Friday 14 February 2014

A Spoof Love Poem: 'Lord, how shall I me complain'

This is a comedy love poem, which parodies a variety of medieval love-literature conventions: the lover's extravagant claims about his suffering, his lack of appetite, his bursting heart, and his tendency to make absurd vows. By the fifteenth century these conventions were very firmly established, and ripe for a little mockery. The poem survives in two manuscripts, Oxford, Balliol College 354 (Richard Hill's commonplace book) and Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales Porkington 10, both manuscripts which show ample evidence of being compiled for people with a lively sense of humour.

This is a slightly modernised version, adapted from this text.

Lord, how shall I me complain
Unto mine own lady dear,
For to tell her of my pain
That I feel this time of the year?
My love, if ye will it hear,
Though I can no songs make,
So your love changeth my chere [mood]
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

Though love doth me so mickle woe,
I love you best, I make a vow,
That my shoe bindeth my little toe,
And all my smart, it is for you!
Forsooth, me thinketh it will me slo, [kill]
But ye somewhat my sorrow slake; [unless you somewhat relieve my sorrow]
But barefoot to my bed I go,
And when I sleep I cannot wake.

Whosoever wist what life I lead,
In mine observance in divers wise;
From time that I go to my bed
I eat no meat till that I rise.
Ye might tell it for a great emprise, [triumph]
That men thus mourneth for your sake;
So much I think on your service,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

In the morning when I rise shall,
Me list right well for to dine,
But commonly I drink no ale,
If I may get any good wine.
To make your heart to me incline
Such torments to myself I take;
Singing doth me so mickle pine [pain]
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

I may hardly button my sleeves,
So mine arms waxen more; [grow bigger]
Under my heel is that which me grieves,
For at my heart I feel no sore;
Every day my girdle goth out a bore; [my belt buckles at another hole]
I cling as doth a wheaten cake;
And for your love I sigh so sore,
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

Therefore, but ye quit me my hire, [unless you repay my service]
Forsooth I know not what I shall do,
And for your love, lady, by this fire,
Old gloves will I wear none.
I laugh and sing and make no moan,
I wax as lean as any rake,
Thus in langour I live alone,
And when I sleep I cannot wake.

My doublet is more than it was,
To love you first when I began,
It must be wider, by my lace,
In each place by a span.
My love, since I became your man
I have ridden through many a lake,
One mileway mourning I can,
Yet when I sleep I cannot wake.

Thus in langour I am lent.
Long or you do so for me,
Take good heed to my intent,
For this shall my conclusion be.
Me thinketh I love as well as ye,
Never so coy though ye it make;
By this example ye may see:
That when I sleep I cannot wake.

One mileway mourning I can means 'I can go mourning for as long as it takes to travel a mile' which is, as an impeccable authority (Chaucer) tells us, a whole twenty minutes. It's hard to pick a favourite among these brilliantly absurd claims, but I'm fond of 'my shoe pinches my little toe, and all my pain is for you!' And his grand declarations that 'I eat no meat' (while I'm asleep) and 'I drink no ale' (if I can get good wine) are also pretty funny. If you want to get a sense of the kind of thing this is parodying, have a look at Chaucer's 'Complaint to his Lady', which contains such lines as:

In my trewe and careful herte ther is
So moche wo and eek so litel blis
That wo is me that ever I was bore;
For al that thyng which I desyre I mis
And al that ever I wolde not ywis,
That finde I redy to me evermore;
And of al this I not to whom me pleyne.
For she that mighte me out of this brynge
Ne reccheth nought whether I wepe or synge,
So litel rewthe hath she upon my peyne.
Allas! Whan slepyng-tyme is than I wake,
Whan I shulde daunce, for fere, lo, than I quake.

But then, Chaucer was also capable of writing:

Never did pike wallow in galantine
As I in love do wallow and am wound.

So he liked to make fun of this romantic nonsense, too!

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