Geoffrey of Vinsauf, Poetria Nova


Lament for King Richard


[From the Poetria Nova of Geoffrey of Vinsauf, tr, Margaret F. Nims (Toronto, Pontifical Institute, 1967), pp. 29-31.]


Among the examples of "amplification" given in the Poetria Nova is this apostrophe-filled lament for the death of Richard the Lion-Hearted, to which Chaucer alludes in his Nun's Priest's tale.

In time of grief, express your grief with these words:

Once defended by King Richard's shield, now un-defended, O England, bear witness to your woe in the gestures of sorrow. Let your eyes flood with tears, and pale grief waste your features. Let writhing anguish twist your fingers, and woe make your heart within bleed. Let your cry strike the heavens. Your whole being dies in his death; the death was not his but yours. Death's rise was not in one place only but general.

O tearful day of Venus! O bitter star! That day was your night; and that Venus your venom. That day inflicted the wound; but the worst of all days was that other -- the day after the eleventh -- which, cruel stepfather to life, destroyed life. Either day, with strange tyranny, was a murderer. The besieged one pierced the besieger; the sheltered one, him without cover; the cautious one pierced the incautious; the well-equipped soldier pierced an unarmed man -- his own king!

O soldier, why, treacherous soldier, soldier of treacheg, shame of the world and sole dishonour of warfare; O soldier, his own army's creature, why did you dare this against him? Why did you dare this crime, this hideous crime?

O sorrow! O greater than sorrow! O death! O truculent death! Would you were dead, O death! Bold agent of a deed so vile, how dare you recall it? You were pleased to remove our sun, and condemn day to darkness. Do you realize whom you snatched from us? To our eyes he was light; to our ears, melody; to our minds an amazement. Do you realize, impious death, whom you snatched from us? He was the lord of warriors, the glory of kings, the delight of the world. Nature knew not how to add any further perfection; he was the utmost she could achieve. But that was the reason you snatched him away: you seize precious things, and vile things you leave as if in disdain.

And Nature, of you I complain; for were you not, when the world was still young, when you lay new-born in your cradle, giving zealous attention to him? And that zeal did not flag before your old age. Why did such strenuous effort bring this wonder into the world, if so short an hour stole the pride of that effort away? You were pleased to extend your hand to the world and then to withdraw it; to give thus, and then to recall your gift. Why have you vexed the world? Either give back to us him who is buried, or give us one like him in excellence. But you have not resources for that; whatever you had that was wondrous or precious was expended on him. On him were exhausted your stores of delight. You were made most wealthy by this creature you made; you see yourself, in his fall, most impoverished. If you were happy before, in proportion to happiness then is your misery now.

If heaven allow it, I chide even God. O God, most excellent of beings, why do you fail in your nature here? Why, as an enemy would, do you strike down a friend? If you recall, your own Joppa gives evidence for the king -- alone he defended it, opposed by so many thousands. Acre, too, gives evidence -- his power restored it to you. The enemies of the cross add their witness -- all of them Richard, in life, inspired with such terror that he is still feared now he is dead. He was a man under whom your interests were safe. If, O God you are, as befits your nature to be, faithful and free of malice, just and true, why then did you shorten his days? You could have shown mercy to the world; the world was in need of him. But you choose to have him with you, and not with the world; you would rather favour heaven than the world. O Lord, if it is permissible to say it, let me say -- with your leave -- you could have done this more graciously, and with less haste, if he had bridled the foe at least (and here would have been no delay to that end; he was on the verge of success). He could have departed more worthily then to remain with you. But by this lesson you have made us know how brief is the laughter of earth, how long are its tears.

According to the best evidence, Richard did not die on a Friday; he was wounded on Thursday, March 15, 1199 and died on on Tuesday, April 6. See Ernest Gallo, The Poetria Nova and Its Sources in Early Rhetorical Doctrine (The Hague, 1971).
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