Lak of Stedfastnesse
Somtyme the world was so stedfast and stable
That mannes word was obligacioun,
And now it is so fals and deceivable
That word and deed, as in conclusioun,
Ben nothing lyk, for turned up-so-doun
Is al this world for mede and wilfulnesse,
That al is lost for lak of stedfastnesse. (Lines 1-7)
What maketh this world to be so variable
But lust that folk have in dissensioun?
For among us now a man is holde unable,
But if he can by som collusioun
Don his neighbour wrong or oppressioun.
What causeth this but wilful wrecchednesse,
That al is lost for lak of stedfastnesse? (Lines 8-14)
Trouthe is put doun, resoun is holden fable,
Vertu hath now no dominacioun;
Pitee exyled, no man is merciable.
Through covetyse is blent discrecioun.
The world hath mad a permutacioun
Fro right to wrong, fro trouthe to fikelnesse,
That al is lost for lak of stedfastnesse. (Lines 15-21)
O prince, desyre to be honourable,
Cherish thy folk and hate extorcioun.
Suffre nothing that may be reprevable
To thyn estat don in thy regioun.
Shew forth thy swerd of castigacioun,
Dred God, do law, love trouthe and worthinesse,
And wed thy folk agein to stedfastnesse. (Lines 22-28)
Similar to other writers, Chaucer is a literary figure,affected by his political and social environment. In the late fourteenth century, the Lords Appellant and the Peasant's Revolt challenged not only the reigning king, King Richard II, but general English monarchical authority. These political controversies and rising social tensions highlighted issues in English political morality and virtue that could then be addressed by the intellectuals. Chaucer responded to these issues in several of his short poems, but among his most notable political works is "Lak of Stedfastnesse." By analyzing the environment in which this poem arose, one can begin to better understand not only the poem itself, but Chaucer's motives and opinions at the time.
Chaucer's approach in this poem centers around morals, but this virtuous focus seems to be a mask for his true motive, self preservation. Chaucer's power relied on King Richard's authority. Chaucer needed to stay in close contact with the king and his court in order to reach a broad audience and achieve maximum power. Therefore, by supporting King Richard and encouraging the people to obey "virtuously," he attempts to solidify his position within the hierarchical framework. In order to see Chaucer's real goals, the reader must understand the context. Then, the audience can begin to unmask the politically biased argument that lies within this poem.
Links to Other Resources
A Literary Analysis on "Lak of Stedfastnesse" - A brief analysis on Geoffrey Chaucer's short poem.