Gold THE GEOFFREY CHAUCER PAGE


John Gower on Alchemy

Confessio Amantis, Book IV

 

 

Use the glossary in the Riverside Chaucer for words not glossed in the margins; see a note on Gower's spellings.





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Bot hou that metall cam a-place
Thurgh mannes wit and goddes grace
The route of Philosophres wise
Controeveden be sondri wise,
Ferst forto gete it out of Myne,
And after forto trie and fyne.
And also with gret diligence
Thei founden thilke experience,
Which cleped is Alconomie,
Wherof the Selver multeplie
Thei made and ek the gold also.
And forto telle hou it is so,
Of bodies sevene in special
With foure spiritz joynt withal
Stant the substance of this matiere.
The bodies whiche I speke of hiere
Of the Planetes ben begonne:
The gold is titled to the Sonne,
The mone of Selver hath his part,
And Iren that stant upon Mart,
The Led after Satorne groweth,
And Jupiter the Bras bestoweth,
The Coper set is to Venus,
And to his part Mercurius
Hath the quikselver, as it falleth,
The which, after the bok it calleth,
Is ferst of thilke fowre named
Of Spiritz, whiche ben proclamed;
And the spirit which is secounde
In Sal Armoniak is founde:
The thridde spirit Sulphur is;
The ferthe suiende after this
Arcennicum be name is hote.
With blowinge and with fyres hote
In these thinges, whiche I seie,
Thei worchen be diverse weie.
For as the philosophre tolde
Of gold and selver, thei ben holde
Tuo principal extremites,
To whiche alle othre be degres
Of the metalls ben acordant,
And so thurgh kinde resemblant,
That what man couthe aweie take
The rust, of which thei waxen blake,
And the savour and the hardnesse,
Thei scholden take the liknesse
Of gold or Selver parfitly.
Bot forto worche it sikirly,
Betwen the corps and the spirit,
Er that the metall be parfit,
In sevene formes it is set;
Of alle and if that on be let,
The remenant mai noght availe,
Bot otherwise it mai noght faile.
For thei be whom this art was founde
To every point a certain bounde
Ordeignen, that a man mai finde
This craft is wroght be weie of kinde,
So that ther is no fallas inne.
Bot what man that this werk beginne,
He mot awaite at every tyde,
So that nothing be left aside,
Ferst of the distillacion,
Forth with the congelacion,
Solucion, descencion,
And kepe in his entencion
The point of sublimacion,
And forth with calcinacion
Of veray approbacion
Do that ther be fixacion
With tempred hetes of the fyr,
Til he the parfit Elixir
Of thilke philosophres Ston
Mai gete, of which that many on
Of Philosophres whilom write.
And if thou wolt the names wite
Of thilke Ston with othre tuo,
Whiche as the clerkes maden tho,
So as the bokes it recorden,
The kinde of hem I schal recorden.
These olde Philosophres wyse
Be weie of kinde in sondri wise
Thre Stones maden thurgh clergie.
The ferste, if I schal specefie,
Was lapis vegetabilis,
Of which the propre vertu is
To mannes hele forto serve,
As forto kepe and to preserve
The bodi fro siknesses alle,
Til deth of kinde upon him falle.
The Ston seconde I thee behote
Is lapis animalis hote,
The whos vertu is propre and cowth
For Ere and yhe and nase and mouth,
Wherof a man mai hiere and se
And smelle and taste in his degre,
And forto fiele and forto go
It helpeth man of bothe tuo:
The wittes fyve he underfongeth
To kepe, as it to him belongeth.
The thridde Ston in special
Be name is cleped Minerall,
Which the metalls of every Mine
Attempreth, til that thei ben fyne,
And pureth hem be such a weie,
That al the vice goth aweie
Of rust, of stink and of hardnesse:
And whan thei ben of such clennesse,
This Mineral, so as I finde,
Transformeth al the ferste kynde
And makth hem able to conceive
Thurgh his vertu, and to receive
Bothe in substance and in figure
Of gold and selver the nature.
For thei tuo ben th' extremetes,
To whiche after the propretes
Hath every metal his desir,
With help and confort of the fyr
Forth with this Ston, as it is seid,
Which to the Sonne and Mone is leid;
For to the rede and to the whyte
This Ston hath pouer to profite.
It makth multiplicacioun
Of gold, and the fixacioun
It causeth, and of his habit
He doth the werk to be parfit
Of thilke Elixer which men calle
Alconomie, as is befalle
To hem that whilom weren wise.
Bot now it stant al otherwise;
Thei speken faste of thilke Ston,
Bot hou to make it, nou wot non
After the sothe experience.
And natheles gret diligence
Thei setten upon thilke dede,
And spille more than thei spede;
For allewey thei finde a lette,
Which bringeth in poverte and dette
To hem that riche were afore:
The lost is had, the lucre is lore,
To gete a pound thei spenden fyve;
I not hou such a craft schal thryve
In the manere as it is used:
It were betre be refused
Than forto worchen upon weene
In thing which stant noght as thei weene.
Bot noght forthi, who that it knewe,
The science of himself is trewe
Upon the forme as it was founded,
Wherof the names yit ben grounded
Of hem that ferste it founden oute;
And thus the fame goth aboute
To suche as soghten besinesse
Of vertu and of worthinesse.
Of whom if I the names calle,
Hermes was on the ferste of alle,
To whom this art is most applied;
Geber therof was magnefied,
And Ortolan and Morien,
Among the whiche is Avicen,
Which fond and wrot a gret partie
The practique of Alconomie;
Whos bokes, pleinli as thei stonde
Upon this craft, fewe understonde;
Bot yit to put hem in assai
Ther ben full manye now aday,
That knowen litel what thei meene.
It is noght on to wite and weene;
In forme of wordes thei it trete,
Bot yit they failen of beyete,
For of tomoche or of tolyte
Ther is algate founde a wyte,
So that thei folwe noght the lyne
Of the parfite medicine,
Which grounded is upon nature.
Bot thei that writen the scripture
Of Grek, Arabe and of Caldee,
Thei were of such Auctorite
That thei ferst founden out the weie
Of al that thou hast herd me seie;
Wherof the Cronique of her lore
Schal stonde in pris for everemore.



company
contrived

assay and refine


alchemy




joined




moon
iron; Mars
lead

copper

mercury






following



work


two
by

natural resemblance





truly
body


one be hindered


by

establish

fallacy

each hour









heats


many a one

know

then






vegetable stone
power
well-being



promise
animal stone
known
ear; eye; nose


feel

undertakes




tempers; refined
purifies





reproduce





i.e., all metals want to be gold or silver


sun and moon







alchemy
them


no one now knows



lose; succeed
hindrance


money

I do not know


work on speculation
























attainment
too much or of too little
defect, something to reproach




Chaldean






 
Text adapted from: The English Works of John Gower, ed. G.C. Macaulay, EETS e.s. 81-82 (London, 1900-01).

 
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