Chrétien de Troyes

Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail)

Part I

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.

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Lines 1-68 Chrétien’s Introduction

HE little reaps who little sows,

And he who’d have good harvest knows

To sow his seeds in such a field

That they a hundredfold will yield;

For good seed in a barren place

Will shrivel there and fail apace.

Now Chrétien sows here the seed

From which a story will proceed,

And sows it in so good a place

Great profit shall his efforts grace,

For what he does is for the best

With whom the Roman Empire’s blessed.

He is Philip, Count of Flanders,

Of greater worth than Alexander,

Of whom they give such good account.

For I will prove to you this Count

Is yet far better than the former;

For he amassed, that Alexander,

Vices within, and frailties,

From all of which the Count is free.

The Count is one who will not hear

Vile jokes, or suffer proud speech near;

And if one speaks ill of another,

Whoe’er it is, he’s sad moreover.

The Count desires true justice, he

Loves Holy Church and loyalty,

At every baseness he doth groan;

He is more generous than is known,

Nor plays the cunning hypocrite,

But acts in line with Holy Writ.

‘Let not thy left hand know,’ it says,

‘What thy right hand doeth, always.’

For he who receives is still aware,

And God, who lays our secrets bare,

And knows of all the hidden things

Within the heart, all its workings.

Holy Writ, why doth it command:

‘Hide thy good deeds from thy left hand,’?

Because, according to the story,

The left hand signifies vainglory,

That’s born of false hypocrisy.

The right? It stands for charity,

That boasts not of each good deed,

Seeks rather to hide them, indeed,

So that none know of it, but He

Whose name is God and Charity.

God is Charity, and who dwells

In Charity, and acts the Gospels,

Saint John says, I read with him,

‘Dwelleth in God, and God in him’.

And know this then, of a verity,

Those gifts are gifts of charity

That good Count Philip doth give,

For naught counsels him so to live

But his own heart, frank, debonair,

Which teaches him to act the fair.

So is he not of greater worth

Than Alexander, who from birth

Nor charity nor good deed claim?

Yes, and no man doubts the same.

Thus Chrétien works not in vain,

Who’s taken up his pen again,

To rhyme, at the Count’s command,

The best tale that, in any land,

Did ever royal court regale.

It is the story of the Grail;

The book he has from the Count;

Judge how he renders his account.

Lines 69-154 The Widow’s son meets a band of armed knights

WHEN all the trees are blossoming,

The boughs in leaf, grass flourishing,

And the small birds, in their Latin,

Are sweetly singing, at their matins,

And all things are alight with joy,

There then arose the Widow’s boy,

(She dwelt in the Forest Waste)

Saddled his horse, in eager haste,

And when he’d set his saddle there,

Upon his mount, took up, with care,

Three hunting spears and, all intent, 

Forth, from his mother’s house, he went.

He thought that he would go and see

The ploughmen she had there, whom she

Employed to plough and sow her land,

Six ploughs, twelve oxen there in hand.

Into the forest glade he pressed,

And the heart within his breast

Leapt, for the sweetness of the spring,

The small birds filling everything

With the joyfulness of their song;

All pleased him, as he rode along.

With the mildness of the weather,

He left his mount, free of its tether,

To graze, wherever they did pass

On the wealth of fresh green grass,

While he, skilled in hunting, cast

The spears he held, hard and fast,

All about him, on the forest floor,

Now behind him, and now before,

Now slanted low, now hurled high,

Till through the forest, by and by,

Five knights-in-arms he did hear,

In full armour, and passing near.

And a mighty noise they made,

Those riders in the forest glade,

For oft the branches of hornbeams,

And oak-trees, struck against, it seems,

The weapons, while the chain-mail sang;

Lance and shield both clashed and rang;

The iron and the wood, were pounded,

Shields and coats of mail resounded.

The lad heard all, but naught could see

Of those who passed so noisily;

Wonderingly he cried: ‘My soul,

My lady mother twas truth she told

When she taught that devils are

The most fearsome things by far,

And, to guide me, though I cower,

To cross myself against their power.

But that sign of hers I’ll disdain,

I’ll ne’er cross myself; I’ll deign,

Rather, to strike the mightiest

Of them with my spear, the best

I have, and these devils then

Will never trouble me again.’

Thus with himself he did argue

Before the knights came in view.

But when he saw them openly

As they rode from tree to tree,

And saw the chain-mail glittering,

And the helms, so brightly shining,

...the chain mail glittering, And the helms, so brightly shining

...the chain mail glittering, And the helms, so brightly shining
Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images

The green and the vermilion,

Glowing in the morning sun,

The gold, the silver, the azure,

Too fine and noble to ignore:

He cried: ‘Ah! God, pray mercy!

These are angels that now I see.

Oh! Truly, I have greatly sinned,

With what great error I did begin,

In saying that all these were devils.

My mother’s tales were no fables,

For she said that the angels were

The most beautiful things to her,

Though God most beautiful must be.

Then, God himself I think I see,

For one’s so handsome, I confess,

God save me, not one of the rest

Has but the tenth of his beauty.

My mother herself said to me,

One must trust in him and adore,

Pray to him, and honour him more;

Him I’ll adore, whom I see here,

And, after him, all who appear.’

Lines 155-252 The Widow’s son questions the knights

THEN he threw himself to the ground,

And said the Creed, and then he found

Himself saying every prayer through

That, from his mother’s lips, he knew.

The leader of the band of knights

Saw him and cried: ‘Halt here! In fright,

This lad’s thrown himself to the floor,

At the sight of us; what is more,

If we advance on him together,

It seems to me uncertain whether

He might not, in his terror, die,

And thus deny me a reply

To aught of him I might demand.’

They halted there, at his command,

While he rode on towards the lad,

And sought to calm what fear he had,

Saying: ‘Young man, be not afraid.’

‘By the Saviour,’ all undismayed,

‘In whom I trust,’ was his reply,

‘I’m not. Are you God?’ ‘Faith, not I,

‘Who are you then?’ ‘I am a knight.’

‘Of such I know not, not a sight

Of one’, said the youth, ‘nor word,

Of any such, have I seen or heard;

Yet you are handsomer than God.

If only I, who go ill-shod,

Were made like you, and shone so bright!’

Advancing at these words, the knight

Drew near to him, and asked, swiftly:

‘Have you seen here in this country,

Five knights with three maids ever?’

The youth had other things, however,

Other questions, he would advance.

He set his hand upon the lance,

Seized it, and said: ‘Fair friend,

What thing is this that you extend?’

‘Now am I well countered here,’

 Said the knight, ‘it doth appear.

I thought, fair friend, I from you

News should have, and yet in lieu,

You seek to learn this thing of me!

Well I will tell you, tis my lance.’

Said he: ‘Then tell me, do you lance

Things with it, as I with my spear?’

‘No, no, my lad, you’re daft, I fear!

It’s used to strike a blow, fiercely.’

‘Then I prefer one of these three

Spears you see in my employ,

For, when I wish, I can destroy

Any wild bird or beast, at need,

And slay them as far off, indeed,

As any crossbow bolt can do.’

‘My lad, that’s naught to me; but you,

Of those five knights can you tell me

If you know, where they might be?

What news of the maids can you yield?’

But the youth had grasped his shield

Tight, and in all sincerity,

Said: ‘What is this, what use is he?’

‘My boy,’ he replied, ‘this is naught;

With other subjects than I sought

You maze me, ones I did not ask!

God love me, but I saw your task

As giving me the news I needed,

Not that I truth, to you, conceded

You might wish to learn from me!

Yet since I’m drawn to you,’ said he,

‘I’ll tell you, willingly, all the same.

This I bear is a shield by name.’

‘It’s called a shield?’ ‘Yes, in truth,

Nor must I scorn it, for tis proof,

And shows right loyal towards me,

Against all sudden blows, you see;

When aught strikes me, I yet abide;

That’s the service it doth provide.’

Now those knights left in the rear

Came towards them, in full career;

To their lord they rode, at pace,

And demanded of him, in haste:

‘Sire, what does this Welshman say?’

‘His manners are somewhat astray,’

Said their master, ‘God love me,

Naught that I ask of him has he

Replied to straight, rather, as yet,

He asks of all with which he’s met

Its name, and what its use might be.’

‘Sire, and you knew before, surely,

Such Welshmen as this, by nature,

Are simpler than a sheep at pasture,

This one is foolish as any sheep.

He’s mad who halts here, lest to keep

Himself amused with idle play,

Or in folly waste his time away.’

‘I know not, but in God’s good sight,

Ere I ride onward,’ cried the knight,

‘I’ll tell him all he wants to know,

For otherwise I shall not go.’

Lines 253-358 The youth pursues his questions about knighthood

THEN he questioned him again:

‘My boy, if it gives you no pain,

Tell me now of the five knights,

And if of them you’ve had sight,

And the maids in their company?

But by this time the lad, you see,

Had seized hold of his chain-mail,

And tugging it renewed his tale:

‘Now,’ he said, ‘fair sire, tell me,

What you wear.’ ‘You know not?’ said he.

‘Not I.’ My boy, tis my hauberk,

It weighs as heavy as ironwork.’

‘Of iron, is it?’ ‘As you can see.’

‘Well, I know naught of that,’ said he,

‘But, God save me, tis beautiful.

What’s its worth, and is it useful?’

‘That’s easy lad; if you should throw

A spear at me, or fire an arrow,

You would still work me no woe.’

‘God keep, then, each stag and doe

From wearing hauberks in the chase,

Fair knight, for I would never grace

My hunting with a kill again,

The hauberk would prove my bane.’

And thus the knight to him replied:

‘My lad, God save you, ere I ride,

If you’d but tell me if you’ve seen

Those knights, and the maids, I ween.’

But he, who did small wisdom show,

Answered him: ‘Were you born so?’

‘Oh, no, my lad, that cannot be,

No man is born a knight you see.’

‘Who then has attired you thus?’

‘I’ll tell you, youth so curious.’

‘Well, tell me then.’ ‘Most willingly,

‘King Arthur, he thus knighted me,

No less than five full years ago,

And gave to me the arms I show.

But tell me, now, if far or near

Are the knights that came by here,

With three maids in company;

Did they pace slowly, did they flee?

And he replied: ‘Sire, look on high,

And see those woods against the sky,

That do the mountains press upon.

There lie the passes of Valbone.’

‘And what of that,’ said he, ‘dear brother?’

‘Men work the fields there for my mother,

They plough and till the fields, all day,

And if the knights have gone that way

They’d see them, and could tell you so.’

The knight replied, that he would go

Along with him, if he would lead,

To where the sowers sowed their seed.

So the youth urged on his horse

And to the fields he set his course,

And rode to where they tilled, alone,

The fields where the oats were sown.

And when their master did appear

The labourers all shook with fear.

And do you know why they did so?

Because all the knights did follow,

All armed did keep him company,

And those labourers knew if he

Had learned their nature and affairs,

He’d wish to be one, then and there,

His mother would be all distraught,

She’d want to distance him from aught

To do with knights, from being one,

Or questioning them, as he had done.

The lad now asked of the ploughmen:

‘Have you seen five knights and then

Three maidens here as they passed by?

‘They’ll not as yet, ‘was their reply,

Have finished traversing the waste.’

The lad now told the knight, in haste,

He who’d addressed him at first sight:

‘Sire, they passed this way, the knights,

All five, and with the maidens too,

But tell me of this king, anew,

Who makes of men knights renowned,

And of the place where he’s best found.’

‘Lad,’ said he, ‘this to you I tell,

The king doth bide at Carduel;

And not five days ago did he

Sojourn there, it seems to me,

For I was there, and him I saw.

And if he doth not, what’s more,

There are those who will know;

Not far from there doth he go,

Thus of his presence you shall hear.

But I pray you, answer me here,

By what name do they call you?’

‘Sire,’ said he, ‘I’ll tell you true,

‘My name’s Dear Son.’ ‘Dear Son, that’s all?

For by some other they must call

You; yet another name.’ ‘Faith, sire,

They say Dear Brother.’ ‘Then no liar

Are you, yet if you’d speak the truth,

I’d know your true name, forsooth.’

‘Then,’ said the lad, ‘all your desire

I’ll grant: my true name is Dear Sire.’

‘God save me, tis a fine name, son.

‘Have you none other?’ Sire, I’ve none;

 None that I’m called by any here.’

‘God save me, wonders do I hear?

I never thought to ere come near

Such words as you send to my ear!’

Lines 359-486 His mother tells him of his father

THE knight departed then at speed,

Galloped hard, being late indeed,

And long awaited by the others.

The youth now sought out his mother,

And returned to their dwelling where

She waited for him, full of care,

Sorrowing, grieving not a little.

Her joy was great at his arrival,

On seeing him she could not hide

The joy that she now felt inside,

And, as a loving mother might,

She called, as he came in sight,

A hundred times: ‘Dear son, dear son,

My heart has suffered much, Dear son,

For you have been away so long.

My pain and sorrow were so strong,

That I near quit our mortal state.

Where have you been today, so late?’

‘Where, lady mother? I’ll tell all,

For ne’er shall lie from my lips fall,

Great joy, this day, then, did I glean,

And from a thing that I have seen.

Mother, were you not wont to say

The angels of our Lord God, pray,

Were yet so fair that in all Nature

Ne’er was made a fairer creature,

That this world could ever show?’

‘Dear son, I say again, tis so.

Again, once more, in verity.’

Silence, mother! Did I not see

The fairest things that be, this day,

Pass through the Forest Waste, I say.

I thought them fairer then, by far,

Than God and all His angels are.’

She clasped him, as she had done,

And said ‘God save you, dear son,

I have within great fear for you.

I do believe that you’ve had view

Of those angels that folk bewail

Who slay all those, without fail,

They come upon.’ ‘Nay, mother, nay!

Knights it is they’re called, they say.’

His mother fainted at the word,

When the name of ‘knight’ she heard,

And when his mother had come to,

She railed as angry women do:

‘Alas! Oh how I am undone!

From chivalry I hoped, dear son,

To guard you so well that never

Would you hear aught of it ever,

Nor naught of it would ever see!

A knight it is that you would be,

My fair son, if God had pleased,

If your dear father had not ceased

To raise you thus, or other friends.

No knight of yours, on this depend,

Was ever so renowned or feared

As was your father, it appeared,

Through all the Islands in the sea.

Of this you may boast, you see,

You’ll not be shamed by his line,

Not by his lineage, nor mine.

From knights of old I claim descent,

The best God to this country sent;

In all the Isles, in this fair age,

None shares a nobler lineage.

But the best has been brought low;

As many another place doth show,

Vile mischance doth oft attend

On noble men who here defend

The code of honour and prowess.

Wickedness, Shame, Idleness,

Fall no lower, for they cannot,

Yet such is the good man’s lot.

Your father, as you cannot know,

Was pierced through the thighs, and so

Was maimed, for life, bodily.

His great riches, land a plenty,

Which he held as a lord, dear son,

All was gone now, to perdition.

He fell into great poverty.

Impoverished, disinherited, he

Was robbed of all, in a breath,

With all the rest, upon the death

Of Uther Pendragon, the father,

He whose son is good King Arthur.

All laid waste were their lands,

And the poorer folk were banned,

And took to flight, if they could.

Your father held here field and wood,

Here within the Forest Waste;

He could not walk, but in haste

Was carried, in a litter, here

Knowing nowhere else, I fear.

And you were but a little child,

And had two brothers, thus exiled;

A child you were, un-weaned, my pet,

And you were but a little child

And you were but a little child
Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images

No more than two years old as yet.

When your brothers were full grown,

On his advice, they went alone

To the king’s court, there indeed

To seek fine armour, and a steed.

To the King of Escavalon,

To serve with him, the first was gone;

Fought nobly, and was dubbed a knight.

The younger served, and served aright,

Beside King Ban of Gomeret.

On the same day, lest I forget,

Both were dubbed and made a knight.

And they left on the same night,

To return from their employ’

Their coming would have brought me joy,

And their father; we saw them not,

For death in combat was their lot.

Both in knightly contest died,

Great loss to me, a woe I hide.

Of the elder, sad news arose,

That the very rooks and crows,

Stole his eyes, upon that ground;

Thus was my boy, when he was found.

Grief, for his son, killed your father,

And a bitter life lived your mother,

In suffering, now that he was dead.

You were my comfort though, instead,

And all I owned; no more did bless

Me; nothing more did I possess.

God had left naught else, you see,

To bring me joy and gladden me.’

Lines 487-634 She gives him personal and spiritual advice

THE youth had listened but little

To his mother, and scarce a tittle

Had he heard. ‘Bring food,’ he cried,

‘I know not what your words implied,

But many do go, and willingly,

To this king who, from chivalry

Makes knights; I too shall go to court.’

His mother then, although she sought

To keep him there, and have him stay,

Clothed and equipped him for the way,

Gave him a large coarse hempen shirt,

And those breeches in which are girt

Those Welshmen, where, it seems to me,

Breeches and hose are one, entirely;

And a deerskin tunic, a close fit,

And a deerskin hood to go with it.

Thus was he clothed by his mother.

Three days, he stayed, not another,

For now he would brook no delay.

Then his mother, full of dismay,

Kissed and embraced him, in tears,

Saying: ‘How sad I am, my dear,

To see you go. To the royal court

Go then, and say that you sought

Him so he might grant arms to you.

I know that he would not refuse,

But would grant them you, indeed.

Yet when it comes to any deed

Of arms, how will you fare, son?

That which you have never done,

Nor hath any man shown it you;

How will you know what to do?

Ill will you do, I cannot doubt.

Ill will fare, and be put to rout.

No wonder to me, if thus you fought;

None can do what they’ve not been taught.

Yet failing to learn what’s seen and heard,

Oft and again, proves more absurd.

Dear son, I have a lesson to teach;

So pay attention to what I preach,

And if you should my lesson retain,

Then great advantage you may gain.

Son, you will shortly be a knight,

If God so please; praise Him aright!

If you should find, or far or near,

A lady who seeks your aid, my dear,

Or a fair maiden in distress,

Who, needing aid, doth you address,

Then, should it be of her seeking,

Much honour to you it will bring.

For he who honours not woman,

Must be, in honour, but a dead man.

Maiden and lady you should serve,

If you’d be honoured as you deserve.

And if you should wish her favour,

Take care not to rouse her anger.

Do you nothing that may displease.

Who kisses a maid has won his fee;

If she deigns to grant you a kiss,

Then assume no more than this,

For my sake, seek not to linger.

But if she’s a ring on her finger,

Or a purse for alms at her waist,

And through love, or of her grace,

She gives it you, tis well with me,

And you may wear the ring freely;

I give you leave to take the ring;

And the purse? Accept the thing.

Dear son, I say, twill prove a sin,

If in your lodgings, or at an inn,

You meet a man, befriend the same,

Without your asking for his name.

Fit name to person, if you can,

For by the name we know the man.

Dear son, speak you with gentlemen,

And go walk with them, and often;

A gentleman ne’er leads astray

Those who meet him on the way.

Above all else, I pray you well,

Attend at church, and go to chapel,

And pray you there to Our Lord,

That joy and honour He afford

You and, if you so continue,

To a good end will bring you.’

‘What is a church, dear mother?

‘A place where we come together

To serve Him, who heaven and earth

Made, of whom all creatures had birth.’

‘And a chapel?’ ‘That is the same,

A fine and saintly house, I name,

Filled with relics, treasures holy, 

Wherein they offer up the body

Of Jesus Christ, the holy prophet,

Who, shamefully, betrayal met;

He was traduced, judged wrongfully,

And suffered mortal agony;

Died for man and woman so,

Whose souls into Hell did go,

Once they all had quit the body,

Those whom He from Hell set free.

Bound to a pillar, he was beaten,

Upon the Cross suspended then,

His head bore a crown of thorns.

So, to hear the Mass each morn,

And the Lord Christ to adore,

Attend church, as I said before.’

‘Then I shall go, most willingly,

To church and to chapel, daily,’

Said the youth, ‘from now on.

If tis my duty.’ He’d be gone;

He would, now, no longer stay,

Takes his leave, to go his way,

Saddling his horse. She cries.

In the manner and the guise

Of a Welshman is he dressed,

Boots of hide, his very best.

But though every place he goes

He takes his three spears, and so

Would carry them along today,

His mother steals two spears away,

Since such seem too coarse to her;

And then, she would have him err

And leave all three, if she could.

His right hand held a whip, one good

For urging his fine steed along.

His mother cried that he was gone,

Done kissing him whom she adored,

Now praying for him to the Lord.

‘Fair son,’ she prayed, ‘God grant to thee

More joy than now is left to me,

In whatever place you are.’

When the youth was not so far

As a stone’s throw off, he then

Looked back at his mother again,

By the bridge, now stretched low,

And lying in a faint, as though

She were dead. But he rode on,

Whipped his steed, and was gone;

Upon its croup, he struck the horse,

It stumbled not, he set a course,

To carry him, and onward keep,

Through the forest, dark and deep.

And on he rode from morning light

Until the sun slipped out of sight,

And slept among the trees that night,

Till the day dawned clear and bright.

Lines 635-730 The youth takes the maiden’s ring

AT dawn, when the birds gave song,

The youth rose, mounted and along

The course he’d set he rode all day,

Till he spied a tent beside the way,

Pitched there in a lovely meadow,

Beside a stream’s pleasant flow.

The tent was of a noble fashion,

One part was bright vermilion,

The other made of cloth of gold,

And it was lovely to behold;

An eagle, gilded, at its crest.

By the sun the tent was blessed

Such that all the field was lit

With the light that shone from it.

About the tent, and its surround,

The loveliest here to be found,

Had been raised two leafy bowers,

And Welsh lodges full of flowers.

The youth rode on towards the tent,

And, once there, voiced his intent:

‘My Lord, this is your house, I see,

The fault were mine, assuredly,

If I entered not, to worship you.

My mother now, she told me true,

That indeed your house would be

The loveliest that I might see;

And that I must not turn aside

From any church, but go inside,

To pray to Him in whom I trust,

To our Creator; i’faith, I must

Enter, and pray that he will feed

One who asks it in great need.’

He found the tent was open wide,

And there he saw a bed inside;

With silk brocade it was o’er spread,

And sleeping there within the bed,

A maiden, all alone, saw he.

Depriving her of company,

Her handmaids had slipped away

To cull fresh flowers by the way,

And strew them all about the tent,

Its customary embellishment.

As the young man entered in,

His horse neighed, and the din

Woke the maiden from her rest,

Trembling, in fear of her guest.

And the lad, that simple youth,

Said: ‘I greet you maid, as proof

Of what my mother taught to me.

My mother said, where’er I be,

That I should greet every maiden

In every place I came upon them.’

The maiden, trembling with fear

Of this fool, in his strange gear,

Thought she herself truly shown

To be the fool, caught thus, alone.

‘Boy,’ she said, ‘avert your eyes,

Flee before my lover spies

You here.’ ‘By my life’, said he,

Flee before my lover spies You here

Flee before my lover spies You here
Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images

‘I’ll kiss you first, whoever sees,

As my dear mother told me to.’

‘I’ll ne’er receive a kiss from you,’

Cried the maid, ‘against my will.

Flee lest he comes, for he will kill

You if he does, thus tis your death.’

The lad was strong and, in a breath,

He had clutched her in his embrace,

Not knowing how to kiss with grace,

Such that she lay beneath him there,

While she struggled, in mock despair,

To free herself whene’er she could,

Though her efforts did little good,

For he kissed her, willing or no,

Twenty times, so the tale doth go,

Planting kiss after kiss upon her,

Till he spied a ring on her finger,

An emerald, and the stone did shine.

‘Now,’ said he, ‘that mother of mine

Said I might take it from your finger,

But beyond a kiss might do no other.

Your ring, however, I shall take.’

‘You’ll ne’er have it, make no mistake,’

Said the maid, ‘and that I know,

Unless, with force, you rob me so.’

The lad now took her by the hand,

Grasped her finger, as he’d planned,

Slipped from it the emerald stone,

And placed the ring upon his own,

Saying: ‘My maid, tis a fine deed!

Now paid in full shall I go, indeed;

And much finer kisses are yours

Than the chambermaids’ indoors,

That at my mother’s house, I faced,

For yours have not their bitter taste.’

She wept, and said to the lad: ‘No, no,

Take not the ring there from me, so,

For he will take your life from you,

And I shall suffer for it too.’

Lines 731-830 The maiden tells all to the knight, her lover

THOUGH she promised he would pay,

The lad heard nothing she did say;

And, since he’d yet had naught to eat,

Half-starved, was dying on his feet.

He looked about him then and spied

A bottle of wine, and at its side

A silver goblet, and next he saw,

On a sheaf of rushes what’s more,

A fresh towel, all new and white.

He lifted it and, a welcome sight,

Found three venison pasties there;

All overjoyed was he at the fare!

Since his hunger was eating him,

He broke ope the one before him,

Tackling the whole thing greedily,

Then filled the silver cup and freely;

For it troubled him not to keep

Drinking often, and drinking deep.

He said: ‘My maid, there is no way

I could eat all these three today,

Come and eat then, for they are fine;

If you have yours, and I have mine,

One of them will be left here still.’

But, as if bereft, she wept her fill;

Though he begged her and implored

Not a word would she say more;

The more indeed she wrung her hands

And wept the harder, at his demands.

The youth meanwhile ate on and on,

And drank the wine till it was gone.

He covered the food that remained,

And took his leave of her again,

Commending her to God, although

His parting word, as he turned to go,

Was: ‘God save you, my sweet friend,

For God’s sake be not troubled again,

If I carry away your ring,

For I’ll repay you for the thing

Before I die, thus I promise you.

Now I must take my leave of you.’

But she wept and said that never

Would she commend him to God, ever,

Since through him she’d have to bear

More shame, a greater load of care,

Than any wretch had borne before.

Nor, while she lived, she was sure,

Would she see from him any aid,

And thus by him was she betrayed.

She was left weeping at this same;

But now from the woods there came,

Not long after, the knight her lover,

Who was dismayed to discover

Hoof prints where the horse had been,

And his lover weeping there, I ween.

He spoke out: ‘Demoiselle, I fear

Given the signs that I see here,

That some knight has been with you.’

‘There was none, sire, I swear, tis true,

For a Welsh lad only did appear,

A greedy wretch, the oaf was here,

Who has drunk all your good wine,

All that there was, and found it fine,

And ate some of your pasties three.’

‘Then, why do you cry, my sweet?

If he had eaten all, why grieve,

I would yet have given him leave.’

‘But there is more, sire,’ she said,

‘My ring he took before he fled,

Stole it, and carried, it away.

I wish that I were dead this day

Rather than that he had the ring.’

Now this to him distress did bring,

And he was wounded to the heart.

‘I’faith,’ he said, ‘a villain’s part!

Now let him have it, since it’s gone,

Yet I think a further deed he’s done.

Hide it not, had he more from you?’

‘Sire,’ she said, ‘he kissed me too.’

‘Kissed you?’ ‘Truly, and yet still,

He kissed me all against my will.’

‘Rather you were pleased to kiss

And in no manner did you resist,’

Said he, now filled with jealousy.

‘Think you I know you not, indeed?

I know you thus, and all too well,

I’m not so one-eyed, not so blind

That your falseness I cannot find.

You’ve entered on an evil way,

Along a path of ill you’ll stray,

No fodder shall your palfrey eat,

Till my revenge is had, complete.

And if your horse doth shed a shoe,

I’ll not re-shoe him e’er for you.

If he dies, you’ll follow on foot,

And ne’er renew your clothing, but

Instead of keeping the clothes you wear,

Follow on foot, stripped naked, bare

To the world, till I have his head;

I’ll take no other payment instead.’

Lines 831-928 The youth, on his way to court, meets the Red Knight

THE knight then sat him down to eat,

While the youth rode, till he did meet

A charcoal-burner who was, that day,

Driving his mule, along the way.

‘Good fellow, you, behind the mule,

The shortest way now, to Carduel,

Please tell to me,’ said the youth.

‘I wish to see King Arthur, in truth,

 Who makes knights, or so they say.’

‘My lad,’ he answered, ‘go that way,

For he has a castle beside the sea.

You will find, my friend, ‘said he,

If to that castle you go, that glad,

King Arthur is, and yet also sad.’

‘Now, tell me, for I would know

Why the king feels joy and sorrow?’

‘I’ll tell you that, at once,’ said he.

‘He’s delighted with his victory

Over King Rion of the Isles;

Regarding Rion’s loss, he smiles

At defeating him with all his men,

Yet he is angry with his friends,

Who to their castles have departed,

Leaving the king broken-hearted;

For they prefer to sojourn there,

Nor doth he know now how they fare.’

The youth gave not a penny-nail

For the charcoal-burner’s tale,

Except he entered on the road,

He was shown, this he followed

Till he found a castle by the sea,

Well-sited, strong, and fair to see.

And he saw issue from the gate

A knight, bearing, as if in state,

A cup of gold in his right hand.

His lance and shield in his left hand

He held, and grasped the reins tight,

And only the cup held in his right.

His armour glittered in the sun,

And it was all bright vermilion.

The youth saw his weapons too,

Which were also fresh and new,

And they pleased him, so he said

‘I’ll ask these of the king, instead.

If he grants them, then twill be fine,

Curse him who seeks another kind!’

He hastened on to Arthur’s court,

Come late to the castle he sought,

Such that he found the red knight near.

And the knight, seeing him appear,

Detained him there, upon the way: 

‘Where are you off to, lad, I say?’

‘I wish,’ said he, to reach the court,

And ask the king for arms, I thought

To ask for yours.’ ‘My lad, tis well,

Go swiftly now, and this king tell

Of my words, go tell the cowardly

Fellow if he’ll not hold from me

His lands, then he must surrender,

Or send some knight, his defender,

Against me now, for they are mine.

Let him give credence to this sign,

I’ve carried his golden cup away

From which he drinks, this very day,

And every drop that it contains.’

The king, indeed, might prove fain

To send another champion,

For not a word retained this one.

The youth departed for the court

Where the king, whom he sought,

And all his knights were at table.

The hall he entered; as ‘twere a stable,

Twas on the level, and paved inside,

And it was long as it was wide.

And King Arthur there held court,

At the table’s head, lost in thought.

The knights around were chattering,

And laughing, jesting, bantering,

Except the king who, silent, mused.

The youth arrived, but now confused

Knew not which man he should greet

As king, his ignorance complete,

Till Yvonet, we understand,

Came to him, carving-knife in hand.

‘Fellow,’ said the lad, ‘on my life,

You who hold the carving-knife

Tell me now, which is the king?’

Yvonet, courteous in everything,

Told him. ‘Friend, you see him there.’

So to the king the youth repaired,

And greeted him, as best he knew.

The king, in silence, mused anew,

The lad spoke, thinking he’d not heard,

Once more; the king said not a word.

‘I’faith,’ the youth said, ‘day or night,

This king has never dubbed a knight.

How? When a fellow can’t be heard,

Nor can he make him speak a word!’

Lines 929-1060 Kay, the Seneschal, scorns the youth

THE youth now turned his horse’s head

Prepared to ride away instead.

But so close to the king did go,

Proving the fool, in acting so,

That in a trice, without a lie,

The king’s bonnet was knocked awry,

And fell upon the table, dead.

The king now raised his head,

And turned it towards the lad,

Forgetting what thoughts he had,

Saying: ‘Welcome, sir, if I

Was silent, and gave no reply,

Then take it not amiss, you see

I could not; my worst enemy,

The greatest there could ever be,

Who hates and most troubles me,

Has laid a claim to all my lands

And says that he, you understand,

Shall have them all, will I or no;

The Red Knight, for they call him so,

Of Quinqueroi, is his true name.

The Queen also heard his claim,

For she was sitting by me here,

To comfort and to bring good cheer

To those wounded knights you see.

He would scarce have angered me,

Whatever he had said, but he

Seized my cup, most recklessly,

And raised it high in such a way

That all the wine it bore did spray

Over the queen; such was the shame

And coarseness of his act, aflame

With her indignation and distress,

To her room she has fled, no less,

And there she is troubled unto death,

Nor is it thought, by God’s breath,

That she shall escape it, utterly.’

The youth gave not a fig, not he,

For a single word the king had said,

Nor cared the queen was well-nigh dead,

From all the shame, nor for her plight.

‘Lord King, said he, ‘make me a knight,

For I would be off, upon my way.’

Clear and bright the gaze, that day,

Of our young savage; from his eyes

None who saw him thought him wise,

But everyone who viewed him there

Thought him noble, in this affair.

‘Friend, dismount then,’ said the king,

‘This squire shall see to everything

Your steed requires, and willingly

Fulfil your wishes, graciously.

You’ll be dubbed, by God, I own,

To my honour and your renown.’

To all of this, the youth replied:

‘That knight did not dismount, outside,

He whom I’d yet hold to account,

And yet you wish me to dismount!

No, on my life, I’ll not descend,

Do all, and let me thither wend.’

‘Ah!’ said the king, ‘dear boy’, said he,

‘I shall do so most willingly,

To your renown and my honour.’

‘By the faith I owe my Creator,

My Lord the King,’ the lad replied,

I’ll not be a knight by your side,

If the Red Knight I cannot be. 

Grant me the arms then that he

Wore, when I greeted him outside,

Bearing your golden cup, in pride.’

The Seneschal, whose wounds still bled,

Was angered by the words he said,

And cried: ‘My friend, you say aright,

Go and take them from this knight,

You met outside, for they are yours.

You were no fool to state your cause,

By coming here, and claim them thus.’

‘Kay, by God, ‘have mercy on us,

You jeer too readily,’ said the king,

You should show no scorn for him.

Tis the worst vice in a nobleman.

If he’s but raw, yet an honest man

He seems, and though he comes to court

As one we see who’s been ill-taught,

By a wretched master, yet he may

Prove wise and noble some fine day.

It’s wrong to jeer at another

And promise what you fail to offer.

A gentleman to another ought

Never to make promise of aught

That he cannot or will not give,

Lest resentment choose to live

In one, who would have been his friend

But for the promise he did extend,

And who thinks twill be fulfilled.

From this, indeed, we see tis still

Better to grant not, in the main,

Than let a man hope on, in vain.

And, whoe’er the truth would tell,

That man deceives himself full well,

Who makes a promise, then refuses;

For his friend’s heart thus he loses.’

So did the king admonish Kay.

Meanwhile the lad turned away,

And came upon a lovely maid.

He greeted her, and was repaid;

She greeted him, and then she smiled,

And said this to him, as she smiled:

‘Young man, if you live long enough,

I believe, in my heart, you’ll prove

That in all the world there’s not,

Neither known, nor e’er begot,

A better knight than you will be.

I think so, it seems so to me.’

And she’d not smiled this fair maid,

For a good six years. All I’ve conveyed

To you she said, she said out loud,

So all heard. And Sir Kay, the proud,

Sprang at her, riled by what he’d heard,

Struck her a blow, without a word,

With his palm, on her tender face,

Such that she fell flat, in that place.

When he had slapped her he sought

To return to his place, and caught

The Fool by the fire; and with his foot,

He kicked him into the ash and soot,

In his hot anger, while on his way,

Because the Fool was wont to say:

‘That girl won’t laugh, nor smile shall she,

Until one day she’ll chance to see,

A man who over chivalry

Shall hold utter sovereignty.’

Lines 1061-1199 The youth kills the Red Knight

THE fool did cry and she did weep;

The youth upon his way did keep,

Despite a lack of good advice,

And found the Red Knight in a trice.

Meanwhile Yvonet who knew

The byways, and sought what’s new,

And relayed it all at court,

To his companions, in short,

Ran through an orchard by the hall,

Slipped through a door in the wall,

And came out on the road aright,

Where before him our new knight

Looked for chivalry and adventure.

And now the young man, at a venture,

Flew at him, whose arms he sought,

And who, awaiting him, had brought

The golden cup, and set it down

On a stone there, of mottled brown.

When the youth had ridden near,

So each one could the other hear,

The youth cried: ‘Lay down your arms,

You’ll no more with them wreak harm;

Do as King Arthur now commands!’

Of him the Red Knight made demand:

‘My lad, doth no one dare appear,

To maintain the king’s right here?

If none will do so, hide it not.’

‘What the devil? A joke, or what,

Is this among you knights, that you

Have failed your armour to remove?

Off with the lot, tis my command.’

‘Fellow,’ said he, ‘twas my demand

If any will come and, for their king,

Fight with me; declare the thing!’

‘Sir knight, now doff armour and all,

Or I the armour from you shall haul,

I’ll suffer you to wear it no more,

Know well I’ll fight you, for sure,

If you should make me speak again.’

At that, the knight, in angry vein,

Seized, in both his hands, his lance,

And gave the lad a blow that glanced

Across the shoulders, and such was it,

That though with the blunt end he hit,

He made the lad bend low, the force

Bowing him o’er the neck of his horse.

And the youth was angry indeed

When he felt his shoulders bleed

From the strength of that blow.

Best he could, at the eye of his foe,

The lad let his sharp javelin fly;

The knight saw no more nor heard;

It flew through the eye to his brain.

The man’s heart failed, with the pain,

And down the neck, about the nape,

The lad saw brains and blood escape.

The knight collapsed to the ground.

The lad dismounted then, and found

The lance, and put it to one side;

The helm was next, but it defied

All his efforts to drag it free.

Then he attempted, eagerly,

To win the sword, but knew not how,

Could not unsheathe it anyhow,

Yet pulled and tugged at it awhile.

Now Yvonet began to smile,

Watching the lad toil and bend:

‘What is it now,’ said he, ‘my friend

That you do?’ ‘I know not, indeed,

I thought the king, for this deed,

Would grant his red armour to me.

But I will have to chop, I see,

The corpse to little pieces fine,

If I would make his armour mine.

Tis strapped so tightly, and more,

Both behind, and here before,

That to my eye it seems all one,

So intricately is it done.’

‘Be not troubled by anything,’

Said Yvonet, ‘if you wish the thing,

I know how all this may be had.’

‘Then do it, swiftly,’ said the lad,

‘Hand them to me without delay.’

So Yvonet started, straight away,

To strip the corpse from head to toe.

Left it nor mail-leggings nor hose,

Helm on its head, nor other armour.

But the lad would not, however,

Leave off the clothes he wore that day,

For aught that Yvonet could say,

And take the quilted tunic, fine,

Of woven silk, as soft as mine,

That when alive, the knight had worn,

Beneath his mail, all quite untorn.

He could not make the lad divest

Himself of his boots, nor all the rest.

‘The devil’ he cried ‘what jest is this?

Exchange my clothes, if that’s your gist,

That mother made the other day,

For this knight’s sad attire, I say?

Swap my fine thick hempen shirt

For his which is but thin and curt?

Would you have me leave this off,

My coat the sharp rain bounces off,

For his, that every drop will soak?

Cursed be he, who e’en his cloak

Will exchange who, now or later,

Accepts ill gear when his is better!’

Tis very hard to teach a fool;

Naught but the armour would that mule

Accept; all pleas they were in vain.

Yvonet laced up the mail amain,

And in the hauberk saw him clad,

The best that any ever had,

And set the helmet on his head,

Till twas well-set, then he wed

The sheath to the belt tightly,

Yet so his sword swung loosely;

Set his foot in the knight’s stirrup,

Steadied the horse, and he was up.

He’d ne’er seen a stirrup before,

Nor of spurs knew he much more,

Only a stick or a willow-switch.

Yvonet brought the shield which

He gave to him, and then the lance.

Then as Yvonet sought to prance

Back again, the lad said: ‘Friend,

Take my mount, you can depend

On him; he’s fine; and now indeed

Of that good fellow I’ve no need,

And take this cup back to the king,

And so to him my greetings bring;

And then that maiden you must seek

Whom Sir Kay struck on the cheek,

And say, ere I die, if I but can,

I’ll take the measure of the man,

And as her revenge twill rate.’

Lines 1200-1300 The fool prophesies revenge on Kay: the King grieves

THE squire said that he would straight

Return the cup, and would convey

His message to her, on the way.

Repassing the door in the wall,

Yvonet joined the lords in the hall,

And returned the cup to the king.

He said to him: ‘Sire, a joyful thing;

I bring you your gold cup this day,

The cup your knight returns, I say,

The knight who has but lately gone.’

‘What knight is this you speak of, son?’

The king said, who with shame and ire

Wrestled yet. ‘In God’s name, sire,’

Said Yvonet, ‘the young man who

Not long ago was dubbed by you.’

‘Of that young Welshman then you speak,

Who did the arms and armour seek,

That knight’s armour, painted red,

Of him who’s done his best to wed

Me to ignominy and shame?’

‘Sire, in truth, the very same.’

‘And my cup, how was it won?

Did that recreant knight, my son,

Return it of his own accord?’

‘No twas dearly sold, my Lord,

For the youth struck him dead.’

‘How come, my sweet friend?’ he said.

‘Sire, I know not, and yet I saw,

The Red Knight, indeed, make war

Upon him, strike him with his lance,

But then the youth he did advance,

Hurled a spear that pierced the eye,

Drove out blood and brains, say I;

So to the ground the knight did fall,

And he lies there stone dead withal.’

Said Arthur to the Seneschal:

‘Ah, Kay, you’ve worked ill in this hall!

From your scornful tongue there fell

Idle words that, indeed, may well

Have driven that young man away,

Who does me good service this day.’

‘Sire,’ said Yvonet to the king,

‘Upon my life, a message I bring

To the handmaid of the queen

The girl that Kay struck, I mean,

Out of jealousy, hate and spite;

That he, if he lives, will fight

To avenge her; tis his desire.’

The Fool, who sat beside the fire,

Heard his words, leapt to his feet,

Sought the king, his joy complete,

Danced and skipped, ready to sing,

And said: ‘God save me, my king,

Now your adventures are begun.

Many a long and perilous one,

You will find, shall come to you;

And I make you this pledge too,

Kay can be certain sure that he

Will regret those hands and feet,

And that foolish, hateful tongue,

For ere a fortnight shall be done,

This young knight, he will repay

The blow from his foot, this day,

And that buffet he gave the maid,

At high cost too shall be repaid,

And he’ll be well requited so,

For twixt the neck and the elbow,

Sir Kay’s right arm he will break;

For half a year, for our two sakes,

May he carry that arm in a sling!

Like death he’ll not escape the thing.’

His words grieved Kay so deeply,

That for a while he was completely

Overcome, so, by rage and spite,

In front of all, he almost might

Have ensured the Fool’s decease.

Yet since the king it would displease,

He restrained his malice that day.

And the king said: ‘Ah, Sir Kay,

You’ve angered me, and I am sad!

If you and I had trained the lad,

And taught him how to use a lance,

Behind his shield how to advance,

What precautions he should take,

Doubtless a fine knight he’d make;

But he knows neither good nor bad.

When it comes to arms, the lad

Knows scarcely how to draw, indeed,

The sword he bears, in time of need.

And sitting there, upon that horse,

He’ll meet some other lad, of course,

Who will not hesitate to fight,

And win his steed from our poor knight.

He’ll die at once, or wounds enjoy;

He’s such a raw and simple boy,

Defenceless, he will be dismayed.

Soon his quietus he’ll have made!’

Thus the king spoke his regret,

Grieving for the youth, and yet

There was naught that he could do’

Thus a fresh silence did ensue.

Lines 1301-1415 The youth reaches Gournemant’s castle

THROUGH the forest spurred the youth

Without a moment’s rest, in truth,

Until he reached the level plain

And found a river that did drain,

Being a crossbow shot and more

In width, the whole land; to its shore,

And its deep bed, all waters ran.

Towards the river, he now began

Towards the river, he now began

Towards the river, he now began
Adapted from Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images

To make his way across a field,

But to the water would not yield

His mount; twas dark and deep below,

And swifter than the Loire its flow.

He kept instead along the bank,

Across from the rugged flank

Of a tall cliff, on the other shore

Against which the current bore.

Upon this cliff, sloping down

Toward the sea was set a town,

Castellated, rich and strong,

And where the river, running on,

Met the bay, leftwards he turned,

Sight of the castle towers he earned,

Which looked to him as if, some morn,

From out the clifftop they’d been born.

Within the castle, at its heart,

He saw a mighty keep, apart.

A barbican before it lay,

Facing out towards the bay;

Its walls did confront the sea;

On it the waves beat equally.

Its walls did confront the sea; On it the waves beat equally

Its walls did confront the sea; On it the waves beat equally.
Adapted from Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images

The four corners of the wall,

Of solid stone built withal,

Four fine lower turrets graced;

Strong towers opportunely placed.

The castle was well-situated,

Trim within and strongly-gated.

Before the gatehouse, moreover,

A tall bridge spanned the water,

Sandstone, limestone there allied,

Such that the bridge was fortified

With crenellations left and right;

At its centre, there rose to sight

A tower; and a drawbridge lay

Before it, built to serve by day

As a true bridge, as was right,

But as a barrier at night.

Towards the bridge, the youth now rode,

A gentleman upon it strode,

Who an ermine robe did wear;

He, indeed, was waiting there.

He held a short staff in his hand,

To add an air, you’ll understand;

And after him came squires two,

Lightly-dressed, but smartly too.

He waited for this newcomer,

Who the words that his mother

Had said to him, still retained,

For he bowed, and then explained:

‘My mother taught me so to do.’

‘God bless you, my brother, too.’

Said the lord, who saw in truth

The lad was raw still, and uncouth,

‘Where then do you come from, brother?’

‘Why, from the court of King Arthur.’

‘What did you there?’ ‘Why, there the king

Made me a knight, and may that bring

Him luck.’ ‘A knight? God bless me so,

I’d not have thought that, now, you know,

He’d be concerned with such a thing,

For I’d have thought perchance the king

Had other thoughts than making knights.

But tell me brother, and say aright,

Who gave you your arms and armour?’

‘The king, indeed, good King Arthur.’

‘He gave them, how?’ And he retold

His story; twould strike you as old;

Who tells his tale, and then again,

He proves a bore, for tis in vain;

No tale demands a second telling.

The gentlemen progressed to asking

How the youth employed his steed.

‘I make him charge about, indeed,

O’er hill and dale, as I used to do

With that horse I had, that I knew

At the house my Mother doth tend.’

‘And of your arms and armour, friend,

You’ll tell me what you know of them?’

‘Why, how to clad myself and doff them,

The way the squire himself taught me,

Who disarmed the body, carefully,

Of that one I slew, the fallen knight.

And the arms themselves feel light,

Indeed they weary me not at all.’

‘By God, I delight in that, withal,’

Said the gentleman, ‘it pleases me.

Now say, if it is no grief to thee;

What need of yours has led you here?’

‘Sire, from my mother I did hear,

That I should meet with gentlemen,

And she gave me her counsel then,

That I should act as they advise,

For he who acts so all men prize.’

The gentleman replied: ‘Dear brother,

Blessings indeed upon your mother,

For she truly counselled you well.

But you desire…no more, do tell?

‘Yes.’ ‘Then, what?’ This, and no more,

That you lodge me here, I do implore.’

‘Most willingly,’ said the gentleman,

‘If to me a favour you’ll grant,

From which great benefit you’ll see.’

‘That is?’ the youth said. ‘That from me

You take good counsel, and your mother.’

I’faith,’ said he, ‘and I shall, moreover.’

‘Then, dismount!’ and he descended.

Lines 1416-1534 Gournemant teaches the youth how to bear arms

ONE squire held, as his lord intended,

The guest’s horse, while the other

Helped divest him of his armour,

Leaving him in the clothes he had,

And hide boots, but roughly clad

In his deerskin tunic, an ill fit,

His mother’s gift, for she made it.

The spurs, then, of sharpened steel

The lad had brought, on his heels

The lord strapped, and did mount

On the horse, on his own account;

Hung at his side the shield of red,

Then grasped the lance tight, and said:

‘My friend, of arms now shall you learn,

Watch carefully, and thus discern

How one ought to wield the lance,

And check a horse, and advance.’

And then he unfurled the banner,

And showed the lad the manner

In which a shield should be held;

To show his art he felt compelled,

Settling it before him, a little,

Till the steed’s neck felt the metal,

And placed the lance in its rest.

He spurred the steed, of the best,

Worth a hundred marks, for none

Went more willingly, and not one

Showed greater spirit in the field.

The lord knew much of the shield,

Of horse and lance; great skill he had,

For he had learned when but a lad.

Our knight was pleased at the skill

The gentleman could show at will.

When he had performed his drill

Before the youth, who took his fill

Of gazing, and had pleased the eye,

He returned, his lance raised high,

To the youth, did of him enquire:

‘My friend, tell me, do you desire

To learn to wield the shield and lance,

And how to check steeds and advance?’

Then the youth said, right away,

That rather than live another day,

Or gain a wealth of land to sow,

How to act thus he would know.’

‘What a man knows not he can learn;

If he takes care to attend, in turn,

He’ll be an expert, my fair friend.

On but three things doth all depend,

Three things required in every trade:

The effort, practice, heart displayed.

And since you have practised naught,

Nor gazed at others, nor been taught,

Knowing not how to do the same,

In that there is no shame or blame.’

Then the expert made him mount,

And he gave such good account

With lance and shield, it was as though

He’d all his life spent his time so,

At tournaments and in the wars,

And ridden seeking, without pause,

Through every land, for adventure;

Because it came to him by nature.

And when Nature yields the art,

And it involves the whole heart,

Nothing then too grievous proves;

If heart in line with nature moves.

With those in play, he did so well,

The lord was pleased, and could tell

In his heart, that if the youth

Had all his life done so, in truth,

Drilled and performed, to the letter,

He might well have done no better.

When the youth ceased his turn,

To the lord’s feet he did return,

And with his lance raised, too,

Just as he’d seen the master do:

And said: ‘Sire, have I done well?

If I so wished it, can you tell,

If I would master, then, this thing?

I’ve ne’er laid eyes on anything

That I have coveted so greatly.

I wish I knew as much, truly,

As you of arms and armour know.’

‘Friend, set your heart upon it so,’

Said the lord, ‘and you will learn;

About that I have small concern.’

The lord mounted three times more,

Three times showed him, as before,

All he knew that might be shown,

Having him mount thrice, on his own,

Till the youth had been well fed.

As the lad reined in, at last, he said:

‘If a knight you chose to encounter

What would you do, if thereafter

He struck you?’ ‘I’d strike him back.’

‘And if your lance broke in attack?’

‘I could do no more, in the lists

Than have at him with my two fists.’

‘My friend, do not do so, I pray.’

‘What should I do then? ‘Have away

At him with your sword; fence instead.’

He took the lance and planted it dead,

Upright, in the ground before his feet,

Thinking the youth should complete

His training now, in arms and armour,

So that he might defend his honour

With the sword, if that were needed,

Or attack if ground were conceded.

In his hand he took the sword, now,

And said:  ‘My friend, this is how

You must defend if you’re attacked.’

‘God save me,’ the lad said, ‘as to that,

None knows as much of that as I,

For on targets, like bolsters, have I

Worked, at my mother’s house until

I was often weary, and am so, still.’

‘Then, into the castle go, dear brother,

For as to lodgings there’s none other;

Whoe’er objects, this night you’ll see

Saint Julian’s hospitality.’

Lines 1535-1592 The youth decides to return to see his mother

AND in they went, then, side by side,

And the youth, when they were inside,

Declared: ‘Sire, my mother taught me

That I should ne’er keep company

With any man, or be with the same

For long, if I knew not his name.

This she thought and taught me so.

Thus your name, sire, I would know.’

‘Dear friend, tis a matter of report;

My name? Gornemant of Gohort.’

Thus the castle the two now entered,

Proceeding, hands clasped together,

And were met at the entrance stair,

By a squire, all unprompted, there,

Who bore a cloak and, though twas short,

Wrapped the lad in what he’d brought,

So that the youth might take no chill

After his practice, and thus fall ill.

A rich dwelling, both fine and grand,

This lord had; fair servants to hand,

Who hastened his dinner to prepare,

Of good, well-cooked, plenteous fare.

They washed their hands and, that complete,

Sat down at the table to eat.

The lord placed the lad at his side,

And to the same dish they applied

Themselves. I’ll speak no further

Of what the meal comprised, other

Than to say they had enough to drink,

And more than enough to eat I think;

I’d not serve you a meal from fable.

When they rose, and left the table,

The lord, who was most courteous,

Said twould be advantageous

If he could stay a month or two,

Or a whole year, if he chose to;

He would host him willingly,

So that he might learn more fully

Such skills, that is if he agreed,

Which he could use, when in need.

The youth replied: ‘Sire, tis unclear

Whether I’m far from or quite near

The house where my mother dwells.

But I pray that the Lord God tells

Me the way, grants me this boon:

That there, where I saw her swoon,

I’ll see her standing, when I arrive.

For I know not if she’s alive,

Or dead, and yet I must confess

That when I left her, the distress

May well have caused the swoon, and so

The state she’s in I need to know,

I cannot stay here, I must follow

The road from here, at dawn tomorrow.’

The lord on finding even prayer

Was of scant use, fell silent there.

And they retired thence to bed,

All being ready; no more was said.

Lines 1593-1696 Gornemant’s advice on chivalry, including taciturnity

THE lord rose from his bed at dawn,

And went to find the lad, that morn,

Still lying in his bed, and brought

The lad a welcome gift, he thought;

A shirt, and breeches of fine linen,

A coat of violet silk, woven

In India, and hose dyed red

With brazilwood dye, and said,

Thinking that twas time his guest

Had risen and was fully dressed:

‘Friend, if you place full trust in me,

Dress now in these clothes you see.’

The lad replied: ‘If you did desire,

You might advise otherwise, sire;

Those my mother made; they please,

And are they not worth more than these?

Yet you’d wish me in these to dress!’

‘My boy, I swear, on my head no less,’

Said the lord, ‘these clothes are better.

That you’d obey me to the letter,

You promised me, my young friend,

Before we hence our path did wend.’

‘And so I shall,’ declared the lad,

‘Most willingly, and shall be glad

To oppose you in naught you say.’

He dressed in them, without delay

Discarding those from his mother.

And the lord bent and laced a spur

To the lad’s right foot, for, you see,

The custom was, in chivalry,

That whoever did make a knight,

Should lace the spur on his right.

And there were squires there also

Who each enough of arms did know

That thus a hand they might afford.

The nobleman took up the sword,

And kissed and embraced the lad,

And he declared that now he had

Conferred on him, with that sword,

The highest order of Our Lord,

Which is the order of chivalry,

That needs be free of villainy.

And said: ‘Dear brother, keep in mind

That if yourself you should find

In combat with another knight,

I say, and pray of you, outright:

That if you have the upper hand,

Such that he can no longer stand

Against you, not even to defend,

But rather begs to make an end,

Cries ‘Mercy!’ then kill him not.

And may these words not be forgot:

Talk not too much, nor too freely,

For none can speak for long ere he

Says something oft, along the way,

That smacks of villainy. They say,

The wise, to themselves within:

‘Who speaks too much commits a sin.’

So I, dear brother, forbid you to

Talk too much, and I beg of you,

If some girl or woman you find,

Or a maiden or a lady, mind,

Who seems in any way distressed,

Counsel her, aid her, do your best,

If you can pluck counsel’s flower,

And to do so is in your power.

Another thing I must explain,

And hold you it ne’er in disdain,

For ne’er disdained should it be:

Go to church, and willingly,

Pray to Him who made us all,

His mercy on your soul befall,

That in this mortal life, of man,

He guards you as a Christian.’

And the lad said, to the lord:

‘Bless you fair sire, tis assured,

For, by all the saints in Rome,

My mother said the same at home.’

‘From now on, my dear brother,

Ne’er say that from your mother

You learned aught,’ said the lord,

‘I blame you not, and I’ve ignored

Your mention of her, since you came,

But from now on supress the same,

For you’ll be taken for a fool, 

The object of men’s ridicule;

From this day forward, if you please.

Let this bad habit of yours cease.’

‘Dear sire, what then should I say?’

‘To this true gentleman you may

Attribute all, who laced your spur,

Say that he taught you, and not her.’

The youth said that, from now on,

He promised ne’er to sing that song,

While he lived, not a single word

From out his lips would be heard;

For all he’d taught him was fine.

The lord then chose to make the sign

Of the cross, hand raised on high:

‘God save you, then, fair sir! For I

See that twould trouble you to stay.

God go with you, and guide your way.’

The End of Part I of Perceval