Chrétien de Troyes
Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved.
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- Lines 4788-4860 The tournament at Tintagel
- Lines 4861-4918 Gawain’s arrival is noted.
- Lines 4919-4986 The Girl with Little Sleeves
- Lines 4987-5058 The ladies pour scorn on Gawain.
- Lines 5059-5121 Gawain is taunted by a squire.
- Lines 5122-5173 Gawain lodges with Garin, son of Bertain.
- Lines 5174-5257 The elder sister conspires against Gawain.
- Lines 5258-5329 The younger sister complains to Gawain.
- Lines 5330-5420 A sleeve is prepared as a token.
- Lines 5421-5501 Gawain defeats Meliant de Lis
- Lines 5502-5599 Gawain takes courteous leave of all
- Lines 5600-5721 Gawain enters the Castle of Escavalon.
- Lines 5722-5765 Gawain meets the Fair Maid of Escavalon.
- Lines 5766-5819 Gawain is accused and the maid denounced.
- Lines 5820-5868 Guinganbresil reaches Escavalon.
- Lines 5869-5926 It is proposed that Gawain seek the lance that bleeds
- Lines 5927-6008 Gawain sets out to seek the lance.
- Lines 6009-6090 Perceval is admonished for his irreligion.
- Lines 6091-6151 Perceval meets the Hermit
- Lines 6152-6222 He speaks of the grail, and Perceval’s genealogy.
- Lines 6223-6292 The Hermit, his uncle, counsels and instructs Perceval
- Translator’s Afterword.
Lines 4788-4860 The tournament at Tintagel
ON open ground, he saw appear
A band of knights, at first, and he
Asked of a squire, who willingly
Followed after them and led
A Spanish steed by the head,
The reins held in his right hand
A shield around his neck: ‘My man,
Say, who are they who pass by?’
And the squire gave him his reply:
‘Sire, it is Meliant de Lis,
A knight known for his bravery.’
‘Are you of his household?’ ‘No, sire,
But of no less a man’s,’ said the squire,
Droes d’Aves my master’s name.’
‘I’faith, I know that very same
Droes d’Aves,’ said Lord Gawain.
‘Whither goes he? Now, tell me plain.’
‘Sire, to a tournament he goes,
That Meliant de Lis did propose
Against Tiebaut of Tintagel,
And you should journey there, as well,
And defend it from those without.’
‘By God,’ said Lord Gawain, ‘no doubt;
But was not Meliant de Lis
Raised in Tiebaut’s nursery?’
‘Yes, God save me, sire, indeed,
His father loved Tiebaut, and he
So trusted in him, as his man,
On his deathbed, he did command
Tiebaut to rear his little son,
And as he asked so it was done,
With care, and as best he could,
Till Meliant, come to true manhood,
Sought the love of Tiebaut’s daughter,
And she replied that, if he sought her,
She would ne’er her own troth plight
Till Meliant had become a knight.
He, who desired her passionately,
Had himself made a knight, and he
At once returned, to plead again.
“That shall not be, I now maintain,
I’faith,” the maid said, “not until
Before me, you display your skill
In arms, and in the joust do prove,
That you have truly earned my love.
For things we gain at once taste not
As sweet as those that we have got
With pain, nor so agreeably.
Challenge my father to a tourney,
If you would have my love, for I,
Would know without a doubt, or sigh,
That my love was not misplaced,
If twere in you my trust I placed.”
So as she wished, Meliant sent
The challenge to a tournament,
For Love it hath such sovereign power,
That all those in Love’s sway this hour
Would ne’er deny the least demand,
That Love doth wish, and so command;
And you indeed were good for naught,
If you lent not Tiebaut your support.’
Gawain replied: ‘Friend, off you go,
Follow your lord, and stay whole so,
For you have more than had your say!’
Thus the squire went on his way,
And onward Lord Gawain did ride,
Towards Tintagel, for he spied
No other way that he might go.
And Tiebaut both high and low,
Young and old, had gathered in;
His cousins, all his kith and kin,
His neighbours, and every knight,
All there assembled for the fight.
Lines 4861-4918 Gawain’s arrival is noted
BUT there was not a counsellor,
In the town, who advised his lord
To take up arms against his master,
For they feared twould be disaster,
And that he wished their downfall.
So at every gate he raised a wall,
And he closed every entry-way.
The gates were barred, night and day,
Sealed with solid stone and mortar,
And thus no gate required a porter.
Through a postern knights might pass,
Its door indeed not made of glass
But copper, made to last forever,
And this they could open ever,
But forged for it an iron bar,
And set more iron on it by far
Than any modest cart could bear.
And my Lord Gawain came there,
Once he had ceased his journey,
Not to thus attend the tourney
But he must so enter, or return,
There was no other way to turn,
No other road, for seven days.
Finding the postern shut always,
He entered a field below the wall,
Surrounded by a fence, quite tall,
Dismounted, underneath an oak,
And hung his shields up, so the folk,
Within the keep, might see them there;
And more than one felt joy, aware
That the tourney might yet take place.
There was an old lord of their race,
In that castle, who oft did advise,
Being high-born, revered, and wise,
On matters; powerful, rich in land,
Such that, there, not a single man
Failed to trust him, come what may.
Being shown the strangers far away,
Long before they reached the field
And were within the fence revealed,
He went to Tiebaut and declared:
‘God save me, sire, but I see there,
Two knights, and more there may be,
Who are of Arthur’s company,
And they are making their way here.
Two noblemen might play, tis clear,
A fine part, one could win a tourney,
I think, and do advise, and rightly,
To the tourney you may go hence,
And do so with some confidence,
For you have knights, good ones too,
Fine men-at-arms, and archers who
Each can slay an enemy steed.
And I believe they must indeed
Mass together before the gate.
If pride draws them to their fate,
We it is who shall reap the gain,
And they the loss, and the pain.’
Lines 4919-4986 The Girl with Little Sleeves
FOLLOWING the advice he gave,
Tiebaut told the strong and brave
To arm themselves and, henceforth,
Those who wished might issue forth.
Overjoyed were all those knights,
And the squires, quick as they might,
Ran for horses, saddles, armour.
The ladies and the maids of honour
Went to the loftiest place, thereby
To watch the tournament on high;
And saw below them, in the field,
Gawain’s baggage train revealed,
And thought, at first, there might be
Seven knights there, in company,
For seven shields they could see,
Hung on the branches of the tree.
Born neath some auspicious star,
That shone upon them from far,
They thought themselves if seven knights
Before their eyes, were set to fight.
Some of the lords thought so too,
But others took a different view:
Saying: ‘By God, sire, that knight
Has enough arms and gear he might
Equip a band of seven, and yet
There is none other with him met.
What will he do with seven shields?
No knight was e’er seen in the field
Carrying seven shields together.
For twould be taken for a wonder
If one knight were to bear, I own,
Those seven shields, and all alone.’
Still talking of this strange sight,
The knights issued forth to fight,
While Tiebaut’s eldest daughter
Climbed the stairs of the tower;
She’d brought about the tournament;
The younger with her sister went,
Who wore her sleeves so nicely
With such a narrow fit, that she
Was called The Girl with Little Sleeves,
So tight to the arm each did cleave;
And with Tiebaut’s two daughters
Went the ladies and maids together
Up to the heights of the tower.
Before the castle, at that hour,
Did the tournament assemble.
And there was none did resemble
Meliant de Lis in handsomeness,
To that his loved one bore witness,
Saying, to all those about her:
‘In truth, ladies, I have never,
For, to you, why should I lie,
Seen a knight to please the eye,
As much as Meliant de Lis.
A solace and delight to see
Him is it not; so fine a knight?
For he must sit his mount aright,
And carry well a shield and lance,
Who doth so handsomely advance.’
But her sister, there beside her,
Said there was one handsomer,
And the elder was angered so
She rose to strike the girl a blow.
The ladies sought to detain her
And then to openly restrain her,
From thus attacking her sister,
Though angrier it did her render.
Lines 4987-5058 The ladies pour scorn on Gawain
ALL, to the fight, did now advance,
And the knights broke many a lance,
Dealt many a blow with the sword
And many a brave knight was floored;
And know that dearly did they pay
Who fought with Meliant that day:
None before his lance was found
But he was beaten to the ground;
And if his lance broke, with the blade
Of his sword, wide sweeps he made;
There was no man, far and wide,
Who fought better on either side.
And his beloved knew such joy
She felt obliged to then employ
These words: ‘Ladies, here’s a wonder,
For you will see his equal never,
Nor hear tell of such a knight!
Behold the best man in a fight
You’ll ever see with your two eyes.
He’s finer, and his arms he plies
More skilfully, this day, than any.’
Her little sister said: ‘I see
A better and a finer man.’
And then the elder one began,
And hot with anger now, was she:
‘You, wretch, you’ve the effrontery
And may it prove your downfall too,
To dare to scorn a creature, you,
Whom I have sought to praise,’ cried she.
‘Take this then for now, and see
You hold your tongue another time.’
And she slapped her cheek, meantime,
So all her fingers left a mark,
And all the ladies there did hark
To the blow, held and blamed her,
And after spoke again together
Among themselves, of Sir Gawain.
‘Dear Lord,’ one cried, as if in pain,
‘That knight beside the oak-tree there,
Why does he shun this whole affair?’
‘That knight beside the oak-tree there, Why does he shun this whole affair?’
Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images
While one, more junior, was pleased
To claim that he was sworn to peace.
And another spoke then, smilingly:
‘Say no more, a merchant is he!’
‘A money-changer,’ cried a fourth,
‘He’ll not intend to sally forth,
And hand those poor men who fought
All the coins that he has brought.
Don’t think I’d tell you all a lie,
There’s fine gold and silver, say I
In those trunks, all there on view.’
‘Truth, you’ve an evil tongue on you,’
Cried the little sister, ‘you’re wrong!
Think you a merchant brought along
That great lance that you see there?
Sure tis my death you deal, I swear,
When such devilish things you say.
By the Holy Spirit to whom I pray,
He seems a knight fit for danger,
No merchant he, or money-changer.
He is a knight it seems to me.’
But the ladies, as one, cried: ‘He
Might seem to be, dear sweet friend,
But he is not, and you may depend
On that; he feigns to be a knight
Only because he thinks he might
Escape the tolls by telling lies.
He’s a fool, who thinks he’s wise,
For, in that crime, he’ll be seized,
Charged as a thief, and be pleased,
A wise fool, the gallows to deck,
With a noose tied around his neck.’
Lines 5059-5121 Gawain is taunted by a squire
‘All that those ladies said of him...shamed and troubled him’
Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images
MY Lord Gawain, clearly heard,
All that was spoken, every word,
All that those ladies said of him,
And it shamed and troubled him;
But he thought, and with good reason,
That having been accused of treason
He ought to counter it, as of right;
And if he failed to attend and fight,
According to his pledge, then blame
And dishonour would mar his name,
And those of his line many a year.
And because indeed he went in fear
Of being captured or wounded, he
Kept himself far from the tourney,
Though he longed to join the fray,
For, as he saw, throughout the day
The fight had grown more violent;
While Meliant de Lis had sent
For a stouter lance to do more harm.
All day, until the night brought calm,
The knights fought on before the gate.
Those who’d won, when it grew late,
Stowed the spoils for safe-keeping.
Thus, on across the field, creeping
The ladies saw a squire, who hauled
The stump of a lance; large and bald
He was, and there around his neck
A horse’s halter did him bedeck.
One lady called him a fool beside:
‘God save me, sir squire,’ she cried,
‘You must be an idiot, twice found,
To search about there, on the ground,
For battered halters, and lance-tips,
Broken standards, and bridle-bits,
And yet still call yourself a squire.
Raise your sights if you would aspire;
He lowers himself, who aims low,
And here I see, in that field below,
Not far from you, I would surmise,
Many an undefended prize.
He’s a fool who thinks not on it
When he’s well-nigh standing on it!
And then, the most courteous knight
Ever born, stands by, you might
Pluck his moustache, he’d not stir.
Don’t go for paltry spoils, dear sir!
All those horses, and all the rest,
Take for me, if with sense you’re blessed,
For no one will dispute your claim.’
Over the field the squire now came,
To one of the mounts he gave a blow
With his lance-butt, and cried: ‘Ho!
Vassal, are you in a parlous state
That you stand here all day and wait,
And of the fight will not partake,
To pierce a shield, or lance break?’
‘Why is it your concern?’ said he.
‘Be on your way, fly far from me;
The reason why I thus remain,
May, one day, to you show plain,
But, by my life, tis not this day,
I’d deign my reason to display.
Go now, be about your business.’
Lines 5122-5173 Gawain lodges with Garin, son of Bertain
SO the squire fled him, more or less;
Nor were there any more did seek,
Of aught that angered him, to speak.
The tournament lasted little longer,
Many knights were taken prisoner,
And many a steed had been slain;
The townsfolk most spoils did gain,
Though the attackers took the prize,
And, on parting, they both devised
A meeting on the morrow, to fight
Throughout the day, until the night.
So they departed, and all those men
Come from the castle returned again,
And entered through the postern gate.
And my Lord Gawain was straight
Upon the heels of those who entered,
And he, before the gate, encountered
That aged lord, the wise councillor,
Who had, that day, advised his lord
To then commence the tournament,
And now, with courteous intent,
Asked Gawain to lodge with him,
For, graciously, he spoke to him:
‘All is ready in the castle, sire,
All that you need or might desire;
Your lodgings are prepared for you.’
Lodge here with us, for should you
Take to the road, and go your way,
You’ll find no place nearby to stay.
Thus I’d beseech you to remain.’
‘Thanks be to you,’ said Lord Gawain,
‘Sire, I will, you shall be obeyed,
For worse offers have I heard made.’
The lord led him to his lodging,
And while, of this and that, speaking,
He asked him why, upon that day,
He’d not borne arms amidst the fray,
And why Gawain had but stood by.
And he told him all the reason why:
That he had been accused of treason,
Dare not be wounded, for that reason,
Nor could he suffer to be detained
Until he had his honour regained,
Free of the shame that on him lay.
If he failed to appear, on the day
Appointed, he and his every friend
Would be dishonoured; to that end
He had thus refrained from the fight.
The lord greatly praised the knight,
Greeting his speech, with satisfaction;
That he’d refrained from the action
Of the tourney, seemed only right.
Into his courtyard he led the knight,
And they dismounted, and entered.
Lines 5174-5257 The elder sister conspires against Gawain
BUT the folk, in the town, dissented,
And, gathering to denounce Gawain,
Said that their lord should him arraign,
And that he should arrest him straight.
And his eldest daughter, who did hate
The younger sister so, worked away
Against them both, as best she may:
‘Sire, said she, ‘I think you are none
The worse for this day, but have won
More than you think you have and I
Will gladly tell you the reason why.
You need do no more than simply
Command that your men go swiftly
And take that knight, whom not one
Will defend, and defence he’s none,
For he lives by his deceit and guile.
Into this town he brings, the while,
Shields, and lances, and warhorses,
And he leads about those coursers
Exempt from tolls, he, in the guise
Of a knight; they, not merchandise.
Now grant him his deserts, that one.
He lodges with Garin, Bertain’s son,
Who in his house has let him stay,
For he entered it this very day,
I saw his host lead him inside.’
And thus the elder sister vied
To bring upon him every shame.
And her father pursued the same
End, indeed, for he sought to go
Straight to the house, where we know
Gawain was lodged, the very door.
And when his younger daughter saw
Him departing in such a manner,
She slipped out the rear, by another
Way, taking care none should see her,
And running quickly was, soon after,
Before the door where lodged Gawain,
The house of Garin, son of Bertain,
Who had two daughters, also fair.
And, when the girls found here there,
And saw it was their own sweet lady,
Joy was theirs, unreservedly,
An honest joy, you’ll understand.
Then each took her by the hand,
And, joyfully, led her inside,
On lips and eyes their kisses plied.
Meanwhile Garin had remounted,
He was among the wealthy counted;
And, at his side, his son Herman,
And set out for the court, his plan,
Being that they, when thus abroad,
Would, there, confer with their lord.
Instead, they met him in the street.
And their lord his vassals did greet,
And they asked him whither he rode,
And he replied: why, to their abode,
As he desired some entertainment.
‘Why, there’s no grief in that intent
Nor any annoy,’ Garin replied,
‘You’ll see, for there he doth abide,
The finest knight to ride the earth.’
‘Tis not to see him, not for mirth,
I come, I’faith, but for his arrest.
He’s but a merchant is your guest,
Selling horses, for he’s no knight.’
‘What, sire! And have I heard aright?
Cried Garin, ‘dire words you afford
Me; I’m your man and you my lord,
Yet, as for myself, and my lineage,
I’ll withdraw from you all homage;
And all shall defy you, from today,
Rather than suffer you, this way,
To bring dishonour on my lodging.’
‘God save me, sir, for no such thing
Do I intend there,’ much distressed,
His lord replied, ‘nor house nor guest,
Aught but honour will have from me,
Tis only that, by my faith, you see,
I have received the firmest warning
Against such deceits, this morning.’
‘All thanks then,’ cried the vavasor,
‘And it would be the greatest honour
To have you come, and meet my guest.
Lines 5258-5329 The younger sister complains to Gawain
SIDE by side they now progressed,
At once, towards Gawain’s lodging,
And the vassal his lord did bring
To his house, where my Lord Gawain
Rested; and when he saw them plain,
Ever courteous, as they drew near,
He rose, and cried: ‘Be welcome here!’
The two, in turn, both greeted him,
And then they sat down beside him.
The lord of the land then inquired
Of Sir Gawain why it transpired,
That he chose not to fight that day,
But from the tourney turned away.
And Gawain, being not annoyed,
The power of truth then employed,
Saying twas neither sin nor shame,
But having been accused, by name,
Of treason by a certain knight,
He went to the king’s court to fight,
And so defend himself from the claim.
‘You had good reason for the same,
Tis fair excuse,’ the lord replied.
‘Where is this court that shall decide?
Sire, said he, I must journey on
To seek the King of Escavalon;
And must go at once, so I believe.’
‘You’ll be escorted when you leave,’
Said the lord, ‘to that place you seek.
And since through lands poor and bleak
You must pass to journey there,
I’ll give you pack-horses to bear
Provisions for you on the ride.’
And my Lord Gawain replied
He would not, for it would avail
If he could but find food for sale;
He might have ample nourishment
And horses too, where’er he went,
Thus would he find all he needed;
He asked for naught. Twas conceded,
And the lord rose to take his leave;
As he went to go, he did perceive
His younger daughter, who now ran
To clasp her arms about the man,
Or at least she embraced the leg
Of Lord Gawain, and thus did beg:
‘Sire, please, I’ve come here to you
To complain about my sister, who
Slapped me hard; grant me justice.’
Gawain said not a word to this,
Unsure as to whom it was said,
But set his hand upon her head;
And the girl tugged at him again:
‘To you, fair sire, I thus complain,
About my sister, whom I do not
Hold dear or love, such is my lot;
She shamed me on account of you.’
‘And why is that my affair too?
What redress for you, can I win?’
Her father, hearing her, came in
Again, and at once demanded
Of her: ‘Daughter, who commanded
That you complain to this knight?’
But Gawain said: ‘Sire, I might
Rather say that, although, to me,
She spoke somewhat childishly,
And girlishly, I’ll not refuse;
Tomorrow, for a while, I choose
Instead to be her knight, indeed.’
‘Thanks be to you, fair sire,’ said she,
And such was her joy, now complete,
She bowed down to his very feet.
Then they left without more ado.
Lines 5330-5420 A sleeve is prepared as a token
NOW Tiebaut set his daughter too
Upon his palfrey and, this done,
Asked how the quarrel had begun,
As they both rode back together.
And she told him all, whatever
Was the truth, from end to end:
‘Sire, it was my sister’s fault,
Who declared, ere her assault,
That Meliant de Lis was best
Of all the knights, and handsomest.
And I looked down and there below
In the field was that knight, and so,
I could not keep from telling her
That, on the contrary, down there
One fairer than him could be seen.
And, for that true thing, I have been
Called a wretch, and slapped hard, there.
And cursed be all who think that fair!
I’d let my braids both be sheared
Right to my nape, if it appeared,
(Though quite hideous I would be
If they were to do all that to me),
That tomorrow at the tourney
That knight, amidst the melee,
Might do for Meliant de Lis;
And then all the cries would cease,
My sister utters, blown away.
For she so lauded him this day,
That all the ladies were in pain;
Yet a great wind dies, with a little rain!’
The lord said: ‘Daughter, I decree
That a token, to him, in courtesy,
You shall send; a sleeve, maybe.’
She answered, in her naivety:
‘Willingly, if you tell me so,
But my sleeves they are so narrow,
I wouldn’t dare to send him one.
Twere worse than to send him none,
For he’d value it not a whit.’
‘Dear daughter, let me think on it,’
Said her father, ‘now say naught
For such, readily, may be sought.’
And so conversing, clasping her
In his arms, he bore her further,
And found solace in her the more;
Thus they came to the palace door.
When the elder sister saw her,
Saw how he embraced her sister,
She was angered to the very heart:
‘Whence is she, sire, from what part
Comes The Girl with the Little Sleeves?
She knows such ruses, and deceives,
A host of tricks she’s quickly learned.
Whence are you and she returned?’
‘And you,’ he said, ‘what’s it to you?
You’d best say naught; give her, her due,
Far better than you doth she behave,
Who pull her tresses, at her do rave,
And slap her face, which angers me.
You show the girl scant courtesy.’
Then was she much discomfited,
At all that her father had said,
And his scorn, quite taken aback.
Of crimson samite he’d no lack;
The cloth was drawn from a coffer,
And he had made, for his daughter,
A sleeve: twas both long and wide.
Calling his youngest to his side,
He said: ‘Now, daughter, in the morn,
You must make your way, at dawn,
To the knight, ere he choose to go.
Give him this sleeve, for love, so
He will bear it in the tournament,
Since to tourney he doth consent.’
And, to her father, she replied,
That as soon as e’er she spied
The dawn of day she would rise
And dress herself in fair guise.
At this, her father went his way,
While she most joyfully did say
To her companions, they must not
Let her sleep too long, but what,
In the morning, they must do
Was wake her, and quickly too,
If they sought her love; outright,
At the first glow of morning light.
And they replied that, willingly,
As soon as ever they should see
The light of morn, at daybreak,
They’d ensure she was awake.
Lines 5421-5501 Gawain defeats Meliant de Lis
THE girl woke at the break of day,
And, all alone, she made her way
To the lodgings in which had lain
Her champion, but Lord Gawain
Had already risen with the dawn,
And had gone to church that morn,
To hear the mass celebrated;
And so the demoiselle waited,
At Garin’s house, while he prayed.
And many a fine prayer was made,
With many a chant, high and clear,
While he heard whate’er was to hear.
But when from church he came again
She rose to her feet, before Gawain,
Did the girl, and cried: ‘God save you,
And joy in today’s joust, grant you!
And bear this sleeve, for love for me.’
‘Thank you, my friend, and willingly,’
My Lord Gawain now answered her.
Not long after the knights did gather,
To arm themselves, and one and all
They massed outside the castle wall,
And every lady, and every maiden,
Climbed to the high towers again,
To the windows, to view the sights,
And watch the assembly of the knights,
For proud and strong they seemed to be.
Before all, rode Meliant de Lis,
Charging ahead so swiftly, mind,
At least a hundred yards behind
Him, the rest the ground did cover.
The elder daughter, his fond lover,
Watched, and could not hold her tongue,
Crying: ‘Ladies, now see him come,
The knight who is of chivalry
The flower, and holds sovereignty.’
Now, my Lord Gawain did follow
And fast as his charger would go,
Met Meliant, who showed no fear,
But on Gawain his lance did sheer,
While Gawain dealt him such a blow
And brought Meliant such pain and woe,
That he fell to the ground, unmanned;
While Gawain took the steed in hand,
Seized the reins, and calling a squire,
Told him to go, twas his desire,
Take it to her, for whom he fought,
And say it was from him, in short;
That the first spoils he had won,
This day, he wished her to own.
And the squire the saddled steed
To the maiden did swiftly lead,
Who had watched there below,
Seated there at the high window,
The fall of proud Meliant de Lis.
And cried: ‘Sister, now you see,
Meliant de Lis, now fallen, lies,
Whom you so praised to the skies.
Well you know to whom praise is due!
What I said yesterday’s proven true,
God save me, for everyone can see
There is a better knight than he!’
Thus she taunted her sister bent
On riling her, twas her intent,
Till the elder was badly stung,
And cried aloud: ‘Wretch, hold your tongue!
If I hear another word from you
I’ll give you such a slap, or two,
You’ll not see to stand upright.’
‘O sister, the Lord keep in sight,’
Said the little maid to the other,
‘For since twas truth I did discover
You ought not to slap me so.
I’faith, I saw him take that blow,
And so did you, as clear as I.
It seems to me that he must lie
Still awhile, till he’s fit to rise.
Though you burst before my eyes,
I’ll tell the truth, and tell it all,
No lady here but saw him fall,
Head over heels, and then lie flat!’
Lines 5502-5599 Gawain takes courteous leave of all
SHE’D have dealt her a blow for that,
If she’d been allowed to act so,
But those ladies barred the blow,
Who beside the two were sitting.
And then they saw a squire coming,
Who led a horse in his right hand.
He found the girl there, as planned,
And presented her with the steed,
She thanked him sixty times indeed,
And he went to convey her thanks
To Lord Gawain, amidst the ranks
Of knights who’d escaped disaster,
Of whom he seemed lord and master,
For there was nary a knight he met
Who his lance did soon forget;
For their stirrups he left empty.
Never before so intent had he
Seemed on winning every mount.
Four steeds it was, at the last count,
That he gained with his right hand.
He sent the first, you understand,
To the little maid; then to delight
His host’s wife, whom the knight
Thus pleased indeed, he sent one;
A third her eldest daughter won;
Her other daughter had the fourth.
And he returned as he’d gone forth,
When all was ended, with the spoils,
My Lord Gawain; for all his toils,
All the honours his, on that day.
Now it had not yet reached midday
When Gawain left off the tourney,
And, as he left, there were so many
Knights with him, so vast a suite
About him, that they filled the street
And all he met did then enquire,
To know of him, their sole desire,
Whom he was, and of what country.
And the little maid ran directly
To meet him there at Garin’s door,
And the first thing she did, before
All else, was to grasp his stirrup tight,
Then she gave greeting to her knight,
Saying: ‘A thousand thanks, fair sire!’
And he knew well all her desire,
So he answered her, gallantly:
‘Age will snow white hairs on me,
My dear, ere I cease to serve you,
Where’er I go and, far from you
Though I be, twill ne’er be so far,
That, if you need me where you are,
And I know, aught can prevent me
Being there; send, and there I’ll be.’
‘A thousand thanks, sire,’ said she.
Thus were they talking, she and he,
When her father came, and again
And again, did beg of Lord Gawain,
That he remain with them that night,
As their honoured guest, as was right.
However, my Lord Gawain declined
To remain, he said that, to his mind,
It could not be, then in nigh the same
Breath, his host asked him his name.
‘Sire, Gawain am I called, and I
Have never concealed it when I
Was asked my name in any place,
Nor have I, before any man’s face,
Spoken it, ere twas asked of me.’
When his host understood that he
Had as his guest my Lord Gawain,
His heart was filled with joy, amain,
And he cried: ‘Sire, stay with me,
Partake of our hospitality,
For one more night, for I have not
Served you nigh on enough in aught;
And, never in all my life, I swear,
Have I seen a knight anywhere,
To whom I’d rather do honour.’
But though he would keep him longer,
My Lord Gawain denied his pleas.
And the little maid, she did seize
Him by the foot and gave it a kiss;
Nor ill nor foolish was she in this;
And him to God she did commend.
And my Lord Gawain did attend
To her, and asked the reason,
And she replied to his question,
That when she bestowed the kiss
On his foot, her intent was this:
That he would remember her so
In every place that he might go.
And he said: ‘Doubt me not, dear friend,
For, if God aids me, you may depend
On this: that I’ll forget you never,
Nor be far distant from you ever.’
Then he took his leave of his host,
And the rest, but of him the most,
Commending to God one and all.
Lines 5600-5721 Gawain enters the Castle of Escavalon
NOW, that night it did so befall
Gawain lodged at an abbey grange;
All he needed they did arrange.
And early the next morning he
Rode out again on his journey;
And he came across a herd of deer,
Grazing as they went, quite near
To the plain, on the forest border.
He thus gave Yvonet the order,
Who one of his mounts did lead,
The best of all of them, indeed,
And bore a lance, stout and strong,
To halt; and bring the lance along,
And see the saddle girth was tight
On the horse, there, on his right.
Swiftly the squire did then advance,
And handed him his shield and lance.
On that mount, he chased the deer,
And twisted and turned, full near,
Until, beside a thorn, he caught
A white doe, of those he sought.
Across its neck he laid his lance,
Seeking to check its swift advance;
But the white doe, leaping aside,
After the other deer did glide.
He pressed so hard that he’d almost
Have caught her now, he was so close,
If his charger had not cast a shoe.
Finding the doe now lost to view,
He had Yvonet dismount swiftly,
For the steed was hobbling badly,
The squire did as his lord decreed
Raised its leg, and found indeed
The horse had lost a shoe, and said:
‘Sire he must be re-shod; instead
Of the chase, we must wander on,
Until some place we come upon
Where a farrier may re-shoe him.’
Thus they wandered on, at whim,
Until they spied a hunting party
Ride from a castle, at the ready,
Before them boys, with clothes girt,
Who took to the road with a spurt,
Next lads on foot who led the hounds,
Huntsmen racing o’er the ground,
Each with his sharp hunting-spear.
Behind these archers did appear,
Carrying their quivers and bows,
And next the knights in hunting clothes.
And after every other knight,
Two more, on chargers, hove in sight,
One a youth who, beside the rest,
Appeared by far the handsomest.
He alone greeted my Lord Gawain,
Took him by the hand, to detain
Him, saying: ‘Sire, I beg of you
Follow the road, that is in view,
Dismount at my house, for reason
Cries out, tis the day and season,
You’re destined to lodge with us.
I have a sister, most courteous,
Who’ll welcome you with delight;
Thither he’ll lead you, the knight
You see here, who rides beside me.
Go my dear companion,’ said he,
‘Go, for I send you, and no other,
To lead him there, to my sister.
First give her greeting, and then say
That I do command her, this day,
By all the love and loyalty
That should exist twixt her and me,
That if she e’er has loved a knight
She shall love this lord, at first sight,
And hold him dear, in no other
Way than she doth me, her brother.
Such solace and such company
She must provide, and so please
Our guest, until we may return.
While she doth graciously concern
Herself with him, return to me,
And ride as swiftly as can be,
Then, when the moment offers, we
Will home, to keep him company.’
The knight turned his horse’s head,
And Lord Gawain to the castle led,
Escavalon, where twas his fate
To be viewed with a mortal hate.
Yet there his face was still unknown,
None had e’er seen him yet, I own,
So, he entered in unguardedly.
It sat above an arm of the sea,
And Lord Gawain gazed and saw
It walls and keep, both strong and sure,
So that the place feared no attack.
He looked about, and saw no lack;
Twas peopled, with fine folk all,
And every moneychanger’s stall
Was heaped with silver and gold.
He saw streets and squares unfold
Full of those who worked away
At diverse trades, so on that day
The trade itself was most diverse.
One his helm-making did rehearse,
Others chain-mail, lances, shields,
That bridles; spurs this one yields;
He sharpens, he polishes blades.
Some fulled cloth, others displayed
The weaving, combing, and shearing,
Others, in gold and silver working,
Made many fine and lovely things,
There were belt-buckles and rings,
Enamelled jewellery; every kind
Of dish or goblet, you could find.
You might as well think and say
That every day was market day,
So full of merchandise that town,
Marvelling, they rode up and down;
Such beeswax, pepper, spices there,
Such cloth, grey or lined with vair,
And every other kind of ware.
They rode along, and lingered where
They wished, till the keep was at hand.
There squires ran to take command
Of their steeds, and all else they owned.
Lines 5722-5765 Gawain meets the Fair Maid of Escavalon
THE knight entered the keep alone
Except indeed for my Lord Gawain,
And, clasping his right hand again,
He led him to the sister’s chamber,
And said: ‘Fair friend, your brother
Sends you his greeting, and requests
Concerning this knight, his guest,
That you honour and serve him truly.
And asks that you do so willingly;
Not grudge him aught, nor keep apart,
But do so with as good a heart
As if you were his only sister,
As if he were your only brother.
And take care not to seem averse
To his wishes, instead rehearse
Generosity, and loving-kindness;
Be gracious, in all your address.
I must return now to the woods;
Think on this.’ She said she would.
‘For blessed be he who sends to me
Such company as this shall be!
Who sends such a one as this,
Hates me not, all thanks be his.
Fair sire, you’ll sit here you see,’
Said the maid, ‘here, beside me.
My brother, and your nobility,
Demand I bear you company.’
The messenger now turned away,
Who might, indeed, no longer stay;
While my lord did there remain,
Having small reason to complain,
Being alone with a maid, sitting
Beside one both fair and charming,
So self-possessed that, all in all,
She thought there no harm at all
In finding herself alone with him.
Of love he spoke, and she to him,
For blind folly it would have been
To talk there of aught else, I ween.
My Lord Gawain did make request
That she love him, as for the rest,
He swore that he’d be hers forever;
And she refused him not, but rather
Granted her love most willingly.
Lines 5766-5819 Gawain is accused and the maid denounced
YET a vassal entered, suddenly,
Who knew of my Lord Gawain;
Much to their great hurt and pain,
As they merely exchanged a kiss,
Though they had great joy of this.
And, unable to hold his tongue,
Shouted, at the top of his lungs,
In a noisy display of virtue:
‘Woman, now shame be on you!
Be, at God’s hand, to ruin hurled,
For the one man in all the world,
You should hate above all others
You’d clasp, as if you were lovers,
Have him embrace you, and kiss!
Woman, wretched, ever foolish,
You should do now what you ought,
Tear the heart from him, in short,
Rather than kiss him on the lip.
For though your kisses might grip
His heart thus, and draw it thence,
Yet it were better to tear it hence,
With your two hands from out his breast;
For thus you ought, as I attest,
If as a woman you’d act rightly.
Yet no woman does such, for she
Who hates evil and loves the good
Tis wrong to call woman, none should;
For she who only loves that same,
She forfeits her right to that name.
But woman you are, so much is true;
That man, who sits beside you, slew
Your father, yet you kiss and tease.
When women can do as they please,
They care naught for the rest, tis plain.’
With this, and before Lord Gawain
Could say a word, he sprang away,
The maid fell to the floor, and lay
A long while there, in a faint still,
Upon the stone flags, there, until
My Lord Gawain had revived her.
And when to her feet he’d raised her,
Pale and wan, with fear she sighed,
And once she could breathe, she cried:
‘Ah, now we both shall meet our death!
We both shall breathe our last breath;
I’ll die for love of you, yet wrongly,
And you, I think, will die for me.
Soon the folk of this town will come,
Ten thousand, to pronounce our doom,
And before the tower they will mass.
And yet, ere that may come to pass,
I’ll arm you; there are weapons here.
One brave man could hold, tis clear,
This tower, against a mighty army.’
Lines 5820-5868 Guinganbresil reaches Escavalon
SO she ran, and brought them swiftly,
And then she clad my Lord Gawain,
Who did not arm himself in vain,
Rather he laid many a man low;
To hold the door against the foe,
None could be summoned fine as he.
Now not one word of this did he
Who’d offered him lodging know;
He was returning swiftly though,
From the chase, where he hunted,
While all the townsfolk assaulted
The keep with their steel picks still.
And twas now that Guinganbresil,
Through unforeseen coincidence,
Came riding to the castle entrance,
And found himself all dumbfounded
At the way the wretches pounded
Against the tower, for naught he knew
Of my Lord Gawain’s entering too.
But once he had discovered all,
He forbade them, whate’er befall,
From displaying such temerity,
Bold though they seemed to be,
As to seek to dislodge a stone,
Or a life they’d no longer own.
Yet they cried they cared naught
For him, no, beware; they sought
To bring it down upon his head,
If he sided with Gawain instead.
And when he saw that his threat
Was all in vain, he thought to let
The folk alone, and seek the king,
And confront him with this thing,
This riot, amongst the populace.
The king, returning from the chase,
He met, and told him of the same:
‘Sire they bring on you great shame,
This mayor, and all the aldermen,
Who since morn, time and again,
Have assailed your tower. If you
Act not, if no charges ensue,
Then I shall hold you in ill favour.
I have attacked Gawain’s honour,
Charged him with treason, as you know,
And yet you’ve chosen to bestow
Your hospitality on that knight;
Thus tis but reasonable and right
That, if you ope to him your hall,
Shame nor hurt shall on him fall.’
Lines 5869-5926 It is proposed that Gawain seek the lance that bleeds
SAID the king, to Guinganbresil:
‘My Lord, once we are there he will
Know none, from that very instant.
What is occurring at this moment
Surprises, troubles me indeed,
But I cannot wonder they exceed
All bounds, for they do hate him so.
Yet from prison I’ll keep him though,
And from all harm, if I but can.
For since I have lodged the man,
I shall treat him with great honour.’
Thus, they approached the tower,
A great noise the crowd did make;
There he told the mayor to take
The people with him, and to go;
And since the mayor wished it so,
All vanished, to the very last man.
In the castle, dwelt a gentleman,
Who was a native of that town,
And counselled all the country round,
For his wisdom was great indeed.
‘Sire,’ he said, ‘now you have need
Of a sound and loyal counsellor.
Surely none here should wonder,
Since he committed treachery
Against your father that day he
Slew him, that they, hating him
With a mortal hate, assailed him;
Tis due cause, as you well know.
Now he’s an honoured guest, though,
You should ensure, and guarantee,
He’s not killed here, and goes free.
And then, with no word of a lie,
Guinganbresil, whom here I spy,
Who charged him with treachery
At Arthur’s court, that guarantee
Should also give, and protection.
Now all that is clear, the action
I propose, is that since he came
To your court to clear his name,
He should be offered a respite,
And that he should seek, this knight,
The lance whose iron tip drips blood,
Being such that a fresh drop would
Ever be there, were it wiped clean.
He may go, and the lance be seen,
Or may choose to stay, in prison,
And thus grant you a better reason
For holding him in your duress,
Than you now rightly do possess;
Such the punishment I do name.
For there’s no prison you could name
None so oppressive, I am sure
He could not, endlessly, endure.
One should burden one’s enemy
With the hardest task one can see;
No better task can I now offer
To ensure the man doth suffer.’
Lines 5927-6008 Gawain sets out to seek the lance
TO this the king gave his consent,
And to his sister’s room he went
Where he found her much aggrieved,
She stood, and his greeting received,
As did Lord Gawain, who appeared
Unmoved, there being naught he feared;
He neither shook, nor changed colour.
Guinganbresil advanced, and offered
Some idle words, as do the vain:
‘My Lord Gawain, my Lord Gawain,
I granted you protection, true,
But, you’ll recall, I said to you,
That you were not, being overbold,
To enter towns my lord doth hold,
Nor yet this castle, unless, I say,
You found there was no other way.
So you have no reason to complain
Of aught here that brings you pain.’
Then the wise counsellor, said he:
‘God save me, sire, all that must be
Set aside, for what reparation
Could he seek for aggravation
By such as these, toward such a one?
Why the case itself would run,
Till the Day of Judgement were here!
The matter stands thus, it doth appear:
My lord the king, he hath this day
Commanded me that I should say,
So long as you and Gawain agree,
That a brief respite there should be,
To the matter for a year and a day,
While my Lord Gawain take his way
And seek the lance whose iron tip
Drips blood, and ever it doth drip
Though the blood be wiped away;
And tis written that on a day
All the wide realm of Logres,
Which was once a land of ogres,
Will be destroyed by that lance.
My lord would have you advance
Your oath and pledge, and so swear.’
‘Then, indeed, I would much prefer,’
Said Lord Gawain, ‘to linger here
And languish thus for seven years,
Or die, than that I e’er should take
An oath I might be forced to break.
I am not so afeared of death
That I’d not rather save my breath,
And thus endure my death unsworn,
Than live in shame, and be forsworn.’
‘Fair sire,’ cried the gentleman,
‘Twill bring dishonour to no man,
I’faith, twill be no more than to
Swear now, as I would have you do,
That you will seize every chance,
Within your power, to seek the lance.
But if the lance you fail to find,
Nor can return, then, to my mind,
You will be quit of this your vow.’
‘That,’ said he, ‘I’ll swear to now,
Subject to all that you have said.’
So the gentleman commanded
A precious reliquary be sought,
And then, once it had been brought,
Gawain swore indeed he would
Seek out the lance that dripped with blood,
Thus a year and a day’s respite
Was granted, ere there be a fight
Twixt him, and Guinganbresil;
And Gawain escaped from peril.
He now took leave of the maid,
And to his squires he relayed
The news that they must turn again
For home and leave their lord, Gawain,
With but one mount, his Gringalet.
And, weeping now, they turned away
From their lord, and they were gone.
More of such grief to dwell upon,
And all their tears, displeases me,
While of Lord Gawain, the story
Speaks no more; so now I shall
Take up the tale of Perceval.
Lines 6009-6090 Perceval is admonished for his irreligion
PERCEVAL, so says the story,
Had, long since, lost his memory,
And of God he thought no longer.
Five Aprils, and five Mays later,
Five years he’d spent passing by
Church and chapel that met his eye,
Yet entering not, nor one prayer
To God or his saints offering there;
Five years whose days he sought still,
With deeds of chivalry to fill,
With all kinds of strange adventures,
Hardships, and perilous ventures;
Thus he journeyed, finding those
Most testing, for such he chose,
And with naught did he contend
He could not conquer, in the end.
Sixty knights, of worth, he fought,
And sent them to King Arthur’s court,
In those five years of battle dire.
Thus did he spend five years entire
And all without a thought of God.
Five years later his charger trod
Through a tract of wilderness;
Armed completely, nonetheless,
As was his wont, he rode that day,
And met three knights upon the way;
With them ten ladies who, he found,
Went bare-footed, in woollen gowns,
And, also, their heads were hidden
By their hoods, as they were bidden.
That he was armed from head to toe,
And with his shield and lance did go,
Amazed them, for to save their souls
These ladies, as if they trod hot coals,
Their penitence bare-foot did make,
For all their sins, and the Lord’s sake.
And, of the knights, one of the three
Called to Perceval: ‘Tarry, by me!
Believe you not in Christ the Lord,
Who to us the New Law did accord,
And gave this law to Christian folk?
There is no good reason to cloak
Yourself in armour, in full pride,
On the day that Jesus Christ died.’
And Perceval who’d not a thought
Given to hour or day, or aught
Of this, troubled at heart, replied.
‘What day then is today?’ he cried.
‘What day, sire? Do you not know?
Tis Good Friday, when we all go
Honouring the cross and, within
Our hearts, do bewail our sins.
He hung upon the cross this day,
For thirty pieces, they did betray
Him, who of every sin is free.
For all the world’s sins did He
Become a man, the sins that we
Are marred by, God and man in one,
And of the Virgin born, a son
Of the Holy Spirit conceived,
When God flesh and blood received,
Such that His true divinity
In human form this earth did see.
Who holds this not to be the case,
Shall never look upon His face.
He was born of the Virgin, and
Took on the soul and form of man,
In holiest divinity.
Upon this day, I say to thee,
He hung upon the cross, indeed,
And from Hell his friends He freed.
This day is holy, for Our Lord
Both saved the living, and restored
The dead to their new life again.
He saved us all, despite his pain;
He triumphed over sin and hate,
Gracing our pitiful estate;
For, when raised upon the cross,
He raised us all from pain and loss.
All who hold Him in reverence
Should spend this day in penitence.’
Lines 6091-6151 Perceval meets the Hermit
‘FROM whence now come you, then?’
Said Perceval. ‘From the best of men,
A holy hermit, both good and wise;
In the forest his dwelling lies.
So holy that he lives, I own,
By the grace of God alone.’
‘And, in God’s name, what sought you there?
What did you do? How did you fare?’
‘Why, sir,’ one of the ladies said,
‘We of the sins we’ve committed
Made confession, did counsel ask;
Performing thus the greatest task
We Christians can, who, restored,
Would be pleasing to Our Lord.’
All that Perceval heard did so
Soften him, and pleased him so,
He wished to talk with that good man.
‘I’d go there, swiftly as I can,
To that holy hermit, today,
If I but knew the nearest way.’
‘Sire, who would reach that place
Must go the path you now face,
And note all the branches, dotted
Here and there, that we knotted,
With our hands, along the way,
That none here might go astray;
We twisted them in that manner.
So they’d find the hermit’s shelter.’
To God, each other commending,
Their questions now had ending;
And Perceval entered on his road;
Venting heartfelt sighs, he rode;
Sins, of which he now repented,
Toward God, he thus lamented.
Beneath the trees, as his tears fell,
He rode and, at the hermit’s cell,
Dismounted and disarmed, then he
Tied his steed to a hornbeam tree.
Next, he entered the chapel there,
A little room, where, at prayer,
He found the hermit and a priest,
And an acolyte, he not the least
Of them, beginning the service,
The noblest that in holy place is
Spoken, and indeed the sweetest.
Perceval, like one who confessed,
Fell to his knees on entering,
And the hermit summoned him,
Seeing his sad humility,
The teardrops falling ceaselessly,
And running swiftly down his face.
Perceval, feeling deep disgrace,
At having sinned against the Lord,
Seizing him by the foot, implored
Him to counsel him in God’s name,
Hands clasped, bowed low in shame,
Since great need of counsel had he.
And the saintly man said, sweetly,
That he should make confession,
Of his sins, for their remission
Confession and repentance won.
Lines 6152-6222 He speaks of the grail, and Perceval’s genealogy
‘OH, sir, for five years past, I’m one,
Who’s known not what he was doing,
Not loving God, nor believing
In Him, nor doing aught but ill.’
‘Ah, dear friend, pray that still
He may have mercy on the soul
Of His sinner; your tale unfold,
Of the manner of your sinning.’
‘Oh sir, beside the Fisher King,
Upon a time, I saw the lance,
That drips blood as it doth advance,
While, of the grail, that I observed,
I know not whom, by it, was served.
Since then I’ve been so sorely tried,
I’ve wished indeed that I had died.
And then, I did forget Our Lord,
Not once his mercy I implored,
Nor did one deed that, to me,
Deserves mercy from such as He.’
‘Ah, dear friend,’ the hermit said,
‘How are you named, where bred?’
‘Perceval am I,’ he replied.
At the name, the hermit sighed,
For that name the hermit knew.
‘Brother,’ he said, ‘harm came to you,
Through a sin you knew not, brother.
Twas the grief you caused your mother,
On that day when you left her side,
And from that grief it was she died,
For she fell, swooning, as you saw,
At the bridgehead, beside her door.
Because of the sin you thus incurred,
You failed to ask, said not a word,
About the lance, or of the grail;
Thus the ill that plagues your tale.
And know, you’d not have endured,
If you mother had not implored
God to keep you in his care.
So powerful her parting prayer,
That God has protected you
From death, and from prison too.
You sinned when silence seized your tongue,
When you saw the drop that sprung
From the lance that passed you by,
And never asked the reason why.
The fool, who asked not, of the grail,
Whom, by it, one serves, did fail.
Whom one serves by it, is my brother;
And our sister was your mother.
And then is the rich Fisher King
Son to him of whom I’m speaking,
Who has himself served by the grail.
And think not that from that grail
Lamprey, salmon, or pike has he;
A single host, assuredly,
That in the grail one brings to him,
Sustains and warms the life in him.
So holy a thing is the grail,
And he, so spiritual, without fail
The host within the grail, no more,
Maintains his life, so it endure.
For twelve whole years, that chamber
He’s sought not once to leave, ever,
There, where the grail did enter in.
Now absolution for your sin
I wish to grant, ere you depart.’
‘Dear uncle, with all my heart,
I’d welcome it. And as my mother
Was your sister, you ought rather
To call me nephew and I, therefore,
You uncle, and love you the more.’
Lines 6223-6292 The Hermit, his uncle, counsels and instructs Perceval
‘TIS true, dear nephew. Now repent!
Have pity on your soul; intent,
If you are, on true repentance,
Then seek to go, in penitence,
To church, every day, in lieu
Of elsewhere, twill profit you.
Make sure you never fail to go
If you are in a place you know
Contains a church, or a chapel,
Go at the sounding of the bell;
If you’ve risen earlier, go then;
For how can it harm you, when
Your soul doth prosper if you go.
And if the mass has started, so
Much the better, stay till the priest
Is silent, and his chant has ceased.
If all this you do willingly,
If in this your spirit is free,
You may yet attain the prize,
And find a place in paradise.
Love God, believe in God, adore
Him; show all good folk honour;
And stand, when the priest is there,
For such demands but little care;
God loves that act, in verity,
Since it displays humility.
For all your sins in this place,
Do all, if you would win God’s grace
Which you possessed, years ago.
Now tell me then, will you do so?’
‘Yes, indeed, and most willingly.’
‘Then I ask that you stay with me,
For two whole days, and do eat,
As a penance, but the food I eat.’
And Perceval to this agreed,
And the hermit in the Creed
Instructed him and, soft but clear,
‘And the hermit in the Creed Instructed him and, soft but clear’
Adapted from Le Morte d'Arthur (1893)
Sir Thomas Malory (15th cent) and Ernest Rhys (1859-1946)
Internet Archive Book Images
Whispered a prayer in his ear,
Repeating it, till it remained.
And that prayer itself contained
A host of names of Our Lord,
The greatest language doth afford,
So powerful no mouth should name,
Except in fear of death, the same.
When he’d taught him the prayer,
He warned him to take great care
To speak it not, except in peril.
‘Sire, I will not,’ said Perceval.
So he remained, and so he heard
In joy, their service, every word,
And then to the cross he prayed,
And wept for his sins, and made
Obeisance, and repented humbly,
And thus, a lengthy while, knelt he.
That evening he sat down to eat
All the hermit was pleased to eat,
While his horse had a bed of straw,
And barley and oats and, cared for
In a stable, was thus well-served,
Bathed and groomed, as he deserved.
Thus Perceval came to know again
That God, upon a Friday, was fain
To meet His death upon the cross;
At Easter-tide thus Perceval was
Granted communion, blamelessly.
Of Perceval’s tale, more lengthily,
Here the book tells nary a word,
But you will certainly have heard
More than enough of Lord Gawain,
Ere I speak of Perceval again.
The End of the Tale of Perceval
Chrétien’s material concerning Perceval and the Grail finishes here, providing an artistically satisfying ending. His unfinished text continues, however, for a further three thousand lines or so, relating further adventures of Gawain, which are not directly pertinent to the Grail story, and do not mention Perceval. They should logically preface the four lengthy Continuations of the Grail story, penned by other medieval authors (Wauchier de Denain/Pseudo-Wauchier, Gerbert, and Manessier). Those who wish to know more of Gawain and Perceval, and of the Grail, should refer to the Continuation texts, of which English translations have been published. Suffice it to say that, in my humble opinion, Chrétien’s tale is the first and the best, balancing Gawain, the exemplar of the courtly code of chivalry and courtesy, with the naïve Perceval, who ultimately follows the spiritual path. Note that Chrétien’s patron, Philip I, Count of Flanders, died at the Siege of Acre in 1191 during the Third (and his second) Crusade, which may explain the tale’s intertwining of the courtly and religious duties of knighthood.