Friday, 29 May 2009

Things fall apart.

A friend of mine sent me this link recently, and I rather liked it. Here's the text of it below:

It's sad when people you know
become people you knew.

When you can walk right past
someone like they were never a
big part of your life. How you used
to be able to talk for hours and
how now, you can barely even
look at them.

Do check the link - the layout seems to add to the effect of the quote. It put me in mind of a particularly poignant moment in Henryson's Testament of Cresseid. Henryson 'finishes' Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. In Henryson's sequel, Criseyde is punished for her infidelity to Troilus (well, more properly, for blaspheming against Venus and Cupid), and a harsh punishment it is too. Awaking from a dream in which the gods pass judgement on her, she finds herself to be afflicted with leprosy. Henryson creates a poignant scene - the noble Troylus passes by a leper on the road, not recognising her as his former lover, Cresseid. Though he doesn't know her, an image of the Cresseid he knew flashes into his mind, and he shows the leper charity:

Than vpon him scho kest vp baith hir ene,
And with ane blenk it come into his thocht
That he sumtime hir face befoir had sene,
But scho was in sic plye he knew hir nocht;
Yit than hir luik into his mynd it brocht
The sweit visage and amorous blenking
Of fair Cresseid, sumtyme his awin darling.

Na wonder was, suppois in mynd that he
Tuik hir figure sa sone, and lo, now quhy:
The idole of ane thing in cace may be
Sa deip imprentit in the fantasy
That is deludies the wittis outwardly,
And sa appeiris in forme and lyke estait
Within the mynd as it was figurait...

For knichtlie pietie and memoriall
Of fair Cresseid, ane gyrdill can he tak,
Ane purs of gold, and mony gay iowall,
And in the skirt of Cresseid doun he swak;
Than raid away and not ane word [he] spak,
Pensiwe in hart, quhill he come to the toun,
And for greit cair oft syis almaist fell doun. (Testament of Cresseid, 498-525)

Cresseid herself later discovers who her generous benefactor was, and falls into great grief. She gives all she owns (including Troylus' gift) in testament to the 'lipper folk', and dies in sadness.

There are a few things about this passage that make it deeply human. Cresseid and Troylus' mutual misrecognition says something about the tragic mutability of love; not only are they no longer lovers, but they cannot even recognise one another. Each, in their own way, have been changed by the experience of love and loss. Cresseid's new invisibility as a leper is not surprising; the weak often become invisible, and Henryson makes much of the connection between female beauty, wealth and power. Her loss of beauty renders her unknowable. And Henryson's Aristotelian comment on the possibility that one can think what one sees is just an image is an interesting inversion of the common feeling that when one has lost a beloved, one sees them everywhere; in a face in every crowd. For Troylus and Cresseid, it is sad when people you know become people you knew, and sadder still that their experienced selves cannot even recognise each other.

1 comment:

mairead said...

Hey! I never knew you had a blog. Thanks for the congrats re: meatballs. Hope all is well x x...and what an apt post to be commenting on after all this time :)