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21. TALE OF SIR TOPAZ

Prologue
Merry Words of the Host to Chaucer
This miracle, when told, made every man
So sober that it was a sight to see–
Until our Host to joke with us began,
Then for the first time took a look at me.
“And may I ask, what man are you?” said he. 695
“You look as if you think to find a hare,
For always at the ground I see you stare.

“Come closer now, and look up merrily–
Attention, sirs, and let this man have place!
About the waist he’s shaped as well as me. 700
Now he’d be quite a doll for the embrace
Of any woman small and fair of face.
He seems so baffling by his countenance,
Disporting with no one in any sense.

“Say something now, as other folks have done; 705
Tell us a mirthful tale, and promptly so.”
“Sir Host,” said I, “don’t let me spoil your fun,
For now of other tales naught do I know
But for a rhyme that I learnt long ago.”
“That’s good enough,” said he, “now shall we glean 710
Some worthy thing, if I judge by his mien.”

Tale of Sir Topaz
THE FIRST FIT

Listen, lords, with good intent,
I’ll truly tell of merriment,
A pleasant story, as
It’s of a knight, a worthy gent 715
In battle and in tournament,
His name was Sir Topaz.

Where he was born lies distantly
In Flanders far beyond the sea,
Poperinghe was the place; 720
So noble was his father, free,
And lord of all that land was he,
As it was God’s good grace.

Sir Topaz grew, a doughty swain;
His face was bread white, yet again 725
His lips red as a rose;
His hue was scarlet dyed in grain,
And I can say as sure as rain
He had a seemly nose.

Like saffron were his beard and crown 730
With hair that to his belt hung down,
His shoes were hide of Spain;
His hose of Bruges were colored brown,
He wore a thinnish silken gown
That cost him many a jane. 735

He’d hunt wild game such as the deer,
Along the river he’d appear
With gray goshawk for hawking;
A perfect archer (pretty near),
At wrestling he had not a peer, 740
Each ram he took a-walking.

And many a maiden, bright in bower,
Desired him–each impassioned hour
She’d best have slept instead;
For he was chaste, for all his power, 745
And sweet as is the bramble flower
That bears the hip so red.

It so befell upon a day,
To tell you truly as I may, 750
Sir Topaz wished to ride;
He got upon his steed of gray
With lance in hand and rode away,
A long sword by his side.

He’d pricked his way before he ceased 755
Into a forest–many a beast
Was there, both buck and hare;
And as he pricked both north and east,
He almost had, to say the least,
A sorry bit of care.

There herbs of various sizes grew, 760
It had setwall and licorice too,
And many a clove to offer,
And nutmeg like we put into
Our ale (whether it’s old or new)
Or lay up in the coffer. 765

The birds sang, I can truly say,
The sparrow-hawk and popinjay,
A joy it was to hear;
The thrush as well sang out his lay,
The wood-pigeon upon the spray 770
Was singing loud and clear.

Such lust in Sir Topaz had sprung
When he heard how the thrush had sung,
He pricked as if insane;
His fair steed sweat, so sharply stung, 775
Till like a wet rag to be wrung,
His sides one bloody stain.

Sir Topaz, too, tired from the chase,
From pricking round at such a pace
With fierce heart so amazing; 780
So in the soft grass of the place
He lay, and gave his steed a space
To rest and do his grazing.

“Saint Mary, bless me!” then said he.
“What ails this love that’s binding me 785
With head and heart so sore?
I dreamt through all the night, pardie,
An elf-queen would my lover be
And sleep beneath my gore.

“An elf-queen surely I will love, 790
For in this world none’s worthy of
My love–no woman will I take
In town;
All other women I forsake,
For to an elf queen I’ll betake, 795
In dale and over down!”

His saddle he was quickly on,
Went pricking over stile and stone,
An elf-queen for to see,
Till so far riding had he gone 800
That he found, in a land alone,
The Fairyland, country
so wild;
For in that land none of their own
Dared to go near this knight unknown, 805
Neither wife nor child.

But then a giant came to vaunt,
One who was named Sir Elephant,
A perilous man indeed;
He told him, “Child, by Termagaunt, 810
If you don’t prick out of my haunt,
At once I’ll slay your steed
With mace.
For here the queen of Fairyland,
With harp and pipe and all her band, 815
Is dwelling in this place.”

The child replied, “As I may thrive,
Tomorrow with you I will strive
When I have all my gear,
And I am hoping, par ma fay, 820
That by this lance that I display
You’ll sorely suffer here;
Your maw
I’ll pierce in two, if that I may,
Before it’s fully prime of day, 825
You shall not win or draw.”

Sir Topaz drew back quick and fast
As stones at him this giant cast
With slingshot worth bewaring;
The child Sir Topaz from the scrape 830
Through grace of God made his escape,
And through his own good bearing.

Now listen, lords, yet to my tale
That’s merrier than a nightingale,
I’ll whisper up and down 835
How Sir Topaz, so trim and hale,
Now pricking over hill and dale
Has come again to town.

His merry men commanded he
To make both game and melody, 840
For he would have to fight
A giant whose heads numbered three,
All for the love and jollity
Of one who shone so bright.

“Have come,” he said, “the minstrelsy, 845
And jesters telling tales for me,
While I arm as I must;
Romances that are royal,
Of pope as well as cardinal,
Of love as well as lust.” 850

They fetched him sweet fruit of the vine,
A bowl of mead came with the wine,
And spicery for zest
Like gingerbread and cumin fine
And licorice, all to combine 855
With sugar of the best.

He dressed as white as any seen
In linen that was fine and clean,
Then breeches and a shirt;
A tunic next was his avail, 860
And over that a coat of mail
To shield himself from hurt;

And over that a fine hauberk
That was all wrought of Jewish work,
Strong-plated, too, at that; 865
And over that his coat of arms
So lily-white, against the harms
That he must then combat.

The shield he bore was gold and red,
Emblazoned on it a boar’s head, 870
A carbuncle beside;
And then he swore on ale and bread
How “that great giant shall be dead,
Betide what shall betide!”

His jambeaux tough and leathery, 875
His sword’s sheath was of ivory,
His helmet brassy bright;
His saddle was made of whalebone,
His bridle like the sun that shone
Or moon at brightest light. 880

Of finest cypress was his spear
(That bode of war, no peace was here),
The head was sharply ground;
The steed he rode was dappled gray,
And it would amble on its way 885
So gently all around
The land.
Listen, my lords, for here’s a fit,
And if you would have more of it
I’ll take it right in hand. 890

THE SECOND FIT

Now shut your mouth, for charity,
Sir knight as well as lady free,
And listen to my spell;
Of battle and of chivalry
And lady’s love, as you will see, 895
At once to you I’ll tell.

Men tell romances, strong and mild,
Both of Ypotis and Horn Child,
Of Bevis and Sir Guy,
Of Lybeaus and Playndamour, 900
But Sir Topaz the flower wore
Of royal chivalry.

His valiant steed he was astride,
Upon his way he seemed to glide
Like sparks out of the flame; 905
As for his crest, it was a tower
In which was stuck a lily flower–
God shield him, none to maim!

And so adventurous in his powers,
He slept in no house after hours 910
But slept out in his hood;
His pillow was his helmet bright,
And his horse fed nearby at night
On herbs both fine and good.

He drank spring water as withal 915
That knight did named Sir Perceval,
So worthy in his wear,
Till on a day–

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21. TALE OF SIR TOPAZ - GEOFFREY CHAUCER