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FLOWER AND THE LEAF.
The argument of this piece, as given by the editors of Chaucer, runs thus :
“ A gentlewoman, out of an arbour, in a grove, seeth a great company of knights and ladies in a dance, upon the green grassa The which being ended, they all kneel down, and do honour to the daisy, some to the flower, and some to the leaf. Afterwards this gentlewoman learneth, by one of these ladies, the meaning hereof, which is this: They which honour the flower, a thing fading with every blast, are such as look after beauty and worldly pleasure ; but they that honour the leaf, which abideth with the root, notwithstanding the frosts and winter storms, are they which follow virtue and during qualities, without regard of worldly respects.
Some farther allegory was perhaps implied in this poem. Froissart, and other French poets, had established a sort of romantic devotion to the marguerite, or daisy, probably because the homage was capable of being allegorically transferred to any distinguished lady bearing that name. Chaucer might obliquely insinuate the superior valour of the warriors, and virtue of the ladies of Albion, by proposing to them the worship of the laurel, as a more worthy object of devotion than the flower. Nor is this interpretation absolutely disproved by the homage which Chaucer himself pays to the daisy in the Legend of Alcestis.* A poet is no more obliged to be consistent in his mythological creed, than constant in his devotion to one beauty, and may shift from the Grecian to the Gothic creed, or from the worship of Venus to that of Bellona. If every separate poem is consistent with itself, it would be hard to require any further uniformity.
Mr Godwin has elegantly and justly characterized the present version :-" The poem of the “ Floure and the Lefe’ is a production of Chaucer, with which Dryden was so particularly pleas
* Godwin's Life of Chaucer, Vol. I. p. 346.
ed, both for the invention and the moral,' as to induce him to transfuse it into modern English. He has somewhat obscured the purpose of the tale, which in the original is defective in perspicuity ; but he has greatly heightened the enchantment of its character. He has made its personages fairies, who annually hold a jubilee, such as is here described, on the first of May; Chaucer had left the species of the beings he employs vague and unexplained. In a word, the poem of Dryden, regarded merely as the exhibition of a soothing and delicious luxuriance of fancy, may be classed with the most successful productions of human genius.” Life of Chaucer, Vol I. p. 844.
FLOWER AND THE LEAF;
LADY IN THE ARBOUR
Now turning from the wintry signs, the sun
Broader and broader yet, their blooms display, Salute the welcome sun, and entertain the day. Then from their breathing souls the sweets repair To scent the skies, and purge the unwholesome air : Joy spreads the heart, and, with a general song, Spring issues out, and leads the jolly months along,
In that sweet season, as in bed I lay, And sought in sleep to pass
the night away, I turned my weary* side, but still in vain, Though full of youthful health, and void of pain, Cares I had none, to keep me from my rest, For love had never entered in my breast; I wanted nothing fortune could supply, Nor did she slumber till that hour deny. I wondered then, but after found it true, Much joy had dried away the balmy dew; Seas would be pools, without the brushing air, To curl the waves; and şure some little care Should weary nature so, to make her want repair.
When Chanticleer the second watch had sung, Scorning the scorner sleep, from bed I sprung; And dressing, by the moon, in loose array, Passed out in open air, preventing day, And sought a goodly grove, as fancy led my way. Straight as a line in beauteous order stood Of oaks unshorn, a venerable wood; Fresh was the grass beneath, and every tree, At distance planted in a due degree, Their branching arms in air with equal space Stretched to their neighbours with a long embrace: And the new leaves on every bough were seen, Some ruddy-coloured, some of lighter green. The painted birds, companions of the spring, Hopping from spray to spray, were heard to sing. Both eyes and ears received a like delight, Enchanting music, and a charming sight.
* Derrick, wegried,
On Philomel I fixed my whole desire,
Attending long in vain, I took the way,