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Short poem

James I, of Scotland (1394-1437)

The King's Quire


          204Bewailing in my chamber thus allone,
          205    Despeired of all joye and remedye,
          206For-tirit of my thoght, and wo begone,
          207    Unto the wyndow gan I walk in hye,
          208    To se the warld and folk that went forby;
          209As for the tyme, though I of mirthis fude
          210Myght have no more, to luke it did me gude.

          211  Now was there maid fast by the touris wall
          212    A gardyn faire, and in the corneris set
          213Ane herbere grene:--with wandis long and small
          214    Railit about; and so with treis set
          215    Was all the place, and hawthorn hegis knet,
          216That lyf was none walking there forby,
          217That myght within scarse ony wight aspye;

          218  So thik the bewis and the leves grene
          219    Beschadit all the aleyes that there were.
          220And myddis every herbere myght be sene
          221    The scharpe grene suete jenepere,
          222    Growing so faire with branchis here and there,
          223That, as it semyt to a lyf without,
          224The bewis spred the herbere all about;

          225  And on the smalle grene twistis sat
          226    The lytill suete nyghtingale, and song
          227So loud and clere, the ympnis consecrat
          228    Off lufis use, now soft, now lowd among,
          229    That all the gardyng and the wallis rong
          230Ryght of thaire song and of the copill next
          231Off thaire suete armony, and lo the text:


          232  "Worschippe, ye that loveris bene, this May,
          233    For of your blisse the kalendis are begonne,
          234And sing with us, 'Away, winter, away!
          235    Cum, somer, cum, the suete sesoun and sonne!'
          236    Awake for schame! that have your hevynnis wonne,
          237And amorously lift up your hedis all,
          238Thank lufe that list you to his merci call."

          239  Quhen thai this song had song a lytill thrawe,
          240    Thai stent a quhile, and therewith unaffraid,
          241As I beheld and kest myn eyne a-lawe,
          242    From beugh to beugh thay hippit and thai plaid,
          243    And freschly in thaire birdis kynd arraid
          244Thaire fetheris new, and fret thame in the sonne,
          245And thankit lufe, that had thaire makis wonne.

          246  This was the plane ditee of thaire note,
          247    And there-with-all unto my self I thoght,
          248"Quhat lyf is this that makis birdis dote?
          249    Quhat may this be, how cummyth it of ought?
          250    Quhat nedith it to be so dere ybought?
          251It is nothing, trowe I, bot feynit chere,
          252And that men list to counterfeten chere."

          253  Eft wald I think; "O Lord, quhat may this be?
          254    That Lufe is of so noble myght and kynde,
          255Lufing his folk, and suich prosperitee
          256    Is it of him, as we in bukis fynd?
          257    May he oure hertes setten and unbynd?
          258Hath he upon oure hertis suich maistrye?
          259Or all this is bot feynyt fantasye!

          260  "For gif he be of so grete excellence,
          261    That he of every wight hath cure and charge,
          262Quhat have I gilt to him or doon offense,
          263    That I am thrall, and birdis gone at large,
          264    Sen him to serve he myght set my corage?
          265And gif he be noght so, than may I seyne,
          266'Quhat makis folk to jangill of him in veyne?'

          267  "Can I noght elles fynd, bot gif that he
          268    Be lord, and as a god may lyve and regne,
          269To bynd and louse, and maken thrallis free,
          270    Than wold I pray his blisfull grace benigne,
          271    To hable me unto his service digne;
          272And evermore for to be one of tho
          273Him trewly for to serve in wele and wo."

          274  And there-with kest I doun myn eye ageyne,
          275    Quhare as I sawe, walking under the toure,
          276Full secretly, new cummyn hir to pleyne,
          277    The fairest or the freschest yonge floure
          278    That ever I sawe, me thoght, before that houre,
          279For quhich sodayn abate, anon astert
          280The blude of all my body to my hert.

          281  And though I stude abaisit tho a lyte,
          282    No wonder was; for-quhy my wittis all
          283Were so overcom with plesance and delyte,
          284    Onely throu latting of myn eyen fall,
          285    That sudaynly my hert became hir thrall
          286For ever, of free will; for of manace
          287There was no takyn in hir suete face.

          288  And in my hede I drewe ryght hastily,
          289    And eft-sones I lent it forth ageyne,
          290And sawe hir walk, that verray womanly,
          291    With no wight mo, bot onely wommen tueyne.
          292    Than gan I studye in my-self, and seyne,
          293"A! suete, ar ye a warldly creature,
          294Or hevinly thing in likenesse of nature?

          295  "Or ar ye god Cupidis owin princesse,
          296    And cummyn are to louse me out of band?
          297Or ar ye verray Nature the goddesse,
          298    That have depaynted with your hevinly hand
          299    This gardyn full of flouris, as they stand?
          300Quhat sall I think, allace! quhat reverence
          301Sall I minister to your excellence?

          302  "Gif ye a goddesse be, and that ye like
          303    To do me payne, I may it noght astert;
          304Gif ye be warldly wight, that dooth me sike,
          305    Quhy lest God mak you so, my derrest hert,
          306    To do a sely prisoner thus smert,
          307That lufis yow all, and wote of noght bot wo?
          308And therefor, merci, suete! sen it is so."

          309  Quhen I a lytill thrawe had maid my moon,
          310    Bewailling myn infortune and my chance,
          311Unknawing how or quhat was best to doon,
          312    So ferre I fallen was in lufis dance,
          313    That sodeynly my wit, my contenance,
          314My hert, my will, my nature, and my mynd,
          315Was changit clene ryght in an-othir kynd.

          316  Off hir array the form gif I sall write
          317    Toward, hir goldin haire and rich atyre
          318In fret-wise couchit were with perllis quhite
          319    And grete balas lemyng as the fyre,
          320    With mony ane emeraut and faire saphire;
          321And on hir hede a chaplet fresch of hewe,
          322Off plumys partit rede, and quhite, and blewe;

          323  Full of quaking spangis bryght as gold,
          324    Forgit of schap like to the amorettis,
          325So new, so fresch, so plesant to behold,
          326    The plumys eke like to the floure-jonettis,
          327    And othir of schap like to the round crokettis,
          328And, above all this, there was, wele I wote,
          329Beautee eneuch to mak a world to dote.

          330  About hir nek, quhite as the fyre amaille,
          331    A gudely cheyne of smale orfeverye,
          332Quhareby there hang a ruby, without faille,
          333    Lyke to ane herte schapin verily,
          334    That, as a sperk of lowe, so wantonly
          335Semyt birnyng upon hir quhyte throte;
          336Now gif there was gud partye, God it wote!

          337  And forto walk that fresche Mayes morowe,
          338    An huke sche had upon hir tissew quhite,
          339That gudeliare had noght bene sene toforowe,
          340    As I suppose; and girt sche was a lyte.
          341    Thus halflyng louse for haste, to suich delyte
          342It was to see hir youth in gudelihede,
          343That for rudenes to speke thereof I drede.

          344  In hir was youth, beautee, with humble aport,
          345    Bountee, richesse, and wommanly facture,
          346(God better wote than my pen can report)
          347    Wisedome, largesse, estate, and connyng sure.
          348    In every poynt so guydit hir mesure,
          349In word, in dede, in schap, in contenance,
          350That nature myght no more hir childe avance.

          351  Throw quhich anon I knew and understude
          352    Wele, that sche was a warldly creature;
          353On quhom to rest myn eye, so mich gude
          354    It did my wofull hert, I yow assure,
          355    That it was to me joye without mesure;
          356And, at the last, my luke unto the hevin
          357I threwe furthwith, and said thir versis sevin:

          358  "O Venus clere! of goddis stellifyit!
          359    To quhom I yelde homage and sacrifise,
          360Fro this day forth your grace be magnifyit,
          361    That me ressavit have in suich a wise,
          362    To lyve under your law and do servise;
          363Now help me furth, and for your merci lede
          364My herte to rest, that dëis nere for drede."


204] THE KINGIS QUAIR (i.e. quire, book) is a poem in 1379 lines in seven-line stanzas and is extant in one MS., Arch. Selden B 24, at the Bodleian, written about 1490. The poem is attributed in the MS. to James I of Scotland, and was first printed in 1783 in William Tytter's The Poetical Remains of James the First, King of Scotland. The ascription to James I has been questioned, but is still generally accepted. James I, son of Robert III, King of Scotland, was captured by the English while sailing for France in 1406, in his twelfth year, and shortly before his father's death. He was detained in England in honourable captivity for eighteen years. In 1424 he married Lady Joan Beaufort, granddaughter of John of Gaunt, and returned to Scotland. After an energetic reign he was murdered at Perth in 1437. He is said by the Scottish chronicler, John Major (d. 1521), to have written a poem concerning his queen before they were married. In The Kingis Quair the poet, looking back on his chequered fortunes, tells how, while on a voyage in his tenth year, he was seized by his enemies and kept prisoner for eighteen years. While imprisoned in a tower he saw a lady walking in a garden and fell in love with her. After her departure he had a vision, in which he was transported through the heavens to the palace of Venus, who promised to aid him. He then visited the palace of Minerva to learn wisdom and prudence in his love, and then, the domain of Fortune, who placed him on her wheel and promised him success. When he woke, a dove brought him a message of comfort and soon afterward he was united to his lady. The language of the poem is mainly of the Early Scots dialect but certain forms of the London English of the period of Chaucer occur quite frequently. It seems as if James's own dialect had been modified by his long residence in England and by his study and imitation of the works of Chaucer and Lydgate.

206] For-tirit of my thoght. Tired out with brooding.

208] warld. World.

209] As for the tyme. At that time. Cf. Gower, Confessio Amantis, 1144 and note.
fude. Food.

213] herbere. Shrubbery, herb-garden, or arbour.
wandis. Wands.

216] lyf. Living creature, person.

218] bewis. Boughs.

221] jenepere. juniper.

223] lyf. See on 1. 216.

225] twistis. Twigs.

226] suete. Sweet.

227] ympnis. Hymns.

228] among. At intervals. Cf. Gower, Confessio Amantis, 1076.

230] With their song and with the next stanza.

235] sonne. Sun.

239] thrawe. Time.

240] stent. Stopped.

241] kest. Cast.
a-lawe. Below.

242] hippit. Hopped.

244] fret. Adorned.

245] makis. Mates.

249] of ought. At all.

251] feynit chere. Feigned or assumed behaviour.

253] Eft. Again.
wald. Would.

260] gif. If.

262] Quhat have I gilt. How have I sinned.

264] Sen. Since.
corage. Heart.

267] bot gif. Except.

271] To qualify me (and make me) worthy of serving him.

275] Quhart as. Where.

276] cummyn. Come.
hir to pleyne. To play (reflexive).

279] abate. Surprise.
astert. Started, rushed.

281] abaisit. Abashed.
tho. Then.
lyte. Little.

282] forquhy. Because.

284] latting. Letting.

286] manace. Menace.

287] takyn. Token.

289] eft-sones. Soon after.
lent. Leaned.

290] that verray womanly. That true womanly, ideal woman.

292] seyne. Say.

296] louse. Loose.

303] astert. Escape.

304] dooth me sike. Causes me to sigh.

305] Quhy lest. Why did it please.

306] do. Cause.

309] thrawe. Time.

310] infortune. Misfortune.

313] coutenance. Bearing.

316-17] write toward. Write concerning.

318] Were set in ornamental fashion with white pearls.

319] balas. Balas rubies.
lemyng. Gleaming.

322] partit. Partly.

323] spangis. Spangles.

324] Forgit. Forged.
amorettis. Love-knots.

326] floure-jonettis. St. John's Wort.

327] round crokettis. Curled locks of hair. This is Skeat's conjecture. In the MS. floure-jonettis is repeated here, in error.

330] fyre amaille. Fire-enamel.

331] orfeverye. Goldsmith's work.

332] hang. Hung.

333] schapin. Shaped.

334] lowe. Flame.

335] Semyt. Seemed.

336] Now God knows whether there was a good match or not!

338] huke. Cloak.
tissew. Woven garment.

339] toforowe. Before.

340] lyte. Little.

341] halflyng louse for haste. Half loose, half informal an account of haste.
suich. Such.

344] aport. Bearing.

345] facture. Fashioning, mould.

347] largesse. Liberality.
estate. High rank or dignity.
connyng. Intelligence.

348] Mesure. Moderation.

352] Wele. Well.

357] thir. These.

358] of goddis stellifyit. Among the deities who have been made stars.

361] ressavit. Received.

364] dëis. Dies.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: unspecified.
First publication date: 1490
RPO poem editor: N. J. Endicott
RP edition: 2RP.1.43; RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/9

Composition date: 1424
Rhyme: ababbcc

Other poems by James I, of Scotland