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Merciles Beaute

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Contents

The Poem


Merciles Beaute: A Triple Roundel


"The Merciles Beaute" A watercolor, c. 1877-1958, by Frank Cadogan Cowper. From Campbell-Wilson: Fine Art Dealers; 20th Century Watercolours and Drawings


Middle English A Modern Day Translation
I
Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit thourghout my herte kene.

And but your word wol helen hastily
My hertes wounde while that hit is grene,
Your yen [two wol slee me sodenly];
[I may the beautee of hem not sustene].

Upon my trouthe I sey you feithfully
That ye ben of my lyf and deeth the quene,
For with my deeth the trouthe shal be sene.
Your yen [two wol slee me sodenly];
[I may the beautee of hem not sustene],
[So woundeth it thourghout my herte kene].

II
So hath your beautee fro your herte chaced
Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne,
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne.

Giltles my deeth thus han ye me purchaced;
I sey you sooth, me nedeth not to feyne;
So hath your beautee [fro your herte chaced]
[Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne].

Allas, that Nature hath in you compassed
So greet beautee, that no man may atteyne
To mercy though he sterve for the peyne.
So hath your beautee [fro your herte chaced]
[Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne],
[For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne].

III
Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat,
I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
Sin I am free, I counte him not a bene.

He may answere and seye this and that;
I do no fors, I speke right as I mene.
Sin I fro Love [escaped am so fat],
[I never thenk to ben in his prison lene].

Love hath my name ystrike out of his sclat,
And he is strike out of my bokes clene
For evermo; [ther] is non other mene.
Sin I fro Love [escaped am so fat],
[I never thenk to ben in his prison lene];
[Sin I am free, I counte him not a bene].

Explicit
I
Your two bright eyes will slay me suddenly;
The beauty of them I cannot sustain,
So throughout my eager heart is wounded.

Unless your word will heal hastily
My heart's wound while the wound is green,
Your two bright eyes will slay me suddenly;
The beauty of them I cannot sustain.

Upon my truth I say to you faithfully,
That you have been the queen of my life and death,
For with my death the truth shall be seen,
Your two bright eyes will slay me suddenly,
The beauty of them I cannot sustain,
So throughout my eager heart is wounded.

II
So has your Beauty from your heart chased
Pity, that to complain would not benefit me,
For Danger restrains your mercy in his chain.

My death, guiltless, so that I could obtain your hand;
I say to you the truth, I have no need to pretend;
So has your Beauty from your heart chased
Pity, that to complain would not benefit me.

Alas, that Nature you have plotted inside
Beauty so great that no man shall attain
To Mercy, though he may starve for the pain.
So has your Beauty from your heart chased
Pity, that to complain would not benefit me,
For Danger restrains your mercy in his chain.

III
Since from Love I have escaped so fat,
I never think to be in his lean prison;
Since I am free, I count him to not have been.

He may reply, and say this and that;
I do not repudiate, I speak just as I mean.
Since from Love I have escaped so fat,
I never think to be in his lean prison;

Love has stricken my name from his slate,
And he is stricken from my books completely
Forevermore, there is no other one.
Since from Love I have escaped so fat,
I never think to be in his lean prison;
Since I am free, I count him to not have been.

Sarah K. Burke


Introduction

"To Merciless Beauty" illustration by Warwick Goble, published 1912.

The poem is one of unknown authorship, but due to the content, the writing style, and the time period that it has been dated to, it is believed to have been written by Geoffrey Chaucer. However, since there are unknowns associated with this poem, it is possible that it was not actually Chaucer that wrote the poem. It may have been that somebody with a writing style, like that of or inspired by Chaucer, wrote the poem. This may have been followed by the poem being falsely accredited to Chaucer or perhaps the author claimed to be Chaucer in order to invite attention to his work since Chaucer was quite celebrated during his lifetime and well afterwards.

Although Merciless Beaute is not as covered or written about by many scholars when compared to other works written by Chaucer, the poem is still an important work that is used to gain insight into Geoffrey Chaucer’s view of women, his historical role in creating the foundation for modern works and ideas, and his undeniable obscenity that allowed for him to become a revolutionary for English literature. Merciles Beaute further solidifies the notion that Chaucer wanted his readers to ask questions and come to their own conclusions. The way that Chaucer was accepted by the people of his time suggests that he was on the right path in forcing people out of their comfort zones.

Critical Commentary

In the short poem Merciles Beaute: A Triple Roundel, Geoffrey Chaucer considers the intentions and effects of women while questioning and highlighting the objectification that existed within a patriarchal society. Chaucer’s views on women share similarities to those of other men during his time while additionally sharing similarities with the views of a more modern individual. The poem, Merciles Beaute, also brings to light Chaucer’s use of specific styles that were not commonly used amongst English writers during the time period and allows us to compare the modern views of his style to the views that would have existed during the middle ages.

Merciles Beaute is similar in nature to one of Chaucer's complaint poems. The speaker utilizes repetition in order to communicate the focal points of the poem; infatuation, rejection, and acceptance. This poem differs from a complaint poem in that the speaker is able to put the relationship behind him. It takes an approach to love that is similar to a complaint poem, but it concerns itself just as much with entering and leaving love as it does the alleged temptations that the woman offers to the scorned lover.

Merciles Beaute is divided into three movements, each containing repetition of lines that give us the focal point of each movement. Each movement has the same order of repetition; the first two lines are repeated at the end of the second stanza and then the entire first stanza is repeated at the end of the last stanza in each movement. Throughout the poem, each stanza appears to have a line order of A-B-C-D-E-A-B-F-G-H-A-B-C. This kind of repetition was not commonly seen amongst medieval poetry, hence why Chaucer, if he is indeed the author, is often viewed as The Father of English Literature

The first movement describes the speaker's infatuation with the subject of his affections.

"Your yen two wol slee me sodenly;
I may the beautee of hem not sustene,
So woundeth hit thourghout my herte kene."

The second movement describes the rejection he faces.

"So hath your beautee fro your herte chaced
Pitee, that me ne availeth not to pleyne,
For Daunger halt your mercy in his cheyne."

The final movement describes the speaker's coming to terms with this rejection, himself rejecting his love for her and now considering himself "free".

"Sin I fro Love escaped am so fat,
I never thenk to ben in his prison lene;
Sin I am free, I counte him not a bene."

Links to Other Resources


  • Benson, L. D.;The Geoffrey Chaucer Page; A Glossary for the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer,[1]


  • Buchanan, Thomas Haller; The Pictorial Arts: An Autobiographical Examination[2]


  • Burke, Sarah K.; "Merciles Beaute": Historical and Literary Analysis[3]


  • Burke, Sarah K.; Geoffrey Chaucer, Zotero User "skburke93" Resource Library[4]


  • Campbell-Wilson, Fine Art Dealers; 20th Century Watercolours and Drawings, The Merciles Beaute[5]


  • Translations of the Short Poems of Chaucer[6]


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