Friday, January 25, 2008

Two stanzas of Hoccleve's Lament for Chaucer, rendered into Modern English

I loved these lines, so full of love his mentor, il miglior fabbro, and so colloquial and to the point (rare virtues, in 15th Century verse!) So I tried my hand at -- what do you call it? -- translation? modernization? Hoccleve's English stands about midway between Chaucer and Shakespeare, but it's still old enough, I think, to be difficult for a reader who's never learned Middle English

Death has little more consideration
For the sober man than for the plastered;
No more for a man of kind deliberation,
Than for a consummate and vicious bastard;
In a pile, every man is mastered
By her, the rich and grinding poor the same;
The shrewd and discerning like the stupid and lame.

She might have delayed her vengeance for a while,
Until some man into your equal grew --
Forget that! She knew well enough this isle
Could never produce another man like you;
Like all of us, she had a job to do,
God gave her orders, I hope, for the best;
Oh master, master, God give your soul good rest!

Here are Hoccleve's stanzas. The verse form is rhyme royal, which Chaucer used for the best long love poem in English, Troilus and Criseide, as well as for some of the Canterbury Tales.

Deth hath but smal consideracion
Unto the vertuous, I have espyed,
No more, as scheweth the probacion,
Than to a vycyous mayster losel tried.
Among an heep, every man ys maystried
Wyth here, as wel the poore as ys the ryche;
Leered and lewde eek standen al iliche.

Sche myghtte han taried hir vengeance a while
Til that sum man had egal to the be.
Nay, let be that! She knew wel that thys yle
May nevere man forth brenge lyk to the,
And hyre office nedes do moot sche;
God bad hire soo, I truste as for thi beste
O maister, maister, God thy soule reste!

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