What is love? Chaucer and Petrarch

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Troilus’s Song is excerpt from his tragic romance, Troilus and Criseyde. Here is the song:

If no love is, O God, what fele I so?
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?
If it be wikke, a wonder thynketh me,
When ever torment and adversite
That cometh of hym, may to me savory thinke,
For ay thurst I, the more that ich it drynke.
And if that at myn owen lust I brenne,
From whennes cometh my waillynge and my pleynte?
If harm agree me, whereto pleyne I thenne?
I noot, ne whi unwery that I feynte.
O quike deth, O swete harm so queynte,
How may of the in me swich quantite,
But if that I consente that it be?
And if that I consente, I wrongfully
Compleyne, iwis.  Thus possed to and fro,
Al stereless withinne a boot am I
Amydde the see, betwixen wyndes two,
That in contrarie stonden evere mo.
Allas! what is this wondre maladie?
For hete of cold, for cold of hete, I dye.

My Middle English is not the best but Troilus is questioning love and his life after he feels that he has been betrayed by Criseyde.   Troilus begins by wondering, “If there is no love, God, what do I feel?” His perception of love is supposed to be positive but all he can express is pain. “If love is good, then from where comes my woe? Why do I thirst for it?” “Why does he wail and feel plaintive”

It’s a internal question about the pangs of love, and how it manifests itself so deep within us.  Troilus begins by wondering, paraphrased for your convenience, “If there is no love, God, what do I feel?”  Moving on with the assumption that it is love, he wants to know, “what thing and which” is love?  Love is thought of as positive, but Troilus feels pain from it.  “If love is good, then from where comes my woe?  If it’s wicked, why do I find its torments savory, why do I thirst for it?”  It’s the question we all ask:  “Why does love hurt if it’s good, why do I want it so badly, why can I not live without it?”  He feels like he is rudderless boat out at sea being tossed to and fro.  The poem is full of adjectives comparing love and pain.  He is feels he is dying in the heat and it is cold.  Here is a link to hear the video read.

Chaucer borrowed some of the feelings expressed in this song from Petrarch’s S’amor non e, che dunque e quel ch’io sento.  Here is Petrarch’s version:

What do I feel if this is not love?
But if it is love, God, what thing is this?
If good, why this effect: bitter, mortal?
If bad, then why is every suffering sweet?

If I desire to burn, why tears and grief?
If my state’s evil, what’s the use of grieving?
O living death, O delightful evil,
how can you be in me so, if I do not consent?

And if I consent, I am greatly wrong in sorrowing.
Among conflicting winds in a frail boat
I find myself on the deep sea without a helm,

so light in knowledge, so laden with error,
that I do not know what I wish myself,
and tremble in midsummer, burn in winter.

While I was reading both poems, a song from Haddaway came to mind. I have included a link to video and the lyrics are

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

Oh baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me
No more
What is love?
Yeah

No, I don’t know why you’re not fair
I give you my love, but you don’t care
So what is right and what is wrong?
Gimme a sign

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh

Oh, I don’t know, what can I do?
What else can I say? It’s up to you
I know we’re one, just me and you
I can’t go on

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh

What is love?
What is love?
What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

Don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me

I want no other, no other lover
This is our life, our time
If we are together, I need you forever
Is it love?

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more
Yeah, yeah

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, oh, oh

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more

What is love?
Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more (whoa, whoa)

Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more (whoa, whoa)

Oh baby, don’t hurt me
Don’t hurt me
No more
What is love?

In conclusion, Chaucer and Petrarch are posing the question that we are still questioning today.  What is love and why does it have to hurt so bad when it is wrong?  We are afflicted with a deep, uncontrollable thirst that leaves us wanting more.

Michelle Stone