By this heaven, I wonder greatly how I live, for I can scarcesleep at all, day or night; I have so many an idle fantasy only for lack of sleep, that, by my troth, I heed naught, how it comesor goes, and naught is either sweet or bitter to me. All is alike--joyor sorrow, whatsoever it be, for I have no feeling, but am, asit were, a thing stunned, ever in point to fall down; for sorry fantasies are ever wholly in my mind. And ye well know it were against nature to live in this wise; for nature would not suffer any earthly creature to abide long time without sleep, and tobe in sorrow; and I cannot sleep, night or morn. And thus melancholyand dread of dying, and default of sleep and heaviness, have soslain my spirit of life, that I have lost all lustiness. Such fantasies be in my head that I wot never what is best to do.
But men might ask me why I cannot sleep, and what is ailingme. Nevertheless who asks this, in truth, wastes his asking. Myselfcannot tell why it is thus ; but in sooth, I trow, I hold it tobe a sickness that I have suffered these eight year, and yet myremedy is never the nigher. For there is but one physician thatcan heal me. But that is past Pass we over until another time;what will not be, must needs be left ; it were good to hold toour first matter.
So when I saw I could not sleep the other night, I sat up tilllate upon my bed, and bade one reach me a book, a romance, andhe gave it me to read and pass the night away; for me thoughtit better sport than to play at either backgammon or chess. Andin this book were written fables, which clerks and other poetsin old days had put into rhyme, to read and to remember as longas men loved the law of nature. This book spake only of such mattersas the lives of ancient queens and kings, and many other little histories. Amongst all this I found a tale that methought wasmarvelous.
This was the tale : There was a king who was named Ceyx, andhe had a wife, the best that could live; and this queen was calledAlcyone. It so befell ere long that this king would fare across the sea. To tell it shortly, when he was thus at sea, such a tempestarose that it broke the ship's mast and made it fall, and madea breach in their ship and drowned every man, so that, as thebook tells, never was found board or man or aught beside. Eventhus the king Ceyx met his death.
Now to speak of his wife: This lady who was left at home marveledthat the king came not back, for he had been gone for long. Anonher heart began to grieve bitterly; and because evermore it seemedto her that it was not well that he so tarried, she longed soafter her husband that it were a piteous thing, certes, to tellthe heartfelt sorrow of this noble queen, alas !, for she lovedhim best of all. Anon she sent north and south to seek him, butthey found naught.
'Alas!' quoth she, 'Alas that ever I was born! And is my lordand my love dead? Certes, I make a vow here to my god that I willnever eat bread unless I can learn tidings of my lord!' Such wasthe sorrow of this lady that in very sooth I who have writ thisbook had such pity and ruth to read of her woe, that, by my troth,I fared the worse all the morrow after, to think of her pains.
So when she could learn no tidings that any man could findher lord, she swooned full oft and said, 'Alas!' For sorrow shewas wellnigh mad, and knew no counsel but one; anon she set herdown on her knees and so wept that it was pitiful to hear.
'Ah mercy, sweet dear lady!' quoth she to her goddess, Juno.'Help me out of this distress, and give me grace to see my lordsoon, or to know where he is or how he fares or in what state,and I shall do sacrifice to thee, and with good will become whollythine, body, heart, and all. And except thou wilt do this, sweetlady, send me grace to sleep and to dream in my sleep some faithful dream, through which I shall know of a surety whether my lordbe alive or no.'
And with that word she hung down her head and fell into a swoon,as cold as stone. Her women caught her up straightway, and unclad her and carried her to bed. And she, worn out witfl weeping and watching, was weary; and thus, ere she knew it, the dead sleep fell upon her, from Juno, who had heard her prayer and caused her quickly to sleep. For as she prayed, so it was done in fact.For Juno anon called her messenger to do her errand; and whenhe was come near, she commanded him thus:
'Haste thee,' quoth Juno, 'to Morpheus, - thou knowest him well, the god of sleep. Now understand well and heed! Say thuson my behalf, that he go quickly into the great sea ; - and bid him by any means to take up the body of Ceyx the king, which lies full pale and all bloodless. Bid him creep into the body and cause it to go to Alcyone the queen, where she lies alone, and tell her in brief how it was verily drowned the other day. And letthe body speak even as it was wont to speak whilst it was alive.Go now quickly, and hie thee!'
This messenger took leave, and went his way and never stopped till he came to the dark valley that stands between two cliffs,where never yet grew corn or grass or tree, or anything that servedfor aught, nor beast or man or aught else; save that there werea few springs came running down from the cliffs, and made a dead,sleepy sound, and ran down past a cave that was digged wondrous deep under a rock amid the valley. There lay these gods and slept,Morpheus and Eclympasteyre, who was heir to the god of sleep,who slept and did none other toil. This cave was as dark everywhere about as the pit of hell. They had good leisure to snore in rivalry,- who were the soundest sleeper! Some hung chin on breast and slept standing upright, their heads hidden; and some lay a-bedand slept the long days through.
This messenger came flying swiftly and cried, 'O ho! Awake,and that anon!' It was in vain; none heard him. 'Awake !' quothhe. 'Who is it lies there?' And he blew his horn right in theirears, and cried wondrous loud, 'Awake!'
This god of sleep opened one eye and asked, 'Who calls there?'
'It is I,' quoth this messenger. 'Juno bade thou shouldst go.'- and he told him what he was to do, as I have told you before;it needs not rehearse it again. And when he had spoken, he wenthis way.
Anon this god of sleep started out of his slumber, and went and did as he had been bidden; he took up the drowned body straightway,and bore it forth to the wife, queen Alcyone, where she lay, alittle before dawn. And it stood even at the foot of her bed,and called her by her very name, and said, 'My sweet wife, awake!Let be your sorrowful course, for in your sorrow lies no profit.For certes, sweet, I am dead; thou shalt never more see me alive.But, good sweet heart, look thou bury my body, what time thoumayst find it beside the sea. And farewell, sweet, my world'sjoy ! I pray God relieve thy sorrow; our happiness lasts too shortwhile here on earth!' At that she opened her eyes and saw naught.'Alas!' quoth she for sorrow, and died before the fourth morn.But what more she said in that delirium I may not tell you now,it were too long delay. I will tell you of my first matter, forwhich I have told this thing of queen Alcyone and Ceyx.
For thus much I dare well say, I should have been dead and all buried, even for default of sleep, if I had not read and notedthis tale. And I will tell you wherefore; because for weal orwoe I could not sleep ere I had read this tale of this drownedCeyx the king and of the gods of sleep. When I had well read thistale and looked all through it, a wonder it seemed to me if it were true; for I had never heard tell before of any gods thatcould cause men to sleep or wake. For I never knew any god hutone. And jesting I said anon, -and yet I list full little to makemirth, - 'Rather than die thus through default of sleep, I wouldgive to that Morpheus, or his goddess, dame Juno, or any wight else, I reck not who, to make me sleep and have some repose, -I will give him the very best gift that ever he looked for inhis life. And here into his keeping, now straightway, if he willgrant me a little sleep, I will give him a feather-bed of the down of pure white doves, right well enveloped in fine black satinfrom overseas and striped with gold, and eke many a pillow, with every pillow-case of cloth of Rennes, to sleep on softly; he neednot turn and turn. And I will give him all that behooves to achamber; and with pure gold I will have all his halls painted,and covered with many a fold of tapestry of one pattern. Thishe should have (knew I where his cave is), if he could make mesleep forthwith, as the goddess did Alcyone. And thus may thisgod Morpheus win from me greater pay than ever he won. And Juno,who is his goddess, I shall so require that I trow she shall hold herself content.
Scarce had I said that word, even thus as I have told it you,when suddenly, but how I knew riot3 such a lust to sleep seizedme anon that I fell asleep right over my book, and even therewithI dreamed a dream so rarely sweet, so wonderful, 1 trow neveryet had man the wit to tell the interpretation thereof; no, verily,not Joseph of Egypt, he who so interpreted the dream of king Pharaoh,no more than could the least one of us; nor scarce Macrobius,he that writ all the vision that king Scipio dreamed, that nobleman, Africanus - such marvels befell then - I trow could justlyinterpret my visions. Lo thus it was, this was my dream.
Methought thus: it was May, and about dawn where I lay in mybed all naked, in my dream I looked forth, for I was awakened by a great crowd of small birds which had startled me out of sleep through the sound and sweetness of their song; and I dreamed they sat all the while upon the roof of my chamber outside all aboutupon the tiles, and they sang in tune, each in his own wise, themost solemn service that ever man heard, I trow; for some of them sang low, some high, and all in accord. To tell shortly and inbrief, never was heard so sweet a voice, unless it had been from some heavenly thing, so merry a harmony, so sweet strains, thatcertes I would not have failed to hear them for all the town ofTunis; for my whole chamber rang through the harmony of theirsinging. For nowhere was ever heard instrument or melody yet halfso sweet, or of half so meet accord. For there was none of them that only feigned to sing, but each of them strove to find outmerry, cunning tones, and they spared not their throats.
And, sooth to say, my chamber was full well covered with paintings,and all the windows were well glazed with glass full clear, andnot a hole broken, that it was a great delight to behold. Allthe story of Troy was wrought in the glazing-of Hector and KingPriam, of Achilles and Laomedon, of Jason and Medea, of Parisand Helen and Lavinia. And all the walls were painted in finecolors with all the Romance of the Rose, both text and gloss.My windows were all shut, and through the glass the sun shoneupon my bed with bright beams and many glad, golden rays; andthe welkin eke was full beauteous) and the air blue, bright andclear, and right mild it was in sooth, neither cold nor hot. Andin all the welkin was not a cloud.
And as I lay thus, methought I heard a hunter blow his hornwondrous high and clear, to try it and learn whether it were clearor hoarse in tone. I heard men, horses, hounds and other creaturesgoing to and fro; and all men spake of hunting, how they wouldhave mightily slain the hart, and how far the hart at length hadplunged into the thicket,- I know not what it was. Straight-waywhen I heard that, how they would go a-hunting, I was right gladand anon was up, and went forth from my chamber, and took my horse,and never stopped till I came to the field outside. There I overtooka great rout of hunters and foresters, with many relays of houndsand dogs in leashes, and they hied them quick to the forest, andI with them. So at the last I asked one that led a dog in a leash,'Tell me, fellow, who shall hunt here?' quoth I. And he answered,'Sir) the emperor Octavian; and he is hard by here.' 'In God'sname, well met,' quoth I, 'go we fast!' and began to ride on.When we came to the forest-side, every man did anon as it behoovesto do in hunting. Anon the master of the hunt, hot-foot, blewthree notes on a great horn, at the uncoupling of his hounds.In a little the hart was lighted on, hallooed, and headed backlong time; at last this hart fetched a compass and stole awayfrom all the hounds by a secret course. The hounds had all outrunthe scent, and were at fault; upon that the hunter at last blewa recall wondrous loud.
I was gone walking away from my tree, and as I went there cameby and fawned upon me as stood a whelp that had followed the chasebut was untrained. It came and crept up to me as humbly as ifit had known me, held down its head and laid back its ears, andlaid its hair down all smooth. I would have caught it, and anonit fled and was gone from me. I followed it, and it went forth down by a flowery green path right thick with grass, soft andsweet with many flowers, fair under the foot, and little used,it seemed. For both Flora and Zephyr, they two that make flowersto spring, I trow had fixed their dwelling there; for it was,to behold it, as if the earth should strive to be gayer than thesky, to have seven times more flowers than the welkin has stars.It had forgotten the woes of winter and the poverty which he hadmade it suffer with his cold moms; all was forgotten, as men couldsee. For all the wood was waxed green; the sweetness of dew hadmade it grow.
There needs not ask whether the place stood thick with trees,so full of leaves) with many a green spray. And each tree stoodby itself full ten or twelve feet from the others. So great trees,of such huge strength, and forty or fifty fathoms high, and cleanwithout bough or stick up to the tops, broad and eke so thick- they were not an inch asunder - that everywhere below therewas shadow; and many a hart and hind was both before me and atmy back. The wood was full of fawns, young horned deer, bucks)does, and many a roe, and many squirrels that sat full high inthe trees, and ate, and made festival in their manner. In brief,it was so full of beasts that though Argus, the noble computer,set to reckoning on his abacus, and reckoned with his ten figures- by which figures all mankind, if they be skillful, may reckonand count and tell the number of everything, - yet he would failto reckon exactly the wonders that I dreamed in my dream.
But forth the beasts roamed down the wood wondrous fast; andat last I was ware of a man in black who sat and leaned againsta huge oak. 'Lord!' I thought, 'Who may that be? What ails him,to sit here?' Forthwith I approached, and found sitting up straighta wondrous fine-looking knight, -- by his bearing methought so,- of good height and young, four-and-twenty years of age; therewas but little hair in his beard, and he was clothed all in black.I walked softly up behind him, and stood there as still as anything,so that truly he saw me not, because he hung his head down. Andwith a deathlike sorrowful voice he rhymed to himself ten or twelveverses of a complaint, the most piteous, the most rueful, thatever I heard; for, by my troth, it was a great marvel that naturecould suffer any living being to have such sorrow and not die.Full piteous, pale and bloodless, he recited a lay, a kind ofa song, but without note or tune; and this was it, for I can wellrehearse it. It began right thus:
'I am with sorrows overrun,
Happiness get I never none,
Now that I see my lady bright,
That I have loved with all my might,
Hath died and is forever gone.
'Alas, O death, what aileth thee
That thou wouldst not have taken me,
When that thou tookst my lady dear;
That was so fair, so fresh, so free,
So good that every man may see
For all goodness she had no peer?'
When he had made his lament thus, his sorrowful heart beganto grow very faint and his spirits dead. For very fear the bloodfled down to his heart, to warm it - for well it felt that the heart was sore afflicted, - eke to learn why so horridly it shookits disposition, and to gladden it. For it is the principal member of the body, and that caused all his hue to change and wax green and pale, because no blood was seen in any limb of his.
Thereat anon, when I saw how ill he fared there, I went and stood right at his feet and greeted him; but he spake not, butreasoned with his own thought and in his mind earnestly debated whether and why his life should hold out-his sorrows were so painful,and lay so cold on his heart. So his sorrow and heavy thoughtsuffered him not to hear me; for he had well-nigh lost his mind,though Pan, whom men call the god of nature, were never so wroth against him for his melancholy. But at last, in truth, he became aware of me, how I was there before him and doffed my hood, and greeted him as best I knew how. Gently and softly he said, 'Iprithee be not wroth; truly I heard you not, sir, nor saw younot.'
'Ah, good sir,' quoth I, 'no matter. I am right sorry if Ihave at all disturbed you out of your thought. Forgive me if Ihave trespassed.'
'Yea, the amends are light to make,' quoth he, 'for none areneeded; there is none offense in word or deed.'
Lo how goodly this knight spake, as if it had been anotherthan he that I had troubled. He was neither over-forward nor over-distant.And I saw that, and began to consider him, and found him veryready to talk, right marvelous discreet and reasonable, as methought,for all his woe. Anon I began to devise talk with him, to lookwhether I could in any wise know more of his mind. 'Sir,' quothI, 'this sport is over, I trow this hart is gone; these hunterscan find him nowhere.'
'I care not therefor,' quoth he, 'my mind is never a whit onthat.'
'By our Lord,' quoth I, 'I well believe you; even so me-thinksby your cheer. But, sir, will you hear one thing? Me-thinks Isee you in great sorrow, but certes, sir, if you will at all discoveryour woe to me, I would amend it if I have the power, so may Godhelp me! You can prove it by trial, for, by my troth, I will useall my power to make you whole. And tell me of your bitter sorrows;peradventure it may ease your heart, which seems full sick inyour breast.'
With that he glanced at me aside, as who should say, 'Nay,that can never be.' 'Gramercy, good friend, I thank you,' quothhe, 'that you have such a desire, but it can never the more bedone. No man can gladden my sorrow, which causes my fresh lookto droop and fade, and has so ruined mine understanding that woeis me that I was ever born! Nothing can make my sorrows pass;not the Remedium of Ovid, nor Orpheus god of melody, nor Dedaluswith cunning devices; nor can physician heal me, not Hippocratesor Galen. Woe is me that I live a day! But whosoever would makeassay of himself, whether his heart can have pity of any sorrow,let him see me. I wretch, whom death has made naked of all blissthat was ever, who am become most miserable of all men, who hatemy days and my nights! My life, my pleasures, are loathsome tome, for all welfare and I are at odds. Death itself is my enemy;though I would die, it will not so. For when I follow, it fliesfrom me; I would have it, it will not have me. This is my curelesstorment, ever dying, and never dead; so that Sisyphus lying inhell knows no more sorrow. And, by my troth, whosoever knew allmy bitter sorrows, if he had not compassion for them, must havea fiendish heart. For whoso sees me first in the morn, may sayhe has met with sorrow, for I am sorrow, and sorrow is I.
'Alas! I will tell thee why; my song is turned into lamentation,and all my laughter to weeping, my glad thoughts to heaviness,mine ease and eke my rest into travail; my weal is woe, my goodis evil; and evermore my sport is turned into ugly pain and mydelight into mourning; my health is turned into sickness, allmy security into dread ; all my light is become darkness, my witis folly, my day is night, my love is hate, my sleep is waking,my mirth and eating are fasting, mine aspect is foolishness andis all confounded wheresoever I am; my peace is turned into contentionand war. Alas how could I fare worse? My boldness is turned intoabasement, for false Fortune has played a game of chess with me,alack the day! The traitress false and guileful, who promiseseverything and performs nothing, she walks upright, yet she walkslame; she looks foully and askew, yet shows fair looks; the cruelgracious one, who scorns many a creature ! An image she is, falselyportrayed ; for she will quickly swerve aside. She is the monster'shead, covered; as filth strewn over with flowers. Her greatestglory and flower of honor is to lie; for that is her nature. Withoutfaith, law or restraint, she is false; and ever laughing withone eye and weeping with the other. That which is set aloft, sheputs all down. I liken her to the scorpion, a false, flatteringbeast; for with his head he makes cheer, but amid all his flatteryhe will sting and envenom with his tail, and so will she. Sheis the envious charity that is ever false, and seems goodly ;so she turns her false wheel about, now to one side the hall,now at the other, for it is never steadfast. Full many a man hasshe thus blinded. She is a delusion of enchantment, which seemsthe same and is not-, the false thief!'
'What has she done, trow you? By our Lord, I will tell you.She played at chess with me; with her divers false moves she stoleupon me and took my queen. And when I saw my queen gone, alas!I could play no longer, but said, "Farewell, sweet, in truth,and farewell all that ever there is!" Therewith Fortune said,"Check! " and then "Checkmate!" in the middleof the board, with a roving pawn, alas! She was more skillfulat play than Attalus - so he was named-, who first made the gameof the chess. But would God I had once or twice known and understoodthe problems that the Greek Pythagoras knew thereby I had playedthe better at chess, and the better had guarded my queen. Andyet to what end? Truly I hold that wish not worth a straw. Ithad been never the better for me. For Fortune knows so many afetch that there be but few who can beguile her. And eke for anothercause she is the less to blame; before God) I myself would havedone likewise, had I been in her place; she ought the more tobe excused. For this I say, had I been God and could have hadmy will, when she captured my queen, I should have made the samemove; for, so God save my soul, I dare well swear she took thebest!
'But I have lost my bliss through that move; alas that I wasborn! For evermore, I truly believe, in spite of my will, my pleasureis wholly at an end; but yet what is to be done? By our Lord,it is to die quickly! In spite of all I give not up the thought,but live and die therein. There is no planet in the firmament,or element in the air or earth, that gives me not the gift ofweeping, when I am alone. For when I consider well, and bethinkme how nothing is owing me in mine account with sorrow; and howthere remains no gladness which may gladden me in my distress,and how I have lost content and have no pleasance left; then Imay say, nought remains at all. And when all this falls into mymind, alas! then I am overwhelmed! For what is done is not stillto come. I have more sorrow than Tantalus.'
When I heard him tell this tale so piteously as I have toldyou, scarce could I abide longer, it did my heart so much grief.'Ah, good sir!' quoth I, 'Say not so. Have some pity on that naturewhich makes you a living man! Remember Socrates; for he carednot three straws for aught that Fortune could do.'
'No,' quoth he, 'I cannot do thus.'
'Why so, good sir?' quoth I. 'Perdy! say not so, for in sooth,though you had lost the twelve pieces, if you murdered yourselffor sorrow, you should be condemned in this case as justly asMedea was, who slew her children for Jason (and Phyllis also hangedherself for Demophon, alackaday! because he broke his appointedtime to come to her). Another frenzied lover was Dido, queen ofCarthage, who slew herself because Aeneas was false. Ah! whata fool she was! And Echo died because Narcissus would not loveher; and even so has many another wrought folly. And Samson, whoslew himself by means of a pillar, died because of Dalilah. Butthere is none alive on earth who would make this woe for a queenat chess!'
'Why?' quoth he. 'It is not thus. You know full little whatyou say. I have lost more than you ween.'
'Lo, sir,' quoth I, 'how can that be? Good sir, tell me allwholly in what wise, how, why, and wherefore you have thus lostyour bliss.'
'Blithely,' quoth he, 'come sit down. I tell you upon the conditionthat with all your understanding you give your whole mind to hearkento it. - Yes, sir.' - 'Pledge your faith thereto.' -'Gladly.'- 'Keep to it then.' - 'So may God save me, I shall right blithelyhear you, as well as I can, with all the whole wit I have.'
'In God's name!' quoth he, and began: 'Sir,' quoth he, frommy youth, since first I had any manner of wit or natural understandingto comprehend in my own wit what love was in any wise, withoutfail I have ever been wholly subject to love, and have paid tributewith devoted mind, and by reason of his pleasantness have becomehis vassal with good will and body, heart and all. All this Iput in his service, as to my lord, and did homage, and full devoutlyprayed him that he should so bestow my heart that it were pleasanceto him and worship to my dear lady. And it was long ago that Idid this and knew not why, and many a year before my heart wasfixed anywhere; I trow it came to me of nature. Peradventure Iwas ready for that impressure as a white wall or a tablet; forit is ready to catch and receive all that men will put thereon,whether they will portray or paint, be the works never so curious.And at the time I did so, I was able to have learned and understoodanother art or book-lore, peradventure, as well as love or better.But because love came first into my mind, therefore I forgot itnot. I chose love for my first craft, therefore it remains withme; because I received it when I was so young that evil had notthen turned my mind to be nothing worth through learning too much.For then Youth, my mistress, ruled me in idleness; for it wasmy first youth, and I then knew full little good. All my actswere volatile, and all my thoughts varying; all that I knew thenwas alike good to me. But thus it was.
'On a day it happed that I came into a place where truly Isaw the fairest company of ladies that ever man had seen witheye together in one spot. Shall I call it hap or grace that broughtme there? Nay, but Fortune, who is full prone to lie, the false,perverse traitress! Would God I might call her by a fouler name!For now she makes me full sad; and I will tell why ere long. Amongstall these ladies I saw one, in sooth, that was like none otherin the whole company; for I dare verily swear that as the summer'sshining sun is fairer, clearer, and has more light for all theworld than any planet which is in the sky, - the moon, or theseven stars, so she surpassed them all in beauty, in demeanorand comeliness, in stature, in seemly gladness, so well endowedwith goodliness, -in brief, what more shall I say? By God andHis holy apostles, it was my sweet one, her very self! She hadsuch a steadfast aspect, such a noble port and demeanor! And Love,who had heard my prayer, had cast his eye on me thus soon; anonshe was so fixed in my mind, and so suddenly, that I took no mannerof counsel but from her look and from my heart; because her eyes,I trow, looked in such gladness on my heart that mine own mindonly said it were better to serve her for naught than to standwell with another. And it was true, for I will straightway tellyou why, every whit.
'I saw her so comely on the dance, so sweetly carol and sing,laugh and sport so girlishly, and look so gently, speak so amiablyand well, that certes I trow nevermore was seen so blessed a treasure.Every hair on her head, sooth to say, was not yellow, or red,or brown; methought it was most like gold. And what eyes my ladyhad ! Gentle, good, glad, steadfast, simple, of good size, nottoo wide; and eke her look was not sideloug nor askance, but sosimply direct that it drew and quite took up all that looked uponher. Anon her eyes seemed as if she would have mercy; fools thoughtit; but it was never the more so. It was no feigned thing, buther very own manner of looking, that the goddess, dame Nature,had made them open not too much, and gently close; for were shenever so glad, her gaze was not spread wide in folly; nor wildly,though she were in mirth. But methought her eyes ever said, "ByGod, my wrath is all given over!"
'She had eke such joy in life that dullness was afraid of her.She was not too grave nor too glad; never creature, I trow, hadmore measure in all things. But she hurt many an one with herglance, and that oppressed her heart full little, for she knewnaught of their thoughts; but whether she knew or not, at allevents she cared for them not a straw. He who dwelt at home wasno nearer to get her love than he who was in Ind; the foremostwas alway in the rear. But good folk she loved before all, asa man may love his brother; of which love she was wondrous liberal,in places where reason would have it so.
'And what a visage she had! Alas, mine heart is wondrous wofulthat I cannot describe it! I want both the language and the witto portray it perfectly, and eke my spirits he dull to describeso great a thing; I have no wit sufficient to comprehend her beauty.But thus much I dare say, that she was ruddy,
'Her face was nigh the best feature of all; for certes Naturehad such delight to make that fair, that truly my love was herchief pattern of beauty and chief ensample and type of her work;for however dark it be, evermore methinks I see her. And moreover,though all those that ever lived were now alive, they should nothave discerned one evil sign in all her face; for it was grave,simple and kind.
'And what a goodly soft language had that sweet physician ofmy life ! -.so friendly, so wise, so firmly based upon all reasonand so inclinable to all virtue, that I dare swear by the roodthat never was found such a sweet~sounding fluency of speech,nor truer-tongued, nor less scornful, nor more healing, so thatI durst swear by the mass, though the pope sang it, that neverwas man or woman greatly hurt through her tongue; as for her,all trouble hid from her. Never was less fiattenng than in herwords, so that her simple testimony was found as true as any bondor as the pledge of any man's hand. And she could not chide awhit; that all the world knows full well. And such a fair neckhad that sweet one that no bone or blemish was to be seen thatmisbecame her. It was white, smooth and straight, without hollow;and collar-bone to all seeming had she none. Her throat, as Ican recall, seemed a round tower of ivory, of proper size, nottoo great. 'And good, fair White she was called; that was my lady'svery name. She was both fair and bright, she had not her namewrongly. She had right fair shoulders, and long body and arms,every limb plump and round but not over-large; hands full whiteand pink nails, round breasts, a straight, flat back, and hipsof good breadth. I knew no manner of defect in her, that her limbswere not all in accord, so far as I could know.
'And she could disport herself so well when she would, thatI say she was like to a shining torch, from which every man canhave light in plenty, and it has none the less. In manner andcomeliness even so was it with my dear lady; for any wight, ifhe would and had eyes to behold her, might take joy enough inher bearing. For I dare swear if she had been amongst ten thousand,in the eyes of men that could judge she would have been at theleast a chief glass of fashion of all the company, though theyhad stood on a row. For wheresoever folk made merry and out-watchedthe night, methought the fellowship barer without her, as I sawonce, than a crown without gems. Truly to mine eyes she was thesolitary phoenix of Araby, for there is never but one alive; andnever knew I such an one as she.
'To speak of goodness, truly she had as much gentleness asever had Esther in the Bible, and more, if more could be. Andtherewithal in sooth she had a wit so broad, so wholly inclinedto all virtue, that by the rood all her understanding was withoutmalice and set upon joyous things; in addition, I never yet sawone less hurtful than she in her acts. I say not that she hadno knowledge what evil was; else methinks she had had no ripejudgment.
'And verily, to speak of faithfulness, it had been pity ifshe had not had that ! Thereof she had so full a share, I daresay it, and swear to it well, that Faith himself had chosen toset his principal manor, his abiding-place, in her above all others.Therewith she had the greatest gift of steadfast constancy andunconstrained temperate self-control that I ever yet knew, sowholly long-suffering was she, and so gladly would hear reason;it well followed that she knew how to rule her life, and lovedto do well. This was her disposition, every whit. Therewith sheso well loved right she would do no wrong to any person; yet nowight could do her shame, she loved so well her own fair repute.She would delude no honest wight, nor by half word or look holdhim in suspense, be sure; nor send a man into Wallachia, Prussianor Tartary, Alexandria nor Turkey, and anon bid him strictlyto go bareheaded to the dry sea and come home by the Carrenare;nor say, "Sir, see now that I hear worship of you, ere youcome again. " She gave rein to no such little freaks.
'But to what end tell I my tale? On this very one, as I havesaid, was all my love wholly placed ; for certes, that sweet woman,she was my sufficiency, my pleasure, my life, my fortune, my health,and all my bliss, my worldly welfare and comfort; and I was entirelyhers, every whit.'
'By our Lord,' quoth I, 'I well believe you! In faith yourlove was well bestowed ; I wot not how you might have done better.'
'Better? No wight could have done so well!' quoth he.
'Perdy,' quoth I, ' I trow it, sir.'
'Nay, believe it well.'
'Sir, so I do; I well believe you that you truly thought shewas the best and the very fairest to behold, for whosoever hadlooked with your eyes.'
'With mine? Nay, all that saw her said so, and swore to it.And though they had not, I should still have ]oved best my noblelady, though I had had all the beauty that ever Alcibiades had,and all the strength of Hercules; besides bad all the worthinessof Alexander, and all the wealth that ever was in Babylon or Carthageor Macedonia, or in Rome or Nineve; and eke, as I hope to be saved,had been as hardy as Hector, whom Achilles slew at Troy (and forthat deed Achilles was slain also in a temple ; for the two wereslain, both he and Archilochus, for love of Polyxena, and so saysDares Phrygius); or had I been as wise as Minerva, I should everhave loved her, without doubt, for I must needs. "Needs!" Nay, I speak idly now; not "needs. " I will tellwhy; it was because my heart desired it with its own free will,and eke I was bound to love her as the fairest and best. She wasas good as ever was Penelope of Greece, or Lucrece, the noblewife who was the best of wives - he tells thus, the Roman TitusLivius ; she was as good as they, as I hope for salvation, andhad no equal, though their stories be authentic at least she wasas faithful as Lucrece.
'But wherefore tell I how I first saw my lady? I was rightyoung, sooth to say, and had full great need to learn; when myheart longed to love, it was a great emprise. But as my wit couldbest, after my young, childish understanding, I set it verilyto love her in my best fashion, to do her such honor and serviceas I then could, by my faith, without feigning or sloth; for wondrousfain I was to see her. So much it relieved me that when I sawher first in the morn, I was healed of all my sorrow for the wholeday thereafter, till it were eve ; methought nothing could hurtme, were my sorrows never so bitter. And so she still holds myheart that, by my troth, I would not let niy lady out of my thoughtfor all this world; no, in truth!'
'Now by my troth, sir,' quoth, I, 'methinks you fare as onewho confesses without repentance.
'Repentance!' quoth he; 'Nay! fie! Should I now repent me ofloving? Nay, certes; then I were worse than Achitophel, or Antenor,the traitor who betrayed Troy, as I hope for bliss!-or the falseGanelon, he that procured the betrayal of Roland and Oliver. Nay!Whilst I am alive on earth I shall forget her nevermore.'
'Now, good sir,' quoth I, 'you have told it me already -thereis no need to rehearse it again -, how you first saw her, andwhere; but if you would tell me the manner of your first wordsto her, for that I would beseech you; and how she first knew yourmind, whether you loved her or no; and eke tell me what you havelost, which I have heard you tell of.'
'Yea,' said he, 'you know not what you say. I have lost morethan you ween.'
'What loss is that ? ' quoth I. 'Will she not love you? Isit thus? Or have you done aught amiss, so that she has left you?Is this it? For God's love, tell me all.'
'Before God, so I shall,' quoth he. 'I say even as I have said:all my love was placed on her. And yet long time she knew of itnever a whit, believe me well ; for be right sure, I durst nottell her my mind for all this world, nor would I have angeredher, truly. Knowest thou why? She was ruler of my body; she heldthe heart, and he whose heart is held cannot escape.
'But to keep me from idleness, truly I busied myself in makingsongs, as best I knew how, and oftentimes sang them aloud. AndI made many songs, though I could not make them so well, nor knewall the art, as could Tubal, Lamech's son, who first inventedthe art of song; for as his brother's hammers rang to and froon his anvil, from that he took the first melody; but the Greekssay that Pythagoras was the first inventor of the art Aurora tellsso. But no matter for that, as to the two of them. At all events,thus I put my feeling into songs, to gladden my heart; and lo! this was the first - I know not whether it were the best:
Lord but mine heart it maketh light
When I think on that sweetest wight,
A comely one to see;
And wish to God it might so he
That she would hold me for her knight,
My lady, fair and bright
'Now, I have told you my first song. Upon a day I bethoughtme what woe and sorrow I was suffering for her then, and yet sheknew it not, nor durst I tell her my mind. "Alas ! thoughtI, "I know no remedy, and unless I tell her, I am but a deadman; and if I tell her, verily I am afeared she will be wroth.Alas! what shall I do then?" In this debate I was so woful,methought mine heart would burst in twain. So at last, I bethoughtme in sooth that Nature never formed in a living being so muchbeauty and goodness without kindness. In hope of that, I toldmy story, from necessity, and with sorrow, as if should neverhave done so; maugre my head, I must needs tell her or die. Iwot not well how I began ; I can repeat it but ill. And eke, soGod help me, I trow it was on an unlucky day, as the days of theten plagues of Egypt. For I missed many a word in my tale frompure fear lest my words were misplaced. With sorrowful heart anddeadly wounds, timid and quaking from very fear and shame, andstopping ever and anon in my words for dread, my hue all pale,full often I waxed both pale and red; I bent my face down beforeher, I durst not once look at her, for wit and assurance all werefled. I cried Mercy ! " and no more. It was no sport, itwas bitter pain.
At last when my courage was returned, to relate my words shortly,I besought her with my whole heart to be my sweet lady; and sworeand heartily promised her ever to be steadfast and loyal, andto love her ever afresh and anew, and never to have other lady,and to protect all her honor as best I could; I swore that toher, - "because yours for evermore is all that ever thereis in me, my sweet heart! And never will I be false to you, unlessin a dream - so surely may God help me!"
'And when I had finished my tale, God wot she counted it allnot worth a straw, methought. To tell it briefly as it was, heranswer in truth was this ; I cannot now follow her words well,but this was the substance of her answer; she said " nay,utterly. Alack for the sorrow and woe I suffered then ! TrulyCassandra, who so bewailed the destruction of Ilium and Troy,had never such sorrow as I that day. For very fear I durst sayno more, but stole off. And thus I lived for full many a day,so that truly I had no need any day to seek for sorrow fartherthan my bed's head; I found it at hand every morn, because itwas in no fickleness I loved her.
It so befell, in another year I thought once I would try tomake her know and understand my woe, and she well perceived thatI desired naught but what was good and worshipful, and above allthings to guard her good name and dread any dishonor for her,and that I was full eager to serve her; and it were pity I shoulddie, since truly I desired no evil. So when my lady knew it, shegave me all wholly the noble gift of her favor, always savingher honor, certes, I mean no otherwise. And therewith she gaveme a ring; I trow it was the first gift. But whether my heartwas glad is no need to ask! So God help me, I was straightwayraised as from death to life, of all haps the best, the gladdestand the most peaceful. For truly, that sweet creature, when Iwas in the wrong and she in the right, she would ever forgiveme full graciously and kindly. In all my youth, in all hazard,she took me under her rule.
'Therewith she was alway so true, our joy was ever and alikefresh. Our hearts were so perfect a pair that never for any woewas the one counter to the other. In sooth they both felt alikeone joy and eke one sorrow; they were both alike glad or troubled;verily all was the same to both. And thus we lived many a year,- so well, I cannot tell how well.'
'Sir, ' quoth I, 'where is she now?'
'Now!' he said, and stopped straightway. Then he waxed as deathliketo see as a stone, then said, 'Alas that I was born! That wasthe loss which I before told you I had suffered. Remember howI said before, "You know full little what you say I havelost more than you ween. " God wot,alas, it was she!'
'Alack, sir, and how? What are you saying?'
'She is dead!'
'Yes, by my troth!'
'Is that your loss! By God, it is a grievous thing!'
And anon at that word the hunters began to range forth; itwas all done, the hart-hunting, for that time.
Upon that, methought, this king rode homeward to a place hardby, but a little distance from us, a long castle with white walls,by Saint John! On a rich hill, as I dreamed; thus it was. Rightthus I dreamed, as I relate it to you, - that there was a bellin the castle, which seemed to strike the twelfth hour.
At that I awoke, and found myself lying in my bed ; and thebook that I had been reading, of Alcyone and king Ceyx and ofthe gods of sleep, I found it even in my hand. Thought I, thisis so rare a dream, that as the days go by I will strive to putit into rhyme as best I can, and that anon. This was my dream;now it is ended.