Geoffrey Chaucer, The Knight's Tale, Part I - (Forrest Hainline's Minimalist Translation) - Poem by Forrest Hainline
THE KNIGHT'S TALE, PART I
Here beginneth the Knight's Tale
A while ago, 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
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 Feminy,
That once was called Scythia,
And wedded the queen Hippolyta,
And brought her home with him to his country
With much glory and great solemnity,
And so too her young sister Emily.
And thus with victory and with melody
Let I this noble duke to Athens ride,
And all his host in arms 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 Feminy
By Theseus and by his chivalry;
And of the great battle for the nones,
Between Athenians and Amazons;
And how besieged was Hippolyta,
The fair, hardy queen of Scythia;
And the feast that was at her wedding,
And of the tempest at her home-coming;
But all those things I must as now forbear.
I have, God wit, a large field to air,
And weak be the oxen in my plough.
The remnant of the tale is long enough.
I will impede 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.
This duke, of whom I make mention,
When he was come almost unto the town,
In all his wealth and in his great pride,
He was aware, as he cast his eye aside,
Where there kneeled in the highway
A company of ladies, tway and tway,
Each after another clad in clothes black;
But such a cry and such a woe they make
That in this world not a creature living
That heard such another lamenting;
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
Of my honor, that you thus complain and cry?
Or who have you misboden 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 spake,
When she had swooned with a deadly cheer,
That it was ruth for to see and hear;
And said, "Lord, to whom Fortune has given
Victory, and as a conqueror to live,
Not grieves us your glory and your honor,
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
That she hasn't been a duchess or a queen.
Now be we wretches, as it is well seen,
Thanks to Fortune and his false wheel,
That no one's estate is assured to be well.
And certain, lord, to abide in your presence,
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, who that weep and wail thus,
Was once wife to King Cappaneus,
Who starved 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.
And yet now the old Creon - wail-away! -
That lord is now of Thebes the city,
Fulfilled of ire and of iniquity,
He, for spite and for his tyranny,
To do the dead bodies villainy
And all our lords who 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 makes hounds eat them in spite."
And with that word, without more respite,
They fell on their face 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
With heart piteous, when he heard them speak.
He thought that his heart would break,
When he saw them so pitiful and so meek,
Who once were of so great estate;
And comforted them in full good intent,
And swore his oath, as he was a true knight,
He would do so fervently his might
Upon the tyrant Creon him to wreak
That all the people of Greece should speak
How Creon was of Theseus served
As he that had his death full well deserved.
And right anon, without more abood,
His banner he displayed, and forth he rode
Towards Thebes, and all his host beside.
No near Athens would he walk or ride,
And 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,
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 shined in his white banner large
That all the fields glitter up and down
And by his banner born is his pennon
Of gold full rich, in which there was beat
The Minotaur, which that he slew in Crete.
Thus rode this duke, thus rode this conqueror,
And in his host of chivalry the flower,
Til 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 the king,
He fought, and slew him manly as a knight
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,
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
That Theseus, the noble conqueror,
Did to the ladies, when they from him went;
But shortly for to tell is my intent.
When that this worthy duke, this Theseus,
Had Creon slain and won Thebes thus,
Still in that field he took all night his rest,
And did with all the country as he leste.
To ransack in the heap of bodies dead,
Them for to strip of harness and of weed,
The pillagers did business and cure
After the battle and discomfiture.
And so befell that in the heap they found,
Through-girt with many a grievous bloody wound,
Two young knights lying by and by,
Both in one arms, wrought full richly,
Of those two, Arcite called was one,
And the other knight called 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
As they who were of the blood royal
Of Thebes, and of two sisters born.
Out of the pile the pillagers had them torn,
And had them carried soft into the tent
To Athens, to dwell in prison
Perpetually - not for them any ransom.
And when this worthy duke has thus done,
He took his host, and home he rode anon
With laurel crowned as a conqueror;
And there he lived in joy and in honor
For the term of his life, what needs words more?
And in a tower, in anguish and in woe,
Dwelled this Palamon and also Arcite
For evermore; there no gold may them quit.
This passed year by year and day by day,
Til it fell once, on a morn of May,
That Emily, that fairer to be seen
Than is the lily upon his stalk green,
And fresher that the May with flowers new -
For with the rose color strove her hue,
I know not which was the fairer of the two -
Ere it were day, as was her want to do,
She was arisen and all ready dight,
For May will have no sluggishness at night.
The season pricks every gentle heart,
And makes him 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.
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
She gathered flowers, partly white and red,
To make a subtle garland for her head;
And as an angel heavenly her song.
The great tower, that was so thick and strong,
Which of the castle was the chief dungeon
(There as the knights were in prison
Of which I told you and tell I shall) ,
Was even joined to the garden wall
There as this Emily had her playing.
Bright was the sun and clear the morning,
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 too the garden, full of branches green,
There as 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.
That he was born, often he said, "alas! "
And so befell, by adventure or chance,
That through a window, thick with many a bar
Of iron great and square as any spar,
He cast his eye upon Emily,
And therewithal he blanched and cried, "Ah! "
As though he were stung unto the heart.
And with that cry Arcite at once up start
And said, "Cousin mine, what ails thee,
That art so pale and deadly on to see?
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
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,
"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.
The fairness of that lady whom 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."
And with that 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.
And if my destiny be so 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 went to spy
Where 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,
"The fresh beauty slayed me suddenly
Of her who roams in 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."
This Palamon, when he those words heard
Pitilessly he looked and answered,
"Whether sayeth thou this in earnest or in play? "
"No, " said Arcite, "in earnest, by my faith!
God help me so, I've no care to play."
This Palamon then knit his brows two.
"It were, " he said, "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 to the other,
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 any other case, my dear brother,
But that thou should truly further me
In every case, as I shall further thee -
This was thy oath, and mine also, certain;
I know right well, thou dare it not withstand.
Thus are thou of my counsel, out of doubt,
And now thou would falsely be about
To love my lady, whom I love and serve,
And ever shall til that my heart starve.
No, certainly, false Arcite, thou shall not so.
I loved her first, and told thee my woe
As to my counsel and my brother sworn
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:
"Thou shall, " said he, "be rather false than I;
But thou art false, I tell thee utterly,
For paramour I loved her first before thou.
What will thou say? Thou know not yet now
Whether she be a woman or goddess!
Thine is affection of holiness,
And mine is love for a creature;
For which I told thee my adventure
As to my cousin and my brother sworn.
I'll suppose that thou loved her before;
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 given to any earthly man;
And therefore positive law and such decree
Is broken all day for love in each degree.
A man must need love, in spite of his head;
He may not flee it, though he should be dead,
And be she maid, or widow, or a wife.
And too it is not likely all thy life
To stand in her grace; no more shall I;
For well thou knows thyself, verily,
That thou and I be damned to prison
Perpetually; we gain no ransom.
We strive as did the hounds for the bone;
They fought all day, and yet their part was none;
There came a kite, while 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.
Love, if thee please, for I love and always shall;
And truly, dear brother, this is all.
Here in this prison must we endure,
And each of us take his adventure."
Great and long was the strife between those two,
If that I had leisure to tell you;
But to the effect; it happened on a day,
To tell you as shortly as I may,
A worthy duke called Perotheus,
That friend was unto Duke Theseus
Since the days they were children lit
Was come to Athens his fellow to visit,
And to play as he was want to do;
For in this world he loved no man so,
And he loved him as tenderly again.
So well they loved, as old books say,
That when that one was dead, truly to tell
His friend went and sought him down in hell -
But of that story I choose not to write.
Duke Perotheus loved well Arcite,
And knew him at Thebes year by year,
And finally by request and prayer
Of Perotheus, without any ransom,
Duke Theseus let him out of prison
Freely to go where he chose over all,
In such a guise as tell you I shall.
This was the promise, plainly to endite,
Between Theseus and Arcite:
That if so that Arcite were found
Ever in his life, by day or night, or ground
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 sped.
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 privately.
He said, "Alas that day that I was born!
Now is my prison worse than before;
Now I'm destined eternally to dwell
Not in purgatory, but in hell.
Alas, that ever I knew Perotheus!
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 I never her grace may deserve,
Would have sufficed right enough for me.
Oh dear cousin Palamon, " said he,
"Thine is the victory of this adventure.
Full blissfully in prison must thou endure -
In prison? Certain not, but in paradise!
Well has Fortune turned thee the dice,
That has the sight of her, and I the absence.
For it's possible, since thou have her presence,
And are a knight, a worthy and an able,
That by some case, since Fortune is changeable,
Thou may to thy desire sometime attain.
But I, who am exiled and barren
Of all grace, and so great despair
That there's not earth, water, fire, nor air,
Nor creature that of them made is,
That may help me or do comfort in this,
Well ought I starve in hopeless distress.
Farewell my life, my light, and my gladness!
"Alas, why complain folk so in common
On the providence of God, or of Fortune,
That gives them often in many a guise
Well better than they can themselves devise?
One man desires to have riches,
That causes his death or great sickness;
And one man would out of his prison feign,
That in his house is for his money slain.
Infinite harms be in this matter.
We know not what things we pray for.
We fare as well as he who's drunk as a mouse.
A drunk man knows well he has a house,
But he knows not which is the right way 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.
Thus may we say all, and namely I,
That went 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.
Since that I may not see you, Emily,
I'm but dead; there's no remedy.
Upon that other side Palamon,
When he knew that Arcite was gone,
Such sorrow he made that the great tower
Resounded with his yelling and clamor.
The pure fetters on his shins great
Were with his bitter salt tears wet.
"Alas, " said he, "Arcite, cousin mine,
Of all our strife, God knows, the fruit is thine.
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
That by some adventure or some treaty
Thou may have her to lady and to wife
For whom I must needs lose my life.
For, as by way of possibility,
Since thou art at large, of prison free,
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 too with pain that love gives me also,
That doubles all my torment and my woe."
Therewith the fire of jealousy up start
Within his breast, and held him by the heart
So madly that he was like to behold
The boxtree or the ashes dead and cold.
Then said he, "O cruel gods that govern
This world with binding of your word eternal
And write on the table of adamant
Your parliament and your eternal grant
What is mankind more unto you hold
Than is the sheep that rucks in the fold?
For slain is man right as another beast,
And dwells too in prison and arrest,
And has sickness and great adversity,
And oft times guiltless, indeed.
"What governance is in this prescience,
That guiltless torments innocence?
And yet this increases all my penance,
That man is bound to his observance,
For God's sake, to lessen his will,
There while a beast may all his lust fulfill.
And when a beast is dead he has no pain;
Though in this world he have care and woe.
Without doubt it may stand so.
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.
But I must be in prison through Saturn,
And too through Juno, jealous and mad,
Who has destroyed well nye all the blood
Of Thebes with this waste of walls wide;
And Venus slays me on the other side
For jealousy and fear of Arcite."
Now will I stay of Palamon a lite,
And let him in his prison still dwell,
And of Arcite forth I will you tell.
The summer passed, and the nights long
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,
In chains and fetters until 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:
Who has the worst, Arcite or Palamon?
That one may see his lady day by day,
But in prison he must dwell always;
That other where he likes to ride or go,
But see his lady shall he never more.
Now judge as you like, you that can,
For I will tell forth as I began.
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