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14th century song lyric

Merciless Beauty

Chaucer’s lyric Merciles Beaute is written in the form of a triple roundel, three verses with a refrain to be sung and danced to. It is found in a single surviving manuscript, Magdalene Collage Cambridge MS Pepys 2006.

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Your yën two wol slee me sodenly · I may the beautè of hem not sustene · so woundeth hit through-out my herte kene · and but your word wol helen hastily – Your two eyes will suddenly kill me. I am unable to endure their beauty, so keen is the wound that they make in my heart, and without the quick reassurance of your voice to heal this wound whilst it is fresh

Your two eyes will suddenly kill me. I am unable to endure their beauty.

Upon my word, I tell you sincerely that you preside over my life and my death like a queen, and when I die, the truth of this shall be seen.

Your two eyes will suddenly kill me. I am unable to endure their beauty, so keen is the wound that they make in my heart.

2

So greatly has beauty chased pity from your heart that it is useless for me to complain. Hazard, with his power to harm, holds your mercy in his chain, and therefore you have given me my death; this is the truth, I have no reason to lie.

So greatly has beauty chased pity from your heart that it is useless for me to complain.

Alas! that nature has given you such beauty that there is no mercy in you, even though a man might die in an attempt to find it.

So greatly has beauty chased pity from your heart that it is useless for me to complain. Hazard, with his power to harm, holds your mercy in his chain.

3

Since I have escaped so completely from Love, I will never contemplate returning to his meagre prison. Now I am free, I consider him to be worthless. He may answer, and say this or that, but I don’t care, I shall say whatever I wish.

Since I have escaped so completely from Love, I will never contemplate returning to his meagre prison.

Love has struck my name from his register, and I have removed him from all my books, for evermore. There is no other way.

Since I have escaped so completely from Love, I will never contemplate returning to his meagre prison. Now I am free, I consider him to be worthless.

Translation of Chaucer's triple roundel Merciles Beaute copyright © 2017 by Richard Scott-Robinson

references

Merciles Beaute – Middle English text with a translation by A S Kline, offering an alternative interpretation; or perhaps a parallel one, since poetry, after all, can work at different allegorical levels at the same time, that's what makes it so powerful.

The Short Poems – eChaucer, text and translations.

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