Here Beginneth the Fourth Day of the Decameron Wherein Under the Governance of Filostrato Is Discoursed of Those Whose Loves Have Had Unhappy Endings

Dearest ladies, as well by words of wise men heard as by things many a time both seen and read of myself, I had conceived that the boisterous and burning blast of envy was apt to smite none but lofty towers or the highest summits of the trees; but I find myself mistaken in my conceit, for that, fleeing, as I have still studied to flee, from the cruel onslaught of that raging wind, I have striven to go, not only in the plains, but in the very deepest of the valleys, as many manifestly enough appear to whoso considereth these present stories, the which have been written by me, not only in vulgar Florentine and in prose and without [author's] name, but eke in as humble and sober a style as might be. Yet for all this have I not availed to escape being cruelly shaken, nay, well nigh uprooted, of the aforesaid wind and all torn of the fangs of envy; wherefore I can very manifestly understand that to be true which the wise use to say, to wit, that misery alone in things present is without envy.[212]

There are then, discreet ladies, some who, reading these stories, have said that you please me overmuch and that it is not a seemly thing that I should take so much delight in pleasuring and solacing you; and some have said yet worse of commending you as I do. Others, making a show of wishing to speak more maturely, have said that it sorteth ill with mine age henceforth to follow after things of this kind, to wit, to discourse of women or to study to please them. And many, feigning themselves mighty tender of my repute, avouch that I should do more wisely to abide with the Muses on Parnassus than to busy myself among you with these toys. Again, there be some who, speaking more despitefully than advisedly, have said that I should do more discreetly to consider whence I might get me bread than to go peddling after these baubles, feeding upon wind; and certain others, in disparagement of my pains, study to prove the things recounted by me to have been otherwise than as I present them to you.

With such, then, and so many blusterings,[213] such atrocious backbitings, such needle-pricks, noble ladies, am I, what while I battle in your service, baffled and buffeted and transfixed even to the quick. The which things, God knoweth, I hear and apprehend with an untroubled mind; and albeit my defence in this pertaineth altogether unto you, natheless, I purpose not to spare mine own pains; nay, without answering so much [at large] as it might behove, I mean to rid mine ears of them with some slight rejoinder, and that without delay; for that if even now, I being not yet come to[214] the third part of my travail, they[215] are many and presume amain, I opine that, ere I come to the end thereof, they may, having had no rebuff at the first, on such wise be multiplied that with whatsoever little pains of theirs they might overthrow me, nor might your powers, great though they be, avail to withstand this.

But, ere I come to make answer to any of them, it pleaseth me, in mine own defence, to relate, not an entire story,—lest it should seem I would fain mingle mine own stories with those of so commendable a company as that which I have presented to you,—but a part of one,—that so its very default [of completeness] may attest that it is none of those,—and accordingly, speaking to my assailants, I say that in our city, a good while agone, there was a townsman, by name Filippo Balducci, a man of mean enough extraction, but rich and well addressed and versed in such matters as his condition comported. He had a wife, whom he loved with an exceeding love, as she him, and they lived a peaceful life together, studying nothing so much as wholly to please one another. In course of time it came to pass, as it cometh to pass of all, that the good lady departed this life and left Filippo nought of herself but one only son, begotten of him and maybe two years old. Filippo for the death of his lady abode as disconsolate as ever man might, having lost a beloved one, and seeing himself left alone and forlorn of that company which most he loved, he resolved to be no more of the world, but to give himself altogether to the service of God and do the like with his little son. Wherefore, bestowing all his good for the love of God,[216] he repaired without delay to the top of Mount Asinajo, where he took up his abode with his son in a little hut and there living with him upon alms, in the practice of fasts and prayers, straitly guarded himself from discoursing whereas the boy was, of any temporal thing, neither suffered him see aught thereof, lest this should divert him from the service aforesaid, but still bespoke him of the glories of life eternal and of God and the saints, teaching him nought but pious orisons; and in this way of life he kept him many years, never suffering him go forth of the hermitage nor showing him aught other than himself.

Now the good man was used to come whiles into Florence, where being succoured, according to his occasions, of the friends of God, he returned to his hut, and it chanced one day that, his son being now eighteen years old and Filippo an old man, the lad asked him whither he went. Filippo told him and the boy said, "Father mine, you are now an old man and can ill endure fatigue; why do you not whiles carry me to Florence and bring me to know the friends and devotees of God and yourself, to the end that I, who am young and better able to toil than you, may after, whenas it pleaseth you, go to Florence for our occasions, whilst you abide here?" The worthy man, considering that his son was now grown to man's estate and thinking him so inured to the service of God that the things of this world might thenceforth uneath allure him to themselves, said in himself, "The lad saith well"; and accordingly, having occasion to go thither, he carried him with him. There the youth, seeing the palaces, the houses, the churches and all the other things whereof one seeth all the city full, began, as one who had never to his recollection beheld the like, to marvel amain and questioned his father of many things what they were and how they were called. Filippo told him and he, hearing him, abode content and questioned of somewhat else.

As they went thus, the son asking and the father answering, they encountered by chance a company of pretty and well-dressed young women, coming from a wedding, whom as soon as the young man saw, he asked his father what manner of things these were. "My son," answered Filippo, "cast your eyes on the ground and look not at them, for that they are an ill thing." Quoth the son, "And how are they called?" The father, not to awaken in the lad's mind a carnal appetite less than useful, would not name them by the proper name, to wit, women, but said, "They are called green geese." Whereupon, marvellous to relate, he who have never seen a woman and who recked not of palaces nor oxen nor horses nor asses nor monies nor of aught else he had seen, said suddenly, "Father mine, I prithee get me one of these green geese." "Alack, my son," replied the father, "hold they peace; I tell thee they are an ill thing." "How!" asked the youth. "Are ill things then made after this fashion?" and Filippo answered, "Ay." Then said the son, "I know not what you would say nor why these are an ill thing; for my part, meseemeth I never yet saw aught goodly or pleasing as are these. They are fairer than the painted angels you have shown me whiles. For God's sake, an you reck of me, contrive that we may carry one of yonder green geese back with us up yonder, and I will give it to eat." "Nay," answered the father, "I will not: thou knowest not whereon they feed." And he understood incontinent that nature was stronger than his wit and repented him of having brought the youth to Florence. But I will have it suffice me to have told this much of the present story and return to those for whose behoof I have related it.

Some, then, of my censurers say that I do ill, young ladies, in studying overmuch to please you and that you please me overmuch. Which things I do most openly confess, to wit, that you please me and that I study to please you, and I ask them if they marvel thereat,—considering (let be the having known the dulcet kisses and amorous embracements and delightsome couplings that are of you, most sweet ladies, often gotten) only my having seen and still seeing your dainty manners and lovesome beauty and sprightly grace and above all your womanly courtesy,—whenas he who had been reared and bred on a wild and solitary mountain and within the bounds of a little cell, without other company than his father, no sooner set eyes on you than you alone were desired of him, you alone sought, you alone followed with the eagerness of passion. Will they, then, blame me, back bite me, rend me with their tongues if I, whose body Heaven created all apt to love you, I, who from my childhood vowed my soul to you, feeling the potency of the light of your eyes and the sweetness of your honeyed words and the flame enkindled by your piteous sighs,—if, I say, you please me or if I study to please you, seeing that you over all else pleased a hermitling, a lad without understanding, nay, rather, a wild animal? Certes, it is only those, who, having neither sense nor cognizance of the pleasures and potency of natural affection, love you not nor desire to be loved of you, that chide me thus; and of these I reck little.

As for those who go railing anent mine age, it would seem they know ill that, for all the leek hath a white head, the tail thereof is green. But to these, laying aside pleasantry, I answer that never, no, not to the extreme limit of my life, shall I repute it to myself for shame to seek to please those whom Guido Cavalcanti and Dante Alighieri, when already stricken in years, and Messer Cino da Pistoja, when a very old man, held in honour and whose approof was dear to them. And were it not to depart from the wonted usance of discourse, I would cite history in support and show it to be all full of stories of ancient and noble men who in their ripest years have still above all studied to please the ladies, the which an they know not, let them go learn. That I should abide with the Muses on Parnassus, I confess to be good counsel; but, since we can neither abide for ever with the Muses, nor they with us, it is nothing blameworthy if, whenas it chanceth a man is parted from them, he take delight in seeing that which is like unto them. The muses are women, and albeit women may not avail to match with them, yet at first sight they have a semblance of them; insomuch that, an they pleased me not for aught else, for this they should please me; more by token that women have aforetime been to me the occasion of composing a thousand verses, whereas the Muses never were to me the occasion of making any. They aided me, indeed, and showed me how to compose the verses in question; and peradventure, in the writing of these present things, all lowly though they be, they have come whiles to abide with me, in token maybe and honour of the likeness that women bear to them; wherefore, in inditing these toys, I stray not so far from Mount Parnassus nor from the Muses as many belike conceive.

But what shall we say to those who have such compassion on my hunger that they counsel me provide myself bread? Certes, I know not, save that, whenas I seek to imagine in myself what would be their answer, an I should of necessity beseech them thereof, to wit, of bread, methinketh they would reply, "Go seek it among thy fables." Indeed, aforetime poets have found more thereof among their fables than many a rich man among his treasures, and many, following after their fables, have caused their age to flourish; whereas, on the contrary, many, in seeking to have more bread than they needed, have perished miserably. What more [shall I say?] Let them drive me forth, whenas I ask it of them, not that, Godamercy, I have yet need thereof; and even should need betide, I know with the Apostle Paul both how to abound and suffer need;[217] wherefore let none be more careful of me than I am of myself. For those who say that these things have not been such as I have here set them down, I would fain have them produce the originals, and an these latter accord not with that of which I write, I will confess their objection for just and will study to amend myself; but till otherwhat than words appeareth, I will leave them to their opinion and follow mine own, saying of them that which they say of me.

Wherefore, deeming that for the nonce I have answered enough, I say that, armed, as I hope to be, with God's aid and yours, gentlest ladies, and with fair patience, I will fare on with this that I have begun, turning my back to the wind aforesaid and letting it blow, for that I see not that aught can betide me other than that which betideth thin dust, the which a whirlwind, whenas it bloweth, either stirreth not from the earth, or, an it stir it, carrieth it aloft and leaveth it oftentimes upon the heads of men and upon the crowns of kings and emperors, nay, bytimes upon high palaces and lofty towers, whence an it fall, it cannot go lower than the place wherefrom it was uplifted. And if ever with all my might I vowed myself to seek to please you in aught, now more than ever shall I address myself thereto; for that I know none can with reason say otherwhat than that I and others who love you do according to nature, whose laws to seek to gainstand demandeth overgreat strength, and oftentimes not only in vain, but to the exceeding hurt of whoso striveth to that end, is this strength employed. Such strength I confess I have not nor ever desired in this to have; and an I had it, I had liefer lend it to others than use it for myself. Wherefore, let the carpers be silent and an they avail not to warm themselves, let them live star-stricken[218] and abiding in their delights—or rather their corrupt appetites,—leave me to abide in mine for this brief life that is appointed me. But now, fair ladies, for that we have strayed enough, needs must we return whence we set out and ensue the ordinance commenced.

The sun had already banished every star from the sky and had driven from the earth the humid vapours of the night, when Filostrato, arising, caused all his company arise and with them betook himself to the fair garden, where they all proceeded to disport themselves, and the eating-hour come, they dined whereas they had supped on the foregoing evening. Then, after having slept, what time the sun was at its highest, they seated themselves, after the wonted fashion, hard by the fair fountain, and Filostrato bade Fiammetta give beginning to the story-telling; whereupon, without awaiting further commandment, she began with womanly grace as follows:


[212] Sic (senza invidia); but the meaning is that misery alone is without enviers.

[213] i.e. blasts of calumny.

[214] i.e. having not yet accomplished.

[215] i.e. my censors.

[216] i.e. in alms.

[217] "I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need."—Philippians iv. 12.

[218] i.e. benumbed (assiderati).
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Decameron (Day The Thirty Third) Lyrics

Giovanni Boccaccio – Decameron (Day The Thirty Third) Lyrics