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87| The Poem That Should Not Exist

Jonathan Hsy


Farewel! And fy upon possessioun!
For, precious, thow costeth me so dere
Aboven al myn estimacioun.
Lyk diamaunt or perle withouten pere
That rolleth fro myn hond and gooth so ferre —
I ne may hit nat namoore fynde! —
Thow hast me caste so ferre fro thy mynde.

For if I hold thee but by thy grauntyng,
How may richesse be my deservyng?
Thow rekenest nat my vertu for wantyng.
Yet so myn herte doth turn ayen swervyng
Unto thy face, and dyeth in servyng.
Thow preyseth now thyn worth above al thyng,
Ere thow hadst doon with me thy taillyng.

Thow gavest of thyself to me, mystakyng
Al thy worth for what I kan present;
So great a gift thow gavest me, but takyng
Every thought into thy juggement
Thow dost reclayme the perl that thou hast sent.
When thow wert myne, I mette I were a kyng;
I awake without thee, and nam no such thyng.

Note: Chaucer was Englishing verses by Petrarch long before Wyatt came along. In Troilus and Criseyde, Chaucer rendered Petrarch's fourteen-line sonnet "S'amor non รจ" ("If love does not exist") into three seven-line stanzas in rime royal (ababbcc). This retro-translation renders a Shakespearean sonnet into Middle English using the same technique. The new retro-poem contains only words that are attested before 1400, and it transforms early modern economic metaphors into conceits that better reflect medieval modes of thought. The poem pivots at its midpoint: the line ending with the verb "swervyng."

Jonathan Hsy is Associate Professor at The George Washington University. He teaches and publishes on Middle English poetry, translation theory, and disability studies.

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