On December the tenth day
When it was night, down I lay
Right there as I was wont to do
And fell asleep wondrous soon,
As he that weary was as who
On pilgrimage went miles two
To the shrine of Saint Leonard,
To make easy what was hard.
But as I slept, I dreamed I was
Within a temple made of glass
In which there were more images
Of gold, tiered in sundry stages,
And more rich tabernacles,
And with more gemmed pinnacles,
And more curious portraiture,
And intricate kinds of figure
Of craftsmanship than ever I saw.
For certainly, I knew no more
Of where I was, but plain to see
Venus owned most certainly
That temple, for in portraiture
I at once saw her figure
Naked, floating in the sea.
And also on her head, indeed,
Her rose garland white and red,
And her comb to comb her head,
Her doves, and her blind son
Lord Cupid, and then Vulcan,
Whose face was swarthy brown.
And as I roamed up and down,
I saw that on a wall there was
Thus written on a piece of brass:
‘I will now sing, if that I can,
The arms, and also the man
Who first, pursuing destiny,
Fugitive from Troy’s country,
To Italy, with pain, did come,
To the shores of Lavinium.’
And then begin the tale at once,
That I shall tell to you each one.
First I saw the destruction
Of Troy, through the Greek Sinon,
Who with his false forswearing
And his outward show and lying,
Had the horse brought into Troy
By which the Trojans lost their joy,
And after this was engraved, alas,
How Ilium assailed was
And won, and King Priam slain,
And Polytes his son, for certain,
Cruelly by Lord Pyrrhus.
And next to this, I saw how Venus
When that she saw the castle’s end,
Down from the heavens did descend
And urged her son Aeneas to flee;
And how he fled, and how that he
Escaped from all the cruelties,
And took his father Anchises
And bore him on his back away,
Crying, ‘Alas!’ and ‘Well-away!’
That same Anchises, in his hand,
Bore the gods of the land,
Those that were not burnt wholly.
And I saw next, in this company,
How Creusa, Lord Aeneas’ wife,
Whom he loved as he did his life,
And their young son Julus,
Also called Ascanius,
Fled too, and fearful did appear,
That it was a pity them to hear;
And through a forest as they went,
At a place where the way bent,
How Creusa was lost, alas,
And died, I know not how it was:
How he sought her and how her ghost
Urged him to flee the Greek host,
And said he must go to Italy,
Without fail, it was his destiny;
That it was a pity thus to hear,
When her spirit did appear,
The words that to him she said:
Let him protect their son she prayed.
There saw I graven too how he,
His father also, and company,
In his fleet took sail swiftly
Towards the land of Italy,
As directly as they could go.
There I saw you, cruel Juno,
That is Lord Jupiter’s wife,
Who did hate, all their life,
All those of Trojan blood,
Run and shout, as if gone mad,
To ******, the god of winds,
To blow about, all their kinds,
So fierce, that he might drench
Lord and lady, groom and *****,
Of all the Trojan nation
Without hope of salvation.
There saw I such a tempest rise
That every heart might hear the cries
Of those but painted on the wall.
There saw I graven there withal,
Venus, how you, my lady dear,
Weeping with great loss of cheer,
Prayed to Jupiter on high
To save and keep the fleet alive
Of the Trojan Aeneas,
Since that he her son was.
There saw I Jove Venus kiss,
And grant that the tempest cease.
Then saw I how the tempest went,
And how painfully Aeneas bent
His secret course, to reach the bay
In the country of Carthage;
And on the morrow, how that he
And a knight called Achates
Met with Venus on that day,
Going in her bright array
As if she was a huntress,
The breeze blowing every tress;
How Aeneas did complain,
When he saw her, of his pain,
And how his ships shattered were,
Or else lost, he knew not where;
How she comforted him so
And bade him to Carthage go,
And there he should his folk find
That on the sea were left behind.
And, swiftly through this to pace,
She made Aeneas know such grace
Of Dido, queen of that country,
That, briefly to tell it, she
Became his love and let him do
All that belongs to marriage true.
Why should I use more constraint,
Or seek my words to paint,
In speaking of love? It shall not be;
I know no such facility.
And then to tell the manner
Of how they met each other,
Were a process long to tell,
And over-long on it to dwell.
There was graved how Aeneas
Told Dido everything that was
Involved in his escape by sea.
And after graved was how she
Made of him swiftly, at a word,
Her life, her love, her joy, her lord,
And did him all the reverence
Eased him of all the expense
That any woman could so do,
Believing everything was true
He swore to her, and thereby deemed
That he was good, for such he seemed.
Alas, what harm wreaks appearance
When it hides a false existence!
For he to her a traitor was,
Wherefore she slew herself, alas!
Lo, how a woman goes amiss
In loving him that unknown is,
For, by Christ, lo, thus it fares:
All is not gold that glitters there.
For, as I hope to keep my head,
There may under charm instead
Be hidden many a rotten vice;
Therefore let none be so nice
As to judge a love by how he appear
Or by speech, or by friendly manner;
For this shall every woman find:
That some men are of that kind
That show outwardly their fairest,
Till they have got what they miss.
And then they will reasons find
Swearing how she is unkind,
Or false, or secret lover has.
All this say I of Aeneas
And Dido, so soon obsessed,
Who loved too swiftly her guest;
Therefore I will quote a proverb,
That ‘he who fully knows the herb
May safely set it to his eye’;
Certainly, that is no lie.
But let us speak of Aeneas,
How he betrayed her, alas,
And left her full unkindly.
So when she saw all utterly
That he would fail in loyalty
And go from her to Italy,
She began to wring her hands so.
‘Alas,’ quoth she, ‘here is my woe!
Alas, is every man untrue,
Who every year desires a new,
If his love should so long endure,
Or else three, peradventure?
As thus: from one love he’d win fame
In magnifying of his name,
Another’s for friendship, says he;
And yet there shall a third love be,
Who shall be taken for pleasure,
Lo, or his own profit’s measure.’
In such words she did complain,
Dido, in her great pain
As I dreamed it, for certain,
No other author do I claim.
‘Alas!’ quoth she, ‘my sweet heart,
Have pity on my sorrow’s smart,
And slay me not! Go not away!
O woeful Dido, well-away!’
Quoth she to herself so.
‘O Aeneas, what will you do?
O, now neither love nor bond
You swore me with your right hand,
Nor my cruel death,’ quoth she,
‘May hold you here still with me!
O, on my death have pity!
Truly, my dear heart, truly,
You know full well that never yet,
Insofar as I had wit,
Have I wronged you in thought or deed.
Oh, are you men so skilled indeed
At speeches, yet never a grain of truth?
Alas, that ever showed ruth
Any woman for any man!
Now I see how to tell it, and can,
We wretched women have no art;
For, certainly, for the most part
Thus are we served every one.
However sorely you men groan,
As soon as we have you received
Certain we are to be deceived;
For, though your love last a season,
Wait upon the conclusion,
And look what you determine,
And for the most part decide on.
O, well-away that I was born!
For through you my name is gone
And all my actions told and sung,
Through all this land, on every tongue.
O wicked Fame, of all amiss
Nothing’s so swift, lo, as she is!
O, all will be known that exists
Though it be hidden by the mist.
And though I might live forever,
What I’ve done I’ll save never
From it always being said, alas,
I was dishonoured by Aeneas
And thus I shall judged be:
‘Lo, what she has done, now she
Will do again, assuredly’;
Thus people say all privately.
But what’s done cannot be undone.
And all her complaint, all her moan,
Avails her surely not a straw.
And when she then truly saw
That he unto his ships was gone,
She to her chamber went anon,
And called on her sister Anna,
And began to complain to her,
And said that she the cause was
That made her first love him, alas,
And had counselled her thereto.
But yet, when this was spoken too,
She stabbed herself to the heart,
And died of the wound’s art.
But of the manner of how she died,
And all the words said and replied,
Whoso to know that does purpose,
Read Virgil in the Aeneid, thus,
Or Heroides of Ovid try
To read what she wrote ere she died;
And were it not too long to indite,
By God, here I would it write.
But, well-away, the harm, the ruth
That has occurred through such untruth,
As men may oft in books read,
And see it everyday in deed,
That mere thinking of it pains.
Lo, Demophon, Duke of Athens,
How he forswore himself full falsely
And betrayed Phyllis wickedly,
The daughter of the King of Thrace,
And falsely failed of time and place;
And when she knew his falsity,
She hung herself by the neck indeed,
For he had proved of such untruth,
Lo, was this not woe and ruth?
And lo, how false and reckless see
Was Achilles to Briseis,
And Paris to Oenone;
And Jason to Hypsipyle;
And Jason later to Medea;
And Hercules to Deianira;
For he left her for Iole,
Which led to his death, I see.
How false, also, was Theseus,
Who, as the story tells it us,
Betrayed poor Ariadne;
The devil keep his soul company!
For had he laughed, had he loured,
He would have been quite devoured,
If Ariadne had not chanced to be!
And because she on him took pity,
She from death helped him escape,
And he played her full false a jape;
For after this, in a little while,
He left her sleeping on an isle,
Deserted, lonely, far in the sea,
And stole away, and let her be,
Yet took her sister Phaedra though
With him, and on board ship did go.
And yet he had sworn to her
By all that ever he might swear,
That if she helped to save his life,
He would take her to be his wife,
For she desired nothing else,
In truth, as the book so tells.
Yet, to excuse Aeneas
Partly for his great trespass,
The book says, truly, Mercury,
Bade him go into Italy,
And leave Africa’s renown
And Dido and her fair town.
Then saw I graved how to Italy
Lord Aeneas sailed all swiftly,
And how a tempest then began
And how he lost his steersman,
The steering-oar did suddenly
Drag him overboard in his sleep.
And also I saw how the Sibyl
And Aeneas, beside an isle,
Went to Hell, for to see
His father, noble Anchises.
How he there found Palinurus
And Dido, and Deiphebus;
And all the punishments of Hell
He saw, which are long to tell.
The which whoever wants to know,
He’ll find in verses, many a row,
In Virgil or in Claudian
Or Dante, who best tell it can.
Then I saw graved the entry
That Aeneas made to Italy,
And with Latinus his treaty,
And all the battles that he
Was in himself, and his knights,
Before he had won his rights;
And how he took Turnus’ life
And won Lavinia as his wife,
And all the omens wonderful
Of the gods celestial;
How despite Juno, Aeneas,
For all her tricks, brought to pass
The end of his adventure
Protected thus by Jupiter
At the request of Venus,
Whom I pray to ever save us
And make for us our sorrows light.
When I had seen all this sight
In the noble temple thus,
‘Oh Lord,’ thought I, ‘who made us,
I never yet saw such nobleness
In statuary, nor such richness
As I see graven in this church;
I know not who made these works,
Nor where I am, nor in what country.
But now I will go out and see,
At the small gate there, if I can
Find anywhere a living man
Who can tell me where I am.’
When I out of the door ran,
I looked around me eagerly;
There I saw naught but a large field,
As far as I could see,
Without town or house or tree,
Or bush or grass or ploughed land;
For all the field was only sand,
As fine-ground as with the eye
In Libyan desert’s seen to lie;
Nor any manner of creature
That is formed by Nature
Saw I, to advise me, in this,
‘O Christ,’ I thought, ‘who art in bliss,
From phantoms and from illusion
Save me!’ and with devotion
My eyes to the heavens I cast.
Then was I aware, at the last,
That, close to the sun, as high
As I might discern with my eye,
Me thought I saw an eagle soar,
Though its size seemed more
Than any eagle I had seen.
Yet, sure as death, all its sheen
Was of gold, it shone so bright
That never men saw such a sight,
Unless the heavens above had won,
All new of gold, another sun;
So shone the eagle’s feathers bright,
And downward it started to alight.
By Sir Geoffrey Chaucer