Week 433: Partial Comfort, by Dorothy Parker

A bit of light relief this week in the shape of a quatrain by American wit Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), who specialised in four-line squibs which may not be great poetry but are kind of neat. Though I have to say that in my book neither John Knox nor Helen of Troy seem likely to make good dinner guests: Knox would no doubt be off on some Calvinist rant while Helen would spend the time checking her Twitter feed at #thousandships. Be that as it may….

Partial Comfort

Whose love is given over-well
Shall look on Helen’s face in hell,
Whilst those whose love is thin and wise
May view John Knox in Paradise.

And as a follow-up bonus this week here is an extract from the mediaeval French chantefable ‘Aucassin et Nicolette’. A chantefable is a story told in a mixture of prose and verse, and this one is a sort of irreverent pastiche of the chivalric romances popular at the time. Here the hero, required to choose between salvation and the woman he loves, expresses much the same sentiment as Dorothy.

Captain: “Nay more, what wouldst thou deem thee to have gained, hadst thou made her thy leman, and taken her to thy bed?  Plentiful lack of comfort hadst thou got thereby, for in Hell would thy soul have lain while the world endures, and into Paradise wouldst thou have entered never.”

Aucassin: “In Paradise what have I to win?  Therein I seek not to enter, but only to have Nicolete, my sweet lady that I love so well.  For into Paradise go none but such folk as I shall tell thee now: Thither go these same old priests, and halt old men and maimed, who all day and night cower continually before the altars, and in the crypts; and such folk as wear old amices and old clouted frocks, and naked folk and shoeless, and covered with sores, perishing of hunger and thirst, and of cold, and of little ease.  These be they that go into Paradise, with them have I naught to make.  But into Hell would I fain go; for into Hell fare the goodly clerks, and goodly knights that fall in tourneys and great wars, and stout men at arms, and all men noble.  With these would I liefly go. And thither pass the sweet ladies and courteous that have two lovers, or three, and their lords also thereto.  Thither goes the gold, and the silver, and cloth of vair, and cloth of gris, and harpers, and makers, and the prince of this world.  With these I would gladly go, let me but have with me, Nicolete, my sweetest lady.”

From ‘Aucassin and Nicolette’, translated by Andrew Lang


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