Archive for ‘14th Century’

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Belling the Cat by William Langland

With that there ran a rout of rats at once,
And small mice with them more than thousand,
And came to a council for their common profit;
For a cat from the Court came when he liked
And o’er leaped them lightly and caught them at will,
Played with them perilously and pushed them about.
‘For dread of divers dangers we dare not look about;
If we grumble at his game he will attack us all,
Scratch us or clutch us and in his claws hold us,
So that we loathe life ere he lets us go.
Could we with any wit his will withstand
We might be lords above him and live at our ease.’

A rat of renown most ready of tongue
Said, as a sovereign help to himself:
‘I have seen men,’ quoth he ‘in the city of London
Bearing bright necklaces about their necks,
Some with collars of skilful work uncoupled they wander
Both in warrens and wastes wherever they like;
And otherwhile they are elsewhere as I tell you.
Were there a bell on their collars by Jesus, I think
Men might know where they went and get out of their way!
And right so,’ quoth that rat ‘reason me showeth
To buy a brass bell or one of bright silver
Make it fast to a collar for our common profit,
And hang it on the cat’s neck then we may hear
When he romps or rests or runneth to play.
And if he wants play then we may look out
And appear in his presence the while he play liketh,
And if he gets angry, beware and shun all his paths.’
All this rout of rats to this plan assented.
But though the bell was bought and on the collar hanged,
There was not a rat in the rout for all the realm of France
That dare bind on the bell about the cat’s neck,
Nor hang it round her ears all England to win;
They held themselves not bold and their counsel feeble,
Esteemed their labour as lost and all their long plotting.

A mouse that knew much more as it seemed to me,
Ran forth determined and stood before them all,
And to the rout of rats rehearsed these words:
‘Though we killed the cat yet there would come another,
To scratch us and all our kind though we creep under benches.
Therefore I counsel all the commons to let the cat be,
And be we never so bold to show to him the bell;
For I heard my sire say now seven years ago,
“When the cat is a kitten the Court is right wretched,”
As witnesseth Holy Writ whoso will it read:
“Vae tibi, terra, cujus rex puer est.”
No man can have rest there for the rats by night;
While the cat catcheth conies he covets not our carrion,
But feeds himself on venison may we never defame him!
For better is a little loss than a long sorrow;
He’s the fear among us all whereby we miss worse things.
For many men’s malt we mice would destroy,
And the riot of rats would rend men’s clothes,
Were it not for that Court cat that can leap in among you;
For had ye rats your will ye could not rule yourselves.
As for me,’ quoth the mouse ‘I see so much to come
That cat nor kitten never shall by my counsel be harmed,
Nor carping of this collar that cost me nothing.
Though it had cost me full dear I would not own to it
But suffer him to live and do just as he liketh:
Coupled and uncoupled to catch what they can.
Therefore each wise wight I warn to watch well his own.’


Date: c1377-1379

By: William Langland (c1332-c1400)

Alternative Title: The Bell and the Cat; The Mice in Council; The Cat, the Mice and the Bell; Piers Plowman, William’s Vision Concerning Piers Plowman

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Excerpt from Book III (2267-2290) of Confessio Amantis by John Gower

Bot dedly werre hath his covine
Of pestilence and of famine,
Of poverte and of alle wo,
Wherof this world we blamen so,
Which now the werre hath under fote,
Til god himself therof do bote.
For alle thing which god hath wroght
In Erthe, werre it bringth to nocht:
The cherche is brent, the priest is slain,
The wif, the maide is ek forlain,
The lawe is lore and god unserved:
I not what mede he hath deserved
That suche werres ledeth inne.
If that he do it forto winne,
Ferst to acompte his grete cost
Forth with the folk that he hath lost,
As to the wordes rekeninge
Ther schal he finde no winnynge;
And if he do it to pourchace
The hevene mede, of such a grace
I can noght speke, and natheles
Crist has comanded love and pes,
And who that worcheth the revers,
I trowe his mede is ful divers.


Date: 1390

By: John Gower (c1330-1408)

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Owl Disturbs the Bard’s Sleep by Dafydd Ap Gwilym

Wretched owlet! worthless bird!
Always are her accents heard;
She must ever wail and cry―
While the stars are in the sky!
I can never rest or sleep
For the noise she loves to keep!
With the bat she lives together,
In the rainy―snowy weather!
Every day my ear she tears
With her shrieks and hideous airs―
Every night all slumber flies
(At her wild salute) my eyes;
I am vexed the long night through,
With her vile “to-hoo to-hoo!”
I believe that with these yells,
She the dogs of night impels!
Filthy and untoward fowl,
With fat head, and hideous howl,
Forehead broad, and ruddy breast―
Foe of mice, with mouse-hued vest!
Worthless thing with formal port,
Dingy hue, and leafy court;
With demure and solemn face―
Goblin of the feathered race!

Her each bird a buffet gives―
It is strange that still she lives!
More she utters on the hill,
Than the nightingale―at night;
But in hollow tree, she still
Guards her head―in the day-light!
Bird of Gwyn ap Neath! too long,
Her unseemly form I’ve known;
Dolt of darkness! whose harsh song
By the thieves is deemed their own;
How I hate her luckless tone!

Never shall I want a lay,
Though her voice were far away.
Firebrands, till the frost is past,
In each ivy-bush I’ll cast!

From: Gwilym, Dafydd ap, Translations into English verse from the poems of Dafydd ap Gwilym, a Welsh bard of the fourteenth century, 1834, Henry Hooper: London, pp. 76-77. (

Date: 1834 (published)

By: Dafydd ap Gwilym (c1320-c1380)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Ode 1 by Khwāja Shamsu d-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī

Oh Cup-bearer, set my glass afire  
Arise, oh Cup-bearer, rise! and bring
To lips that are thirsting the bowl they praise,
For it seemed that love was an easy thing,
But my feet have fallen on difficult ways.
I have prayed the wind o’er my heart to fling
The fragrance of musk in her hair that sleeps–
In the night of her hair–yet no fragrance stays
The tears of my heart’s blood my sad heart weeps.

Hear the Tavern-keeper who counsels you:
“With wine, with red wine your prayer carpet dye!”
There was never a traveller like him but knew
The ways of the road and the hostelry.
Where shall I rest, when the still night through,
Beyond the gateway, oh Heart of my heart,
The bells of the camels lament and cry:
“Bind up thy burden again and depart!”

The waves run high, night is clouded with fears,
And eddying whirlpools clash and roar;
How shall my drowning voice strike their ears
Whose light-freighted vessels have reached the shore?

I sought mine own; the unsparing years
Have brought me mine own, a dishonoured name.
What cloak shall cover my misery o’er
When each jesting mouth has rehearsed my shame!

Oh Hafiz, seeking an end to strife,
Hold fast in thy mind what the wise have writ:
“If at last thou attain the desire of thy life,
Cast the world aside, yea, abandon it!”


Date: ? (translation 1897)

By: Khwāja Shamsu d-Dīn Muhammad Hāfez-e Shīrāzī  (1325/1326-1389/1390)

Translated by: Gertrude Lowthian Bell (1868-1926)

Alternative Title: Ghazal 1

Friday, 30 December 2011

The Compleint of Chaucer to his Empty Purse by Geoffrey Chaucer

To you, my purse, and to none other wight
Complein I, for ye be my lady dear!
I am so sorrow, now that ye be light;
For certes, but ye make me heavy cheer,
Me were as leif be laid upon my bier;
For which unto your mercy thus I cry:
Be heavy again, or elles might I die!

Now voucheth safe this day, or it be night,
That I of you the blissful sound may hear,
Or see your colour like the sun bright
That of yellowness had never a peer.
Ye be my life, ye be my hertes stere,
Queen of comfort an of good company:
Be heavy again, or elles might I die!

Now purse, that be to me my life’s light,
And saviour, as down in this world here,
Out of this toune help me through your might,
Since that ye wole not be my treasurer;
For I am shaved as nigh as any frere.
But yet I pray unto your courtesy
Be heavy again, or elles might I die!

O Conqueror of Brute’s Albion
Which that by line and free election
Be very king, this song to you I send;
And ye, that mighten all our harm amend,
Have mind upon my supplication!


Date: 1399

By: Geoffrey Chaucer (?1340-1400)

Alternative Title: The Complaint to His Empty Purse