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Racy love poem found in 1561 edition of Chaucer

December 27, 2011

Chaucer is a definite hero at the BLT blog, as he was a translator, the “father” of English literature, and frequently quoted and adapted the Bible.  But as a bonus to readers of Chaucer, there is always the possibility of coming across a racy love poem.

Translated from Latin:

To Anthony Cooke

The goodbye I tried to speak but could not utter with my tongue
By my eyes I delivered back to yours.
That sad love that haunts the countenance in parting
Contained the voice that I concealed from display,
Just as Penelope, when her husband Ulysses was present,
Was speechless—the reason is that sweet love of a gaze.
Then afterwards Ovid sends greeting muses to the absent,
Just as to you, distant, I have sent my small note.
I hope then that silent Dacre will not be scorned by you
For the mind has suffered and held fast in faithfulness to you.
Believe that among servants there is not any more faithful:
As Plancus Plotinus thus will Dacre be to you.
I remain your servant Plancus, more faithful than any;
To this servant Dacre, you remain sweet Coke.

Epigram written by Martial, ‘Of the girdle’

Long enough am I now; but if your shape should swell under its grateful burden, then shall I become to you a narrow girdle.


The story is told here, here, and here:

Florida State University Professor Elaine Treharne was giving a lecture at West Virginia University when she visited the university’s rare book collection. She happened to open a 1561 edition of works by Geoffrey Chaucer and saw a Latin poem pasted in the back of the book….

The poem was written by Elizabeth Dacre, née Leybourne, a Catholic noblewoman, probably sometime after 1555, when she married her first husband Thomas Dacre at age 18 or 19. Its [Protestant] recipient [Anthony Cooke], the tutor of King Edward VI (and possibly also Elizabeth’s tutor), would have been significantly older than Elizabeth—and in exile, after a short stay in the Tower of London in 1553 under Mary I.

Not much more than that is known: Did the two have an affair? Did Dacre ever send the poem? Did she love Cooke, or was the poem simply an "academic exercise"? Treharne thinks Dacre’s feelings were genuine: “I actually do really genuinely believe that she was really in love with her tutor,” she told the WVU communications department. “It has that level of intimacy and playfulness about it. At the very least it’s cheeky, and it’s much more likely to be an indicator of a very, very personal and illicit—totally illicit—relationship.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 28, 2011 2:08 pm

    At the very least it’s cheeky

    Don’t remember even Chaucer or his travellers talking of the “girdle” this way, unless that is what’s meant by this:

    And she was of this messager ful fayn,
    And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
    He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte.


  2. December 30, 2011 2:32 pm

    Perhaps this story will make “girdles” sexy again.

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