Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale, First Part (Forrest Hainline's Minimalist Translation) - Poem by Forrest Hainline
Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale, First Part (Forrest Hainline's Minimalist Translation)
Here beginneth the Knight's Tale
Once, as old stories tell us;
There was a duke called Theseus;
Of Athens he was lord and governor,
And in his time such a conqueror
5 That greater was there none under the sun.
Full many a rich country had he won;
What with his wisdom and his chivalry,
He conquered all the reign of Femenie,
That once was called Scythia,
10 And wedded the queen Hippolyta,
And brought her home with him in his country
With much glory and great ceremony,
And eek her young sister Emily.
And thus with victory and with melody
15 Let I this noble duke to Athens ride,
And all his host in arms him beside.
And certain, if it weren't too long to hear,
I would have told you fully the manner
How won was the reign of Femenie
20 By Theseus and by his chivalry;
And of the great battle for the nonce,
Between Athens and Amazons;
And how besieged was Hippolyta,
The fair, hardy queen of Scythia;
25 And the feast that was at her wedding,
And of the tempest at her home-coming;
But all that thing I must as now forbear.
I have, God knows, a large field to air,
And weak be the oxen in my plough.
30 The remnant of the tale is long enough.
I will impede eek none of this route;
Let every fellow tell his tale about,
And let's see now who shall the supper win;
And where I left, I will again begin.
35 This duke, of whom I make mention,
When he was come almost unto the town,
In all his wealth and in his most pride,
He was ware, as he cast his eye aside,
Where that there kneeled in the highway
40 A company of ladies, tway and tway,
Each after the other clad in clothes black;
But such a cry and such a woe they make
That in this world no creature living
That heard such another lamenting;
45 And of this cry they would never cease
Til they the reins of his bridle seized.
"What folk be you, that at my homecoming
Perturb so my feast with crying? "
Said Theseus."Have you so great envy
50 Of my honor, that thus complain and cry?
Or who have you misbeden or offended?
And tell me if it may be amended,
And why that you be clothed thus in black."
The eldest lady of them all spak,
55 When she had swooned with a deadly cheer,
That it was ruth for to see and hear;
She said, "Lord, to whom Fortune has given
Victory, and as a conqueror to live,
Not grieves us your glory and your honor,
60 But we beseech mercy and succor.
Have mercy on our woe and our distress!
Some drop of pity, through thy gentleness,
Upon us wretched women let thou fall,
For, certain, lord, there is none of us all
65 That she hasn't been a duchess or a queen.
Now be we captives, as it is well seen,
Thanks be Fortune and his false wheel,
That no one's estate's assured to be well.
And certain, lord, to abide in your presence,
70 Here in this temple of the goddess Clemence
We have been waiting all this fortnight.
Now help us, Lord, since it is in thy might.
I, wretch, which that weep and wail thus,
Was once wife to King Capaneus,
75 That died at Thebes - cursed be that day! -
And all we that be in this array
And make all this lamentation,
We lost all our husbands at that town,
While that the siege thereabout lay.
80 And yet now the old Creon - wail-away! -
That lord is now of Thebes the city,
Fulfilled of ire and of iniquity,
He, for despite and for his tyranny,
To do the dead bodies villainy
85 Of all our lords which that had been slain,
Had all the bodies on a heap lain,
And will not suffer them, by no assent,
Neither to be buried nor burnt,
But make hounds eat them in despite."
90 And with that word, without more respite,
They fell gruf and cried piteously,
"Have on us wretched women some mercy,
And let our sorrow sink in thine heart."
This gentle duke down from his courser start
95 With heart piteous, when he heard them speak.
He thought that his heart would break,
When he saw them so pitiful and so mat,
That once were of so great estate;
And in his arms he them all up hente,
100 And them comforted in full good intent,
And swore his oath, as he was true knight,
He would do so ferforthly his might
Upon the tyrant Creon him to wreak
That all the people of Greece should speak
105 How Creon was of Theseus served
As he that had his death full well deserved.
And right anon, without more abode,
His banner he displayed, and forth he rode
To Thebes-ward, and all his host beside.
110 No near Athens would he go nor ride,
Nor take his ease fully half a day,
But onward on his way that night he lay,
And sent anon Hippolyta the queen,
And Emily, her young sister sheen,
115 Unto the town of Athens to dwell,
And forth he rode, there is no more to tell.
The red statute of Mars, with his spear and targe,
So shines in his white banner large
That all the fields glitter up and down
120 And by his banner born is his pennon
Of gold full rich, in which there was beat
The Minotaur, which that he won in Crete.
Thus rides this duke, thus rides this conqueror,
And in his host of chivalry the flower,
125 Til that he came to Thebes and alight
Fair in a field, there as he thought to fight.
But shortly for to speak of this thing,
With Creon, which that was of Thebes king,
He fought, and slew him manly as a knight
130 In plain battle, and put the folk to flight;
And by assault he won the city after,
And rent down both wall and spar and rafter;
And to the ladies he restored again
The bones of their friends that were slain,
135 To do obsequies, as was then the guise,
But it were all too long for to devise
The great clamor and the lamenting
That the ladies made at the burning
Of the bodies, and the great honor
140 That Theseus, the noble conqueror,
Does to the ladies, when they from him went;
But shortly for to tell is my intent.
When that this worthy duke, this Theseus,
Has Creon slain and won Thebes thus,
145 Still in that field he took all night his rest,
And did with all the country as he lest.
To ransack in the taas of bodies dead,
Them for to strip of harness and of wed,
The pillagers did business and cure
150 After the battle and discomfiture.
And so befell that in the taas they found,
Through-girt with many a grievous bloody wound,
Two young knights lying by and by,
Both in one arms, wrought full richly,
155 Of which two, Arcite hight that one,
And that other knight hight Palamon.
Not fully quick, nor fully dead they were,
But by their coat of arms and by their gear
The heralds knew them best in special
160 As they that were of the blood royal
Of Thebes, and of sisters two born.
Out of the taas the pillagers had them torn,
And had them carried soft into the tent
Of Theseus; and he full soon them sent
165 To Athens, to dwell in prison
Perpetually - not held for ransom.
And when this worthy duke has thus done,
He took his host, and home he rode anon
With laurel crowned as a conqueror;
170 And there he lives in joy and in honor
Term of his life, what needeth words more?
And in a tower, in anguish and in woe,
This Palamon and his fellow Arcite
For evermore; there may no gold them quit.
175 This passed year by year and day by day,
Til it fell once, on a morn of May,
That Emily, that fairer was to seen
Than is the lily upon his stalk green,
And fresher than the May with flowers new -
180 For with the rose color strove her hue,
I know not which was the finer of them two -
Ere it were day, as was her want to do,
She was arisen and all ready dight,
For May will have no sluggardy at night.
185 The season pricks every gentle heart,
And makes it out of his sleep to start,
And says, "Arise, and do thy observance."
This made Emily have remembrance
To do honor to May, and for to rise.
190 Clothed was she fresh, for to devise:
Her yellow hair was braided in a tress
Behind her back, a yard long, I guess.
And in the garden, at the sunrise,
She walked up and down, and as she pleased
195 She gathered flowers, parti white and red,
To make a subtle garland for her head;
And as an angel heavenly she sang.
The great tower, that was so thick and strong,
Which of the castle was the chief dungeon
200 (Whereas the knights were in prison
Of which I told you and tell I shall) ,
Was even joined to the garden wall
Whereas this Emily had her playing.
Bright was the sun and clear that morning,
205 And Palamon, this woeful prisoner,
As was his want, by leave of his jailor,
Was risen and roamed in a chamber on high,
In which he all the noble city saw,
And eek the garden, full of branches green,
210 Whereas this fresh Emily the sheen
Was in her walk, and roamed up and down.
This sorrowful prisoner, this Palamon,
Goes in the chamber roaming to and fro
And to himself complaining of his woe.
215 That he was born, oft he said, "alas! "
And so befell, by adventure or chance,
That through a window, thick of many a bar
Of iron great and square as any spar,
He cast his eye upon Emily,
220 And therewithal he blanched and cried, "Ah! "
As though he stung were unto the heart.
And with that cry Arcite anon up start
And said, "Cousin mine, what ails thee,
That art so pale and deadly on to see?
225 Why criest thou?Who has thee done offense?
For God's love, take all in patience
Our prison, for it may none other be.
Fortune has given us this adversity.
Some wicked aspect or disposition
230 Of Saturn, by some constellation,
Has given us this, although we had it sworn;
So stood the heaven when that we were born.
We must endure it; this is the short and plain."
This Palamon answered and said again,
235 "Cousin, for truth, of this opinion
Thou hast a vain imagination.
This prison caused me not for to cry,
But I was hurt right now through my eye
Into my heart, that will my bane be.
240 The fairness of that lady that I see
Yond in the garden roaming to and fro
Is cause of all my crying and my woe.
I know not whether she be woman or goddess,
But Venus is it truly, as I guess."
245 And therewithal on knees down he fell,
And said, "Venus, if it be thy will
You in this garden thus to transfigure
Before me, sorrowful, wretched creature,
Out of this prison help that we may escape.
250 And if so be my destiny be shaped
By eternal word to die in prison,
Of our lineage have some compassion,
That is so low brought by tyranny."
And with that word Arcite gan to spy
255 Whereas this lady roamed to and fro,
And with that sight her beauty hurt him so,
That, if that Palamon was wounded sore,
Arcite is hurt as much as he, or more.
And with a sigh he said piteously,
260 "The fresh beauty slays me suddenly
Of her that roams in the yonder place;
And but I have her mercy and her grace,
That I may see her at least a way,
I am but dead; there is no more to say."
265 This Palamon, when he those words heard
Despiteously he looked and answered,
"Whether sayeth thou this in earnest or in play? "
"Nay, " said Arcite, "in earnest, by my faith!
God help me so, that would be full evil play."
270 This Palamon then knit his brows tway.
"It were, " said he, "to thee no great honor
For to be false, nor to be traitor
To me, that am thy cousin and thy brother
Sworn full deep, and each of us til other,
275 That never, for to die in the pain,
Til that the death depart shall us twain,
Neither of us in love to hinder the other,
Nor in no other case, my dear brother,
But that thou should truly further me
280 In every case, as I shall further thee -
This was thine oath, and mine also, certain;
I know right well, thou dare it not withstand.
Thus art thou of my counsel, out of doubt,
And now thou would falsely be about
285 To love my lady, whom I love and serve,
And ever shall til that my heart starve.
Nay, certain, false Arcite, thou shall not so.
I loved her first, and told thee my woe
As to my counsel and my brother sworn
290 To further me, as I have told before.
For which thou are bound as a knight
To help me, if it lay in thy might,
Or else art thou false, I dare well say."
This Arcite full proudly spoke again:
295 "Thou shalt, " said he, "be rather false than I;
And thou art false, I tell thee utterly,
For paramour I loved her first er thou.
What will thou say? Thou know not yet now
Whether she be a woman or goddess!
300 Thine is affection of holiness,
And mine is love as to a creature;
For which I told thee my adventure
As to my cousin and my brother sworn.
I pose that thou loved her before;
305 Know thee not well the old clerk's saw,
That ‘who shall give a lover any law? '
Love is a greater law, by my pan,
Than may be give to any earthly man;
And therefore positive law and such decree
310 Is broken all day for love in each degree.
A man must need love, maugre his head;
He may not flee it, though he should be dead,
And be she maid, or widow, or else wife.
And eek it is not likely all thy life
315 To stand in her grace; no more shall I;
For well thou know thyself, verily,
That thou and I be damned to prison
Perpetually; us gain no ransom.
We strive as did the hounds for the bone;
320 They fought all day, and yet their part was none;
There came a kite, while that they were so wroth,
And bore away the bone between them both.
And therefore, at the king's court, my brother,
Each man for himself, there is no other.
325 Love, if thee list, for I love and ay shall;
And truly, dear brother, this is all.
Here in this prison must we endure,
And each of us take his adventure."
Great was the strife and long between those two,
330 If that I had leisure to say;
But to the effect; it happened on a day,
To tell it you as shortly as I may,
A worthy duke that hight Perotheus,
That fellow was unto Duke Theseus
335 Since that day that they were children lit
Was come to Athens his fellow to visit,
And for to play as he was want to do;
For in this world he loved no man so,
And he loved him as tenderly again.
340 So well they loved, as old books say,
That when that one was dead, truly to tell
His fellow went and sought him down in hell -
But of that story list me not to write.
Duke Perotheus loved well Arcite,
345 And had him known at Thebes year by year,
And finally at request and prayer
Of Perotheus, without any ransom,
Duke Theseus him let out of prison
Freely to go where that he list over all,
350 In such a guise as I you tell shall.
This was the forward, plainly for to endite,
Between Theseus and him Arcite:
That if so were that Arcite were found
Ever in his life, by day or night, or stound
355 In any country of this Theseus,
And he were caught, it was accorded thus,
That with a sword he should lose his head.
There was no other remedy nor rede;
But taking his leave, and homeward he him sped.
360 Let him beware!His neck lies to wedde.
How great a sorrow suffers now Arcite!
The death he feels through his heart smite;
He weeps, wails, cries piteously;
To slay himself he waits privily.
365 He said, "Alas that day that I was born!
Now is my prison worse than before;
Now is my shape eternally to dwell
Not in purgatory, but in hell.
Alas, that ever knew I Perotheus!
370 For else had I dwelled with Theseus,
Fettered in his prison evermore.
Then had I been in bliss and not in woe.
Only the sight of her whom that I serve,
Though that I never her grace may deserve,
375 Would have sufficed right enough for me.
Oh dear cousin Palamon, " said he,
"Thine is the victory of this adventure.
Full blissfully in prison may thou dure -
In prison?Certain not, but in paradise!
380 Well has Fortune turned thee the dice,
That has the sight of her, and I the absence.
For possible is, since thou have her presence,
And art a knight, a worthy and an able,
That by some case, since Fortune is changeable,
385 Thou may to thy desire sometime attain.
But I, that am exiled and barren
Of all grace, and in so great despair
That there's not earth, water, fire, nor air,
Nor creature that of them made is,
390 That may me help or do comfort in this,
Well ought I starve in wanhope and distress.
Farewell my life, my lust, and my gladness!
"Alas, why complain folk so in commune
On providence of God, or of Fortune,
395 That gives them full oft in many a guise
Well better than they can themselves devise?
Some men desire for to have riches,
That cause is of his murder or great sickness;
And one man would out of his prison feign,
400 That in his house is of his money slain.
Infinite harms be in this matter.
We know not what things we pray here.
We fare as he that drunk is as a mouse.
A drunk man knows well he has a house,
405 But he knows not which the right way is thither
And to a drunk man the way is slider.
And certain, in this world, so fare we;
We seek fast after felicity,
But we go wrong full often, truly.
410 Thus may we say all, and namely I,
That wend and had a great opinion
That if I might escape from prison,
Then had I been in joy and perfect health,
There now I am exiled from my wealth.
415 Since that I may not see you, Emily,
I'm but dead; there's no remedy.
Upon that other side Palamon,
When that he knew Arcite was gone,
Such sorrow he makes that the great tower
420 Resounds of his yelling and clamor.
The pure fetters on his shins great
Were of his bitter, salt tears wet.
"Alas, " said he, "Arcite, cousin mine,
Of all our strife, God knows, the fruit is thine.
425 Thou walk now in Thebes at thy large,
And of my woe thou give little charge.
Thou may, since thou hast wisdom and manhood,
Assemble all the folk of our kindred,
And make a war so sharp on this city
430 That by some adventure or some treaty
Thou may have her to lady and to wife
For whom that I must need lose my life.
For, as by way of possibility,
Since thou art at thy large, of prison free,
435 And art a great lord, great is thy advantage
More than is mine, who starves here in a cage.
For I must weep and wail, while I live,
With all the woe that prison may give,
And eek with pain that love me gives also,
440 That doubles all my torment and my woe."
Therewith the fire of jealousy up start
Within his breast, and hent him by the heart
So madly that he like was to behold
The boxtree or the ash dead and cold.
445 Then said he, "O cruel gods that govern
This world with binding of your word eternal
And written on the table of adamant
Your parliament and your eternal grant
What is mankind more unto you hold
450 Than is the sheep that rucks in the fold?
For slain is man right as another beast,
And dwells eek in prison and arrest,
And has sickness and great adversity,
And oft times guiltless, pardee.
455 "What governance is in this prescience,
That guiltless torments innocence?
And yet increases this all my penance,
That man is bound to his observance,
For God's sake, to lessen of his will,
460 Whereas a beast may all his lust fulfill.
And when a beast is dead he has no pain;
But man after his death must weep and plain,
Though in this world he have care and woe.
Without doubt it may stand so.
465 The answer to this let I to devise,
But well I know that in this world great pain is.
Alas, I see a serpent or a thief,
That many a true man has done mischief,
Gone at his large, and where he likes may turn.
470 But I must be in prison through Saturn,
And eek through Juno, jealous and eek wood,
That has destroyed well nye all the blood
Of Thebes with his waste walls wide;
And Venus slays me on that other side
475 For jealousy and fear of him Arcite."
Now will I stint of Palamon a lite,
And let him in his prison still dwell,
And of Arcite forth I will you tell.
The summer passes, and the nights long
480 Increasing double wise the pains strong
Both of the lover and the prisoner.
I know not which has the woefuller master.
For, shortly for to say, this Palamon
Perpetually is damned to prison,
485 In chains and fetters to be dead;
And Arcite is exiled upon his head
For evermore, as out of that country,
Nor never more shall his lady see.
You lovers ask I now this question:
490 Who has the worst, Arcite or Palamon?
That one may see his lady day by day,
But in prison he must dwell alway;
That other where he list may ride or go,
But see his lady shall he never more.
495 Now deem as you like, you that can,
For I will tell forth as I began.
Explicit prima pars
© 2012,2015,2019 Forrest Hainline
Comments about Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales: The Knight's Tale, First Part (Forrest Hainline's Minimalist Translation) by Forrest Hainline
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