The Parliament of Fowls

An opera by
John Craton

Based on the poem by Geoffrey Chaucer


Libretto


Nature:

Fowls, attend! Take heed to what I say:
You all know how on St. Valentine's Day,
By my rule and through my governance,
You come to choose your mates,
While prick’d with my pleasance,
Then fly beyond these gates.
But I may not, to win this whole world wide,
Depart from my decree:
And thus the first to choose his bride
Is he of first degree:
The Tercel, as you well know,
The wise and worthy one,
Shall be the first to go
And seek whose heart he’s won.
After him shall choose,
According to your nature,
And whether win or lose,
Shall name his choice of creature.
But which of you shall love the most entreat,
God send him her for whom his heart doth seek.
[To Tercel 1]
[Spoken]
Rise, my son.
[Sung] But one condition I by must state,
That she agree to be thy mate.
This is our way, from year to year,
To force no mate through want or fear.
And whoso now may win her grace,
In blissful time to this place.

Tercel 1:

[Bows before Nature]
My sovereign Lady, thy law I fulfill.
I choose with heart and mind and will
The Formel by your hand so lovely wrought,
Whose shape and form my heart has long besought.
Hers I am, and shall be till I die.
Let her chose to see me live or die.
For I seek her mercy and her grace,
Or let me die in this belovéd place.
For ’tis certain, I could not live in pain,
For in my heart she courses through each vein.
Should I in time my love for her consume,
Then let this curse be ever for my doom:
That I be torn asunder by these birds
For swearing false with empty, shallow words.
And since no other loves her more that I,
By mercy may she not my choice deny.

Tercel 2:

Nay, my Sov’reign, I rise to plea:
That what the Tercel boasts must not be.
[To Tercel 1] By St. John, I love her more than you,
And longer served her, as is her due.
And dare I say, if she should find me faithless,
Or see my love’s devotion weak or baseless,
Then let me now beside this flowing beck
Thus end my days and hang me by the neck!
And if I fail her honor to protect,
Then end my life and all my wealth collect.
[The other birds grow restless]

Tercel 3:

Now sirs, you see how little time
We have here for this rhyme,
For ev’ry bird desires his mate to take
And quickly, too, this fair scene forsake.
And Nature, too, because of the delay
Cannot hear half of what I have to say.
And yet I speak, lest I die of sorrow,
For my heavy heart would cease to beat tomorrow.
I am her truest lover — such is my pleasure —
And in me she would find her richest treasure.
In short, until death take me, I shall be hers,
Awake or asleep, ’tis she my heart bestirs.

[The other birds raise a protest for the delay.]

Chorus:

Have done, now! Let us away!
You will ruin us all with your delay.
Cuckoo. Quack, quack. Honk!
When shall your curséd pleadings see an end?
How long will you our own hearts sorely rend?
How should we judge you, yea or nay,
Without firm proof of what you have to say?

Goose:

All this talk is not worth a fly!
But from this I will devise a remedy,
And I will speak my verdict fair and soon,
On behalf of waterfowl, who’ll smile or frown.

Cuckoo:

And for the worm-eating fowl,
Of my own authority, ’midst honk and howl,
For the common good I’ll take responsibility
To free us from your gross debility.

Turtledove:

By God, we shall wait awhile yet
If you are he who shall argue ’gainst this threat!
You may as well be silent, fool,
Than to render judgment to this school.
I am among the birds who eat the seed,
Most unworthy, and of little wit I accede.
But a creature’s tongue would better be still
Than to meddle with such things as fit this bill.
And doing so wears out himself in such a fashion
That he can never hope to judge another’s passion.

Nature:

Hold your tongues!
I shall soon, I hope, counsel find
To deliver, and from this noise unbind.
I judge that you shall choose from each bird-folk
One to render verdict that I may thus invoke.

[The birds assent and select their spokesmen]

Falcon:

Full hard it be to prove by reason
Who loves best the gentle Formel here.
For each bird speaketh in due season,
And each love truly, or so it doth appear.
And since they cease not to prattle,
It seems to me there must be battle.

Tercels 1, 2 & 3:

All ready! We are ready!

Falcon:

Nay, sirs, you do me wrong,
For my tale is not yet done.
Take it not amiss, I pray,
Fighting thus is not our way.
We must judge among you three,
And it is our lot to decree.
Peace, therefore, I do insist,
So settle down and my word list.
The worthiest in knighthood, the gentlest blood,
The hightest in honor ’gainst the flood,
Would be most fitting, if she should choose,
And knoweth surely which two should lose.

Waterfowl Chorus:

The goose, with his gentle eloquence,
Will speak for us in our benficence.

Goose:

Peace! Now ev’ry man take heed
And harken to my word in need.
My wits are sharp, I’ll not delay,
And thus I have but this to say:
I counsel him as would a brother;
If she’ll not have him,
Let him love another!

Sparrowhawk:

A perfect argument for a Goose —
Bad luck for her!
Lo, thus to have a wagging tongue!
Your wisdom hath the weight of dung!
I scarce can stop from being violent,
For truly ’tis said, “A fool cannot be silent!”

[The birds laugh]

Turtledove:

Nay, God forbid a lover should change!
No, do not think my word strange.
Though his lady be cold and frigid,
Let his love for her be ever rigid.
In truth, I praise not Goose’s counsel,
But proffer my thoughts unto this council:
Even if my lady died
I ne’er should choose another bride.

Duck:

By my hat, well spoke!
That Turtledove is a thoughtful bloke.
That men should love without a cause,
Such reasoning would give me pause.
Should I merrily, thoughtless dance
When I’m not merry in my stance?
Who should care for one sans care?
Yea, quack! God knows there are more stars than one pair!

Falcon:

Fie, churl, fie! And hold your tongue!
Another thought bespot with dung!
You who turn bright gold to copper,
Know you not what things are proper?
You fare with love as owls with light;
The day doth blind them, yet they see at night.
Your nature is too base and low,
True love, ’tis clear, you cannot know.

Cuckoo:

That I may have my mate in peace,
I cannot long contend with Geese!
Let each be single all his life;
Therefore, fowls, avoid this strife.
That is my counsel, since they cannot contend.
This my instruction — let it be at an end.

Merlin:

As this glutton has filled his paunch,
It should suffice for us all.
The murderer of the sparrow on the branch,
Your gluttonous mother makes me blanch!
May you live unmated, mangler of worms!
Go! stupid fool, as long as the world turns!

Nature:

Peace, now! I command all.
For I have heard all your opinion,
And yet we are no nearer to our goal.
This therefor is my final decision:
That she herself shall choose her own vision.
It cannot be known who loves her most;
She alone must select her host.

Formel:

Goddess of nature,
I am ever under your rod.
I must be yours as long as life shall last.
Therefore grant my request, and I will speak my mind.

Nature:

I so grant you.

Formel:

Almighty Queen, I ask that till year’s end
I have respite to comprehend
And take counself of my own
Till my heart’s desire be known.
And after that to have my own free choice,
And with my chosen mate rejoice.
I can say no more, though death be nigh;
In this way I will serve you well and high.

Nature:

Since it can happen no other way,
There is no more to speak or say.
So each bird here go with his mate
And tarry no longer in confuséd state.
To you, fair Tercels, I speak true words,
Be of good heart, stout noble birds;
A year is not so long to wait,
And then you may know which one shall mate.
For, God knows, she is bereft this year,
And whoso happens afterwards,
The interval shall prove dear.
Qui bien aime a tard oublie.

Chorus:

   Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
   The winter’s tempest you shall break
   And drive away the long nights black!
St. Valentine, enthrones aloft,
Thus little birds sing for your sake:
   Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
   The winter’s tempest you shall shake!
Good cause have they to gladden oft,
His own true love each bird will take;
And blissf’ly sing when they awake.
   Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
   The winter’s tempest you shall break
   And drive away the long nights black!
Deo gracias!

Copyright ©2008 by John Craton


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