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From Fabliaux or Tales, abridged from French Manuscripts of the XIIth and XIIIth Centuries by M. Le Grand, selected and translated into English Verse, by the late G. L. Way, Esq., with A Preface, Notes and Appendix, by the late G. Ellis, Esq., A New Edition, corrected in Three Volumes, Volume I, Printed for J. Rodwell, London; 1815; pp. 125-148, 218-223.
IT was the holy feast of Whitsuntide,
When Arthur will’d in royal state reside,
And where proud Carduel’s battlements arise
Hold his high court with due solemnities.
Straight through each province the wide bruit was known,
And every chief resorted to the throne;
High dames, and doughty knights, a numerous host,
Whate’er of worthiness the land could boast,
128 All came, obedient to their sovereign’s word,
And dignified the prince they all ador’d.
Now one day’s joy was past, and every guest
Was rising from the second noon-tide feast,
When from afar a damsel was descried,
Slow toward the castle gate she seem’d to ride,
A goodly mule her graceful form sustain’d,
Unbitted was his mouth, his neck unrein’d.
The King, the Queen, with all their court, admir’d,
And tedious grew their time, with vain conjecture tir’d
Till, as the damsel now approach’d more nigh,
Her youth, her opening charms, struck every eye;
Swift flies to meet her many a youthful knight,
Bends at her knee, and helps her to alight:
Their courtesies with mournful cheer she bore,
For sorrow, as it seem’d, had struck her sore;
And many a tear, fast trickling down her cheek,
Shew’d heaviness of soul that ill could bear to speak.
129 Onward she mov’d, the obsequious knights precede,
And to the presence of their sovereign lead:
Then, while through all expectant wonder ran,
Her weeping eyes she dried, and thus began.
‘Pardon, great sire, a wretch who dares intrude,
‘To damp with ill-tim’d sadness others’ good:
‘Wrong’d as I am, and doom’d to rue the day
‘When my mule’s bridle first was borne away,
Still, still I wail, nor shall my sorrows end
‘Till my long wanderings lead me to a friend,
‘A friend whose sword that bridle shall regain;
‘To him my love I vow, the guerdon of his pain.
‘And know, this fearful enterpize to try
‘Asks the full might of hardiest chivalry;
‘Whither shall hardiest chivalry resort,
‘Or where be found, if not in Arthur’s court?
‘List then, great sovereign, to a damsel’s prayers!
‘And may that man who, past his brethren, dares,
130 ‘Stand forth my champion, and the deed assay;
‘No guide he needs to regulate his way;
‘Him to the scene of strife the mule shall lead,
‘And may his conquering arms receive the promis’d
She ceas’d; to claim the emprize all seem’d to turn,
But most the Seneschal was seen to burn;
Sir Kay the Seneschal first seeks the throne,
And arrogates the achievement for his own.
First were his claims, and could not be gainsaid;
Forthwith he turns him to the stranger maid,
And vows, though from the world’s extremest shore,
The long-lost rein uninjur’d to restore;
Yet hopes, dear earnest of his future bliss,
His lips may steal one spirit-stirring kiss.
The cautious fair, retiring with disdain,
Forbids all freedom till he bring the rein;
131 Yet, lest her knight desponding should depart,
Then she confirms for his her person and her heart.
Officious to comply, low louts Sir Kay,
Girds on his glittering arms, and speeds away.
Scarce had the neighbouring forest’s shadowy height
Clos’d in its womb the mule-bestriding knight,
When, gaunt with famine, and athirst for blood,
Pards, tigers, and the lions’ griesly brood,
In droves burst forth from that disastrous laire,
And with loud hideous roarings fill’d the air.
Wo worth the champion now, who sore afraid
Bewail’d that heedless boast so lately made:
Fled was all hope of meed, all promis’d bliss;
Vain in his sight the fairest fair one’s kiss:
Till, as the insatiate monsters reach’d the mule,
At once the roar was hush’d, the rage grew cool;
Couch’d at his hoof each suppliant savage lay,
And with his rough tongue lick’d the dust away,
132 Then slunk back trembling to his drear abode:
Sir Kay, reviv’d in heart, pursued his road.
’Scap’d from the beasts of prey, in hope secur’d,
New terrours yet remain’d to be endur’d.
The track now steeply shelving form’d a vale,
Whose gloom might make the stoutest knight turn pale.
’Twas darkness all; save that at times the breath
Of fiery dragons, pestilent as death,
Flash’d in upon the obscurity of night
With lurid blasts of intermitting light,
By momentary fits the pathway show’d,
And led the astonish’d warriour on his road.
In the deep bottom of this hideous dell
Swarm’d snakes, a countless brood, and scorpions fell.
Above, the unfetter’d tempest rav’d amain,
And in a deafening torrent pour’d the rain:
Shook to their centre by the whirlwind’s sweep
Huge rocky fragments thunder’d down the steep:
133 Keen was the cold, as in one piercing wind
A thousand icy winters blew combin’d;
Yet such the emotions of the champion’s heart,
Fast flow’d the dews of sweat from every part:
Him, howsoe’er, the guardian mule convey’d
Safe through the perils of the dreadful glade,
And, onward pacing, reach’d at length the marge
Of a black doleful river, deep and large.
Slow roll’d the sullen waves, nor aught was there
Of bridge or bark the adventurous knight to bear:
Shap’d like a plank, and stretching many a rood,
Alone one bar of iron spann’d the flood.
Here paus’d Sir Kay, here deem’d all valour vain,
Here turn’d his mule, despairing of the rein.
Back through the vale perforce his passage lay,
Back, through the vale he hied with sore dismay;
Back through the forest, wild with many a beast
That howl’d behind, as baffled of their feast:
134 In vain they sprang; the mule’s repulsive charm
Shrank up their strength, and sav’d the knight from
Now from afar the assembled court beheld
Their champion slowly pacing o’er the field:
His downcast looks his ill success confess’d,
And each was prompt to taunt him with a jest.
The King himself stepp’d forth his knight to lead
On to the plighted kiss, the conqueror’s meed;
Knights, squires, and dames, the general banter caught,
And mock’d the unlucky Seneschal to nought.
Speechless awhile he stood, the sport of all,
Then hid his face and hurried from the hall.
Wo was Sir Kay; but in more deep despair
Sunk, at this scene, the disappointed fair.
Cast from all hope, what bitter tears she shed!
How rent the clustering honours of her head!
135 Mov’d with her wail, advanc’d Sir Gawaine forth;
Calm he approach’d her, confident of worth;
Pledg’d his true word to seek the scene of strife,
And in her cause devote his sword and life.
Such promise sure some recompense might claim,
Nor tinge the purest fair one’s cheek with shame?
’Twas that foretaste the Seneschal had press’d;
And what that was, he ween’d the lady guess’d.
The damsel blush’d: the dangerous warfare known,
All hope of succour thence more desperate grown,
Who could refuse to knight so kind, so brave,
Aught that a manly modesty would crave?
Known be it then, the inspiring kiss was seiz’d;
Blithe was the knight, nor was the maid displeas’d:
He mounts the mule, impatient of delay,
And hies him to the forest’s side away.
Loud, as he pass’d, the bristling lions roar’d;
The knight with dauntless scorn oppos’d his sword:
136 Loud hiss’d the enormous snakes, and onward roll’d:
And for the fight prepar’d Sir Gawaine bold:
But needless all: the mule’s o’ermastering might
Turn’d back the cowering suppliants from the knight.
Now on the margin of the stream he stood,
Where the huge bar lay stretch’d athwart the flood;
There for a moment paus’d in secret prayer,
Consign’d the event to Heaven’s protecting care,
Then urg’d his mule: upon the bar’s strait bound
The sure-pac’d beast full scanty footing found;
While, rising fast, the watery waste beneath
Roll’d on its roaring billows, big with death;
Dash’d o’er the knight, as conscious of a foe,
Then wide disparting yawn’d in hideous gulphs below.
Fix’d as a rock the assaulting surge he bore,
Slow mov’d the sure-pac’d mule, and gain’d the further shore.
Hard by its bank a castle was descried,
With wondrous art contriv’d and fortified:
137 There rang’d, as palisades, in order due,
Four hundred beam-like stakes assail’d his view;
Each on its pointed summit gory red
Bore high in air a mangled warriour’s head,
Save one alone; whose top, uncrown’d and pure,
Seem’d to demand that ghastly garniture.
Girt were the fortress’ walls with moats profound,
And brimming torrents roll’d impetuous round;
Whilst, like a millstone, on its central base
Revolv’d with ceaseless course the whole enormous mass;
Swift as a top, when some impatient boy
With frequent lash speeds on the circling toy.
Bridge there was none, whereon he might assay
To vault with dexterous bound, and force his future way.
Long time he gaz’d, and fix’d his mind to die
Rather than back return with infamy:
Still scann’d the towers that never ceas’d to turn,
As bent some gate, some entrance, to discern.
138 One pass he spies: the goaded mule he galls,
Leaps the wide moat, and lights within the walls.
Within, no creature, as it seem’d, remain’d;
Waste solitude and deathlike silence reign’d.
Unpeopled windows, vacant streets, declare
Strange recent cause of desolation there.
Long mus’d the knight: at length he chanc’d to spy
A dwarf who mark’d his course with curious eye.
‘Where won,’ sir Gawaine cried, ‘thy lord, thy dame?
‘Report their will, their honours, and their name?’
Eager he spoke; the silent dwarf withdrew;
The knight pursued, and bore hi quarry still in view;
When from a craggy cave, his dark abode,
Foul and deform’d a monstrous giant strode;
Deform’d his limbs, and bristly was his hair,
And in his hand a ponderous axe he bare;
Yet still his looks some courtesy express’d,
As thus the dauntless Gawaine he address’d.
139 ‘Praise to thy courage, desperate knight!’ he cried,
‘Though here that courage be butt ill applied:
;Those griesly heads which palisade the gate
‘Might well have made thee wise ere yet too late:
’Twill pity me, in sooth, to see thee fall,
‘For know, this enterprize is death to all.
‘Take, ne’ertheless, such helps as I can give,
‘And feast the little time thou hast to live.’
He spake, and straight convey’d his wondering guest
Where the pil’d table bow’d beneath the feast,
And with a kindly coarse solicitude
Will’d him restore his wasted powers with food;
Then to a bower for rest prepar’d, he leads
The dauntless knight, and thus again proceeds.
‘There sleep, Sir Knight! yet ere thou press thy bed
‘Smite from my shoulders broad my towering head;
‘Nor shall this bounty lack the destin’d meed,
‘Myself to-morrow will repay thy deed.’
140 Swift, as he spoke, Sir Gawaine whirl’d his blade,
And at his feet the griesly mass was laid:
What words can paint his wonder, to behold,
As the huge head along the pavement roll’d,
The trunk pursue, the sever’d parts unite,
and the whole man pass suddenly from sight.
Calm on the fearful scene Sir Gawaine gaz’d
For stedfast was his soul, though much amaz’d;
And, at the morrow’s menace nought dismay’d,
Calm on a couch his wearied limbs he laid;
There gathering slumber soon o’erspreads his eyes,
And lapt in sweet tranquillity he lies.
Now rose the morn, and, to his promise true,
Nigh with his ponderous axe the giant drew,
And warn’d the knight, still stretch’d upon his bed,
To yield the plighted forfeit of his head:
Nor paused the knight; superiour to his fate,
His word was pledg’d, he scorn’d to hesitate;
141 When lo! with alter’d guise, that joy confess’d,
The griesly monster clasp’d him to his breast,
And, ‘Fair befall thy hardiment!’ he cried,
‘’Twas but to prove thy manhood: — thou art tried.’
‘Say then,’ the knight return’d, ‘doth aught remain?
‘Where lies my way? what bars me from the rein?’
‘Ere the sun sink,’ the giant stern replied,
‘All may be known, and thou be satisfied;
‘Meanwhile thine hour of utmost need is nigh,
‘Call all thy valour forth, prevail, or die.’
’Twas now full noon; and In the field of fight
Arm’d at all poits arriv’d the dauntless knight:
Fix’d on the opposing quarter of the plain
A lion, mad with anger, gnash’d his chain;
Smear’d were his jaws with foam, the earth he tore,
And the wide plain resounded with his roar:
Anon the advancing warriour met his view,
His chains fell off, and on his foe he flew; 142 On his broad shoulder fix’d the cumbrous beast,
And tugg’d, and tore the hauberk from his breast.
Long was the fight, a fearful tale to tell;
Suffice to say the enormous savage fell:
More huge, more fierce, a second straight succeeds;
Beneath the champion’s arm a second bleeds:
Then further foe came not: the knight again
Demands the conqueror’s meed, the destin’d rein.
The giant answers nought, but leads his guest
Where the pil’d table bends beneath the feast,
And with a clumsy kindness, oft renew’d,
Relates how faltering nature thrives by food;
Then reconducts him to the field of fight,
And brings his foeman forth, a bold but ruthless knight.
E’en he it was, whose yet unvanquish’d hand
Had fenc’d with many astake the castled strand,
And, in dire proof his might was peerless found,
Their points with slaughter’d warriours heads had crown’d:
143 Now with Sir Gawaine doom’d his force to try,
And strive once more for death or victory,
For each their grim conductor bids prepare
A stately steed, caparison’d for war.
The champions mount, each grasps a beamy spear;
Each adverse wheels to take his full career;
At once impell’d the forceful steeds advance,
Bursts the strong girth, and snaps the shivering lance,
Saddles and knights are backward horse to dust,
So firm they sat, so furious was their thrust.
Uprise the prostrate foes in ireful mood,
And fierce the combat burns, on foot renew’d.
Aloft in air their ponderous swords they wield,
And sparks of fire flash thick from either shield:
With the fell dint their batter’d arms resound,
Yet neither chief grows slack, nor yields his ground.
For two long hours the twain with equal might
Maintain’d the dubious issue of the fight
144 Till at the last, as if that stroke combin’d
The united energy of all his mind,
Full on his foeman’s casque Sir Gawaine’s blade
Resistless driven, a wasteful entrance made;
Down to the circlet clave the griding steel,
And prone on earth the senseless warriour fell.
So ceas’d the fight; for knighthood’s laws decree
Death’s instant dole, or yielded victory;
And now the conqueror’s hand had nigh unlac’d
The well-wrought bands with which his helm was brac’d,
When the faint knight confess’d the unequal strife,
Gave up his vanquish’d sword, and begg’d for life.
Here clos’d the achievement; the victorious knight
Now claims the rein by uncontested right:
But the fair mistress of the waste domain
Still hopes from beauty what from force was vain,
And trusts by amorous gallantry to find
Those claims relinquish’d and that right resign’d.
Fill’d with these views the attendant dwarf she sends;
Before the knight the dwarf respectful bends;
Kind greetings bears as to his lady’s guest,
And prays his presence to adorn her feast.
The knight delays not: on a bed design’d
With gay magnificence the fair reclin’d;
High o’er her head, on silver columns rais’d,
With broidering gems her proud pavilion blaz’d.
Herself, a paragon in every part,
Seem’d sovereign beauty deck’d with comeliest art.
With a sweet smile of condescending pride
She seats the courteous Gawaine by her side,
Scans with assiduous glance each rising wish,
Feeds from her food, the partner of her dish,
With soft reproach extols his conquering sword,
Calls him her dear destroyer and her lord,
Tells how herself, and she, the maid forlorn,
Sprang from one sire, of one dear mother born,
146 Owns that her hand the fatal prize detain’d,
Now by her guest’s unrivall’d arm regain’d;
Till, weening well his bosom prepossess’d
With her smooth wiles, she thus her hopes express’d:
‘Sweet lord!’ she cried, ‘still pass thine hours with me!
‘Nor press too far the claims of victory!
‘Mark this imperial castle’s vast design;
‘Twice twenty more, save two alone, are mine:
‘Take these, with all their wealth, these wide domains,
‘And hold their sovereign’s heart in willing chains:
‘Prize to a lord for bravery passing peer,
‘She deems it honour to submit her here;
‘How lost soe’er, she shuns the thought of wo,
‘And fines in thee a guardian, not a foe.’
She paus’d; the stedfast champion nothing swerv’d,
But the firm purpose of his soul preserv’d:
By beauty unseduc’d, unbrib’d by gain,
Calm he persists to claim the long-sought rein.
147 The long-sought rein reluctantly restor’d,
Again the sure-pac’d mule sustains its lord:
When, as he mounts, amaz’d at once he hears
Strange shouts of clamorous joy assail his ears:
Sad wights were these, and gultless doom’d to die
Beneath their dame’s capricious tyranny;
For through her streets, so will’d her wayward mood,
Fierce lions daily roam’d, and sought their food;
Hence, to his house as to a jail confin’d,
Each timorous wretch in lonely want had pin’d;
Now, freed from fear, they throng the castled strand,
Prompt to embrace their bless’d deliverer’s hand.
To Carduel’s towers return’d, with wild delight
The enraptur’d damsel hails her conquering knight:
Just to his toils her willing tribute pays
Of thankfulness unfeign’d, and boundless praise.
Soon, howsoe’er, she casts to speed away;
Nor Arthur nor his Queen can win her stay:
148 Much they entreat her to remain their guest
Till the full period of the days of feast,
But all in vain; the damsel quits the hall,
Mounts on her mule, and bids farewell to all.
Page 127, Line 3. ‘And where proud Carduel’s
Several cities besides Carduel are allotted to Arthur by the romance writers. The principal are Camelot, (which contained the round-table;) Carleon, (Caer-Lleon,) and Cardigan. Carduel is sometimes spelt Kerdenyle, or Kerdevyle; (See Warton, Vol. II. page 102;) and Cardoyle. (See Mort d’Arthur, part I. chap. 61; edit. 1634.)
Camelot is said, by Leland, Camden, and Stow; and by Selden, in his notes to Drayton’s Poly-Olbion; (songs 3d and 4th;) to have been at South Cadbury in Somersetshire. In the prologue to Mort d’Arthur, it is a town in Wales; but in the work itself (Part I. chap. 44) it is called Winchester. Geoffrey of Monmouth 219 (Thompson’s translation, page 49.) calls Winchester Kaerguen.
Caer-Lleon was a name used indifferently for Carleon in Monmouthsire, and for Chester, sometimes called West-Chester. The one was called Caer-Lleon-ar-Wysg, from its situation on the river Usk: the other, Caer-Lleon-ar-Dyfrdwy, from its situation on the river Dee. Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Caerlisle is Caer-Lleon. (See note in Warton’s History of English Poetry; edit. 1775, Dissertation I. page 8.) His city of Legions (see Book IX. chap. 12.) is Caer-Lleon-ar-Wyag.
According to the British Triades, the principal courts or palaces of Arthur were as follows: —
‘Tair prif lys Arthur.
‘Caer-Lleon ar Wysg y Nghymru:
‘Celliwig, yn Nyfnaint, neu y Nghernyw:
‘A Phenrhyn Rbhionedd, yn y gogledd.’
That is —
‘The three chief palaces of Arthur.
‘Carleon on the river Usk in Wales:
‘Celliwig, in Devon, or Cornwall:
‘And Penrhyn Rhionedd, in the north.’
The feast of Arthur at Carleon upon Usk, is honourably mentioned in the following Triad: —220
‘Tair gwlêdd anrhydeddus ynys Prydain.
‘Gwlêdd Caswallon yn ôl gyrru Iwlcassar o’r ynys hon:
‘Gwlêdd Emrys Wledig ar ôl gorchfygu y Saeson:
‘A gwlêdd Arthur frenin ynghaer-Lleon-ar-Wysg.’
That is —
‘The three honourable feasts of the isle of Britain.
‘The feast of Caswallon, (Cassivellaunus,) after
‘repelling Julius Cæsar from this isle:
‘The feast of Aurelius Ambrosius, after he had
‘conquered the Saxons:
‘And the feast of King Arthur at Carleon upon
Pseudo-Gildas describes Carleon upon Usk as —
‘Nobilis urbs, et amœna situ, quam labilis Osca
‘Irrigat, . . . . . . . .
Page 137, Line 4. ‘Bore high in air a mangled
This terrifick architectural ornament occurs also in the Romance of Sir Libius Disconius, or Li beau desconus. (The fair unknown.) See Percy’s Essay on the ancient Metrical Romances. (Reliques, Vol. III. edit. 1775.) A magnificent, and perhaps the only extant, specimen of capitals of this order, still encircles and adorns one of the publick buildings of the university 221 of Oxford. The heads have been assigned by antiquaries to the paynim Cæsars, who, if their bodies were less disproportionate than that of Yllapantac in the Peruvian Tales, must consequently have been all giants of the first enormity.
Page 143, Line 6. ‘Each adverse wheels to take his
‘full career, &c..’
This duel of the two knights is what was formerly called a joust or tilt, in which the combatants charged each other with lances, on horseback, and at full speed. A dexterous management of the shield, and especially a firm seat on the saddle, were necessary, to prevent being unhorsed by the shock of the adversary. If the horse was overthrown, his rider was not onsidered as vanquished, unless he had quitted his saddle-bows. These saddle-bows (arçons) rose to a considerable height before and behind, and were faced with metal. A representation is given in the head-piece to ‘The Gentle Bachelor.’
To ascertain by accurate inspection that the knights were not fastened to their saddles, was part of the duty of the heralds at tournaments.
Page 145, Line 12. ‘She seats the courteous ‘Gawaine by her side.’
It will appear from many passages in the Fabliaux, 222 that the custom of reclining on beds or couches during meals, after the manner of the ancients, still subsisted. Chairs were probably not in general use. In Peres Ploughmane’s Crede, the author, describing the luxury of the monks, mentions
‘An halle for an hygh kynge an houshold to holden,
‘With brode bordes abouten, ybenched wel clene.’
In the Geste of King Horne we find
‘Horne sett hi abenche.’
In the chamber of a bishop of Winchester in 1266, forms or benches only are mentioned ‘Et de i mensa cum tressellis in camera dom. Episcopi. et v formis in eadem camera.’ (Warton, Hist. Poetry, Vol. I. page 40.)
From this usage our court of King’s Bench has its name.
Page 145, Line 14. ‘Feeds from her food, the part- ‘ner of her dish.’
To eat on the same trencher or plate with any one was considered as the strongest mark of friendship. At great entertainments, the guests were placed two and two, and only one plate was allotted to each pair. In the romance of Perce-forest it is said ‘There were eight hundred knights all seated at table, and yet there 223 was not one who had not a dame or damsel at his plate.’ In Lancelot du Lac, a lady whom her jealous husband had compelled to dine in the kitchen, complains ‘it is very long since any knight has eaten on the same plate with her.’
Page 146, Line 18. ‘Calm he persists to claim the ‘long-sought rein.’
A more decisive proof will hardly be found than this ‘long-sought rein affords, of the determination of a Trouveur to have an adventure at any rate. The enchanted mule seems to have no need of such furniture to guide him to the place of his destination; and the amusement it can be supposed to supply to either of the freakish sisters, is at least not very obvious to a reader of the eighteenth century.
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