“Squire, come nearer, if your will it be,
Say something about love, for certainly
You know as much of that as any man.”
“No, sir,” said he, “but I’ll speak as I can,
As I’ve a willing heart. I’ll not rebel 5
Against your wish, a tale for you I’ll tell.
Excuse me if I chance to speak amiss;
I mean well, and my story goes like this.”
The Squire’s Tale
At Sarai in the land of Tartary,
A king dwelt who made war on Moscovy, 10
In which there perished many a valiant man.
This noble king was known as Cambuscan,
And in his time so greatly was renowned
That in no other land was to be found
So excellent a lord in everything; 15
He lacked for nothing that befits a king.
And of the faith to which he had been born
He kept the holy laws as he was sworn;
And he was wise and rich, lived hardily,
Was merciful and just impartially, 20
True to his word, honorable and kind,
As steady-hearted as you’ll ever find,
Young, eager, strong, as set for battle’s call
As any young knight bachelor in his hall.
And he was handsome, blest by Fortune’s smile, 25
And always kept so royally in style
That nowhere else on earth lived such a man.
This noble king, this Tartar Cambuscan,
Was father of two sons, borne by his wife
Elpheta; the elder son was Algarsyf, 30
The younger son by name was Cambalo.
This king also begat a daughter, though,
The youngest child, whose name was Canace.
Now to relate how fair she was to see
I’ve not the skill, for such my tongue is lame; 35
I dare not undertake so high an aim.
My English, too, for such is insufficient;
One needs a rhetorician, excellent,
Well versed in all the colors of his art,
Her beauty to describe in whole or part; 40
I’m none such, I can give but what I bring.
It came to pass that when this Tartar king
Had twenty winters worn his diadem,
And as each year, I guess, it suited him,
He had the feast of his nativity 45
Proclaimed throughout Sarai as by decree,
The Ides of March being the time of year.
Phoebus the sun was jolly, shining clear,
For he was near his exaltation in
The face of Mars and in his house within 50
Aries, being the hot and choleric sign.
The weather then was pleasant and benign,
For which the fowls, what with the sun’s bright sheen,
The season and its plants so young and green,
Were loudly chirping, singing songs of cheer, 55
As they had kept themselves another year
Against the sword of winter, keen and cold.
Now Cambuscan, this king of whom I’ve told,
In royal vestment sits upon his dais
High in his palace, diadem in place, 60
And holds a feast so rich and sumptuous
There’s never been one like it. To discuss
It for you here, detailing its array,
Would occupy at least a summer’s day;
And there’s no need to have it here observed 65
What courses in which order there were served.
On their exotic broths I will not dwell,
Nor on their swans and herons. Old knights tell
Us, too, that in that land there is some meat
That one considers there a dainty treat, 70
But which here in this land men hardly relish.
No man can tell it all; I’ll not embellish,
It’s nine o’clock and so I shall refrain,
It’s fruitless, waste of time, without a gain;
Here my first subject now shall be resumed. 75
It came to pass that when they had consumed
Three courses, and this king sat in his splendor
And listened to his palace minstrels render
Their songs before the dais melodiously,
In through the door of the hall suddenly 80
There came a knight upon a steed of brass,
In hand a mirror broad and made of glass,
A gold ring on his thumb; upon his side
A naked sword was hung. He dared to ride
His steed right up to the king’s high table. 85
To speak one word none in the hall was able,
This knight each one so marveled to behold;
They all intently watched him, young and old.
This strange knight who had come so suddenly,
Armored (save his head) magnificently, 90
Gave greetings to the king and queen and all
The lords in order sitting in the hall,
With such a fine display of reverence
Both in his speech and in his countenance
That Gawain with his courtesy of yore, 95
Were he to come from Fairyland once more,
To improve upon a word would not be able.
And after this, before the king’s high table,
He spoke his piece, his manly voice rung,
And this knight’s usage of his mother tongue 100
Was without fault in syllable or letter.
Indeed to make his tale seem all the better,
He spoke with feeling, spirit matching word,
As those who teach the art of speech are heard.
Although his style I cannot imitate 105
(I can’t climb over any stile so great),
Yet I can tell in general his intent,
That is, the gist and sum of what he meant,
If I’ve got such together in my head.
“Arabia’s king and India’s,” he said, 110
“Who’s my liege lord, upon this festive day
Salutes you, sire, as best he can and may,
And sends to you by me (here for the least
You may command), in honor of your feast,
This steed made of brass, which easily may 115
Within the course, sire, of one natural day
(That is to say, in four and twenty hours
Whether it be in time of drought or showers)
Convey you bodily to every place
Where it may be your heart’s desire to pace, 120
Without a harm to you through foul or fair;
Or if you wish to fly high in the air
As does an eagle soaring, harmlessly
This steed shall take you where you wish to be,
Though you may sleep upon his back throughout 125
And take your rest. And he will turn about
And bring you back at the twist of a knob.
For many a craft was known to him whose job
It was to make it; many a constellation
He watched ere he began his operation, 130
With many a seal and bond at his command.
“This mirror, too, that I hold in my hand
Such power has that in it one may see
Whenever there’s to come adversity
Upon your realm, upon yourself also, 135
And openly who is your friend or foe.
“And most of all, if any lady bright
Has set her heart on any man who might
Then be untrue, she shall his treason see,
His newfound love and all his subtlety, 140
Not one thing left concealed about his crime.
So as we look to merry summertime,
This mirror and this ring that here you see
My lord has sent to Lady Canace,
Your excellent daughter who’s here with you. 145
“This ring, if you will hear, has power too,
Which is to say, if she be pleased to wear it
Upon her thumb, or in her purse to bear it,
Beneath the heavens there is not a bird
Whose language she won’t understand when heard, 150
His meaning clear and plain, as she will learn,
And in his language answer him in turn.
And every herb borne of a root will she
Know also, and to whom it’s remedy,
Though his wounds be ever so deep and wide. 155
“This naked sword that’s hanging at my side
Such power has that, smite what man you may,
Right through his armor it will carve its way,
Be it as thick as any branchy oak;
And that man who is wounded by the stroke 160
Shall never heal unless you out of grace
Then stroke him with the flat upon the place
Where he is hurt. That is to say, my lord,
That you may stroke him with the flattened sword
Upon the wound and it will close. And I 165
Know this to be the truth, it’s not a lie;
While you possess it, it will never fail.”
And when this knight had finished with his tale,
He rode out of the hall, then to alight.
His steed, as shiny as the sun was bright, 170
Stood in the court as still as stone. Then led
At once to chamber was the knight; he shed
His armor, then was seated at the board.
And then the gifts were fetched–that is, the sword
And mirror, presents royal with their power– 175
And borne at once into the lofty tower
By officers appointed specially;
And then this ring they gave to Canace
With pomp, as she was seated at the table.
But certainly–and this is not a fable– 180
The horse of brass could not be led around,
It stood there as if glued right to the ground.
Out of its place no man could even nudge it
Nor with a windlass or a pulley budge it.
And why? Because they didn’t know the trick. 185
And so there in its place they let it stick
Until this knight should teach to them the way
To move it, as you’ll later hear me say.
Great was the crowd that pressed about in force
To look upon this stationary horse. 190
It was so tall and of such breadth and length,
So well proportioned to be one of strength,
That it was like a steed of Lombardy,
So quick of eye, so as a horse should be,
So like one of fine Apulian breed; 195
For from his tail right to his ears, indeed
He couldn’t be improved, not one degree,
By nature or by art, as all could see.
The greatest wonder, though, to those who’d pass
Was how this horse could go when made of brass. 200
It was from Fairyland, or so it seemed.
As folks will differ they diversely deemed,
For every head an independent mind;
They murmured like a swarm of bees, opined
Their judgments, which were based on fantasy. 205
They quoted lines of ancient poetry
And said it was like Pegasus, the horse
That had two wings to fly. And some, of course,
Said it was the horse of the Greek Sinon
That brought Troy to destruction as was known 210
From all the ancient stories they had read.
“My heart,” one fellow said, “is full of dread;
I think there are some men inside the horse
Whose plan it is to take this town by force
Of arms. We ought to make this matter known.” 215
Another whispered to his friend alone,
“He lies. This rather is an apparition,
It’s something that’s produced by some magician,
As jugglers do at these great feasts.” And such
Is how the people jangled, worried much, 220
As people without learning commonly
Will look at things made with more subtlety
Than they can comprehend; they’re always first
To judge by this or that the very worst.
Some of them wondered, too, about the power 225
Of the mirror borne up into the tower,
How men might such things in this mirror see.
One of them said it very well could be
Done naturally if held in right directions,
Combining certain angles, sly reflections, 230
And that in Rome was such a mirror. Then
They talked about Witelo, Alhazen,
And Aristotle, writers in their day
On strange mirrors and optics, just as they
Well know who’ve heard their writings read at length. 235
Others wondered about this sword whose strength
Was such that it could pierce through anything;
They fell to talk of Telephus the king,
And of Achilles’ spear that strangely he
Could use to heal or injure equally, 240
In just the way that men this sword may use
As you’ve already heard. They gave their views
On various ways to harden metal, with
Discussion, too, of mixtures by the smith,
And how and when the hardening should be; 245
Such things are all unknown, at least to me.
They also spoke of Canace’s new ring,
Agreeing that of such a wondrous thing
In rings they’d never heard before, not one
(Except that Moses and King Solomon 250
Are said to have been skillful in such art).
So spoke the people, drawn in groups apart.
But people once had wonder, too, to learn
Glass can be made from ashes of a fern,
Though glass is not like fern ash in the least; 255
This knowledge furnished long ago, they ceased
Eventually to jangle and to wonder.
Some rack their brains about the cause of thunder,
The ebbtide, flood, cobweb, and mist, and on
And on, until the cause is finally known. 260
And so they jangled, no idea ignored,
Until the king got up to leave the board.
Phoebus had moved, proceeding from the east,
Past the meridian, the royal beast
(The noble lion with his Aldiran) 265
Ascending, when this Tartar Cambuscan
Rose from the board where he’d sat loftily.
Before him loudly went the minstrelsy
Till he came to his presence chamber. There
The sound of all their music filled the air, 270
As heavenly to hear as one could wish.
Now lusty lovers danced, for in the Fish
Their lady Venus then was sitting high
And looked upon them with a friendly eye.
This noble king sat on his throne, and right 275
Away was fetched the mysterious knight,
Who then began to dance with Canace.
There was such revel and such jollity
It’s more than any dull man could recite;
He must know love and how to serve it right, 280
And be a festive man as fresh as May,
Who’d give you an account of such array.
Who could describe for you the forms of dance
So unfamiliar, or each subtle glance,
Flirtations in disguise, all the pretension 285
For fear of drawing jealous men’s attention?
None could but Lancelot and he is dead;
I leave this merriment and forge ahead,
I’ll say no more but in this jolly air
I leave them till for supper they prepare. 290
The steward called for spices right away,
And wine as well, while music was to play.
The ushers and the squires went in a trice
To bring at once the wine and all the spice.
They ate and drank and, following that event, 295
As was the custom, to the temple went;
The service done, they supped throughout the day.
What do you need to hear that I should say?
For every man knows well at a king’s feast
There’s plenty for the greatest and the least, 300
And dainties more than I can comprehend.
This noble king arose at supper’s end
To see this horse made out of brass. A rout
Of lords and ladies gathered round about.
There was such wonder at this brazen steed 305
That since the siege of Troy (where indeed
A horse caused men to wonder) there had passed
No wonderment as great as this. At last
The king inquired about this courser’s might,
About its power’s source, and asked the knight 310
To tell him how to move it from its stance.
The horse at once began to trip and dance
When the knight placed a hand upon its rein.
“Sire,” said the knight, “there’s no more to explain,
Except that when you’d ride somewhere from here 315
You have to turn a knob that’s in his ear.
(I shall confide this to no one but you.)
Which place you have to mention to him, too,
Or to what country you desire to ride;
And when you’ve come to where you would abide, 320
Bid him descend–another knob you’ll twist,
Of this contraption therein lies the gist-
Then down he will descend and do your will,
And in that place he’ll stay, completely still.
Let the whole world swear differently, I say 325
He shall not then be drawn or borne away.
Or if to bid him go is your desire,
Then turn the knob, that’s all it shall require;
Before men’s eyes he’ll vanish out of sight,
And then return, be it by day or night, 330
When you may wish to call him back again,
In such a manner as I shall explain
And very soon, between just me and you.
Ride when you wish, there’s nothing more to do.”
When the king was informed thus by the knight, 335
So that in his own mind he had it right
(That is, all the procedure of the thing),
Content and glad, this noble, doughty king
Returned then to his revel as before.
The bridle they into the tower bore, 340
To keep with his fine jewelry like a prize,
And vanished then the horse before their eyes–
I don’t know how, you’ll get no more from me.
But now I leave them in their jollity,
This Cambuscan and his lords, reveling 345
Until the day was just about to spring.
The nurse to our digestion known as sleep
Began to wink at them, and bade them keep
In mind that drink and labor call for rest;
With yawning mouth he kissed them, every guest, 350
And said that it was time for relaxation,
The humor blood then being in domination.
“Take care of Nature’s friend, the blood,” said he.
They thanked him yawning, two of them, then three,
And finally each man went to his rest; 355
What sleep had bidden they considered best.
Their dreams shan’t be described by words of mine;
Their heads were full of fumes from all the wine,
That causes dreams in which to take no stock.
They slept till it was almost nine o’clock– 360
That is, most of them but not Canace;
For she, as women will, lived moderately,
And of her father she had taken leave
To go to rest soon after it was eve.
She didn’t wish to pale, be tired and worn, 365
Nor to appear unfestive with the morn.
She slept awhile; when once again awake,
Within her heart such pleasure she would take
Both in her mirror and her curious ring
That twenty times she changed in coloring. 370
The impression of the mirror that she kept
Had made her have a vision while she slept;
And so, before the sun began to climb,
She called her governess, said it was time
That she arise, for such was her desire. 375
The old woman, who’d know or else inquire,
Being her governess, at once replied,
“But madam, where is it you’d walk or ride
So early, for the folks are all at rest?”
“I shall arise,” she said, “I’m getting dressed, 380
No longer will I sleep but walk about.”
Of women the governess called a rout,
Some ten or twelve, to rise without ado;
And Canace herself had risen too,
As bright and ruddy as the youthful sun 385
That in the Ram but four degrees had run
(No higher was he when she started out).
And at an easy pace she strolled about
On foot and frolicked, lightly dressed by reason
Of that time of year, the love-sweet season; 390
Some women, five or six, were with her sent.
Along a path into the park she went.
The vapor that was rising from the earth
Had made the sun seem red and broad in girth,
But nonetheless it was so fair a sight 395
It made them all in heart feel very light,
What with the season and the new day springing
And all the fowls that Canace heard singing;
Immediately she knew just what they meant
By what they sang, knew all of their intent. 400
But if the point of each tale that’s told
Is long delayed–their interest getting cold
When people have to listen for a while–
The savor passes more with every mile,
Thanks to the teller’s own prolixity; 405
By that same token, so it seems to me,
I should get down to business, I intend
To bring her walk now promptly to an end.
Amid a tree, as dry and white as chalk,
As Canace was playing in her walk, 410
There sat above her head a falcon who
In such a piteous voice began to rue
That all the wood resounded with her cry.
So terribly had she been beaten by
Her own two wings, the blood along the tree 415
On which she sat ran crimson. Constantly
The falcon cried and gave out with a shriek;
And she had pricked herself so with her beak
There’s not a tiger, not one beast so mean
That lives in darkest wood or forest green, 420
That wouldn’t weep, if able, in compassion,
As she kept shrieking in so loud a fashion.
And there has never been a man around–
If on a falcon I could well expound–
Who’s heard of such another for its fairness, 425
As well in plumage as in gracefulness
Of shape, in all that’s worthy of esteem.
She was a peregrine, so it would seem,
From foreign parts. And as she stood above,
She now and then would swoon for losing of 430
Such blood till nearly falling from the tree.
Now this king’s lovely daughter Canace,
Who on her finger bore the curious ring
Through which she understood well everything
That any fowl might in his language say 435
And in that tongue could answer straightaway,
Had understood all that the falcon spoke;
She almost died, for her heart nearly broke.
And then with haste she went beneath the tree,
And looked up at this falcon piteously 440
And held her apron out, well knowing how
This falcon must come falling from the bough
When next it swooned, its loss of blood so great.
There for a lengthy while she stood to wait,
Till Canace at last spoke to the bird 445
In such a way as shortly you’ll have heard.
“What is the reason, if you’re free to tell,
That you are in this furious pain of hell?”
She asked the falcon sitting there above.
“It’s sorrow over death or loss of love? 450
For those are the two things that I believe
Above all else cause gentle hearts to grieve,
Of other woes there’s no such need to speak.
Such vengeance on yourself you’ve come to wreak
It proves that either anger or dismay 455
Is why you’ve acted in so cruel a way;
You chase no other creature I can see.
Have mercy on yourself, show clemency,
For love of God, or what can help? For east
Or west I’ve never seen a bird or beast 460
So frightful with itself, and truthfully
Your piteous sorrow’s all but slaying me,
I’ve for you such compassion. For God’s love,
Come down from this tree where you sit above.
As I’m true daughter of a king, if I 465
Were certainly to know the reason why
You’re so distressed, if it lay in my might
I would amend it ere the fall of night,
So help me Nature’s God so great and kind!
And herbs this very instant I will find 470
That quickly heal, to make you whole once more.”
The falcon shrieked more pitifully than before,
And swooned and fell down right away, and on
The ground she lay as if dead as a stone,
Till Canace into her lap would take 475
The bird, and she began then to awake.
And after she had come out of her swoon,
In falcon tongue she said, “That pity soon
Will surge and flow inside a gentle heart,
Which sees in other’s pain its counterpart, 480
Is every day displayed, as men may see.
Experience proves, as does authority,
A noble heart will show its nobleness.
I well can see that you for my distress
Show your compassion, my fair Canace, 485
By the true, ladylike benignity
That in you Nature has instilled. It’s not
Now in the hope that better be my lot,
It’s to obey your generous heart and, where
I may, make others by my case beware 490
(As when a lion is chastened when he’s shown
The beating of a whelp–the lion is gone),
That I shall, while I have the time to spend,
Confide my woe ere going to my end.”
And while the one began then to confide 495
Her woe, as if turned into water cried
The other, till this falcon bade her cease,
And with a sigh here’s how she spoke her piece:
“Where I was born–alas, alack the day!–
And fostered in a rock of marble gray 500
So tenderly that nothing threatened me,
I never knew what’s called adversity
Till high up in the heavens I could fly.
A male falcon then came to dwell nearby
Who seemed a spring of all nobility; 505
Though he was full of lying treachery,
It was so wrapped within a humble mien,
So truthful in the way that it was seen,
Disguised as pleasant manner, good intent,
None could have thought that he could so invent, 510
So deeply were his outward colors dyed.
As under flowers will a serpent hide
Till seeing his time to bite, the manner of
This false disciple of the god of love
Was to perform each duty (so it seemed), 515
Each courtesy and ceremony deemed
Appropriate to what is noble love.
Just as a tomb appears so fair above,
And under is the corpse as you’ll admit,
At every turn so was this hypocrite. 520
So he pursued his goal, that’s how he went,
None save the devil knowing his intent,
Till for so long he’d shed tears and complained,
And many a year his service to me feigned,
That my poor heart, too foolish, too consoling, 525
So ignorant of his malice all controlling,
For fear he’d die (as it appeared to me),
Upon the oaths he gave as surety,
Granted him love with but one stipulation:
That always my honor and reputation 530
In public and in private be preserved;
That is to say, as I thought he deserved,
I gave him all my heart and mind–and there
Was only one condition, God’s aware,
As he was too–and took his heart as well. 535
But there’s a truth from days of old they tell:
‘A thief and honest man don’t think the same.’
And when he saw so far had gone his game
That I had fully granted him my love
In such a way as I have said above, 540
And given him my heart as generously
As he had sworn to give his heart to me,
This two-faced tiger went right into motion,
Fell humbly on his knees with such devotion,
With so much high reverence to display, 545
Behaving in a noble lover’s way,
So overcome, as it appeared, with joy,
That neither Jason nor Paris of Troy–
Jason? No other man, it’s surely true,
Since Lamech (who first started loving two, 550
As it is written) has been born on earth,
There hasn’t been a one since Adam’s birth,
Who by one twenty-thousandth of a part
Could imitate the cunning of his art,
Or who’d be worthy to untie his shoe 555
When there is some deceitful thing to do,
Or who could thank someone as he did me!
He had a manner heavenly to see
For any woman, wise be as she may,
For he was groomed in such a careful way 560
In words as well as looks. And all the more
I loved him for his great respect and for
The truthfulness I thought his heart contained,
Till if he might by anything be pained,
However light or tiny be the smart, 565
It felt like death was wrenching my own heart.
Before too long, so far the whole thing went,
My very will was his will’s instrument–
That is to say, my will obeyed his will
In all that reason would permit, though still 570
To honor’s bounds forever to adhere.
I’d never had a thing, God knows, as dear
As him, nor shall again this whole life through.
“This lasted longer than a year or two,
My thinking of him nothing else but good. 575
But Fortune then, the way things finally stood,
Desired that he should have to go away
From where we were and I would have to stay.
That this brought me to woe you needn’t doubt,
Words proper to describe it I’m without; 580
There’s one thing I can boldly tell you, though:
The pain of death I’ve come by it to know,
The hurt of parting caused me so to grieve.
And so it was one day he took his leave,
With so much sorrow that I thought it plain 585
That just as much as I he felt the pain
To hear him speak and see his pallid hue.
But nonetheless I thought that he’d be true,
That it was safe to say he would at last
Return to me when not much time had passed; 590
And as it was with reason he must go,
For sake of honor, as is often so,
I made a virtue of necessity
And took it well since it would have to be.
From him my grief as best I could I hid 595
And took him by the hand, and as I did
I told him by Saint John, ‘I’ll always be
Your own. As I’m to you, be you to me.’
What he replied, no need to say–for who
Can talk as well, then act worse when he’s through? 600
Once he had spoken well, then he was done.
‘When eating with a fiend or devil, one
Should have a lengthy spoon,’ I’ve heard them say.
And so at last he had to go his way,
And off he went until he’d come to where 605
He so desired. And as he rested there,
I think he had in mind the text that went,
‘All things are glad when to their natural bent
They have returned.’ It’s plain, I guess, to see,
Men have a natural love for novelty, 610
As do the birds that people cage and feed;
Though night and day you give them what they need
And line the cage as fair and soft as silk
And give them sugar, honey, bread, and milk,
As soon as opened is his cage’s door 615
He’ll kick his cup right over on the floor
And take off to the woods for worms to eat.
So they would have newfangled kinds of meat,
They love by nature new things to be found;
No nobleness of blood may keep them bound. 620
“So ventured this male falcon, woe is me!
Though young and blithe, born of nobility,
Generous, humble, pleasing to the eye,
He saw a hawk one day go flying by
And with her fell in love so suddenly 625
That all his love was swept away from me.
His pledge to me was broken in this way;
In this hawk’s service is my love today,
And lost without a remedy am I!”
This bird then, after she began to cry, 630
Again swooned in the lap of Canace.
Great was the sorrow for this falcon she
And all her women bore. They didn’t know
How they might bring this falcon out of woe.
Canace took her home, and in her lap 635
With plasters gently she began to wrap
The self-inflicted wounds caused by her beak.
Then Canace could only go and seek
Herbs growing from the ground, new salves to make
From precious, fine-hued herbs that she could take 640
To heal this wounded bird. From day to night
With industry she did all that she might,
And placed a cage beside her bed’s head, too,
And covered it with velvets all of blue,
Sign of the faithfulness in women seen. 645
The cage was on the outside painted green,
Depicted on it all these faithless fowls,
Such birds as these male falcons and the owls;
Depicted, too, were magpies at their side,
That they in spite might cry at them and chide. 650
I leave her caring for her bird. No more
I’ll speak about the curious ring she wore,
Until my purpose shall be to explain
How the falcon would win her love again,
Repentant (the old stories tell us so), 655
By the mediation of Cambalo,
The king’s son of whom I’ve already told.
But henceforth I shall to my subject hold,
Such battles and adventures to discuss
As never heard of, great and marvelous. 660
Some things of Cambuscan first I will say,
Who conquered many a city in his day;
And after I will speak of Algarsyf,
How he won Theodora as his wife,
For whom he was in many a great morass 665
But for assistance from the steed of brass;
Of Cambalo I’ll speak thereafter, who
Fought in the lists against the brothers two
For Canace, she whom he sought to win.
Where I left off I shall once more begin. 670
Apollo whirled his chariot up high
Till in the house of Mercury the sly–
(Unfinished by Chaucer)