Medieval English Poetry
The Isle of Ladies
15th century, Middle English: 16th century manuscript copies at the British Library and Longleat House, Wiltshire, England.
There were no men to be seen on this glass island, only women of such grace and beauty that they seemed to be more than human, more than mortal.
When Flora, the Quene of Pleasaunce, had hol acheved th' obessiaunce of the freshe and new season, – When Flora, the Queen of beauty, had gained the obedience of the fresh new season everywhere, and with her green mantle had covered that which winter had uncovered, I lay alone, by chance, one dark night, and thought about my lady, and how the Lord who made her had done such a fine job! And in my thoughts, as I lay in a hunting lodge deep in the forest beside a spring, I more than dreamed that I was whisked away to another place, perhaps by a spirit, I wasn’t sure, for it seemed as though I was not dreaming. And I wish you could experience the pain and joy that I did, for it would make your heart feel good! And I shall record what I saw, and what I felt, in plain English; and please excuse the lack of polish, but hear what I shall conclude.
One night in a forest, beside a lake, I slept or woke, I know not which, to find myself on an island where everything about me was made of glass and so difficult to gain entry to that it would be impossible without permission; a weird place, a place of marvelously ornate buildings, carved in the shapes of birds and flowers. There were no men to be seen, only women, and women of such grace and beauty that they seemed to be more than human, more than mortal –
for to beholde hem daunce and singe, hit semed like none earthely thinge. They were all of the same age, except for one who appeared old enough to be past all singing and dancing, although she seemed to be just as happy as all the young ladies around her and appeared to be the mistress of them all. And these young ladies’ beauty would never diminish –
ther beawte shuld dure, wiche was never seen in creature, save only ther, as I trow, hit hathe not be wist ne know. An enduring beauty, possessed by no other creature I believe, nor found in any other place and never seen or known of before.