Chrétien de Troyes
Lancelot (Or The Knight of the Cart)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.
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- Lines 5379-5514 Lancelot hears news of the tournament.
- Lines 5515-5594 Lancelot travels to the tourney and finds lodgings.
- Lines 5595-5640 The crowd gathers.
- Lines 5641-6104 The tournament.
- Lines 6105-6166 Lancelot is imprisoned in the tower.
- Lines 6167-6220 Meleagant issues the summons.
- Lines 6221-6458 King Bademagu’s daughter plans to free Lancelot.
- Lines 6459-6656 Lancelot is freed from prison.
- Lines 6657-6728 Lancelot is restored by the maidens’ care.
- Lines 6729-7004 Lancelot returns to King Arthur’s court.
- Lines 7005-7119 Lancelot slays Meleagant.
- Lines 7120-7134 Godefroi’s envoi.
Lines 5379-5514 Lancelot hears news of the tournament
WHILE the queen was, as I believe,
Out of the country, she did leave
Many a maid disconsolate,
Many a lady, and their debate
Had them declare that they would
Be wed as soon as e’er they could.
And this being now their intent,
They agreed they would foment
A contest, and arrange a tourney;
The lady of Pomelegloi to see
To this, with the lady of Noauz.
They’d have naught to do with those
Who fared ill, but would receive
In marriage those who did achieve
Something worthy on that field.
Its date the criers now revealed
To all the countryside nearby
And all that furthest from the eye,
Giving the time well in advance
And every other circumstance,
So that more folk would thus attend.
And now the queen returned again
Before the date that they had set;
As soon as they heard, they met,
And knowing the queen was there
Most to the court did then repair,
And, finding the king was at court,
Once before him, they all sought
That a favour he might bestow,
And fulfil their every longing so.
And the king promised them this,
Before he even knew their wish;
Thus he’d grant all they required.
Then they told him they desired
That he should allow the queen
To, presently, attend the scene.
He, unaccustomed to say no,
Said yes, if they wished it so.
So, gratified and well-content,
Off to see the queen, they went,
And said to her, immediately:
‘Do not deprive us now, lady,
Of all that the king has granted.’
And when the queen demanded:
‘What then? Hide it not from me!’
They answered: ‘To our tourney
If you should desire to come,
He will not keep you at home,
And nor will he quarrel with it.’
Then she said that she would visit
Since the king had given her leave.
Through all the realm, I do believe,
Those ladies sent word that they
Would bring the queen on the day
They had announced formerly,
On which the tournament would be.
The news travelled everywhere,
Far and wide, here and there,
Until, progressing on its way,
It came to where that kingdom lay
From which, before, none returned,
But now to which whoever learned
Of it had entry, and might leave,
And no challenge would receive.
Far throughout that country went
The latest news of their intent,
Until it reached a seneschal,
Of Maleagant, the disloyal,
The traitor, whom may hellfire burn!
This man had Lancelot interned,
Entrusted with his captivity
By Meleagant, whose enmity
Towards Lancelot was great.
The latter learned now of the date
And the hour of the tournament,
Nor were his eyes then innocent
Of tears, nor indeed his heart light.
Seeing the sad and pensive knight,
The lady of the house in person
Offered him counsel and wisdom:
‘Sir, for God’s and your soul’s sake,
Tell me truly,’ she said, ‘what makes
You sad, and whence this change in you?
Both food and drink you now refuse,
I see you neither laugh nor smile.
You may tell me, without guile,
Of those thoughts that trouble you.’
‘Ah, lady! If I’m sad, for true
It is, by God, be not surprised.
Grieving I go, with downcast eyes,
For that brave field I shall not see
Where the best in the world must be,
At the tourney, where all assemble,
It seems to me, whom I resemble.
Nevertheless, if you so pleased,
If God would set your mind at ease,
Such that you let me travel there,
Then be assured, to you I swear,
That I would behave such that I
Should return to you, by and by.’
‘Surely I would, most willingly,’
She said, ‘were it not that I see
In that my death and destruction,
So greatly do I fear the actions
Of Meleagant, our vile master,
Thus I dare not; such disaster
It would bring upon my lord.
No wonder if we fear his sword,
For evil he is, as well you know.’
‘Lady, if you still fear though
That after the tournament there
I’ll not return, then will I swear
On oath to you, for your own sake,
An oath that I will never break,
That there is naught that shall detain
Me from returning here again
As soon as the tourney is done.’
‘I’faith,’ said she, ‘I have but one
Condition.’ ‘What is that, lady?’
‘Sir, that you will swear to me
To return, but promise no less
Than that your love I’ll possess.’
He answered her, without pause:
‘Lady, all that I have is yours,
And I do swear to return here.’
‘Then shall I have naught, I fear,’
Said the lady, full of laughter,
‘For I know that to another
You have pledged and granted
The very love that I demanded.
Nevertheless, I’ll not disdain
To take whatever may remain.
Thus I will keep all that I can,
And your assurances command,
That you will prove true to me,
And return to your captivity.’
Lines 5515-5594 Lancelot travels to the tourney and finds lodgings
SUBMITTING to this lady’s law,
By Holy Church Lancelot swore
He would return thus, without fail.
Then the lady lent him the mail
And vermilion arms of her lord,
And his war-horse did him afford,
Wondrous fine, and brave, and strong.
He thanked her, mounted, and was gone,
Splendid in his fine new armour,
Armed with weapons, riding ever
Until to Noauz he came.
There, concealing his true name,
He took lodgings near the town.
Never has such a great man found
So poor and low a dwelling-place;
But, there, he would avoid his face
Being recognised, and so his name.
Many a knight well-known to fame
Were gathered there in the town,
Yet many others lodged around;
For so many flocked to that affair
Since the queen herself was there,
A fifth part had to dwell outside.
For every one who would so ride
To tourney, there were seven who
Were there because the queen was too.
For a good five leagues around
The barons lay about the town,
In lodges, tents and pavilions.
And twas a wonder, all the sum
Of maidens and fine ladies there.
Outside his lodgings’ door, with care,
Lancelot had placed his shield.
And then his armour he did yield
For comfort, and so down he lay
On the bed, which in every way
He disdained, for it was narrow,
The mattress thin, to his sorrow,
With but a coarse hemp coverlet.
Thus disarmed, while he as yet
Still lay there in his poor estate,
A fellow came, as he did wait;
A shirt-sleeved herald-at-arms,
Who to the tavern and its charms
Had left his coat and his shoes
As a pledge, barefoot, abused
By the wind, came at the trot;
He saw this shield of Lancelot’s
Before the door, but knew it not,
For though he gazed he’d never
Seen it, and knew not its master,
Nor who might here be its bearer.
The door lay open to any farer,
And, entering, on the bed he saw
Lancelot there, and what is more
Crossed himself for he knew him.
And Lancelot gazed hard at him,
Then ordered him to say naught
Of it, where’er he was, at court
Or elsewhere; for if he should say
A word, better for him that day
If he were blinded, or his neck
Were broken. ‘Sire, in great respect
I ever held you, and shall do still,
And so, as I live, I never will,’
Said the herald, ‘do aught that may
Bring you displeasure in any way.’
Then from the house he did go
Crying aloud, both high and low:
‘Here comes one who’ll take your measure!
Here comes one who’ll take your measure!’
He went crying it everywhere,
And all the folk they came to stare
And ask the meaning of his cry.
But not so rash as to reply,
He went on calling out the same,
From his mouth the same cry came:
‘Here comes one who’ll take your measure!’
The herald granted us that treasure,
He taught us all to say the phrase,
Who used it first in olden days.
Lines 5595-5640 The crowd gathers
NOW there gathered for the tourney,
The queen herself and all her ladies,
And all the knights and other folk,
And men-at-arms, there to invoke
The rules, in all parts, left and right.
Near the place where they would fight,
Here were stands, built from wood,
Where, near the queen, there sat or stood
All the maidens, and the ladies;
There were never seen so many
Stands, so large and finely-made,
Where all the women now displayed
Themselves, drawn there by the queen,
Wishing to see, while being seen,
Which knights fared better or worse.
The knights arrived in tens at first,
Then in twenties, thirties, and more,
Eight there, and ninety they saw,
A hundred plus, and yonder yet
Twice the number; so many met
Before the stands, and all around,
The commencement now did sound.
Armed, unarmed, they all assembled;
Their lances a forest resembled,
For those knights come to the sport
Had so many weapons brought
There was naught on that scene
But lances, standards, to be seen.
The jousters then the joust began,
Each finding many another man
Arrived there with the same intent;
While others sought to represent
The various skills of chivalry.
So full of knights were the fields,
The meadows and the untilled land,
To seek the number there on hand
Was idle, none could count the lot.
And yet no sign of Lancelot
Was seen at this first encounter,
But when he came, a little later,
The herald, seeing him nearby,
Could not then forebear to cry:
‘Here comes one who’ll take your measure!
Here comes one who’ll take your measure!’
Then ‘Who is he?’ the folk did cry,
But not a word would he reply.
Lines 5641-6104 The tournament
WHEN Lancelot now made his entry
He was worth of knights the twenty
Best, so well there did he fight,
Such that all must turn their sight
On him, wherever he might be.
For Pomelegloi fought valiantly
A brave and most skilful knight,
While faster than a stag in flight
Was his steed, that tall did stand;
He was a king’s son, of Ireland,
And well and handsomely did ride,
But many times more they sighed
For him whose name they knew not,
Hastening to ask whence or what
He was: ‘He fights well, who is he?’
Meanwhile the queen, most covertly,
Spoke to her maid, both wise and clever,
‘A message now you must deliver,
She said, and do it now and swiftly,
And in brief words, and privately.
Go down quickly from the stand
And find the knight there on hand
Who carries a vermilion shield,
And secretly this message yield
That ‘au noauz’, he do his ‘worst’.
Swiftly, but cautiously at first,
The maid did as the queen wished;
For as soon as she’d accomplished
The finding of him, she stood close
And in a voice, so soft and low
That his neighbours could not hear,
‘The queen, sir,’ whispered in his ear,
‘Sends you these words, by me,
To do your worst.’ ‘Most willingly,’
On hearing her words, he replied,
Like one all hers, and then did ride
Against another knight as swiftly
As his steed would go, while he
Deliberately missed his thrust.
And from that moment until dusk
He fought as badly as he could
As the queen desired he should.
And yet the other knight made no
Mistake, and struck him such a blow,
That Lancelot indeed took flight;
Nor that day toward any knight
Did he now turn his horse’s head;
On pain of death he chose instead
To do naught that day unless he
Shame in its outcome did foresee,
And deep disgrace and dishonour,
And, moreover, he feigned terror,
As the knights passed to and fro.
And the very men who had so
Prized Sir Lancelot, formerly,
Now mocked this knight, derisively,
And the herald who was wont to cry:
‘He’ll beat them all now, by and by!’
Was baffled and discomfited,
Hearing all that, in jest, they said,
With utter scorn: ‘Be silent, friend,
His measure-taking is at an end,
So much he’s measured of this host,
His measure’s done for, and your boast.’
Many said: ‘What will he do now?
For he seemed brave, you must allow,
Yet now appears so cowardly,
He turns from every knight he sees.
He seemed so fine, you may be sure,
Because he’d never fought before,
In his first onslaught was so strong
None could withstand him among
All the great host of knights, in short
Fought as a wild man might have fought.
Now of arms he has learnt so much
Doubtless he’ll not dare to touch
Arms again, his whole life through.
His heart could not endure it, true,
For none’s as cowardly as his.’
And the queen, watching all this,
Was pleased, nay delighted, in short,
For she knew, though she said naught,
That he, in truth, was Lancelot.
Thus all the day, till day was not,
Lancelot played the coward’s part,
Until near vespers all did depart.
On leaving there was much debate
As to who had fought best to date.
Thus the king of Ireland’s son
Thought, despite contradiction,
He’d won the glory and renown.
Yet he did not deserve the crown,
Many there had proved his equal.
Even that knight had pleased all
The ladies and the maids, at first,
And of those fairest not the worst,
He with the vermilion armour,
Such that they’d watched him more
Than any other, seeing how well
He then fought, and how skilful
And brave he had seemed to be.
Though then he’d proved cowardly,
And dared not face a single knight,
Till even the humblest in the fight,
Could defeat him if they wished.
And they, at their departure, insist
They will return on the morrow,
And will choose, for joy or sorrow,
Those who win honours that day,
As their husbands, come what may.
All folk then to their lodgings go,
And, reaching their lodgings so,
Demand of each other, outright:
‘What has become of that knight,
The worst and the most despised?
Where did he go to? Where hide?
Where to seek, how to ascertain?
Doubtless we’ll ne’er see him again,
Whom Cowardice has chased away,
That of which he’s so full, I say,
There’s none as cowardly as he.
Nor is he wrong, for the cowardly
Are a hundred times more at ease
Than fighting men, if you please.
Cowardice is pleasant and easy,
Thus in peace he kissed her sweetly,
And had from her whate’er she had.
But Courage proves never so bad
As to lodge herself with such a one,
Or close, as Cowardice has done,
For she has lodged with him entire,
And found the host she doth desire,
Who’ll so honour her, and serve,
He’ll forsake his honour for her.’
Thus all night they slander him,
Competing to speak ill of him,
Though men oft slander another
Who are worse than their brother
They pour shame on and despise.
All spoke of him and in such wise.
And with the dawn on the next day
The crowd, returned to the display,
All gathered at the jousting-place.
And to the stand the queen retraced
Her steps, and the ladies and maids,
And with them there were arrayed
Unarmed knights, whom they treated
As captives, having been defeated,
Who gave the arms, shield by shield,
Of those they prized most in the field,
Remarking: ‘See him who doth hold
That shield there with band of gold
On a red field; full brave and quick
Is Governauz of Roberdic.
And there, not far from him, another
Who, on the shield at his shoulder,
Bears an eagle and a dragon?
He’s son to the King of Aragon,
And to this country he has come
That fame and honour might be won.
See, of his neighbour I can tell,
He who thrusts and jousts so well,
Half his shield is painted green,
On that a leopard may be seen,
The other half is clear azure;
Tis Ignaures, whom all adore,
He’s both amorous and pleasant.
He who with pheasant to pheasant,
Beak to beak, his shield doth deck?
That’s Coguillanz of Mautirec.
And see those two next each other
On dappled greys, like as brothers,
A lion black on each gold shield?
The one his name I cannot yield,
But his dear friend is Semiramis,
And like shields they bear in this.
Then do you see he that, in state,
Bears on his shield an open gate,
With a stag issuing from it there.
I’faith, that knight is King Ider.’
Thus, high in the stands, they gloze:
‘That shield was made in Limoges,
Brought here today by Pilades;
He loves tourneys such as these,
Eager for battle, win or lose.
That other was made at Toulouse,
The breast-strap, and bridle also,
Brought here by Kay of Estrau.
That came from Lyons on the Rhone,
Under heaven no better’s known,
Given for merit and so proffered
To that knight, Taulas of the Desert,
Who bears it well, and skilfully.
That other was worked artfully
In England, and in London made,
A pair of swallows there displayed,
That seem as if about to fly,
But never move, yet feel, say I,
Many a Poitevin lance and more;
And he is Thoas, called the Poor.
So they describe and explicate
The coats of arms of those they rate.
But of him they catch no sight
Whom they hold in such despite,
Suspecting he has slipped away
Finding him absent from the fray;
While the queen on seeing him not
Considers if he should be sought
Amongst the crowd till he is found.
She knows of none better to sound
Than she whom she sent his way,
With her message, but yesterday.
So calling the maiden to her side
‘Go, demoiselle,’ she says, ‘go ride,
Mount your palfrey, and search for
That knight to whom I sent before,
But yesterday, go search and find.
Linger here for naught else, mind;
To him repeat your last refrain,
Tell him to do his worst again.
And, when you’ve done so, then, say I,
Attend full closely to his reply.’
The maiden suffered no delay,
For she indeed recalled the way
He had gone the evening before,
And she had known that more
Than once she’d be asked to go.
And thus through the ranks she rode,
Till she came across the knight
Whom at once she bade to fight,
But do his worst and ever waver,
If he wished the love and favour
Of the queen, which she now brought.
And he: ‘Whatever twas she sought
Would win my thanks, is my reply!’
The maiden leaves him, by and by,
Then valets, sergeants, squires, begin
To raise a shout, amidst the din,
Crying: ‘Now, behold this wonder,
The knight in the vermilion armour
Is here again. What can he wish?’
For ne’er so vile a knight as he,
So worthless and so cowardly,
Exists in all the world, this hour.
Cowardice has him in her power,
Such that he cannot oppose her.’
Meanwhile the maid herself doth stir
To hasten, and inform the queen,
Who keeps her close by, I ween,
Asking her what says the knight.
Then her heart fills with delight,
Knowing now, whate’er befall,
That it is him to whom she’s all,
And she his own, without fail.
She tells the maiden she must sail
Swiftly to him, and must say
The queen doth command him, pray,
To do the best now that he can.
And she says she’ll find the man
Again, and now, without delay.
From the stand, she makes her way
To where the lad waits patiently,
Keeping tight hold of her palfrey,
And she mounts, and off she rides
Till she finds him where he bides,
The knight, to whom at once says she:
‘Sir, the word now from my lady,
Is you must do ‘the best’ you can!’
And he replied: ‘I am her man;
Tell her tis no hardship ever
To do her will, for whatever
Pleases her, that’s my delight.’
Nor was the maiden slow in flight
Returning to the queen, for she
Thought indeed his words would greatly
Please, and so delight, the queen.
As soon then as she could, I ween,
She made her way towards the stand
And the queen, seeing at her hand,
Rose swiftly, and went to greet her,
Yet did not descend, to meet her,
Waiting at the head of the stair.
So the maid approached her there,
Happy her message to recount,
And thus the stair she did mount,
And once she had reached its head:
‘Lady I never saw,’ she said,
‘A knight quite so debonair,
And one so eager, in this affair,
To do whatever it is you ask,
For truth be told, whate’er the task,
He accepts, with the same face,
Good or ill, and ever with grace.
‘I’faith, she said, ‘good let it be.’
Then back to the window went she,
To gaze again at all the knights.
And Lancelot, swift as he might,
Seized his shield by the leathers,
Desiring to display his feathers,
Show all his skill and his prowess.
His horse he doth now address
‘Show all his skill and his prowess. His horse he doth now address’
St. Nicholas [serial] (p558, 1873), Mary Mapes Dodge (1830-1905)
Internet Archive Book Images
And runs him between the lines.
Soon they’ll be troubled in mind
The misguided and deluded men
Who all day long, and then again
At night, heaped him with ridicule.
Much have they played the fool,
Disporting themselves in fun.
Now the King of Ireland’s son
Gripping his own shield tightly,
Spurs apace, galloping lightly,
To meet him in close encounter.
So fiercely do they come together,
That the son of the Irish king
His lance, thereby splintering,
Seeks no more of the tournament,
For Lancelot blunted his intent;
It was no mossy board he struck,
But good hard wood to his ill luck,
And Lancelot thus did him harm,
Pinning his shield to his left arm,
Pinning his arm then to his side,
Downing his horse to end his ride.
Then knights fly out, spurring on
‘Then knights fly out, spurring on’
St. Nicholas [serial] (p558, 1873), Mary Mapes Dodge (1830-1905)
Internet Archive Book Images
From either side, to the king’s son,
One party to save him from distress,
The other to savour their success.
These men think to aid their lord,
While many are lost overboard,
Their saddles emptied in the fray.
And yet absent from that melee,
Was Gawain, his weapons at rest,
Though he was there, with the best,
For such pleasure did he take
In all the moves the knight did make,
With arms and armour painted red,
Others’ deeds seemed pale instead,
And failed indeed to compare,
With all the red knight did there.
The herald now was full of cheer,
Shouting aloud so all could hear:
‘Now he’s here to take your measure!
Today you’ll marvel, at your leisure.
Today his prowess shall appear.’
Then the knight his steed did veer,
And made a very skilful thrust,
And laid a knight there in the dust,
Hurled from his steed so far, be sure
He sailed a hundred feet or more.
Lancelot commenced his advance,
With the sword and with the lance,
So well, that none watching there,
Failed to delight in that affair.
And many an armed knight indeed
Found pleasure in Lancelot’s deeds.
It was fine sport to watch how he
Floored horse and rider with ease,
Tumbling to the ground together.
Hardly a knight did he encounter
Who in his saddle still remained,
While the mounts he thereby gained
He gave to whomever he desired.
Those who taunts and jibes had sired,
At his expense, said: ‘Shamed are we,
And mortified; fools, utterly,
To deride and vilify this knight,
For he is worth a thousand quite
Of such as those upon this field,
For he conquers and makes yield
Every knight that meets with him,
Such that none will fight with him.’
And the maidens who with wonder
Watched him said to one another
‘And the maidens who with wonder Watched him’
St. Nicholas [serial] (p460, 1873), Mary Mapes Dodge (1830-1905)
Internet Archive Book Images
That he might take them now to wife,
For none there trusted, on her life,
In her beauty, or her dower,
Or her status, or her power;
For not for their wealth or beauty
Would this knight seek to marry
Any there, such was his prowess.
Yet most of them, nevertheless,
Are so enamoured of the man
They declare that, except they can
Wed with him, they’ll not be wed
To any other lord instead.
And the queen who hears it all,
All the words that they let fall,
Smiles to herself with delight
For she knows that this knight
Were he to have before him set
All Arabia’s gold, would yet
Refuse the best, the most fair,
The noblest of the maidens there;
Not one of them would he take,
Not one of them, for her dear sake.
One wish is common, each alone
Would yet have him for her own;
And each is filled with jealousy
As if her husband now is he,
All because of his great prowess
In the field, such that all confess
No knight in arms, nary a one,
Could e’er do as he has done.
So fine his deeds, as he departs
All say, without a lie, his arts
Are such that he of the red shield
Has no equal, upon that field.
All spoke of it and it was true,
Yet in the lists as he withdrew
He left his shield, there where he
The centre of the crowd did see,
And his trappings and his lance,
Then took himself to a distance;
So swift he went, so secretly,
That none gathered there did see
Him leave, which way he went,
Nor noticed that he was absent,
Swift and sure to that very same
Place, he rode, from which he came,
In order to fulfil his oath.
At the tourney, the knights both
Asked for him, and likewise sought
Where he might be, and yet naught
Found of one who’d not be known.
Great sorrow and distress they own,
Who if they could have found the knight
Would have greeted him with delight.
Yet if the knights now feel dismay
That he has left them thus this day,
The maidens, when they also knew,
Felt greater sorrow and, anew,
They swore that they, by Saint John,
Would ne’er, that year, wed anyone,
And if denied the man they wished
Then all the rest must be dismissed.
Thus the tournament has ended,
Without their finding their intended.
And Lancelot to the road doth turn,
Soon to his prison to return.
But its seneschal reached the spot,
Two or three days ere Lancelot,
And asked where he might be.
And the lady who had freely
Loaned him the accoutrements,
Had his vermilion armour lent,
His horse and harness and all,
Confessed all to the seneschal;
And how she had sent him so
To the tournament at Noauz;
All the truth she did rehearse.
‘You could have done no worse,
My lady,’ said the seneschal.
‘In truth, I doubt not, I shall
Suffer for all this, and my lord
Meleagant shall to me afford
Less aid than sailors in distress
Win from the cruel and merciless.
Dead, or in exile, I shall be.
He will show no pity to me.’
‘Now, fair sir, be not dismayed,
He will not halt, or be delayed,’
Said the lady, ‘so have no fear,
For you need not, he will appear;
By all the saints, he swore he would
Return as swiftly as he could.’
Lines 6105-6166 Lancelot is imprisoned in the tower
NOW the seneschal mounts his horse
And comes to his lord, in due course,
And tells him all the sorry tale.
But reassures him without fail,
That Lancelot, upon his life,
Has sworn an oath to his wife
That to prison he will return.
‘I know,’ said Meleagant, in turn,
‘That his word he will not break,
Nonetheless, your wife’s mistake
Fills me with displeasure, withal.
I’d not have him, for aught at all,
Present now at that tournament,
But go now, make it your intent
That once he is with you again,
His liberty he’ll not regain;
Hold him tightly then in prison,
His body deprived of freedom.
And make sure to send me word.’
‘Thus shall I do, as I have heard.’
The seneschal, on leaving, learned,
That Lancelot had now returned,
And was a prisoner in his court.
Therefore he sent a brief report
Swiftly flying on its way
To Meleagant, which did say
To his liege lord that Lancelot
Had now returned. On learning what
That message contained, his master
Gathered masons and carpenters,
Who would or must do his bidding.
The country’s finest summoning,
He ordered them to fashion there
A tower, and give it all their care,
And build it well and skilfully.
The stone was quarried by the sea,
For on this side, and close to Gorre
There is an island, set offshore
In a long wide stretch of water,
Of which Meleagant was master.
Thus the stone was carried over,
And all materials for the tower.
In less than two months, I’d say,
The tower was fit in every way,
Well-founded, strong, and tall.
When his men had seen to all,
Lancelot was brought, by night,
And prisoned there, out of sight.
Then they walled up the door,
And all the masons duly swore
That they, forever and a day,
Naught of that tower would say.
For Meleagant wished it sealed,
Such that its bare walls revealed
But one small window that remained.
Within, Lancelot is detained,
And but poor and meagre fare
Is delivered to him there,
Through the tiny window’s grate,
At certain hours, as they dictate,
Thus he is treated cruelly,
By that master of treachery.
Lines 6167-6220 Meleagant issues the summons
NOW, all being done as required,
Meleagant, at once, desired
To take himself to Arthur’s court.
There, behold, he is now brought,
And as he stands before the king,
Bold, arrogant in everything,
He begins his speech, and says:
‘King, before you, in this place,
I do hereby summon Lancelot
To a contest, but see him not,
Who did agree to meet me here.
Nevertheless, as all now hear,
In the presence of those I see,
I offer to fight, as is my duty.
If he is present, let him appear,
And to his agreement adhere
In a year’s time at your court.
I know not if any have sought
To tell in what manner or guise
This agreement was realised,
But I see knights I might mention
Who were there at its inception,
And are here today, who could
Tell you the truth, if they would.
Should he deny it, before me,
I’d employ none other, but he
Upon his body would see it proved.’
The queen, who was seated, moved
To draw to her the king beside her,
And to him she now did murmur:
‘Sire, know you not who this is?
Meleagant, who did me seize
Besides Sir Kay the Seneschal,
Bringing him much shame and ill.’
And the king straight replied to her:
‘Lady, I well know who stands there;
I see that it is the one, no less,
Who held my people in duress.’
The queen said not another word,
But the king, having thus conferred,
Toward Meleagant turned his head:
‘God save me, friend,’ the king said,
Of Lancelot now we have had no
News, indeed it brings us sorrow.
‘King and sire,’ said Meleagant,
‘Lancelot told me he would stand
Here, to meet me, without fail.
And nowhere else might I avail
Myself of the oath that he swore,
But at your court, and all these lords
Shall bear true witness to what I say:
I summon him, a year from today,
To the battle here, thus decreed
When the covenant was agreed.’
Lines 6221-6458 King Bademagu’s daughter plans to free Lancelot
AT his words, Gawain now rose
Grieved by what he had disclosed,
Troubled by all that he had heard:
‘Sire, of Lancelot not a word
Has come to us in all this land,
But we shall set a search on hand
And, if God please, he will be here
Before the last day of the year,
Unless he’s dead or in prison.
If he cannot attend in person
Grant me the contest; I will fight,
For Lancelot I’ll act the knight
If he returns not ere that day.’
‘Ah! By God,’ this boon, I pray,
Which he desires, do you grant,
To him, for I’ said Meleagant,
‘Know not of any other knight,
In all the world, I’d rather fight
Except for Lancelot alone,
Of a surety, let it be known:
If I fight not one of these two
I’ll meet no other substitute,
For one of the pair it must be.’
And the king did so agree,
If Lancelot failed to appear.
Meleagant now left his peers,
Parting from King Arthur’s court,
For now indeed he sought,
His father King Bademagu.
Once before him, to pursue
The appearance of bravery,
He feigned an air of jollity,
A happy face did now employ.
That day the king full of joy
Held court at Bade, his city.
Twas the day of his nativity,
So he was fine and generous,
While full many and various
Were those who there did gather.
The palace was in high fever,
All full of maidens and knights;
And one of the maidens bright
Was sister to Meleagant;
Of her I’ll not speak in advance
Of my thoughts and intention,
Here I’ll make no further mention
Of her, for I’d not confuse
My matter but instead I choose
Not to muddle things mid-course,
Nor interrupt my true discourse,
But keep to the straight and narrow.
And so I now will have you know
That Meleagant in his father’s hall
In all men’s hearing, great or small,
Said to his father, clear and loud:
‘So help me God, do tell me now,
And tell me truly, if you please,
Is he not the seat of bravery,
Should not that man be full of joy,
Who, at the threat that he’ll employ
His arms, brings fear to Arthur’s court?’
His father, then, without a thought,
To his question at once replied:
‘My son, no good man can deny
That he should e’er honour and serve
One who doth such respect deserve,
And seek out that man’s company.’
Then begged him, using flattery,
To say, and naught from him conceal,
Why to him he doth thus appeal,
His wishes, and whence come hither.
‘Sire, I know not if you remember,’
Said his son, Meleagant,
‘The conditions and the covenant
Which were recorded and agreed,
When your terms we did concede,
Lancelot and I together.
We committed, one and the other,
It seems to me, and before all,
That, ere a year, should befall
We’d fight at King Arthur’s court.
At the due time, there, I sought
Him; I myself ready, waiting
For whate’er my fate might bring.
Thus all that I ought I have done,
For Lancelot I searched, but none
Had seen him, that I might fight,
And yet of him had nary a sight;
He had hidden himself or fled.
When I came away, twas said
By Sir Gawain, in pledge to me,
If Lancelot was dead, and he
Could not within the time set
Thus appear, then even yet
No respite would be sought,
But he himself, before the court,
Would fight in place of Lancelot.
Arthur not one knight has got,
As all men know, as fine as he;
But ere the springtime we shall see,
When he and I attempt that same,
Whether his deeds match his fame;
And I would wish to prove it now!’
‘Son,’ said his father, ‘I do avow,
You seek to play the fool, for sure.
Any who knew it not before,
May learn of it from your own lips.
A good heart doth itself eclipse,
Bows low, but that the boastful fool
Ne’er ends his folly, tis the rule.
Son, as for you, now, I do say,
That your own self it is alway
So harsh and dry that I do see
No sweetness there, nor amity.
Your heart all devoid of pity,
You are wholly gripped by folly.
Tis why I do chastise you so,
Tis what, indeed, will lay you low.
If you are brave, men will concede
That very same, whene’er you need.
The virtuous man seeks not to praise
His courage that his actions may
Seem greater; they themselves extol.
Self-praise will not achieve your goal
Of advancing in men’s esteem,
One jot; no, it lessens you, I deem.
Son, I reprove you; to what end?
Tis vain to hope a fool will mend.
He wastes his strength utterly
Who’d rid a fool of his folly.
All the wisdom men expound,
Is worthless if it be not found
To bring reform; wasted, lost.’
Meleagant, being thus crossed,
Now sore enraged, waxed furious.
I may say that never, among us,
Could you see man born of woman
As full of anger as was this man,
And now the last bond he broke
Between them, as these words he spoke
Ungraciously, to his father
Seeking not to yield or flatter:
‘Are you asleep, or do you dream,
You who claim that mad I seem
Who speak but of my situation?
I thought to a father I had come,
As to my lord and my master,
But that appears untrue, rather
You insult me, outrageously,
Beyond all right, it seems to me,
Nor can you give any reason
For treating me with derision.’
‘I can indeed.’ ‘What reason then?’
‘That I see naught in you, again,
But anger, and foolishness.
I know you’ve courage in excess,
And what ill it will bring to you.
Now cursed be any man who
Thinks Lancelot, the virtuous,
Who is so prized by all of us
Except for you, has fled from fear,
For I am certain it will appear
That he’s buried, or held hard
In some prison, the door barred
So tight that he cannot leave.
Surely I would sorely grieve
If it should be the case that he
Is dead, or in sad captivity.
A mighty loss it would be
If a creature full of chivalry
So fine, so brave, so serene,
Vanished thus from the scene,
God please, it may not be true.’
Then words failed Bademagu.
But one of his daughters heard
What he had said, every word,
She listened to him thoughtfully,
And you must know that it was she
Whom I spoke of earlier, and
Is saddened now to understand
The likely fate of Lancelot.
It must surely be that he cannot
Be free, for news of him none know.
‘May God not look upon me though,
She said, ‘if I rest till I have found
Fresh trace of him, sight or sound;
Some news both certain and assured.’
Now, without waiting to hear more,
She, without noise, without murmur,
Leading it to a quiet corner,
Mounted a mule, fine, well-paced;
Though I must say she left that place
Not knowing the way she should go,
After departing the courtyard so.
She seeks no advice, travelling blind,
Taking the first road she doth find,
Riding swiftly, doth so adventure,
Not knowing where, at a venture,
Without knight or squire for guide.
Most eagerly, and with haste allied,
She seeks the object of her quest.
She presses on, and may not rest,
But her search will not end soon!
She may not rest, night or noon,
Nor linger in one place for long,
If she wishes to right this wrong,
As she herself has thought to do,
Can she but find, and then rescue
Lancelot, if she has the power.
But I think she’ll first devour
Many a mile, in many a land,
Far and wide, on either hand,
Before fresh news of him she hears.
What point for me to fill your ears
With stories of inns and journeys,
The paths she rode were so many,
Both up and down, by hill and dale,
A month or more, upon the trail?
She’d learned nothing by it though
More than she before did know,
And that was nothing, certainly.
But one day, upon her journey,
Crossing a field, with a sigh,
She saw afar a tower set high
Upon the shore, beside the sea,
And there was not within a league
House or cottage or dwelling there.
And she was yet all unaware
That Meleagant had built it so
That Lancelot therein might go.
As soon as she had sight of it
She fixed all her gaze upon it,
Nor cast her two eyes elsewhere,
For her heart assured her, there
Lay the object that she sought.
Now she had reached the port,
To which Fortune had led her,
Once she had made her suffer.
Lines 6459-6656 Lancelot is freed from prison
NOW the maid draws near the tower,
Till touching it’s within her power.
She walks around it listening,
Gives her attention to the thing,
Seeking, I would think, to hear
Any sound that meets the ear.
She looks down and to the sky:
The tower is solid, strong, and high;
Amazed to find but one narrow
Opening, a little window,
And no sign there of a door.
Around the tower, what’s more,
Is neither scaffolding nor stair.
She therefore thinks it made with care
To prison Lancelot inside,
But, ere she eats, she will try
To find if it is true or not.
She thinks to call out ‘Lancelot’,
And so summon him by name,
Yet ere she can pronounce the same,
She hears a voice that deters her,
A voice lamenting from the tower,
Marvellously sad, its breath
Calling upon naught but death.
Death it seeks, ‘too great’ its cry,
‘Too great these ills’ and longs to die:
Life and the body it despises,
Condemning them, the voice rises,
But weakly, both hoarse and low,
‘Ah! Fortune, how your wheel hath, so
Disastrously, turned for me!
You have mocked me shamefully,
For I was up and now am down;
I who was well, now ill am found.
Once you smiled, now you weep,
Why did you faith with one keep,
Poor wretch, who deserts you so!
A moment and she brings you low.
Truly ‘the depths from the height’:
To scorn you Fortune is not right.
I wrought ill, but what care you?
Tis naught to you what doth ensue.
Oh! Sacred Cross, oh, Holy Ghost,
How I am lost, half-dead almost!
How, in all, now, from all, I fall!
Ah Gawain, matched by none at all
In goodness, of such worth are you,
I wonder why your help, tis due,
Comes not; why you deny me aid?
For sure, your help is long delayed,
And thus you show scant courtesy!
Your aid he ought now to receive
He to whom such love you showed!
For in truth I would have followed,
Sought to find where you might be
On this or that side of the sea,
Where’er you were, on either shore,
A good ten years at least, and more,
If you were in prison, and I knew,
Ere I would thus abandon you.
But why do I with myself debate?
You care too little about my fate,
To wish to trouble yourself so.
The saying’s true, all men do know,
Tis hard these days to find a friend.
On whom, that is, we may depend,
We swiftly prove in time of need.
More than a year has passed, indeed,
Alas, since I was here enclosed.
And I feel such pain, God knows,
That you, Gawain, have not sought
To find me; mayhap you know naught,
Yet I seek to lay the blame on you.
I see it clearly; it must be true,
My ill thoughts I now abjure,
For, thinking on it, I am sure
Heaven and earth, without fail,
You’d move to free me from this gaol,
From this misfortune, and constraint,
Without your needing my complaint,
If but the truth your ears had found.
Indeed, to do so you’d be bound
From love and friendship no less,
If no other reason you’d profess.
But this is naught, such cannot be.
May he who has so shamefully
Prisoned me, be damned forever,
By God and by Saint Sylvester!
The vilest man alive is he,
This Meleagant, who of envy
Has done me all the ill he can!’
To silence then returns the man
Who wears away his life in grief.
But when she, who waits beneath
The window, hears all he doth say
She seeks to act, without delay,
Knowing now what she must do,
She calls to him, and wisely too:
‘Lancelot!’ Loudly as she can,
‘Friend above,’ calls to the man,
Speak now to your friend below!’
He fails to hear her calling so.
She calls again and louder yet,
Until he hears at last, and yet
Wonders, in his weakness, who
It could be, as she calls anew.
He heard the voice, and its call,
But knew not who it was at all:
He thought a spirit it might be.
He looked around so as to see
Its source, but saw, at that hour,
Naught but himself and the tower.
‘God,’ said he, ‘what’s this I hear?
The sound is speech, yet none are here!
I’faith, tis more than marvellous;
Since I sleep not, well then I must
Be wide awake; were it in dream
A mere illusion it would seem;
But I’m awake, at which I grieve.’
Then painfully he rose to leave
The spot and so, little by little,
Went towards the window-sill.
Once he was there he spied
Up and down, and side to side,
All outside, the best he might,
Till of the maiden he had sight.
He knew her not, but him she knew;
Thus she said: ‘Lancelot, for you,
From afar, I’ve come in search;
God be thanked, for my search
Is over, and I’ve found you now.
I’m she to whom you did allow,
As to the Bridge of the Sword
You went, a plea, and did accord
Me a boon, when I asked of you:
It was the head I sought, that you
Cut from the knight that I did fear,
Whom at no time did I hold dear.
Because of that boon your guerdon
Is all this trouble to which I’ve gone,
And your reward is: I’ll set you free.’
‘Fair maid,’ he said, ‘I’ll thankful be,
If you can pluck me from prison,
Then shall I have a pretty guerdon
For that small service rendered you,
If I can from this tower issue.
If you can bring me liberty,
I promise and engage to be
Yours forever, by the Gospel,
And Saint Paul the Apostle!
And, if I’d see God face to face,
No day there’ll be that I’ll not grace
With whate’er you may demand.
Naught there is that I command
But you may ask for it any day,
It will be yours without delay.’
‘Friend, you shall be, do not fear,
Released from this prison here.
You shall be freed this very day;
Not for a thousand livres, I say,
Would I see you here one day more;
Then to a better place, be sure,
I shall bring you, where you may rest.
There shall you have whate’er is best
What pleases you, it shall be yours.
Therefore trouble yourself no more:
But first I must by searching trace
Where there might be, in this place,
Some lever, with which, once found,
You might this narrow window sound,
Such that through it you might pass.’
‘God grant you find the thing, my lass!’
Said he, commending thus her plan;
‘And I have plenty of rope to hand,
Which my gaolers have given me
To drag aloft my food, hard barley
Bread, and buckets of foul water,
That harm my body, fair daughter.’
Then that child of Bademagu
Sought out a pick, a sharp one too,
Strong and sound, roped it, and he
Raised it, then grasping it tightly
Hammered and struck, despite the pain,
Till a wide opening he did gain,
Through which he issued easily.
He was delighted to be free,
As you’ll imagine, now that he,
Having achieved his liberty,
Was removed from that ward
Where so long he’d been immured.
Now he’s at large, in the clear air,
Nor would wish to be back there,
Not if all the gold in the world
Was in one pile together hurled,
You understand, and to him given,
With all the silver under heaven.
Lines 6657-6728 Lancelot is restored by the maidens’ care
BEHOLD, released is Lancelot,
And yet to stumble is his lot,
From weakness and feebleness.
Without causing him distress,
On her mule she sets him though,
And quickly on their way they go,
Except the byways she doth try,
That none may see them passing by,
And takes the hidden paths, for fear
If travelling openly they appear,
And then are seen and recognised,
Dire harm would thus be realised,
Such is not what she doth wish.
From the open road they vanish,
To reach at last a mansion where
She often stays; she doth repair
To it for its charm and beauty.
And this retreat was hers entirely
With its people; and twas the case,
That well-furnished was the place,
And healthy, private, and secure.
She brought Lancelot to her door,
As soon as he had entered there,
And shed his clothes, pale and bare,
The maiden placed the knight gently
On a couch both fine and lofty,
Then she bathed and massaged him
So scrupulously, limb by limb,
I could not tell of half her care.
She treats him as gently there
As if he might be her father:
Tends to him, him doth alter,
Renewing him, so wondrously,
Now fair as an angel is he,
And more fit and lively, say I,
Than any that you could espy;
No longer haggard now and pale,
But handsome and strong and hale.
And now for him the maiden sought
The finest robes, and these she brought
To clothe him now, as he arose;
And gladly he donned the clothes,
Swift as a bird doth soar in flight.
Kissing the maiden then the knight
Said to her most graciously:
‘I have but God and yourself only,
To render thanks to, my dear friend,
For my return to health again.
Since my escape from prison is due
To you, my heart, and body too,
And all my service and estate,
Whene’er you please, you may take.
Such deeds you’ve done, I am your own,
Yet long it is since I have shown
My face at King Arthur’s court,
And much there is that I, in short,
Must do there; so, my sweet friend,
For Love, I pray you will extend
Me leave to go, that I may, then,
Go freely, and with your consent;
For he hath done me honour there.’
‘Lancelot, friend most dear and fair,’
Said the maid, ‘such is my desire,
For your good and honour, sire,
I wish above all, there and here.’
A wondrous steed she hath near,
Of all steeds known the very best,
This she gives him, and with zest,
Of stirrups taking small account,
Without a word now, up he mounts,
Then to God, He of falsehood free,
They commend each other, he and she.
Lines 6729-7004 Lancelot returns to King Arthur’s court
NOW Lancelot rode on his way
So joyfully, I swear, that day,
That I cannot describe the joy
He felt, delight without alloy,
That he was thus at liberty,
And freed from his captivity.
Yet he said often, and forcefully,
Woe to the traitor, who wrongfully
Had him in prison, one who now
He had fooled, as all must allow.
‘For despite him I am at liberty.’
Then he did swear, soul and body,
By Him who made the world entire,
That not for the riches men desire,
The gold from Babylon to Ghent,
Would he free Meleagant, or relent,
If he held him, no, not for an hour,
When once he had him in his power,
For he had harmed him shamefully.
And that same thing may come to be,
For it so happened, as we now see,
That Meleagant himself whom he
Proposed to imprison when caught,
Had but that day arrived at court,
Unsummoned by anyone, and he’d
First sought where Gawain might be,
Found him, and asked for Lancelot,
And whether he’d been found or not,
The traitor making his request
As if upon some innocent quest,
Though he knew the facts he sought.
Yet, truth be told, he knew them not
Indeed, but only thought he knew.
Gawain informed him, as was true,
That he’d not come there, nor been seen.
‘Since he’s not to be found, I wean,’
Said Meleagant, ‘then you must come
And keep the promise, and be done;
For I can no longer wait.’
Gawain said, ‘I’ll not hesitate,
If God please, in whom I trust,
To pay the debt, as well I must,
And I will keep my word to you,
And I’ll not cease until I do,
For if it comes to keeping score,
And I do throw as many and more,
Then, by God and the Holy Faith,
I’ll end all, and pocket the stakes.’
Then Gawain, without more ado,
The usual order doth issue;
Demands a carpet be unrolled,
And set before him, as of old.
Without demurring in any way,
At his command, the squires lay
The carpet where they are told.
There he sits, that place doth hold,
And orders them to fit his armour,
Those squires who do him honour,
Standing before him, at that spot,
Nephews or cousins, I know not,
But all accomplished, that is true.
And they knew all they had to do:
They armed him skilfully and well,
Such that none on earth could tell
Of any fault they could discover,
Nor could detect the slightest error
In anything that they had done.
When he was fully armed, then one
Of the squires brought a Spanish steed,
That could run more swiftly, indeed,
O’er hill and dale, by field and wood,
Than e’er the good Bucephalus could.
Such was the horse my Lord Gawain
Now mounted, he of noblest strain,
The finest knight the age displayed
O’er whom the sign of the Cross was made.
Yet as he prepared to grasp his shield,
There, before him, unexpectedly,
Lancelot, dismounting, appeared.
He gazed in wonder as he neared,
Since he’d arrived so suddenly,
As much surprised, believe me,
As if he’d wondrously descended
Upon him from the clouds, and ended
By standing there before him now.
Yet naught could stop him, I vow,
No greater business of his own,
On seeing tis none but he alone,
From leaping, himself, to the ground,
Embracing him, for he is found,
And welcoming him with a kiss.
Now has he joy, great ease in this,
Greeting thus his dear companion.
And I shall give my true opinion,
And, think you, what I say is not
Some tale: unless his Lancelot
Were with him, he would yet decline
To be crowned king, however fine.
Now the King heard, as did the rest,
That Lancelot whom, at his behest,
They’d long watched for, despite all
Had come safe and sound to the hall.
So they all rejoice together,
And those at court swiftly gather,
To welcome him they’d long looked for.
Great or small, they do him honour,
None there is lacks joy that day.
Their joy dispels and drives away
The sorrow that they felt before.
Grief doth flee, they joy the more,
Sadness replaced by true delight.
And did the queen enjoy the sight
Of Lancelot, and smile withal?
Yes, truly, she beyond them all.
How? Dear God, what felt she then,
If not the greatest joy again
She ever felt, at his return?
And did she not towards him turn?
In truth she did, and drew so near
That her body well-nigh, I fear,
Followed her heart, they were so close.
Where was the heart, do you suppose?
It kissed and embraced her Lancelot.
And why did the body touch him not?
Why was her joy incomplete?
Did anger or hatred there meet?
No, indeed, but twas lest, by chance,
The king might note the circumstance,
Or one of the other persons there,
Who were watching the whole affair,
Might on those two cast their eyes
And thus see all, if they were wise;
If she simply followed her heart.
Thus Reason kept the two apart,
For if it had not banished thence
Her wild thoughts, if common-sense
Had not concealed her heart’s excess,
Revealed had been her foolishness.
So feelings Reason hid, and thought,
Restraining both, before the court,
Postponing the issue for a while,
Till it might, without undue guile,
Find some fine, more private place,
Where they might better embrace
Than where they were at that hour.
The king doth Lancelot endower
With honour, and after joyful word
Says: ‘My friend, I have not heard
For a great while, word of anyone
That cheers my heart as this has done,
This news of you, but it troubles me
To know in what land, what country,
You have sojourned for so long.
All winter and all summer long
I’ve had men search, up and down,
But none, of you, had sight or sound.
‘Indeed,’ said Lancelot, ‘fair sire,
Brief words may answer your desire,
As to how it has fared with me.
Meleagant, that fount of treachery,
Has held me far off, in prison,
Ever since that joyful season
When the prisoners were freed,
And in a tower, beside the sea,
Forced me to suffer great shame.
There by the power of his name,
I was, and would yet be, penned
If it were not for my dear friend,
A maiden, for whom I once did
Some small service, when she bid.
For that little gift I had done
She repaid me with large guerdon,
Bringing great good to Lancelot.
But that fellow whom I love not,
Who devised, and later wrought
Ill, and shame upon me brought,
Here and now, I would him repay,
All he deserves, without delay.
He comes to seek it; his shall it be.
He need not wait here endlessly,
For all is here at his own behest,
Both principal and interest.
But God be hoped he enjoy it not.’
Then said Gawain to Lancelot,
‘The slightest favour it would be
If this debt were repaid by me,
Since I am ever in debt to you.
And I am already mounted too,
And all prepared as you may see.
Fair friend, do not deny it me,
This boon I do covet, moreover.’
But he replied he would rather
Lose an eye than forfeit there
His part in the present affair;
He swore that it could never be.
He owed the debt and it was he
Who would render it, faithfully.
Gawain who could clearly see
Naught he might say would avail,
Freed himself of his coat of mail,
And disarmed himself completely;
Lancelot arming himself swiftly,
For now he would brook no delay,
Impatient to settle, in his own way,
The debt he owed to Meleagant,
Who was amazed, in that instant,
Beyond measure, to see him there,
Before his eyes, and could but stare.
What he was owed he’d now receive,
Almost beside himself, indeed,
To fainting he came well-nigh.
‘Surely,’ said he, ‘a fool was I
Not to go, before coming here,
And see if I still held him near,
In my prison, and in my tower;
He who has tricked me this hour.
Yet, my God, why should I so?
What reason had I to suppose
He might thus escape ere long?
Are not the walls good and strong,
Is not the tower sound and high?
There was no opening, to the eye,
Through which he might issue forth,
Unless he were aided of course.
His prison must have been revealed.
If the walls where he was concealed
Had fallen, and the tower grounded,
Would he not have been confounded
Trapped, and wounded or killed?
Yes, God help me, if so willed!
Thus he’d have died without fail;
But unless of force men did avail,
Before e’er those walls would falter,
The sea would dry and all its water
And not a drop be left, for sure,
Nor could the world itself endure.
That was not it, some other way
He was helped to the light of day.
Not otherwise could he have fled,
I have been tricked and so misled.
However it was, he’s now abroad
Yet if I had kept him in closer ward,
None of this had happened though,
Nor at court would I see him so.
But tis too late now to repent,
The farmer says, with true intent,
And speaks the truth at his table,
In claiming it’s too late the stable
Door to bolt, the horse being fled.
I know I’ve brought upon my head
Great shame and humiliation,
If not worse my expectation.
What must I suffer and endure?
Yet as long as I might live for
I will deal him measure enough,
Please God, in whom I place my trust.’
So he cheers himself and doth ask
Of himself no more than this task
That in the field they meet together.
He will not wait for long, however,
For Lancelot goes to seek him out,
Expecting the better of the bout.
But, before the contest may start,
The king requests that they depart
To the plain where a tower doth stand
The best place this side of Ireland
For a fight; and there do they go,
To meet on the plain down below.
The king goes there, and so too
All the rest, in a crowd, to view.
All depart, not one doth remain;
And to the tower windows, amain,
Go the queen, her maids and ladies,
Amongst whom are many beauties.
Lines 7005-7119 Lancelot slays Meleagant
IN the field stood a sycamore
As fair as any a tree, and more.
Its branches spread far and wide,
And it was ringed on every side
With short grass, fresh and fine,
Which was green all winter time.
Under this fine and noble tree,
Planted in Abel’s century,
A little fountain from its spring
Sends its clear water issuing.
Its bed of translucent water,
Shines as brightly as silver,
And its channel, I would hold,
Is made of true refined gold;
And through the fields it doth sail
Between two woods, along a dale.
There sat the king, where all was green,
And nothing ill was to be seen.
The crowd were made to stand aside
Then Lancelot began his ride,
Against Meleagant, at speed,
As at one whom he hates indeed.
Yet first, ere he prepares to strike,
He shouts, as loudly as you like:
‘I defy you, so now beware,
For you, indeed, I shall not spare,
‘Then Lancelot began his ride, Against Meleagant, at speed’
The Romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (p118, 1917)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent), Alfred William Pollard (1859-1944), Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)
Internet Archive Book Images
My word you have, it shall be so!’
An arrow’s flight from the bow
He drew back, and then indeed
Most violently spurred on his steed.
Thus they let their mounts rush on,
Until the two knights meet head on,
And so furiously do they meet
That their lances loudly beat
Upon, and even pierce, the shields,
Yet, neither wounded neither yields,
The flesh untouched at first assault.
They pass, and then, without delay,
Return as fast as e’er they may,
Dealing mighty blows sidelong,
On those shields fine and strong;
For the knights give brave account,
And swift and hardy is each mount.
So fierce are the blows that peck
At those shields about their necks,
That the lances pierce right through,
And fail to break or splinter too
With such force through chain mesh
They glide, to reach the bare flesh.
Each strikes the other man so hard
That both men are borne earthward,
For no breast-strap, stirrup, or girth
Could save them from striking earth,
Knocked backward o’er the saddle-bow,
With but an empty saddle to show.
The horses are left to run astray,
Gone over the hills and far away.
One kicks hard, the other doth bite,
With mortal hatred, in their flight.
As for the knights, though grounded,
Swiftly to their feet they bounded,
And at once each drew his blade
That with letters was engraved,
Set his shield before his face,
And did the fight again embrace,
Seeking to make the other feel
The keen edge of his bright steel.
Lancelot feared no man that day,
For he knew more of swordplay
By far than his enemy, forsooth,
Having learnt well in his youth.
They each dealt such mighty blows
On each other’s shields, God knows,
And on their helms barred with gold,
They shattered them, if truth be told.
But Lancelot pressed in strongly,
And launched such a blow that he
Struck Meleagant’s mail-clad arm,
His right, all unshielded from harm,
And severed the arm at a stroke.
His enemy, at the pain, now spoke
Out at the loss; cried that its cost
Should be repaid, for dearly bought
It was, and its full price he sought;
For now with fury he did engage,
Beside himself with pain and rage,
And thought a wretch he must be
Could he not conquer this enemy.
He rushed at Lancelot, his intent
To seize him now, or such he meant,
But Lancelot forestalled his plan,
And with his sword dealt the man
Such a blow he’d not recover
Till April and May were over;
Struck his nose-guard gainst his teeth,
Shattering three of them beneath.
And Meleagant felt such anger
That not a word could he utter.
A cry for mercy he doth disdain,
His foolish heart doth so constrain
His action still, and grips him tight.
Lancelot doth approach the knight,
Frees the helm, and takes his head.
Meleagant’s done with and, dead,
He’ll trouble Lancelot no more.
‘Meleagant’s done with and, dead’
The Romance of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table (p148, 1917)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent), Alfred William Pollard (1859-1944), Arthur Rackham (1867-1939)
Internet Archive Book Images
Nor shall any of those who saw
The battle, I now declare to you,
Feel pity at such a dreadful view.
The king and all the others there
Know great joy of the whole affair.
Happier than ever now they prove;
Lancelot’s armour they remove,
And lead him away most joyfully.
Lines 7120-7134 Godefroi’s envoi
MY Lords, did I prolong the story,
Beside the purpose it would seem,
Thus to its end I draw our theme:
Here the arrow doth find its mark.
Godefroi de Leigni, the clerk,
Has finished the Tale of the Cart;
But let none blame his feeble art
In completing Chrétien’s intent,
For Chrétien gave it his consent.
He began it, and I, from where
Lancelot was imprisoned there,
Took up the story and my pen,
And so continue it to the end.
Such will I, but no further, sail,
Not least for fear I mar the tale.
The End of Part IV of Lancelot