Tag Archives: complaint


complainte (noun), also compleinte

Complainte usually designates content rather than form: the expression of grief, pain and suffering, a lamentation, a petition or list of grievances.  Complaints appear as speeches within longer works or as stand-alone poems.  Complaint is recognised as a literary register or genre having its own styles and conventions.  Chaucer tells us that Damian in the Merchant’s Tale writes about his unrequited love in a letter ‘[i]n manere of a compleynt or a lay’, which might specify the letter’s form or content or both (see also the entry on lai).

The complaint section of Chaucer’s Complaint of Mars begins with a statement of what the ‘order of compleynt’ requires in terms of its content, again suggesting a particular set of genre-expectations.  Chaucer’s triple ballade, the Complaint of Venus, calls itself ‘this complaint or this lay’, indicating these terms could be used generally about the content of a poem even if in another form.  Dorigen’s complaint in the Franklin’s Tale (labelled as such by the narrator both before and after she speaks) is not distinguished from the rest of the narrative  by a change of form.

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Sumwhat musyng

For the last few weeks I’ve been exploring whether a particular French lyric form, the virelai, is used by English poets in the fifteenth century.  Several Middle English poems are labelled as virelais in DIMEV and in various anthologies, but in fact they are all versions in English of another French lyric genre, the complainte.  This week’s poem (scroll down for text and translation) is one of the most poignant of this small group of English complaints.  According to the fifteenth-century historian John Rous (writing in a work completed in 1486, so probably a reliable witness), Anthony Woodville, 2nd Lord Rivers composed this poem on the eve of his execution at Pontefract in 1483.

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