Once upon a time, old stories tell us,
There was a duke whose name was Theseus. 860
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time was such a conqueror
That none was greater underneath the sun,
So many wealthy countries he had won.
What with his wisdom and his chivalry, 865
He conquered all the realm of Femeny,
Which then was known as Scythia, and married
The queen named Hippolyta, whom he carried
Back home with him amid much pageantry
And glorious ceremony. Emily, 870
Her younger sister, also went along.
And so in victory and glorious song
I leave this noble duke as he is bound
For Athens, with his warriors all around.
And if there weren’t so much to hear, I now 875
Would fully have related for you how
That land was won, the realm of Femeny,
By Theseus and by his chivalry;
I’d tell you of the battle that was waged
As Athens and the Amazons engaged, 880
And of the siege in which was finally seen
Defeat for Scythia’s fair and hardy queen,
And of the feast upon their wedding day
And the rousing welcome home. But as I say,
I must forbear describing all that now. 885
I have, God knows, a lot of field to plow,
The oxen in my yoke have got it rough.
And since the rest of my tale’s long enough,
Not holding back the group is my concern;
Let every fellow tell his tale in turn 890
And let us see who shall the supper win.
Where I left off, then, I’ll once more begin.
This duke of whom I spoke, when he almost
Had reached the gates of town with all his host,
In such high spirits and so full of pride, 895
Became aware, as he looked to the side,
That kneeling by the road there was in rue
A company of ladies, two by two,
One pair behind another, in black dress.
So woeful were the cries of their distress 900
No living creature ever heard before
Such lamentation uttered. Furthermore
They did not cease until his horse was idle,
For they had grabbed the reins upon its bridle.
“What folk are you, against our joy vying, 905
Disturbing our homecoming with your crying?”
Said Theseus. “So envious can you be
That you protest the honor given me?
Or who mistreated you, who has offended?
And tell me if the damage can be mended, 910
And why it is in black you are arrayed.”
The eldest lady answered, though she swayed
Half in a swoon of such deathlike degree
It was a pity both to hear and see.
“My lord,” she said, “whom Fortune chose to give 915
The victory, as conqueror to live,
Your glory and honor are not our grief,
It’s mercy that we’re seeking and relief.
Have mercy on our woe and our distress!
Some drop of pity, through your gentleness, 920
Upon us wretched women please let fall.
In truth, my lord, there’s none among us all
Who hasn’t been a duchess or a queen;
Now we are wretches. As may well be seen,
Thanks be to Fortune’s faithless wheel, there’s no 925
One whose well-being is assured. And so,
My lord, that in your presence we might be,
The temple of the goddess Clemency
Is where we’ve waited for a whole fortnight.
Help us, my lord, if it be in your might. 930
“The wretch I am, now weeping, wailing thus,
Was once the wife of King Capaneus,
Who died at Thebes–and cursed be that day!
And all of us you see in this array
Are crying so, our spirits beaten down, 935
Because we lost our husbands in that town
During the time that under siege it lay.
And yet this old Creon–ah, wellaway!–
Who is in Thebes, now lord of all the city,
Iniquitous and ireful, without pity, 940
Has for despite and by his tyranny
Inflicted on their bodies villainy:
The corpses of our lords, all of them slain,
He threw into a heap where they have lain,
For he gives no assent, will not allow 945
That they be burnt or buried, rather now
He makes hounds eat them, such is his despite.”
And with that word, they cried without respite
And then they groveled, weeping piteously.
“Have mercy for us wretched,” was their plea, 950
“Your heart be open to our grief today.”
This gentle duke dismounted right away
With pitying heart when hearing these words spoken.
He felt as if his heart were nearly broken,
To see so pitiful, in such a strait, 955
Those who had once been of such great estate.
He took them in his arms then and consoled them;
He comforted as best he could, and told them
That by his oath, that of a faithful knight,
He would do all that lay within his might 960
Upon this tyrant vengefulness to wreak,
That afterwards all those in Greece might speak
Of how Creon by Theseus was served
His just deserts, the death he so deserved.
Immediately, without the least delay, 965
His banner he displayed and rode away
For Thebes, with all his host on every side;
No nearer Athens did he choose to ride
Nor take his ease for even half a day,
But slept that night somewhere along the way. 970
The queen was not among his company,
But with her fair young sister Emily
Was sent forth into Athens, there to dwell
While he rode on his way. No more to tell.
The red image of Mars with spear and targe 975
So shone upon his banner white and large
That up and down the meadows seemed to glitter;
A pennon by his banner was aflitter
In richest gold, upon it, as was meet,
The Minotaur that he had slain in Crete. 980
Thus rode this duke, this conqueror, in power,
The men with him of chivalry the flower,
Until he came to Thebes, there to alight
Upon a field where he was set to fight.
But only speaking briefly of this thing, 985
He fought and slew Creon, the Theban king,
In open battle, as befits a knight
So manly. Creon’s men he put to flight.
The city by assault he won thereafter
And tore it down, each wall and beam and rafter; 990
And to the ladies he restored again
The bones of all their kinsmen who’d been slain,
For obsequies then custom of the day.
But it would take too long here to delay
By telling of the din, the lamentation 995
Made by these ladies during the cremation,
And honor paid, all that one could confer,
By Theseus, the noble conqueror,
To the ladies when on their way they went.
To speak with brevity is my intent. 1000
This worthy Theseus, when he had slain
Creon and captured Thebes, chose to remain
Upon the field that night to take his rest,
With all that country under his behest.
To rummage through the heap of Theban slain, 1005
The corpses’ clothes and armor to retain,
The pillagers worked hard and carefully
After the battle and the victory.
It so befell that in the heap they found,
With grievous wounds there lying on the ground, 1010
Two youthful knights who side by side had fought,
Identical their arms and richly wrought.
As for their names, Arcite was that of one,
The other knight was known as Palamon;
Not yet alive nor dead did they appear, 1015
But by their coat of arms and by their gear
The heralds knew that these two specially
Were members of the royal family
Of Thebes, two sisters’ sons. Their finders then
Removed them from the heap where they had been, 1020
And had them carried gently to the tent
Of Theseus, who promptly had them sent
To Athens, there to dwell perpetually
In prison–to no ransom he’d agree.
And when this worthy duke thus held his sway, 1025
He took his host and rode home straightaway.
As conqueror with laurel he was crowned,
And lived in joy and honor, much renowned
Throughout his life. What more is there to know?
And in a tower, in anguish and woe, 1030
Are Palamon and his good friend Arcite
Forevermore. No gold could end their plight.
So year by year it went, and day by day,
Until one morning it befell in May
That Emily, a fairer sight to see 1035
Than lilies on a stalk of green could be,
And fresher than the flowers May discloses–
Her hue strove with the color of the roses
Till I know not the fairer of the two–
Before daylight, as she was wont to do, 1040
Had roused herself and was already dressed.
For May will leave no sluggard nightly rest;
The season seems to prick each gentle heart,
It causes one out of his sleep to start
And says, “Arise, it’s time to pay respect!” 1045
And this caused Emily to recollect
The honor due to May and to arise.
She brightly dressed, a pleasure to the eyes.
Her hair was braided in one yellow tress
A good yard down her back, so I would guess. 1050
And in the garden, as the sun arose,
She wandered up and down, and, as she chose,
She gathered flowers, white as well as red,
To make a dainty garland for her head;
And like that of an angel was her song. 1055
The tower, of great size and thick and strong,
Which was the castle’s major dungeon–there
The knights were held in prison and despair,
As I have said, though more will soon befall–
Was built adjacent to the garden wall 1060
Where Emily was then about her play.
The sun was bright, and clear the early day,
As Palamon, in woe with no reprieve,
As was his wont–the jailer gave him leave–
Was roaming in a chamber of great height 1065
From which all of the city was in sight,
As was the green-branched garden near the tower
Where Emily, as radiant as a flower,
Was in her walk and roaming here and there.
So Palamon, this captive in despair, 1070
Was pacing in this chamber to and fro,
And to himself complaining of his woe.
That he was born he often said “Alas!”
And then by chance or fate it came to pass
That through the window (thick with many a bar 1075
Of iron, as great and squared as girders are)
He cast his eyes upon fair Emily.
He blanched and cried an “Ah!” of such degree
It was as if he’d been pierced through the heart.
And at this cry Arcite rose with a start 1080
And said, “My cousin, what is ailing you
That you’re so pale, a deathlike thing to view?
Why did you cry? Has someone done you wrong?
For God’s love, it’s the patient gets along
In prison, that’s the way it has to be. 1085
We owe to Fortune this adversity.
Some wicked aspect or configuration
Of Saturn with some certain constellation
Gave this to us, for all we might have sworn.
So stood the heavens when we two were born; 1090
We must endure it, to be short and plain.”
But Palamon replied, “You have a vain
Imagination, cousin, truthfully,
To be expressing such a thought to me.
It wasn’t prison that caused me to cry. 1095
I just received a shot, struck through my eye
Right to my heart, and it will finish me.
The fairness of that lady that I see
In yonder garden, roaming to and fro,
Is cause of all my crying and my woe. 1100
I don’t know if she’s woman or a goddess,
But truly it is Venus, I would guess.”
Then Palamon fell down upon his knees
And said this prayer: “Dear Venus, if you please
To be transfigured so, to be seen by 1105
A woeful, wretched creature such as I,
Out of this prison help us to escape.
But if it is my fate, one taken shape
By eternal word, to die in this fashion,
Upon our royal house have some compassion, 1110
For we are brought so low by tyranny.”
And with that word, Arcite then chanced to see
This lady who was roaming to and fro;
And at the sight, her beauty hurt him so
That if the wound to Palamon was sore, 1115
Arcite himself was hurt as much or more.
And with a sigh he then said piteously,
“By such fresh beauty I’m slain suddenly,
The beauty of her roaming in that place!
Unless I have her mercy by her grace 1120
That I at least may see her in some way,
I am but dead, there is no more to say.”
When Palamon heard this, with angry eye
He turned to look at Arcite and reply,
“You speak such words in earnest or in play?” 1125
“In earnest,” Arcite said, “is what I say!
God help me, I’ve no mind for joking now.”
And Palamon at this then knit his brow.
“It does you little honor,” he replied,
“To be a traitor to me, to have lied 1130
To me, as I’m your cousin and your brother;
For we have sworn, each of us to the other,
That never we, on pain of death–until
Death do us part–would do each other ill,
In love one to be hindrance to the other 1135
Or in whatever case, beloved brother;
That you would further me in what I do
In every case, and I would further you;
This was your oath, as well as mine. I know
That you would never dare deny it’s so. 1140
You then are in my counsel, there’s no doubt,
And yet now falsely you would go about
To love my lady, whom I love and serve
And always will until I die. What nerve!
False Arcite, you would surely not do so; 1145
I loved her first, and told you of my woe
As to my counsel, to the one who swore
To further me, as I have said before.
And so, my cousin, you’re bound as a knight
To help me, if it lies within your might, 1150
Or else be false, and such I dare to say.”
But Arcite proudly answered in this way:
“It’s you instead who would be false to me,
And false you are, I tell you utterly.
For par amour, I loved her first, not you. 1155
What can you say? You don’t know which is true,
She’s ‘woman or a goddess’! You profess
Affection felt in terms of holiness,
But I feel love that’s for a creature, such
That I’ve already said to you as much, 1160
As to my brother, one who to me swore.
But let’s suppose you did love her before:
Have you not heard the learned man’s old saw
That ‘Who shall give a lover any law’?
Love, by my crown, is law that’s greater than 1165
All law that Nature gives to earthly man;
That’s why, for love, decrees or laws men pass
Are broken every day in every class.
A man must love despite himself; albeit
His death may be the cost, he cannot flee it, 1170
Be she a maiden, widow, or a wife.
But it’s not likely that in all your life
You’ll stand once in her grace, nor myself either;
You know as well as I it shall be neither,
For you and I have been forever damned 1175
To prison without ransom. We have shammed,
We strive just as the hounds did for the bone:
They fought all day to find the prize was gone,
For while they fought a kite came winging through
And bore away the bone from twixt the two. 1180
And therefore at the royal court, my brother,
It’s each man for himself and not another.
Love if you like, I love and always will,
And truly, brother, that is that. Be still;
Here in this prison we must not succumb 1185
But each take his own chances as they come.”
The strife between the two was long and great;
Had I the time, more of it I’d relate.
But to the point. It happened that one day
(To tell it all as briefly as I may) 1190
Perotheus, a worthy duke who’d been
A friend of Theseus since way back when
The two of them were children, came to pay
His friend a visit and to have some play
In Athens, as he’d often done before. 1195
In all this world he loved no fellow more
Than Theseus, who cherished him the same;
They loved so greatly, so the old books claim,
That when one died, as truthfully they tell,
The other went to look for him in hell– 1200
But that’s a tale I don’t wish to recite.
Duke Perotheus also loved Arcite,
Whom he’d known in Thebes for many a year.
At last, when Perotheus had bent his ear
With the request, Duke Theseus agreed 1205
To free Arcite from prison; he was freed
Without a ransom and allowed to go
Where he desired–on one condition, though.
The understanding, plainly to relate,
With Theseus regarding Arcite’s fate 1210
Was that if Arcite ever should be found,
By day or night or any time, on ground
Of any country ruled by Theseus,
And he were caught, it was accorded thus:
He was to lose his head then by the sword. 1215
There was no action Arcite could afford
Except to make for home a speedy trek;
One must beware when he must pledge his neck.
How great a sorrow Arcite had to bear!
His heart was smitten with deathlike despair; 1220
He wept and wailed, and pitifully he cried,
And even contemplated suicide.
He said, “Alas, the day that I was born!
Worse than before in prison I’m forlorn.
It’s now my fate eternally to dwell 1225
Not as in purgatory but in hell.
I wish I’d never known Perotheus!
I’d still be dwelling with Duke Theseus,
Be fettered in his prison–not like this,
Not in this woe. Then I would be in bliss; 1230
The sight of her, the lady whom I serve,
Although her grace I never may deserve,
Would have sufficed and been enough for me.
O my dear cousin Palamon,” said he,
“You’ve won in this adventure, that’s for sure. 1235
In prison blissfully you may endure–
In prison? Surely not! In paradise!
Fate’s passed to you the dice to seek the prize,
You have her sight, which I no more shall see.
Since you’re so near her presence, it may be, 1240
As you’re a knight, a worthy one and able,
That by some chance–as Fortune’s so unstable–
You may attain your great desire in time.
But I, who am exiled to other clime
And barren of all grace, in such despair 1245
That neither earth nor water, fire nor air,
Nor any creature that is made of these,
Can ever give me any help or ease–
Well should I die without a hope, in sadness.
Farewell my life, my pleasure, and my gladness! 1250
“Alas, why do folks so complain about
The providence of God or feel put out
By Fortune, when they’re often given more
In many ways than they could bargain for
Themselves? A man’s desire for wealth may well 1255
Leave that man sick or murdered. From his cell
A prisoner may long for freedom, then
At home have his own servants do him in.
So many ills befall us in this way,
We don’t know really that for which we pray. 1260
We fare as one who’s drunken as a mouse:
Although a drunkard knows he has a house,
He doesn’t know the right way there. The road
Is slippery for a man who drinks his load.
So fare we in this world, most certainly; 1265
We search with vigor for felicity,
But it’s so true we often go awry.
We all can vouch for that, and namely I,
Who had this great opinion overall
That if I could escape that prison wall 1270
I then could live in perfect health and bliss–
From which I have been exiled now for this.
Since I may never see you, Emily,
I’m good as dead, there is no remedy.”
Now Palamon, meanwhile, was still confined, 1275
And when he learnt Arcite was gone, he whined
And wailed with so much sorrow it resounded
Throughout the tower. Utterly confounded,
He wet the mighty fetters round each shin
With bitter, salty tears in his chagrin. 1280
“Alas,” said he, “my cousin, dear Arcite,
The fruit is yours, God knows, you’ve won the fight!
To walk at large in Thebes now you may go
And give but little thought to all my woe;
And you may, in your wise and knightly manner, 1285
Assemble all your kinsmen to your banner
And on this city make a sharp attack,
By treaty or by Fortune to go back
To Thebes with her, your lady and your wife,
For whom I now must forfeit here my life. 1290
When one weighs every possibility–
Since you are now at large, from prison free,
And are a lord–you have a great advantage.
I’m dying in a cage, what can I manage?
Here I must weep and wail long as I live 1295
With all the woe that prison has to give,
And with the heartache love has given me
That doubles my torment and misery.”
The fire of jealousy with sudden start
Was raging in his breast, and caught his heart 1300
So madly he was whiter to behold
Than box-tree or the ashes dead and cold.
He said then, “O cruel gods, eternal tribe
Who rule us by your word, and who inscribe
Upon a tablet made of adamant 1305
Your every judgment and eternal grant!
Why is it mankind in esteem you hold
More than the sheep that cowers in the fold?
For man is slain like any other beast,
Or dwells in prison, not to be released, 1310
Confronted with adversity and illness–
And often, by my faith, when he is guiltless.
“What is the reason in your prescience
That torment’s the reward for innocence?
And only adding more to all my strife 1315
Is that a man must live a moral life
In God’s name, and keep rein upon his will,
While every beast may all his lust fulfill.
And when a beast is dead, he has no pain,
While man in death must still weep and complain 1320
Though in this world he had his share of woe.
Without a doubt that’s how it stands, although
I’ll leave it to the clergy to explain.
How well I know this world is full of pain.
Alas, I see a serpent or a thief, 1325
From whose deceit the righteous seek relief,
Go freely as he pleases on his way;
Yet I’m a captive, under Saturn’s sway
And that of Juno, who in jealousy
And wrath has well nigh cut off totally 1330
The blood of Thebes, laid waste the walls once grand.
And Venus slays me, on the other hand,
With jealousy and fear of this Arcite.”
On Palamon I’ll cease now if I might
And leave him in his prison still to dwell, 1335
That further word on Arcite I may tell.
The summer passed. The winter nights so long
Increased twofold the pains that were so strong
In both lover and prisoner. I know
Not which one had to bear the greater woe: 1340
For Palamon, with brevity to tell,
Was damned to life inside a prison cell,
In iron fetters until he be dead;
Yet banishment had fallen on the head
Of Arcite, from that land he had to flee 1345
And nevermore might he his lady see.
I now will ask you lovers, who’s the one
Who has it worse, Arcite or Palamon?
For one may see his lady day by day
But must in prison waste his life away; 1350
The other may go riding where he please,
But now his lady nevermore he sees.
Make your own judgment on it, if you can.
I will go on, meanwhile, as I began.
When back to Thebes Arcite had made his way, 1355
With many an “Alas!” he pined each day,
For nevermore his lady might he see.
To summarize his woe with brevity,
No creature’s had such sorrow, to be sure,
Nor will as long as this world may endure. 1360
Of sleep and meat and drink he had so little
That lean and dry he grew, shaftlike and brittle;
His eyes were hollow, ghastly to behold,
His sallow skin like ashes pale and cold.
And he kept to himself, always alone, 1365
And all through every night he’d wail and moan.
And when he heard a song or instrument,
He wept, shed tears that nothing could prevent.
So feeble were his spirits and so low
That, if he spoke, no man would ever know 1370
Him by his speech or voice, he had so changed.
He moodily behaved, as if deranged
Not only by lovesickness (hereos
Is what it’s called) but mania that grows
From melancholic humor that arises 1375
From that front brain cell where one fantasizes.
In short, all was in overturned position
In both the habit and the disposition
Of this despairing lover, Sir Arcite.
Should I go on all day about his plight? 1380
Now when he had endured a year or so
This cruel torment, all this pain and woe
At home in Thebes (as you have heard me say),
One night he dreamt while in the bed he lay
That winged Mercury came to appear 1385
Before him, bidding him to be of cheer.
His sleep inducing wand he held upright,
A hat was on his head, his hair was bright;
As Arcite noticed, Mercury was dressed
Just as when Argus he induced to rest. 1390
The god said this: “To Athens you shall go,
Where destined is an end to all your woe.”
With that, Arcite woke with a start and said,
“No matter what sore pain may lie ahead,
Right now to Athens truly I must fare; 1395
Though death be dreaded, I’ll be seeing there
My lady whom I love and serve, and I
Shall not, in her dear presence, fear to die.”
He picked up a large mirror then to see
The great change in his color, the degree 1400
To which his face looked like another kind.
Immediately the thought ran through his mind
That since his face had been disfigured so
By all that he had suffered, he could go
And live in Athens, in some lowly guise, 1405
And who he was no one would realize;
Then he could see his lady every day.
And so at once he changed his knight’s array
For that of a poor laborer for hire;
Then all alone (save only for a squire 1410
Who knew his secret, all there was to know,
And was disguised in poverty also),
He went to Athens by the shortest way.
Then to the royal court he went one day
And offered at the gate his worker’s hands, 1415
To drag and draw, to follow all commands.
To tell you what occurred without ado,
He got a job with an attendant who
Was dwelling in the house of Emily;
For he was shrewd and very quick to see 1420
Which of them served his lady there. Well could
He bear the water and he hewed as well the wood,
For he was young and equal to the task,
Big-boned and strong. What any man might ask,
Whatever one devised, Arcite could do. 1425
He served in this way for a year or two,
The chamber-page of lovely Emily,
And said his name was Philostrate. And he
Was twice as loved as any other man
Of equal rank at court, for in this span 1430
His character was of such noble sort
That he won quite a name throughout the court.
As charity, they said, it would be noted
If Theseus would have the man promoted
To higher station, so that servicewise 1435
His virtue he might fully exercise.
And so it was in time his fame had sprung
Out of his gentle deeds and pleasant tongue
Until the duke took him and set him higher,
To serve him in his chamber as a squire, 1440
And gave him gold to keep himself in style.
From his own country, too, from while to while
Men brought to him a secret increment
That honestly and slyly would be spent,
That none might wonder how he had so much. 1445
He lived this way three years, his bearing such,
In time of peace as well as time of war,
That there was none whom Theseus loved more.
I now leave Arcite in this blissful state
That more on Palamon I may relate. 1450
In dark and solid prison, horrid, drear,
Now Palamon endures a seventh year
And pines away in sorrow and distress.
Who feels such double wounds, such heaviness,
As Palamon whom love destroys so, 1455
Almost out of his wits through all his woe?
And Palamon’s a captive, be it clear,
Perpetually, not only for a year.
O who could rhyme in English properly
His martyrdom? It’s not I truthfully, 1460
So I’ll pass on as briefly as I may.
Now in the seventh year (the old books say,
With more detail, it was the third night in
The month of May), the time came finally when,
Whether it was by chance or destiny– 1465
As when a thing’s determined, it shall be–
With a friend’s help, soon after midnight fell,
Palamon escaped from his prison cell
And fled the town as fast as he could go.
He’d given his jailer drink, and it was so 1470
Well mixed–a honeyed wine, along with some
Narcotics, like fine Theban opium–
That all that night, as hard as men could shake him,
The jailer slept and no one could awake him,
While Palamon fled swiftly as he may. 1475
The night was short, and fast would come the day,
When at all costs he knew he’d have to hide.
And so a grove that stood off to the side
He fearfully approached. It was his plan,
Which I will tell as briefly as I can, 1480
Inside that grove to hide himself all day,
Then at the fall of night to make his way
To Thebes. There all his friends he would implore
To help him march on Theseus in war,
And, to be brief, unless he lose his life, 1485
To win the lovely Emily as wife.
That was his whole intention, short and plain.
And now to Arcite I’ll return again,
Who little knew how nigh had grown his care
Till Fortune was to catch him in her snare. 1490
The busy lark, the messenger of day,
Salutes now with her song the morning gray,
And fiery Phoebus rises up so bright
Till all the east is laughing in his light,
The beams of which dry every bush where cleaves 1495
The silver droplets, hanging on the leaves.
And Arcite, who is in the royal court
As Theseus’s squire of good report,
Has risen and looks on the merry day.
To give the honor that was due to May 1500
(Recalling, too, his object of desire),
He set out on a courser quick as fire
Into the fields to have a little play.
A mile or two from court he rode his way
Till he came to the grove of which I spoke. 1505
By chance along that grove his course he broke
To make himself a garland from the growth,
With woodbine or with hawthorn leaf or both,
While in the sunshine singing heartily:
“O May, with flowers and with greenery, 1510
You are so welcome, fresh and fairest May!
I hope that I may get some green today!”
Down from his courser, with a lusty heart
Into the grove he promptly made his start
And roamed a path wherever it would chance. 1515
Now Palamon, as was the happenstance,
Was hidden in a bush where none could see,
As fearful for his life as he could be.
He’d no idea that this could be Arcite;
God knows, he had no cause to think it might, 1520
But it’s been truly said down through the years,
“The field is blest with eyes, the wood has ears.”
It’s best a fellow always be discreet,
For when they least expect men often meet.
Little did Arcite know that near him there 1525
Was his old friend to hear him sing his air,
For he sat in the bush completely still.
When of his roaming Arcite had his fill
And he had sung his rondel lustily,
Into a muse he fell then suddenly 1530
As lovers do, so variable their mood–
First treetop high, then in the briers they brood,
Now up, now down, like buckets in a well;
Like on a Friday, truly I can tell,
At first it shines, then rains start coming fast. 1535
Just so can fickle Venus overcast
The hearts of lovers; Friday is her day,
And just as she keeps changing her array
Few Fridays are like other days, for sure.
When he had sung, Arcite became demure, 1540
He sighed and sat down without further song.
“Alas,” said he, “the day I came along!
O Juno, how much longer will it be
That you wage war on Thebes with cruelty?
Alas! so much confusion is brought on 1545
The royal blood of Cadmus, Amphion–
Of Cadmus, who’s the one who first began
To build the town of Thebes, and he’s the man
Who was the first the city crowned as king;
I’m one of his descendants, his offspring, 1550
By true descent I’m of the royal stock;
Yet I’m just like a slave sold on the block,
For he who is my mortal enemy
Is whom I serve as squire so wretchedly.
And evermore does Juno cause me shame, 1555
For I dare not to tell them my own name;
For whereas I was once known as Arcite,
I now am Philostrate, not worth a mite.
Alas, you evil Mars! Juno, alas!
Your wrath has caused our house to all but pass, 1560
There’s left but me and Palamon (in woe,
As in the dungeon he’s still martyred so).
And more than that, to slay me utterly,
Love with his fiery dart so burningly
Has struck my loving heart with such a hurt, 1565
My death was knit before this very shirt.
You’ve slain me with your eyes, fair Emily,
You are the cause I die, that’s all there be.
And for the rest of all my earthly care
I wouldn’t give one weed the field may bear 1570
If but to please you I could have a chance.”
And with that word he fell down in a trance
Where long he lay, till rising with a start.
This Palamon, who felt that through his heart
A cold sword suddenly had glided, shook 1575
With anger, not much time at all he took,
For when he finished hearing Arcite’s tale,
He leapt as if gone mad, face deathly pale,
Out of the thicket not one second later,
And said, “Arcite, you false and wicked traitor! 1580
Now you are caught who loves my lady so,
She for whom I have had such pain and woe;
You’re of my blood, and to my counsel swore,
As I have often said to you before.
So you have fooled Duke Theseus, you claim, 1585
And also you have falsely changed your name,
But you shall die, or else it shall be me:
You shall not love my lady Emily.
For I and I alone shall love her so;
I’m Palamon himself, your mortal foe. 1590
And though I have no weapon in this place
(I just escaped from prison, by God’s grace),
You’ll either die–of that there’s no mistake–
Or else not love my Emily. So make
The choice you will, you’ll not escape from me.” 1595
Now when Arcite had heard and turned to see
That it was Palamon, as spite coursed through
His heart he fiercely as a lion drew
His sword and said, “By God who sits above,
If you were not so sick and crazed with love, 1600
And if you had a weapon at your side,
You’d not walk from this grove a single stride,
For by my hand you would be lying dead.
The pledge, the guarantee that you have said
I gave you, I renounce. Why, you must be 1605
A perfect fool, I tell you love is free,
And I will love her, try all that you might!
But inasmuch as you’re a worthy knight
Who’d wager her to see who should prevail,
Here is my oath: tomorrow without fail, 1610
In secret, known to no one else around,
It’s right here as a knight that I’ll be found,
With arms for you as well–and you be first
To choose the best ones, leave for me the worst.
Some meat and drink tonight I’ll bring to you, 1615
All that you need; I’ll bring some bedding too.
And if it be my lady you shall win
And slay me in this wood that we are in,
You well may have her, nothing more from me.”
And Palamon then answered, “I agree.” 1620
And so till then they parted, when they both
Had pledged in all good faith with solemn oath.
O Cupid, so devoid of charity!
O rule where no compeer’s allowed to be!
It truly has been said that love or power 1625
Won’t willingly give fellowship an hour;
So Palamon has found, as has Arcite.
The latter rode at once to town that night,
Then in the morning, just before the sun,
Sneaked out the armor he and Palamon 1630
Would need; he brought enough to more than do
For battle in the field between the two.
So as alone as he was born he rode
His horse, with all this armor as his load,
And at the time and place that had seen set, 1635
There in the grove, the two of them were met.
The hue began to change in each’s face,
Like in the hunter’s who in distant Thrace
Stands in the gap with spear in hand, as there
He’s hunting for the lion and the bear; 1640
He hears it coming, rushing through the branches
And breaking boughs asunder; then he blanches:
“Here comes,” he thinks, “my mortal enemy!
Without fail one must die, it’s him or me,
For either I will slay him at the gap 1645
Or he slay me, if that be my mishap.”
That’s how they were in changing of their hue
As soon as each one had his foe in view.
There was no “Good day,” not one salutation.
Without a word before the confrontation 1650
Each of the two first helped to arm the other
As courteously as if he were his brother.
And then, with sharpened spears of sturdy strength,
They plunged into a fight of wondrous length.
To watch this Palamon you might have thought 1655
He was a maddened lion, the way he fought,
And like a cruel tiger was Arcite.
They smote each other as wild boars would fight
When frothing white with foam, so mad each one.
They fought till ankle deep the blood had run. 1660
I’ll leave them, on their fight no more to dwell,
Now something more of Theseus to tell.
That minister general, Destiny,
Who executes all that must come to be
(The providence foreseen by God on high), 1665
Is so strong that although the world deny
A thing shall be, by vow, by “yea” or “nay,”
It still will come to pass upon its day,
Though not again till pass a thousand years;
Each appetite that in this world appears, 1670
Be it for war or peace or hate or love,
Is governed by this providence above.
Of mighty Theseus I say the same,
For he had such desire for hunting game,
Especially the great hart, all that May 1675
There didn’t dawn on him a single day
That didn’t find him clad and set to ride
With hunters, horns, hounds running at his side;
For in his hunting he took such delight
That it was all his joy and appetite 1680
To be the great hart’s mighty bane and dread;
He served Diana after Mars the Red.
Clear was the day, as I’ve said prior to this,
As Theseus–all joyful, full of bliss,
Along with Hippolyta, his fair queen, 1685
And Emily, clothed all in lovely green–
Was out upon a royal hunting ride;
And to the grove that stood so near beside,
In which there was a hart (so men had said),
Duke Theseus directly turned and sped. 1690
He rode straight for the glade, which was the place
To which the hart was wont to go, to race
Across the brook and flee as harts will do;
The duke would have a run at him or two
With hounds such as it pleased him to command. 1695
But when the duke had reached this open land,
There in the glaring sun he caught the sight
At once of Palamon and of Arcite,
Still fighting like two boars. It seemed as though
The two bright swords, there flashing to and fro 1700
So hideously, could with the lightest stroke
Be either one enough to fell an oak.
Now who these people were he didn’t know;
The duke at once then spurred his courser, though,
And in a trice he was between the two, 1705
Pulled out his sword, and said, “Halt! That will do!
No more, on pain of parting with your head!
By mighty Mars, he’ll be as good as dead
Who strikes another blow that I may see.
Tell me what sort of men you two must be, 1710
In such a hardy fight here as you were
Without a judge or other officer
Though as if in a tournament today.”
Then Palamon responded right away:
“Sire, there are no more words that need be said, 1715
We both are quite deserving to be dead.
Two woeful wretches, prisoners are we,
Both weary of our lives, that’s him and me.
And as you are a righteous judge and lord,
No mercy nor refuge for us afford, 1720
But slay me first, in saintly charity.
But slay this fellow here as well as me–
Or slay him first, when you have seen him right:
This is your mortal foe, this is Arcite,
Whom you have banished or would have his head, 1725
For which he’s now deserving to be dead.
This is the one who came up to your gate
And told them that his name was Philostrate,
The one who’s made a fool of you for years–
You made him your chief squire, from all his peers. 1730
And he’s in love with Emily. And I,
Since now has come the day that I shall die,
Shall plainly here confess and have it done
That I am that same woeful Palamon
Who broke out of your prison wickedly; 1735
I am your mortal foe, and I am he
Who loves so hotly Emily the Bright
I’d die for it here in my lady’s sight.
I therefore ask for death, for it is just.
But you will slay this fellow too, I trust, 1740
For both of us deserve to die, not one.”
This worthy duke then answered Palamon
At once. He said, “Then here’s the long and short:
The confession from your mouth, your own report
Has damned you, so I’ll thereby note the fact 1745
That there’s no need to flog or have you racked.
By mighty Mars the Red, you’ll die and should!”
But then the queen, in all her womanhood,
Began to weep, and so did Emily
And all the ladies in their company. 1750
They thought it such a pity, one and all,
That ever such misfortune should befall;
For gentlemen these were, of great estate,
And nothing but of love was their debate.
To see the two men’s bloody wounds so wide, 1755
Both young and old among the women cried,
“Have mercy, lord, upon us women all!”
And on their bare knees they began to fall,
And would have kissed his feet there as he stood.
At last, as pity rises in a good 1760
And gentle heart, his anger finally slaked;
For though the duke at first with ire quaked,
He gave consideration with a pause
To what had been their trespass and the cause.
Though, to his mind, of guilt they stood accused, 1765
His reason said that they should be excused;
He settled on the thought that every man
Will help himself in love all that he can,
And free himself from jail in any fashion.
And also in his heart he had compassion 1770
For all these women who were still in tears.
He gently took to heart the women’s fears,
Then softly told himself, “Fie on a lord
Who has no whit of mercy to afford,
Who’s lionlike in all that’s done and said 1775
To those who are repentant and in dread,
As well as to a proud, defiant man
Who aims to finish that which he began.
That lord has no discriminating vision
Who can’t in such a case make some division 1780
But weighs pride and humility as one.”
So when its course his wrath had shortly run,
Duke Theseus looked up toward the skies
And spoke aloud, a sparkling in his eyes:
“The god of love! Ah, benedicite! 1785
How great a lord, how mighty is his sway!
Against his might there are no obstacles;
Call him a god for all his miracles.
For he can mold according to his muse
All of our hearts however he may choose. 1790
This Palamon, this Arcite whom you see,
Were from my prison both completely free;
They might have lived in Thebes and royally so,
For they both know I am their mortal foe
And death for both within my power lies; 1795
Yet love, in spite of all before their eyes,
Brought them back here to die, back to the brink.
Now this is some high folly, don’t you think?
Who else may be a fool but one in love!
Look, for the sake of God who sits above, 1800
See how they bleed! Are they not well arrayed?
Thus by their lord, the god of love, they’re paid
For serving him, they have their fee and wage.
Yet they think they are wise who so engage
In serving love, whatever may befall. 1805
But this is yet the biggest joke of all,
That she for whom they passionately vie
Can give them thanks about as much as I–
She knew no more about this whole affair
Than knew, by God, a cuckoo or a hare! 1810
But all must be assayed, both hot and cold,
A man must be a fool, though young or old.
From long ago I know myself it’s true,
For in my time I was love’s servant too.
And therefore, since I recognize love’s pain 1815
And know full well love’s power to constrain
(As one so often captured in his net),
This trespass I’ll forgive and I’ll forget,
As my queen has requested, kneeling here
Along with Emily, my sister dear. 1820
But both of you shall swear to me: my land
Shall nevermore be threatened by your hand,
You shan’t make war against me day or night;
You’ll be my friends in every way you might,
Then I’ll forgive this trespass as I may.” 1825
And they swore as he asked in every way,
And for his lordship’s mercy then they prayed.
He granted grace, and then this speech he made:
“Regarding royal blood and riches too,
Were she a queen or princess, each of you, 1830
I have no doubt at all, has worthiness
To marry her in time; but nonetheless
I speak now for my sister Emily
For whom you’ve had this strife and jealousy.
You know that two at once she cannot marry 1835
No matter how this fight you choose to carry.
No, one of you, no matter what the grief,
Must go and ‘whistle with an ivy leaf’;
She cannot have you both, that is to say,
Be you as mad and jealous as you may. 1840
This proposition, then, I put to you:
Each one shall have his destiny, his due,
However it’s been shaped–and listen how,
For here’s your end as I devise it now.
“My will is this (this matter to conclude 1845
Once and for all, no protest to intrude,
So if you like it, make of it the best):
Where you may wish to go, by me you’re blest,
Go freely, there’s no danger in your way;
But after fifty weeks right to the day, 1850
Each of you shall bring back one hundred knights,
Armed for the lists to represent your rights,
All set to fight for her. For here’s an oath
That this is what shall be, I tell you both
Upon my word and as I am a knight: 1855
When we have seen which has the greater might–
That is to say, whichever of the two
With his one hundred (as I’ve said to you)
Shall slay or from the lists the other drive–
To him I shall give Emily to wive, 1860
To him who Fortune gives so fair a grace.
I’ll have the lists built in this very place,
And–God bestow my soul with wisdom’s order–
I’ll be a true judge on the battle’s border.
With me you have no other way to go, 1865
One of you shall be killed or taken. So
If you believe this judgment is well said,
Advise me now and count yourselves ahead.
That is your end, that’s how it shall be done.”
Who looks as happy now as Palamon? 1870
And who but Arcite springs with such delight?
Who could explain, who has the skill to write
About the joy witnessed in the place
That Theseus has granted such a grace?
Then everyone went down on bended knee 1875
And gave him thanks in most heartfelt degree–
Especially the Thebans, more than once.
And so, with high hopes and ebullience,
The two then took their leave, they were to ride
Back home to Thebes, to walls so old and wide. 1880
I know that men would deem it negligence
If I forgot to tell of the expense
To which Duke Theseus went busily
To build the lists. He built them royally,
A theatre so noble standing there 1885
I daresay none was finer anywhere.
Its circuit measured one full mile about,
Its wall of stone, a circling moat without.
As surely as a compass it was round,
And sixty rows it stood above the ground, 1890
So that a man on one row wouldn’t be
The reason that another couldn’t see.
On the east stood a great, white marble gate,
Another on the west. I’ll briefly state,
Concluding, there was no such other place 1895
In all the earth that took so little space.
For there was not one craftsman in the land
With math and his geometry in hand,
No single sculptor or one painter, who
Duke Theseus did not hire for the crew 1900
That worked on this theatre. So that he
Might sacrifice, do all rites properly,
At the eastern gate he had built above,
In honor of Venus, goddess of love,
An altar and an oratory. Then, 1905
Above the west gate, he constructed in
The memory of Mars the very same;
A cart of gold was spent in Mars’s name.
In a turret, built on the northern wall
In coral and white alabaster all, 1910
The duke had nobly wrought an oratory
Magnificent see, built for the glory
Of Diana, most chaste of deities.
Yet I’ve forgotten to describe with these
The sculptures, paintings, noble works of art, 1915
The shapes and figures that were all a part
Of the work in these oratories three.
In the temple of Venus you could see
(Wrought on the wall, and piteous to behold)
The broken sleep, the lonely sighs, the cold 1920
And sacred tears, the sad laments; the burning,
The fiery strokes of all desire and yearning
That servants of love in this life endure;
The oaths by which covenants they assure;
Pleasure and Hope, Desire, Foolhardiness, 1925
Beauty and Youth and Riches, Bawdiness,
Seduction, Force, Falsehood and Flattery,
Extravagance, Ado and Jealousy
(Who wears a garland, yellow marigolds,
And in her hand a bird, the cuckoo, holds); 1930
The banquets, instruments, the carols, dances,
Lust and array. All of the circumstances
Of love that I’m recounting here were all
In proper order painted on the wall–
And more than I’d be able to recount, 1935
For truly all the Cytherean mount,
The place where Venus has her major dwelling,
Was in the scenes on that wall for the telling
With all its gardens and its lustfulness.
Nor was forgotten the porter Idleness, 1940
Nor Narcissus, that ancient, fairest one,
Nor all the folly of King Solomon,
Nor yet the mighty strength of Hercules,
Medea’s enchanting power nor Circe’s,
Nor Turnus with a heart so fierce and bold, 1945
Nor Croesus, rich but captive with his gold.
So you can see that neither wisdom, wealth,
Nor beauty, sleight, nor strength nor hardy health
Can hold with Venus an equality,
For as she wills she guides the world to be. 1950
Look how these people, caught up in her snare,
So often cried “Alas!” in their despair.
Suffice here these examples one or two,
Though I could tell a thousand more to you.
Venus’s statue, glorious to behold, 1955
Was naked, and the sea about her rolled,
As from her navel down were shown to pass
Green waves that were as bright as any glass.
She had a harp in her right hand, and she
Had on her head, a seemly sight to see, 1960
A fresh rose garland, fragrant as the spring.
Above her head her doves were flickering.
Before her Cupid stood, who is her son;
He had two wings and was superbly done,
And blind he was, as is so often seen. 1965
He held a bow, and arrows bright and keen.
Why should I not as well tell you of all
The paintings that appeared upon the wall
In the temple of mighty Mars the Red?
From roof to floor the wall was overspread 1970
With painted scenes like in that grisly place
That’s known as his great temple back in Thrace–
That cold and frosty region where, I’m told,
He has his sovereign mansion from of old.
A forest, first, was painted on the wall 1975
In which there dwelt no man nor beast at all.
Its knotty, knarled trees were bare and old,
The stubs were sharp and hideous to behold;
And through it ran a rumble and a sough
As if a storm would break off every bough. 1980
And downward from a hill, below the bent,
Stood the temple of Mars of Armament,
Made all of burnished steel. The entrance there
Was long and straight, indeed a sight to scare,
And out of it came such a raging wind 1985
The very gate was made to shake and bend.
In through the doors there shone the northern light
(No window being in that temple’s height
Through which to see a single light). Each door
Was of eternal adamant and, more, 1990
Was reinforced as wide as well as long
With toughest iron. To make the temple strong,
Each pillar had the girth of any cask,
Each of bright shiny iron fit for the task.
There I first saw the dark imagination 1995
Of Felony, the scheme of its creation;
Cruel Ire that burns till like a coal it’s red;
The pickpurse and the pallidness of Dread;
The smiler with the knife beneath his cloak;
The stable burning up with blackest smoke; 2000
The treachery of murder in the bed;
The wounds of open Warfare as they bled;
Strife with its threats and with its bloody knife.
With frightful sounds that sorry place was rife.
The suicide I saw, too, lying there, 2005
The blood of his own heart had bathed his hair;
The driven nail in someone’s head by night;
Cold Death laid out, his mouth a gaping sight;
Right in the temple’s center sat Mischance,
Uncomforted, and sad his countenance; 2010
There I saw Madness laughing in his rage,
And armed Complaint, Outcry and fierce Outrage;
The carrion found in the bush (throat slit),
A thousand slain, no plague the cause of it;
The tyrant with his booty, battle’s gains; 2015
The town laid waste till nothing now remains.
I saw the burning ships dance on the tide;
The hunter strangled by wild bears; I spied
The sow devour the child right in the cradle;
The scalded cook despite his lengthy ladle. 2020
Not one misfortune that Mars could impart
Was overlooked; the carter by his cart
Run over, underneath the wheel laid low.
Of those who follow Mars, there were also
The barber and the butcher, and the smith 2025
Who forges at the anvil, busy with
Sharp swords. Above, where seated in his tower,
I saw Conquest depicted in his power;
There was a sharpened sword above his head
That hung there by the thinnest simple thread. 2030
The killing, too, was shown of Julius,
Of mighty Nero, of Antonius–
Though at that time they all were still unborn,
Their deaths appeared upon that wall forlorn
By threat of Mars and by prefiguration. 2035
So it was shown in that wall’s illustration
As is depicted in the stars above:
Who shall be slain and who shall die for love.
(Old stories tell it; one example’s good,
I can’t recount them all, although I would.) 2040
His statue on its chariot, lifelike
In arms and grim, looked mad enough to strike.
Two starry figures shone above his head,
Puella one (as in the old books read),
The other one as Rubeus was known. 2045
That’s how this god of armament was shown.
There was a wolf before him at his feet
With red eyes, as a man he set to eat.
With subtle brush depicted was the story
Of Mars, redoubtable in all his glory. 2050
Now to the temple of Diana chaste
As briefly as I can I’ll turn with haste
To give you a description that’s complete.
The walls all up and down were made replete
With scenes of hunting and of chastity. 2055
I saw how sad Callisto came to be
(When she had caused Diana some despair)
Changed from a woman first into a bear
And then into the lodestar. (That’s the way
That it was painted, what more can I say?) 2060
Her son’s also a star, as men may see.
There I saw Daphne turned into a tree.
(Diana I don’t mean, she’s not the same;
Peneus’s daughter, Daphne her name.)
I saw Actaeon turned into a hart 2065
(He saw Diana nude, which wasn’t smart),
And then I saw his hounds run and surprise him
And eat him up (they didn’t recognize him).
And painted on the wall was furthermore
How Atalanta hunted after boar, 2070
As did Meleager and some others (though
For this Diana brought Meleager woe).
I also saw there many a wondrous tale
On which I’d rather let my memory fail.
This goddess on a hart had taken seat, 2075
And there were slender hounds about her feet,
And underneath her feet there was a moon
(One that was waxing, to be waning soon).
Her statue was arrayed in green; she wore
A quiver filled, her bow in hand she bore. 2080
Her eyes were looking down, extremely so,
Toward Pluto’s dark region far below.
Before her was a woman in travail,
Trying to have her child to no avail
As to Lucina she began to call, 2085
“Please help me, for your help’s the best of all!”
How lifelike were these scenes the artist wrought!
The paint cost many a florin that he bought.
Now when these lists were finished, Theseus,
Who’d gone to great expense in building thus 2090
The theatre and temples, was elated
With all of it as finally consummated.
On Theseus I’ll cease now if I might,
Of Palamon to speak and of Arcite.
The day of their return was drawing nigh, 2095
When each should bring one hundred knights to vie
For Emily in battle, as I’ve told.
To Athens, their covenants to uphold,
Each one of them thus brought one hundred knights,
Well armed and set for battle by all rights. 2100
And certainly, as thought then many a man,
Not once before since this world first began
(Regarding knighthood, deeds of gallant hand),
As surely as God made the sea and land,
Had there been such a noble company. 2105
For every man with love of chivalry
And who desired to make himself a name
Had prayed that he might take part in the game.
The chosen surely had no cause for sorrow;
If such a thing were taking place tomorrow, 2110
You know right well that every lusty knight
Who loves his paramours and has some might,
Whether it were in England or elsewhere,
Would thankfully and willingly be there.
To fight for a lady, benedicite! 2115
It was a lusty sight, this whole array.
The many knights who rode with Palamon
Were of that lusty spirit, every one.
Now some of these had chosen to be dressed
In hauberk, breastplate, and a simple vest; 2120
Some wore two plates (both front and black, and large),
While some preferred a Prussian shield or targe;
Some liked to arm their legs against attacks
And have a mace of steel or else an ax.
There’s no new armored style that isn’t old, 2125
They all were armed, as I have briefly told,
According to the liking of each one.
There you may see approach with Palamon
Lycurgus, who’s the mighty king of Thrace.
His beard was black, and manly was his face. 2130
The fellow’s eyes were glowing in his head
With light that was half yellow and half red,
And like a griffin he would look about
From neath two shaggy brows. The man was stout;
He had great limbs, with muscles hard and strong, 2135
His shoulders broad, arms barrel like and long.
As was the custom in his land, he rolled
Along upon a chariot of gold,
Four white bulls in the traces at the fore.
Instead of coat of arms Lycurgus wore 2140
A bearskin that was coal black, very old,
Its yellow claws as bright as any gold.
His hair shone, long and combed behind his back,
Bright as a raven’s feather, and as black.
His strong and shaggy head was underneath 2145
A mighty weight, an arm-sized golden wreath,
Inlaid with bright and precious stones in plenty.
White wolfhounds were around him, more than twenty,
Each one of them as big as any steer,
That he would use to hunt for lion or deer. 2150
They followed him with muzzles tightly bound,
Their collars gold with collar rings filed round.
He had a hundred lords there in his rout,
All fully armed. Their hearts were stern and stout.
With Arcite, as we find old tales relate, 2155
The Indian king, Emetrius the Great–
His bay steed with steel trappings, covered by
A motley cloth of gold–came riding. Why,
The god of arms, new Mars he looked to be.
His surcoat was of cloth from Tartary, 2160
With all the large white pearls that it could hold.
His saddle, newly forged, was burnished gold.
A mantle from his shoulders hung, attire
Brimful of rubies sparkling red as fire.
His crisp hair into ringlets seemed to run, 2165
So yellow it would glitter like the sun.
His nose was high, his eyes bright and citrine;
He had full lips, and skin that had a fine
Sanguinity, with freckles on his face
From black to yellow and from place to place. 2170
And like that of a lion was his gaze.
His age was twenty-five, I would appraise.
His beard had very well begun to grow;
His voice thundered like a trumpet’s blow.
He wore a garland made of laurel, green 2175
And freshly picked and pleasant to be seen.
Upon his hand he bore, to his delight,
An eagle that was tame and lily white.
He had a hundred nobles with him there,
Armed to the teeth with all a warrior’s wear, 2180
Fully equipped with all that battle brings.
For take my word that earls, dukes, and kings
Were gathered in this noble company
For love of and the growth of chivalry.
Around this king, among this noble tide, 2185
Tame lions and leopards ran on every side.
And in this manner nobles all and some
Had on that Sunday to the city come,
There in the early morning to alight.
Now Theseus, this duke and worthy knight, 2190
When he had brought them all into the town
To inns where they would all be bedded down
According to their rank, gave them a feast.
He honored all, ignoring not the least.
It still is said that none, however great, 2195
Could have done better. Here I could relate
The music and the service at the feast,
The gifts both to the highest and the least;
The rich array with which he decked the place,
And who sat first and last upon the dais; 2200
Which ladies were the fairest, danced the best,
Or which of them sang better than the rest;
Or who could speak most feelingly of love;
What hawks were sitting on the perch above,
What hounds were lying on the floor below– 2205
Of all this I will make no mention, though.
To tell what followed seems the best to me,
So let’s get to the point, if you agree.
That Sunday night, before day came along,
When Palamon had heard the lark in song– 2210
It was two hours till day would begin,
And yet the lark sang–Palamon right then
In hopeful spirit and with holy heart
Arose, then as a pilgrim to depart
To Cytherea, blissful and benign 2215
(That is, to Venus, honored and divine);
For in her hour he walked out to where
Her temple stood in the theatre. There
He knelt down with a humble, aching heart
And prayed, as you shall hear me now impart. 2220
“O lady Venus, fairest of the fair,
Jove’s daughter, wife of Vulcan, hear my prayer!
O gladness of the Cytherean mount!
By your love for Adonis–such amount!–
Have pity on my tears, their bitter smart, 2225
And take my humble prayer into your heart.
Alas! I have no language that can tell
The ravages and torments of my hell,
The many ills my heart cannot convey;
I’m so confused there’s nothing I can say 2230
But ‘Mercy, lady bright, who, as I kneel,
Knows all my thought and sees what woe I feel!’
Consider all and rue me, I implore,
As surely as I shall forevermore
(Give me the might!) your truest servant be 2235
And always be at war with chastity.
I give to you my vow, give me your aid.
For I don’t care to boast of arms displayed
Nor ask that mine shall be the victory
And fame; I do not seek the vanity 2240
Of warriors’ glory, praised bot