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 1859-1954 The traitors take refuge in the keep
- Lines 1955-2056 The keep is taken and the Count captured
- Lines 2057-2146 The host believe Alexander to have been killed
- Lines 2147-2200 Alexander sends his prisoners to the king
- Lines 2201-2248 King Arthur rewards Alexander
- Lines 2249-2278 Queen Guinevere prepares to address the lovers
- Lines 2279-2310 The queen speaks of love and marriage
- Lines 2311-2360 Alexander and Soredamors are wed
- Lines 2361-2382 The birth of Cligès
- Lines 2383-2456 Alis, Alexander’s brother, usurps the throne
- Lines 2457-2494 Alexander, in Athens, sends an envoy to Alis
- Lines 2495-2524 Alis gives his response
- Lines 2525-2554 Alis is advised by his nobles to seek peace
- Lines 2555-2618 The brother’s pact and the death of Alexander
- Lines 2619-2680 The death of Soredamors: Alis seeks a wife
- Lines 2681-2724 The emperors meet at Cologne
- Lines 2725-2760 The beauty of Fenice, the emperor’s daughter
- Lines 2761-2792 Cligès’ beauty
- Lines 2793-2870 Love at first sight
- Lines 2871-3010 Love at first thwarted
- Lines 3011-3062 Thessala probes her mistress’ illness
- Lines 3063-3216 Fenice and Thessala conspire together
- Lines 3217-3250 Fenice’s marriage to Alis is solemnised
- Lines 3251-3328 Alis drinks the potion
- Lines 3329-3394 The potion takes effect
- Lines 3395-3424 Cligès is attacked on the journey home
- Lines 3425-3570 Cligès distinguishes himself in the field
- Lines 3571-3620 Cligès makes off with the Duke’s horse
Lines 1859-1954 The traitors take refuge in the keep
ALEXANDER’s company obey
His wish; arming, straight away,
With shields taken from the dead.
And the sentries posted overhead,
High on the town’s battlements,
On seeing their accoutrements,
Think them to be of their party,
Not dreaming of the trickery,
Concealed beneath the shields.
The gatekeeper entrance yields,
And the company pass within.
He is deceived as they ride in,
Thus he demands no password,
And none of them says a word,
But mute and silent they pass by.
All of them, with sorrowful eye,
Trail behind the lance they wield,
And for support grip their shield,
And seem to be in great distress.
Thus through the gate they press,
Until the triple walls are passed.
There the men at arms are massed,
And knights attending on the count.
I cannot give the exact account,
But all were unarmed, I will state,
Except, it seems, a band of eight,
Who had returned from the fray;
And it would seem that even they
Were about to doff their armour,
Though that proved ill-considered,
For now, abandoning all pretence,
Yielding them no time for defence,
The company spurred their steeds
Bracing themselves in their seats,
Attacking them, and striking true,
Such that twenty-one they slew,
Before they could show defiance.
Dismayed by their swift advance,
‘Betrayed, betrayed!’ the traitors cry,
Unmoved, their enemies pass by,
For unarmed men are there arrayed,
On whom they might prove a blade.
Indeed, of those who were armed,
Three had been so greatly harmed,
That only five of them were alive.
Yet Count Angres now doth drive
At Calcedor, and his blow upon
His golden shield, as all look on,
Stretches the Greek on the ground.
Alexander’s grief’s profound;
Almost maddened, and in pain,
At seeing his companion slain,
He knows the traitor’s ill-intent
And yet his courage and strength
Are doubled; his lance he breaks
As the Count’s shield he rakes,
For willingly he would avenge
That death, seeking his revenge.
Yet the Count was a man of might,
A skilful, and a hardy knight,
And, in his day, none were nobler,
Had he not shown himself a traitor.
He now returned the lance blow
His lance shattering as he did so,
Bending backwards, and splitting.
But, Alexander’s shield holding,
Neither man yields to the other,
No more than rocks struck together,
For both the combatants are strong.
Yet that the Count is in the wrong
Troubles him, robs him of his ease.
Their mutual anger found increase.
Both, as their lances came to grief,
Drew their swords from the sheath.
And if the combatants had wished
To prolong the fight, and so persist,
Death must have put an end to all.
Just when it seemed both must fall
At the close whatever else occurred,
The Count it seems lost his nerve,
On seeing his men dead or harmed,
Who’d been surprised, all unarmed.
The company now struck hard again,
Slashing at them, beheading them;
Carving limbs, and spilling brains,
While calling out the traitor’s name.
Hearing himself accused of treason
He fled towards the keep, and won
His way there, followed by his men,
While the enemy still harried them,
Charging in fiercely from the rear,
Letting none flee who came near,
On whom they might lay a hand.
They slew so many of that band,
No more than seven in that melee
Forged a path to the keep, that day.
Lines 1955-2056 The keep is taken and the Count captured
ONCE the tower was there at hand,
At its doorway they made a stand;
For those who pursued them swiftly
Now followed on behind so closely
That they would soon have entered,
Had the doorway been surrendered.
The traitors made a strong defence,
Awaiting help; below, their friends,
In the town now armed themselves.
Yet Nebunal gave good counsel
To the Greeks, being wise in war:
That the approach to it be barred,
Thus the relief might be thwarted,
As they, as yet, had barely started,
Either through sloth or cowardice.
Now, but a single gate there is,
That doth guard the tower above,
If the Greeks stop that entrance up,
There is no way the newly armed
Can find a way to do them harm.
Nebunal now bids twenty wait,
Ready to turn, and hold the gate,
And combat any attack in force
That might arise in due course,
Should those from the town appear,
To launch the assault he fears;
While these twenty hold the gate
The other ten must fare straight
To the door, and stop the traitor
Shutting himself in the tower.
Nebunal’s advice is acted on,
Ten to attack the door are gone,
While twenty run to hold the gate.
Almost too long do they wait;
Near at hand, comes a company
Up for the fight, keen and fiery,
That, beside a crowd of arbalists,
Of diverse men at arms consists,
Carrying their various weapons,
Some with their halberds threaten,
While others heft their Danish
Axes, lances, or grip Turkish
Blades, javelins, bolts or darts.
Since it is meet all play their part,
Many a Greek would have died,
If their enemies they’d defied.
But the latter arrived too late,
Forced to halt before the gate.
By means of this stratagem,
Nebunal had thwarted them.
Once they saw the way barred,
They paused there in the yard,
Perceiving that by attacking
They would garner not a thing.
Then the town by cries was riven
From every child and woman,
The old men, the adolescents,
So loud that if from the heavens
It had thundered none had heard.
Now the Greeks give the word,
Joyous now, since they are sure
The Count must fail to procure
His escape, and will be taken,
If they’re not much mistaken.
Four mount the defensive wall,
To keep a good watch over all
Beyond the gate, and so ensure
That by no artifice of war,
Can those without gain entry.
The other sixteen run swiftly
To join the ten at the tower.
Now cometh the dawn hour;
The ten have found a way to win
Beyond the door, and are within:
His back against a post, the Count
With his axe gives good account,
Defending bravely against each,
He swings at those he can reach.
His men ranged alongside him,
Avenge themselves beside him,
So skilfully that they remain
Whole, the Greeks it is complain;
For of the ten, and the sixteen,
There now fight on but thirteen.
Alexander is much enraged,
When he sees his men, engaged
In the fight, stricken and weary.
A club he finds, long and heavy,
Raising it above his head,
Being also to vengeance wed,
And so fiercely doth it wield
That neither iron coat nor shield
Are worth a fig to the wretch
Doomed to fall that he selects.
Then he doth the Count pursue
Raises the club to strike him too,
And with the heavy weapon, lo,
He deals the traitor such a blow
The war-axe falls from his hand.
The Count, now, can barely stand,
So stunned he must surely fall
Unless he leans against the wall.
Lines 2057-2146 The host believe Alexander to have been killed
WITH this blow the fight was over,
Towards the Count, Alexander
Stepped, then he gripped him fast;
Naught need be said of the last
Traitors; all were swiftly mastered
Once they saw their lord captured.
With the Count, all were led away,
In deep disgrace, as he and they
Richly deserved for their crime.
Naught was known, at that time,
Of aught of this by those outside.
But the shields that were set aside
By their companions were found,
Among the corpses, on the ground,
That day, when the fight was done.
There the Greeks weep and moan
For their lord, yet all mistakenly.
Finding his shield, in an agony
Of grief, its device they fell upon,
Saying they had lived too long.
Cornix and Nereis, tears they shed,
Reviving, wish that they were dead;
Torin, and Acorionde appear
Both bathed in floods of tears
That have drenched them both;
Life and joy to them seem loth.
Parmenides outdoes the rest,
Tearing his hair in his distress.
No greater pain can grief afford
Than these showed for their lord.
Yet their mourning was in error;
Thinking it his, it was another’s
Corpse that they did bear away.
And the shields that round it lay
Lead them to suppose those were
Their friends’ bodies lying there:
So over them they did lament.
Yet the shields were innocent
In this, for of all their friends
Only Neriolis had met his end.
His corpse they’d have borne alone,
For burial, if they had but known,
But, as concerned for the others
As for him, carried off all together.
Those they bore away were traitors,
With all but one they were in error.
But as with the man who dreams,
Where all is not quite as it seems,
The shields have induced the error.
The bodies, hidden by their armour,
They carry onwards, to the tents,
Where all the company laments.
To the grief the Greeks expressed
Soon there gathered all the rest,
And to that grief added their cry.
Soredamors feels death is nigh
When she hears the mourning
For her lover, dire lamenting.
Their plaints and their dolour
Overcast her looks with pallor,
And her grief is not made less
By her not daring such distress
To show to others far and wide.
In her heart her grief she hides.
Yet if any had paid regard
To her face, it was not hard
To see her heartfelt distress
In what was there expressed.
But since none had any care
For aught but their own grief there,
They were blind to others’ pain.
Each their own grief sustains,
Heavy and bitter; here a father
Is mourned by his son, or there
A father doth lament his son;
Here for his cousin grieves one,
Another for his nephew weeps.
On every side the grief runs deep,
In kin, in sons and their parents;
Above all is the grief apparent
That the Greeks reveal, although
The prescient may joy yet know,
For soon to great joy will turn
All of this sorrow we discern.
Lines 2147-2200 Alexander sends his prisoners to the king
THUS they continue their lament,
The Greeks elsewhere being intent
On relaying news of their success,
So joy might all the company bless.
Disarmed and bound, the prisoners,
Request and pray, being traitors,
That they be beheaded promptly.
But their captors, all disdainfully,
Refuse, stating that they will be
Held till the king shall them see,
Who will render, as he sees fit,
The just desserts that they merit.
When they had disarmed them all,
They were made to mount the wall,
So as to be seen by those outside.
Mortal the blow to the others’ pride.
Seeing their lord, captive and bound,
The pain was even more profound.
Alexander, ascending the wall,
On God and His saints doth call,
And swears no traitor shall live,
Unless they all their word do give
To render themselves to the king,
Before they themselves do swing.
‘Go,’ he cried, ‘and at my command,
Humbly before the king now stand,
Throw yourselves on his mercy.
None but the Count, whom you see,
Hath deserved to be put to death.
None shall breathe their last breath,
Nor be harmed at all, if they do;
Small is the chance if they refuse;
None shall save them from death
Who cry not mercy at every breath;
Their life is forfeit, death their lot.
Go, unarmed, to the king’s court
Stand there before my lord the king
And tell him these words you bring:
From Alexander, from him you come.
Your speech will prove no idle one,
For he is so noble, and gentle too,
My lord the king will pardon you,
And set aside his righteous anger;
But if you wish to remain traitors,
You all will be condemned to die,
No tear of pity will wet his eye.’
This counsel is accepted by all,
At the king’s feet they must fall,
None hesitating in their intent,
But hastening to the king’s tent.
Soon all the host know the tale,
The king mounts, without fail.
All then to the town spur away,
With not an instant’s more delay.
Lines 2201-2248 King Arthur rewards Alexander
ALEXANDER now rides forth to meet
The joyful king, whom he doth greet,
Rendering the Count to his justice,
Whom the king doth straight punish.
But Alexander he praises greatly,
While the other lords, willingly,
Join with the king in fulsome praise,
And swear to esteem him always.
Never a courtier but shows his joy,
For the grief that did them annoy,
Not long before, is all dispelled.
No joy compares, now all is well,
With that of the Greeks gathered there.
The king gifts a cup to Alexander,
Worth fifteen marks, from his treasure,
And says that, if it be his pleasure,
There is nothing he holds so dear,
He’d not grant to him, of all here,
Except the queen and his kingdom;
And so place it in his possession.
Alexander, though, does not dare
To speak of his longings there,
Yet full well does he understand
He might secure his beloved’s hand;
For he fears to bring her annoy,
Who therein would find great joy,
Preferring to suffer grievously,
Rather than win her unwillingly.
He asks for a little time therefore,
Before requesting anything more,
Seeking to know her wish in all;
Though he seeks no delay at all,
In accepting that cup of gold.
Now, when Soredamors is told
Of all that involves Alexander,
She delights in all they tell her.
For when she knows that he lives,
Such joy to her that news gives,
She feels she’ll ne’er be sad again;
Though, for all that, doth complain
That he pays no visits as before.
Yet she’ll have her wish and more,
For together they both contend
To arrive at the selfsame end.
Lines 2249-2278 Queen Guinevere prepares to address the lovers
IT seemed an age to Alexander
Before he might seek from her
Even one solitary sweet glance.
He would have seized the chance,
Long before, to attend the queen
If not detained elsewhere, I mean;
And, much troubled by this delay,
As soon as he could, found a way
To visit the queen in her pavilion.
The queen greeted him in person,
Knowing what was in his thought,
Without his having told her aught,
Thus understanding all his intent.
There at the threshold of the tent,
She greets him with particular care,
Knowing what it is he seeks there.
Wishing to show him her favour,
She summons Soredamors to her;
The three of them speak together,
At some distance from the others.
For this the queen is first inclined,
Having not a doubt in her mind
That they are in love, the pair,
She with him, and he with her.
Of this she is completely sure,
While persuaded Soredamors
Could not possess a finer lover.
She sat down between them there,
And began with them to reason,
In words both fit and in season.
Lines 2279-2310 The queen speaks of love and marriage
‘ALEXANDER,’ thus the queen began,
‘Should it grieve and trouble a man,
Love may prove worse than hate.
They know not what they perpetrate,
Who hide their love from each other,
For there is much that’s grievous there.
Care is needed, with love’s foundations;
Who fail to begin in brave fashion,
Will never achieve its completion.
They say no crossing’s harder won
Than the passage of that threshold.
I’ll teach, of love, what I was told,
For I see that love torments you,
Such that I wish to instruct you:
Take care to hide naught from me,
Any might see who look carefully
At both your faces, as I have done,
That two hearts have here made one.
Take care to conceal not one thing!
You’d both act foolishly in hiding
Your thoughts from one another.
By silence, you’ll slay each other,
And prove Love’s murderers too.
Now, have not tyranny in view,
Nor fickleness in love, but seek
To join in marriage honourably,
And be wed one with the other.
For then I do believe, together,
Your true love will long endure.
And both of you I now assure
That, if neither of you change,
Then your marriage I’ll arrange.’
Lines 2311-2360 Alexander and Soredamors are wed
ONCE the queen had reached a close,
Alexander began, as follows:
‘My lady, I’ll offer no excuse
For aught of which I stand accused;
But will confess to all you say,
And will never true Love betray,
But ever direct to it my thought.
I am delighted by all you sought
To tell me of, in your kindness.
Since you know, of your goodness,
What I wish, I seek not to hide it.
Long ago, if I’d dared to say it,
I would have spoken openly,
For silence has tormented me;
But it may be, perhaps, in this,
The maiden herself may not wish
That I be hers and she be mine,
And yet if she doth decline,
Still I offer my vows to her.’
At this the maiden was stirred,
Possessing no desire to resist,
Unable to hide her heart’s wish
Either by her looks or speech,
And trembling, him doth she seek,
Saying that she’ll deny him not,
Neither in will, body, nor heart,
That all the three, she doth mean,
Are at the disposal of the queen,
Now to do with her as she please.
The queen clasps them tenderly,
Presenting the one to the other,
Smilingly says: ‘Alexander
I give thee thy sweetheart’s body,
And I know you take it willingly.
Whoever agrees or begs to differ,
I give each of you to the other.
You take yours, and you yours so.’
He has his, and she has her own,
He all of her, and she all of him.
At Windsor, thus, she marries him,
With permission and to the liking
Of My Lord Gawain and the king,
On that very day, and I am sure,
None could tell of the splendour
The food, the joys, the delights,
Or could ever do justice quite,
To how all that wedding pleased.
But since many it might displease,
No more words on it will I waste,
For I wish another dish to taste.
Lines 2361-2382 The birth of Cligès
ON a day then, at Windsor,
Alexander has all the honour
And the joy life could bring;
Joy and honour of three things:
The first the castle he has won;
The king’s gift, the second one,
Which he promised Alexander,
When that war should be over,
The finest kingdom in all Wales;
Of which he is king without fail.
But the finest, the third I mean,
Is that his sweetheart is queen
Of the board where he is king.
A three month from the wedding,
And Soredamors found that she
Was now with child and, joyfully,
Carried that child to full term,
And such was the seed in germ,
That the fruit of it proved a son,
The fairest child under the sun,
None near or far, so blessed;
And they called the child Cligès.
Lines 2383-2456 Alis, Alexander’s brother, usurps the throne
HE the Cligès, of whom is sung
All this, in the Romance tongue.
Of him, his deeds and his courage,
When he shall have come of age,
And good service given, as well,
You will doubtless hear me tell.
Meanwhile, it appears, in Greece,
The emperor, but now deceased,
Who had ruled Constantinople;
For thus end the great and noble,
Since no man can live forever;
Before he died, had gathered
The lords of the land together,
To send and seek for Alexander,
In Brittany, where he remained,
Or most willingly was detained.
From Greece now they set sail
On the voyage, but a fierce gale
Caught them, the tempest then
Overwhelming ships and men.
So all were drowned in the sea,
All but one faithless wretch, and he
Was friend to Alis, the younger,
Not the elder son, Alexander.
Having escaped from the sea,
He returned to his own country,
And told a tale that all were lost
On the sea, while tempest-tossed
In returning from Brittany, when
Bringing Alexander home again,
And that he had escaped alone,
Into the stormy waters thrown.
Now, this lie of his was believed
Without dissent; so Alis received
The crown, since none demurred,
And of Greece was thus emperor.
Not many days had passed before
Alexander learned of this for sure,
That his brother now ruled Greece.
From Arthur he sought his release,
Unwilling that his brother outright
Usurp his throne, without a fight.
The king did not oppose the plan,
But said that he should command
So large a company of Welshmen,
Of brave Scots, and Cornishmen,
That his brother would not stand
On seeing so vast a host on hand.
Alexander might thus have led
A mighty force to Greece, instead,
Wishing no harm to his countrymen
If his brother restored to him again
The land which was his birth-right,
He took with him but forty knights,
And his son, and Soredamors,
Not wishing to leave them ashore,
For they were dear to him, clearly.
At Shoreham then they set to sea,
Taking leave there of all the court,
And full soon they arrived in port,
For, with fair winds, the fine vessel
Ran swift as a fleeing stag, so well
That to Athens, one dawn, they came,
A city full rich and high in fame.
The emperor was residing there,
In that city both strong and fair,
And had called a great assembly
Of all the lords in that country.
Without delay, now, Alexander
Despatched a secret messenger
Into the city, for thus he sought
To find if he might win support
Or whether his countrymen there
Would reject him, the rightful heir.
Lines 2457-2494 Alexander, in Athens, sends an envoy to Alis
HE chose then as his messenger
A wise knight and a courtier,
Acorionde was his name,
A noble who from Athens came;
Wealthy he was, and eloquent,
Of that country was his descent,
And in that city his ancestors,
As men of power and honour,
Had lordship. This messenger
Once he knew that the emperor
Had taken residence in the city,
In pursuance of his duty,
On behalf of Alexander,
Went now to challenge the brother,
And assert he ruled unlawfully.
Arrived at the palace, he quickly
Found welcome among many,
But gave little away to any
Of those who welcomed him
Until he learned from them
What feelings were abroad,
Regarding their rightful lord.
Granted audience with Alis now
Failing to honour him with a bow,
Nor address him as emperor:
‘Alis,’ he said, ‘I come ashore
Bringing news of Alexander,
Who lies here, at the harbour.
Hear what your brother demands,
Of what is his he seeks command,
Asks only what is his by right,
Constantinople, his birth-right:
It should be his and will be his.
No good can ever come of this
That twixt you there be discord;
My counsel to you I now afford,
Render the crown without a fight,
For to do thus is only right.’
Lines 2495-2524 Alis gives his response
ALIS replied: ‘My noble friend
To mad folly do you pretend,
Who such a message have brought.
You can bring indeed no comfort,
For I know my brother is dead.
Yet I would rejoice, if instead
He were alive, and I knew it so.
I’d not believe till I saw him though.
He died long ago, I grieve today;
But believe naught of what you say.
And if he live why comes he not?
He need not fear that I would not
Bestow on him sufficient land.
He’s a fool to prove so offhand,
If he serves me he’ll have his own.
But the empire and the crown
None shall possess them but me.’
Acorionde liked not this speech,
Replying to the emperor,
He addressed him without fear
Or favour, and answered thus:
‘Alis,’ said he, ‘May God strike us,
If ever this matter remain so.
I defy you, and summon, also,
In your brother’s name, as I ought,
All those I witness at this court,
To desert you and join his cause.
It is right that they should, because
They must own he is their true lord.
Let he who is loyal now stand forth!’
Lines 2525-2554 Alis is advised by his nobles to seek peace
WITH these words he doth depart,
While the emperor, for his part,
Summons those of his alliance:
Regarding his brother’s defiance,
Seeks counsel, and would know
Whether he can trust them, or no,
To deny his brother their support,
Or whether they will aid his cause;
Testing the loyalty of each one.
Yet he fails to discover anyone
Who holds to him in this quarrel;
He is asked to remember by all
And sundry the war Polynices
Waged long ago with Eteocles,
Who was, likewise, his brother,
And how they slew one another:
‘Such a fate may fall upon you,
If you undertake to quarrel, too,
And bring confusion to the land.’
Thus they advise that he demand
A peace, both just and reasonable
Both seeking for what is tenable.
Now Alis understood, that if he
Could not with his brother agree,
All of them would desert his cause.
So he said he’d employ no force
If they themselves did not agree,
But that in any covenant he
Must still remain as emperor,
Whatever else might occur.
Lines 2555-2618 The brother’s pact and the death of Alexander
NOW, to establish a firm peace,
Alis sent a noble lord of Greece
To Alexander, bidding him
Come and govern the land for him,
While still allowing him the honour
Of being addressed as emperor,
And that the crown should be his;
And thus, if Alexander so pleased,
Between them all would be well.
And when the envoy all this tells
To Alexander, he mounts and then
Gathering to him all his men,
To Athens he makes his way;
There was much joy that day,
But Alexander was displeased
At the demand he had received,
That Alis must wear the crown,
Stating he a pledge must own,
That he would never take a wife,
And when he relinquished life
Cligès should be the emperor.
So they agreed, the two brothers,
Alexander dictating the oath,
And his brother swore to both:
That he would never take a wife,
And Cligès would be heir for life.
They agree, and are friends again,
To the joy of the noblemen.
Alis remains as emperor,
And yet, before Alexander
Come all matters great and small,
And whatever he decrees is all
Effected, while naught is done
But through him; and Alis has won
Only a name, and naught doth move,
While Alexander’s served with love;
And who ne’er from love will serve
From fear his commands observe.
And for one reason or the other
All the land his powers cover.
But he whom we know as Death,
Spares none, robs us of breath,
And weak or strong slays us all.
So Alexander was doomed to fall
To a disease that gripped him tight,
Against which he could not fight.
But before death surprised him,
He called his son and said to him:
‘Cligès, my son, you cannot know
Whether they are yours or no,
Virtue and knightly prowess,
Until of them both you make test,
With the Breton and English knights,
In whom King Arthur’s court delights.
If adventure should draw you there,
Conduct yourself at court with care,
Such that your name is not known
Until you have your prowess shown
To that kingdom’s finest knights;
Remember this, my counsel, aright,
And, if the time comes, do not fear
To try your skill, and there appear
Against your uncle, My Lord Gawain,
Forget not, I pray you once again.’
Lines 2619-2680 The death of Soredamors: Alis seeks a wife
AFTER this last plea, Alexander
Lived but a little while longer.
And Soredamors’ grief was such
She did not survive him by much,
Uniting them, with her last breath.
‘She did not survive him by much, uniting them, with her last breath’
Idylls of the King (p90, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Alis and Cligès mourned the death,
Expressing grief while it endured;
Until they could mourn no more:
For it is wrong to mourn forever,
No good comes of such grief ever.
So their sorrowing reached its end,
While the emperor did not offend
Against his pledge and seek to wed,
Wishing to keep his word instead;
But no court in the world is free
Of evil counsel, and sophistry.
Great lords often lose their way,
And from the path of virtue stray,
And evil counsel is oft to blame.
For men to the emperor came,
Offering him the same advice,
That he should get to him a wife.
They so exhorted, and pressed
Harder each day, and expressed
Their desire that he should marry,
That, hemmed about and harried,
He at last acceded to their wish:
But that she be gentle doth insist,
Wise and fair, and rich and noble,
This mistress of Constantinople.
Then his counsellors declared
That they indeed were prepared
To seek in the Germanic lands,
Their emperor’s daughter’s hand;
This the choice they preferred
For, in Germany, the emperor
Was very rich and powerful,
And his daughter so beautiful
There was not, in any kingdom,
A fairer maid of Christendom.
Alis, hearing this, did so agree,
And granted them full authority,
And so their journey they began,
With all that befits a nobleman;
Until with the German emperor
At Regensburg they can confer,
And ask for his eldest daughter,
To wed with Alis, their emperor.
The German emperor, delighted,
Willingly would see her plighted,
For in no way would it shame
His daughter, or mar his fame,
Or dishonour either in any way.
Yet she’s promised he doth say
To the grand Duke of Saxony,
Thus they would only be free
To take her if their emperor there
With a mighty army did repair,
So the duke could work no injury,
As they journeyed to their country.
Lines 2681-2724 The emperors meet at Cologne
ONCE the ambassadors had heard
And understood the emperor’s word,
They took their leave, and departed.
Then to their emperor they imparted,
All the German emperor had replied.
Alis then summoned to his side,
The most expert of his knights,
Those most steadfast in a fight,
And took his nephew with him,
For whom his word he’d given,
That never in his life he’d wed:
Yet that vow he’ll break instead,
Once he has come to Cologne.
On a day, he departs his own
Country, bound for Germany.
And despite reproach doth he
Intend to take a wife, although
Much dishonoured in doing so.
Cologne he now came before,
Where the German emperor
Was holding a court festival.
So many had come at his call,
That with such a host of Greeks
And his Germans in company,
Sixty thousand now were found
Lodged there, without the town.
Great was the whole assembly,
Great too the joyous melee,
Great the delight, greater yet,
When the two emperors met.
Once the lords had gathered there
In his palace, grand and fair,
The emperor, immediately,
Sent for his daughter, and she
Without any undue delay,
To the palace made her way.
Of sweet form was she and fair,
As God Himself created her,
Who had there worked a wonder,
On which mankind might ponder.
For God who had fashioned her,
Gave mankind no words to utter
That could ever have expressed
All the beauty she possessed.
Lines 2725-2760 The beauty of Fenice, the emperor’s daughter
FENICE, was the maiden’s name,
With reason; as that bird of fame
The Phoenix is more beautiful
Than all the others, so no equal
Had Fenice, it seems to me,
Among others; she, so lovely,
Had no peer in beauty at all.
Such a marvel, nay a miracle,
Was this Fenice, that Nature
Could ne’er repeat such a creature.
So, to be brief you understand,
Her arms, body, head and hands,
I’ll not attempt to set out here,
For if I lived a thousand years
And every year doubled my skill
My efforts would be wasted still
In seeking to describe her truly.
And were it my task completely,
If I exerted all my brains,
Naught would I show for all my pains,
And all my efforts were laid waste.
So, in short, the maid made haste;
Into the palace hall she came,
Head and face unveiled the same,
While the radiance of her beauty
Lit the palace more completely,
Than bright gemstones ever could.
Before the emperor, there stood
Cligès, uncloaked, and though
The day had little light to show,
Yet so handsome were the pair,
He and the maiden both so fair,
That rays from their beauty shone
And lit the palace, as in the dawn
The rising sun doth shed its light,
Never more clear, or more bright.
Lines 2761-2792 Cligès’ beauty
TO tell you of Cligès’ beauty,
I will speak of it most truly,
And yet as briefly as I may.
He was in the flower of his age,
Being in years almost fifteen;
Yet outdoing in looks, I mean,
Narcissus, who himself did see,
In the still pool, beneath the tree,
So loving his own form, they say,
He died of what he saw portrayed,
A form that he could not possess.
Beauty had he, his wit proved less,
But Cligès’ was of finer mould,
As copper is surpassed by gold,
More than I can explain to you.
His hair, it seemed golden too,
His complexion like the rose,
A well-formed mouth and nose;
And he showed of good stature,
Of the finest seen in Nature;
For to him she had supplied,
Gifts she often scatters wide.
To him she was so generous
That she, in him, united thus
All it seems she has to give.
Such was Cligès, in him lived
Sense, beauty, strength, generosity,
Heartwood, sapwood, bark: the tree.
More than the nephew of King Mark,
Tristan, Cligès knew all the art,
Of sword and bow, bird and hound.
Every good thing in him was found.
Lines 2793-2870 Love at first sight
Cligès in all his beauty stood,
Before his uncle, and those who would
Know what he was, who he might be,
Gazed upon him most eagerly.
While others gazed most eagerly,
Wondering who the maid might be,
Thinking she a marvel must prove.
But Cligès turned eyes full of love
Towards the maiden, covertly,
Withdrawing them so discreetly,
That none could think them so,
In all their passage to and fro.
With great favour he regards her,
And does not see that she ever
Regards him too, in fair exchange.
From true love her eyes do range,
Not flattery, in glance for glance.
It seemed to her, in this instance,
A true exchange, yet augured better
If she’d known aught of the other;
She only knows that he is fair,
And that if she love anywhere
For beauty’s sake, she has no need
To seek elsewhere but here indeed
Her eyes and heart both now are his,
And his to her he doth promise.
Promise? Nay, doth give outright!
Give? Nay, I speak not quite aright,
For there is none can give his heart;
I must speak of it with more art.
Nor will I say, as some have done,
That two hearts are joined in one,
For in the same body never
Can two hearts beat together;
And if they could be there united,
They could never so be plighted.
But if it please you to attend
The truth to you I shall extend,
How two hearts’ unity is won,
Without their being merged in one.
Their unity alone is achieved
In that one’s wish is received,
By the other, and likewise;
Thus their wishes harmonise.
And because they wish one thing,
There are those who oft will sing,
Of how each one hath two hearts,
Though in two places, wide apart,
One heart can never be, and yet
Their wishes can as one be met,
Though each hath their own heart,
Just as singers through their art
May sing, as one, in harmony.
I’ll prove by this analogy,
One body cannot have two hearts;
Know then the truth I here impart;
They are not made one who relate
To what the other doth love and hate,
No more than many mouths that sing
Because they seem to utter one thing,
And if this cannot by such be done,
No body owns more hearts than one.
On this I need not reason more,
For other matters press me sore.
And of the maid and of Cligès
Further thoughts must I express.
Now of the Duke of Saxony hear,
Who to Cologne has sent his dear
Nephew, a youth of tender years,
Who before the emperor appears,
To say his uncle now proclaims
No peace treaty can appertain
If his daughter is not on her way.
Any who think to steal her away
Had better not start their journey
Hoping to find the roads empty,
For those will be well defended,
If she is not at once surrendered.
Lines 2871-3010 Love at first thwarted
THE young man spoke his words well,
Without insults or pride did spell
Out his message, but no answer
Did receive from knight or emperor;
When he found that all were silent,
To show disdain their sole intent,
He left the court defiantly.
But youth and love of chivalry,
Rouse Cligès to challenge him
Before he doth part from them.
In the contest there shall ride
Three hundred on either side,
So that the numbers are equal.
None remain in the palace hall,
Of he and she now emptied quite,
For every lady and every knight
Mount to the battlements to see,
Fill every window and balcony,
To gaze abroad, and so follow,
The contest taking place below.
Even the maiden, now vanquished
By Amor, and shaped to his wish,
All subject to his will, doth go
And seat herself at the window,
Looking on with great delight,
Since she can view that knight
Who holds her heart in thrall,
Not wishing aught else at all,
For she will love no other man.
His name she knows not, the man,
Nor his rank, nor yet his country,
Since to enquire lacks courtesy;
Yet would have any there impart
Aught that brings joy to her heart.
Through the window she doth behold
The shields below that gleam with gold,
And those who those shields do bear,
As for the contest they prepare.
But her thoughts and her gaze
Are soon fixed upon one place,
For her thoughts are of no other,
On Cligès her looks must hover
Her eyes follow where he goes,
And he for her strives below
To prove eminent in the fight,
So she might hear that her knight
Battles with courage and with skill,
And in every way doth compel
Her to prize him for his prowess.
The Duke’s nephew he doth address,
Who, breaking many a Greek lance,
Against them doth himself advance:
But Cligès, whom all this annoys,
Braces himself, his spurs employs,
And strikes him at such a speed
That he, despite himself indeed,
Is thrown from the saddle-bows.
The noise was great as he arose.
The youth mounted once again,
Seeking now to erase the shame;
Yet many a man who seeks a chance
To erase his shame, doth it advance.
On Cligès doth the youth advance,
Who at him doth lower his lance.
And thrusts at him with such force
He’s again unseated from his horse.
Now is all his shame redoubled,
While his followers, much troubled,
Perceive they cannot leave the field
With the honour the fight should yield;
For none of them is so valiant
If he is struck by Cligès’ lance
That in the saddle he shall remain.
While those of Germany joy again
And those of Greece, when they see
Their party chase those of Saxony
From the field, all discomfited,
And scornfully all driven ahead,
Until they reach a flowing river,
Into which they plunge together.
Cligès, amidst the water’s course,
Tips the Duke’s nephew from his horse,
And, after him, full many give way,
Till, to their shame and their dismay,
They escape, saddened and grieving.
Cligès, joyful, is now, returning,
Twice the victor, the prize bearing,
And now the castle gate is nearing
Below the window room, on high,
Where the maid sits, as he goes by,
And exacts as toll a tender glance,
As their eyes meet as if by chance,
Which he thus pays to the maiden.
So is she conquered by the man.
But nary a German, of any tongue,
Who can speak, is not now stung
To admiration: ‘God, who is this,
In whom such great beauty exists?
Lord, how was all this realised,
That he should win such a prize?
Thus they all ask, both he and she:
‘What is this youth then, who is he?’
Soon it is that through the city,
Runs the news, in all its verity,
His name, and that of his father,
And the pledge that the emperor,
Made to his father under oath.
So much was said there of both,
All that news the maid now had
Which made her heart so glad;
For she could no longer say
That Love toyed with her alway,
Nor of him could she complain,
For he had made her love plain;
The most courteous, brave, and fair
Knight to be met with anywhere.
Yet strength will be needed still,
For he’s not free to obey her will;
Thus is she anguished and distraught,
For, regarding what’s in her thought,
She has none to offer counsel,
But must waste herself in vigil.
And thought and vigil so afflict her,
She grows pale, and loses colour,
So that to all about tis clear,
Watching her colour disappear,
That she lacks what she longs for,
For she’s less carefree than before,
Smiles less, and is less joyful;
Yet she hides her trouble well,
When any ask about the matter.
Her nurse’s name was Thessala,
Who in childhood cared for her,
And was a skilled necromancer;
For this Thessala was acclaimed,
Being born in Thessaly, the same
Where diableries are wrought,
And there are likewise taught;
For the women of that country,
Work many a spell and mystery.
Lines 3011-3062 Thessala probes her mistress’ illness
THESSALA saw she was pale and wan,
She whom Love held in his bonds,
And offered up her counsel freely:
‘My God,’ she cried’ ‘my sweet lady,
Could it be you are bewitched?
So pale is your complexion, which
Makes me wonder if aught ails you.
Now tell me, if you can so do,
Where this ill most affects you;
For if any here can cure you,
Tis I to whom you should entrust
Your health, for recover it I must.
I can cure you of the dropsy,
And the asthma, and the quinsy,
And I can cure you of the gout;
The pulse too I know much about,
And urine: you need see no other.
For I know, I dare say, altogether
More than ever Medea knew,
Of charms and enchantments too,
Of proven potency averred.
Of this I’ve never said a word,
Though I’ve cared for you till now,
But pardon me that I so avow,
For I’d never have mentioned it
Did I not see the need for it;
Finding that illness grips you so
My help you need; that I know.
My lady, I would now advise
You to tell me, if you’d be wise,
Of your sickness, ere it worsen.
The emperor himself, in person,
Placed you in my care, for safety,
And I have guarded you so closely,
I kept you always safe and sound.
And yet all will prove unsound,
Should I not cure your malady.
Now, do not conceal from me
If this is illness, or some other.’
The maiden dare not uncover
All the truth of her longing
Fearing lest that very thing,
Bring disapproval and blame.
Yet hearing now that this same
Thessala boasts of being wise,
And of enchantments is apprised,
And of charms and of potions,
She decides to yield the reason
For the pallor showing there;
But first she makes her swear
To keep this secret forever,
Nor disapprove of her ever.
Lines 3063-3216 Fenice and Thessala conspire together
‘NURSE,’ she said,’ I truly thought
I was not ill, no pain it brought;
Yet I think I must be, surely,
For when I touch upon it merely,
I feel great pain and great dismay.
Yet how without experience, pray,
Can illness and health be told apart?
My ill is not as others impart,
Since if I wish to speak of it,
I have both pain and joy of it,
For it delights me in my distress;
And if illness brings happiness,
My affliction is my pleasure,
And pain, of health, is the measure;
Thus I know not why I complain,
For I know not whence comes my pain
If it comes not from this pleasure.
Perchance my longing is a measure
Of ill, but longing brings such joy,
Contentment lies in its employ,
And such delight its pain brings me
I suffer ill contentedly.
My Thessala, is this not it,
That illness plays the hypocrite,
Seems so sweet yet works me ill?
I see no way that I can tell
If I am truly unwell or no.
Nurse come tell me its name though,
Its symptoms now and its nature.
Yet understand I seek no cure
For my illness, let that be clear,
Since such sorrow to me is dear.’
Thessala, skilled in the malaise
Of Love, and wise in all its ways,
Understands by Fenice’s words
That it is love that troubles her.
The tender terms she uses prove
That, for certain, she is in love.
For all ills are bitter, except
That of love, which is adept
At turning all its bitterness
To sweetness and joyfulness,
Then again to their contrary.
But she who knew the malady,
Replied: ‘Have no fear, for I
Will, of your ill, tell by and by
Its name and nature together.
You told me, but now, I gather,
That the pain which you fear
Doth like joy and health appear:
Love’s sickness is of such a brew,
It comes of joy and sweetness too.
You are in love, as I will prove,
For I have found only in love
Is illness found with sweetness.
Experience of all other sickness
Shows it to be wretched and sour,
But love is sweetness by the hour.
You are in love, of that I’m sure.
In that there is no wrong at all;
But I will think it villainy
If you should in idlest folly
Choose to hide your heart from me.’
‘Nurse, that will never be,
If I am assured and certain
You’ll not, whatever happens,
Speak of it to a living soul.’
‘My lady, the winds that blow
Will sooner speak of it than I
Without your leave, I tell no lie;
And I will swear, in this instance,
All this, your cause, to advance,
For you may be sure, in this,
I will, indeed, serve your wish.’
‘Nurse, you ease my mind today,
Yet my father gives me away,
Which grieves and troubles me,
For he who has captivated me,
Is nephew to him I must marry.
And if the latter should enjoy me,
Then all my joy is lost and gone,
And no respite may then be won.
I would rather be dismembered
Than that by us be remembered
The love of Tristan and Isolde,
Of whom many a folly is told
And whom it is shame to recall.
I could never accept at all
Leading the life Isolde led.
For by Love she was misled,
Her heart was given to one alone,
Yet to two was her body loaned.
Thus indeed, her life was spent
Denying neither, to all intent.
Such Love as that’s unreasonable,
But mine will always be rational,
For there will never, on my part,
Be any sharing of body or heart.
My body will not be so enjoyed,
Nor in such service be employed.
Who has my heart, has body too,
All others he may banish from view.
But yet I can see never a way
For him to have my body alway,
He who has captured my heart,
When I am compelled to depart,
By a father I cannot oppose,
And if that other, God knows,
Does aught that I do not wish,
It is not right that I call on this.
Yet the other cannot be truly wed
Without breaking his sworn pledge,
For unless a great wrong is done,
Cligès shall rule when he is gone.
But, Nurse, if such is your art
That he of me shall have no part,
He to whom I’m wed – never,
Then I shall be grateful forever.
Nurse, do you such measures take,
That he might not his pledge break,
That he swore to Cligès’ father,
Where he undertook, moreover,
That he’d never possess a wife.
He has sworn an oath on his life,
And breaks it, in possessing me.
Yet Cligès is not so hateful to me,
That I’d not be buried rather
Than that he should lose an iota
Of the honour that he should see.
May never a child be born to me,
By whom he’d be disinherited,
Nurse, now do for me as you said,
And I shall then be yours forever.’
So the nurse tells her and assures her,
That she will undertake such spells,
Enchantments, potions as well,
She need trouble herself no more
On marrying with the emperor,
For even when they lie together,
When she lies beside the other,
She may feel as secure in all
As if between them stood a wall;
Yet must not be alarmed if he
Finds all he desires in sleep,
For whilst he slumbers deeply
He shall slake his joy completely,
And shall think that he, awake,
All the joy he found did take.
And never think it an illusion,
Or a dream, and thus a fiction.
‘And so for ever and a day:
Sleeping, he’ll think to play.’
Lines 3217-3250 Fenice’s marriage to Alis is solemnised
THE maid was delighted by all this,
Prizing her kindness and service.
Her nurse had inspired hope in her,
By the promise she had made her,
And had bound herself to keep.
Fenice thought from hope to reap
Joy’s reward, despite love’s delays;
Surely he must prove true, Cligès,
When he knows how she loves him,
And that she takes great joy in him,
– So guarding her virginity
As not to mar his destiny –
And cannot fail to pity her,
If he is as noble by nature
As he indeed ought to be.
So in her nurse she believes
And puts all her faith in her:
And one to the other doth swear
They will keep their lips sealed,
The secret never to be revealed.
So their conversation ends,
And when the sun ascends,
The emperor doth his daughter demand.
She goes to him, at his command.
For all of the details, what need?
The two emperors there agreed
The whole matter, and as advised
The marriage now is solemnised,
And in the palace joy now reigns.
Yet will I not waste my pains
In portraying every little detail:
For to Thessala returns my tale,
As diligently she sets in motion
The preparation of her potion.
Lines 3251-3328 Alis drinks the potion
THIS potion Thessala blends,
She to the mixture spices lends,
To sweeten and to temper it;
After mixing and stirring it,
She strains it till all is clear,
Nothing sharp or bitter here,
For all the spices blent thus
Are both sweet and odorous.
The potion at last stands ready
As the sun completes his journey,
And now for supper all are met,
The cloths spread, the tables set;
Though the supper was delayed.
Thessala, with the potion made,
Must find some device, a method
By which it might be delivered.
All were seated now for supper,
A dozen dishes there moreover,
As Cligès now his uncle served.
Thessala, who all this observed,
Thought his service ill-advised,
Disinheritance its only prize;
She was troubled wretchedly,
And thus thought it a courtesy
That the potion be employed
By he who would its fruits enjoy.
So Thessala summons Cligès
And on his approach she says,
When he asks why Thessala
Has now summoned him to her:
‘Friend, I would, at this supper,
Present a drink to the emperor,
Which gives good cheer alway,
So I ask you, by Saint Richier,
Ensure that he drinks no other.
I think he’ll not taste a better,
It cannot fail to please greatly,
Nor is there any known so costly.
But I must warn you, beware
That none other drink; take care,
For there is little of it, as I know,
And thus I beg of you, also,
Say none knows whence it came,
But by chance, you saw the same
Among the pile of presents there,
And smelt sweet spices on the air
When you tasted it, and found
That the drink was pure and sound,
And since it appeared full clear
Filled his cup with its good cheer.
If he should wish then to enquire,
Those words will answer his desire.
And may you suspect no ill too,
From all that I have said to you,
For the drink is clear and sound,
And within fine spices found,
And in time to come, this drink
Is sure to bring you joy, I think.’
Hearing good from it would come,
He took the potion, pouring some
Into the emperor’s crystal glass
Thinking naught would come to pass,
And set it before the emperor,
Who took the glass for, as ever,
He placed great trust in his nephew;
Then he quaffed deep of the brew,
And at once he felt its strength,
From head to heart in its descent,
Then its ascent, from heart to head,
Such that all his body it wed,
Without working any trouble.
And when they rose from table,
The emperor had drunk so deep
That, intoxicated, in his sleep,
By this potion that gave pleasure,
He was from it delivered never,
While all thirsts he’d seem to slake,
And, sleeping, think himself awake.
Lines 3329-3394 The potion takes effect
THUS the emperor was deceived.
Many a churchman he received,
Now, to bless the marriage-bed.
When night veiled the newly wed,
The emperor performed his duty,
And in the dark enjoyed her beauty;
Performed his duty? Nay, I lie,
For he embraced her not, say I,
Though they lay in bed together.
At first the maiden was bothered,
By fear, and great anxiety,
As regards the drink’s efficacy.
But it caused such enchantment
That he would not now frequent
Her or another, except in sleep,
Where he did such pleasure reap
As one is like to do in dream,
Thinking true what doth but seem.
Nevertheless she takes good care
To distance herself from him there,
So that he cannot close with her
Before to sleep he doth surrender.
He sleeps, dreams, thinks he’s awake,
And great efforts doth he make
To win, in sleep, this maiden’s favour,
Though she perceives the danger,
And defends her virginity;
He calls to her, begs her sweetly
Speaks to her as his dear friend,
Thinks to clasp her, as he intends,
In vain, and yet delights in nothing
Holds and kisses some empty thing,
Speaks to nothing, embraces naught
Nor sees nor clasps what is sought,
Struggles and strives to no effect.
The potion was choice and elect
In its work upon him, though,
For this nothing afflicts him so
That for truth he takes this error,
Thinks he doth the fortress conquer,
And when all weary he desists,
Still so thinks, and credits this.
Yet I will say, for once and all,
No more than this to him shall fall.
Like this he’ll be condemned to play
Forever, once he takes her away.
But before they can leave in safety,
I sense great obstacles they’ll meet;
For while he seeks his land anew,
The duke whom she was promised to,
Will not sit by, as they pass through.
And a vast force he’s gathered too,
And has garrisoned the frontiers,
While at the court his spies, all ears,
Seek to inform him, every day,
Of what is done and what men say.
And how long they intend to stay,
And when return, and by which way:
Thus he knows the route they’re on.
Now, Alis, did not linger long
After his marriage, and promptly
From Cologne he parted happily,
While the emperor of Germany,
Escorted him with rich company,
For he ever went in fear and dread
Of those the Duke of Saxony led.
Lines 3395-3424 Cligès is attacked on the journey home
THE two emperors ride along
Till Regensburg is past and gone,
Pitching camp, when the sun is low,
By the Danube, in a green meadow.
The Greeks raise their tents, and rest
Bordering on the Black Forest,
While, opposite, those of Saxony
Can spy upon them, at their ease.
The Duke’s nephew on high ground,
Where all was visible around,
Looked for a chance to inflict,
Some harm, forcing true conflict.
There from his lookout point he saw
Cligès, who made one of four;
Brave youths who wished to disport
Themselves, and had shields brought
And lances, there to joust and play.
Attack them and harm them, I say
The nephew would, if he so could.
His five companions, by a wood
Deep in a valley, he concealed;
Thus they failed to be revealed
To the Greeks, till they emerged,
From the valley and converged,
With the nephew, in close attack,
He wounding Cligès in the back,
Though he was only hurt lightly,
For, bowing, he inclined slightly,
So that the lance, aimed too high,
Brushed him, merely, as it passed by.
Lines 3425-3570 Cligès distinguishes himself in the field
FEELING the wound so dealt him,
Cligès turned, and then pursued him;
And struck the nephew such a blow
He sent the lance, true as an arrow,
Through his heart, and left him dead;
At which his friends of Saxony fled,
In fear of Cligès, and well they might;
Through the forest they took flight.
Unaware of their being spied upon,
Brave Cligès foolishly follows on,
Leaving his companions behind,
Pursuing the foe to where, I find,
The Duke and his forces stand
Fully cognisant, there on hand,
Ready now to attack the Greeks.
Unaided, he the fugitives seeks,
Who saddened by what had ensued,
By the loss of the Duke’s nephew,
Hastened thus to the Duke, to tell
Him of their tragic loss as well,
Weeping, and mourning deeply.
The Duke took the news gravely;
By God and His saints, he swore
He’d take joy and pride no more
In aught that occupied his days,
If one still lived and went his way,
Who had thus his nephew slain;
Adding that any who might gain
The man’s head, and bring it there,
Would prove both friend and comforter.
At that a knight of his made claim
That he would work that very same,
If this Cligès could now be found.
Meanwhile Cligès makes his ground,
Approaching the men of Saxony,
And him now the knight doth see,
Who claims he will have his head,
Nor can he wait to strike him dead,
While Cligès has now turned about
To escape, at his enemies’ shout,
And back, at the gallop, hastens
To where he left his companions,
But there finds not a single one
For they are all vanished and gone
To tell the host of their adventure.
And now, on the emperor’s order
Both Greeks and Germans mount;
In all the host, baron and count
Are armed, and ready for the fight.
Meanwhile the enemy knight
Fully armed, his helmet laced,
In hot pursuit of Cligès raced.
Cligès, not wishing to appear
A coward, nor touched by fear,
Seeing the knight, who was alone,
Called to him, in challenging tone.
But first the knight did him annoy
By addressing Cligès as ‘boy’,
Being unable to hide his anger.
‘Boy,’ he cried, ‘leave me, here,
A pledge for my lord you slew.
If I fail to take the head from you,
Then I’m not worth a false bezant.
I wish to make the Duke a present
Of that pledge, I’ll accept no other.
For his nephew’s life, yours I’ll render:
He shall profit from the exchange.’
Cligès, hearing him in this strain
Of boastful and brazen offence,
Cried: ‘Vassal, look to your defence,
For my head, that you claim of right,
You shall not own without a fight.’
Then each man doth attack his foe;
He misses his aim, but Cligès’ blow
Strikes him so hard, he and his charger
Sink, in a single heap, together,
The horse falling across the knight
And so heavily that, outright,
His leg was shattered wholly.
Cligès now descends swiftly
To the green turf; and disarms
The knight, exchanging arms,
Prior to severing the man’s head,
With the sword seized from the dead.
When the head he had removed,
He fixed it on his lance as proof,
Thinking to do the Duke a service
Whom his nephew had promised
To present with Cligès’ own
If he could but fight him alone.
Now Cligès on his own head sets
The other’s helm, his shield affects;
Not the arms which were his own,
But his whom he had overthrown,
And mounts himself on the charger
That had belonged to the other,
Allowing his steed to run astray,
And cause, indeed, his Greeks dismay.
Soon the advancing banners he saw,
Of a hundred squadrons and more
A mighty force, Greek and German;
Fierce, and cruel, and fully manned.
Cligès, perceiving his own ranks,
Now on those of Saxony advanced,
His friends on his side chasing after,
Not knowing him in his new armour,
And his uncle most discomforted
Since the rider bore a severed head
Atop his lance, and so he thought
It was Cligès’ head, whom he sought;
No wonder he was filled with fear.
Now all the host ride at Cligès’ rear,
And Cligès wishes to lead them on
To fight the battle he has begun,
Till those of Saxony see him close,
Yet they too now wrongly suppose
That he is theirs, from his armour.
Both sides mistake him, lost in error.
Thus the Duke and all, at his advance
In swift approach with levelled lance,
Cry: ‘Here comes our noble knight:
Upon his lance, fresh from the fight,
He bears the head of this Cligès;
The Greeks pursue him and the rest;
To horse now, and his flight sustain!’
Thus they give their mounts full rein
While Cligès spurs his charger on,
Crouching behind his shield, anon,
Lance levelled, the head his guerdon;
For he was braver than Samson,
Though no stronger, it may be said.
Both parties think that he is dead,
Greeks, Germans, those of Saxony:
The latter rejoice, the former grieve.
But the truth will out, by and by,
For Cligès utters his battle-cry,
And charges at those of Saxony,
Striking his man on the head fiercely,
Piercing his breast with ashen lance,
Toppling him, in his swift advance,
Shouting: ‘Strike, my lords, at me,
I am Cligès, whom you would see!
On now, my bold and hardy knights!
Let no man retreat from this fight;
The first joust won, the rest now relish,
The coward alone likes not this dish!’
Lines 3571-3620 Cligès makes off with the Duke’s horse
THE emperor doth now rejoice,
On hearing his nephew’s voice
Calling out in exhortation.
He is filled with quiet elation,
While the Duke is much dismayed,
On finding his cause betrayed,
Unless his force can win his thanks.
He ranges his men in serried ranks,
While the Greeks effect the same,
Ready to press close, and maim,
Stab at the flesh and pierce keenly.
The lances are lowered mutually,
Ready to deal blows and receive
In the true manner, heave for heave.
Thus at the first sharp encounter,
Shields are split and lances shatter,
Girths are cut, and stirrups break,
While many a horse must forsake
Its rider, fallen in that affair.
But whatever else happens there,
Cligès and the Duke must engage,
Extending their lances, they rage,
And strike, with such violence,
The other’s shield, that their lance
Though finely-made and strong,
Flies in splinters broad and long.
Cligès is skilful in the saddle,
Fixed, unwaveringly, astraddle,
With no sign that he might fall,
While the Duke harm doth befall,
Despite himself he is unseated.
Cligès, seeing him defeated,
Tries to capture him by force,
But his strength proves, perforce,
Insufficient, the men of Saxony
Rallying to the rescue swiftly.
Nevertheless Cligès now flies,
Escapes unharmed, with a prize,
The Duke’s steed with him doth go,
Its colour whiter than the snow,
And worth more to a nobleman,
Than the wealth of Rome’s Octavian.
The horse was of Arabian breed,
And seeing Cligès with the steed,
Gave joy to his whole company,
Who recognised the worth and beauty
Of that white stallion from Araby,
Though not the ruse of their enemy,
Through which, before they are aware,
Great damage will be done them there.
The End of Part II of Cligès