The Poetry of Ellin Anderson

THE PRAYER OF CEPHALUS

By John Gower (1330
Ė1408)
The Poet Who Inspired Shakespeare

Modern English Version
by Richard Brodie and Ellin Anderson
 

Love that desires to stay awake
By night, may an example take
From Cephalus, that time he played
With fair Aurora, that sweet maid,
And lay within her arms all night.
But when the hours drew towards the light,
Within his heart, he seemed to spy
The day that was approaching nigh;
So, with this prayer, born of his lust,
He sought to gain the sun godís trust:
ďO Phoebus, who controls the day,
Till nighttime drives its light away,
Thou risest, gladdening every creature
By the laws that rule thy nature.
Thereís one thing all lovers share;
It must reject thy knowing glare
For privacy, so none may tell
That Love has done his duty well.
It only asks for secret haunts,
And silence and seclusion wants,
Desiring not to be exposed:
And so, when Venus is disclosed,
Upon the fading of thy light
And shines with softness in the night,
Beneath cloud cover, dark and still,
Thatís when we lovers have our will.
From thee, upon thy throne on high,
Because thou art the dayís bright eye,
No lovers may their secrets hide.
Upon this nightís dark flowing tide,
With all my heart, I thee beseech,
That I my pleasureís prize might reach
With she who drowns me in her charms.
Withdraw the banner of thine arms,
And let thy daylight be unborn
Within the Sign of Capricorn
Where Saturnís lusty court holds sway.
I pray that thou might make thy way
Where evenings long and dark must be,
For my love lies here next to me,
Quite naked, only for my sake,
And she would like to stay awake,
And never let me go to sleep.
It would be good of thee to keep
Away, in answer to my need.
I pray thee, hinder with all speed
Thy fiery cart, and so ordain
That thy swift horses shall restrain
Their course beneath the western sky,
And towards the east begin to fly
Across an arc the longer way.
And to Diana, thee I pray,
Known as thou are for nobleness,
The nightís own Moon, and its goddess,
Be kind to me, and grant me grace,
In Cancer, which is thine own place;
Opposed to Phoebus, end thy flight
To dally there. For thy delight,
Fix Venus with a gladsome eye,
For then celestial laws apply,
By which thou wilt be guaranteed
To foster much prolific seed,
So that fair children may be born.
And if such grace should then adorn
My life, with all my heart Iíll serve
By night, thy vigil to observe.Ē
Lo, thus this lusty Cephalus
Prayed unto Phoebe and Phoebus
To lengthen out nightís starry tract
So Loveís own law he might enact,
And thus could keep, at Loveís behest,
That which is called the Nachtenfest,
Without the sluggishness of Sleep,
Whom Venus chooses not to keep
As company, for oft itís he
Who is the one to guarantee
A lustless night devoid of games
In bed, when otherwise loveís flames
Could be expected to burn brightly.
Sloth, which is at night unspritely
Has with Sleep a compact made
So that those debts cannot be paid
Which unto love are due by dawn:
He knows not where the night has gone
Nor how, so soon, comes on the day;
He sleeps and snores the night away,
And waits until itís noon to rise.
But Cephalus did otherwise,
As you, my Son, have heard above.
My father, he who has his love
In bed all naked by his side,
And still would deign his eyes to hide
In sleep, why then, no man is he:
But as for me, it certainly
Befalls me not, that fate of his.
In fact, Iíll tell you how it is:
As Iím a very lonely man,
I try to catch what sleep I can,
To dream a merry dream ere day.
And if it happens that I may
My thoughts with such a dreaming please,
I think I am somewhat at ease,
And that must be my only fun.
Thereís no need to implore the Sun
His horse and wagon to let linger,
Nor the Moon, that she may wing her
Way more slowly through the sky,
For that is not the means whereby
Iíll move towards love in some degree.
But in my sleep, I still may see
Some things I like, within my dreams.
And then, however good it seems,
I wake up hoodwinked by my heart.
So I would like to know what part
Sleep plays to make a man feel whole.

My son, you speak the truth. Its role
At least as far as I have found,
Is to ensure the bodyís crowned
With health, when itís not overdone:
But he who sleeps too much is one
Who fails to use some common sense,
And buys bad luck, at great expense,
And such misfortune that he grieves.
But he who thumbs the musty leaves
Of books that treat of Somnolence,
May still discover truth and sense
If good instruction he will take
Of why itís good to stay awake:
Whereof a tale in poetry
I think to tell, specifically.

More Middle English translations by
Richard Brodie and Ellin Anderson

© 2010 by Ellin Anderson. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be copied or used in any way
without written permission from the author.


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