Chrétien de Troyes
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved.
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
- Lines 1-44 Chrétien’s Introduction
- Lines 45-134 Alexander’s audience with the emperor
- Lines 135-168 Alexander scorns a life of idleness
- Lines 169-234 The emperor speaks in praise of generosity
- Lines 235-338 The journey to the court of King Arthur
- Lines 339-384 Arthur accepts Alexander’s request to join his court
- Lines 385-440 Arthur sets out for Brittany
- Lines 441-540 Soredamors and the pains of love
- Lines 541-574 The queen fails to detect the signs of love
- Lines 575-872 Alexander in love
- Lines 873-1046 Soredamors in love
- Lines 1047-1066 Arthur is advised of unrest in England
- Lines 1067-1092 The king gathers his knights together
- Lines 1093-1146 Arthur agrees to knight Alexander and his men
- Lines 1147-1196 The queen’s gift of a shirt
- Lines 1197-1260 The traitor retreats from London to Windsor
- Lines 1261-1348 The fight at the ford
- Lines 1349-1418 Soredamors debates how to address Alexander
- Lines 1419-1448 Arthur’s judgement on the traitors
- Lines 1449-1472 Arthur promises Alexander a kingdom.
- Lines 1473-1490 The army mobilises
- Lines 1491-1514 The army crosses the Thames
- Lines 1515-1552 The assault on the town begins
- Lines 1553-1712 More of the lovers; and a night attack on the camp
- Lines 1713-1858 Alexander at the battle before Windsor
Lines 1-44 Chrétien’s Introduction
HE who wrote Érec and Énide;
And Ovid’s commands, indeed,
All in French, the Art of Love;
Wrote the Shoulder-Bite; and of
King Mark and Iseult the Fair;
And the metamorphosis rare
Of lapwing, swallow, nightingale;
Here will begin another tale,
Of a youth who in Greece did dwell,
Of Arthur’s lineage he, as well.
But before I speak of him here,
Of his father’s life shall you hear.
Whence he came, and his lineage,
He was bold and of such courage,
That, winning fame being his intent,
He from Greece to England went,
Which was known as Britain then.
This tale, which I’ll tell you again,
We find inscribed, for all to see,
In a book in the library
Of Lord St Peter at Beauvais;
From it comes a story, told today,
Which history witnesses as true,
The better to be believed by you.
For from those books we possess
We learn of ancient deeds no less,
And of those centuries gone by.
Our books inform us then, say I,
That Greece gained supremacy
In learning, and in chivalry:
Chivalry, it passed to Rome;
As for high learning, its home
Is now established in France.
God grant that it may advance,
And be so welcomed, on our part,
That from France shall ne’er depart
The honour now lodged with us.
For God once granted it to others,
Yet the Greeks and Romans none
Remember, for their age is done,
Quenched are the glowing embers…
Lines 45-134 Alexander’s audience with the emperor
CHRÉTIEN now begins the story,
As the book recounts the history,
By telling of a mighty emperor,
Possessed of wealth, and honour,
And Greece and Constantinople.
His empress, both wise and noble,
Had borne the emperor two sons
Such greatness showing in the one,
Before the birth of his brother,
That, if he had wished, the elder
Could well have become a knight,
And ruled the empire as of right.
The elder’s name was Alexander,
And Alis that of the younger.
Alexander named for the father,
While Tantalis was their mother.
Less time to empress Tantalis,
And to the emperor, and Alis,
I will devote than Alexander.
On Alexander I shall linger,
Who, proud and strong in might,
Scorned to become a knight
In Greece, in his own region.
Now, he had heard mention,
Of King Arthur and his reign,
And the lords he did maintain
In his company, in those days,
So his court was feared always,
And famous in every country.
Whatever the event might be,
Whatever fortune might await,
Nothing made him hesitate
In his intent to go to Britain.
But he must seek permission
From his father if he would go
To Britain, and Cornwall also.
In order then his leave to win,
With the emperor he must begin.
Alexander, the brave and fair,
Goes thus to the emperor
To tell him of his fond desire:
‘I ask, dear father, for a favour,
So that I might win great honour,
And I request you grant it me,
And that you do so promptly,
If, that is, you are so willing.’
The emperor considers nothing
Ill can come of such a favour;
Rather feels his son’s honour
Is something he should covet.
Thinks it must surely profit
Them. Thinks it? Twill do so,
If his son’s honour doth grow.
‘Fair son,’ he said, ‘I will grant
Your wish, now say, this instant,
What is it you’d have me do?’
Winning what he asks, the youth,
Is delighted to have all granted,
Without declaring all he wanted,
Or saying where he desired to go.
‘Sire,’ he said, ‘would you know
What, but now, you promised me?
I would have, of your treasury,
A pile of gold, silver, and then
Comrades from among your men,
Whom I may choose as I desire;
And issue forth from your empire,
To go and offer my service to,
The king who does Britain rule,
So he might dub me a knight.
I will never wear armour bright,
No helm on head, I swear to you,
A single day, my whole life through,
Unless King Arthur shall deign
To gird on my sword; in vain
Shall any other offer armour.’
Without a pause, the emperor
Replied: ‘By God, say not so!
This country shall be yours also,
And Constantinople the wealthy;
Fault not my generosity,
When such a gift I give to you.
So tomorrow I shall crown you,
Dub you a knight of these lands.
All Greece will be in your hands,
And you’ll receive from our lords
As indeed you should, the award
Of their allegiance, a fair prize.
Whoever scorns this is not wise.’
Lines 135-168 Alexander scorns a life of idleness
THE youth, though led to know
That after mass, on the morrow,
His father would dub him knight,
Insists he’ll seek, wrong or right,
Another country than his own:
‘If your promise you’d not disown,
And grant me all I have declared,
Give me robes, furs, grey and vair,
Silken cloth, and handsome steeds,
For before I might be dubbed indeed
A knight, King Arthur I must serve;
My powers are such I’d not deserve,
To bear armour as yet, at his court.
None will turn me from the thought,
Neither by flattery nor by prayer,
That I’m required to journey there,
To that far country, to see the king
And his lords, of whom men sing,
Famed for their skill and courtesy.
For many the man of high degree
Fails to win what he might secure,
Were he into the world to venture.
Inaction and glory, it seems to me,
Ill suit each other, being contrary,
For the rich man idle all his days
Can add but little to his praise:
Sloth and fame are too diverse.
He is a slave to wealth, or worse,
Who spends his life in hoarding.
Given strength, if fate is willing,
I would apply it all, dear father,
To winning fame, by my labour.’
Lines 169-234 The emperor speaks in praise of generosity
AT these words, the emperor though,
Feels no doubt both joy and sorrow;
Joy on knowing his son’s intent
All on winning honour is bent,
But sorrow, on the other hand,
That he departs for another land.
But given the promise he has made,
And despite the woe he’ll not evade,
On him tis incumbent to agree.
An emperor must show consistency.
‘Fair son,’ he said, ‘I must not fail,
For I see the honour it doth entail,
To grant you whatever you please.
From my treasure you may seize
Two barges full of gold and silver,
But take care to be generous ever,
Behaving well and with courtesy.’
Now the youth is more than happy,
That his father promises so much,
Opens his treasury to him, as such,
Honours him so with his command
To dispense largesse, on every hand,
While giving the reason for it freely:
‘Fair son,’ as he said, ‘believe me,
Generosity ever proves the queen,
Virtue illuminates with her sheen,
Which is not hard for me to show;
Where is there any that you know,
With great power or riches blessed,
That is not blamed for meanness?
Or, lacking in every other grace,
Yet is for generosity praised?
For largesse makes the gentleman,
Which in truth naught else can,
Not birth, knowledge, courtesy
Possessions, or gentility,
Nor strength, nor even chivalry,
Nor skill, nor great authority,
Beauty, or some other thing;
But just as tis the rose we sing,
As lovelier than other flowers,
Freshest blown, in fairest hours,
So where largesse is sought
Above all virtues it holds court.
And in a man the good it finds
Is multiplied five hundred times,
Should he acquit himself right well.
Such its merit I could not tell
You half of generosity’s worth.’
The young man now goes forth,
Possessed of all that he desired,
Having, from his generous sire,
All he requested now received.
Yet the empress is much grieved,
When she hears of the journey
Her son intends, yet whoever he
May cause grief and sorrow for,
Or thinks it youthful folly, or
Blames him, seeking to dissuade,
Nonetheless his plans are made,
His ships to be readied straight,
Since he could no longer wait,
Or stay departure from the land,
And that night, at his command,
To be freighted, the whole fleet,
With biscuit, wine and meat.
Lines 235-338 The journey to the court of King Arthur
THE ships were loaded in harbour,
And, the next morning, Alexander,
In high spirits visits the strand;
With companions on either hand,
Delighted at the coming voyage.
They were escorted at each stage,
By the empress and the emperor.
Below the cliffs, in the harbour,
The ships fully-manned are seen.
The sea presents a tranquil scene,
The breeze gentle, the sky serene.
Farewells are exchanged between
Himself, his father and mother,
Her heart being heavy inside her.
Alexander is the first to enter
The skiff, then his vessel after;
His companions quitting shore,
In groups of two or three or more,
Seek to embark without delay,
The sails are set, anchors weighed,
And now the fleet is poised to leave.
Those left behind duly grieve
At the departure of those who go,
The ships with their eyes they follow,
While they are able so to do.
And so as to extend their view,
And gaze at them even longer,
They all climb the path together
That leads to a hill above the sea.
From there they gaze mournfully.
As long as the ships are in sight;
Sadly their eyes on them alight,
Concerned for them all, hoping
That God will to safe haven bring
The youths without risk or peril!
They were at sea for all of April
And the larger part of May,
Without danger or much dismay,
Reaching Southampton harbour.
That day, between none and vespers,
They cast anchor and went ashore.
The young men had never before
Known the discomfort of so long
A voyage, and were pale and wan,
The strongest and the healthiest
Appearing weak and frail at best.
Nevertheless they spoke joyfully
Of having escaped from the sea,
And arrived at that selfsame place.
Because of their grievous state,
At Southampton they remain
That night, their joy maintain,
Enquiring, on every hand,
If the king is in England.
He is at Winchester men say,
And they too, early next day,
If they rise at morning light
And keep to the road aright.
The young men rise at dawn,
Ready themselves to be gone,
And once they are prepared
From Southampton repair,
Riding along till, by and by,
Winchester they come nigh,
Where the king has his court.
The Greeks are there before
The hour of prime that day.
They dismount right away.
The squires and horses stay
In the yard below, while they
Ascend the steps to behold
The finest king the world holds,
And ever was, or ere shall be.
When Arthur doth them see,
They all greatly delight him.
But before they approach him
Their cloaks they swiftly shed,
Lest they are thought ill-bred.
Thus, their cloaks discarding,
They arrive before the king.
All the knights admired them,
For the young men pleased them,
Being handsome and courtly,
And thus they took them to be
The sons of kings or counts,
As they were, by all accounts;
Very handsome for their years,
And well-formed they appeared;
And the robes they now wore
Were all of one cloth and colour,
Cut to the same shape and design.
Twelve beside their lord align,
Of whom I shall say no other
Than of them none was finer,
Yet modest, calm in everything;
He stood uncloaked before the king,
All fine and handsome, in short.
He knelt before the king and court,
And, for love of him, his men
Did all kneel beside him then.
Lines 339-384 Arthur accepts Alexander’s request to join his court
ALEXANDER salutes the king;
His tongue is skilled in speaking
Both nobly and wisely too:
‘King,’ says he, ‘if all be true
In the reports beneath my hand,
Then since God created man,
There was never a king before
With such grandeur as is yours.
King, the renown you have won,
Has led me to your court anon,
To serve and to honour you;
And I would remain here too
And so be dubbed a knight
If I should serve you aright,
By your hand and by no other;
And if you grant not that honour,
I’ll not be acclaimed a knight.
If my service doth you delight
Enough to grant me this thing,
Retain me here, gracious king,
And my companions also.’
The king’s reply came not slow:
‘Friend, I’ll not say no to thee,
Neither thee nor thy company;
But welcome be to one and all,
For ye seem, both one and all,
To be of noble men the sons;
From whence?’ ‘From Greece we come.’
‘From Greece.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And thy father?’
‘By my faith, sire, is the emperor.’
‘And what is thy name, fair friend?’
‘Alexander was I so christened,
And holy salt and oil received,
Baptism, and Christianity.’
‘Alexander, most willingly,
Dear friend, shall I retain thee,
With utmost joy and pleasure,
For thou dost me great honour
In coming thus to my court.
I’d have thee honoured in aught,
As vassals, true, wise, and free;
Thou art too long upon thy knees:
Rise again, as I now demand,
And, from this hour, command
My court here and my person,
To a fair haven art thou come.’
Lines 385-440 Arthur sets out for Brittany
THEN the Greeks rose, delighted
That the king had thus invited
Them in such a manner to stay;
Alexander had done well that day.
He now lacks nothing he desires,
Nor is a lord there, it transpires,
Who does not welcome him here.
He, who never too proud appears,
Nor vaunts himself in boastful strain,
Becomes acquainted with Lord Gawain,
And with the other lords, one by one,
And is well-received by everyone;
But my lord Gawain likes him so,
He is his friend and comrade also.
The Greeks now lodge in the town,
With a burgher of good renown,
In the finest lodgings anywhere.
Alexander had transported there
Rich goods from Constantinople;
For to obey the emperor’s counsel,
Above all, was his great intent;
That all his efforts should be bent
On giving, with an open hand,
Such was the emperor’s command.
Therefore he took the greatest care,
To maintain fine lodgings there,
Giving and spending liberally,
As is proper among the wealthy,
And as his heart counselled too.
The whole court wonders, true,
Where he got such riches, for he
Grants fine mounts to all he sees,
Horses he brought from out his land.
Such are those tasks, on every hand,
That, in their service, he has done,
The king treats him with affection,
As does the queen, and all others.
Now, at this time, King Arthur
Desired to voyage to Brittany,
And his knights, in full assembly,
He gathered, their counsel to seek
As to who for him might speak,
In his absence, and rule England,
To guard and maintain the land.
By the counsel gathered together,
The task was given to none other
It seems than Angres of Windsor,
For they considered none truer,
And no more loyal a count living
In the wide realms of the king.
Once the rule lay in those hands,
They sail, at the king’s command,
With the queen, and all her ladies.
They heard the news in Brittany,
Of the king’s and his lords’ coming,
And met it with great rejoicing.
Lines 441-540 Soredamors and the pains of love
NO youth or maid doth embark
To sail in King Arthur’s barque,
Apart from Alexander alone,
And one of the queen’s own
Maids, named Soredamors,
Who was disdainful of Amor;
For she had never heard tell of
Any man she might deign to love,
Whatever his beauty or prowess,
Or power, or birth; nevertheless
This maid was so lovely and fair,
She might have learned anywhere
All the manner and ways of Love,
If it had pleased her such to prove;
Yet she never granted Love leave.
Now Love will make her grieve,
And take revenge on her, I own,
For her pride, and the scorn shown
By her to Amor, every day.
Love has turned his bow her way,
And pierced her with his arrow,
Oft she’s pale, oft in sorrow,
And is in love despite herself.
She can scarce prevent herself
From gazing now on Alexander;
Yet must hide it from her brother,
Beware of him, my lord Gawain.
Dearly she pays, atones in pain,
For all her pride and her disdain.
Love has heated a bath, her bane,
That warms her, yet causes harm,
Now a wound, and now the balm,
Now to be wished, and now refused.
Her eyes themselves she accused:
‘You, my eyes, have betrayed me,
You’ve turned my heart against me,
Which used to be so true indeed,
But now I’m grieved by what I see.
Grieved? Nay, it pleases utterly.
And if I see what is grief to me,
Can I then not master my sight?
My powers must then be slight,
Such that I am to be despised,
If I cannot so command my eyes,
As to turn my gaze elsewhere.
I can so guard myself, I aver,
From Amor, who’d control me:
Heart’s unhurt, if eyes don’t see.
No harm will come if I gaze not,
Nor pleas or requests have I got:
If he aims not, shall I take aim?
If his beauty my eyes doth claim,
And my eyes accept the same,
Shall I for that kindle a flame?
Nay, for that would be to lie.
He should not blame me, say I,
No more have I a right to moan:
None can love by the eyes alone.
And where is their criminality,
If they gaze at what pleases me?
Where the sin, whose the fall?
Should I blame them? Not at all.
Who then? Myself, their guard.
There is naught my eyes regard
Unless it doth my heart delight.
Nor should my heart think right
Aught that brings unhappiness.
Yet its desire yields me distress.
Distress? Then I am stark mad,
If what it wants makes me sad.
Desire, that harms me, to ban
I should attempt if I only can.
If I can? Mad fool, confess:
Little the power that I possess
If over myself I have no power!
Does Love set me, at this hour,
On a path where I’m sent astray?
Let him tempt others that way,
But I for him gave never a sigh,
I’ll not be his, nor ever was I,
Nor will I seek his friendship.’
So with herself she’s in conflict,
Now love speaks, and now hate.
Such is her doubt in this debate,
She knows not what path to take:
A defence against love to make,
Or pursue her love for another?
God, she knows not Alexander
Is thinking of her, for his part!
Amor equally grants each heart
Such a share as to it falls due.
He treats each of them fairly too,
Each loves and desires the other,
And if each knew, of that other,
What was the other’s true desire,
Here is a right true love entire!
But her wish he could not guess,
Nor she the cause of his distress.
Lines 541-574 The queen fails to detect the signs of love
THE queen takes note of them,
Who, oft, in considering them,
Finds them blanched and pale.
She knows not why they ail,
What the true cause might be,
Except this voyaging by sea.
I think she would have guessed
If not for what I now suggest,
That the presence of the sea
Blinded her to love, utterly;
They are at sea, all too real
Is the bitter pain they feel.
Of the three; the sea, love, pain;
On the sea she puts the blame.
For love and pain both accuse
The sea, which is their excuse,
And held to be the guilty party;
As the innocent, we often see,
Are blamed for another’s sin.
On the sea the queen doth pin
All the guilt, and all the shame.
But she was wrong to blame
The sea which proves guiltless;
Soredamors was in distress
Still, when they’d reached port.
As for the king, as all report,
The Bretons right joyfully
Welcomed him, and willingly
Served him as their liege lord.
Of Arthur I will say no more,
Nor of his deeds, in this place.
Rather shall you hear me trace
How they’re troubled by Amor,
Those on whom he wages war.
Lines 575-872 Alexander in love
FOR her Alexander loves and sighs,
She who for love of his form dies;
Yet he knows and will know it not
Until great grief has proved his lot,
And many a pain he has suffered.
For love of her the queen he served
Faithfully, and the maids in waiting,
But her of whom he’s ever thinking
He dare not speak to or address.
And if she but dared to express
The right she thinks to possess,
Willingly she would so confess,
But she dare not, must not rather;
Of what each detects in the other,
They cannot speak, nor can they act.
Yet such works perversely, in fact,
Increases and inflames their love.
All such lovers this matter prove:
With gazing they feast their eyes,
If nothing more can be realised,
And think, because that pleases so
From which their loth doth grow,
That it must help, though it harm,
Just as those who seek to warm
Themselves at a fire, burn more
Than those who the flames ignore.
This love waxes and grows greater,
Yet each seems shy of the other,
So much is secret and concealed,
Neither flame nor smoke’s revealed
From the coals beneath the embers.
Yet the fire no less heat renders,
For those coals no cooler prove
Beneath the embers than above.
Both of them are in great anguish,
Yet so none knows of their wish
Norr their trouble doth perceive,
Both are forced to deceive,
By feigning and self-restraint,
Yet at night issues the plaint,
That alone each doth create.
Of Alexander first I’ll state
How he complains and vents
His grief. For Love presents
She who prompts his distress,
Who stole his heart no less,
To mind, grants no rest at all;
For with delight he doth recall
Her beauty, and her sweet aspect,
She whom he doth not expect
Ever to bring him any good.
‘Mad, I hold myself, and should,
He says: ‘For truly, so I must be,
Who my thoughts dare not speak,
Though that proves worse for me.
I have set my thoughts on folly.
Better that I conceal my thought
Than be called a fool for naught.
What I wish then will be hidden?
Concealing what grieves me then,
Shall I not dare to seek succour
For whatever brings me sorrow?
A fool is he who for his grief
Seeks no healing and no relief,
If he can find them somewhere.
Yet many seek for their welfare
By chasing after what they wish
Who find but sorrow at the finish.
And he who of health despairs,
Why seek for counsel anywhere?
All such effort would be in vain.
I feel the cause of all my pain.
Is such that I cannot be healed
By any herb the earth doth yield,
By root, or draught, or medicine.
We find not a cure for everything.
My wound lies so deep within
For this there is no medicine.
What none? I think I tell a lie.
When first I felt this illness, I
Might, if I had dared to speak,
Have found it possible to seek
One who might have treated me;
And yet would only reproach me,
And I doubt would attend on me,
Nor would ever accept the fee.
No wonder then if I’m dismayed,
I am sick indeed, yet cannot say
What malady now grips me,
Nor whence comes this misery.
Cannot? I can. I think I know:
Amor hath dealt me this blow.
What? Can Amor bring care,
Who is so gentle and debonair?
For I used to think there naught
In him, but goodness brought.
Yet find him filled with enmity,
Only those that know him see
All the tricks that he doth play.
A fool is he who’ll with him stay;
He always seeks to wound his own;
By God, his tricks are all ill-sown.
It is poor sport to play with him,
I think he’d harm me, on a whim.
What shall I do? Should I retreat?
I think indeed that might be meet,
But know not how it might be done.
If he chides and chastens me anon
In order to deliver his teaching,
Should I disdain his preaching?
He’s a fool disdains his master.
I should keep and cherish rather
All Love doth teach and preach:
Great delight I might thus reach.
Yet he strikes me, I’m in dismay –
Without wound or blow this day,
Doth thou complain? In error surely? –
Nay, he hurt me so profoundly
That his arrow pierced my heart,
Nor has he yet retrieved his dart. –
How did he pierce thy body when
No wound hath appeared to open?
Tell me now, for I wish to pry!
How did he enter? – Through the eye. –
Through the eye? Both are whole! –
Because the eyes were not his goal,
For the pain I have is in my heart. –
Then tell me why if Love’s dart
Passed through the eye it is not
Blinded, or some wound has got?
If it entered through the eye, again,
Why doth the heart then complain?
When the eye itself does not do so,
Yet it received the very first blow? –
Herewith, I can the reason share,
The eye is in no manner aware,
Nor influences anything other,
But acts as the heart’s mirror;
In and out that mirror do pass
Without wounding or trespass,
The flames that fire the heart.
Is not the heart set there apart,
Just as a lighted candle is set
Within a lantern, shining yet?
If the candle’s removed quite,
Then the lantern gives no light.
But while the candle is alight
So the lantern repels the night,
And the flame that shines within
Does no harm, commits no sin.
Furthermore, a piece of glass,
Strong and solid, will let pass
A ray of sunlight, that on it falls
Without causing it harm at all;
Yet will never a scene transmit
Unless that light illumines it,
Enabling one to see the view.
Know this same thing to be true,
Of eye, and lantern, and glass.
Light through the eye doth pass,
Where the heart is accustomed to
See itself mirrored, and the view:
Many a diverse shape, and hue,
Here a green, there dark blue,
Here a crimson, there violet,
Some it likes, some scorns as yet,
Some holds vile, and others dear:
Yet many things do fair appear
When perceived in that glass,
Which deceive the heart alas.
I and mine were so deceived,
For my heart there perceived
A ray by which I was smitten,
Which, within it, did brighten,
And thereby, my heart fails me;
A dear friend, it treats me badly,
And for my enemies deserts me.
Accuse it I might, of felony,
For great wrong has it done me.
Three friends I thought to see,
My heart, and my two eyes both,
Yet it seems that me they loathe.
By God, who will my friend be,
If these three prove my enemy,
Who are mine, and yet my death?
My servants scorn me, at a breath,
And do exactly as they please,
Without considering my ease.
I know this saying to be true,
From these who wrong me, too,
That a good man’s love may perish
Through bad servants he doth nourish.
Whoever bad servants tolerates,
Will weep for it, soon or late;
They’ll not fail to break his heart.
Now I will tell you how the dart,
That came into my possession,
The arrow, is made and fashioned.
But I fear that I may fail to do so,
For the fashioning of it is all so
Subtle, no marvel if I fail.
Yet I’ll endure whate’er travail
It takes to tell how it appears:
Nock and fleches fit so near
Naught can separate the pair
But the mere breadth of a hair,
As if they were made to mate;
The nock smooth and straight
It might be employed with no
Alteration, for aught I know.
The fletches are of that hue,
As if they were gilded anew,
But gilded will scarcely do,
For the flights, and this is true,
Than any gold are yet more fair;
The flights are of golden hair,
I saw on board the other day;
This the dart that doth me slay.
God what a treasure to possess!
He whom this prize might bless
How could he countenance envy
For aught else that he might see?
For my part, this oath I offer,
That I could desire no other.
I’d not lose nock and feathers
For Antioch and all its treasures.
And given I prize both those two,
Who could estimate the value
Of what lies beyond them there;
All that is so sweet and fair,
All that is so good and precious,
That I am eager and desirous,
Of gazing once again, outright,
On a brow God made so bright
Naught is peer to it, not glass,
Nor emerald, even, nor topaz?
Yet that brow cannot out-vie
The clear brightness of her eye.
He who of her eyes hath sight,
Thinks twin candles are alight.
And whose lips have the grace
And talent, to describe her face,
So well-formed, the clear visage,
Where, as rose and lily engage,
The rose doth the lily control,
To better illuminate the whole?
Or into speech her lips distil
God created, with such skill
None can gaze on them awhile
Without thinking that they smile?
And behind those lips the teeth
So closely set, above, beneath,
They seem to be formed as one,
Where, to enhance her person,
Nature has added a touch of art,
To be seen when those lips part,
And all suppose the teeth to be
Formed of pale silver or ivory.
There would be so much to say
If every feature I would portray
In regard to her chin, or ears,
No great wonder if it appear
Some little thing I fail to note.
I’ll simply say of her throat,
Than crystal it is far brighter;
The flesh is four times whiter,
Forming her neck, than ivory.
Just so much there I could see,
Visibly, of her naked breast,
And what was bare, I attest,
Was whiter than the driven snow.
I had assuaged all my sorrow
Had I viewed the shaft entire,
If I had, I might then aspire
Most willingly, to enlighten you
As to its nature, and speak true,
But I did not, nor am I guilty
Of relating what I did not see.
At that time Love showed me
The nock and the flights only.
For in its quiver was the arrow,
In, that is, the shift and robe,
Which clothed the maid, I say.
By God, this the ill that slays,
The dart, by which I’m made
All too wretchedly enraged;
A wretch am I to be so disturbed.
Never a straw shall be stirred,
By mistrust, or quarrel thereby,
Never, between Amor and I.
Now let him do with me as he
Does with his own; willingly,
For I wish it, and it pleases me.
Never, I hope, may this malady
Leave me, but remain forever;
And let health return, if ever,
Only if it rise from the same
Source whence the illness came.
Lines 873-1046 Soredamors in love
GREAT was Alexander’s murmur,
But no less does the maiden utter
Her like complaint, without rest,
Finding herself in great distress,
And wins no sleep all that night.
Amor within her heart doth fight,
Wages a battle that doth molest,
And greatly disturb her breast.
It causes such anguish and pain,
She weeps and doth complain,
Tosses and turns, to no avail,
So that her heart almost fails.
And when she has thus moaned,
And has sobbed so, and groaned,
And tossed about so, and sighed,
Then she considers, deep inside,
What manner of man he might be
For whom Love sends her misery.
And when she has eased her pain
By seeking all of this to explain,
She stretches herself, turns about,
And thinks it folly, nary a doubt,
All the pain and thought she had.
Then she takes a course less sad,
Saying: ‘Fool, what do I care
If he is well-born and debonair,
Wise, and courteous, and brave?
All that is to his honour, the knave.
And as for his beauty what care I?
Let his beauty, with him, go by.
Yet if it do, tis despite my wish,
For I’d not see him lose by this.
Lose? Nay, I’d not wish aught gone.
If he had the wisdom of Solomon,
And Nature had granted the man
All the beauty and more she can
On the human form ever bestow,
And God granted me power so
Great that I might eclipse it all,
I would not wish such to befall.
But I’d make him, if I knew how,
Wiser and fairer still, I vow.
By my faith, him I cannot hate.
Am I then his friend? No, wait;
No more am I than any other’s.
Why on him more than another,
Dwell, if he’s no more pleasing?
I know not: all seems confusing.
I’ve never thought so much, I’m sure,
On any man in this world before.
For I wish to see him every day,
And never turn my eyes away;
Seeing him gives such delight.
Can this be love? Well it might.
My sighs to him I’d not address,
Did I not love him above the rest.
So, I love him. Now, tis agreed.
Then I may do whate’er I please.
True, if by him it is not denied!
Oh, my intention is ill-advised;
Yet Love seized me so utterly,
I am beside myself with folly.
No defence will help me aught,
If I must suffer Love’s assault.
And I have acted so prudently,
Defended myself so carefully,
Was never to his will aligned,
Yet now appear only too kind.
What mercy would Love show
To me if my service, though,
And my goodwill were denied?
By force he humbles my pride,
And I must act at his pleasure.
Now I’d love, now he is master;
Now Love will teach me…What?
I must serve aright but, as to that,
Of all his teachings I’m apprised,
In his service, I’m already wise;
None could find fault with me.
Of more learning I’ve no need.
Love would wish, so would I,
That I am wise, without pride,
And approachable and kind,
For one alone I have in mind.
Love all then for the sake of one?
I should be pleasant to everyone,
But Love does not require of me
That I am a true lover to all I see.
Love teaches only what is fine.
Not for nothing this name is mine,
Of Soredamors, for I must be
In love, that loved I should be,
For I’ll prove by my own name
That Love is found in that same.
Something, then, is signified
By the first part, here inside,
Displaying the colour of gold;
The finest is golden I’m told.
I like my name all the better,
In that within it is the colour
The purest of ores possesses;
And the latter part expresses
Love; whoever addresses me,
By my name, stirs Amor in me:
And the one part gilds the other
With its bright golden colour,
And therefore doth Soredamors
Mean ‘turned to gold by Amor’.
A layer of gold is not so fine
As that which on me do shine.
Greatly has Love honoured me,
With his own self gilding me.
And so I shall take great care
To show his gold everywhere
And complain of Love never.
Now I love, and will forever.
Whom? True, a fine question!
Amor will give me direction,
For none other will I love so.
What care he, if he doth not know?
If I myself do not so advise?
What future, if I do not apprise
Him of it; who aught require
Must request what they desire.
What, must I of him request
Love? No. Why? Has ever yet
Woman pursued such a plan,
Requesting love of any man,
Except she showed great folly?
Folly were mine then, certainly,
If I were a matter so to broach
That would earn me reproach;
If he learnt it from me, I mean,
He’d hold me in low esteem,
And would reproach me for
Soliciting his love, I’m sure.
May love act never so basely
As to see me act prematurely
And lower myself in his eyes.
God, how will he be apprised
Of love, since I cannot speak?
As yet I have no reason to seek
Him out, I’ve barely suffered,
I’ll wait till he has gathered,
The truth, for I’ll not tell it.
He is surely bound to see it,
If he’s ever met with Amor,
Or heard aught of him before.
Heard? A foolish thing to say.
Love offers not so easy a way
That by hearing we grow wise
Without experience to advise.
For I learnt, I know it well,
Naught, as far as I can tell,
From eloquence or flattery,
Though in that school you see
I’ve been flattered many a day.
And yet I stood aloof always.
My punishment: I know love now
More than the ox doth the plough.
But one thing I’d hate to prove:
That he has never been in love.
If he loves not, nor has ever
Been in love, I’ll seek forever
To sow seed where none will grow,
In the sea, or in the embers’ glow.
Now I must suffer until I see
Whether I can draw him to me
By hints and verbal subtlety,
Until he knows with certainty
That I love him, and may dare
To ask me. So, no more despair.
For I love him; his will I be.
I’ll love him if he loves not me.’
‘For I love him; his will I be. I’ll love him if he loves not me’
Idylls of the King (p108, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Lines 1047-1066 Arthur is advised of unrest in England
THUS they complained, he and she,
Unknown to each other, privately;
By day unhappy, by night worse;
And this distress they rehearsed
Some length of time in Brittany,
Till summer had vanished wholly.
At the very beginning of October
Messengers arrived from Dover,
Sent from London and Canterbury,
Bearing news to the king that he
Thought most troubling indeed.
The messengers advised that he
Might stay too long in Brittany;
He whom he thought trustworthy,
Who of his realm had command,
Had summoned up a warlike band
Of his vassals, and his friends,
And would London so defend
The city would rebel, they learn,
At the hour of the king’s return.
Lines 1067-1092 The king gathers his knights together
WHEN the king heard their news,
He summoned his knights anew,
And, full of discontent, the better
To rouse them to seize the traitor,
Cried that they were, upon his life,
The cause of this trouble and strife,
And that it was their fault entirely,
For it was on their advice that he
Had entrusted all his realm to one
Who now proved worse than Ganelon.
And there was not a single knight
Who did not think him in the right,
For he had followed their counsel.
The man must be outlawed; well
You may know this, for a surety,
There was never a town or city
Would prevent the traitor’s body
Being dragged forth and forcibly.
And so they all assured the king
Swore on oath, they would bring
Him that traitor to his kingdom,
Or would sacrifice their fiefdoms.
The king, throughout all Brittany
Has it proclaimed, full widely,
None who bears arms can stay,
But must follow him that day.
Lines 1093-1146 Arthur agrees to knight Alexander and his men
ALL of Brittany now was stirred.
Never had there been seen or heard
Such an army as Arthur gathered.
And when the fleet sailed together
It seemed a whole world set to sea;
The waves they swelled invisibly
All the vessels covered them so.
There will be war; that we know.
And by the commotion it seemed
With all Brittany the waves teemed.
Now the fleet has crossed the sea,
And all the swiftly gathered army
Are there encamped upon the shore.
Alexander thought to go before
The king, and ask him outright
If he would dub him a knight.
For in that land he doth aspire
That signal honour to acquire.
He takes his companions along,
Driven by what spurs him on,
To achieve what is in his mind.
Before the king’s tent they find
The king seated there, and he,
Seeing the Greeks, instantly
Summons them to him, and says:
‘Gentlemen, come, without delay
Tell me what brings you here?
Alexander for all speaks clear,
And tells the king of his wish.
‘I come,’ he says, ‘to request this,
As I should, of my liege lord,
My men and I being in accord,
That you do make us knights.’
The king replies: ‘With delight,
I grant it, and with no delay,
Since you request it this day.’
At his command, to the king
Arms for thirteen they bring.
Then, again at his command,
Each by his share doth stand;
The king grants each his need,
Fine armour, and a fine steed.
Each man receives his own.
His twelve men are as one,
In arms, clothing and steed,
But Alexander’s share indeed
Proves of greater value still
And if it were sold might well
Be worth the twelve together.
They undress beside the water,
And bathe and wash in the sea,
Not asking that any vessel be
Heated for them, this they dub
Their bath, all the sea their tub.
Lines 1147-1196 The queen’s gift of a shirt
OF this, the queen is well aware;
Wishing naught ill to the fair.
She love, esteems, values him,
A kind service would do him;
Yet tis greater than she knows:
Through all her coffers she goes;
There is found, freshly laid,
A white silk shirt, finely made,
All soft, and delicately woven.
Not a thread but was proven
Gold or silver, you understand.
Soredamors had set her hand
To the stitching, her and there,
And a strand of her own hair,
With the gold had interleaved,
At the neck and on the sleeves,
So as to see if she could find
Any man who, in that design,
Could with his eye discover
That one differed from the other;
For as bright as the gold, there,
Shone her thread of golden hair.
Soredamors had taken it to her;
The queen sent it to Alexander.
By God, what joy he’d have seen
If he had known what the queen,
Now sent by messenger to him!
And how joyful she’d have been
Who had interwoven her hair,
If she had been present there,
To see it handed to her lover.
That would have comforted her,
She would have cared far less
For what was left than the tress
That Alexander now possessed.
Yet he and she nothing guessed:
Tis pity that both knew it not.
The messenger goes to the port
Where the youth is now bathing,
He the queen’s gift doth bring,
And the shirt to him presents.
He delights in what she has sent,
Holding it in more esteem
In that it is from the queen.
But if he had known the rest,
The shirt he now possessed
He’d have loved even more.
Nor in exchange would take
The whole world for its sake.
Lines 1197-1260 The traitor retreats from London to Windsor
ALEXANDER delays no more
Dresses himself there on the shore,
And when he’s dressed and ready
Goes to the king’s tent, swiftly,
Together with his companions.
The queen it appears made one;
For she herself also attended,
To see these knights presented,
Newly-made, all fine figures
Of men, and so considered,
Though the handsomest of all
Was Alexander, fair and tall.
Knights they are, I speak no more
Of them but of the king ashore,
Who with his host to London came.
There people mostly call his name,
Though against him some do rise.
Count Angres, whose force comprised
Whoever was drawn to his side,
And by gifts and promises allied,
When he had gathered his array,
By night, silently slipped away,
Lest he be betrayed by all who,
Hating him, might prove untrue;
But, before he made his retreat,
Stripped London, street by street,
Of its provisions, gold and silver,
All shared among his followers.
To the king the news was told
That the traitor had fled the fold,
And with him all of his army,
After having stripped the city
Of so much of its provisions
All destitute were its citizens.
And the king at once replied
All ransom would be denied
The traitor, and if he should
Be taken, as he surely would,
Then he would be hanged indeed.
Now the whole host proceed,
To Windsor, with fine display.
However it may be these days,
If any did then its walls defend
No siege could find a ready end.
The traitor its defence secured,
Once his treachery was abroad,
With double walls and a fosse,
And those walls he reinforced,
Shored with timbering, behind
To stop their being undermined.
So he worked with great intent,
June, July, and August spent
In building many a barricade,
Drawbridges too they made,
Dug moats, built buttresses,
And forged iron portcullises,
And a huge square stone tower
Raised, and never for an hour
Gated it through threat or fright.
The castle stands on a height,
Where the Thames runs below.
Arthur halted beside its flow
Only finding the time that day
To pitch his tents where they lay.
Lines 1261-1348 The fight at the ford
THE tents stood in the meadow,
And the Thames was all aglow
With pavilions red and green,
For the sun so fired that scene
The colours in the water shone,
Fully a league or more along.
Men from the castle they spied
Disporting by the river-side,
Their lances in their hands,
A targe at the breast and
Carrying no other weapon.
And this it seems was done
To show they had little fear,
Undefended, yet quite near.
Now, Alexander stood apart,
Watching them, for his part,
As they sported to and fro.
Longing to attack the foe,
He called his companions
Naming them, one by one:
First was Cornix, he loved dearly,
Then Licorides the Doughty,
With Nabunal of Mucene,
Acorionde then, I ween,
From Athens, then Ferolin
Of Salonica, following him,
Calcedor the African, as well,
Parmenides, and Francagel,
Torin the Strong, and Pinagel,
And Neruis, and Neriolis,
‘My lords,’ he said, ‘hear this:
I desire, with shield and lance,
To seek a close acquaintance,
With these who are before us.
For, see, they clearly scorn us,
And hold us in small esteem,
Sporting there beside the stream,
And all unprepared to fight.
We are new-dubbed knights,
And have not so maintained
Against knight or yet quintain.
We have, for too long, in fact,
Retained each new lance intact.
What use are our shields today
That nor dent nor split display?
All useless possessions quite,
Except for a battle, for a fight.
So let us pass the ford, swiftly,
And attack.’ ‘We’ll not fail thee!’
The twelve reply, ‘May God avail,
No friends to thee those that fail.’
Each their sword they now gird on,
Saddles and girths, every one,
They tighten; mount, and then,
Shields about their neck again,
Gather each their lance in hand,
Hung with bright pennants, and
All gallop to the ford together;
While those against them lower
Their lances, ride to the attack.
And now the Greeks fight back,
Not avoiding or sparing them
Nor yielding a foot to them.
They each struck home so fiercely,
None so strong, of that enemy,
As could avoid being dismounted;
Yet their skill was not discounted,
Their experience nor their bravery.
The Greeks struck their blows cleanly,
And thirteen of the foe unhorsed.
The news spread among the force
Of the skirmish and of the blows;
Great were the battle I suppose,
‘Of the skirmish and of the blows; Great were the battle I suppose’
Idylls of the King (p72, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
If the foe had stood their ground.
Throughout the camp men found
Their weapons and, at the sight,
Raised a cry, but the foe took flight,
Seeing no virtue in remaining.
All the Greeks closely pursuing,
With sword and lance, in a trice,
Through many a neck did slice;
Alexander the main prize won,
Taking prisoner, on his own
Account, four knights thereby.
And the dead about them lie,
Whom they have beheaded,
And others now sorely wounded.
Lines 1349-1418 Soredamors debates how to address Alexander
ALEXANDER, out of courtesy
Grants the results of his chivalry,
His first prisoners, to the queen.
Not desiring them to be seen
By the king, who’ll hang them all.
Now the queen holds them in thrall
Well-guarded, closed in prison,
Being men charged with treason.
Yet the king proves dissatisfied,
And sends to the queen, beside,
Ordering her to speak with him,
Not withhold traitors from him,
For those men she must render
Him, or now prove an offender.
The queen came to see the king,
And as she was there speaking
Of those traitors, as she ought,
The Greeks her tent had sought
And sat there with her maidens.
Twelve engaged in conversation,
But Alexander said not a word.
Soredamors saw what occurred,
For close to him she was sitting.
Her head upon her hand resting,
It seemed she was lost in thought.
They sat a while thus, saying naught,
Until she noticed her bright hair
At the neck and sleeve there,
Of the shirt she had woven.
She drew a little nearer then,
For now she owned a reason
To speak to him, on occasion,
Yet knew not in what manner
To be the first, nor what to utter,
So with herself took counsel:
‘What speech first would be well?
His name should I address him by,
Or call him friend. Friend? Not I.
Well then? Call him by his name!
God, it would be sweet that same
Word to use, and call him friend!
If I but dared that word defend…
Dared? Why a word should I deny?
Because I think it speaks a lie.
A lie? I know not what may be,
But lying will bring grief to me.
Therefore tis best to say that I
Will ne’er consent to tell a lie.
By God though, he’d not tell a lie
In claiming his sweet friend am I.
So therefore should I lie to him?
Both should speak truth, I mean.
Yet if I lie, the fault proves his.
Why so hard this name of his,
That I hereby seek a better?
I think because so many letters
Make me halt there in the midst.
Yet call him friend, and I insist
I’d say the word quite easily.
Because I would thus fail, ah me,
My blood I’d shed if, in the end,
I might call him ‘my sweet friend.’
Lines 1419-1448 Arthur’s judgement on the traitors
IN her mind, this thought she turned
About again, till the queen returned,
From the king who’d summoned her.
Her coming was spied by Alexander,
Who went to meet her and demand
What was now the king’s command
Regarding his prisoners and their fate.
‘Friend,’ she said, ‘He doth dictate
I surrender them to his discretion,
And let justice on them be done;
Concerning them did anger show
That I’d not yet already done so.
So must I needs do so today,
Since I see no help but to obey.’
Thus indeed that day they spent,
And the next, before the royal tent,
Gathered the good and loyal knights,
To pass judgement, and do aright,
By deciding by what punishment
The four traitors’ lives would end.
Some said they should be flayed,
Others by hanging well repaid,
Or by burning them on a pyre;
The king had expressed his desire
That they be torn apart when caught.
So he ordered that they be brought;
Being brought, that they be bound;
And only when led before the town
Be then torn asunder, as was right,
So those within would view the sight.
Lines 1449-1472 Arthur promises Alexander a kingdom
WITH sentence pronounced on them,
The king, who desired to hurt them,
Having retired to his grand pavilion,
To Alexander turned his attention,
Addressing him as his dear friend:
‘Friend,’ said he, ‘I saw you defend,
And attack, with bravery yesterday:
I must render you the guerdon today;
I will add to your force in this fight
Five hundred brave Welsh knights,
And a thousand foot from that region,
And when this war is over and done
Beside all this that I give you now
I’ll set a crown upon your brow,
As king of the finest realm in Wales.
Towns and castles, hills and vales,
I’ll give to you whilst you await
The time when all of your estate
Is rendered you that your father
Holds, with you as its emperor.
Alexander, for his generosity,
Thanked the king most effusively,
As did his companions, indeed.
And all those of the court agreed,
Saying that he was richly owed
The honours the king bestowed.
Lines 1473-1490 The army mobilises
ONCE Alexander had reviewed,
The company to whom I allude,
That the king for him had found,
Then horns and trumpets sound,
All throughout the whole force.
Good or bad all have recourse
To their weapons immediately,
Those of Wales and Brittany,
And Cornwall, and the Scots,
For every region known allots
Its forces to him without fail.
The Thames now was low, the tale
Tells; that summer lacking rain.
So that a drought now obtained,
And all the river fish were dead,
And the vessels quite grounded;
And thus the river they could ford
That had once run deep and broad.
Lines 1491-1514 The army crosses the Thames
OVER the Thames the army went,
Some on the high ground intent,
Others on occupying the vale.
The town, preparing to be assailed,
Sees the wondrous host draw near,
That great and powerful doth appear,
All ready to besiege the castle,
As they stand ready to repel.
But before the assault was made,
The king the traitors displayed,
Behind four stallions trailed,
Over the hills and down dale,
Over the meadows, and the rest;
Count Angres much distressed
To see before his eyes appear
The fate of those he held dear.
Yet though his men feel dismay,
Despite the grief they display,
They are not minded yet to yield.
They must still defend the field,
For Arthur has revealed to all
His anger and his bitter gall,
And if defeat should be their fate,
A shameful death doth them await.
Lines 1515-1552 The assault on the town begins
ONCE the traitors were no more,
And their limbs scattered abroad,
The host’s assault was put in train.
Yet all their efforts proved in vain:
Many the missiles shot or thrown,
But nothing was achieved, I own,
Nevertheless they strove again
And hurled their javelins amain,
And fired quarry-bolts and darts,
The hiss was heard in every part
Of the crossbows and the slings,
‘Nevertheless they strove again and hurled their javelins amain’
Idylls of the King (p75, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Arrows, stones and other things,
Flying thick and fast, they sail
Through the air, like rain or hail.
Thus all day long they travail,
Those to defend, these to assail,
Until night falls and they cease.
Then was King Arthur pleased
To order, and have it proclaimed
That a rich gift might be claimed,
By any man who forced its capture:
‘A cup, of great price, a treasure,
In weight, fifteen marks of gold,
The richest that my coffers hold.’
That cup was valuable, and fine,
And he who owned it, I opine,
Less for the gold would value it,
Than for the noble workmanship.
Nevertheless, if the truth be told,
More than the craft, or its gold,
The gems adorning it, all agree,
Were above all its chief beauty.
A man at arms the cup will win,
If the town’s taken thanks to him;
And if it’s taken thanks to a knight,
Then he, in seeking for his delight,
Will not need to go far to find it;
All he lacks, if the world holds it.
Lines 1553-1712 More of the lovers; and a night attack on the camp
WHEN the matter was done,
Alexander had not forgotten
A custom of his, as I believe,
Of visiting the queen each eve.
That eve too he was to be seen,
Seated there, beside the queen.
‘That eve too he was to be seen, seated there, beside the queen’
Idylls of the King (p97, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Before them, not far off, I own,
Soredamors was sitting alone,
Her gaze fixed on Alexander,
So willingly, that sitting there
She thought herself in paradise.
The queen now cast her eyes
On Alexander’s sleeve, and she
Examined the threads carefully;
The gold had tarnished with wear,
While brighter still shone the hair.
Then, by chance, she remembered
The work had been embroidered
By Soredamors, and she smiled.
Alexander, seeing her beguiled,
Begged her, if such were fitting,
To say what she found amusing.
The queen full slow to reply,
On Soredamors cast her eye:
Then to her she called the maid,
Who most willingly obeyed,
And then knelt there before her.
‘Then to her she called the maid’
Idylls of the King (p62, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Overjoyed was Alexander,
Seeing her so much nearer,
So near he might touch her.
But he lacked the temerity
Even to regard her closely,
And, confused in his senses,
Was nigh rendered speechless;
While she, overcome likewise,
Losing the use of her eyes,
Cast her gaze on the ground,
Whilst seeing naught around.
Seeing her, the queen marvelled;
Finding her now pale, now red,
And noted well the emotion,
And expression of each one,
And of both of them together;
And these changes in colour
She perceived might well prove
To be the outward signs of love;
But not wishing to cause pain,
She made an effort then to feign
She made naught of all she saw.
And well she did so, I am sure,
Betraying not a sign to them,
Except to say to the maiden:
‘Demoiselle, look carefully,
And, hiding naught, tell me,
Where the fine shirt was sewn
That this fair knight has on.’
The maiden felt some shame,
But spoke of it, all the same,
For she wished him to know
The truth, and he felt joy also
When she the tale now relayed
Of where and how the shirt was made,
And he could barely refrain
From thus worshipping, again
And yet again, the golden hair.
His companions being there,
And the queen’s presence too,
Annoy and trouble him anew,
Since he cannot, because of this,
Touch it to his eyes and lips,
As he would gladly have done;
For it will be remarked upon.
Even to own so much of her,
Delights him, who can ne’er
Hope for aught more joyous;
Longing makes him dubious.
Yet when finally he is free,
He kisses it most passionately,
And much joy all night hath he,
Careful that no one doth see.
Once he is couched in his bed,
By vain delight is he fed,
And in that doth find solace,
Doth the shirt all night embrace,
And gazing on that golden hair
Thinks himself the world’s heir.
Love makes fools thus of the wise,
If a single hair delights the eyes;
Yet it will pass, this delight.
Thus he enjoys, and delights.
Well before the sun shone bright,
Those vile traitors, in the night,
Took counsel as to what to do.
They could defend the castle, true,
If they cared to hold it still,
Yet they knew the king’s will,
Was so firm that, while alive,
He would not cease to strive,
To take the town; and none deny
If that occurs then they will die.
Yet if the castle surrendered,
No mercy would be tendered.
Thus one or the other course
Would be fatal to their cause.
At last a decision was made:
On the morrow, before day,
They’d issue forth secretly,
And hope to find the enemy
All unarmed, the knights asleep,
The host abed in slumber deep.
Before these were full awake,
Ere they could their amour take,
They themselves would achieve
Such slaughter that posterity
Would remember it forever.
This counsel all the traitors,
Agreed to, as a last resort,
Placing confidence in naught:
Despair invited them to fight
To the end, come what might.
The outcome of their decision,
Could be naught but death or prison;
A decision that shed no light,
Nor was there any point in flight;
For it was unclear how they could
Take to flight, even if they would,
Since the river, and their enemy
Denied them escape, utterly.
Spending no more time in counsel
With arms they equip themselves;
On the northwest, issue straight,
From an ancient postern gate,
All in serried ranks, their army,
Comprised of five companies,
Each owned two thousand men,
Well-equipped to inflict pain;
With each, a thousand knights.
No moon, no stars, that night,
Shed bright rays from the sky,
But before the men came nigh
The foe’s tents, the moon arose;
I think it was to work them woe.
It seemed it rose before its hour,
For God, to thwart their power,
Illumined all the dome of night,
They being naught in His sight,
And hated for the evil wherein
They were steeped, all their sin
Of treachery; since the traitor
God hates more than any other;
So, he ordered the moon to rise
And thwart all their enterprise.
Lines 1713-1858 Alexander at the battle before Windsor
GREAT harm the moonlight yields,
Reflecting now from their shields,
And their helms prove damaging,
Beneath the moon, all gleaming,
For the pickets have them in sight,
As they guard the host by night.
They cry to the whole army:
‘Up knights all, up, rise swiftly,
Seize your arms, and defend us,
For these traitors are upon us!’
All are at their posts already
Striving hard to make ready,
In this hour of greatest need.
Not one left his post, indeed,
Until the knights were fully
Armed, and mounted securely.
While they prepared, the enemy
Launched their attack, eagerly,
Hoping to take them by surprise
And without defence, likewise.
Their force, in its five sections,
Attacked from five directions.
The first enjoys the woods cover,
The second comes by the river,
The third doth the plain assail,
The fourth descends the vale;
While the fifth joins the fight
From below a rocky height,
Seeking to roam at random,
And strike, with abandon.
But they could find nowhere
A clear path they might dare,
For the king’s men resisted,
Defying them if they persisted,
Reproaching them for their treason.
Iron lance-tips were broken;
Men rushed at one another
And fiercely met together
As lions attacks their prey,
Devouring what they seize and slay.
At the onset of this strife
There was great loss of life,
On both sides, moreover.
But help now reached the traitors,
Who had all fought most bravely
And sold their lives full dearly.
When they can hold no more
From the four quarters pour
The four companies to their aid.
Then the king’s men arrayed
Spur their mounts and so attack;
At their shields away they hack
With such a show of force,
Five hundred they unhorse.
The Greeks, led by Alexander,
Will spare them naught either,
For now he strives to prevail.
Into the melee he doth sail,
Some poor victim to assail,
Whose shield and iron mail
Prove of little worth at all
As to the earth he doth fall.
Having unhorsed one traitor
He offers to so serve another,
And freely, and unstintingly,
Serves the man so savagely,
He parts the spirit from the flesh,
And leaves the house without a guest.
After these two, he turns to fight
A noble and a courteous knight
Piercing him, through one side,
Till from the other flows a tide
Of blood; and soul and body part,
As he expires, and doth depart.
Many are killed, many stunned,
For like a thunderbolt he comes,
Striking those he doth assail;
And neither shield nor iron mail
Serve to defend against the blow.
While his companions, they also,
Spill blood and brains generously,
Showing their might for all to see.
And now indeed the king’s men
Slaughter such a crowd of them,
That they scatter them all abroad,
Like a low-born mindless horde.
So great was the sheer carnage,
So widely did that battle rage,
That, long before they saw day,
A line of dead stretched away,
Five leagues in length or more,
All along the river’s shore.
Count Angres left his banner
On the battlefield, and together
With seven men slipped away.
To the castle he made his way,
By a secret path he thought
None knew of, thus unsought.
But Alexander saw them go,
Escaping thus from the blow,
And thought that, if he also
Could leave, without any show,
He would catch them without fail.
But while he was yet in the vale,
He saw a band of thirty knights
Behind him, keeping him in sight,
Of Welshmen there were twenty-four,
And his Greeks now made six more,
Who thought to pursue his lead,
In case he found himself in need.
Alexander, perceiving them,
Halted now to wait for them,
But the progress he still viewed
Of the men whom he pursued;
And saw them entering the town.
Then he began to propound
His plan for a most perilous
Deed, a plan full marvellous;
Turning, for his mind was set,
Towards the company now met,
And addressing them, there:
‘My lords, now, without demur,
If you’d garner my affection
Follow this, my plan of action,
Whether tis wise or a folly.’
And they agreed willingly,
To support without dissent
Aught that was of his intent.
‘Let us alter our appearance,’
Said he, ‘seize shield and lance,
From the corpses lying there,
And to the castle let us fare.
So the traitors will believe
That to their cause we cleave,
And unaware of their fate,
To us will open then the gate.’
And what shall we render them?
Dead or alive we’ll take them,
If the Lord God doth consent;
While if any man doth repent
Of his promise, then be sure
I shall love him nevermore.’
The End of Part I of Cligès