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Stack Anne*

HP HERE is nothing in artistic poetry quite

akin to " Aucassin and Nicolette."
By a rare piece of good fortune the one
manuscript of the Song-Story has escaped
those waves of time, which have wrecked the
bark of Menander, and left of Sappho but a
few floating fragments. The very form of
the tale is peculiar; we have nothing else from
the twelfth or thirteenth century in the alter-
nate prose and verse of the cant e-f 'able. , 1 We
have fabliaux in verse, and prose Arthurian
romances. We have Chansons de Geste,
heroic poems like " Roland," unrhymed asson-
ant laisses, but we have not the alternations
of prose with laisses in seven-syllabled lines. It
cannot be certainly known whether the form
of " Aucassin and Nicolette " was a familiar
form used by many jogleors, or wandering
minstrels and story-tellers such as Nicolette,
in the tale, feigned herself to be or whether
this is a solitary experiment by " the old cap-
tive " its author, a contemporary, as M. Gas-

1 Gaston Paris, in M. Bida's edition, p. xii. Paris, 1878.
The blending is not unknown in various countries. See note
at end of Translation.


6 Andrew Lang

ton Paris thinks him, of Louis VII. (1130).
He was original enough to have invented, or
adopted from popular tradition, a form for
himself; his originality declares itself every-
where in his one surviving masterpiece. True,
he uses certain traditional formulae, that have
survived in his time, as they survived in
Homer's, from the manner of purely popular
poetry, of Volkslieder. Thus he repeats
snatches of conversation always in the same,
or very nearly the same words. He has a
stereotyped form, like Homer, for saying that
one person addressed another, " ains traist au
visconte de la vile si 1'apela " TOV SaTrafiet
ySo/ievos Trpo<Tf<j>rj . . . Like Homer, and
like popular song, he deals in recurrent epi-
thets, and changeless courtesies. To Aucas-
sin the hideous ploughman is " Biax frere,"
" fair brother," just as the treacherous
Aegisthus is apvfjuav in Homer ; these are com-
plimentary terms, with no moral sense in
particular. The jogleor is not more curious
than Homer, or than the poets of the old
ballads, about giving novel descriptions of his
characters. As Homer's ladies are " fair-
tressed," so Nicolette and Aucassin have, each
of them, close yellow curls, eyes of vair
(whatever that may mean), and red lips.
War cannot be mentioned except as war


" where knights do smite and are smitten,"
and so forth. The author is absolutely con-
ventional in such matters, according to the
convention of his age and profession.

Nor is his matter more original. He tells
a story of thwarted and finally fortunate love,
and his hero is " a Christened knight " like
Tamlane his heroine a Paynim lady. To
be sure, Nicolette was baptized before the
tale begins, and it is she who is a captive
among Christians, not her lover, as usual, who
is a captive among Saracens. The author has
reversed the common arrangement, and he ap-
pears to have cared little more than his reck-
less hero about creeds and differences of faith.
He is not much interested in the recognition
of Nicolette by her great Paynim kindred,
nor indeed in any of the "business" of the
narrative, the fighting, the storms and tempests,
and the burlesque of the kingdom of Torelore.

What the nameless author does care for, is
his telling of the love-story, the passion of
Aucassin and Nicolette. His originality lies
in his charming medley of sentiment and
humor, of a smiling compassion and sympathy
with a touch of mocking mirth. The love of
Aucassin and Nicolette

" Des grans paines qu'll soufri,"

8 Andrew Lang

that is the one thing serious to him in the
whole matter, and that is not so very serious. 1
The story-teller is no Mimnermus, Love and
Youth are the best things he knew " deport
du viel caitif," and now he has " come to
forty years," and now they are with him no
longer. But he does not lament like Mim-
nermus, like Alcman, like Llwyarch Hen.
" What is Life, what is delight without golden
Aphrodite? May I die!" says Mimnermus,
" when I am no more conversant with these,
with secret love, and gracious gifts, and the
bed of desire." And Alcman, when his limbs
waver beneath him, is only saddened by the
faces and voices of girls, and would change
his lot for the sea-birds. 2

"Maidens with voices like honey for sweet-
ness that breathe desire,

Would that I were a sea-bird with limbs that
could never tire,

Over the foam-flowers flying with halcyons
ever on wing,

Keeping a careless heart, a sea-blue bird of the

1 1 know not if I unconsciously transferred th'.s criticism
from M. Gaston Paris.

2 Love in Idleness. London, 1883, p. 169.


But our old captive, having said farewell
to love, has yet a kindly smiling interest in
its fever and folly. Nothing better has he
met, even now that he knows " a lad is an
ass." He tells a love story, a story of love
overmastering, without conscience or care of
aught but the beloved. And the viel caitif
tells it with sympathy, and with a smile. " Oh
folly of fondness," he seems to cry, " oh merry
days of desolation " :

" When I was young as you are young,
When lutes were touched, and songs were

And love lamps in the windows hung"

It is the very tone of Thackeray, when Thack-
eray is tender, and the world heard it first
from this elderly, nameless minstrel, strolling
with his viol and his singing boys, perhaps,
like a blameless d'Assoucy, from castle to cas-
tle in " the happy poplar land." One seems
to see him and hear him in the twilight, in
the court of some chateau of Picardy, while
the ladies on silken cushions sit around him
listening, and their lovers, fettered with silver
chains, lie at their feet. They listen, and
look, and do not think of the minstrel with
his gray heacl and his green heart, but we
think of him. It is an old man's work, and

io Andrew Lang

a weary man's work. You can easily tell the
places where he has lingered, and been pleased
as he wrote. They are marked, like the
bower Nicolette built, with flowers and
broken branches wet with dew. Such a pass-
age is the description of Nicolette at her win-
dow, in the strangely painted chamber,

" ki faite est par grant devisse
panturee a mir amie"

" she saw the roses blow,
Heard the birds sing loud and low."

Again, the minstrel speaks out what many
must have thought, in those incredulous ages
of Faith, about Heaven and Hell, Hell where
the gallant company makes up for everything.
When he comes to a battle-piece he makes
Aucassin " mightily and knightly hurl through
the press," like one of Malory's men. His
hero must be a man of his hands, no mere
sighing youth incapable of arms. But the
minstrel's heart is in other things, for example,
in the verses where Aucassin transfers to
Beauty the wonder-working powers of Holi-
ness, and makes the sight of his lady heal the
palmer, as the shadow of the Apostle, falling
on the sick people, healed them by the Gate
Beautiful. The Flight of Nicolette is a

Introduction n

familiar and beautiful picture, the daisy flow-
ers look black in the ivory moonlight against
her feet, fair as Bombyca's " feet of carven
ivory " in the Sicilian idyll, long ago. 1 It is
characteristic of the poet that the two lovers
begin to wrangle about which loves best, in
the very mouth of danger, while Aucassin is
yet in prison, and the patrol go down the
moonlit street, with swords in their hands,
sworn to slay Nicolette. That is the place
and time chosen for this ancient controversy.
Aucassin's threat that if he loses Nicolette
he will not wait for sword or knife, but will
dash his head against a wall, is in the very
temper of the prisoned warrior-poet, who actu-
ally chose this way of death. Then the night
scene, with its fantasy, and shadow, and moon-
light on flowers and street, yields to a picture
of the day, with the birds singing, and the
shepherds laughing, in the green links between
wood and water. There the shepherds take
Nicolette for a fairy, so bright a beauty shines
about her. Their mockery, their independ-
ence, may make us consider again our ideas
of early Feudalism. Probably they were in
the service of townsmen, whose good town
treated the Count as no more than an equal
of its corporate dignity. The bower of

1 Theocritus, x. 37.

12 Andrew Lang

branches built by Nicolette is certainly one of
the places where the minstrel himself has
rested and been pleased with his work. One
can feel it still, the cool of that clear summer
night, the sweet smell of broken boughs, and
trodden grass, and deep dew, and the shining
of the star that Aucassin deemed was the
translated spirit of his lady. Romance has
touched the book here with her magic, as she
has touched the lines where we read how
Consuelo came by moonlight to the Canon's
garden and the white flowers. The pleasure
here is the keener for contrast with the luck-
less hind whom Aucassin encountered in the
forest: the man who had lost his master's ox,
the ungainly man who wept, because his
mother's bed had been taken from under her
to pay his debt. This man was in that estate
which Achilles, in Hades, preferred above the
kingship of the dead outworn. He was hind
and hireling to a villein.

dvSpt Trap a.K\ripta.

It is an unexpected touch of pity for the peo-
ple, and for other than love-sorrows, in a poem
intended for the great and courtly people of

At last the lovers meet, in the lodge of
flowers beneath the stars. Here the story

Introduction 13

should end, though one could ill spare the
pretty lecture the girl reads her lover as they
ride at adventure, and the picture of Nicolette,
with her brown stain, and jogleor's attire,
and her viol, playing before Aucassin in his
own castle of Biaucaire. The burlesque inter-
lude of the country of Torelore is like a page
out of Rabelais, stitched into the cante-fable
by mistake. At such lands as Torelore Panta-
gruel and Panurge touched many a time in
their vague voyaging. Nobody, perhaps, can
care very much about Nicolette's adventures
in Carthage, and her recognition by her Pay-
nim kindred. If the old captive had been a
prisoner among the Saracens, he was too indo-
lent or incurious to make use of his knowledge.
He hurries on to his journey's end;

"Journeys end in lovers meeting"

So he finishes the tale. What lives in it, what
makes it live, is the touch of poetry, of tender
heart, of humorous resignation. The old cap-
tive says the story will gladden sad men:

" Nus horn n est si esbahis,
tant dolans ni entrepris,
de grant mal amaladis,
se il V oit, ne soit garis,
et de joie resbaudis,

tant par est douce"

14 Andrew Lang

This service it did for M. Bida, the painter,
as he tells us when he translated Aucassin in
1870. In dark and darkening days, patriai
tempore iniquo, we too have turned to Aucas-
sin et Nicolette. 1

*I have not thought it necessary to discuss the conjectures
they are no more about the Greek or Arabic origin of the
cante-fable, about the derivation of Aucassin's name, the sup-
posed copying of Floirc et Blancbeflor, the longitude and
latitude of the land of Torelore, and so forth. In truth "we
are in Love's land to-day," where the ships sail without wind
or compass, like the barques of the Phaeacians. Brunner and
Suchier add nothing positive to our knowledge, and M. Gaston
Paris pretends to cast but little light on questions which it is
too curious to consider at all. In revising the translation I have
used with profit the versions of M. Bida, of Mr. Bourdillon,
the glossary of Suchier, and Mr. Bourdillon's glossary. As
for the style I have attempted, if not old English, at least
English which is elderly, with a memory of Malory.


Where smooth the Southern waters run

Through rustling leagues of poplars gray,
Beneath a veiled soft Southern sun,

We wandered out of Yesterday;

Went Maying in that ancient May
Whose fallen flowers are fragrant yet,

And lingered by the fountain spray
With Aucassin and Nicolette.

The grassgrown paths are trod of none

Where through the woods they went astray ,
The spider's traceries are spun

Across the darkling forest way;

There come no Knights that ride to slay,
No Pilgrims through the grasses wet,

No shepherd lads that sang their say
With Aucassin and Nicolette.

'T was here by Nicolette begun

Her lodge of boughs and blossoms gay;

'Scaped from the cell of marble dun
'T was here the lover found the Fay;

16 Andrew Lang

O lovers fond, O foolish play!
How hard we find it to forget,

Who jain would dwell with them as they.
With Aucassin and Nicolette.


Prince, 't is a melancholy lay!

For Youth, for Life we both regret:
How fair they seem; how far away,

With Aucassin and Nicolette.

A. L.




Who would list to the good lay
Gladness of the captive grey?
*T is how two young lovers met,
Aucassin and Nicole tie,
Of the pains the lover bore
And the sorrows he outwore,
For the goodness and the grace,
Of his love, so fair of face.

Sweet the song, the story sweet,
There is no man hearkens it,
No man living 'neath the sun,
So outwearied, so fore done,
Sick and woful, worn and sad,
But is healed, but is glad
J T is so sweet.

So say they, speak they, tell they the Tale:

How tht Count Bougars de Valence made
war on Count Garin de Biaucaire, war so

2o Andrew Lang

great, and so marvelous, and so mortal that
never a day dawned, but alway he was there,
by the gates and walls, and barriers of the
town w r ith a hundred knights, and ten thou-
sand men at arms, horsemen and footmen: so
burned he the Count's land, and spoiled his
country, and slew his men. Now the Count
Garin de Biaucaire was old and frail, and his
good days were gone over. No heir had he,
neither son nor daughter, save one young man
only ; such an one as I shall tell you. Aucassin
was the name of the damoiseau: fair was he,
goodly, and great, and featly fashioned of his
body and limbs. His hair was yellow, in little
curls, his eyes blue and laughing, his face
beautiful and shapely, his nose high and well
set, and so richly seen was he in all things
good, that in him was none evil at all. But
so suddenly overtaken was he of Love, who is
a great master, that he would not, of his will,
be dubbed knight, nor take arms, nor follow
tourneys, nor do whatsoever him beseemed.
Therefore his father and mother said to him:

" Son, go take thine arms, mount thy horse,
and hold thy land, and help thy men, for if
they see thee among them more stoutly will
they keep in battle their lives, and lands, and
thine, and mine."

" Father," said Aucassin, " I marvel that

Aucassin and Nicolette 21

you will be speaking. Never may God give
me aught of my desire if I be made knight, or
mount my horse, or face stour and battle
wherein knights smite and are smitten again,
unless thou give me Nicolette, my true love,
that I love so well."

" Son," said the father, " this may not be.
Let Nicolette go, a slave girl she is, out of a
strange land, and the captain of this town
bought her of the Saracens, and carried her
hither, and hath reared her and let christen
the maid, and took her for his daughter in
God, and one day will find a young man for
her, to win her bread honourably. Herein hast
thou naught to make or mend, but if a wife
thou wilt have, I will give thee the daughter
of a King, or a Count. There is no man so
rich in France, but if thou desire his daughter,
thou shalt have her."

" Faith ! my father," said Aucassin, " tell
me where is the place so high in all the world,
that Nicolette, my sweet lady and love, would
not grace it well? If she were Empress of
Constantinople or of Germany, or Queen of
France or England, it were little enough for
her; so gentle is she and courteous, and deb-
onair, and compact of all good qualities."

Here singeth one:

22 Andrew Lang

Aucassin was of Biaucaire
Of a goodly castle there,
But from Nicolette the fair
None might win his heart away
Though his father, many a day,
And his mother said him nay,
"Ha! fond child, what wouldest thou?
Nicolette is glad enow!
Was from Carthage cast away,
Paynims sold her on a day!
Wouldst thou win a lady fair
Choose a maid of high degree
Such an one is meet for thee"
" Nay of these have I no care,
Nicolette is debonair,
Her body sweet and the face of her
Take my heart as in a snare,
Loyal love is but her share
That is so sweet."

Then speak they, say they, tell they the

When the Count Garin de Biaucaire knew
that he would not avail to withdraw Aucassin
his son from the love of Nicolette, he went to
the Captain of the city, who was his man, and
spake to him, saying:

" Sir Count ; away with Nicolette thy
daughter in God; cursed be the land whence

Aucassin and Nicolette 23

she was brought into this country, for by
reason of her do I lose Aucassin, that will
neither be dubbed knight, nor do aught of the
things that fall to him to be done. And wit
ye well," he said, " that if I might have her
at my will, I would burn her in a fire, and
yourself might well be sore adread."

" Sir," said the Captain, " this is grievous
to me that he comes and goes and hath speech
with her. I had bought the maiden at mine
own charges, and nourished her, and baptized,
and made her my daughter in God. Yea, I
would have given her to a young man that
should win her bread honourably. With this
had Aucassin thy son naught to make or mend.
But, sith it is thy will and thy pleasure, I will
send her into that land, and that country
where never will he see her with his eyes."

" Have a heed to thyself," said the Count
Garin, " thence might great evil come on

So parted they each from other. Now the
Captain was a right rich man: so had he a
rich palace with a garden in face of it ; in an
upper chamber thereof he let place Nicolette,
with one old woman to keep her company,
and in that chamber put bread and meat and
wine and such things as were needful. Then
he let seal the door, that none might come in

24 Andrew Lang

or go forth, save that there was one window,
over against the garden, and strait enough,
where through came to them a little air.

Here singeth one:

Nicolette as ye heard tell
Prisoned is within a cell
That is painted wondrously
With colours of a far countrie,
And the window of marble wrought,
There the maiden stood in thought,
With straight brows and yelloiv hair
Never saw ye fairer fair!
On the wood she gazed below,
And she saw the roses blow,
Heard the birds sing loud and low,
Therefore spoke she woefully:
"Ah me, wherefore do I lie
Here in prison wrongfully:
Aucassin, my love, my knight,
Am I not thy heart's delight,
Thou that lovest me aright!
'T is for thee that I must dwell
In the vaulted chamber cell,
Hard beset and all alone!
By our Lady Mary's Son
Here no longer will I wonn,
If I may flee! "

Aucassin and Nicolette 25

Then speak they, say they, tell they the

Nicolette was in prison, as ye have heard
soothly, in the chamber. And the noise and
bruit of it went through all the country and
all the land, how that Nicolette was lost.
Some said she had fled the country, and some
that the Count Garin de Biaucaire had let
slay her. Whosoever had joy thereof, Aucas-
sin had none, so he went to the Captain of
the town and spake to him, saying:

" Sir Captain, what hast thou made of
Nicolette, my sweet lady and love, the thing
that best I love in all the world ? Hast thou
carried her off or ravished her away from
me? Know well that if I die of it, the price
shall be demanded of thee, and that will be
well done, for it shall be even as if thou hadst
slain me with thy two hands, for thou hast
taken from me the thing that in this world
I loved the best."

" Fair Sir," said the Captain, " let these
things be. Nicolette is a captive that I did
bring from a strange country. Yea, I bought
her at my own charges of the Saracens, and
I bred her up and baptized her, and made
her my daughter in God. And I have cher-
ished her, and one of these days I would have

26 Andrew Lang

given her a young man, to win her bread hon-
ourably. With this hast thou naught to make,
but do thou take the daughter of a King or a
Count. Nay more, what wouldst thou deem
thee to have gained, hadst thou made her thy
leman, and taken her to thy bed? Plentiful
lack of comfort hadst thou got thereby, for
in Hell would thy soul have lain while the
world endures, and into Paradise wouldst
thou have entered never."

" In Paradise what have I to win ? Therein
I seek not to enter, but only to have Nicolette,
my sweet lady that I love so well. For into
Paradise go none but such folk as I shall tell
thee now: Thither go these same old priests,
and halt old men and maimed, who all day and
night cower continually before the altars, and
in the crypts; and such folk as wear old
amices and old clouted frocks, and naked folk
and shoeless, and covered with sores, perishing
of hunger and thirst, and of cold, and of little
ease. These be they that go into Paradise,
with them have I naught to make. But into
Hell would I fain go; for into Hell fare the
goodly clerks, and goodly knights that fall in
tourneys and great wars, and stout men at
arms, and all men noble. With these would
I liefly go. And thither pass the sweet ladies
and courteous that have two lovers, or three,

Aucassin and Nicole tte 27

and their lords also thereto. Thither goes the
gold, and the silver, and cloth of vair, and
cloth of gris, and harpers, and makers, and
the prince of this world. With these I would
gladly go, let me but have with me, Nicolette,
my sweetest lady."

" Certes," quoth the Captain, " in vain wilt
thou speak thereof, for never shalt thou see
her; and if thou hadst word with her, and thy
father knew it, he would let burn in a fire
both her and me, and thyself might well be
sore adread."

" That is even what irketh me," quoth
Aucassin. So he went from the Captain

Here singeth one:

Aucassin did so depart
Much in dole and heavy at heart
For his love so bright and dear,
None might bring him any cheer,
None might give good words to hear,
To the palace doth he fare
Climbeth up the palace-stair,
Passeth to a chamber there,
Thus great sorrow doth he bear
For his lady and love so fair.

28 Andrew Lang

" Nicolette how fair art thou,
Sweet thy foot-fall, sweet thine eyes,
Sweet the mirth of thy replies,
Sweet thy laughter, sweet thy face,
Sweet thy lips and sweet thy brow,
And the touch of thine embrace,
All for thee I sorrow now,
Captive in an evil place,
Whence I ne'er may go my ways
Sister, sweet friend!"

So say they, speak they, tell they the Tale:

While Aucassin was in the chamber sor-
rowing for Nicolette his love, even then the
Count Bougars de Valence, that had his war
to wage, forgat it no whit, but had called up
his horsemen and his footmen, so made he for
the castle to storm it. And the cry of battle
arose, and the din, and knights and men
at arms busked them, and ran to walls and
gates to hold the keep. And the towns-folk
mounted to the battlements, and cast down
bolts, and pikes. Then while the assault was
great, and even at its height, the Count Garin
de Biaucaire came into the chamber where
Aucassin was making lament, sorrowing for
Nicolette, his sweet lady that he loved so well.

" Ha! son," quoth he, " how catiff art thou,

Aucassin and Nicolette 29

and cowardly, that canst see men assail thy
goodliest castle and strongest. Know thou
that if thou lose it, thou losest all. Son, go
to, take arms, and mount thy horse, and de-
fend thy land, and help thy men, and fare into
the stour. Thou needest not smite nor be
smitten. If they do but see thee among them,
better will they guard their substance, and
their lives, and thy land and mine. And thou
art so great, and hardy of thy hands, that well
mightst thou do this thing, and to do it is thy

" Father," said Aucassin, " what is this thou
sayest now? God grant me never aught of
my desire, if I be dubbed knight, or mount
steed, or go into the stour where knights do
smite and are smitten, if thou givest me not
Nicolette, my sweet lady, whom I love so

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