The Romaunt of the Rose by Geoffrey Chaucer.
|The title page of the 1598|
"Now this drem wol I ryme aright
To make your hertes gaye and lyght,
For Love it prayeth, and also
Commaundeth me that it be so.
And if there any aske me,
Whether it be he or she,
How this book, which is here:
It is the Romance of the Rose,
In which al the art of love I close."
The Romaunt of the Rose is Geoffrey Chaucer's earliest work. It was written in the 1360s and is a translation of Le Roman de la Rose, a French Medieval epic poem, 4 058 lines of which were written in around 1237 by Guillaume de Lorris, then, in around 1275 a further 17 724 lines were added by Jean de Meun. The translation attributed to Chaucer was 7 692 lines, however it's argued that only Fragment A (1 705 lines) was translated by him.
And this is very interesting to me! I read The Romaunt of the Rose back in November (so I won't be including this for Fanda's Medieval part of her Literary Movements Challenge), and truly, once passed Fragment A, I struggled and my attention started to wane. I am no Chaucer scholar and have not read nearly enough to be able to pick out what was written by Chaucer and what might have been, yet I will say I found the first fragment the most enjoyable. As for the rest - well, having read it I decided not to write a review straight away but sit on it for a while, perhaps even re-read it. However I've changed my mind since finding out this information (whilst looking up something for Troilus and Criseyde: I'm up to Book IV, and there are five books, so nearly finished). I can write happily and enthusiastically about Chaucer's part, but as for the rest: I struggle.
|The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness by Edward Burne Jones (1884).|
The Romaunt of the Rose is divided into three parts: Fragment A (lines 1 - 1705), B (lines 1706 - 5810), and C (lines 5811- 7692). It's a dream vision, a method of storytelling that Chaucer used a lot (as in the Book of the Duchess, 1369-72, House of Fame, 1379-80, Parlement of Foules, 1382, and The Legend of Good Women, 1382-86). Furthermore, this tale is mentioned in The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales (1386-94) is said to be a combination of two of the characters in The Romaunt of the Rose: 'The Old Woman' and 'Jealousy'.
|Illustration from the manuscript of|
Le Roman de la Rose.
And ten brode arowes held he there
Of which five in his right hond were.
But they were shaven wel and dight,
Nokked and fethered a-right;
And al they were with gold bigoon,
And stronge poynted everichoon,
And sharpe for to kerven weel.
But iren was ther noon ne steel;
For al was gold, men mighte it see,
Out-take the fetheres and the tree.
|The Pilgrim in the Garden |
by Edward Burne Jones (1889).
In Fragment B, we see our narrator try to get close to the Rose, but he cannot:
Ne dorste I to the Rose bedeLovesick, he tries once more to draw near so he may kiss her. Eventually, Venus "Graunte to me the Rose kisse", but quickly the rose is protected by Fear, Shame, Wikkid-Tunge, and Jelousie. He and his allies Bialacoil (Fair Welcome), Pity, Fraunchise (which represents nobility of character and generosity of spirit) enter into a psychological battle so that he may win the Rose. In Fragment C, the battle ensues and there is much satire on religion and the social order.
For thesteles sharpe, of many maneres,
Netles, thornes, and hokede breres,
For mych they distourbled me,
For sore I dradde to harmed be.
The Romaunt of the Rose is a partial translation, so I'm keen to get a translation of the entire Le Roman de la Rose by de Lorris and de Meun (and also The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis, 1936, which is in part a discussion of it), but in Chaucer's translation we get a taste of it: this allegory which is about seduction: it's not so much about love as lust, and the 'real world' and the world of love, romance, and seduction is, though within it, distinctly separated by that garden wall guarded by the various social ills listed above. The role of women is also a feature: the difference between the feminine courtly 'ideal' and the sexualised human, both represented in the attitudes towards this Rose (a topic Chaucer went on to explore in various tales within The Canterbury Tales). It's a beautiful translation, and on the whole enjoyable, but as I said I very much favoured Fragment A and I struggled with the rest.
Finally, some illustrations: these are by Keith Henderson and Norman Wilkinson from the 1911 edition published by H. Holt.
by Norman Wilkinson
The Allegory of Love by C. S. Lewis