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A Lover's Complaint

A Lover's Complaint Translation A Lover's Complaint

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FROM off a hill whose concave womb reworded A plaintful story from a sistering vale, My spirits to attend this double voice accorded, And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale; Ere long espied a fickle maid full pale, Tearing of papers, breaking rings a-twain, Storming her world with sorrow's wind and rain.

As I sat at the foot of a hill, I heard a tearful story echoing from a nearby valley. I wanted to know what this resounding voice was saying, so I decided to write down the whole sad tale. Before long, a pale, flighty-looking girl came along. She was ripping up pieces of paper and breaking rings in half while screaming and crying a storm's worth of tears. 

Upon her head a platted hive of straw, Which fortified her visage from the sun, Whereon the thought might think sometime it saw The carcass of beauty spent and done: Time had not scythed all that youth begun, Nor youth all quit; but, spite of heaven's fell rage, Some beauty peep'd through lattice of sear'd age.

Though she wore a straw hat to protect her face from the sun, you could almost imagine you could see what remained of her former beauty. Her girlish looks weren't completely gone—she still had some youth left. In spite of God's curse, her aging face was still beautiful.

Oft did she heave her napkin to her eyne, Which on it had conceited characters, Laundering the silken figures in the brine That season'd woe had pelleted in tears, And often reading what contents it bears; As often shrieking undistinguish'd woe, In clamours of all size, both high and low.

She kept wiping her eyes with a handkerchief which had fancy letters embroidered on it. She soaked it with tears that wouldn't stop coming; she'd been crying for a long time. She would read what was embroidered on the handkerchief, then shriek sadly and wordlessly. She cried big cries and small cries, both high-pitched and low-pitched.

Sometimes her levell'd eyes their carriage ride, As they did battery to the spheres intend; Sometime diverted their poor balls are tied To the orbed earth; sometimes they do extend Their view right on; anon their gazes lend To every place at once, and, nowhere fix'd, The mind and sight distractedly commix'd.

Sometimes, she looked up as if she were angry at the sun and the moon. At other times, she looked down at the ground; then straight ahead; then everywhere at once without really seeing—as if her mind and her eyes were both distracted. 

Her hair, nor loose nor tied in formal plat, Proclaim'd in her a careless hand of pride For some, untuck'd, descended her sheaved hat, Hanging her pale and pined cheek beside; Some in her threaden fillet still did bide, And true to bondage would not break from thence, Though slackly braided in loose negligence.

Her hair was neither down nor braided, indicating she didn’t care how she looked. Some of her hair had fallen out from under her hat, and was hanging next to her pale, sunken cheek. Some of her hair stayed faithfully in the braid, even though it was braided loosely and carelessly.

A thousand favours from a maund she drew Of amber, crystal, and of beaded jet, Which one by one she in a river threw, Upon whose weeping margent she was set; Like usury, applying wet to wet, Or monarch's hands that let not bounty fall Where want cries some, but where excess begs all.

As she sat on the bank, she took lots of trinkets out of a basket—all sorts of precious stones—and threw them into the river, one by one. She cried as she sat there, adding water to water like a stockbroker adds money to money, or like a king who gives gifts to the wealthy instead of the poor people who need them.

Of folded schedules had she many a one, Which she perused, sigh'd, tore, and gave the flood; Crack'd many a ring of posied gold and bone Bidding them find their sepulchres in mud; Found yet moe letters sadly penn'd in blood, With sleided silk feat and affectedly Enswathed, and seal'd to curious secrecy.

She had several folded notes which she read, sighed over, tore up, and dropped into the river. She tossed a number of rings made of intertwined gold and ivory, burying them in the mud. She pulled out more sad letters written in blood, tied up carefully with strings of silk to keep their secrets safe.

These often bathed she in her fluxive eyes, And often kiss'd, and often 'gan to tear: Cried 'O false blood, thou register of lies, What unapproved witness dost thou bear! Ink would have seem'd more black and damned here!' This said, in top of rage the lines she rents, Big discontent so breaking their contents.

She cried over these letters. She kissed them and then began to tear them. She shouted, "This blood betrayed me! It's just a record of lies, despite the fact that it's supposed to seal a promise! Black ink would be more appropriate for this damned stuff!" That said, she angrily tore the letters up, destroying them so they were no longer readable. 

A reverend man that grazed his cattle nigh— Sometime a blusterer, that the ruffle knew Of court, of city, and had let go by The swiftest hours, observed as they flew— Towards this afflicted fancy fastly drew, And, privileged by age, desires to know In brief the grounds and motives of her woe.

An upstanding man who grazed his cattle nearby happened upon this crazy scene. He was given to bragging—he wanted people to know that he'd been to the court and the city, and that he'd spent plenty of time there. Since he was older, he wanted to know (in brief) why she was so upset. 

So slides he down upon his grained bat, And comely-distant sits he by her side; When he again desires her, being sat, Her grievance with his hearing to divide: If that from him there may be aught applied Which may her suffering ecstasy assuage, 'Tis promised in the charity of age.

So, using his staff as a support, he lowered himself down to sit next to her, while maintaining an appropriate distance. Once he sat down, he asked her again to tell him the reason she was crying, and if there was anything that he could do to ease her suffering. He promised her as any old man would. 

'Father,' she says, 'though in me you behold The injury of many a blasting hour, Let it not tell your judgment I am old; Not age, but sorrow, over me hath power: I might as yet have been a spreading flower, Fresh to myself, If I had self-applied Love to myself and to no love beside.

"Sir," she said, "although you can tell that I've been through a lot, don't think that I'm old. Sadness, not age, has ruined me. I would have still been a fresh, blossoming flower if I'd loved myself and no one else.

'But, woe is me! too early I attended A youthful suit—it was to gain my grace— Of one by nature's outwards so commended, That maidens' eyes stuck over all his face: Love lack'd a dwelling, and made him her place; And when in his fair parts she did abide, She was new lodged and newly deified.

"But poor me! I gave in to a young man's advances too soon. Outwardly, he was as handsome as Nature could make a man, and girls couldn't stop looking at him. It was as if Love herself, without a home, decided to live in him. When she took up residence in his beautiful body, he became Love reincarnated. 

'His browny locks did hang in crooked curls; And every light occasion of the wind Upon his lips their silken parcels hurls. What's sweet to do, to do will aptly find: Each eye that saw him did enchant the mind, For on his visage was in little drawn What largeness thinks in Paradise was sawn.

"His brown hair hung in loose curls. His voice was like the gentlest, silkiest breeze. Sweets to the sweet: everyone who saw him was enchanted by him, thinking he looked like a perfect human being in Paradise.

'His qualities were beauteous as his form, For maiden-tongued he was, and thereof free; Yet, if men moved him, was he such a storm As oft 'twixt May and April is to see, When winds breathe sweet, untidy though they be. His rudeness so with his authorized youth Did livery falseness in a pride of truth.

"He was as talented as he was beautiful. He spoke sweetly and often. Although, if men made him angry, he'd become a storm all right—but an April shower, the kind of storm whose winds smell nice even though they're wild. His apparent innocence and his obvious youth made his lies seem believable. 

'Well could he ride, and often men would say 'That horse his mettle from his rider takes: Proud of subjection, noble by the sway, What rounds, what bounds, what course, what stop he makes!' And controversy hence a question takes, Whether the horse by him became his deed, Or he his manage by the well-doing steed.

"He could ride a horse well. Men would say, 'That horse gets his temperament from his rider! Obedient, majestic-looking...look at those steps, those leaps, those starts and stops he makes!' And then they'd debate whether the horse was good because he was a good rider, or if he had an easy time because the horse was so good in the first place. 

'But quickly on this side the verdict went: His real habitude gave life and grace To appertainings and to ornament, Accomplish'd in himself, not in his case: All aids, themselves made fairer by their place, Came for additions; yet their purposed trim Pieced not his grace, but were all graced by him.

"But they quickly decided that his inner qualities brought life and style to everything he wore. He was impressive in and of himself, not just by outward appearance. Anything he put on looked better because he was wearing it. When things were supposed to add to his glory, they ended up not doing that at all; instead, he made them glorious. 

'So on the tip of his subduing tongue All kinds of arguments and question deep, All replication prompt, and reason strong, For his advantage still did wake and sleep: To make the weeper laugh, the laugher weep, He had the dialect and different skill, Catching all passions in his craft of will:

"He had all kinds of arguments, deep questions, prompt replies, and strong reasons always on the tip of his tongue. When he spoke, it was to everyone's advantage: he'd make a crying person laugh, and a laughing person cry. He had the voice and the ability to convey emotion whenever he wanted. 

'That he did in the general bosom reign Of young, of old; and sexes both enchanted, To dwell with him in thoughts, or to remain In personal duty, following where he haunted: Consents bewitch'd, ere he desire, have granted; And dialogued for him what he would say, Ask'd their own wills, and made their wills obey.

"He was well-loved by everyone, young and old. Men and women were equally enchanted by him, either to daydream about him or to follow him personally wherever he went. People would do what he wanted before he even asked. They asked themselves what he would say, and then made themselves do that. 

'Many there were that did his picture get, To serve their eyes, and in it put their mind; Like fools that in th' imagination set The goodly objects which abroad they find Of lands and mansions, theirs in thought assign'd; And labouring in moe pleasures to bestow them Than the true gouty landlord which doth owe them:

"People stared at him so that they could memorize his image forever, like idiots that get their hearts set on some fancy property or mansion they see abroad and—imagining it's theirs already—work harder to get that than they do to pay the old landlord whom they actually owe. 

'So many have, that never touch'd his hand, Sweetly supposed them mistress of his heart. My woeful self, that did in freedom stand, And was my own fee-simple, not in part, What with his art in youth, and youth in art, Threw my affections in his charmed power, Reserved the stalk and gave him all my flower.

"So many women, who had never so much as touched his hand, imagined themselves as his girlfriend. Poor me! I had that privilege—he was my own property forever—the whole thing, not just a part. With his handsome looks and his smooth-talking, he cast me under his spell, and I had sex with him without marrying him first. 

'Yet did I not, as some my equals did, Demand of him, nor being desired yielded; Finding myself in honour so forbid, With safest distance I mine honour shielded: Experience for me many bulwarks builded Of proofs new-bleeding, which remain'd the foil Of this false jewel, and his amorous spoil.

"But unlike other women I know, I didn't ask anything from him in return. Nor did I immediately give into him just because he wanted me. My conscience wouldn't allow it, so I kept a safe distance to protect my virginity. I'd learned from experience to put up walls between us. That was all that protected my virginity, which he wanted for himself.

'But, ah, who ever shunn'd by precedent The destined ill she must herself assay? Or forced examples, 'gainst her own content, To put the by-past perils in her way? Counsel may stop awhile what will not stay; For when we rage, advice is often seen By blunting us to make our wits more keen.

"But what woman has ever avoided danger when she has to see it for herself? Could the examples of women who've been forced against their will make her see what lies ahead? Advice only delays us when we're set on something. When we're angry, advice—trying to calm us down—ends up making us angrier.  

'Nor gives it satisfaction to our blood, That we must curb it upon others' proof; To be forbod the sweets that seem so good, For fear of harms that preach in our behoof. O appetite, from judgment stand aloof! The one a palate hath that needs will taste, Though Reason weep, and cry, 'It is thy last.'

"And advice can't satisfy our desires, when we reign them in because someone told us to. It's like being forbidden to eat delicious candy, which we don't do because we're afraid of punishment someone's preached about on our behalf. Our desires are far from rational judgement! Our desires make us want to taste, despite our better judgement telling us not to.

'For further I could say 'This man's untrue,' And knew the patterns of his foul beguiling; Heard where his plants in others' orchards grew, Saw how deceits were gilded in his smiling; Knew vows were ever brokers to defiling; Thought characters and words merely but art, And bastards of his foul adulterate heart.

"I could have said, 'This man's unfaithful,' considering I knew about his track record of sick seduction. I heard about the seeds he planted in other gardens. I saw how he smiled through his lies. I knew his promises were only assurances to ruin me. I thought his letters, his words, were just a ploy—what you'd expect to come from such an evil heart. 

'And long upon these terms I held my city, Till thus he gan besiege me: 'Gentle maid, Have of my suffering youth some feeling pity, And be not of my holy vows afraid: That's to ye sworn to none was ever said; For feasts of love I have been call'd unto, Till now did ne'er invite, nor never woo.

"And I held my ground on these terms for a long time, until he began to push back, saying, 'Sweetheart, take pity on me, I'm young and I'm suffering. Don't be afraid of my promises to marry you! I've sworn to you what I've never sworn to anyone else. Other women have asked me to have sex with them. Until now, I never asked anyone, and never tried to convince anyone.

''All my offences that abroad you see Are errors of the blood, none of the mind; Love made them not: with acture they may be, Where neither party is nor true nor kind: They sought their shame that so their shame did find; And so much less of shame in me remains, By how much of me their reproach contains.

"'All my wrongdoings you've heard about are physical mistakes, not mental ones. Love wasn't a part of those. When neither person is actually in love with the other one, and faithful to them, it's just an action. Those women looked for shame, and they found it. And every time they blame me, it becomes more apparent how little I have to be ashamed of.

''Among the many that mine eyes have seen, Not one whose flame my heart so much as warm'd, Or my affection put to the smallest teen, Or any of my leisures ever charm'd: Harm have I done to them, but ne'er was harm'd; Kept hearts in liveries, but mine own was free, And reign'd, commanding in his monarchy.

"'Of all the women my eyes have seen, not one of them has so much as warmed my heart, let alone set it on fire. None of them made me feel even a little bit for them. None of them ever made me do anything for them. I hurt them, but they didn't hurt me. I've collected hearts like a king collects servants, but my own heart was free, and reigned like a commanding monarch.

''Look here, what tributes wounded fancies sent me, Of paled pearls and rubies red as blood; Figuring that they their passions likewise lent me Of grief and blushes, aptly understood In bloodless white and the encrimson'd mood; Effects of terror and dear modesty, Encamp'd in hearts, but fighting outwardly.

"'Look at all the gifts women have sent me when I hurt their feelings: white pearls and red rubies, representing their pale faces and blushes when they were overcome with emotion in front of me. I rightly understood that the fainting and blushing were just part of the fear and shyness which were set in their hearts and now showing outwardly. 

''And, lo, behold these talents of their hair, With twisted metal amorously impleach'd, I have received from many a several fair, Their kind acceptance weepingly beseech'd, With the annexions of fair gems enrich'd, And deep-brain'd sonnets that did amplify Each stone's dear nature, worth, and quality.

"'Look at all these locks of their hair, lovingly set in metal frames. I've received these from lots of beautiful women who begged me, crying, to accept them. They're decorated with pretty gems and thoughtful sonnets explaining each stone's type, worth, and quality. 

''The diamond,—why, 'twas beautiful and hard, Whereto his invised properties did tend; The deep-green emerald, in whose fresh regard Weak sights their sickly radiance do amend; The heaven-hued sapphire and the opal blend With objects manifold: each several stone,With wit well blazon'd, smiled or made some moan.

"'The diamond? It's beautiful and hard; they sent that one hoping it'd make me the same. The emerald helps to cure weak eyesight. The sapphire and the opal can go with anything. Each of these stones — with their little witty sayings—either made me smile or made me groan.

''Lo, all these trophies of affections hot, Of pensived and subdued desires the tender, Nature hath charged me that I hoard them not, But yield them up where I myself must render, That is, to you, my origin and ender; For these, of force, must your oblations be, Since I their altar, you enpatron me.

"'Look at all these trophies of love, of desires that have been over and done with. Common sense tells me not to collect them, and that I should give them to the person I love...that is, to you, my first and last. They'll be my offering to you. Since they were left at my altar, they're now due to you, whom I love.

''O, then, advance of yours that phraseless hand, Whose white weighs down the airy scale of praise; Take all these similes to your own command, Hallow'd with sighs that burning lungs did raise; What me your minister, for you obeys, Works under you; and to your audit comes Their distract parcels in combined sums.

"'So give me your pale hand, and stop clutching those letters with all their high-minded compliments. Instead, imagine I was saying all those fancy words to you, sighing and shouting for emphasis. I'm yours. I'm completely at your service. I'll do anything you want. And so all these random letters are re-directed to your ears, all at the same time, with their combined power. 

''Lo, this device was sent me from a nun, Or sister sanctified, of holiest note; Which late her noble suit in court did shun, Whose rarest havings made the blossoms dote; For she was sought by spirits of richest coat, But kept cold distance, and did thence remove, To spend her living in eternal love.

"'Look, this letter came to me from a nun, a holy sister who'd taken a vow. She refused the king himself in court a while ago, though he could have made her (and any other woman) extremely wealthy. You see, lots of high-class men sought after her, but she kept her distance and ran away to the convent to give all her love to God instead. 

''But, O my sweet, what labour is't to leave The thing we have not, mastering what not strives, Playing the place which did no form receive, Playing patient sports in unconstrained gyves? She that her fame so to herself contrives, The scars of battle 'scapeth by the flight, And makes her absence valiant, not her might.

"'But darling, isn't it tough to let go of something we never had? To master something we've never tried? To act a part we know nothing about? To fiddle around in one place when we're free to roam? The nun you've heard so much about may have escaped unharmed, but she hasn't exactly shown herself to be a strong person; she took the easy way out.

''O, pardon me, in that my boast is true: The accident which brought me to her eye Upon the moment did her force subdue, And now she would the caged cloister fly: Religious love put out Religion's eye: Not to be tempted, would she be immured, And now, to tempt, all liberty procured.

"'Forgive me—although I'm bragging about nothing but the truth. I came across her by accident and immediately took down her defenses. Now she wants to run away from the convent. Her love for me is like a religion—and it's taken the old religion's place. She put up walls because she didn't want to be tempted, but now she's doing whatever she can to reach temptation. 

''How mighty then you are, O, hear me tell! The broken bosoms that to me belong Have emptied all their fountains in my well, And mine I pour your ocean all among: I strong o'er them, and you o'er me being strong, Must for your victory us all congest, As compound love to physic your cold breast.

"'So believe me: you're a tough one! I've broken a lot of hearts. They cried all their tears to me, but I'm crying you an ocean here, too. I was the strong one compared to them, but you're much stronger than me. You've triumphed over all of us. Your victory is that you've kept all the powers of love from touching your cold heart.  

''My parts had power to charm a sacred nun, Who, disciplined, ay, dieted in grace, Believed her eyes when they to assail begun, All vows and consecrations giving place: O most potential love! vow, bond, nor space, In thee hath neither sting, knot, nor confine, For thou art all, and all things else are thine.

"'I had the ability to win over a holy nun, who, despite all her discipline and her religious fasting, believed her eyes when she saw me for the first time, and immediately promised to be faithful to me. You could be my lover! But promises, relationships, and positions have no power to touch, tie, or keep you. You're everything, and everything else is yours. 

''When thou impressest, what are precepts worth Of stale example? When thou wilt inflame, How coldly those impediments stand forth Of wealth, of filial fear, law, kindred, fame! Love's arms are peace, 'gainst rule, 'gainst sense, 'gainst shame, And sweetens, in the suffering pangs it bears, The aloes of all forces, shocks, and fears.

"'The way you conquer men is beyond comparison with any other woman in history. The way you set our hearts on fire makes us forget all our obligations: money, religion, the law, family, our reputations! Love fights peacefully against our better judgment, common sense, and fear of shame. So suffering for love makes all the bitter things (violence, shock, fear) sweet.

''Now all these hearts that do on mine depend, Feeling it break, with bleeding groans they pine; And supplicant their sighs to you extend, To leave the battery that you make 'gainst mine, Lending soft audience to my sweet design, And credent soul to that strong-bonded oath That shall prefer and undertake my troth.'

"'You're breaking my heart, so you're breaking all the hearts that are in love with me by extension. As they feel my heart break, they're crying out with painful longing and are sighing, pleading to you on my behalf, asking you to stop fighting against me. They're listening, gently, as I make my case, and they believe me when I swear I'll be faithful to you if you promise to be mine.'

'This said, his watery eyes he did dismount, Whose sights till then were levell'd on my face; Each cheek a river running from a fount With brinish current downward flow'd apace: O, how the channel to the stream gave grace! Who glazed with crystal gate the glowing roses That flame through water which their hue encloses.

"That said, the tears overflowed from his eyes which, up to that point, were gazing into mine. A salty river flowed quickly down each cheek. His beautiful eyes made those tears look good. His eyes filled, the tears obscuring his irises like roses drowned underwater, but still visible from the surface.

'O father, what a hell of witchcraft lies In the small orb of one particular tear! But with the inundation of the eyes What rocky heart to water will not wear? What breast so cold that is not warmed here? O cleft effect! cold modesty, hot wrath, Both fire from hence and chill extincture hath.

"Oh, sir, there were countless, damned lies in each of those little tears! But whose heart isn't softened when someone starts crying? Who could be so cold-hearted as to not feel anything? My heart is so variable—hot and cold—shyness and anger come from it and are extinguished in turn.

'For, lo, his passion, but an art of craft, Even there resolved my reason into tears; There my white stole of chastity I daff'd, Shook off my sober guards and civil fears; Appear to him, as he to me appears, All melting; though our drops this difference bore, His poison'd me, and mine did him restore.

"Because, look: all his emotion was just acting. At that very moment I let my guard down, began to cry, and handed over my virginity. I got rid of all my inhibition, all my perfectly reasonable fears. I became to him what he was to me: a bucket of tears. But the difference was this: his tears poisoned me, while mine healed him.

'In him a plenitude of subtle matter, Applied to cautels, all strange forms receives, Of burning blushes, or of weeping water, Or swooning paleness; and he takes and leaves, In either's aptness, as it best deceives, To blush at speeches rank to weep at woes, Or to turn white and swoon at tragic shows.

"Since he was incredibly manipulative, he could get away with all sorts of tricks. He could pretend to be blushing embarrassedly, or crying, or pale and about to faint. He could take or leave any appearance as it was appropriate, depending on the best way he could deceive someone. He could blush when they spoke, cry when they were sad, or get pale and faint when they complained.

'That not a heart which in his level came Could 'scape the hail of his all-hurting aim, Showing fair nature is both kind and tame; And, veil'd in them, did win whom he would maim: Against the thing he sought he would exclaim; When he most burn'd in heart-wish'd luxury, He preach'd pure maid, and praised cold chastity.

"Not a single woman he went for could escape the force of his powerful attack, since he was handsome and seemed so nice and sweet. With the power of his good looks, he won over whomever he wanted to screw. He'd claim he didn't want what he was aiming for. When he wanted sex the most, he'd compliment innocent girls and talk about how great virginity was. 

'Thus merely with the garment of a Grace The naked and concealed fiend he cover'd; That th' unexperient gave the tempter place, Which like a cherubin above them hover'd. Who, young and simple, would not be so lover'd? Ay me! I fell; and yet do question make What I should do again for such a sake.

"So he used his good looks—which were just a deception—to cover up the hidden demon inside. Inexperienced girls let the devil have his way because he appeared to them like an angel. When you're young and naïve, how could you not make love to him? Poor me! I messed up, and yet I ask myself if I would do it again. 

'O, that infected moisture of his eye, O, that false fire which in his cheek so glow'd, O, that forced thunder from his heart did fly, O, that sad breath his spongy lungs bestow'd, O, all that borrow'd motion seeming owed, Would yet again betray the fore-betray'd, And new pervert a reconciled maid!'

"The pretend tears, the fake blushes that flushed his cheeks, the forced racing heartbeat, the deep sighs he heaved...if he did it all over, it'd trick me again like I was tricked before—and make me lose my virginity a second time!"

A lovers complaint
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Bailey sincox
About the Translator: Bailey Sincox

Bailey Sincox is a PhD student in English at Harvard University, where she researches the theatre of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. Her teaching experience includes accessible online courses with edX on Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice. She holds a Master's from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor's from Duke University.