These old and noble Bretons in their days
Would turn diverse adventures into lays 710
That, rhymed in the original Breton tongue,
Accompanied by instruments were sung
Or else they would be read at people’s leisure.
There’s one I still remember, and with pleasure
I’ll tell it for you now as best I can. 715
But, sirs, because I am a simple man,
Right at the very start I would beseech
That you excuse my ignorant form of speech.
I’ve never studied rhetoric, no way,
So plain and bare must be what I’ve to say. 720
I’ve never slept on Mount Parnassus, no,
Nor studied Marcus Tullius Cicero.
I don’t know any colors, none indeed,
Except the colors growing on the mead
Or used by men to dye or paint; to me 725
Colors of rhetoric are a mystery,
My spirit simply has no feel for such.
But if you’d hear my tale, you’ll hear as much.
The Franklin’s Tale
In Armorica, now called Brittany,
A knight once lived and served laboriously 730
A lady in the best way that he could.
At many undertakings great and good
He for his lady worked ere she was won;
As lovely as any under the sun
This lady was, and of high birth as well, 735
So that for fear this knight scarce dared to tell
His woe to her, his pain and his distress.
But she at last, seeing his worthiness,
Especially the reverence he’d shown,
Such pity felt at all he’d undergone 740
That privately she made with him accord
To take him as her husband and her lord,
To grant lordship as men have over wives.
That they the more in bliss might lead their lives,
He freely gave his promise as a knight 745
That never in his life by day or night
He’d take upon himself the mastery
Against her will nor show her jealousy;
He’d be obedient, will what she would,
As every lover to his lady should, 750
Save that he’d keep in name the sovereignty
Lest he be shamed in light of his degree.
She thanked him, and with utmost humbleness
She told him, “Sire, since in your nobleness
So free a rein you offer, may God grant 755
That twixt us two through guilt of mine there shan’t
Be ever once a case of war or strife.
Sir, I will be your true and humble wife;
Till my heart break, here is my pledge to you.”
Relieved and put at ease then were the two. 760
For one thing, sires, I safely dare to say,
And that is, friends each other must obey
If long they wish their friendship be sustained.
Love will not be by mastership constrained;
When mastery comes, the God of Love will on 765
The instant beat his wings–farewell, he’s gone!
Love is a thing like any spirit free,
And women want by nature liberty,
Not hindrance like a thrall. If I shall tell
The total truth, that’s what men want as well. 770
He who in love maintains his patience best
Has the advantage over all the rest;
For patience is a virtue, to be sure,
And vanquishes–these students will assure–
More than do rigorous ways. At every word 775
Men shouldn’t chide, complaint should not be heard;
Learn sufferance or, as surely as I
May walk, you’ll learn whether or not you try.
There’s no man in this world, I’m sure of this,
Who doesn’t sometimes err or speak amiss; 780
For anger, woe, some starry constellation,
Wine, sickness, or a humor alteration
Can often cause wrong word or deed. But still
A man can’t be avenged for every ill,
So moderation has to be the goal 785
Of each who knows the art of self-control.
This wise and worthy knight, that they therefore
Might live in ease, his sufferance to her swore,
And she then surely swore to him in kind
That in her not one fault he’d ever find. 790
Here may men see a humble, wise accord,
She takes him as her servant and her lord
(Servant in love, in marriage lord). So viewed,
He was in both lordship and servitude.
In servitude? No, he was lord above, 795
As he had both his lady and his love–
His lady, surely, and his wife as well,
Consenting under law of love to dwell.
And when he had this happiness in hand,
He took his wife home to his native land, 800
Not far from Penmarch, that is where he’d live,
In all the bliss that life had come to give.
Who could relate, unless he wedded be,
The joy, the comfort, and prosperity
That is between a husband and his wife? 805
A year and more would last this blissful life,
Until this knight–Arveragus by name,
His home Kayrrud-in hope of gaining fame
Left on a trip, a year or two to dwell
In England (known as Britain then as well), 810
In arms renown and honor to acquire,
The labor in which lay his heart’s desire.
He dwelt two years, the book says, on that isle.
Arveragus I now will leave awhile
And speak instead of Dorigen his wife, 815
Who loved him in her heart as much as life.
His absence made her weep, she sighed and pined,
As do these noble wives when so inclined.
She mourned and wailed, she fasted, lost her rest,
By longing for his presence so distressed 820
That all this world she looked upon as naught.
Her friends, who knew the burden of her thought,
Would comfort her in every way they might.
They preached to her, they told her day and night
She’d grieve herself to death, no cause, alas! 825
Each comfort they could hope to bring to pass
They offered her in all their busyness
To make her leave her burden of distress.
In time, as by each one of you is known,
Men may engrave so long upon a stone 830
Some form’s imprint at last will be perceived.
So long they had consoled her, she received
Both by their hope and reasoning’s dictation
At last the imprint of their consolation
And her great sorrow started to subside; 835
Such pain much longer she could not abide.
Also Arveragus, in all this care,
Sent letters home to tell of his welfare
And that he’d soon be coming back again;
If not, for grieving heart she’d have been slain. 840
Her friends observed her sorrow start to ease
And begged her for God’s sake, upon their knees,
To take a walk with them, to drive away
The last of heavy thoughts, her dark dismay.
And she at last then granted their request, 845
For well she saw that it was for the best.
Their castle where it stood was by the sea,
And often with her friends she playfully
Would walk upon the bank. It was so high
That many a vessel she saw sailing by, 850
Their courses set for where they wished to go.
Yet this was part and parcel of her woe,
For to herself she often said, “Alas!
Is there no ship, of all that I see pass,
That will bring home my lord? Then would my heart 855
Be cured of bitter pain, of all its smart.”
At other times there too she’d sit and think,
And cast her eyes far downward from the brink;
She’d see the black and grisly rocks below,
Her heart for fear then quaking in her so 860
She couldn’t stand up on her feet. Then she
Would sit down on the green, and piteously
Toward the waters she would cast her eyes
And speak this way with cold and mournful sighs:
“Eternal God who through thy providence 865
Doth lead the world and govern its events,
Thou shan’t create in vain, as men well know.
But, Lord, these black and grisly rocks below,
So fiendish, seem to me foul aberration
Of labor and not any fair creation 870
Of such a perfect, wise, and stable Lord.
Why hast thou wrought this work that’s so untoward?
For by these rocks not south, north, west nor east
Has help been given man nor bird nor beast;
I know no good they do, they but annoy. 875
Dost thou not see how mankind they destroy?
By rocks a hundred thousand have been slain,
Though of it men no thought might entertain,
While of thy labor man’s so fair a part,
Created in thy image. At the start 880
It seemed therefore thou hadst great charity
Toward mankind, and how then can it be
That mankind thou wouldst by such means destroy
That mean no good but ever shall annoy?
I’m well aware that students will contest 885
By arguments that all is for the best,
Although the causes I can never know.
May that same God who causes wind to blow
Protect my lord! And that is my summation,
To students I will leave all disputation. 890
But these black rocks if only God would make
Sink into hell, for his own mercy’s sake!
They’re slaying me, my heart so full of fear.”
So would she speak with many a piteous tear.
Her friends saw that it soothed her not a bit 895
To roam the bank, the effect was opposite;
And so they made arrangements that instead
By rivers and by streams she then be led
To many another place of pleasantness;
They danced, they played backgammon, too, and chess. 900
Now one fine day, not too long after dawn,
Into a nearby garden they had gone,
In which they had arranged to be provided
With victuals and such else as they’d decided,
And there they frolicked all the livelong day. 905
This happened on the sixth morning of May,
May having painted with its tender showers
This garden full of many leaves and flowers;
And man’s hand with its craft so skillfully
This garden had arranged that truthfully 910
There’d never grown one like it, such a prize,
Unless you count the one of Paradise;
So fresh the smell of flowers and the sight,
There’s not a heart that wouldn’t there be light
Unless some illness had it in distress 915
Or some great sorrow held it in duress.
Amid this pleasant beauty they had soon
Begun to dance (the time was nearly noon)
And sang as well–save Dorigen alone,
Who’d still speak of her woe and ever moan, 920
Not there among the dancers in her view
The one who was her love and husband too.
For longer time she nonetheless must wait
In all good hope, and let her grief abate.
During this dance, there was among the men 925
A squire before the eyes of Dorigen,
One livelier and brighter in array,
If I can judge, than is the month of May.
He better sang and danced than any man
Who is or was since this whole world began. 930
If one were to describe him, he’d belong
Among the fairest men alive; a strong
Young man, right virtuous, one rich and wise,
One loved and well esteemed in others’ eyes.
And shortly, if the truth I shall declare 935
(Though Dorigen of this was unaware),
This lusty squire, this servitor of Venus–
Who, by the way, was named Aurelius–
Loved her above all others, such his fate
For longer than two years, while all the wait 940
He never dared his longing to confess.
Without a cup he drank of deep distress;
Despairing, not a thing he dared to say,
Save that he in a very general way
Would sing about the woe that made him yearn, 945
To love and not to be loved in return.
Upon the subject he wrote many lays,
Sad songs of love, roundels and virelays,
On how his sorrow he dared not to tell
But languished like a Fury does in hell; 950
And die he must, he said, as did Echo
For Narcissus (she couldn’t tell her woe).
But in no other manner, as I say,
He’d ever dare his woe to her betray,
Except perhaps that sometimes at a dance 955
Where folks observe the rituals of romance
It may well be he looked upon her face
In such a way as one might ask for grace;
But still she’d no idea of his intent.
It happened, though, as from this place they went, 960
By reason of the fact he was her neighbor–
One folks respected, looked upon with favor–
And as she’d known this squire since long before,
The two began conversing; and the more
They talked the closer would Aurelius draw 965
Toward his aim, until his time he saw:
“Madam, by God who made this world,” said he,
“If I knew that your heart would brighter be,
I wish that day when your Arveragus
Went overseas that I, Aurelius, 970
Had gone somewhere whence I’d not come again.
For well I know my service is in vain,
My love’s reward a broken heart. Have rue,
My lady, on my smarting pain, for you
Have with a word the power to slay or save. 975
Would God that at your feet might be my grave!
I’ve no time now to spare that more be said;
Have mercy, sweet, unless you’d have me dead!”
Then at Aurelius the lady stared.
“Is this your will,” she said, “what you’ve declared? 980
I never knew before just what you meant.
Now that I know, Aurelie, your intent,
By that same God who gave me soul and life,
I never shall be so untrue a wife
In word or deed, as long as I’ve the wit. 985
I always will be his to whom I’m knit,
And you can take that as my final say.”
But after that she spoke to him in play:
“Aurelius,” said she, “by God above,
Yet I would grant you that I’d be your love, 990
Since I see you complain so piteously.
That day when from the coast of Brittany
You’ve taken all the rocks, stone after stone,
Till ship and boat have freely come and gone–
I say, when you have made the coast so clean, 995
So clear of rocks, that not a stone is seen,
I’ll love you more than any other man,
You have my oath, as fully as I can.”
“No other way to win your grace?” asked he.
“No, by that Lord who made me,” answered she. 1000
“I know it can’t be done, so from the start
Dismiss such foolish notions from your heart.
What man should have such pleasure in his life
As to go love another fellow’s wife
Who has her body anytime he please?” 1005
Many a sigh the squire now sadly breathes,
So filled with woe when she had had her say.
With saddened heart he answered in this way:
“Madam, the task is one impossible!
Quick death be mine, however horrible.” 1010
With that he turned away. There followed then
Her many other friends, together in
A group as they were strolling here and there,
Of this discussion wholly unaware;
The revel then at once began anew 1015
And lasted till the bright sun lost its hue,
Till the horizon robbed the sun of light–
Which is the same as saying it was night–
And home they went, the night in joy to pass,
Except for poor Aurelius, alas! 1020
For he went home with sorrow in his breast,
Saw no escape from his eternal rest,
So cold, he felt, his heart already grown.
He raised his hands toward the heavens, on
His two bare knees got down and said a prayer 1025
As if gone raving mad from pure despair,
So urgent in the way he started praying
He didn’t even know what he was saying.
With piteous heart this plaint he had begun
To all the gods, and first of all the sun: 1030
He said, “Apollo, god and source of power
Of every plant and herb, each tree and flower,
Who gives to each its season of the year
Depending on how distant you appear,
Your house forever moving, low and high– 1035
Lord Phoebus, cast your sympathetic eye
On poor Aurelius who’s simply lost.
See how my lady’s sworn, my death the cost
Though I am guiltless. Lord, benignity!
My heart is all but dead inside of me. 1040
If you but will, I know without a doubt,
Save only her you best can help me out.
Allow me to describe for you the way
In which you might assist me, if I may.
“Your blissful sister, Lucina the Sheen, 1045
Is of the sea chief goddess and the queen
(Though Neptune is the deity of the sea,
As empress she is higher ranked than he);
And well you know that just as her desire
Is to be lit and quickened by your fire, 1050
For which she follows you so busily,
To follow her as well is naturally
The sea’s desire–she’s goddess, after all,
Of both the sea and rivers big and small.
This miracle, Lord Phoebus, I request 1055
(Or else my heart now burst within my breast):
When next in Leo’s sign is your position,
You and Lucina then in opposition,
I pray she’ll bring so great a flood to sweep
This Breton coast, at least five fathoms deep 1060
Shall lie the highest rock that now appears;
And let that flood endure for two whole years.
Then surely to my lady I can say,
‘Now keep your word, the rocks have gone away.’
“This miracle, Lord Phoebus, do for me. 1065
And pray the course she runs no faster be
Than yours; I say, pray that your sister run
No faster course than yours, till two years done.
Then always at the fullest she will stay,
The flood of spring will last both night and day. 1070
If she will thus consent and grant to me
My lady sovereign and dear, may she
Sink every rock, each one that’s to be found,
Into her own dark region underground
Where Pluto dwells, or nevermore shall I 1075
My lady win. Your temple in Delphi
Both humbly and barefooted I will seek.
Lord Phoebus, see the tears upon my cheek,
Have for me some compassion.” And as soon
As he was through he fell down in a swoon, 1080
Lay in a trance wherein he’d long remain.
His brother, who was privy to his pain,
Then picked him up and carried him to bed.
In this despair, with his tormented head,
I’ll leave this woeful creature, let him lie, 1085
The choice be his to live or else to die.
Arveragus in honor, health, and power,
As one who is of chivalry the flower,
Came home again with other worthy men.
O blissful may you be now, Dorigen, 1090
To hold your lusty husband in your arms,
This worthy knight, returned from war’s alarms,
Who loves you as his own heart’s blood. No word
Of love did he suspect she might have heard
From someone else while he was gone, no fear 1095
He had of that. To share with her good cheer,
To dance and joust, was all he had in mind,
He entertained no doubts of any kind.
And so in bliss I leave these two to dwell,
And of the sick Aurelius I’ll tell. 1100
The wretch in languor, torment, awful anguish,
For more than two years lay in bed to languish
Before again he set foot on the ground.
And in this time no comforter he found
Save for his brother, who was then a student 1105
And knew his woe and work; for he was prudent
And to no other soul, no need to doubt,
He dared to let one word of it get out.
His secret in his breast he better hid
Than Pamphilus for Galatea did; 1110
Though in his breast no wound was to be seen,
The arrow in his heart was ever keen.
As you well know, a wound healed outwardly
Is hardly cured unless the surgery
Includes the arrow having been withdrawn. 1115
In private would his brother weep and moan,
Until the thought occurred to him by chance
That while he’d been at Orleans in France
(As all young students read so eagerly
Of the occult, and search incessantly, 1120
Turn every nook and cranny inside out,
For esoteric arts to learn about)–
At Orleans, he happened to recall,
One day he’d seen a book in study hall
On natural magic, one which, as he saw, 1125
A friend of his, a student of the law
(Though learning craft of quite another kind),
Had hidden at his desk and left behind.
This book had much to say on operations
Touching on the eight and twenty stations 1130
Or mansions of the moon–which is to say
It dealt with stuff not worth a fly today;
For Holy Church’s faith, as we believe,
Guards us from all that’s practiced to deceive.
And when this book had come again to mind, 1135
His heart began to dance, such joy to find.
“My brother right away shall have his cure,”
He thought, “for there are sciences, I’m sure,
By which men may deceive with apparitions,
Diverse illusions, much as these magicians 1140
So subtly perform though all in play.
Magicians, I have often heard them say
At feasts, can in a large hall make appear
Both water and a boat in which to steer,
And in the hall go rowing all about. 1145
Sometimes a lion comes, or flowers sprout,
It seems, as in a mead; sometimes instead
They make appear a vine, grapes white and red,
Sometimes a castle made of lime and stone;
And then at once, when they so please, it’s gone. 1150
So it would seem to every fellow’s sight.
“Now here’s what I conclude: if but I might
At Orleans in France some old friend find
Who has these lunar mansions well in mind,
Or natural magic even higher, then 1155
His lady he should make my brother win.
Illusion such a man can so devise
That here in Brittany, before one’s eyes,
All black rocks he can make to disappear,
And to and from the shore have vessels steer, 1160
And make such ruse endure a week or so.
And that would cure my brother of his woe;
She’d have to keep her promise as she swore,
Or else he’d have her shamed if nothing more.”
Why should I make a longer tale of this? 1165
He goes back to his brother’s bed, such bliss
To give him by the notion they depart
For Orleans, he jumped up with a start;
Now forward with his brother he would fare
In hope of finding easement from his care. 1170
When to that city they had nearly come
(They lacked a furlong, two or three or some),
They met a strolling scholar who was young;
He gave them greeting in the Latin tongue
With all respect, then said a wondrous thing: 1175
“I know,” said he, “why you’ve come journeying.”
And then before another foot they went,
He told them what in fact was their intent.
This Breton student asked what he might know
About some friends he’d had there long ago, 1180
And he replied that all of them were dead;
Then many a tear the Breton student shed.
Aurelius dismounted, no delay,
And went with this magician straightaway
Home to his house, and there they took their leisure; 1185
There was no lack of victuals for their pleasure.
No other house like this, so well supplied,
In all his life Aurelie ever spied.
Before they supped this fellow showed to him
Some forests, parks, with wild deer to the brim; 1190
There he saw harts, their antlers standing high,
The greatest ever seen by human eye;
He saw a hundred slain with hounds, and more
That bled with bitter wounds as arrows bore.
He saw, when these wild deer no more were there, 1195
Some falconers along a river fair,
As with their hawks the herons they had slain.
Then he saw knights out jousting on a plain;
And after this, he gave him such delight,
Showed him his lady dancing; at the sight, 1200
He danced right there beside her, so he thought.
And when this master who this magic wrought
Saw it was time, he clapt his hands–farewell!
The revelry was gone, no more to tell.
And yet out of the house they never went 1205
While seeing all these sights of wonderment,
But in his study, by his books and shelves,
The three of them still sat all by themselves.
This master called his squire then to inquire
About their supper. “Is it ready, squire? 1210
It’s been almost an hour, I declare,
Since I bid you our supper to prepare,
Back when these worthy fellows came to me
Here to my study where my volumes be.”
“Sir,” said the squire, “when it so pleases you, 1215
It’s ready, you can eat without ado.”
“Then let us sup,” said he, “it’s for the best,
For folks in love must sometimes have their rest.”
When they had supped, they then negotiated
About what sum he should be compensated, 1220
From Brittany all rocks should he dispel
From the Gironde up to the Seine as well.
He made it hard: God save him, so he swore,
A thousand pounds he’d want, if not some more,
And even then not gladly he would start. 1225
Aurelius at once, with blissful heart,
Replied, “Fie on it to the thousandth pound!
This whole wide world, which men have said is round,
I’d gladly give if of it I were lord.
The bargain’s made, for we are in accord. 1230
You truly shall be paid, I swear it! See
That by no sloth or negligence, though, we
Shall have to wait here longer than tomorrow.”
“You won’t,” said he, “you have my word to borrow.”
Aurelius to bed went when he pleased, 1235
And well nigh all that night he rested, eased;
What with his toil and hope of bliss, that night
His woeful heart at last had some respite.
When morning came, as soon as it was day,
For Brittany Aurelie right away 1240
Departed, this magician by his side,
And on arrival they would there abide.
And this was, in the books as I remember,
The cold and frosty season of December.
Now Phoebus waned, like latten was his hue, 1245
For his hot declination now was through.
Like burnished gold he’d shone, his beaming bright;
In Capricorn now faded was his light
And palely did he shine, I dare to tell.
From bitter frosts, from sleet and rain as well, 1250
The green from every yard has disappeared;
Sits Janus by the fire with double beard
And drinks out of his bugle horn the wine;
Before him stands the meat of tusky swine,
“Noel” is every lusty fellow’s cry. 1255
Aurelius did all that he could try
To show this master cheer and reverence,
And prayed that he perform with diligence
To bring him out of his pain’s bitter smart,
Or with a sword he then would split his heart. 1260
This scholar felt such pity for the man
That day and night he worked upon his plan,
To spot the time propitious for conclusion–
That is, when best to create the illusion,
By some appearance or by jugglery 1265
(I don’t know terms used in astrology),
Till she and every man would have to say
That all the Breton rocks were gone away
Or at the least were sunken underground.
And so at last the proper time he found 1270
To perpetrate his tricks, the wickedness
Of all such superstitious cursedness.
He had Toledo tables, well corrected,
And brought them out, and tables he’d collected
To calculate each planetary year; 1275
He had his list of roots and other gear
Such as his centers and his arguments,
His tables on proportions, elements,
On everything of use for his equations.
And in the eighth sphere, by his calculations, 1280
He knew where Alnath moved, how far away
From that fixed head of Aries, which they say
Can always in the ninth sphere be located.
With shrewdness all of this he calculated.
On finding his first lunar mansion, he 1285
Could figure out the rest proportionally;
He knew the rising of his moon, where at
And in whose face, which term, and all of that;
And he knew well which mansion would be best
For putting his proposal to the test, 1290
And knew as well his other calculations
For such illusions and abominations
As heathen folk were using in that day.
No longer this magician would delay,
But through his magic for a week or more 1295
It seemed like all the rocks had left the shore.
Aurelius, still wondering in despair
If he would have his love or badly fare,
Awaited day and night this miracle;
And when he knew there was no obstacle, 1300
That every rock was gone, without delay
He fell down at his master’s feet to say,
“I, woeful wretch Aurelius, to you
Give all my thanks, to Lady Venus too,
For helping me out of my cold dismay.” 1305
He went then to the temple right away
Where he knew that his lady he would see;
And when he saw his time, immediately,
With fearful heart and full of humble cheer,
He greeted there his sovereign lady dear. 1310
“My righteous lady,” said this woeful man,
“Whom I must fear and love as best I can,
For all this world I’d bring you no dismay;
And were I not for you in such a way
That I may die right here before I’m through, 1315
Of all my woe I’d not be telling you.
But either I must die or else complain;
You’re killing me, though guiltless, by the pain.
Though you’ll not mourn my death, think carefully
Before you break the promise made to me; 1320
You should repent, by that same God above,
Before you kill me. For it’s you I love,
And, madam, you well know your promise, too,
Though nothing may I claim by right from you
Except, my sovereign lady, by your grace. 1325
Out yonder in a garden–blessed place–
You know right well that you made me a vow:
You put your hand in mine and promised how
You’d love me best. God knows, you told me so,
Though I may be unworthy, well I know. 1330
I say this, madam, for your honor’s sake
More than to save my life, right here at stake.
For I have done as you commanded me;
If you desire, then go yourself and see.
Do as you like, remember what you said, 1335
Right there’s where I’ll be found, alive or dead.
My life or death, on that you have the say,
But well I know the rocks have gone away.”
She stood astounded as he took his leave;
Her face was bloodless, she could not believe 1340
She’d fallen into such a trap. “Alas,”
She said, “that this could ever come to pass!
I never saw the possibility
That such a monstrous thing could ever be!
It’s something that’s against all natural law.” 1345
The saddest creature that you ever saw,
She scarcely made it home, so great her woe.
She wept and wailed then for a day or so,
With fainting spells heartrending to behold.
To no one, though, the cause she ever told, 1350
For out of town Arveragus had gone.
She spoke to no one but herself alone,
With pallid face and total lack of cheer,
And in her plaint she spoke as you shall hear:
“Alas! to you, O Fortune, I complain, 1355
For by surprise you’ve wrapped me in your chain;
I’ve no escape, no help to bring me through
But death or else dishonor. Of the two,
I must decide which one is best to choose.
But nonetheless my life I’d rather lose 1360
Than bring upon my body such a shame,
To know I am untrue, lose my good name;
I know I’ll be at peace when gone is life.
Have many a maiden, many a noble wife,
Before not slain themselves–ah welladay!– 1365
Rather than with their bodies go astray?
“Indeed these stories illustrate the facts:
When thirty tyrants, full of wicked acts,
Slew Phidon the Athenian while he dined,
They ordered that his daughters be confined, 1370
Then had them all paraded, for despite,
Before them naked, for their foul delight,
And on the pavement made them dance about
In their own father’s blood. God curse the rout!
And then these woeful maidens, full of dread, 1375
Rather than lose each one her maidenhead,
Went secretly and jumped into a well
And drowned themselves, as these old stories tell.
“The Messenians, too, a favor sought
From Sparta: fifty virgins to be brought, 1380
On whom they might perform their lechery.
There wasn’t one in all that company
Who didn’t kill herself, with good intent:
Each chose to die before she’d give assent
To be defiled and lose her maidenhead. 1385
And so to die why should I be in dread?
Behold the tyrant Aristoclides
Who loved a maiden named Stymphalides;
Upon her father’s murder late one night,
Straight to Diana’s temple she took flight; 1390
She grabbed hold of the image where it stood
And wouldn’t leave, indeed she never would:
No one could pry her loose from it again
Till in that very temple she was slain.
“Now as these maidens had such great despite 1395
For men who would befoul them for delight,
So should a wife choose rather suicide
Than be defiled, of that I’m satisfied.
What shall I tell you of Hasdrubal’s wife,
Who at the fall of Carthage took her life? 1400
For when she saw that Rome had won the town,
She took all of her children and leapt down
Into the fire, for dead she’d rather be
Than suffer any Roman’s villainy.
Did not Lucretia kill herself? Alas, 1405
When ravishment by Tarquin came to pass
At Rome, did she not think it then a shame
To go on living, perished her good name?
The seven maidens of Miletus, too,
Destroyed themselves, their dread and anguish through, 1410
Before the Gauls could do them wickedness.
More than a thousand stories, I would guess,
Upon this matter I could now relate.
When slain was Abradates, his dear mate
Took her own life, mixed her own blood inside 1415
Of Abradates’ wounds so deep and wide;
‘At least,’ she said, ‘I’ve done all that I can
To see my body’s ravished by no man.’
“Why should I more examples here provide,
So many by their own hands having died 1420
Rather than be defiled? And so I say
That suicide’s for me the better way,
To kill myself before I’m ravished too.
For I will to Arveragus be true
Or somehow slay myself. So, too, in strife 1425
Demotion’s daughter took her own dear life
Rather than have to face such ravishing.
O Scedasus, how pitiful a thing
To read of how your daughters died, alas!
They slew themselves in similar morass. 1430
I judge as great a pity, if not more,
The Theban maiden, fearing Nicanor,
Who took her life, so similar her woe.
Another Theban maiden did just so;
Raped by a Macedonian, for dread 1435
She with her death avenged her maidenhead.
Shall I speak of Niceratus’s wife,
Who for such woe bereft herself of life?
To Alcibiades how faithful, too,
His lover was: she chose, though death her due, 1440
Not to allow his corpse to go unburied.
How great Alcestis was among all married.
And what says Homer of Penelope?
All Greece knew of her blessed chastity.
And of Laodamia old books tell 1445
That when at Troy Protesilaus fell,
She’d live no longer than his dying day.
The same of noble Portia I can say;
She couldn’t live when Brutus lost his life,
Her heart his so completely. As a wife 1450
Artemisia was beyond compare,
She’s honored by the heathen everywhere.
O Tauta, queen! your wifely chastity
May to all other wives a mirror be.
The same thing I can say of Bilia, 1455
Of Rhodogune, and of Valeria.”
A day or two thus Dorigen would cry,
Proposing all the while that she must die.
However, on the third night of her plight
Arveragus came home, this worthy knight, 1460
And asked her what she wept so strongly for,
And she began to weep then all the more.
“Alas,” she said, “that ever I was born!
For here’s what I have said, here’s what I’ve sworn”–
She told him all that you’ve already heard, 1465
There’s no need to repeat a single word.
Her husband like a friend and in good cheer
Then answered her as you’re about to hear:
“Now, Dorigen, there’s nothing else but this?”
“No,” she replied, “may God bring me to bliss! 1470
And this is too much, even if God’s will.”
“Ah, wife,” said he, “leave sleeping what is still.
Perhaps things soon will all be well. But now,
Upon my faith, you’ll be true to your vow!
As surely as may God be kind to me, 1475
Dead from a stabbing I would rather be,
Because of this deep love I have for you,
Than see you to your promise be untrue.
A vow’s the highest thing that one may keep”–
Then he broke down at once, began to weep, 1480
And said, “I now forbid on pain of death
That you should ever while you’ve life or breath
Tell anyone of this in any way–
My woe I’ll have to bear as best I may–
Or in your countenance show a distress 1485
By which folks might divine the harm or guess.”
He called a squire and maiden to him then
And said, “Now go at once with Dorigen,
Escort her to a place without delay.”
They took their leave and went upon their way 1490
But didn’t know why to this place she went.
He didn’t tell a soul of the intent.
Now there may be a heap of you, I know,
Who think this man a fool for doing so,
That willingly his wife he’d jeopardize. 1495
But hear the tale before you criticize;
She may have better fortune than you’ve guessed,
And you may judge when you have heard the rest.
It happened that Aurelius, the squire
Who for her was so amorously afire, 1500
Right in the heart of town she chanced to meet;
For she along the town’s most crowded street
Was headed straight toward the garden where
She’d keep the promise she had made. And there
Aurelius was on his way as well; 1505
For he had watched her house so he could tell
When she might leave to head for any place.
And so they met, by accident or grace,
And cheerfully he gave her salutation
And asked her what might be her destination. 1510
She answered as if half out of her head:
“Out to the garden, as my husband said,
To keep my vow. Alas, I’m so distraught!”
Aurelius then gave this matter thought,
As in his heart he had such great compassion 1515
For Dorigen, lamenting in this fashion,
And for Arveragus, this worthy knight
Who bade that she be faithful to her plight,
So loath to see his wife break any vow.
And in his heart he had great pity now; 1520
Looking for what was best from every side,
He’d rather leave his lust unsatisfied
Than do this churlish deed, so wretchedly
To act against such fine nobility;
These were the few words of Aurelius: 1525
“Now, Madam, tell your lord Arveragus
That since I see this man’s great nobleness
Toward you, and I see, too, your distress,
That rather he’d have shame–sad that would be–
Than have you break the vow you made to me, 1530
I’d rather suffer woe my whole life through
Than to divide the love between you two.
So, madam, I release you here and now,
Returning to your hand each oath and vow
That you have ever made to me or sworn 1535
Back to the very day that you were born.
I pledge my word, you I will never grieve
For any promise. Here I take my leave,
And of the truest and most perfect wife
That I have ever met in all my life.” 1540
In what you promise, every wife, take care!
At least remember Dorigen, beware.
So can a squire perform a noble act
As well as can a knight, and that’s a fact.
On her bare knees she thanked Aurelius, 1545
Then went home to her mate Arveragus
And told him all as you’ve already heard.
He was so satisfied, upon my word,
It’s more than I could possibly relate.
Why should I more upon this matter state? 1550
Arveragus and Dorigen his wife
In sovereign bliss were then to share their life,
Not once did any anger come between.
He cherished her as if she were a queen,
And she was true to him eternally. 1555
On these two folks you’ll get no more from me.
Aurelius, by his expense forlorn,
Now curst the time that ever he was born.
“Alas,” said he, “I pledged, I can’t withhold,
A thousand pounds by weight of finest gold 1560
To this philosopher! What shall I do?
There’s nothing I can say but that I’m through.
My heritage I now will have to sell
And be a beggar; here I cannot dwell
And shame all of my kindred in this place, 1565
Unless from him I get some better grace.
But still I’ll try to set with him a way
Whereby on certain days I yearly pay,
And thank him, too, for his great courtesy.
I’ll keep my word, I’ll speak no falsity.” 1570
With heavy heart he goes into his coffer
And brings to this magician gold to offer,
Five hundred pounds (so I guess it would be),
And asked if out of generosity
He’d grant him time, the rest of it to pay; 1575
He told him, “Master, I am proud to say
I’ve never failed to keep a promise yet.
For certainly I’ll satisfy the debt
I owe to you, however I may fare,
Though I go begging in my girdle bare. 1580
But if you’ll grant me, on this surety,
Extended time, two years or maybe three,
Then I’ll be well; if not, I’ll have to sell
My heritage; there is no more to tell.”
Then this magician answered in this way, 1585
On hearing what the fellow had to say:
“Have I not kept my covenant with you?”
“Yes, certainly,” he answered, “well and true.”
“Have you not had your lady, your desire?”
“No, no,” with woeful sigh replied the squire. 1590
“What was the reason? Tell me if you can.”
Aurelius his tale at once began
And told him all as you have heard before;
There is no need to tell you any more.
He said, “Arveragus, through nobleness, 1595
Would rather be in sorrow and distress
Than have his wife be to her vow untrue.”
Of Dorigen’s great woe he told him, too,
How loath she was to be a wicked wife
And that she’d rather lose that day her life, 1600
And that her vow through innocence she swore,
For of such magic she’d not heard before.
“I had such pity on her then,” said he,
“As freely as he had her sent to me
I freely sent her back to him again. 1605
And that’s the whole, there’s no more to explain.”
Then this magician answered, “My dear brother,
Each of you acted nobly to the other.
You are a squire, Arveragus a knight;
But God forbid, in all his blissful might, 1610
That any scholar could not bring about
A deed that’s just as noble. Never doubt!
“Sir, I release you from the thousand pound
As if right now you’d crept out of the ground
And never once till now of me you knew. 1615
For not a penny will I take from you
For all my craft or for my labor. Sire,
You’ve paid me well, I’ve all that I require.
And that’s enough, so farewell and good day!”
And on his horse he went forth on his way. 1620
To you this question, lords, I now address:
Which one of them showed greatest nobleness?
Give me your thoughts before we further wend.
That’s all I have, my tale is at an end.