Court Poetry of Chaucer

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This work offers facing-page translations of lesser-known poems by Geoffrey Chaucer. The modernization of Chaucer’s verse to date has been restricted largely to the longer poems such as The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde. While these works demonstrate Chaucer’s mastery of the epic and narrative forms, it is in the court poems that we hear what is closer to the actual voice of Chaucer speaking to his contemporaries. The introduction discusses the “complaint,” a popular medieval genre that Chaucer often used in his verse, sometimes with a straight face, sometimes not. Providing these poems in both their original Middle English and in Modern English, this work will be an attractive addition to the library of any scholar interested in Chaucer and the poetry of his time.


“Professor Dempsey’s translation of Chaucer’s court poetry is to be lauded for a number of reasons, not the least being his adroitness and sympathy toward the spirit of the poems themselves as well as bringing the living voice of Chaucer to the twenty-first century reader through his selections. As Dempsey accurately points out in his introduction, it is in these shorter and more neglected poems that we hear the voice of the Chaucer more clearly and distinctively than we do in The Canterbury Tales or Troilus and Criseyde.” – Dr. Patrick J. M. Quinn, Chair, Department of English, University of Mississippi

“Chaucer scholars as well as poets and poetry fans will find extreme delight in reading James Dempsey’s modernizations of Chaucer’s short and often neglected poems. They show Dempsey’s deep admiration for Chaucer’s work—for its embrace of life’s contradictions, its variety and wit, and especially its play with language. Plainly, turning Chaucer’s robust, Middle-English verse into poetry that is accessible to contemporary readers was, for Dempsey, a labor of love, and we readers benefit from the labor, and the love.” – Dr. Laura Jehn Menides, Professor of English, Emerita, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

“Dempsey’s lively translations recapture Chaucer’s subtle ironies and humor, while keeping as much of the original style and form as possible in an idiomatic, modern version . . . Dempsey masters all of these forms, using sprightly rhymes to capture the spirit of the originals. More importantly, his translations never seem forced or awkward. Somehow he manages to preserve the poet’s wit and wordplay, even as he works the originals into contemporary English.” – Dr. Virginia Mason Vaughan, Professor and Chair, Department of English, Clark University

Table of Contents

Preface by Patrick J.M. Quinn
An ABC to the Virgin Mary
The Complaint to Pity
A Complaint to His Lady
The Complaint of Mars
To Rosemound
Womanly Noblesse
To His Scribe, Adam
Lack of Steadfastness
The Former Age
The Complaint of Venus
Envoy to Scogan
Envoy to Bukton
Complaint to His Purse
Against Inconstant Women
Complaynt D’Amours
Merciless Beauty
A Ballade of Complaint
Anelida and Arcite

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