The Knight’s Tale
ONCE ON A TIME, as old tales tell to us,
There was a duke whose name was Theseus;
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time was such a conqueror
That greater was there not beneath the sun.(5)
Full many a rich country had he won;
What with his wisdom and his chivalry
He gained the realm of Femininity,
That was of old time known as Scythia.
There wedded he the queen, Hippolyta,(10)
And brought her home with him to his country.
In glory great and with great pageantry,
And, too, her younger sister, Emily.
And thus, in victory and with melody,
Let I this noble duke to Athens ride.(15)
With all his armed host marching at his side.
This duke of whom I speak, of great renown,
When he had drawn almost unto the town,
In all well-being and in utmost pride,
He grew aware, casting his eyes aside,(20)
That right upon the road, as suppliants do,
A company of ladies, two by two,
Knelt, all in black, before his cavalcade;
But such a clamorous cry of woe they made
That in the whole world living man had heard(25)
No such a lamentation, on my word;
Nor would they cease lamenting till at last
They’d clutched his bridle reins and held them fast.
“What folk are you that at my home-coming
Disturb my triumph with this dolorous thing?”(30)
Cried Theseus. “Do you so much envy
My honour that you thus complain and cry?
Or who has wronged you now, or who offended?
Come, tell me whether it may be amended;
And tell me, why are you clothed thus in black?”(35)
The eldest lady of them answered back,
After she’d swooned, with cheek so deathly drear
That it was pitiful to see and hear,
And said: “Lord, to whom Fortune has but given
Victory, and to conquer where you’ve striven,(40)
Your glory and your honour grieve not us;
But we beseech your aid and pity thus.
Have mercy on our woe and our distress.
Some drop of pity, of your gentleness,
Upon us wretched women, oh, let fall!(45)
For see, lord, there is no one of us all
That has not been a duchess or a queen;
Now we are captives, as may well be seen:
Thanks be to Fortune and her treacherous wheel,
There’s none can rest assured of constant weal.(50)
And truly, lord, expecting your return,
In Pity’s temple, where the fires yet burn.
We have been waiting through a long fortnight;
Now help us, lord, since it is in your might.”
“I, wretched woman, who am weeping thus,(55)
Was once the wife of King Capaneus,
Who died at Thebes, oh, cursed be the day!
And all we that you see in this array,
And make this lamentation to be known,
All we have lost our husbands at that town(60)
During the siege that round about it lay.
And now the old Creon, ah welaway!
The lord and governor of Thebes city,
Full of his wrath and all iniquity,
He, in despite and out of tyranny,(65)
To do all shame and hurt to the bodies
Of our lord husbands, lying slain awhile,
Has drawn them all together in a pile,
And will not suffer them, nor give consent,
To buried be, or burned, nor will relent,(70)
But sets his dogs to eat them, out of spite.”
And on that word, at once, without respite,
They all fell prone and cried out piteously:
“Have on us wretched women some mercy,
And let our sorrows sink into your heart!(75)
This gentle duke down from his horse did start
With heart of pity, when he’d heard them speak.
It seemed to him his heart must surely break,
And in his arms he took them tenderly,
Giving them comfort understandingly:(80)
And swore his oath, that as he was true knight,
He would put forth so thoroughly his might
Against the tyrant Creon as to wreak
Vengeance so great that all of Greece should speak
And say how Creon was by Theseus served,(85)
As one that had his death full well deserved.
This sworn and done, he no more there abode;
His banner he displayed and forth he rode
Toward Thebes, and all his host marched on beside.
Thus rode this duke, thus rode this conqueror,(90)
And in his host of chivalry the flower,
Until he came to Thebes and did alight
Full in the field where he’d intent to fight.
But to be brief in telling of this thing,
With Creon, who was Thebes’ dread lord and king,(95)
He fought and slew him, manfully, like knight,
In open war, and put his host to flight;
And by assault he took the city then,
Levelling wall and rafter with his men;
And to the ladies he restored again(100)
The bones of their poor husbands who were slain,
To do for them the last rites of that day.
In searching through the heap of enemy dead,
Stripping them of their gear from heel to head,
The busy pillagers could pick and choose,(105)
After the battle, what they best could use;
And so befell that in a heap they found,
Pierced through with many a grievous, bloody wound,
Two young knights lying together, side by side,
And of those two Arcita was the one,(110)
The other knight was known as Palamon.
Not fully quick, nor fully dead they were,
But by their coats of arms and by their gear
The heralds readily could tell, withal,
That they were of the Theban blood royal,(115)
And that they had been of two sisters born.
Out of the heap the spoilers had them torn
And carried gently over to the tent
Of Theseus; who shortly had thern sent
To Athens, there in prison cell to lie(120)
For ever, without ransom till they die.
And when this worthy duke had all this done,
He gathered host and home he rode anon,
With laurel crowned again as conqueror;
There lived he in all joy and all honour(125)
His term of life; what more need words express?
And in a tower, in anguish and distress,
Palamon and Arcita, day and night,
Dwelt whence no gold might help them to take flight.
Thus passed by year by year and day by day,(130)
Till it fell out, upon a morn in May,
That Emily, far fairer to be seen
Than is the lily on its stalk of green,
And fresher than is May with flowers new
(For with the rose’s colour strove her hue,(135)
I know not which was fairer of the two),
Before the dawn, as was her wont to do,
She rose and dressed her body for delight;
For May will have no sluggards of the night.
That season rouses every gentle heart(140)
And forces it from winter’s sleep to start,
Saying: “Arise and show thy reverence.”
So Emily remembered to go thence
In honour of the May, and so she rose.
Clothed, she was sweeter than any flower that blows;(145)
Her yellow hair was braided in one tress
Behind her back, a full yard long, I guess.
And in the garden, as the sun up-rose,
She sauntered back and forth and through each close,
Gathering many a flower, white and red,(150)
To weave a delicate garland for her head;
And like a heavenly angel’s was her song.
The tower tall, which was so thick and strong,
And of the castle was the great donjon,
(Wherein the two knights languished in prison,(155)
Of whom I told and shall yet tell, withal),
Was joined, at base, unto the garden wall
Whereunder Emily went dallying.
Bright was the sun and clear that morn in spring,
And Palamon, the woeful prisoner,(160)
As was his wont, by leave of his jailer
Was up and pacing round that chamber high,
From which the noble city filled his eye,
And, too, the garden full of branches green,
Wherein bright Emily, fair and serene(165)
Went walking and went roving up and down.
This sorrowing prisoner, this Palamon,
Being in the chamber, pacing to and fro,
And to himself complaining of his woe,
Cursing his birth, he often cried “Alas!”(170)
And so it was, by chance or other pass,
That through a window, closed by many a bar
Of iron, strong and square as any spar,
He cast his eyes upon Emilia,
And thereupon he blenched and cried out “Ah!”(175)
As if he had been smitten to the heart.
And at that cry Arcita did up-start,
Asking: “My cousin, why what ails you now
That you’ve so deathly pallor on your brow?
Why did you cry out? Who’s offended you?(180)
For God’s love, show some patience, as I do,
With prison, for it may not different be;
Fortune has given this adversity.
Some evil disposition or aspect
Of Saturn did our horoscopes affect(185)
To bring us here, though differently ’twere sworn;
But so the stars stood when we two were born;
We must endure it; that, in brief, is plain.”
This Palamon replied and said again:
“It’s not our prison that caused me to cry.(190)
But I was wounded lately through the eye
Down to my heart, and that my bane will be.
The beauty of the lady that I see
There in that garden, pacing to and fro,
Is cause of all my crying and my woe.(195)
I know not if she’s woman or goddess;
But Venus she is verily, I guess.”
And thereupon down on his knees he fell,
And said: “O Venus, if it be thy will
To be transfigured in this garden, thus(200)
Before me, sorrowing wretch, oh now help us
Out of this prison to be soon escaped.
And if it be my destiny is shaped,
By fate, to die in durance, in bondage,
Have pity, then upon our lineage(205)
That has been brought so low by tyranny.”
And on that word Arcita looked to see
This lady who went roving to and fro.
And in that look her beauty struck him so
That, if poor Palamon is wounded sore,(210)
Arcita is as deeply hurt, and more.
And with a sigh he said then, piteously:
“The virgin beauty slays me suddenly
Of her that wanders yonder in that place;
And save I have her pity and her grace,(215)
That I at least may see her day by day,
I am but dead; there is no more to say.”
This Palamon, when these words he had heard,
Pitilessly he watched him, and answered:
“Do you say this in earnest or in play?”(220)
“Nay,” quoth Arcita, “earnest, now, I say!
God help me, I am in no mood for play!
Palamon knit his brows and stood at bay.
“It will not prove,” he said, “to your honour
After so long a time to turn traitor(225)
To me, who am your cousin and your brother.
Sworn as we are, and each unto the other,
That never, though for death in any pain,
Never, indeed, till death shall part us twain,
Either of us in love shall hinder other,(230)
No, nor in any thing, O my dear brother;
But that, instead you shall so further me
As I shall you. All this we did agree.
Such was your oath and such was mine also.
You dare not now deny it, well I know.(235)
And now you would all falsely go about
To love my lady, whom I love and serve,
And shall while life my heart’s blood may preserve.
Nay, false Arcita, it shall not be so.
I loved her first, and told you all my woe,(240)
As to a brother and to one that swore
To further me, as I have said before.
For which you are in duty bound, as knight,
To help me, if the thing lie in your might,
Or else you’re false, I say, and downfallen.”(245)
Then this Arcita proudly spoke again:
“You shall,” he said, “be rather false than I;
And that you’re so, I tell you utterly;
For paramour I loved her first, you know.
What can you say? You know not, even now,(250)
Whether she is a woman or goddess!
Yours is a worship as of holiness,
While mine is love, as of a mortal maid;
Wherefore I told you of it, unafraid,
As to my cousin and my brother sworn.(255)
Let us assume you loved her first, this morn;
Know you not well the ancient writer’s saw
Of ‘Who shall give a lover any law?’
Love is a greater law, aye by my pan,
Than man has ever given to earthly man.(260)
And therefore statute law and such decrees
Are broken daily and in all degrees.
A man must needs have love, maugre his head.
He cannot flee it though he should be dead,
And be she maid, or widow, or a wife.(265)
And yet it is not likely that, in life,
You’ll stand within her graces; nor shall I;
For you are well aware, aye verily,
That you and I are doomed to prison drear
Perpetually; we gain no ransom here.(270)
We strive but as those dogs did for the bone
They fought all day, and yet their gain was none.
Till came a kite while they were still so wroth
And bore the bone away between them both.
And therefore, at the king’s court, O my brother,(275)
It’s each man for himself and not for other.
Love if you like; for I love and aye shall;
And certainly, dear brother, that is all.
Here in this prison cell must we remain
And each endure whatever fate ordain.”(280)
Great was the strife, and long, betwixt the two,
If I had but the time to tell it you,
But to the point. It happened on a day
(To tell the tale as briefly as I may),
A worthy duke men called Pirithous,(285)
Who had been friend unto Duke Theseus,
Since the time when they were very small
Was come to visit Athens and to call
His play-fellow, as he was wont to do,
For in this whole world he loved no man so;(290)
And Theseus loved him as truly—nay,
So well each loved the other, old books say,
That when one died (it is but truth I tell),
The other went and sought him down in Hell,
But of that tale I have no wish to write.(295)
Pirithous loved Arcita, too, that knight,
Having known him in Thebes full many a year;
And finally, at his request and prayer,
And that without a coin of ransom paid,
Duke Theseus released him out of shade,(300)
Freely to go wherever he wished, and to
His own devices, as I’ll now tell you.
The compact was, to set it plainly down,
That if Arcita, any time, were found,
Ever in life, by day or night, on ground(305)
Of any country of this Theseus,
And he were caught, it was concerted thus,
That by the sword he straight should lose his head.
He had no choice, so taking leave he sped.
Let him beware, lest he should lose his head!(310)
How great is Arcita’s sorrow now!
How through his heart he feels death’s heavy blow;
He weeps, he wails, he cries out piteously;
To slay himself he now waits privately.
Said he: “Alas, the day that I was born!(315)
I’m in worse prison, now, and more forlorn;
Now am I doomed eternally to dwell
No more in Purgatory, but in Hell.
Alas, that I have known Pirithous!
For else had I remained with Theseus,(320)
Fettered within that cell; but even so
Then had I been in bliss and not in woe.
Only the sight of her that I would serve,
Though I might never her dear grace deserve,
Would have sufficed, oh well enough for me!(325)
O my dear cousin Palamon,” said he,
“Yours is the victory, and that is sure,
For there, full happily, you may endure.
In prison? Never, but in Paradise!
Oh, well has Fortune turned for you the dice,(330)
Who have the sight of her, I the absence.
For possible it is, in her presence,
You being a knight, a worthy and able,
That by some chance, since Fortune’s changeable,
You may to your desire sometime attain.(335)
But I, that am in exile and in pain,
Stripped of all hope and in so deep despair
That there’s no earth nor water, fire nor air,
Nor any creature made of them there is
To help or give me comfort, now, in this—(340)
Surely I’ll die of sorrow and distress;
Farewell, my life, my love, my joyousness!”
“Alas! Why is it men so much complain
Of what great God, or Fortune, may ordain,
When better is the gift, in any guise,(345)
Than men may often for themselves devise?
One man desires only that great wealth
Which may but cause his death or long ill-health.
One who from prison gladly would be free,
At home by his own servants slain might be.”(350)
And on the other hand, this Palamon,
When that he found Arcita truly gone,
Such lamentation made he, that the tower
Resounded of his crying, hour by hour.
The very fetters on his legs were yet(355)
Again with all his bitter salt tears wet.
“Alas!” said he, “Arcita, cousin mine,
With all our strife, God knows, you’ve won the wine.
You’re walking, now, in Theban streets, at large,
And all my woe you may from mind discharge.(360)
You may, too, since you’ve wisdom and manhood,
Assemble all the people of our blood
And wage a war so sharp on this city
That by some fortune, or by some treaty,
You shall yet have that lady to your wife(365)
For whom I now must needs lay down my life.
For surely ’tis in possibility,
Since you are now at large, from prison free,
And are a lord, great is your advantage
Above my own, who die here in a cage.(370)
For I must weep and wail, the while I live,
In all the grief that prison cell may give,
And now with pain that love gives me, also,
Which doubles all my torment and my woe.”
Now will I leave this Palamon, for he(375)
Is in his prison, where he still must dwell,
And of Arcita will I forthwith tell.
Summer being passed away and nights grown long,
Increased now doubly all the anguish strong
Both of the lover and the prisoner.(380)
I know not which one was the woefuller.
For, to be brief about it, Palamon
Is doomed to lie for ever in prison,
In chains and fetters till he shall be dead;
And exiled (on the forfeit of his head)(385)
Arcita must remain abroad, nor see,
For evermore, the face of his lady.
You lovers, now I ask you this question:
Who has the worse, Arcita or Palamon?
The one may see his lady day by day,(390)
But yet in prison must he dwell for aye.
The other, where he wishes, he may go,
But never see his lady more, ah no.
Now answer as you wish, all you that can,
For I will speak right on as I began.(395)
Now when Arcita unto Thebes was come,
He lay and languished all day in his home,
Since he his lady nevermore should see,
But telling of his sorrow brief I’ll be.
Had never any man so much torture,(400)
No, nor shall have while this world may endure.
Bereft he was of sleep and meat and drink,
That lean he grew and dry as shaft, I think.
His eyes were hollow, awful to behold,
His face was sallow, pale and ashen-cold,(405)
And solitary kept he and alone,
Wailing the whole night long, making his moan.
And so changed was he, that no man could know
Him by his words or voice, whoever heard.
And in this change, for all the world he fared(410)
As if not troubled by malady of love,
But by that humor dark and grim, whereof
Springs melancholy madness in the brain,
And fantasy unbridled holds its reign.
And shortly, all was turned quite upside-down,(415)
Both habits and the temper all had known
Of him, this woeful lover, Sir Arcita.
Upon a night, while sleeping in his bed,
He dreamed of how the winged God Mercury,
Before him stood and bade him happier be.(420)
His sleep-bestowing wand he bore upright;
A hat he wore upon his ringlets bright.
Arrayed this god was (noted at a leap)
As he’d been when to Argus he gave sleep.
And thus he spoke: “To Athens shall you wend;(425)
For all your woe is destined there to end.”
And on that word Arcita woke and started.
“Now truly, howsoever sore I’m smarted,”
Said he, “to Athens right now will I fare;
Nor for the dread of death will I now spare(430)
To see my lady, whom I love and serve;
I will not reck of death, with her, nor swerve.”
And with that word he caught a great mirror,
And saw how changed was all his old colour,
And saw his visage altered from its kind.(435)
And right away it ran into his mind
That since his face was now disfigured so,
By suffering endured (as well we know),
He might, if he should bear him low in town,
Live there in Athens evermore, unknown,(440)
Seeing his lady well-nigh every day.
And right anon he altered his array,
Like a poor labourer in low attire,
And all alone, save only for a squire,
Who knew his secret heart and all his case,(445)
And who was dressed as poorly as he was,
To Athens was he gone the nearest way.
And to the court he went upon a day,
And offered service to do menial deeds
Fetch water, or whatever men should need.(450)
And to be brief herein, and to be plain,
He found employment with a chamberlain
Who was serving in the house of Emily;
For he was sharp and very soon could see
What every servant did who served her there.(455)
Right well could he hew wood and water bear,
For he was young and mighty, let me own,
And big of muscle, aye and big of bone,
To do what any man asked in a trice.
A year or two he was in this service,(460)
Page of the chamber of Emily the bright;
He said “Philostrates” would name him right.
But half so well beloved a man as he
Was never in that court, of his degree;
His gentle nature was so clearly shown,(465)
That throughout all the court spread his renown.
They said it were but kindly courtesy
If Theseus should heighten his degree
And put him in more honourable service
Wherein he might his virtue exercise.(470)
And thus, anon, his name was so up-sprung,
Both for his deeds and sayings of his tongue,
That Theseus had brought him nigh and nigher
And of the chamber he had made him squire,
And given him gold to maintain dignity.(475)
Besides, men brought him, from his own country,
From year to year, clandestinely, his rent;
But honestly and slyly it was spent,
And no man wondered how he came by it.
And three years thus he lived, with much profit,(480)
And bore him so in peace and so in war
There was no man that Theseus loved more.
And in such bliss I leave Arcita now,
And upon Palamon some words bestow.
In darksome, horrible, and strong prison(485)
These seven years has now sat Palamon,
Wasted by woe and by his long distress.
Who has a two-fold heaviness
But Palamon? whom love yet tortures so
That half of his wits he is for woe;(490)
And joined thereto he is a prisoner,
Perpetually, not only for a year.
And who could rhyme in English, properly,
His martyrdom? Forsooth, it is not I;
And therefore I pass lightly on my way.(495)
It fell out in the seventh year, in May,
On the third night (as say the books of old
Which have this story much more fully told),
Were it by chance or were it destiny
(Since, when a thing is destined, it must be),(500)
That, shortly after midnight, Palamon,
By helping of a friend, broke from prison,
And fled the city, fast as he might go;
For he had given his guard a drink that so
Was mixed of spice and honey and certain wine(505)
And opiates and sleeping powders fine,
That all that night, although a man might shake
This jailer, he slept on, nor could awake.
And thus he flees as fast as ever he may.
The night was short and it was nearly day,(510)
Wherefore he needs must find a place to hide;
And to a grove that grew hard by, with stride
Of fearful foot then crept off Palamon.
In brief, he’d formed his plan, as he went on,
That in the grove he would lie fast all day,(515)
And when night came, then would he take his way
Toward Thebes, and there find friends, and of them pray
Their help on Theseus in war’s array;
And briefly either he would lose his life,
Or else win Emily to be his wife;(520)
This is the gist of his intention plain.
Now I’ll return to Arcita again,
Who little knew how near to him was care
Till Fortune caught him in her tangling snare.
The busy lark, the herald of the day,(525)
Salutes now in her song the morning grey;
And fiery Phoebus rises up so bright
That all the east is laughing with the light,
And with his streamers dries, among the greves,
The silver droplets hanging on the leaves.(530)
And so Arcita, in the court royal
With Theseus, and his squire principal,
Is risen, and looks on the merry day.
And now, to do his reverence to May,
Calling to mind the point of his desire,(535)
He on a courser, leaping high like fire,
Is ridden to the fields to muse and play,
Out of the court, a mile or two away;
And to the grove, whereof I lately told,
By accident his way began to hold,(540)
To make him there the garland that one weaves
Of woodbine leaves and of green hawthorn leaves.
And loud he sang within the sunlit sheen:
“O May, with all thy flowers and all thy green,
Welcome be thou, thou fair and freshening May:(545)
I hope to pluck some garland green today.”
And on a path he wandered up and down,
Near which, and as it chanced, this Palamon
Lay in the thicket, where no man might see,
For sore afraid of finding death was he.(550)
He knew not that Arcita was so near:
God knows he would have doubted eye and ear,
But it has been a truth these many years
That “Fields have eyes and every wood has ears.”
It’s well for one to bear himself with poise;(555)
For every day unlooked-for chance annoys.
And little knew Arcita of his friend,
Who was so near and heard him to the end,
Where in the bush he sat now, keeping still.
Arcita, having roamed and roved his fill,(560)
and having sung, began to speak,
And sat him down, sighing like one forlorn.
“Alas,” said he, “the day that I was born!
How long, O Juno, of thy cruelty,
Wilt thou wage bitter war on Thebes city?(565)
Alas! Confounded beyond all reason
The blood of Cadmus and of Amphion;
Of royal Cadmus, who was the first man
To build at Thebes, and first the town began,
And first of all the city to be king;(570)
Of his lineage am I, and his offspring,
By true descent, and of the stock royal:
And now I’m such a wretched serving thrall,
That he who is my mortal enemy,
I serve him as his squire, and all humbly.(575)
And even more does Juno give me shame,
For I dare not acknowledge my own name;
But whereas I was Arcita by right,
Now I’m Philostrates, not worth a mite.
Alas, thou cruel Mars! Alas, Juno!(580)
Thus have your angers all our kin brought low,
Save only me, and wretched Palamon,
Whom Theseus martyrs yonder in prison.
And above all, to slay me utterly,
Love has his fiery dart so burningly(585)
Struck through my faithful and care-laden heart,
My death was patterned ere my swaddling-shirt.
You slay me with your two eyes, Emily;
You are the cause for which I now must die.
For on the whole of all my other care(590)
I would not set the value of a tare,
So I could do one thing to your pleasance!”
And with that word he fell down in a trance
That lasted long; and then he did up-start.
This Palamon, who thought that through his heart(595)
He felt a cold and sudden sword blade glide,
For rage he shook, no longer would he hide.
But after he had heard Arcita’s tale,
As he were mad, with face gone deathly pale,
He started up and sprang out of the thicket,(600)
Crying: “Arcita, oh you traitor wicked,
Now are you caught, that crave my lady so,
For whom I suffer all this pain and woe,
And have befooled the great Duke Theseus,
And falsely changed your name and station thus:(605)
Either I shall be dead or you shall die.
You shall not love my lady Emily,
But I will love her, and none other, no;
For I am Palamon, your mortal foe.
And though I have no weapon in this place,(610)
Being but out of prison by God’s grace,
I say again, that either you shall die
Or else forgo your love for Emily.
Choose which you will, for you shall not depart.”
This Arcita, with scornful, angry heart,(615)
When he knew him and all the tale had heard,
Fierce as a lion, out he pulled a sword
And answered thus: “By God that sits above!
Were it not you are sick and mad for love,
And that you have no weapon in this place,(620)
Out of this grove you’d never move a pace,
But meet your death right now, and at my hand.
For I renounce the bond and its demand
Which you assert that I have made with you.
What, arrant fool, love’s free to choose and do,(625)
And I will have her, spite of all your might!
But in as much as you’re a worthy knight
And willing to defend your love, in mail,
Hear now this word: tomorrow I’ll not fail
(Without the cognizance of any wight)(630)
To come here armed and harnessed as a knight,
And to bring arms for you, too, as you’ll see;
And choose the better and leave the worse for me.
And meat and drink this very night I’ll bring,
Enough for you, and clothes for your bedding.(635)
And if it be that you my lady win
And slay me in this wood that now I’m in,
Then may you have your lady, for all of me.”
This Palamon replied: “I do agree.”
And thus they parted till the morrow morn,(640)
When each had pledged his honour to return.
Arcita rode into the town anon,
And on the morrow, ere the dawn, he bore,
Secretly, arms and armour out of store,
Enough for each, and proper to maintain(645)
A battle in the field between the twain.
And in the grove, at time and place they’d set,
Arcita and this Palamon were met.
There was no “good-day” given, no saluting,
But without word, rehearsal, or such thing,(650)
Each of them helping, so they armed each other
As dutifully as he were his own brother;
And afterward, with their sharp spears and strong,
They thrust each at the other wondrous long.
You might have fancied that this Palamon,(655)
In battle, was a furious, mad lion,
And that Arcita was a tiger quite:
Like very boars the two began to smite,
Like boars that froth for anger in the wood.
Up to the ankles fought they in their blood.(660)
Clear was the day, as I have told ere this,
When Theseus, compact of joy and bliss,
With his Hippolyta, the lovely queen,
And fair Emilia, clothed all in green,
A-hunting they went riding royally.(665)
And to the grove of trees that grew hard by,
In which there was a hart, as men had told,
Duke Theseus the shortest way did hold.
And to the glade he rode on, straight and right,
For there the hart was wont to go in flight,(670)
And over a brook, and so forth on his way.
This duke would have a course at him today,
With such hounds as it pleased him to command.
And when this duke was come upon that land,
Under the slanting sun he looked, anon,(675)
And there saw Arcita and Palamon
Who furiously fought, as two boars do;
The bright swords went in circles to and fro
So terribly, that even their least stroke
Seemed powerful enough to fell an oak;(680)
But who the two were, nothing did he note.
This duke his courser with the sharp spurs smote
And in one bound he was between the two
And lugged his great sword out, and cried out: “Ho!
No more, I say, on pain of losing head!(685)
By mighty Mars, that one shall soon be dead
Who smites another stroke that I may see!
But tell me now what manner of men ye be
That are so hardy as to fight out here
Without a judge or other officer,(690)
As if you rode in lists right royally?”
This Palamon replied, then, hastily,
Saying: “O Sire, what need for more ado?
We have deserved our death at hands of you.
Two woeful wretches are we, two captives(695)
That are encumbered by our own sad lives;
And as you are a righteous lord and judge
Give us not either mercy or refuge
But slay me first, for sacred charity,
But slay my fellow here, as well, with me.(700)
Or slay him first; for though you’ve just learned it,
This is your foe, the prisoner Arcit
That from the land was banished, on his head.
And for the which he merits to be dead.
For this is he who came unto your gate,(705)
And said that he was known as Philostrate
Thus has he fooled you well this many a year,
And you have made him your chief squire, I hear:
And this is he that loves fair Emily.
For since the day is come when I must die,(710)
I make confession plainly and say on,
That I am that same woeful Palamon
Who has your prison broken, viciously.
I am your mortal foe, and it is I
Who love so hotly Emily the bright(715)
That I’ll die gladly here within her sight.
This worthy duke presently spoke again,
Saying: “This judgment needs but a short session:
Your own mouth, aye, and by your own confession,
Has doomed and damned you, as I shall record.(720)
There is no need for torture, on my word.
But you shall die, by mighty Mars the red!”
But then the queen, whose heart for pity bled,
Began to weep, and so did Emily
And all the ladies in the company.(725)
Great pity must it be, so thought they all,
That ever such misfortune should befall:
For these were gentlemen, of great estate,
And for no thing, save love, was their debate.
And all cried out—greater and less, they cried(730)
“Have mercy, lord, upon us women all!”
And down upon their bare knees did they fall,
and would have kissed his feet there where he stood,
Till at the last assuaged was his high mood;
For soon will pity flow through gentle heart.(735)
And though he first for ire did shake and start,
He soon considered, to state the case in brief,
What cause they had for fighting, what for grief;
And though his anger still their guilt accused,
Yet in his reason he held them both excused;(740)
In such wise: he thought well that every man
Will help himself in love, if he but can,
And will himself deliver from prison;
And, too, at heart he had compassion on
Those women, for they cried and wept as one;(745)
And in his gentle heart he thought anon,
And softly to himself he said then: “Fie
Upon a lord that will have no mercy,
But acts the lion, both in word and deed,
To those repentant and in fear and need,(750)
As well as to the proud and pitiless man
That still would do the thing he began!
That lord must surely in discretion lack
Who, in such case, can no distinction make,
But weighs both proud and humble in one scale.”(755)
And shortly, when his ire was thus grown pale,
He looked up to the sky, with eyes alight,
And spoke these words, as he would promise plight:
“The god of love, ah benedicite!
How mighty and how great a lord is he!(760)
Against his might may stand no obstacles,
A true god is he by his miracles;
For he can manage, in his own sweet wise,
The heart of anyone as he devise.
Lo, here, Arcita and this Palamon,(765)
That were delivered out of my prison,
And might have lived in Thebes right royally,
Knowing me for their mortal enemy,
And also that their lives lay in my hand;
And yet their love has willed them to this land,(770)
Against all sense, and brought them here to die!
Look you now, is not that a folly high?
Who can be called a fool, except he love?
A man must play the fool, when young or old;
I know it of myself from years long gone:(775)
For of love’s servants I’ve been numbered one.
And therefore, since I know well all love’s pain,
And know how sorely it can man constrain,
As one that has been taken in the net,
I will forgive your trespass, and forget,(780)
At instance of my sweet queen, kneeling here,
Aye, and of Emily, my sister dear.
And you shall presently consent to swear
That nevermore will you my power dare,
Nor wage war on me, either night or day,(785)
But will be friends to me in all you may;
I do forgive this trespass, full and fair.”
And then they swore what he demanded there,
And, of his might, they of his mercy prayed,
And he extended grace, and thus he said:(790)
“To speak for royalty’s inheritress,
Although she be a queen or a princess,
Each of you both is worthy, I confess,
When comes the time to wed: but nonetheless
I speak now of my sister Emily,(795)
The cause of all this strife and jealousy—
You know yourselves she may not marry two
At once, although you fight or what you do:
One of you, then, and be he loath or lief,
Must pipe his sorrows in an ivy leaf.(800)
That is to say, she cannot have you both,
However jealous one may be, or wroth.
Therefore I put you both in this decree,
That each of you shall learn his destiny
As it is cast, and hear, now, in what wise(805)
The word of fate shall speak through my device.”
“My will is this, to draw conclusion flat,
Without reply, or plea, or caveat
(In any case, accept it for the best),
That each of you shall follow his own quest,(810)
Free of all ransom or of fear from me;
And this day, fifty weeks hence, both shall be
Here once again, each with a hundred knights,
Armed for the lists, who stoutly for your rights
Will ready be to battle, to maintain(815)
Your claim to love. I promise you, again,
Upon my word, and as l am a knight,
That whichsoever of you wins the fight,
That is to say, whichever of you two
May with his hundred, whom I spoke of, do(820)
His foe to death, or out of boundary drive,
Then he shall have Emilia to wive
To whom Fortuna gives so fair a grace.”
I think that men would deem it negligence
If I forgot to tell of the expense(825)
Of Theseus, who went so busily
To work upon the lists, right royally;
For such an amphitheatre he made,
Its equal never yet on earth was laid.
The day of their return is forthcoming,(830)
When each of them a hundred knights must bring
The combat to support, as I have told;
And into Athens, covenant to uphold,
Has each one ridden with his hundred knights,
Well armed for war, at all points, in their mights.(835)
And certainly, ’twas thought by many a man
That never, since the day this world began,
Speaking of good knights hardy of their hands,
Wherever God created seas and lands,
Was, of so few, so noble company.(840)
For every man that loved all chivalry,
And eager was to win surpassing fame,
Had prayed to play a part in that great game;
And all was well with him who chosen was.
That Sunday night, ere day began to spring,(845)
When Palamon the earliest lark heard sing,
Although it lacked two hours of being day
Yet the lark sang, and Palamon sang a lay.
With pious heart and with a high courage
He rose, to go upon a pilgrimage(850)
Unto the blessed Cytherea’s shrine
(I mean Queen Venus, worthy and benign).
And at her hour he then walked forth apace
Out to the lists wherein her temple was,
And down he knelt in manner to revere,(855)
And from a full heart spoke as you shall hear.
“Fairest of fair, O lady mine, Venus,
If thou wilt help, thus do I make my vow,
To boast of knightly skill I care not now,
Nor do I ask tomorrow’s victory,(860)
Nor any such renown, nor vain glory
Of prize of arms, blown before lord and churl,
But I would have possession of one girl,
Of Emily, and die in thy service;
Find thou the manner how, and in what wise.(865)
For I care not, unless it better be,
Whether I vanquish them or they do me,
So I may have my lady in my arms.
For though Mars is the god of war’s alarms,
Thy power is so great in Heaven above,(870)
That, if it be thy will, I’ll have my love.
Thy temple will I worship always so
That on thine altar, where’er I ride or go,
I will lay sacrifice and thy fires feed.
And if thou wilt not so, O lady, cede,(875)
I pray thee, that tomorrow, with a spear,
Arcita bear me through the heart, just here.
For I’ll care naught, when I have lost my life,
That Arcita may win her for his wife.
This the effect and end of all my prayer,(880)
Give me my love, thou blissful lady fair.”
Now when he’d finished all the orison,
His sacrifice he made, this Palamon,
Right piously, with all the circumstance,
Albeit I tell not now his observance.(885)
But at the last the form of Venus shook
And gave a sign, and thereupon he took
This as acceptance of his prayer that day.
For though the signal came after delay
Yet he knew well that granted was his boon;(890)
And with glad heart he got him home right soon.
Three hours unequal after Palamon
To Venus’ temple at the lists had gone,
Up rose the sun and up rose Emily
And to Diana’s temple did she hie.(895)
Her maidens led she thither, and with them
They carefully took fire and each emblem,
And incense, robes, and the remainder all
Of things for sacrifice ceremonial.
Her bright hair was unbound, but combed withal;(900)
She wore of green oak leaves a coronal
Upon her lovely head. Then she began
Two fires upon the altar stone to fan.
When kindled was the fire, with sober face
Unto Diana spoke she in that place.(905)
“Chaste goddess, well indeed thou knowest that I
Desire to be a virgin all my life,
Nor ever wish to be man’s love or wife.
I am, thou know’st, yet of thy company,
A maid, who loves the hunt and venery,(910)
And to go rambling in the greenwood wild,
And not to be a wife and be with child.
I do not crave the company of man.
Now help me, lady, since thou may’st and can,
By the three beings who are one in thee.(915)
For Palamon, who bears such love to me,
And for Arcita, loving me so sore,
This grace I pray thee, not one thing more,
To send down love and peace between those two,
And turn their hearts away from me: so do(920)
That all their furious love and their desire,
And all their ceaseless torment and their fire
Be quenched or turned into another place;
And if it be thou wilt not show this grace,
Or if my destiny be patterned so(925)
That I must needs have one of these same two,
Then send me him that most desires me.”
The fires blazed high upon the altar there,
While Emily was saying thus her prayer,
But suddenly she saw a sight most quaint,(930)
For there, before her eyes, one fire went faint,
Then blazed again; and after that, anon,
The other fire was quenched, and so was gone.
And as it died it made a whistling sound,
As do wet branches burning on the ground,(935)
And from the brands’ ends there ran out, anon,
What looked like drops of blood, and many a one;
At which so much aghast was Emily
That she was near dazed, and began to cry,
For she knew naught of what it signified;(940)
But only out of terror thus she cried
And wept, till it was pitiful to hear.
But thereupon Diana did appear,
With bow in hand, like any right huntress,
And said “My daughter, leave this heaviness.(945)
Among the high gods it has been affirmed,
And by eternal written word confirmed,
That you shall be the wife of one of those
Who bear for you so many cares and woes;
But unto which of them I may not tell.(950)
Farewell, for I may not here longer dwell.
The fires which do upon my altar burn
Shall show to you, before you home return,
Your fortune with the lovers in this case.
And with that word, the arrows in the case(955)
Of Diana did clatter loud and ring
And forth she went in mystic vanishing;
At which this Emily astonished was,
And said she then: “Ah, what means this, alas!
I put myself in thy protection here,(960)
Diana, and at thy disposal dear.”
And home she wended, then, the nearest way.
This is the purport; there’s no more to say.
At the next hour of Mars, and following this,
Arcita to the temple walked, that is(965)
Devoted to fierce Mars, to sacrifice
With all the ceremonies, pagan-wise.
With sobered heart and high devotion, on
This wise, right thus he said his orison.
“O mighty god that in the regions hold(970)
In every realm and every land
The reins of battle in thy guiding hand,
And givest fortune as thou dost devise,
Accept of me my pious sacrifice.
If so it be that my youth may deserve,(975)
And that my strength be worthy found to serve
Have pity, now, upon my pains that smart.
I’m young, and little skilled, as knowest thou,
With love more hurt, and much more broken now,
Than ever living creature was, I’m sure;(980)
For she who makes me all this woe endure,
Cares not whether I sink or float in this
And well I know, ere she mercy promise,
I must with courage win her in the place;
And well I know, without the help or grace(985)
Of thee, none of my strength may me avail.
Then help me, lord, tomorrow not to fail:
As well as your hot fire now burneth me,
Ensure that I will then have victory.
Now, lord, have pity on my sorrows sore;(990)
Give me the victory. I ask no more.”
With ended prayer of Arcita the strong,
The rings that on the temple door were hung,
And even the doors themselves, rattled so fast
That this Arcita found himself aghast.(995)
The fires blazed high upon the altar bright,
Until the entire temple shone with light;
And a sweet odour rose up from the ground;
And Arcita whirled then his arm around,
And yet more incense on the fire he cast,(1000)
And did still further rites; and at the last
The armour of God Mars began to ring,
And with that sound there came a murmuring,
Low and uncertain, saying: “Victory!”
For which he gave Mars honour and glory.(1005)
And thus in joy and hope, which all might dare,
Arcita to his lodging then did fare,
Fain of the fight as fowl is of the sun.
But thereupon such quarrelling was begun,
From this same granting, in the heaven above,(1010)
Twixt lovely Venus, goddess of all love,
And Mars, the iron god armipotent,
That Jove toiled hard to make a settlement;
Until the sallow Saturn, calm and cold,
Who had so many happenings known of old,(1015)
Found from his full experience the art
To satisfy each party and each part.
For true it is, age has great advantage;
Experience and wisdom come with age;
Men may the old outrun, but not outwit.(1020)
Saturn anon, to make the fighters quit,
Although peacemaking goes against his kind,
For all this strife begins to remedy find.
Now will I cease to speak of gods above,
Of Mars and Venus, goddess of all love,(1025)
And tell you now, as plainly as I can,
The great result, for which I first began.
A herald on a scaffold cried out “Ho!”
Till all the people’s noise was stilled; and so
When he observed that all were fallen still,(1030)
He then proclaimed the mighty ruler’s will.
“The duke our lord, full wise and full discreet,
Holds that it were but wanton waste to meet
For gentle folk to fight all in the guise
Of mortal battle in this enterprise.(1035)
Wherefore, in order that no man may die,
He does his earlier purpose modify.
No man, therefore, on pain of loss of life,
Shall any arrow, pole-axe, or short knife
Send into lists in any wise, or bring;(1040)
Nor any shortened sword, for point-thrusting,
Shall a man draw, or bear it by his side.
Nor shall a knight against opponent ride,
Save one full course, with any sharp-ground spear;
Unhorsed, a man may thrust with any gear.(1045)
And he that’s overcome, should this occur,
Shall not be slain, but brought to barrier,
Whereof there shall be one on either side;
Let him be forced to go there and abide.
And if by chance the leader there must go,(1050)
Of either side, or slay his equal foe,
No longer, then, shall tourneying endure.
God speed you; go forth now, and lay on sure.
With long sword and with maces fight your fill.
Go now your ways; this is the lord duke’s will.”(1055)
The voices of the people rent the skies,
Such was the uproar of their merry cries:
“Now God save such a lord, who is so good
He will not have destruction of men’s blood!”
Arcita and the hundred of his party(1060)
With banner red is entering anon;
And in that self-same moment, Palamon
Is under Venus, eastward in that place,
With banner white, and resolute of face.
In all the world, searching it up and down,(1065)
So equal were they all, from heel to crown,
There were no two such bands in any way.
For there was no man wise enough to say
How either had of other advantage
In high repute, or in estate, or age,(1070)
So even were they chosen, as I guess.
Then were the gates closed, and the cry rang loud:
“Now do your devoir, all you young knights proud!”
The heralds cease their spurring up and down;
Now ring the trumpets as the charge is blown;(1075)
And there’s no more to say, for east and west
Two hundred spears are firmly laid in rest;
In goes the sharpened spur, into the side.
Now see men who can joust and who can ride!
Now shivered are the shafts on bucklers thick;(1080)
One feels through very breast-bone the spear’s prick;
Lances are flung full twenty feet in height;
Out flash the swords like silver burnished bright.
Helmets are hewed, the lacings rip and shred;
Out bursts the blood, gushing in stern streams red.(1085)
With mighty maces bones are crushed in joust.
One through the thickest throng begins to thrust.
There strong steeds stumble now, and down goes all.
One rolls beneath their feet as rolls a ball.
One flails about with club, being overthrown,(1090)
Another, on a mailed horse, rides him down.
One through the body’s hurt, and led, for aid,
Despite his protests, to the barricade,
As compact was, and there he must abide.
At times Duke Theseus orders them to rest,(1095)
To eat a bit and drink what each likes best.
And many times that day those Thebans two
Met in the fight and wrought each other woe;
Each has the other unhorsed on that day.
No tigress in the vale of Galgophey,(1100)
Whose little whelp is stolen in the light,
Is cruel to the hunter as Arcite
For jealousy is cruel to Palamon;
Nor in Belmarie, when the hunt is on
Is there a lion, wild for want of food,(1105)
That of his prey desires so much the blood
As Palamon the death of Arcite there.
Their jealous blows fall on their helmets fair;
Out leaps the blood and makes their two sides red.
But sometime comes the end of every deed;(1110)
And ere the sun had sunk to rest in gold,
The mighty King Emetreus did hold
This Palamon, as he fought with Arcita,
And made his sword deep in the flesh to bite;
And by the force of twenty men he’s made,(1115)
Unyielded, to withdraw to barricade.
And, trying hard to rescue Palamon,
The mighty King Lycurgus is borne down;
And King Emetreus, for all his strength,
Is hurled out of the saddle a sword’s length,(1120)
So hits out Palamon once more, or ere
(But all for naught) he’s brought to barrier.
His hardy heart may now avail him naught;
He must abide there now, being fairly caught
By force of arms, as by provision known.(1125)
Who sorrows now but woeful Palamon,
Who may no more advance into the fight?
And when Duke Theseus had seen this sight,
Unto the warriors fighting, every one,
He cried out: “Hold! No more! For it is done!(1130)
Now will I prove true judge, of no party.
Theban Arcita shall have Emily,
Who, by his fortune, has her fairly won.”
But now, what can fair Venus do above?
What says she now? What does this queen of love(1135)
But weep so fast, for thwarting of her will,
Her tears upon the lists begin to spill.
She said: “Now am I shamed and over-flung.”
But Saturn said: “My daughter, hold your tongue.
Mars has his will, his knight has all his boon,(1140)
And, by my head, you shall be eased, and soon.”
The hearalds that did loudly yell and cry,
Were at their best for joy Sir Arcit.
But listen now—leave off your noise a bit—
to the miracle that happened there anon.(1145)
This fierce Arcita doffs his helmet soon,
And mounted on a horse, to show his face,
He spurs from end to end of that great place,
Looking aloft to gaze on Emily;
And she cast down on him a friendly eye(1150)
(For women, generally speaking, go
Wherever Fortune may her favor show);
And she was fair to see, and held his heart.
But from the ground infernal furies start,
From Pluto sent, at instance of Saturn,(1155)
Whereat his horse, for fear, began to turn
And leap aside, all suddenly falling there;
And Arcita before he could beware
Was pitched upon the ground, upon his head
And lay there, moving not, as he were dead,(1160)
So ran the surging blood into his face.
Anon they carried him from out that place,
With heavy hearts, to Theseus’ palace.
There was his harness cut away, each lace,
And swiftly was he laid upon a bed,(1165)
For he was yet alive and some words said,
Crying and calling after Emily.
Swells now Arcita’s breast until the sore
Increases near his heart yet more and more.
The clotted blood, in spite of all leech-craft,(1170)
Rots in his bulk, and there it must be left,
Since no device of skillful blood-letting,
Nor drink of herbs, can help him in this thing.
All is so broken in that part of him,
Nature retains no vigour there, nor vim.(1175)
The sum of all is, Arcita must die,
And so he sends a word to Emily,
And Palamon, who was his cousin dear;
And then he said to them as you shall hear.
“To you, my lady, whom I love the most;(1180)
But I bequeath the service of my ghost
To you above all others, this being sure
Now that my life may here no more endure.
Alas, the woe! Alas, the pain so strong
That I for you have suffered, and so long!(1185)
Alas for death! Alas, my Emily!
Alas, the parting of our company!
Alas, my heart’s own queen! Alas, my wife!
My soul’s dear lady, ender of my life!
Farewell, my sweet foe! O my Emily!(1190)
Oh, take me in your gentle arms, I pray,
For love of God, and hear what I will say.”
“I have here, with my cousin Palamon,
Had strife and rancour many a day that’s gone,
For love of you and for my jealousy.(1195)
May Jove so surely guide my soul for me,
To speak about a lover properly.
In this world, right now, I know of none
So worthy to be loved as Palamon,
Who serves you and will do so all his life.(1200)
And if you ever should become a wife,
Forget not Palamon, the noble man.”
And with that word his speech to fail began,
For from his feet up to his breast had come
The cold of death, making his body numb.(1205)
And furthermore, from his two arms the strength
Was gone out, now, and he was lost, at length.
Only the intellect, and nothing more,
Which dwelt within his heart so sick and sore,
Began to fail now, when the heart felt death,(1210)
And his eyes darkened, and he failed of breath.
But on his lady turned he still his eye,
And his last word was, “Mercy, Emily!”
His spirit changed its house and went from here.
As I was never there, I can’t say where.(1215)
Now will I speak forthwith of Emily.
Shrieked Emily and howled now Palamon,
Till Theseus his sister took, anon,
And bore her, swooning for the corpse, away.
How shall it help, to dwell the livelong day(1220)
In telling how she wept both night and morrow?
For in like cases women have such sorrow,
When their good husband from their side must go,
And, for the greater part, they take on so,
Or else they fall into such malady(1225)
That, at the last, and certainly, they die.
Infinite were the sorrows and the tears
Of all old folk and folk of tender years
Throughout the town, at death of this Theban;
For him there wept the child and wept the man;(1230)
So great a weeping was not, ’tis certain,
When Hector was brought back, but newly slain,
To Troy. Alas, the sorrow that was there!
Tearing of cheeks and rending out of hair.
“Oh why will you be dead,” these women cry,(1235)
“Who had of gold enough, and Emily?”
No man might comfort then Duke Theseus,
Excepting his old father, Aegeus,
Who knew this world’s mutations, and men’s own,
Since he had seen them changing up and down,(1240)
Joy after woe, and woe from happiness:
He showed them, by example, the process.
“Just as there never died a man,” quoth he,
“But he had lived on earth in some degree,
Just so there never lived a man,” he said,(1245)
“In all this world, but must be sometime dead.
This world is but a thoroughfare of woe,
And we are pilgrims passing to and fro;
Death is the end of every worldly sore.”
And after this, he told them yet much more(1250)
To that effect, all wisely to exhort
The people that they should find some comfort.
Duke Theseus now considered and with care
What place of burial he should prepare
For good Arcita, as it best might be,(1255)
And one most worthy of his high degree.
And at the last concluded, hereupon,
That where at first Arcita and Palamon
Had fought for love, with no man else between,
There in that very grove, so sweet and green,(1260)
Where he mused on his amorous desires
Complaining of love’s hot and flaming fires,
He’d make a pyre and have the funeral.
Accomplished there, and worthily in all.
And so he gave command to hack and hew(1265)
The ancient oaks, and lay them straight and true
In split lengths that would kindle well and burn.
His officers, with sure swift feet, they turn
And ride away to do his whole intent.
And after this Duke Theseus straightway sent(1270)
For a great bier, and had it all o’er-spread
With cloth of gold, the richest that he had.
Arcita clad he, too, in cloth of gold;
White glove were on his hands where they did fold;
Upon his head a crown of laurel green,(1275)
And near his hand a sword both bright and keen.
Then, having bared the dead face on the bier,
The duke so wept,’twas pitiful to hear.
And, so that folk might see him, one and all,
When it was day he brought them to the hall(1280)
Which echoed of their wailing cries anon.
Then came this woeful Theban, Palamon,
With fluttery beard and matted, ash-strewn hair,
All in black clothes wet with his tears; and there,
Surpassing all in weeping, Emily,(1285)
The most affected of the company.
The noblest Greeks did gladly volunteer
To bear upon their shoulders that great bier,
With measured pace and eyes gone red and wet,
Through all the city, by the wide main street,(1290)
Which was all spread with black, and, wondrous high,
Covered with this same cloth were houses nigh.
Upon the right hand went old Aegeus,
And on the other side Duke Theseus,
With vessels in their hands, of gold right fine,(1295)
All filled with honey, milk, and blood, and wine;
And Palamon with a great company;
And after that came woeful Emily,
With fire in hands, as use was, to ignite
The sacrifice and set the pyre alight.(1300)
Great labour and full great apparelling
Went to the service and the fire-making.
That is to say, the branches were so broad.
Of straw there first was laid full many a load.
But how the fire was made to climb so high;(1305)
Or what names all the different trees went by,
Or how they were felled, shan’t be told by me.
Nor how aghast the ground was in the light,
Not being used to seeing the sun so bright;
Nor how the fire was started first with straw,(1310)
And then dry sticks cut into thirds by a saw,
And then with green wood and with spicery,
And then with cloth of gold and jewelery
And garlands hanging with full many a flower,
And myrrh, and incense, sweet as rose in bower;(1315)
Nor how Arcita lies among all this,
Nor what vast wealth about his body is;
Nor how this Emily, as was their way,
Lighted the sacred funeral fire, that day,
Nor how she swooned when men built up the fire,(1320)
Nor what she said, nor what was her desire;
No, nor what gems men on the fire then cast,
When the white flame went high and burned so fast;
Nor how one cast his shield, and one his spear,
And some their vestments, on that burning bier,(1325)
With cups of wine, and cups of milk, and blood,
Into that flame, which burned as wild-fire would;
Nor how the Greeks, in one huge wailing rout,
Rode slowly three times all the fire about,
Upon the left hand, with a loud shouting,(1330)
And three times more, with weapons clattering,
While thrice the women there raised up a cry;
Nor how was homeward led sad Emily;
Nor how Arcita burned to ashes cold;
All that same night, nor how the Greeks did play(1335)
Who, naked, wrestled best, with oil anointed,
Nor who best bore himself in deeds appointed.
I will not even tell how they were gone
Home, into Athens, when the play was done;
But briefly to the point, now, will I wend(1340)
And make of this, my lengthy tale, an end.
With passing in their length of certain years,
All put by was the mourning and the tears
Of Greeks, as by one general assent;
And then it seems there was a parliament(1345)
At Athens, upon certain points in case;
Among the which points spoken of there was
The ratifying of alliances
That should hold Thebes from all defiances.
Whereat this noble Theseus, anon,(1350)
Invited there the gentle Palamon,
Not telling him what was the cause and why;
But in his mourning clothes, and sorrowfully,
He came upon that bidding, so say I.
And then Duke Theseus sent for Emily.(1355)
When they were seated and was hushed the place,
And Theseus had mused a little space,
Ere any word came from his full wise breast,
His two eyes fixed on whoso pleased him best,
Then with a sad face sighed he deep and still,(1360)
And after that began to speak his will.
“When first God forged the goodly chain of love,
Great the effect, and high was His intent;
Well knew He why, and what thereof He meant;
For with that goodly chain of love He bound(1365)
The fire, the air, the water, and dry ground
In certain bounds, the which they might not flee;
That same First Cause and Mover,” then quoth he,
“Has stablished in this base world, up and down,
A certain length of days to call their own(1370)
For all that are engendered in this place,
Beyond the which not one day may they pace,
Though yet all may that certain time abridge;
Authority there needs none, I allege,
For it is well proved by experience.(1375)
Well may man know, unless he be a fool
That every part derives but from the whole,
And therefore, of His Wisdom’s Providence,
Has He so well established ordinance
That species of all things and all progressions,(1380)
If they’d endure, it must be by successions,
Not being themselves eternal, ’tis no lie:
This may you understand and see by eye.”
“Lo now, the oak, that has long nourishing
Even from the time that it begins to spring,(1385)
And has so long a life, as we may see,
Yet at the last all wasted is the tree.
“Consider, too, how even the hard stone
Under our feet we tread each day upon
Yet wastes it, as it lies beside the way.(1390)
And the broad river will be dry some day.
And great towns wane; we see them vanishing.
Thus may we see the end to everything.”
“Of man and woman just the same is true:
Needs must, in either season of the two,(1395)
That is to say, in youth or else in age,
All men perish, the king as well as page;
Some in their bed, and some in the deep sea,
And some in the wide field—as it may be;
There’s naught will help; all go the same way. Aye,(1400)
Then may I say that everything must die.
Who causes this but Jupiter the King?
He is the Prince and Cause of everything,
Converting all back to that primal well
From which it was derived, ’tis sooth to tell.(1405)
And against this, for every thing alive,
Of any state, avails it not to strive.
“Then is it wisdom, as it seems to me,
To make a virtue of necessity,
And calmly take what we may not eschew,(1410)
And specially that which to all is due.
Whoso would balk at aught, he does folly,
And thus rebels against His potency.
And certainly a man has most honour
In dying in his excellence and flower,(1415)
When he is certain of his high good name;
For then he gives to friend, and self, no shame.
And gladder ought a friend be of his death
When, in much honour, he yields up his breath,
Than when his name’s grown feeble with old age;(1420)
For all forgotten, then, is his courage.
Hence it is best for all of noble name
To die when at the summit of their fame.
The contrary of this is wilfulness.
Why do we grumble? Why have heaviness(1425)
That good Arcita, chivalry’s fair flower,
Is gone, with honour, in his best-lived hour,
Out of the filthy prison of this life?
Why grumble here his cousin and his wife
About his welfare, who loved them so well?(1430)
Can he thank them? Nay, God knows, not! Nor tell
How they his soul and their own selves offend.”
“What may I prove by this long argument
Save that we all turn to merriment,
After our grief, and give Jove thanks for grace.(1435)
And so, before we go from out this place,
I counsel that we make, of sorrows two,
One perfect joy, lasting for aye, for you;
And look you now, where most woe is herein,
There will we first amend it and begin.(1440)
“Sister,” quoth he, “you have my full consent,
With the advice of this my Parliament,
That gentle Palamon, your own true knight,
Who serves you well with will and heart and might,
And so has ever, since you knew him first—(1445)
That you shall, of your grace, allay his thirst
By taking him for husband and for lord:
Lend me your hand, for this is our accord.
Let now your woman’s pity make him glad.
For he is a king’s brother’s son, by gad;(1450)
And though he were a poor knight bachelor,
Since he has served you for so many a year,
And borne for you so great adversity,
This ought to weigh with you, it seems to me,
For mercy ought to dominate mere right.”(1455)
Then said he thus to Palamon the knight:
“I think there needs but little sermoning
To make you give consent, now, to this thing.
Come near, and take your lady by the hand.”
Between them, then, was tied that nuptial band,(1460)
Which is called matrimony or marriage,
By all the council and the baronage.
And thus, in all bliss and with melody,
Has Palamon now wedded Emily.
And God, Who all this universe has wrought,(1465)
Send him His love, who has it dearly bought.
For now has Palamon, in all things, wealth,
Living in bliss, in riches, and in health;
And Emily loved him so tenderly,
And he served her so well and faithfully,(1470)
That never word once marred their happiness,
No jealousy, nor other such distress.
Thus ends now Palamon and Emily;
And may God save all this fair company! Amen.