Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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At Sarra, in the land of Tartary,

There dwelt a king, and with the Russ warr'd he,

Through which there perish' d many a doughty man. —

This noble king by name was Cambuscan,

And in his time was of so great renown,

That no where else there sat beneath a crown

So excellent a lord in every thing.

Him lack'd there nought belonging to a king,

Within the creed to which his race was born.

He kept the law to which he had been sworn ;

And thereto he was hardy, rich, and wise,

Always the same, serene of soul and eyes,

Piteous and just, benign and honourable,

262 the squire's tale.

Of his brave heart as any centre stable ;
Young, fresh, and strong-, in arms desirous,
As any bachelor of all his house.
A fair person he was, and fortunate ;
And always kept so well a king's estate,
That there was no where such another man.

This noble king, this Tartar, Cambuscan,
Two princes had by Elfeta his wife,
Of which the eldest was named Algarsife,
The other Cambalo : and there was born
Also a daughter to him, like the morn,
Younger than both, whose name was Canace :
But to relate how beautiful was she,
Passeth the reach of my poetic wing ;
I dare not undertake so high a thing.
Mine English too sufficeth not. A man
Had need an Ovid be, or Mantuan,
And know all colours fitted for the art.
To shew you what she was, in the least part ;
I am none such. Plain speech must be my plan.
And so befell, that when this Cambuscan
Had twenty winters been a crowned king,
He bade, as was his custom in the spring,
The feast of his nativitv be cried

the squire's tale. 263

In Sarra, his great city, far and wide,
The news whereof was glad to every ear.

Phoebus, the sun, full jovial was, and clear ;
For he was mounting nigh his exaltation
In Mars's face, and in his house and station
In Aries, the cholerick hot sign.
Full lusty was the weather, and benign ;
For which the birds, against the sunny sheen,
What for the season and the sprouting green,
Securely and full loud sang their affections :
They seem'd to say, — We now have got protections
Against the sword of winter, keen and cold.

This royal king then, glorious to behold
With crown and ermine, sat upon his dais *
In his great hall, in all the people's gaze,
And held his feast, so rich and so serene,
In all the world was no such other seen.
What need describe it ? for to tell the array,
And half the meats, would take a summer's day ;
And therefore I pass by their dainty shews,

* The elevated portion of a hall, where the chief person sat under a

264 the squire's tale.

Their swans, and peacocks, and their heronneaues*,

With meats that by a Tartar seneschal

Are held full dear, though here we count them small.

Besides, the bell hath warn'd me it is prime,

And I must trespass not on others' time,

But into closer strain my theme enforce-f.

And so befell, that after the third course,
While that this king sat thus in his array,
Hearing his minstrels and his harpers play
Before him at his board deliciously,
In at the hall- door lo ! all suddenly
There came a knight upon a steed of brass,
That in his hand a mirror held of glass ;
Upon his thumb he had a golden ring,
And by his side a naked sword hanging ;
And up he rideth to the royal board.
In all the hall there was not spoke a word
For marvel of this knight. Him to behold
Full busily they waited, young and old.

This strange knight, that appeared thus suddenly,

• Young herons.

t The reader will recollect, that it is the Squire who is relating the story,
and that more than half the others remained to he told.

the squire's tale. 265

All armed except his head, full gorgeously,
Saluteth king and queen, and nobles all,
In order as they sat within the hall,
With so high reverence and regardfulness,
Both in his word and in his whole address,
That Gawain's self, with his old courtesy,
Had he left Fairy-land, and stood thereby,
Had not improv'd him in a single thing :
And after this, strait looking at the king,
His message with a manly voice he spoke,
After the form belonging to his folk,
With not a fault of syllable or letter ;
And that his meaning might be felt the better,
His cheer was suited to his words ; as teach
Those learned wits, that ken the art of speech.
I may not tell it as he did : my strain
Is far too weak such rhetorick to attain.
Yet to repeat it, in a common way,
As shewing what at large he meant to say,
Thus much will I attempt to call to mind :

" My lord, the king of Araby and Ind,
My sovereign master, on this solemn day,
Saluteth you, as he best can and may,
And sendeth you, in honour of your feast,

266 the squire's tale.

By me, your ready servant though your least,
This steed of brass ; which well, as in this hall,
Can, in the space of a day natural,
That is to say, in four-and-twenty hours,
Where'er you list, in sunshine or in showers,
Carry your body into every place,
In which it please you shew your sovereign face,
Nor stain you with a speck, through foul or fair
Or if you list to sail as high in air
As doth an eagle, when he wills to soar,
This same good steed shall bear you evermore
Without a peril, (though ye take no keep
Of bridle as ye go ; nay, sit and sleep) ;
Then turn again with writhing of a pin.
He, Sir, that made it, knew all arts herein,
And waited upon many a constellation
While patiently he work'd his operation,
And knew full many a seal, and many a bond.

" This glass I hold, clear as a diamond,
Hath such a pow'r, that in it men may see
When there shall happen any adversity
Unto your reign, or to yourself; and know,
By very sight, who is your friend or foe :
And more than this, if any lady bright

the squire's tale. 267

Have set her heart on any thankless knight,
And he be false, here shall the lady see
His new love, and his thorough subtlety,
So plain and clear, that nothing he shall hide.

" Wherefore against this lusty summer-tide,
This glass, and this ring also, my lord, he
Hath sent unto my lady Canace,
Your excellent daughter that is here ; — a thing
So virtuous, this simple-seeming ring,
That let her bear it, either on her hand,
Or in her purse, and she shall understand
The tongue and speech of every fowl that flies,
And answer him in his own birdly wise.
Also each herb that groweth shall she read,
And whom it may avail, though that he bleed
From dreadful wounds, never so deep and wide.

" This naked sword, that hangeth by my side,
Such virtue hath, that whomsoe'er it smite,
Clean through his armour will it carve and bite,
Were it as thick as is a branched oak ;
And whosoe'er is wounded with the stroke,
Shall never be whole man, till of your grace
It please you stroke him in the wounded place

268 the squire's tale.

With the flat side. The wound will then be closed.
All this is truth, Sir. Nothing have I glosed.
Nor while 'tis held in hand, will the sword fail."

And when the stranger thus hath told his tale,
He backeth from the hall with reverent heed,
And so, forth issuing, lighteth from the steed.
The steed, which like the sun for brightness shone,
Stood in the court as still as any stone.
The knight hath dofF'd his armour for a vest
Of peace, and sitteth as an honour'd guest;
And to a tow'r, where all high gifts are stor'd,
Are borne in state the mirror and the sword.
But unto Canace is borne the ring,
Solemnly, there as she sat next the king.
As to the horse, immoveable it stood,
Stuck to the ground, as though it had been glued :
Nor had it stirr'd, I ween, though folk had brought
Pulley or windlass. It had serv'd them nought.
And why ? Because none knew the mystery ;
And so they left him, standing steadfastly,
Till, sometime before dusk, the knight may chuse
To shew them how to stir his brazen thews.

Great was the press came swarming to and fro

the squire's tale. 269

To gaze upon this steed, that standeth so ;

For it was of a make so broad, and long,

And high, and so proportion'd to be strong,

It match'd therein a steed of Lombardy,

And yet withal it was so quick of eye,

So " horsely," and so full of airy grace,

It might have been of gentle Apulian race*

The people thought so ; and were all agreed,

From tail to ear it was a matchless steed.

But what incessantly amaz'd them, was

How it could go like life, and yet was brass :

All deem'd it a thing magical ; but then

How made, and by what sort of man of men ?

Divers the folk, divers the fantasy :

For just as many wits as heads there be.

They murmur' d like a swarm, out of the hive :

Some deem'd the creature senseless, some alive ;

Some liken'd it, from what is told to us

By the old poets, to the Pegasus, —

The horse that had the wings ; and others fear'd

It might be like the Greek horse, that appear'd

Within Troy town, and laid the city low.

Quoth one of these, — " I dread it : for I trow

Soldiers are stuffd therein, and 'tis a plot.

'Twere well the thing were look'd into, God wot."

270 the squire's tale.

Another whisper'd, " He's a fool, this clerk ;
Tis manifestly some magician's work ;
Some juggle, Sirs ; a kind of — sort of — trick :"
And others doubt, whether some heretic
Might not have wrought it, or some infidel,
And whether, taking it, the king did well.
For what mean spirits may not comprehend,
They gladly construe to the baser end.

Some again marvell'd on the glass, and how
Fools could suppose it what they heard but now.
But others said, it might be well suppos'd,
Since natural art found wondrous things enclos'd
In angles and reflections, as a pond
Encloseth scenes beside it, and beyond :
In Rome, they said, was such a glass ; and, lo !
Read what Alhazen and Vitellio,
And other wits have spoken in their lives,
That writ of mirrors and of perspectives,
As Aristotle did to please his lord.

Others again marvell'd upon the sword,
That pierc'd through every thing ; and fell in speech
Of Telephus, whose wound, in stead of leech,
Was by the quaint spear of Achilles clos'd,

the squire's tale. 271

Right in such wise as hath been just suppos'd.

Of metals, and of med'cines therewithal,

And from their compounds what strange things might

Much they discours'd ; but more than I may tell ;
And then upon the lady's ring they fell
And said they never heard of craft so strange,
Save what by some was deem'd within the range
Of Moses' wisdom, and of Solomon's ;
And then they spake apart, in lower tones.

Nevertheless, some argued, strange it was
To see fern-ashes made a cause of glass,
Since glass in nought resembleth ash of fern ;
Only in thus far reaching to discern
The cause of glass, men leave to stare and wonder.
So happeth it in wond'ring upon thunder,
On ebb and flood, on gossamer and mist,
And all things else, until the cause is wist.
Thus jangle they, and reason, and devise,
Till that the king 'gan from his board arise.

Phoebus hath left his chair meridional,
And now was moving t' wards the Lion's stall,

272 the squire's tale.

(The gentle beast, with his star Aldrian,)

When that this Tartar king, this Cambuscan,

Rose from his board, there as he sat full high :

Before him goeth the loud minstrelsy ;

And thus he paceth to his painted hall,

Where other music soundeth over all,

And played such things, it was a heaven to hear.

And now went lusty Venus' children dear
Dancing away ; for in the Fish full high
She sat, and view'd them with a friendly eye.

This noble king is set upon his throne ;
The stranger knight is brought to him anon,
And goeth down the dance with Canace.

Here rageth now the sport and jollity,
Such as no dull man fitteth to devise :
He must have known Love well and his bright eyes,
And been a festive soul, as fresh as May,
To dare to hope to tell you the array.
Who else could speak of all the forms of dances
Dulcet and wild, and the fresh countenances
Full of such looks and such dissimulings,

the squire's tale. 273

For fear of jealous men's discoverings ?
No man but Launcelot *, and he is dead.
Therefore T pass by all this lustyhead,
And say no more ; leaving, in midst of all,
The mirth to spin, till men to supper call.

The steward bade the spicers haste, and see
The wines made hot, during this melody ;
And now the ushers and the squires are gone ;
The spicers and the butlers come anon ;
They eat and drink, and when this hath an end,
The company unto the temple wend,
As reason is ; and then they sup by day.
What need instruct you of this new array ?
Who wotteth not, that at a prince's feast
Is plenty for the greatest and the least,
And dainties more than such as I may know ?

So after supper this great king must go
To see the horse of brass, with all a rout

* Launcelot of the Lake, famous for the perfection of his knight-errantry,
■which included the power to entertain and be eloquent, as -well as to fight.
There is also an allusion here to his love for Ginevre, and the jealousy of
King Arthur.

274 the squire's tale.

Of ladies and of lords him round about ;
For such a wond'ring was there on this thing,
That since the siege of Troy, which poets sing,
Where on a horse was wond'ring among men,
Never was such a wond'ring as was then.
But, finally, the king asketh the knight
The virtue of this courser, and the might,
And prayed him to detail his governaunce.

This horse anon began to trip and dance,
Soon as the knight laid hand upon the rein,
Who said, "There is no more, Sir, to explain
Or bear in mind when we two speak alone,
Than trill a pin here, as shall then be shown ;
Yet also you must name your journey's end :
Likewise must bid him, when you please, descend,
Then trill another pin, and then will he
Go down where'er you please full easily,
And rest, whate'er betide him, in one spot,
Though all the world be sworn that he shall not.
Trill yet this other pin, and in a wink
Vanish will he, whither no soul may think ;
And yet return, be it by day or night,
The moment he is call'd, as swift as light.

the squire's tale. 275

Ride where you list, there's no more need be done."

When thus the king his lesson had begun,
And furthermore, when, whispering with the knight,
He knew the thing and its whole form aright,
Full glad was he ; then turning with his train
Repair'd him to his mirth yet once again.
The bridle to a tow'r is borne, and there
Laid up among the jewels, rich and rare ;
The horse has vanish'd, I may not tell how ;
And I myself, awhile, must vanish now,
Leaving this Cambuscan, this noble king,
Feasting his lords till day was nigh to spring.


The nourisher of good digestion, sleep,
'Gan on them wink, and bade their thoughts take keep
That mirth as well as labour will have rest ;
And with a gaping mouth *, the king express' d
The will of Sleep, that it was time for bed,

* A curious evidence of the difference of manners in those days (for the
reader need not he told that poets then painted the manners of their own
time, no matter where the scene of their story was laid).


276 the squire's tale.

For blood was dominant in drowsy head.

" Cherish the friend of nature, blood," quoth he.

Gaping, they gave him thanks, by two and three,

And so the company withdrew to rest,

As sleep so will'd. They took it for the best.

The dreams they dreamt shall not be told for me.
Full were their heads of feast's fumosity,
Which causeth men, without a horse, to fly.
They slept, until the day was broad and high,
The most of them, — save lady Canace ;
For like sweet maiden, temperate was she,
And of her father had she taken leave,
To go to rest, soon after it was eve ;
She wish'd not to look pale next day, nor be
In aught unfitting the festivity.
And so she slept her first sleep, and then woke ;
For such a pleasure in her heart she took
Of her two presents by the stranger brought,
She twenty times chang'd colour at the thought.
Now for the ring, now for the glass it was ;
And in a dream she saw things in the glass.
Wherefore, before the sun 'gan up to glide,
She call'd the good dame sleeping by her side,
And said it was her pleasure to arise.

the squire's tale. 277

The good old dame, that was as gladly wise
As her sweet self (in sooth had train' d her so),
Said smilingly, " Why, where then would ye go ?
For all the people, Madam, are in bed."
" I cannot sleep, do all I may," she said ;
" And so I would arise and walk about."

This good old lady calleth the whole rout
Of women, and they rise, and bustleth she,
And riseth also then fresh Canace,
As ruddy and bright as is the vernal sun,
When in the Ram his fourth degree is run ;
No higher was he when he view'd her face ;
And forth she walketh at an easy pace,
Array' d, as suiteth with the lusty prime,
Lightly to play, and to enjoy the time
With some few maidens of her company ;
And forth into the park thus moveth she.

The vapour, breathing upward on her road,
Maketh the sun to seem ruddy and broad.
Nathless the dawning was so fair a sight,
It made the hearts in all their bosoms light ;
And she herself, what for the time of day,
And the sweet birds, and all she heard them say,

278 the squire's tale.

By reason of the ring, halteth full oft,
And listeneth, and laugheth, glad and soft.

The one main point, whenever tale is told,
If it be tarried, till the ear grow cold,
Loseth its savour, whatsoe'er it be,
For fulsomeness of the prolixity ;
Wherefore her walking getteth no more words ;
I come at once, so please ye, to the birds.

Amidst a tree all dry, as white as chalk,
As Canace was playing in her walk,
There sat a falcon over head, full high,
That with a piteous voice so 'gan to cry,
And beat herself so hard with both her wings,
That all the wood rang with her sufferings,
And the red blood went trickling down the tree ;
And ever shriek'd and flapp'd herself thus she,
And with her beak so tore into her breast,
That never was brute beast, the cruellest,
That had not wept (if beasts could weep) to hear
How loud she shriek'd. It was a very fear.

Now never liv'd the fowler that could tell
Of falcons, and describe their beauty well,

the squire's tale. 279

Who spoke of one which might with this compare

For gentle shape as well as plumage fair.

She seem'd a Falcon Peregrine, far flown ;

And ever and anon she gave a groan

For lack of blood, and in a swoon went she,

Till she had well nigh fallen from the tree.

This fair king's daughter, Canace, whose ring
Upon her finger told her every thing
Which birds might say, or might be said to birds,
Hath comprehended all the falcon's words ;
And to the tree she hasteth fearfully,
And at the bird uplooketh piteously,
And holdeth her lap wide to save her fall,
In case again she swoon on the tree tall :
And a long while so stood and waited she,
Till at the last she spoke full tenderly : —

" Wliat is the cause," quoth she, " if ye may tell,
That thus ye be in very pain of hell ?
Take heed, I pray thee, grovelling there above :
Is it for grief of death, or loss of love ?
For these are the two things that cause most woe
In gentle heart. Nought else could grieve thee so.
Yourself ye wreak upon yourself; which sheweth,

280 the squire's tale.

No other cause of your sharp deed there goeth,

Nor do I see ye chac'd by other creature.

For love of God, and as ye are of nature

Gentle and free, say what may help ye best ;

For never saw I yet, from east to west,

Creature that fared with its own self so ill :

Truly, ye slay me with your woeful will.

Come down, for God's sake, from the tree ; do, bird ;

And on the faith of a king's daughter's word,

I will amend your sorrow, if I may,

AVith all my might, and that ere close of day,

So help me the great God that made us all.

As for your wounds, here's hyssop on the wall,

And balm, and myrrh, shall swiftly salve that trouble.

But at these words the falcon 'gan redouble
Her piteous shrieks, till with a heavy groan
She fell to earth, and lay there as a stone.
As lieth a still stone, so lieth she.
Canace, in her lap full tenderly,
Takcth her up, and from her swoon she waketh,
And when deliver'd from her swoon she breaketh
Her silence into words, and thus hath spoken : —

" That gentle heart hath pity on heart broken

the squire's tale. 281

May well be thought, since any small distress

Winneth such heart to show its gentleness.

I know thou pitiest me, fair Canace,

Of very womanly benignity

Which Nature in your loving heart hath set.

And yet, out of no hope to break my net,

But to obey a heart so kind and free,

And to warn others by unhappy me,

As the great lion by the whelp was taught,

Right for such cause, and in no other thought,

While I yet breathe, and can speak leisurely,

This heart, now breaking, will I show to thee."

While thus the bird was speaking, the king's
Wept, as if she were turning into water,
Till that the falcon bade her to be still,
And with a sigh obeyed her gentle will.

" Well was I born," quoth she ; " alas the day !
And foster'd in a rock of marble grey
So tenderly, that nothing ail'd me long :
I knew not what misfortune was, nor wrong,
Till I could flee, under the heav'ns, full high.

282 the squire's tale.

" There dwelt a tiercelet in the place, hard bv,
Who seem'd a well of very crystal truth,
All were he deep in every fault of youth.
He wrapp'd it all so close in humble cheer,
And had a way so purely sweet and clear,
And was so pleasant, and so busy kind,
No traitor could have guess'd his traitorous mind ; —
Full deep in grain he dyed his pleasing powers ; —
Yea, as the serpent hideth under flowers
Till such time as the bite proclaimeth it,
Right so this god of love's own hypocrite
Put forth all sweets that make the shows of love : —
And as on tombstones all is fair above,
But under is the corpse, such as ye wot,
Such was this hypocrite, so fair, yet not ;
And in this wise he fashion'd his intent,
That, save the fiend, none dream'd of what he meant,
And serv'd, and wept, and plain'd, and spoke of death,
Till that my heart, too soft beneath such breath,
Gave him its love, in very thanks for his,
Not knowing how enough to pay such bliss.
And when he found his triumph gone so far,
And that my star had bow'd beneath his star,
He cared no more, although no more he won,
But left mc, with a foolish heart undone,

the squire's tale. 283

And set his wits to gain as much elsewhere,
This being all his love, and all his care.

" Lord ! with what cunning he would feign delight,
With what sweet reverence and subjected might !
How rapt, yet not beyond respect, for joy !
That never Jason, nor the star of Troy,
Jason ! — no certes, nor since Lamech's age
That first lov'd two, no man on earth could wage
Such magic war, the twenty thousandth part,
With the poor outworks of a loving heart.
His happy manner was a heaven to see
To any woman; and so charm'd it me.
And I so loved him, and so watch'd his eyes,
For any look that might therein arise,
That did he suffer, the least bit on earth,
Fell there a speck of shadow on his mirth,
A pang so keen into my breast would shoot,
Methought I felt death twisting mine heart's root.

" He went alas ! and one thing dare say I,
I know what I but thought I knew, thereby ;
I know what is the pain of death indeed.
You might have sworn you saw his own heart bleed
When that, he went, his look was so like mine,

284 the squire's tale.

So sorrowful ; but it was all design.

He said his honour will'd that he must go,

And I so thought, since oft it falleth so.

I made a virtue of necessity,

And held my hand out, since 'twas so to be,

And took his own, and hid from him my grief,

Well as I could, to give his heart relief,

And said, — ' Lo ! I am yours, and shall be, ever.'

I am. But him I shall see more, no, never.

'* What answer'd he, it needeth not rehearse :
Who can say better things ? who can do worse ?
I trow he had the ancient text in mind,
Which saith, that all things, pairing with their kind,
Gladden their hearts. Thus argue men, I guess ;
And what men pair with, is newfangleness ;
They act, as birds do, which they feed in cages :
For though they, day and night, tend them like pages,
And strew the bird's room fair and soft as silk,
And give him sugar, honey, bread, and milk,
Yet right anon, let but his door be up,
And with his feet he spurneth down his cup *,

* The beautiful and true picture of the bird " spurning down his cup"
(Yet right anon, as that his dure is up,

Hi- with bit feel wol ■purnen down his cup)

the squire's tale. 285

And to the wood will be, and feed on worms. —

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 16 of 18)