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Christine de Pizan

Medieval Writer

1363-1434

A selection from
THE BOOK OF THE DUKE OF TRUE LOVERS

Narrated by Beth Richmond

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Here begins the Book of The Duke of True Lovers.

Although I might have no desire or intent at the present time to discourse of love, since all my mind is occupied with other matter the which is more pleasing to me, I am willing, for the sake of others, now to commence a wondrous story, for to this I am besought by one who, instead of making request, has the right to give command to one even more worthy than I. And this is a lord whom it behoves one duly to obey, and who of his grace has desired me to make known the trouble which, whether he has been wise, or whether he has been foolish, he has, during many winters and summers, long been in by reason of love to the which his heart is still in bondage. But he would not that I should make known his name. It contents him who tells this story for their sake, to be called the Duke of True Lovers. And it is his pleasure that I recount, even as he has told them unto me, the grievous distresses, the joys, and the strange adventures, through the which, during many bygone years, he has passed. And he would that to this rehears all should at the same time add other matter, the which I grant him, for I know him to be of such disposition, and of such good sense, that his humility will take in good part the imperfection of my little poem, and, with his consent, I will relate on his behalf the facts even as he has set them forth.

I was a mere lad when I first experienced a great desire to become a lover. And for that I heard it maintained that a lover is courteous above other folk, and better esteemed amongst men, I desired to be one. To this end I resorted thither where I might choose a lady whom I might serve, but ne'er- theless I was longwhile without one, for, on my soul, I had not the understanding to make choice, and although I had enough of leisure, I ne'ertheless understood not how to discover the way to this. And because of my desire, I frequented much fair company of dames and maidens, and saw many very fair damsels, but youth still kept possession of me, so that in nowise did I know how to determine whom to choose. Thus I was long- while happy, content with this gay and pleasing life.

But when the time dured too long for me, in this manner did I make sore plaint to love:

Very God of Love, who art of lovers Lord, And Venus, thou, Love's Lady and Goddess, Since in love only is set my happiness, Vouchsafe to turn my heart soon thitherward.

Vouchsafe, that I be with right courage stored, Soon to bring unto me my heart's mistress, Very God of Love, who art of lovers Lord.

And may I choose, if thou the grace accord, One that shall pardon me the simpleness Of youth, and honour on my days impress ; Out of a great desire have I implored, Very God of Love, who art of lovers Lord.

And because of the desire which I had in view, oft did I discourse thus until that true love heard me, and gratified my longing. And I will rehearse unto you in what manner love first took possession of my heart and made it captive, and never after set it free.

On a day, for my diversion, with one of my kinsfolk and four others of my gentlemen, we mounted on to our horses. A longing for the chase took possession of me, and, to ensure success, I caused the huntsmen to take greyhounds and ferrets. Then, without ado, we entered on a path the which I had of ttimes followed, but not far had we gone when a wide beaten track led us whither I knew there were many rabbits. And near by, I assure you, there was a strong and very goodly castle, but its name I will not make known.

At that time there was come to this place a Princess who was held of every one as so good and beautiful, and of so great worth, that she was had in honour of all. In nowise did we know that she was there, since we came thither by chance. Here and there, without the castle, her attendants amused themselves, some singing, some casting the weight, and others, afoot, exercising with the bar. And as they remained there, we turned our steps toward them. Then they all turned them toward us, and when they perceived us, and recognised who we were, the chief amongst them at once rose up. And when they had saluted us, they tarried not, but, as it seemed to me, by twos and by threes repaired them to their mistress. And methinks they did not hide from her that we were come there, for as soon as we were come quite nigh unto the castle, we saw a goodly company of ladies coming forth to meet us. And these gave us welcome with gracious bearing.

And we straightway turned toward them, and saluted them on bended knee. And there was amongst them both a lady and a maiden who were kinsfolk of her who was mistress of them all. And without giving affront, and without rebuke, I kissed the maiden with fair tresses, as well as the lady. And my cousin and I escorted the maiden, who was high-born, and the noble lady, and in suchwise entered the castle.

And the Lady, of whom every one spake well, had already come forth from out her chamber, and stood there with noble mien, neither proudly, nor haughtily, but in such manner as befitted her noble estate and royal person. And as soon as we saw her, we duly saluted her, and, in a little space, she came forward, and took me with ungloved hand, and kissed me, and said, " I knew not of your coming, fair cousin. You are right welcome, but what brings you here now?"

Then said my cousin, " Certes, my Lady, we set out for amusement, and knew not that you were here. Chance brought us hither, but praised be God who has so favoured us that we have found at your hands so warm a welcome."

And the good and gracious lady laughed at this, and made answer, "Then let us go amuse ourselves."

So we descended down into a green meadow, and then, accompanying us, she went to a very fair place, and drew me to her right side to sit down beside her. And without more ado, large cushions of gold and of silk were brought to her, under the shade of a willow, where, beneath the trees, the waters of a spring ran fair and clear along a straight channel fashioned and cut with skill through the green and tender herbage.

And no longer did she remain standing, but she seated herself with me beside her, and then the others withdrew them to a distance from us, and sat them down, here and there, beside the stream. Then she began to question me, for I confess that I knew not at that time how to converse with her or with others, for I was still somewhat young.

And she began her discourse by making enquiry of me concerning a journey from the which I was newly come, and, in especial, of the demeanour and the ap- pearance of the ladies, and, further, in what manner the Court, the which the King and Queen held, was ordered. And I made her answer according to my knowledge. And I remember me that we discoursed together there of many things.

And now it is time that I tell of how the grievous malady began the which has made me to suffer right cruelly for love's sake. Truly it is a marvel to under- stand how it came to pass that love of her whom I had ofttimes seen, but whom I had never before thought on, took possession of my heart. It is like unto one who passes over the sea, exploring many lands to discover that which he might find close at hand, but the which he perceives not until another makes it known unto him. Thus in truth did it befall me, for, by reason of my want of understanding, in nowise did I perceive the grace of my precious lady until love put me in the way, and I had but desired to see such an one in order to yield my heart to her. For long had I seen her oft, but, until that day, no thought had I given to her. Thus I had ready to my hand that which I went elsewhere to seek. But, in order to allay my passion, love at length willed to release my heart from this strife. And now, when this perfect one, who has caused me sore trouble , spake to me, her speech and her gentle and gracious bearing pleased me more than ever aforetime, and made me wholly- dumb. Intently did I observe her, and right well did I contemplate her beauty, since she seemed to me to be more distinguished, and to have much more of grace and sweetness, than I had ever before observed.

Then love, the playful archer, who saw my silent demeanour, and that I was inclined unto love, took the arrow with the which it is his wont to surprise lovers, and bent his bow, and drew it silently. But I heeded it not. The arrow of a tender glance, the which is so pleasing and so powerful, pierced me to the heart. Then was I sore bewildered. Verily did I think my- self to be lost when I felt the loving blow, but my heart yielded itself to the amorous wound. In nowise was the wound mortal, for it came to pass that the sting pierced me again and again.

Then her gentle, laughing eyes, all fraught with loving fetters, so stirred my heart, that I knew not how to make answer unto her. Truly must she have thought my look and my manner to be foolish, since I moved neither hand nor foot, and I so ofttimes changed colour at her glance, that it might have been thought that my heart trembled with fear. How shall I set the matter forth briefly ? If I longed to be made captive, then in this I failed not.

Thus ended the life of my early youth. How to live otherwise, true love now taught me. In this manner was I made captive from that hour.

Longwhiles did I remain there, and I discoursed in a simple manner, like unto a child, and, without ceasing, I kindled the burning fire-brand in my heart. When I gazed on her beauty, I was caught as is the moth in the candle, or the bird in the lime, and no heed did I take of it.

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