since I am yours, until death carves up my heart: now have pity and mercy on me, your servant.]