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 5555-5662 The secret tower
- Lines 5663-5698 Fenice feigns illness
- Lines 5699-5718 Fenice declines to receive the emperor’s physician
- Lines 5719-5814 Fenice drinks the potion and feigns death
- Lines 5815-5904 The physicians from Salerno
- Lines 5905-5988 Fenice upholds the deceit
- Lines 5989-6050 Fenice is tortured; the ladies of the court retaliate
- Lines 6051-6162 Fenice is interred in the tomb
- Lines 6163-6316 Fenice is recovered from the tomb
- Lines 6317-6343 Thessala cures Fenice of her wounds
- Lines 6344-6392 Fenice longs for the sunlight
- Lines 6393-6424 The secret garden
- Lines 6425-6586 The tower is discovered, and John is arrested
- Lines 6587-6630 John tells the emperor of the magic potion
- Lines 6631-6784 Cligès becomes emperor
Lines 5555-5662 The secret tower
JOHN had constructed a tower,
The work of many a toilsome hour,
In a hidden site, below the town.
And now he led Cligès around,
Revealing all the many storeys,
Decorated with the glories,
Fair and fine, of his artistry.
The rooms and all the chimneys,
John shows him, up and down.
Cligès views the vale around,
Where not a soul lives or stirs.
Room on room he doth traverse,
Until he thinks he has seen it all,
And is greatly pleased withal,
And says that it is fine and fair,
His sweetheart would be happy there,
All life long, could she inhabit
Its delights, and none know of it.
‘Truly, sire, she’d not be seen.
But think you that you have been
Through all my turreted retreat?
There is still more of it complete,
And chambers no man could find.
And yet if you were so inclined,
And searched as hard as you might,
You never would reveal to sight,
However subtle and wise you are,
A single room or level more,
Unless I were to show it you.
Know, it lacks for nothing too,
Nothing a lady might need,
Or that comes to mind indeed.
For all is fine, and luxurious.
Below ground it extends thus,
As indeed you will perceive,
Nor will you find, I believe,
The entrance, or ever could.
With such art is it made good,
Fashioned out of solid stone,
So juncture seems there none.’
‘Now I hear wonders,’ cries Cligès,
‘Lead on, and after you I press,
For I desire to see these things.’
Now, on their way proceeding,
John takes Cligès by the hand;
By a smooth wall he doth stand,
All shining and of even colour.
This wall John now halts before,
Asks Cligès to inspect its face.
‘Sire,’ he says, ‘no man can trace
A door or window here assigned,
And think you any man could find,
The means to penetrate this wall,
Without brute force ruining all?’
Cligès replied that he thought no,
Nor would, unless he found it so.
Then John said that he would see,
For now a way would opened be.
And John who had constructed it,
Revealed the door, and opened it.
He used no force nor did it shatter.
They entered, one behind the other,
And by a stairway they descended
To a vaulted cellar where it ended,
A place where John wrought his art,
When on some work he embarked.
‘This’ he said, ‘no one has viewed,
No one God made, except us two;
None has been here, and presently
How well-appointed tis, you’ll see,
Tis so luxurious, and all complete,
To such a place you might retreat,
Your true friend might here find rest;
Tis fine enough for such a guest.
Here are chambers, and baths too,
And heated water that doth issue
From pipes set below; moreover,
Who would true comfort discover
Where a friend might hide her face,
Would needs go far to find a place
For her, that is equally delightful.
You will find it all most suitable,
Once you’ve seen it completely.’
Cligès traversed the tower entirely,
Then said: ‘Friend John, hark to me,
You, and your heirs, I now set free,
Place myself in your hands wholly,
And wish my friend to dwell solely
Here, alone, and none know of her,
But you, and I, and she; no other.
John replied: ‘My thanks to you!
But time enough, all this to view,
Have we spent, there’s nothing more,
Let us return, and seal the door.’
‘Well said, friend,’ Cligès answered,
‘Let us depart.’ Thus they retreated,
And issued forth from the tower.
Once in the town, within the hour,
They heard a murmur of distress:
‘Know you not of this strange illness,
That doth my lady the empress seize?
May the Holy Spirit grant her ease,
So wise she is, and a gentle lady:
Yet is sick of a grievous malady.’
Lines 5663-5698 Fenice feigns illness
AS soon as Cligès hears this talk
He hastens swiftly to the court,
But finds no joy or gladness there,
As all are sad, and full of care
For the empress, who illness feigns;
For that of which she complains
Gives her neither grief nor pain.
She has commanded, once again,
That none her room should enter,
While such strong pain grips her
About her heart, and in her head,
Unless it be Alis or, in his stead,
His nephew, not daring to exclude,
Either, but if the emperor choose
Not to come, she will not mind.
For Cligès, she herself resigns
To great deception and danger.
That he appears not, pains her,
Since to see him she doth pine.
Yet Cligès will be there, in time,
When he will tell her all that he
Has found and viewed, happily.
He with this doth her beguile,
But is only there a little while,
Since Fenice, the ruse deploys,
That what delights her annoys,
By crying loudly: ‘Go, depart!
You trouble and grieve my heart.
For I’m afflicted with such pain,
That I shall ne’er be well again!’
Cligès, entranced by such arts,
With a sad face though, departs;
So sad a face you’ll never see.
Without, he seems all tragedy,
And yet within his heart is light,
For he now waits on his delight.
Lines 5699-5718 Fenice declines to receive the emperor’s physician
THE empress, without being ill,
Complains of her illness still,
The emperor, who thinks it true,
Ceases not to grieve anew,
And calls for his physician,
But she refuses him admission,
And allows no one to touch her.
He may well weep, the emperor,
When she says she will accept
But the one physician, so adept
He can swiftly grant her health,
Should he wish her to be well.
Alive or dead he can her render,
And to him she doth surrender,
Both her life and her well-being.
To God they think she is referring.
But that was never her intention,
Tis Cligès, she dare not mention;
He is the god can make her well,
Or toll for her the passing bell.
Lines 5719-5814 Fenice drinks the potion and feigns death
THUS Fenice takes every care
That no physician examines her;
And takes no food or drink either
So better to deceive the emperor,
Until she’s pallid, her lips blue.
The nurse is busy about her too,
As she with wondrous guile,
Searches the town meanwhile,
Secretly, such that none knows,
For one who might be supposed
Hopelessly, thus mortally, ill.
More perfectly to work her will,
She visited this woman in pain,
And promised her, oft and again,
That she’d cure her of her malady;
Yet each day a glass she’d carry
And inspected her water therein,
Until she thought no medicine,
Could help her now, in any way,
And she would die that very day.
This sample she now concealed,
And kept it by her, tightly sealed,
Until the emperor was awake.
She to him the glass doth take,
And said: ‘If you would command
All your physicians to be on hand,
Sire, this water my lady passed
Whom an illness afflicts, alas,
Which she’d have the doctors inspect;
But will not have them near her bed.’
The physicians came to the hall,
And condemned it one and all,
Its evil character and colour,
And agreed with one another
The empress would ne’er recover,
Nor yet live till nones was over,
Perhaps till then, when at the latest,
God would grant her soul His rest.
They muttered this first together,
Then were asked by the emperor
To tell him what they had to say.
They then replied to him that they
Gave no hope of her recovery,
That she could never live past three,
But would render up her soul before.
When he heard this, the emperor
Almost fell fainting to the ground,
Stricken deep, without a sound,
As many another who was there.
Never were cries of such despair
As echoed from the palace walls.
I’ll spare you all their grief withal:
Know that Thessala now is brewing
Her potion, tempering and stewing,
She mixes it, and stirs it there,
For she has long before prepared
Everything she knew the potion
Required, to be set in motion.
A little before nones, that’s three,
She gives the drink to Fenice.
Once she has sipped the drink,
Her sight dims, her eyelids sink,
All her face turns white and pale,
As if the blood in her body fails.
She cannot move a limb, either,
Not even if alive they’d flay her;
She cannot stir or speak a word,
Despite the grief she has heard,
The emperor’s sorrow, and all
The cries of pain that fill the hall.
And through the town runs the cry
Of people, as they weep and sigh:
‘Lord, what pain and what sorrow
Doth cruel Death on us bestow!
Death you are evil, covetous,
Voracious, blind, and envious,
Your appetite is never sated.
Never till now were you fated
To tear at this world so fiercely;
Death what have you done? Such beauty,
God confound you, you’ve eclipsed;
The loveliest, and the saintliest,
Had she but lived, nor you destroyed,
On whom God’s art was e’er employed.
Too long-suffering is God’s patience,
When he allows to you the strength
To steal away what seems His own.
Now God’s anger should be known,
He should cast you from your place,
Your insolence has grown too great,
Too great your impudence and pride.’
Thus, all enraged, the people cried,
Wrung their arms, and beat their palms,
While the priests intoned their psalms,
Prayed, as the passing bell did toll,
For God to have mercy on her soul.
Lines 5815-5904 The physicians from Salerno
AMIDST all these tears and cries,
As those who witnessed it advise,
There arrived three physicians,
From Salerno, aged clinicians,
And all long established there.
Astonished by this sad affair,
They enquired, sought to know
For whom these tears did flow,
Why all the sorrow and distress.
Thus the answer was expressed:
‘Good Lord, sires, do you not know?
Sure all the world would sorrow so,
And wish to mourn along with us,
If they knew of all the disastrous
Pain, and grief, and woe, and loss
That came upon us here, this day.
Dear Lord, where are you from, say,
To know not what afflicts the city?
We will tell you, in all verity,
For we wish you to join with us
In grieving for what troubles us.
Know you not how Death doth call,
Who so desires and covets all,
And everywhere awaits the best?
This crime is his, we now attest,
As ever with him is customary:
With her clear light, her rare beauty,
Did God illuminate this world,
But Death his banner has unfurled
Who cannot yet abide the hour.
As far as it lies within his power,
Each day he gathers in the best.
Thus he wished his power to test,
And in one body has taken more
Than is yet left in Nature’s store;
If all the world he had so cursed,
He could not have chosen worse.
Beauty, wisdom, and courtesy,
All that in one woman may be,
That appertains to true goodness,
Death has taken, to our distress,
For here he eclipses all goodness,
In the sole person of our empress.
Thus Death has now slain us all.’
‘Lord, your anger you have let fall
On this city, we see, for we arrived
Too late,’ the three physicians cried.
‘If we had been here but yesterday,
And Death still stolen her away,
Then of his power he might boast.’
‘She’d not have seen you, sirs, most
Certainly, nor have sought your skill,
For such indeed was my lady’s will.
Good physicians do we have here,
But my lady wished for none, I fear,
And would not allow any to see
Her then, nor treat her malady.
No, by my faith, she’d see none.’
The doctors think of Solomon,
Whom his wife did so disdain,
That her own death she did feign;
This Fenice has worked the same,
And if they can revive this dame,
And find such is what she’s done,
They’ll not lie for her, or anyone,
But tell the truth and not deceive,
And say to all what they believe.
To the court they made their way,
Where the cries of grief that day
Might the thunder have suppressed.
The trio’s chief, and the wisest,
Straightway approached the bier:
No one cried: ‘Stand not so near,’
Nor forced him to move aside,
And to her breast and to her side
He set his hand, and felt the soul
Still lived within the body whole;
Convinced indeed by hand and eye.
He saw the emperor standing by,
Tormented, and crushed by grief.
And called aloud, to give relief,
‘Emperor, be you now consoled,
For certainly I see and know,
That she, your lady, is not dead.
Cease your tears, be comforted.
If I render her not, alive, to you,
Then may my life be ended too.’
Lines 5905-5988 Fenice upholds the deceit
AT once throughout the palace all
The noise abates and silence falls,
While the emperor commands
The doctor to state his demands
As to what is needed to revive
Her; and if he renders her alive,
He will command the emperor,
But will be hanged as a robber
Should he, in anything, have lied.
‘This I accept,’ the doctor replied,
‘And may no mercy be shown to me,
If I do not make her speak to thee.
Now, without turmoil or delay,
Empty the palace straight away,
So no other person here remains.
The affliction this lady sustains
I must now determine privately.
These doctors, of my company,
Alone, must stay with me here;
These two; no other must appear,
All of the rest must wait outside.’
This request they’d have denied
Cligès, John, the nurse Thessala,
Could they, in some way, but all the
Nobles would have imposed it,
If they had sought to oppose it.
So they are silent and endure
What all the rest are longing for,
And from the palace make their way.
Meanwhile the doctors tear away
The winding sheet from the lady
By hand, without the use of any
Blade, then say: ‘Be not afraid,
Lady, now be not dismayed,
But speak to us, of a surety,
For we perceive, with certainty,
That you are both whole and well.
Be wise now, and sensible,
And here despair of nothing,
For if of us you seek anything
We assure you now, all three,
We have the power to aid thee.
You ought not now to refuse.’
Thus they attempt to confuse
And deceive her, but in vain,
For she cannot but disdain
Any service they might render,
All this to her is idle chatter.
And when the physicians see
She will not respond indeed,
To bland requests or flattery,
Then they drag her forcibly
From the bier, and say if she
Speaks not, she’ll regret her folly;
For they will do such things to her
As never before inflicted were,
On any wretched woman’s body.
‘We know you are alive, we see
That you disdain to speak to us,
Yet know you are deceiving us,
And so would cheat the emperor.
Yet you need fear us no more,
And if we have angered you,
Before we trouble you anew,
Disclose your true will to us
For your deceit is villainous,
We will help, no matter what,
Whether it prove wise or not.’
It cannot be; she needs naught.
Then they renew their assault,
Lashing her about with whips,
Bloody welts scar back and hips,
And they so beat her tender flesh
That her blood pours out afresh.
Lines 5989-6050 Fenice is tortured; the ladies of the court retaliate
THOUGH they lash her with their whips
Until her flesh is torn and split,
And the blood is trickling down
From her wounds to the ground,
Even then it proves of no avail.
To force a single sigh they fail,
Or provoke her to move or stir.
They argue lead must be preferred,
And melted, then, without a qualm,
Once hot, poured on her bare palms,
Rather than fail to make her speak.
So fire and lead they swiftly seek,
And light the fire and melt the lead,
And now those felons, to evil wed,
Torment, and thus afflict the lady,
By pouring molten lead slowly,
Lead taken boiling from the fire,
Over her palms; such their desire.
Nor are they even satisfied
When it pierces from one side
Of her bare palms to the other.
The cowards declare that either
She must confess immediately
Or they will grill her cruelly,
Until her flesh is burnt to ash.
Still she is silent, for the lash
And the pain she dare endure.
They are preparing to do more,
To grill her flesh, and char her,
When a crowd of ladies sever
Themselves from all the rest,
And at the closed doorway attest,
Viewing her torment through a crack,
To the vicious and painful attack,
These men are inflicting on Fenice,
As with hot coals and irons they
Seek to achieve her martyrdom.
Preparing to break the door down,
They bring implements, then batter
At the closed door till it shatters,
Thus do they achieve their mission.
If they lay hands on the physicians,
Swiftly their power they will assert,
And grant the men their just desserts.
The palace now these ladies enter,
In a single torrent, all together,
And Tessala there in the press;
To the succour of her mistress
She runs; such is her only aim.
She finds her naked and maimed,
Sorely wounded, in bitter pain.
On the bier she sets her again,
And covers her now with a sheet,
While all the ladies go to wreak
Vengeance on the three physicians;
Not waiting on the decisions
Of emperor or seneschal.
From the windows, the doctors fall,
The three shattering, in the depths,
Necks, and ribs, and arms and legs,
Landing, all broken, in the court.
Never have ladies better wrought.
Lines 6051-6162 Fenice is interred in the tomb
THOUGH those ladies have ensured
The doctors reaped their just reward,
And have repaid them grievously.
Yet Cligès is tortured cruelly,
Filled with dismay now on hearing
Of all the anguish and the suffering
His sweetheart has endured for him;
For a moment his eyes grow dim,
His thoughts fearful, and rightly;
For dead or injured she might be,
Through those grievous tortures
Inflicted by that trio of doctors.
So he is full of sorrow and pain,
When Thessala returns again,
Bringing a precious ointment,
For the soothing anointment,
Of poor Fenice’s wounded body.
Then the attendant ladies swiftly
In white Syrian robes wrapped her,
And laid her once more on the bier,
Though leaving her face uncovered.
All night they wept and suffered,
Unceasing, weeping endlessly.
All grieved, throughout the city,
High and low, and rich and poor,
Each sought it seemed to grieve more
Than all the others, and lament,
Nor cease till he or she were spent.
All night their tears they sought.
Next morning John arrived at court.
Whom the emperor did now demand,
And to him issued this command:
‘John, if you did rare work ever,
Employ your skill, and deliver
A most finely-wrought sepulchre,
Than which none can discover
One more beautifully carved.’
And since it was already carved,
John replied that he had wrought
Such a tomb as was now sought.
Though he’d had no expectation
Of employing it yet for anyone;
For when he had begun the tomb
A saintly occupant he’d assumed.
‘Let it then the empress enclose,
For she is saintly, God knows.’
‘Well spoken,’ cried the emperor,
‘In the church of my lord Saint Peter,
Let her be placed in her sepulchre,
There where the others are interred,
For she asked that, when she died,
She might forever there abide,
And requested I bury here there.
Now set to, and site the sepulchre
In its rightful position, where a tomb
Should reasonably a place assume
In some fair part of the cemetery.
John replies: ‘Sire, most willingly.’
And John at once doth now depart.
The tomb he makes with great art,
And carves the work lovingly;
And, within, a feather bed he
Sets, for the stone is very hard;
And colder still the graveyard.
And that it might smell sweeter
Flowers and herbs he scatters;
And he does all this moreover
So as to hide beneath their cover,
And her body, the feather bed.
Already a Mass has been said
In the parish churches around,
And now the passing bells sound
As is customary for the dead.
Orders are given, the bier is led
To the graveyard, the body laid,
In the sepulchre John has made,
Which appears both rich and noble,
And throughout Constantinople
None remain, whether great or small,
Who do not weep, viewing the pall,
And curse and reproach cruel Death;
Knight and squires beneath their breath,
While the ladies and the maidens,
Beat their breasts, sorrow-laden;
All of them finding fault with Death:
‘Death, why wouldst thou not accept
Ransom for our lady, as you might;
For surely the gain to you is slight,
While her loss to us is full great?
And Cligès also laments her fate,
For he now grieves and suffers too,
Yet more than all those others do;
And wonder it is he is still alive,
Yet he will do naught but strive
To endure, till he can disinter her,
And hold her, and thus discover,
Whether indeed she lives or nay.
Around the grave those barons lay,
Who’d lowered the bier to its place.
And since John was there apace,
Left him to close the sepulchre,
While they lay prostrate there,
And thus had no power to see;
So that John could most readily
Achieve all that he needed.
When the sepulchre was fitted,
And all was finished rightly,
He sealed all the joints tightly.
Great skill he must possess,
Who, without force or excess,
Could loosen, or penetrate
Aught that John did so create.
Lines 6163-6316 Fenice is recovered from the tomb
FENICE lay there in the tomb
Till the hour of darkness loomed,
Yet thirty knights mounted guard,
Ten tapers the darkness starred,
Shining bright, and burning clearly.
The knights though, tired and weary
From the grief they had suffered,
Ate and drank so, to recover,
That all as one fell sound asleep.
At night Cligès the tryst did keep,
And stole away from the court.
Not a knight or squire knew aught
Of this, nor of where he’d gone.
He did not rest till he’d found John,
Who advised him as best he could,
And armed him, though they would,
Indeed, meet no hostility.
They spurred to the cemetery,
Fully armed, fast as they might.
Yet, so that the band of knights
Who slept within felt secure,
They had all the gates made sure,
Such that no man might enter in,
While the cemetery was ringed
By a high surrounding wall.
Cligès feels daunted by it all,
For there is no way past the gate,
Yet somehow he must penetrate;
For Love summons him betimes.
So he grips the wall and climbs,
For he is both agile and strong.
Within do gardens lie, among
Which there rise scattered trees,
And by the wall one of these
Stands so near that it touches.
Now with all he needs, Cligès
Descends by means of this tree.
And now the first necessity
Is to open the gate for John.
The knights are slumbering on,
So they extinguish all the lights
And thus employ the dark of night.
John seeks the grave site there
And opens up the sepulchre,
While doing no harm to it.
Cligès climbs into the pit,
And lifts his love from the grave,
Who by her weakness is enslaved;
Kisses her, clasped in his embrace,
Pain and joy mingled in his face:
She does not move or say a word.
Now John himself is quickly stirred
To seal the sepulchre once more,
So all seems as it was before,
As if no soul has e’er been there.
As swiftly as they can they bear
Her away to that secret tower.
Now, once they were in the bower,
Hidden there beneath the ground,
Her grave clothes they unbound.
And Cligès, who knows no detail
Of what the potion may entail
Within her body, rendering her
Unable to speak, or even stir,
Surmises that she must be dead,
And many a tear now must shed,
Discomforted so, and in despair.
But came the time, as she lay there
The potion began to lose its power,
And Fenice who hears, at that hour,
How he weeps, strains and strives
To show him she is still alive,
And comfort him by glance or word.
Her heart, when his sorrow she heard,
Almost broke, at his grief and pain:
‘Ah Death,’ he cried, ‘what a villain
You are, to thus save and reprieve,
Things vile, so as us to grieve,
Letting them live on and endure.
Death you are drunk or mad, for sure,
Who kill my love, and yet spare me.
Wondrous indeed is this I see,
My love is dead, yet life is in me.
Ah, sweet lover, why then does he,
Your love, live on, yet you lie dead?
For now, rightly, it might be said,
That you have died in serving me,
And I have murdered you, cruelly.
Yet, my love, of whom I am the death
That stole your life, is not the breath
Of error here? For I have lost mine,
And yet, in myself, I preserve thine.
For were not your life and health
Granted me, friend, as my wealth,
And were not mine granted you?
But for you I loved naught true,
And we two were but one thing.
Thus have I done a rightful thing!
For your life in my body I own,
While mine from yours has flown,
And one the other, where’er it be,
Should bear that other company,
And naught should part them ever.’
At this Fenice sighs, and whispers,
Answering, faintly, from her bed:
‘My love, my love, I am not dead,
And yet am not so far from dying.
Little I think my chance of living,
I thought my death a game I’d play,
But indeed I may be pitied today,
For death hath made a game of me.
Should I live, a wonder it will be,
For the physicians have wounded,
And torn my flesh, and tormented
My poor self, and yet if my nurse
Could come to me now and rehearse
Her skills, I might yet be restored,
If by such efforts one can be cured.’
‘Have no worry as to that, my dear,
For sure I will bring Thessala here,
This very night,’ declares Cligès;
‘Let John go seek her now,’ she says.
So John departed to seek her there,
And when he found her said to her
That he wished to bring her away,
And she should scorn all delay,
For Fenice and Cligès needed her
In the tower, and awaited her;
And Fenice was much wounded,
So that she must come provided
With ointments and remedies,
For Fenice would die if she
Did not bring aid and promptly.
So Thessala departs swiftly
And fetches all her ointments
Her plasters, and medicaments,
And meets with John; the city
They now leave, most secretly,
And hurry straight to the tower.
Once the nurse enters her bower
Fenice at once feels calmer,
So great her love and trust in her.
Cligès greets her as she appears
Saying: ‘Well it is you are here,
Thessala, whom I love and prize!
Tell me straight what you surmise
Regarding this poor lady’s state.
How seems she? Are we too late?’
‘Sire,’ she answers, ‘have no fear,
I will restore her, shed not a tear.
There shall not a fortnight pass
Before I have her well at last,
And you will find her healthier
Than ever she was and stronger.’
Lines 6317-6343 Thessala cures Fenice of her wounds
THESSALA waits on Fenice’s health,
While John seeks to provide the wealth
Of supplies that the tower needs.
And Cligès visits, and succeeds
In doing so openly, for he dares
To lodge a moulting falcon there,
And feign he goes to attend on it,
So none surmises from this habit
That he goes there for any reason
Other than to visit the falcon.
He lingers there night and day,
And orders John to keep away
Any who seek, unasked, to enter.
Fenice has naught to distress her,
Being fully cared for by Thessala.
Were Cligès Duke of Tudela,
Morocco, or Almeria,
He’d think it little, it’s clear,
Compared to his joy in her.
Love did himself no dishonour,
By bringing these two together.
When they clasp and kiss each other
All their joy and happiness,
It seems to them, must surely bless
The world, and all who are in it;
Ask me then nor more about it.
Lines 6344-6392 Fenice longs for the sunlight
‘Each had sufficiency of the other, and Fenice dwelt in the tower’
Idylls of the King (p31, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
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EACH had sufficiency of the other,
And Fenice dwelt in the tower,
I think fifteen months, and more,
Till the return of May now saw
The flowers, the trees in full leaf,
And the little birds, free of grief,
Each singing their joyful litany.
It came about one morn, Fenice,
Heard the song of the nightingale,
Cligès clasping her, or such the tale,
About her waist, and round her neck;
And she him likewise, in all respects.
She said to him: ‘Fair love, my dear,
Would not a garden help me here,
Where I could walk and take the air?
For more than fifteen months there,
I’ve had no sight of sun or moon.
Were it possible, I’d wish that soon
I might wander in the light of day,
Nor in this tower be shut away.
And if there were but a garden near
Where I could walk often, it appears
To me that such would do me good.’
Then Cligès told her that he would
Seek John’s advice, and speedily,
As soon as he could ever him see.
It so chanced John met his view,
As he was often wont to do,
For he visited frequently.
Cligès told him what Fenice
Had expressed as her dearest wish.
‘I have already prepared for this,’
Said John, ‘all as she commands.
For all she wishes and demands
This tower and court can provide.’
Fenice was pleased with his reply,
And asked John to conduct her there,
To which he answered: ‘Anywhere!’
And he then went and opened a door,
Though the fashion of it was more
Than I can describe to you or relate,
Such as none but John could create,
And so built that none could know
There was a door or yet a window,
For when both of them were closed,
No trace of them was left exposed.
Lines 6393-6424 The secret garden
WHEN Fenice viewed the open door,
And saw the sunlight inwards pour,
As she’d not seen it for many a day,
Her heart leapt at that sight, I say.
Filled with joy she blessed the hour,
Since now she could leave her tower,
And no other lodging wished she then.
Straight she passes into the garden,
With all its pleasures and delights.
A tree, in its midst, is a fine sight,
With blossom and foliage blessed,
Spreading wide and the branches
So trained that they all hang down
Until they almost touch the ground;
The bole out of which they spring
Aloft, through the clear air rising.
High into the air doth lift its crown;
And Fenice loves the shade around.
Under that tree, the turf is sweet,
‘Fenice loves the shade around, under that tree, the turf is sweet’
Idylls of the King (p77, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
Most pleasant now beneath her feet,
And the sun’s bright rays are not,
Even in summer, when it is hot,
Strong enough to pierce its leaves,
For John its branches so weaves,
And trains them all at his leisure.
Here Fenice takes her pleasure.
A bed is made under the tree;
And there are joy and beauty.
From the tower a high wall
Doth surround the garden all,
So that none might reach her bower
Except they do so through the tower.
Lines 6425-6586 The tower is discovered, and John is arrested
FENICE is now quite at ease,
With nothing there to displease.
For with the flowers, and leaves,
She lacks nothing that she needs:
Her lover may there embrace her.
Now at the time when the hunter
Sets she-hound and sparrow-hawk,
To take the mistle-thrush and lark,
And stalk the partridge and quail,
A knight of Thrace, along the vale
Near the tower, sought such prey.
Young and lively was he alway,
Much taken with knightly pursuits,
And had chanced to take this route.
Bertrand was the young knight’s name,
And his sparrow-hawk, though tame,
Had flown up, having missed a lark.
Bertrand, seeing it fail of its mark,
Was concerned the hawk was lost,
And must be foregone, to his cost.
Yet now its descent was sudden,
Hard by a tower, into a garden,
And, pleased to see its sudden fall,
He clambered swiftly over the wall,
Thinking his prayer had been heard
And he might now secure the bird.
But in descending he doth see,
Asleep and naked, under a tree,
Cligès there, with his Fenice.
‘Lord,’ he cried, ‘what do I see?
What wondrous thing is this?
‘By my faith, is that not Cligès,
And the empress in his embrace?
Surely not, yet it seems her face,
And none doth so resemble her.
The nose, mouth, brow, appear
Those my lady the empress owns.
Never indeed has Nature shown
Two forms fashioned so akin.
And here I see not a single thing
That I observe not in my lady.
If she lived, it would seem to me,
That this must certainly be her.’
Just then, close to Fenice’s ear,
A pear fell, and struck the ground;
Fenice awoke, at the sound,
And, seeing Bertrand, she cried:
‘My love, my love, we are surprized,
See tis Bertrand! If he escape
Are not we in a dreadful strait,
For he will tell all he has seen.’
Now Bertrand, viewing the scene,
Knew ‘twas the empress, without fail,
And over the wall now he must sail,
For Cligès has brought his sword
And set it there on the greensward,
Where beside their bed it was laid.
He leapt up, and grasped the blade,
And Bertrand fled immediately;
As fast as ever he could, he
Scaled the wall, and was nigh over,
When Cligès now hurrying closer
Struck at him so fiercely that he
Near took his leg off at the knee,
As though it were a fennel stalk.
Nonetheless Bertrand could walk,
And, once over the wall, escaped
Although badly cut, and scraped.
When his folk, on the other side,
Bertrand, in this sad state, espied,
They picked him up and wondered
Greatly, upon seeing him wounded,
By whom he had been mistreated:
‘Ask me no questions now,’ he said,
‘But set me on my horse aright.
I cannot speak of this, nor might,
Until I have seen the emperor.
The man must be struck with terror,
Who has thus wrought me ill,
For he is now in mortal peril.’
Then they set him on his palfrey,
And led him swiftly to the city
Troubled, and fearful in mind.
A great crowd followed on behind,
Accompanying them to the court.
Vying with each other, they sought
To be the first to reach the hall.
Bertrand, in the hearing of all,
Made his report to the emperor.
But they all took him for a liar,
When he readily bore witness
To having viewed their empress,
And the emperor’s nephew Cligès,
Under a tree, in all nakedness.
One half of the city was in ferment
Hearing the news with wonderment,
Yet treating it as mere foolishness;
While the other half, thought it best
For the emperor to visit the tower.
Great was the outcry, in that hour,
Of those who followed on behind.
But in the tower naught they find,
For Cligès and Fenice have fled
With Thessala, who boldly said,
To comfort them and reassure,
That if by any chance they saw
Any who tried to follow them
So as to take and detain them,
They indeed need have no fear;
Such could never come so near,
Due to a most powerful charm,
If seeking to cause them harm,
As a crossbow’s flight that day.
Meanwhile the emperor doth say,
That John must now be sought,
Ordering him bound, once brought,
– For John tells him all, in verity,
And so is dispelled the mystery –
And cries that he will see him hung,
Burnt, and his ashes abroad flung,
For the shame lately incurred,
And such will be justly deserved,
For John concealed from his power,
His nephew Cligès, in that tower,
And his wife as well, the empress,
‘Such is the truth,’ John doth confess,
‘I have not sought to concoct a lie,
Nor to hide it from you will I try,
And if I have done aught amiss
It is right I am punished for this.
But if am wrongly put to death
He will avenge my last breath,
If he lives. Now do your worst,
For should I die you are accursed.’
Lines 6587-6630 John tells the emperor of the magic potion
THE emperor was deeply angered
By everything that he had heard,
Once he’d grasped all John had said.
‘John,’ said he, ‘you are not dead,
Until I have discovered your lord,
He who hath worked such discord,
While I have ever held him dear,
And sought in all to be sincere.
For you shall be held in prison,
And if you know what has become
Of him, I order you, tell me now.’
John replied: ‘Tell you? And how
Should I commit such a felony?
Were the life drawn from my body
I would not reveal my lord to you,
Even if his hiding place I knew;
As for that, as God is my witness,
I know not the place, I confess,
Any more than you. Your jealousy
Seeks to guard naught, in reality:
For I am not so filled with fear,
As not to state, that all might hear –
And even if I am not believed –
How thoroughly you were deceived.
By means of the potion you imbibed,
That your nephew for you prescribed,
Your nights were not as they seemed.
For except you slept, and in a dream,
Had joy of her, you never achieved
Aught of that in which you believed.
But dreams came to you in the night,
And gave you then as much delight
As if you were still wide awake,
And her within your arms did take.
No other joy, it was, came to you.
To Cligès, her heart was so true
That for his sake death she feigned.
He trusted in me, and explained
All their plan; he placed her, rather,
In the tower, of which he’s master.
My loyalty you should not accuse;
Yet if my master I’d dared refuse,
Or had disobeyed his command,
Then indeed I should be hanged.’
Lines 6631-6784 Cligès becomes emperor
THE emperor, now brought to think
Of that potion he was led to drink,
By which he had been deceived,
For the very first time perceived
That if he had never had pleasure
Of his own wife, by any measure,
Except in dream, all was delusion,
And his marriage a mere illusion.
He cried that if he did not take
Revenge for the shame and disgrace,
Brought upon him by the traitor
Who’d played the part of her seducer,
He’d never more have joy in life.
‘Search,’ he commanded, ‘for my wife,
From Pavia, all through Germany,
And let no castle, town or city,
Be excluded from your quest.
Whoever doth those two arrest,
Will be, of all, dearest to me.
Now go search, diligently,
Near and far, and high and low.’
They started eagerly, although,
Despite searching, every day,
Some, being friends of Cligès,
Would rather hide them closely,
Conducting them both to safety
If they found them, than otherwise.
A fortnight at least, I’d surmise,
They spent on that task in vain;
For Thessala, guided the twain,
And with her arts and enchantments,
Such were her accomplishments,
That not even for a single hour
Did they fear the emperor’s power.
They stayed in town nor city as yet,
But still all their needs were met,
Or more even than they desired,
For whatever might be required,
Tessala both sought and purchased;
When they were no longer chased
And the pursuit ended in failure,
Cligès was able, at his leisure,
To seek out King Arthur’s court.
When he’d found him he sought,
To his great-uncle he made clamour
Concerning his uncle the emperor,
Who’d robbed him of his inheritance,
By taking a wife in open defiance
Of his sworn oath which was not right,
For by it he had promised outright,
To Cligès’ father, he’d not marry.
The king declared that with his navy
He would attack Constantinople,
And his knights and all his nobles,
Would fill a thousand ships of war,
And men-at-arms a thousand more;
No city, town, burg, nor castle wall,
However strong, would fail to fall.
Nor did Cligès forget to deliver
His thanks to the king, as ever,
For the aid that he now offered.
The king issued then his order
Through all the land to his barons,
And they all made ready, at once,
Every warship, barque, and galley.
With lances and shields, were they,
And suits of armour for the knights,
Filled, to the gunwales, for the fight.
The king made greater preparation
For the coming confrontation,
Than ever did Caesar or Alexander.
He did summon there and gather
All of England and Normandy,
Flanders, France and Brittany,
And as far as the gates of Spain.
They were about to sail amain,
When from Greece came a message
That instantly delayed their passage,
Held the king and all from sailing.
Among the messengers appearing
Was John, a man to be believed
Since he never sought to deceive,
By saying aught that was untrue,
But only what he for certain knew.
These messengers were noblemen
Of Greece, seeking Cligès again.
They found him where they sought
With much joy, at Arthur’s court.
They cried: ‘God save you, sire!
By all those now in your empire,
Is Greece surrendered to you,
As is Constantinople too,
For all belongs to you of right.
The news we pronounce outright
Is that your uncle died of anger,
Because he failed to uncover
Where you were; filled with hate,
Such that he neither drank nor ate,
He died as one who lost his mind.
Fair sire, return, for you will find
That such is your barons’ desire;
For your true presence they require,
Wishing to make you emperor.’
Some were delighted, while more
Wished that their guests had never
Arrived, for they would moreover
Have indeed been greatly pleased
To have still embarked for Greece.
But thus the venture was abandoned,
And the king his force disbanded,
All the host turned from the affair.
While Cligès hastened to prepare,
Wishing now to return to Greece,
And let his stay in Britain cease.
Once he is ready, he seeks leave
Of the king, while the lords grieve,
And so, with Fenice, now embarks.
Until the Greek shores they mark,
They voyage, and are welcomed there
With great joy, as befits their share.
And all the people see them marry,
And crown their Cligès and Fenice.
Now his love he has made his wife,
And calls her: ‘My love, my wife.’
And she has no reason, all confess,
To say he loves her any the less;
And she too loves him moreover
As one should love one’s lover.
Each day their love grew stronger,
For he indeed doubted her never,
And she complained of naught.
She was never confined at court,
As so many have been confined
And hidden away since that time.
For every later emperor
Of his empress went in fear,
Lest the woman might deceive him
As in the story, told to him,
Fenice had deceived Alis;
First with the potion at the feast,
Then with her other trickery.
Thus every empress, who e’er she be,
However rich, however noble,
Is held captive in Constantinople,
Since her day, and locked away,
For every emperor is still afraid,
When this story he remembers.
He imprisons her in her chamber,
For in her he lacks all confidence,
And no man can enter her presence
Unless he’s gelded from infancy,
For then there is no fear, you see,
Love will bind him, as other men.
Here ends this work of Chrétien.
‘He imprisons her in her chamber, for in her he lacks all confidence’
Idylls of the King (p105, 1898) - Baron Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892)
Internet Archive Book Images
The End of Part IV of Cligès