Library of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern — Volume 2 online

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Of the dark waters, whilst the surface still
Continues motionless and calm, and seems
To listen with a melancholy joy,
While thus the dim mysterious depths resound;
So let me strive to soften and subdue
My heart's dark swelling with a soothful song.

[She plays and sings.]

The maiden bound her hunting-net
At morning fresh and fair -

Ah, no! that lay doth ever make me grieve.
Another, then! that of the hapless flower,
Surprised by frost and snow in early spring.


Hush thee, oh, hush thee,
Slumber from snow and stormy sky,
Lovely and lone one!
Now is the time for thee to die,
When vale and streamlet frozen lie.
Hush thee, oh, hush thee!

Hours hasten onward; -
For thee the last will soon be o'er.
Rest thee, oh, rest thee!
Flowers have withered thus before, -
And, my poor heart, what wouldst thou more?
Rest thee, oh, rest thee!

Shadows should darkly
Enveil thy past delights and woes.
Forget, oh, forget them!
'Tis thus that eve its shadows throws;
But now, in noiseless night's repose,
Forget, oh, forget them!

Slumber, oh, slumber!
No friend hast thou like kindly snow;
Sleep is well for thee,
For whom no second spring will blow;
Then why, poor heart, still beating so?
Slumber, oh, slumber!

Hush thee, oh, hush thee!
Resign thy life-breath in a sigh,
Listen no longer,
Life bids farewell to thee, - then die!
Sad one, good night! - in sweet sleep lie!
Hush thee, oh, hush thee!

[She bursts into tears.]

Would now that I might bid adieu to life;
But, ah! no voice to me replies, "Sleep well!"


Leaving the sea, the pale moon lights the strand.
Tracing old runes, a youth inscribes the sand.
And by the rune-ring waits a woman fair,
Down to her feet extends her dripping hair.

Woven of lustrous pearls her robes appear,
Thin as the air and as the water clear.
Lifting her veil with milk-white hand she shows
Eyes in whose deeps a deadly fire glows.

Blue are her eyes: she looks upon him - bound,
As by a spell, he views their gulf profound.
Heaven and death are there: in his desire,
He feels the chill of ice, the heat of fire.

Graciously smiling, now she whispers low: -
"The runes are dark, would you their meaning know?
Follow! my dwelling is as dark and deep;
You, you alone, its treasure vast shall keep!"

"Where is your dwelling, charming maid, now say!"
"Built on a coral island far away,
Crystalline, golden, floats that castle free,
Meet for a lovely daughter of the sea!"

Still he delays and muses, on the strand;
Now the alluring maiden grasps his hand.
"Ah! Do you tremble, you who were so bold?"
"Yes, for the heaving breakers are so cold!"

"Let not the mounting waves your spirit change!
Take, as a charm, my ring with sea-runes strange.
Here is my crown of water-lilies white,
Here is my harp, with human bones bedight."

* * * * *

"What say my Father and my Mother dear?
What says my God, who bends from heaven to hear?"
"Father and Mother in the churchyard lie.
As for thy God, he deigns not to reply."

Blithely she dances on the pearl-strewn sand,
Smiting the bone-harp with her graceful hand.
Fair is her bosom, through her thin robe seen,
White as a swan beheld through rushes green,

"Follow me, youth! through ocean deeps we'll rove;
There is my castle in its coral grove;
There the red branches purple shadows throw,
There the green waves, like grass, sway to and fro,

* * * * *

"I have a thousand sisters; none so fair.
He whom I wed receives my sceptre rare.
Wisdom occult my mother will impart.
Granting his slightest wish, I'll cheer his heart."

* * * * *

"Heaven and earth to win you I abjure!
Child of the ocean, is your promise sure?"
"Heaven and earth abjuring, great's your gain,
Throned with the ancient gods, a king to reign!"

Lo, as she speaks, a thousand starlights gleam,
Lighted for Heaven's Christmas day they seem.
Sighing, he swears the oath, - the die is cast;
Into the mermaid's arms he sinks at last.

* * * * *

High on the shore the rushing waves roll in.
"Why does the color vary on your skin?
What! From your waist a fish's tail depends!"
"Worn for the dances of my sea-maid friends."

High overhead, the stars, like torches, burn:
"Haste! to my golden castle I return.
Save me, ye runes!" - "Yes, try them now; they fail.
Pupil of _heathen_ men, my spells prevail!"

Proudly she turns; her sceptre strikes the wave,
Roaring, it parts; the ocean yawns, a grave.
Mermaid and youth go down; the gulf is deep.
Over their heads the surging waters sweep.

Often, on moonlight nights, when bluebells ring,
When for their sports the elves are gathering,
Out of the waves the youth appears, and plays
Tunes that are merry, mournful, like his days.


(Twelfth Century)


This charming tale of medieval France has reached modern times in but
one manuscript, which is now in the National Library at Paris. It gives
us no hint as to the time and place of the author, but its linguistic
forms would indicate for locality the borderland of Champagne and
Picardy, while the fact that the verse of the story is in assonance
would point to the later twelfth century as the date of the original
draft. It would thus be contemporaneous with the last poems of Chrétien
de Troyes (1170-80). The author was probably a minstrel by profession,
but one of more than ordinary taste and talent. For, evidently skilled
in both song and recitation, he so divided his narrative between poetry
and prose that he gave himself ample opportunity to display his powers,
while at the same time he retained more easily, by this variety, the
attention of his audience. He calls his invention - if his invention it
be - a "song-story." The subject he drew probably from reminiscences of
the widely known story of Floire and Blanchefleur; reversing the parts,
so that here it is the hero who is the Christian, while the heroine is a
Saracen captive baptized in her early years. The general outline of the
plot also resembles indistinctly the plot of Floire and Blanchefleur,
though its topography is somewhat indefinite, and a certain amount of
absurd adventure in strange lands is interwoven with it. With these
exceptions, however, few literary productions of the Middle Ages can
rival 'Aucassin and Nicolette' in graceful sentiment and sympathetic

The Paris manuscript gives the music for the poetical parts, - music that
is little more than a modulation. There is a different notation for the
first two lines, but for the other lines this notation is repeated in
couplets, except that the last line of each song or _laisse_ - being a
half-line - has a cadence of its own. The lines are all seven syllables
in length, save the final half-lines, and the assonance, which all but
the half-lines observe, tends somewhat towards rhyme.

The story begins with a song which serves as prologue; and then its
prose takes up the narrative, telling how Aucassin, son of Garin, Count
of Beaucaire, so loved Nicolette, a Saracen maiden, who had been sold to
the Viscount of Beaucaire, baptized and adopted by him, that he had
forsaken knighthood and chivalry and even refused to defend his
father's territories against Count Bougart of Valence. Accordingly his
father ordered the Viscount to send away Nicolette, and he walled her up
in a tower of his palace. Later, Aucassin is imprisoned by his father.
But Nicolette escapes, hears him lamenting in his cell, and comforts him
until the warden on the tower warns her of the approach of the town
watch. She flees to the forest outside the gates, and there, in order to
test Aucassin's fidelity, builds a rustic tower. When he is released
from prison, Aucassin hears from shepherd lads of Nicolette's
hiding-place, and seeks her bower. The lovers, united, resolve to leave
the country. They take ship and are driven to the kingdom of Torelore,
whose queen they find in child-bed, while the king is with the army.
After a three years' stay in Torelore they are captured by Saracen
pirates and separated. Contrary winds blow Aucassin's boat to Beaucaire,
where he succeeds to Garin's estate, while Nicolette is carried to
Carthage. The sight of the city reminds her that she is the daughter of
its king, and a royal marriage is planned for her. But she avoids this
by assuming a minstrel's garb, and setting sail for Beaucaire. There,
before Aucassin, she sings of her own adventures, and in due time makes
herself known to him. Now in one last strain our story-teller celebrates
the lovers' meeting, concluding with -

"Our song-story comes to an end,
I know no more to tell."

And thus he takes leave of the gentle and courageous maiden.

The whole account of these trials and reunions does not occupy over
forty pages of the original French, which has been best edited by H.
Suchier at Paderborn (second edition, 1881). In 1878, A. Bida published,
with illustrations, a modern French version of the story at Paris,
accompanied by the original text and a preface by Gaston Paris. This
version was translated into English by A. Rodney Macdonough under the
title of 'The Lovers of Provence: Aucassin and Nicolette' (New York,
1880). Additional illustrations by American artists found place in this
edition. F.W. Bourdillon has published the original text and an English
version, together with an exhaustive introduction, bibliography, notes,
and glossary (London, 1887), and, later in the same year, Andrew Lang
wrote out another translation, accompanied by an introduction and notes:
'Aucassin and Nicolette' (London). The extracts given below are from
Lang's version, with occasional slight alterations.

[Illustration: Signature: F.M. WARREN]


Who would list to the good lay,
Gladness of the captive gray?
'Tis how two young lovers met,
Aucassin and Nicolette;
Of the pains the lover bore,
And the perils 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 fordone,
Sick and woeful, worn and sad,
But is healed, but is glad,
'Tis so sweet.

So say they, speak they, tell they The Tale,

How the Count Bougart of Valence made war on Count Garin of
Beaucaire, - war so great, 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, with a hundred knights, and ten thousand 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 of Beaucaire 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-gray 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 was he overtaken of
Love, who is a great master, that he would not, of his will, be a
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 thine 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," answered Aucassin, "what are you saying now? Never
may God give me aught of my desire, if I be a 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 is she, out of a strange land, and the viscount of
this town bought her of the Saracens, and carried her hither,
and hath reared her and had her christened, and made her his
god-daughter, and one day will find a young man for her, to
win her bread honorably. Herein hast thou naught to make nor
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 shall
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 debonnaire, and compact of all good


When Count Garin of Beaucaire knew that he would not avail to withdraw
Aucassin, his son, from the love of Nicolette, he went to the viscount
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 she was
brought into this country, for by reason of her do I lose Aucassin, that
will neither be a 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 Viscount, "this is grievous to me that he comes and goes
and hath speech with her. I had bought the maid 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 honorably.
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 thee."

So parted they each from the other. Now the Viscount was a right rich
man: so had he a rich palace with a garden in face of it; in an upper
chamber thereof he had Nicolette placed, 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 had the door sealed, that none might come in or
go forth, save that there was one window, over against the garden, and
quite strait, through which came to them a little air.

_Here singeth one_: -
Nicolette as ye heard tell
Prisoned is within a cell
That is painted wondrously
With colors of a far countrie.
At the window of marble wrought,
There the maiden stood in thought,
With straight brows and yellow 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!
'Tis for thee that I must dwell
In this vaulted chamber cell,
Hard beset and all alone!
By our Lady Mary's Son
Here no longer will I wonn,
If I may flee!"


[_The Viscount speaks first_]

"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 these old crypts; and such folks
as wear old amices, and old clouted frocks, and naked folks and
shoeless, and those covered with sores, who perish of hunger and thirst,
and of cold, and of wretchedness. 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 the free men. With these
would I liefly go. And thither pass the sweet ladies and courteous, that
have two lovers, or three, and their lords also thereto. Thither goes
the gold, and the silver, and fur of vair, and fur of gris; and there
too go the harpers, and minstrels, and the kings of this world. With
these I would gladly go, let me but have with me Nicolette, my
sweetest lady."


The damoiseau was tall and strong, and the horse whereon he sat was
right eager. And he laid hand to sword, and fell a-smiting to right and
left, and smote through helm and nasal, and arm, and clenched hand,
making a murder about him, like a wild boar when hounds fall on him in
the forest, even till he struck down ten knights, and seven he hurt; and
straightway he hurled out of the press, and rode back again at full
speed, sword in hand. Count Bougart of Valence heard it said that they
were to hang Aucassin, his enemy, so he came into that place and
Aucassin was ware of him. He gat his sword into his hand, and struck at
his helm with such a stroke that it drave it down on his head, and he
being stunned, fell groveling. And Aucassin laid hands on him, and
caught him by the nasal of his helmet, and gave him up to his father.

"Father," quoth Aucassin, "lo, here is your mortal foe, who hath so
warred on you and done you such evil. Full twenty months did this war
endure, and might not be ended by man."

"Fair son," said his father, "thy feats of youth shouldst them do, and
not seek after folly."

"Father," saith Aucassin, "sermon me no sermons, but fulfill my

"Ha! what covenant, fair son?"

"What, father! hast thou forgotten it? By mine own head, whosoever
forgets, will I not forget it, so much it hath me at heart. Didst thou
not covenant with me when I took up arms, and went into the stour, that
if God brought me back safe and sound, thou wouldst let me see
Nicolette, my sweet lady, even so long that I may have of her two words
or three, and one kiss? So didst thou covenant, and my mind is that thou
keep thy word."

"I?" quoth the father; "God forsake me when I keep this covenant! Nay,
if she were here, I would have burned her in the fire, and thou thyself
shouldst be sore adread."


Aucassin was cast into prison as ye have heard tell, and Nicolette, of
her part, was in the chamber. Now it was summer-time, the month of May,
when days are warm, and long, and clear, and the nights still and
serene. Nicolette lay one night on her bed, and saw the moon shine clear
through a window, and heard the nightingale sing in the garden, and she
minded her of Aucassin her friend, whom she loved so well. Then fell she
to thoughts of Count Garin of Beaucaire, that he hated her to death; and
therefore deemed she that there she would no longer abide, for that, if
she were told of, and the Count knew where she lay, an ill death he
would make her die. She saw that the old woman was sleeping who held her
company. Then she arose, and clad her in a mantle of silk she had by
her, very goodly, and took sheets of the bed and towels and knotted one
to the other, and made therewith a cord as long as she might, and
knotted it to a pillar in the window, and let herself slip down into the
garden; then caught up her raiment in both hands, behind and before, and
kilted up her kirtle, because of the dew that she saw lying deep on the
grass, and so went on her way down through the garden.

Her locks were yellow and curled, her eyes blue-gray and smiling, her
face featly fashioned, the nose high and fairly set, the lips more red
than cherry or rose in time of summer, her teeth white and small; and
her breasts so firm that they bore up the folds of her bodice as they
had been two walnuts; so slim was she in the waist that your two hands
might have clipped her; and the daisy flowers that brake beneath her as
she went tiptoe, and that bent above her instep, seemed black against
her feet and ankles, so white was the maiden. She came to the
postern-gate, and unbarred it, and went out through the streets of
Beaucaire, keeping always on the shadowy side, for the moon was shining
right clear, and so wandered she till she came to the tower where her
lover lay. The tower was flanked with pillars, and she cowered under one
of them, wrapped in her mantle. Then thrust she her head through a
crevice of the tower, that was old and worn, and heard Aucassin, who was
weeping within, and making dole and lament for the sweet friend he loved
so well. And when she had listened to him some time she began to say: -

_Here one singeth_: -

Nicolette, the bright of brow,
On a pillar leaned now,
All Aucassin's wail did hear
For his love that was so dear,
Then the maid spake low and clear: -
"Gentle knight, withouten fear,
Little good befalleth thee,
Little help of sigh or tear.
Ne'er shalt thou have joy of me.
Never shalt thou win me; still
Am I held in evil will
Of thy father and thy kin.
Therefore must I cross the sea,
And another land must win."
Then she cut her curls of gold,
Cast them in the dungeon hold,
Aucassin doth clasp them there,
Kiss'th the curls that were so fair,
Them doth in his bosom bear,
Then he wept, e'en as of old,
All for his love!

Thus say they, speak they, tell they The Tale.

When Aucassin heard Nicolette say that she would pass into a far
country, he was all in wrath.

"Fair, sweet friend," quoth he, "thou shalt not go, for then wouldst
thou be my death. And the first man that saw thee and had the might
withal, would take thee straightway into his bed to be his leman. And
once thou earnest into a man's bed, and that bed not mine, wit ye well
that I would not tarry till I had found a knife to pierce my heart and
slay myself. Nay, verily, wait so long I would not; but would hurl
myself so far as I might see a wall, or a black stone, and I would dash
my head against it so mightily that the eyes would start and my brain
burst. Rather would I die even such a death than know that thou hadst
lain in a man's bed, and that bed not mine."

"Aucassin," she said, "I trow thou lovest me not as much as thou sayest,
but I love thee more than thou lovest me."

"Ah, fair, sweet friend," said Aucassin, "it may not be that thou
shouldest love me even as I love thee. Woman may not love man as man
loves woman; for a woman's love lies in her eye, and the bud of her
breast, and her foot's tiptoe, but the love of a man is in his heart
planted, whence it can never issue forth and pass away."

Now when Aucassin and Nicolette were holding this parley together, the
town's watchmen were coming down a street, with swords drawn beneath
their cloaks, for Count Garin had charged them that if they could take
her, they should slay her. But the sentinel that was on the tower saw
them coming, and heard them speaking of Nicolette as they went, and
threatening to slay her.

"God," quoth he, "this were great pity to slay so fair a maid! Right
great charity it were if I could say aught to her, and they perceive it
not, and she should be on her guard against them, for if they slay her,
then were Aucassin, my damoiseau, dead, and that were great pity."

Online LibraryUnknownLibrary of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern — Volume 2 → online text (page 44 of 46)