Elisa being now silent, the last burden of the story-telling rested with the queen, who, with womanly grace beginning to speak, said, "Noble damsels, like as in the lucid nights the stars are the ornament of the sky and as in Spring-time the flowers of the green meadows, even so are commendable manners and pleasing discourse adorned by witty sallies, which latter, for that they are brief, are yet more beseeming to women than to men, inasmuch as much and long speech, whenas it may be dispensed with, is straitlier forbidden unto women than to men, albeit nowadays there are few or no women left who understand a sprightly saying or, if they understand it, know how to answer it, to the general shame be it said of ourselves and of all women alive. For that virtue,[69] which was erst in the minds of the women of times past, those of our day have diverted to the adornment of the body, and she on whose back are to be seen the most motley garments and the most gaudily laced and garded and garnished with the greatest plenty of fringes and purflings and broidery deemeth herself worthy to be held of far more account than her fellows and to be honoured above them, considering not that, were it a question of who should load her back and shoulders with bravery, an ass would carry much more thereof than any of them nor would therefore be honoured for more than an ass.

I blush to avow it, for that I cannot say aught against other women but I say it against myself; these women that are so laced and purfled and painted and parti-coloured abide either mute and senseless, like marble statues, or, an they be questioned, answer after such a fashion that it were far better to have kept silence. And they would have you believe that their unableness to converse among ladies and men of parts proceedeth from purity of mind, and to their witlessness they give the name of modesty, as if forsooth no woman were modest but she who talketh with her chamberwoman or her laundress or her bake-wench; the which had Nature willed, as they would have it believed, she had assuredly limited unto them their prattle on other wise. It is true that in this, as in other things, it behoveth to have regard to time and place and with whom one talketh; for that it chanceth bytimes that women or men, thinking with some pleasantry or other to put another to the blush and not having well measured their own powers with those of the latter, find that confusion, which they thought to cast upon another, recoil upon themselves. Wherefore, so you may know how to keep yourselves and that, to boot, you may not serve as a text for the proverb which is current everywhere, to wit, that women in everything still take the worst, I would have you learn a lesson from the last of to-day's stories, which falleth to me to tell, to the intent that, even as you are by nobility of mind distinguished from other women, so likewise you may show yourselves no less removed from them by excellence of manners.

It is not many years since there lived (and belike yet liveth) at Bologna a very great and famous physician, known by manifest renown to well nigh all the world. His name was Master Alberto and such was the vivacity of his spirit that, albeit he was an old man of hard upon seventy years of age and well nigh all natural heat had departed his body, he scrupled not to expose himself to the flames of love; for that, having seen at an entertainment a very beautiful widow lady, called, as some say, Madam Malgherida[70] de' Ghisolieri, and being vastly taken with her, he received into his mature bosom, no otherwise than if he had been a young gallant, the amorous fire, insomuch that himseemed he rested not well by night, except the day foregone he had looked upon the delicate and lovesome countenance of the fair lady. Wherefore he fell to passing continually before her house, now afoot and now on horseback, as the occasion served him, insomuch that she and many other ladies got wind of the cause of his constant passings to and fro and oftentimes made merry among themselves to see a man thus ripe of years and wit in love, as if they deemed that that most pleasant passion of love took root and flourished only in the silly minds of the young and not otherwhere.

What while he continued to pass back and forth, it chanced one holiday that, the lady being seated with many others before her door and espying Master Alberto making towards them from afar, they one and all took counsel together to entertain him and do him honour and after to rally him on that his passion. Accordingly, they all rose to receive him and inviting him [to enter,] carried him into a shady courtyard, whither they let bring the choicest of wines and sweetmeats and presently enquired of him, in very civil and pleasant terms, how it might be that he was fallen enamoured of that fair lady, knowing her to be loved of many handsome, young and sprightly gentlemen. The physician, finding himself thus courteously attacked, put on a blithe countenance and answered, 'Madam, that I love should be no marvel to any understanding person, and especially that I love yourself, for that you deserve it; and albeit old men are by operation of nature bereft of the vigour that behoveth unto amorous exercises, yet not for all that are they bereft of the will nor of the wit to apprehend that which is worthy to be loved; nay, this latter is naturally the better valued of them, inasmuch as they have more knowledge and experience than the young. As for the hope that moveth me, who am an old man, to love you who are courted of many young gallants, it is on this wise: I have been many a time where I have seen ladies lunch and eat lupins and leeks. Now, although in the leek no part is good, yet is the head[71] thereof less hurtful and more agreeable to the taste; but you ladies, moved by a perverse appetite, commonly hold the head in your hand and munch the leaves, which are not only naught, but of an ill savour. How know I, madam, but you do the like in the election of your lovers? In which case, I should be the one chosen of you and the others would be turned away.'

The gentlewoman and her companions were somewhat abashed and said, 'Doctor, you have right well and courteously chastised our presumptuous emprise; algates, your love is dear to me, as should be that of a man of worth and learning; wherefore, you may in all assurance command me, as your creature, of your every pleasure, saving only mine honour.' The physician, rising with his companions, thanked the lady and taking leave of her with laughter and merriment, departed thence. Thus the lady, looking not whom she rallied and thinking to discomfit another, was herself discomfited; wherefrom, an you be wise, you will diligently guard yourselves."

The sun had begun to decline towards the evening, and the heat was in great part abated, when the stories of the young ladies and of the three young men came to an end; whereupon quoth the queen blithesomely, "Henceforth, dear companions, there remaineth nought more to do in the matter of my governance for the present day, save to give you a new queen, who shall, according to her judgment, order her life and ours, for that[72] which is to come, unto honest pleasance. And albeit the day may be held to endure from now until nightfall, yet,—for that whoso taketh not somewhat of time in advance cannot, meseemeth, so well provide for the future and in order that what the new queen shall deem needful for the morrow may be prepared,—methinketh the ensuing days should commence at this hour. Wherefore, in reverence of Him unto whom all things live and for our own solacement, Filomena, a right discreet damsel, shall, as queen, govern our kingdom for the coming day." So saying, she rose to her feet and putting off the laurel-wreath, set it reverently on the head of Filomena, whom first herself and after all the other ladies and the young men likewise saluted as queen, cheerfully submitting themselves to her governance.

Filomena blushed somewhat to find herself invested with the queendom, but, calling to mind the words a little before spoken by Pampinea,[73]—in order that she might not appear witless, she resumed her assurance and in the first place confirmed all the offices given by Pampinea; then, having declared that they should abide whereas they were, she appointed that which was to do against the ensuing morning, as well as for that night's supper, and after proceeded to speak thus:

"Dearest companions, albeit Pampinea, more of her courtesy than for any worth of mine, hath made me queen of you all, I am not therefore disposed to follow my judgment alone in the manner of our living, but yours together with mine; and that you may know that which meseemeth is to do and consequently at your pleasure add thereto or abate thereof, I purpose briefly to declare it to you.

If I have well noted the course this day held by Pampinea, meseemeth I have found it alike praiseworthy and delectable; wherefore till such time as, for overlong continuance or other reason, it grow irksome to us, I judge it not to be changed. Order, then, being taken for [the continuance of] that which we have already begun to do, we will, arising hence, go awhile a-pleasuring, and whenas the sun shall be for going under, we will sup in the cool of the evening, and after sundry canzonets and other pastimes, we shall do well to betake ourselves to sleep. To-morrow, rising in the cool of the morning, we will on like wise go somewhither a-pleasuring, as shall be most agreeable to every one; and as we have done to-day, we will at the due hour come back to eat; after which we will dance and when we arise from sleep, as to-day we have done, we will return hither to our story-telling, wherein meseemeth a very great measure to consist alike of pleasance and of profit. Moreover, that which Pampinea had indeed no opportunity of doing, by reason of her late election to the governance, I purpose now to enter upon, to wit, to limit within some bound that whereof we are to tell and to declare it[74] to you beforehand, so each of you may have leisure to think of some goodly story to relate upon the theme proposed, the which, an it please you, shall be on this wise; namely, seeing that since the beginning of the world men have been and will be, until the end thereof, bandied about by various shifts of fortune, each shall be holden to tell OF THOSE WHO AFTER BEING BAFFLED BY DIVERS CHANCES HAVE WON AT LAST TO A JOYFUL ISSUE BEYOND THEIR HOPE."

Ladies and men alike all commended this ordinance and declared themselves ready to ensue it. Only Dioneo, the others all being silent, said, "Madam, as all the rest have said, so say I, to wit that the ordinance given by you is exceeding pleasant and commendable; but of especial favour I crave you a boon, which I would have confirmed to me for such time as our company shall endure, to wit, that I may not be constrained by this your law to tell a story upon the given theme, an it like me not, but shall be free to tell that which shall most please me. And that none may think I seek this favour as one who hath not stories, in hand, from this time forth I am content to be still the last to tell."

The queen,—who knew him for a merry man and a gamesome and was well assured that he asked this but that he might cheer the company with some laughable story, whenas they should be weary of discoursing,—with the others' consent, cheerfully accorded him the favour he sought. Then, arising from session, with slow steps they took their way towards a rill of very clear water, that ran down from a little hill, amid great rocks and green herbage, into a valley overshaded with many trees and there, going about in the water, bare-armed and shoeless, they fell to taking various diversions among themselves, till supper-time drew near, when they returned to the palace and there supped merrily. Supper ended, the queen called for instruments of music and bade Lauretta lead up a dance, whilst Emilia sang a song, to the accompaniment of Dioneo's lute. Accordingly, Lauretta promptly set up a dance and led it off, whilst Emilia amorously warbled the following song:

I burn for mine own charms with such a fire,
Methinketh that I ne'er
Of other love shall reck or have desire.

Whene'er I mirror me, I see therein[75]
That good which still contenteth heart and spright;
Nor fortune new nor thought of old can win
To dispossess me of such dear delight.
What other object, then, could fill my sight,
Enough of pleasance e'er
To kindle in my breast a new desire?

This good flees not, what time soe'er I'm fain
Afresh to view it for my solacement;
Nay, at my pleasure, ever and again
With such a grace it doth itself present
Speech cannot tell it nor its full intent
Be known of mortal e'er,
Except indeed he burn with like desire.

And I, grown more enamoured every hour,
The straitlier fixed mine eyes upon it be,
Give all myself and yield me to its power,
E'en tasting now of that it promised me,
And greater joyance yet I hope to see,
Of such a strain as ne'er
Was proven here below of love-desire.

Lauretta having thus made an end of her ballad,[76]—in the burden of which all had blithely joined, albeit the words thereof gave some much matter for thought,—divers other rounds were danced and a part of the short night being now spent, it pleased the queen to give an end to the first day; wherefore, letting kindle the flambeaux, she commanded that all should betake themselves to rest until the ensuing morning, and all, accordingly, returning to their several chambers, did so.

Footnotes

[69] Virtù, in the old Roman sense of strength, vigour, energy.

[70] Old form of Margherita.

[71] i.e. the base or eatable part of the stem.

[72] i.e. that day.

[73] See ante, p. 8.

[74] i.e. the terms of the limitation aforesaid.

[75] i.e. in the mirrored presentment of her own beauty.

[76] Ballatella, lit. little dancing song or song made to be sung as an accompaniment to a dance (from ballare, to dance). This is the origin of our word ballad.

HERE ENDETH THE FIRST DAY
OF THE DECAMERON
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Decameron (Day The Tenth) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Tenth) Lyrics