Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from The Knightes Tale
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
(See full text)

[Palamon and Arcite first see Emelye from the prison window.]

THIS passeth yeer by yeer, and day by day,
Til it fel oonës, in a morwe of May,
That Emelie, that fairer was to seene
Than is the lilie on hir stalkë grene,
And fresscher than the May with flourës newe—        5
For with the rosë colour strof hire hewe,
I not 1 which was the fayrere of hem two—
Er it were day, as was hire wone 2 to do,
Sche was arisen, and al redy dight;
For May wol han no sloggardye anight.        10
The sesoun priketh every gentil herte,
And maketh him out of his sleep to sterte,
And seith, ‘Arys, and do thyn observaunce.’
This makede Emelye han remembraunce
To don honour to May, and for to ryse.        15
I-clothed was sche fresshe for to devyse.
Hir yelwe heer was browded in a tresse,
Byhynde hir bak, a yerdë long, I gesse.
And in the gardyn at the sonne upriste
Sche walketh up and doun, and as hir liste        20
Sche gadereth flourës, party whyte and reede,
To make a sotil gerland for hire heede,
And as an aungel hevenlyche sche song.
The gretë tour, that was so thikke and strong,
Which of the castel was the cheef dongeoun,        25
(Ther as the knightës werën in prisoun,
Of which I toldë yow, and tellen schal)
Was even joynant 3 to the gardyn-wal,
Ther as this Emelye hadde hire pleyynge.
Bright was the sonne, and cleer that morwenynge,        30
And Palamon, this woful prisoner,
As was his wone, by leve of his gayler,
Was risen, and romede in a chambre on heigh,
In which he al the noble cité seigh,
And eek the gardyn, ful of braunches grene,        35
Ther as this fresshë Emely the scheene
Was in hir walk, and romede up and doun.
This sorweful prisoner, this Palamon,
Gooth in the chambre, romyng to and fro,
And to himself compleynyng of his woo;        40
That he was born, ful ofte he seyde, alas!
And so byfel, by aventure or cas, 4
That thurgh a wyndow thikke, of many a barre
Of iren greet, and squar as eny sparre, 5
He caste his eyen upon Emelya,        45
And therwithal he bleynte 6 and cryede, a!
As though he stongen were unto the herte.
And with that crye Arcite anon up-sterte,
And seyde, ‘Cosyn myn, what eyleth the,
That art so pale and deedly on to see?        50
Why crydestow? who hath the doon offence?
For Goddës love, tak al in pacience
Our prisoun, for it may non other be;
Fortune hath yeven us this adversité.
Som wikke aspect or disposicioun        55
Of Saturne, by som constellacioun,
Hath yeven us this, although we hadde it sworn;
So stood the heven whan that we were born;
We mote endure it: this is the schort and pleyn.’
  This Palamon answerde, and seyde ageyn,        60
‘Cosyn, for sothe of this opynyoun
Thou hast a veyn ymaginacioun.
This prisoun causëd me not for to crye.
But I was hurt right now thurghout myn eye
Into myn herte, that wol my banë be.        65
The fairnesse of that lady that I see
Yond in the gardyn romë to and fro,
Is cause of al my crying and my wo.
I not whether sche be womman or goddesse;
But Venus is it, sothly as I gesse.’        70
And therwithal on knees adoun he fil,
And seydë: ‘Venus, if it be thy wil
Yow in this gardyn thus to transfigure,
Biforn me sorweful wrecchë creäture,
Out of this prisoun help that we may scape.        75
And if so be my destiné be schape
By eterne word to deyen in prisoun,
Of our lynage have sum compassioun,
That is so lowe y-brought by tyrannye.’
And with that word Arcite gan espye        80
Wher as this lady romede to and fro.
And with that sighte hir beauté hurte him so,
That if that Palamon was wounded sore,
Arcite is hurt as moche as he, or more.
And with a sigh he seydë pitously:        85
‘The fresschë beauté sleeth me sodeynly
Of hir that rometh in the yonder place;
And but I have hir mercy and hir grace,
That I may seen hir attë lestë weye,
I nam but 7 deed; ther nys no more to seye.’
*        *        *        *        *
[Arcite has been released from prison, and Palamon has escaped. They meet in a wood near Athens.]

And with that word he fel doun in a traunce
A long tyme; and after he upsterte 8
This Palamon, that thoughte that thurgh his herte
He felte a cold swerd sodeynlichë glyde;
For ire he quook, 9 no lenger nolde he byde.        95
And whan that he hadde herd Arcitës tale,
As he were wood, 10 with facë deed and pale,
He sterte him up out of the bussches thikke,
And seyde: ‘Arcytë, falsë traitour wikke,
Now art thou hent, 11 that lovest my lady so,        100
For whom that I have al this peyne and wo,
And art my blood, and to my counseil sworn,
As I ful ofte have told thee heer byforn,
And hast byjapëd 12 heer duk Theseus,
And falsly chaungëd hast thy namë thus;        105
I wol be deed, or ellës thou schalt dye.
Thou schalt not love my lady Emelye,
But I wil love hir oonly and no mo;
For I am Palamon, thy mortal fo.
And though that I no wepne have in this place,        110
But out of prisoun am astert by grace,
I dredë not that outher thou schalt dye,
Or thou ne schalt not loven Emelye.
Ches 13 which thou wilt, for thou schalt not asterte.’ 14
This Arcitë, with ful despitous herte,        115
Whan he him knew, and hadde his talë herd,
As fers as lyoun pullede out a swerd,
And seidë thus: ‘By God that sit 15 above,
Nere it 16 that thou art sik and wood for love,
And eek that thou no wepne hast in this place,        120
Thou schuldest nevere out of this grovë pace,
That thou ne schuldest deyen of myn hond.
For I defye 17 the seurté and the bond
Which that thou seyst that I have maad to the.
What, verray fool, think wel that love is fre!        125
And I wol love hir mawgre 18 al thy might.
But, for as muche thou art a worthy knight,
And wilnest to derreyne hir by batayle,
Have heer my trouthe, to-morwe I nyl not fayle,
Withouten wityng 19 of any other wight,        130
That heer I wol be founden as a knight,
And bryngen harneys right inough for the;
And ches the beste, and leve the worste for me.
And mete and drynkë this night wil I brynge
Inough for the, and clothes for thy beddynge.        135
And if so be that thou my lady wynne,
And sle me in this woode ther I am inne,
Thou maist wel han thy lady as for me.’
This Palamon answerde: ‘I graunte it the.’
And thus they ben departed til a-morwe,        140
When ech of hem hadde leyd his feith to borwe.
  O Cupide, out of alle charité!
O regne, that wolt no felawe han with the!
Ful soth is seyd, that lovë ne lordschipe
Wol not, his thankes, 20 han no felaweschipe.        145
Wel fynden that Arcite and Palamoun.
Arcite is riden anon unto the toun,
And on the morwe, er it were dayës light,
Ful prively two harneys hath he dight,
Bothe suffisaunt and metë to darreyne        150
The batayle in the feeld betwixe hem tweyne.
And on his hors, allone as he was born,
He caryeth al this harneys him byforn;
And in the grove, at tyme and place i-set,
This Arcite and this Palamon ben met.        155
Tho 21 chaungen gan the colour in here face.
Right as the honter in the regne of Trace
That stondeth at the gappë with a spere,
Whan honted is the lyoun or the bere,
And hereth him come ruschyng in the greves,        160
And breketh bothë bowës and the leves,
And thinketh, ‘Here comth my mortel enemy,
Withoutë faile, he mot 22 be deed or I;
For eyther I mot slen him at the gappe,
Or he mot sleen me, if that me myshappe:’        165
So ferden they, in chaungyng of here hewe,
As fer as everich of hem other knewe.
Ther nas no ‘good day,’ ne no saluyng;
But streyt withouten word or rehersyng,
Everych of hem halp 23 for to armen other,        170
As frendly as he were his owën brother;
And after that with scharpë sperës stronge
They foynen ech at other wonder longe.
Thou myghtest wenë that this Palamon
In his fightynge were as a wood 24 lyoun,        175
And as a cruel tygre was Arcite:
As wildë boorës gonnë they to smyte
That frothen white as foom for irë wood.
Up to the ancle foughte they in her blood.
*        *        *        *        *
[The poet describes the Temples of Venus and Mars, where Arcite and Palamon are about to offer their prayers before the final combat.]

  First in the temple of Venus maystow se
Wrought on the wal, ful pitous to byholde,
The broken slepës, and the sykës 25 colde;
The sacred teerës, and the waymentyng;
The fyry strokës of the desiryng,
That lovës servauntz in this lyf enduren;        185
The othës, that her covenantz assuren.
Plesaunce and hope, desyr, fool-hardynesse,
Beauté and youthë, bauderye, richesse,
Charmës and forcë, lesynges, flaterye,
Dispensë, busynesse, and jelousye,        190
That werede of yelwe goldes 26 a gerland,
And a cokkow sittyng on hir hand;
Festës, instrumentës, caroles, daunces,
Lust and array, and alle the circumstaunces
Of love, whiche that I rekned have and schal,        195
By ordre weren peynted on the wal.
And mo than I can make of mencioun.
For sothly, al the mount of Citheroun,
Ther 27 Venus hath hir principal dwellyng,
Was schewed on the wal in portreying,        200
With al the gardyn, and the lustynesse.
Nought was foryete 28 the porter Ydelnesse,
Ne Narcisus the fayre of yore agon,
Ne yet the folye of kyng Salamon,
Ne eek the gretë strengthe of Hercules,        205
Thenchauntëmentz of Médea and Circes,
Ne of Turnus the hardy fiers corage,
The richë Cresus, caytif 29 in servage. 30
Thus may ye seen that wisdom ne richesse,
Beauté ne sleightë, strengthe, ne hardynesse,        210
Ne may with Venus holdë champartye, 31
For as hir list the world than may sche gye, 32
Lo, alle thise folk i-caught were in hir las, 33
Til they for wo ful often sayde allas.
Sufficeth heer ensamples oon or tuo,        215
And though 34 I couthe rekne a thousend mo.
The statue of Venus, glorious for to see,
Was naked fletyng 35 in the largë see,
And fro the navel doun al covered was
With wawës 36 grene, and brighte as any glas.        220
A citole 37 in hir right hond haddë sche,
And on hir heed, ful semely for to see,
A rosë garland, fresch and wel smellyng,
Above hir heed hir dowvës flickeryng.
Biforn hir stood hir sonë Cupido,        225
Upon his schuldres wyngës hadde he two;
And blynd he was, as it is oftë seene;
A bowe he bar and arwes brighte and kene.
Why schulde I nought as wel eek telle you al
The portreiture, that was upon the wal        230
Withinne the temple of mighty Mars the reede?
Al peynted was the wal in lengthe and breede
Lik to the estres 38 of the grisly place,
That highte 39 the gretë temple of Mars in Trace,
In thilkë coldë frosty regioun,        235
Ther as Mars hath his sovereyn mansioun.
First on the wal was peynted a forest,
In which ther dwelleth neyther man ne best, 40
With knotty knarry bareyne treës olde
Of stubbës scharpe and hidous to byholde;        240
In which ther ran a swymbel in a swough, 41
As though a storm schulde bersten every bough:
And downward on an hil under a bente, 42
Ther stood the temple of Marz armypotente,
Wrought al of burned 43 steel, of which thentré        245
Was long and streyt, 44 and gastly for to see.
And therout cam a rage and such a vese, 45
That it made al the gates for to rese. 46
The northern light in at the dorës schon,
For wyndowe on the wal ne was ther noon,        250
Thurgh which men mighten any light discerne.
The dore was al of ademaunt eterne,
I-clenched overthwart and endëlong 47
With iren tough; and, for to make it strong,
Every piler the temple to susteene        255
Was tonnë greet, 48 of iren bright and schene.
Ther saugh I first the derke ymaginyng
Of felonye, and al the compassyng;
The cruel ire, as reed as eny gleede; 49
The pikëpurs, and eek the palë drede;        260
The smyler with the knyf under the cloke;
The schepne 50 brennyng 51 with the blakë smoke;
The tresoun of the murtheryng in the bed;
The open werre, with woundës al bi-bled;
Contek 52 with bloody knyf, and scharp manace.        265
Al ful of chirkyng 53 was that sory place.
The sleëre of himself 54 yet saugh I there,
His hertë-blood hath bathëd al his here;
The nayl y-dryven in the schode 55 a-nyght;
The coldë deth, with mouth gapyng upright.        270
Amyddës of the temple sat meschaunce,
With disconfort and sory contenaunce.
Yet saugh I woodnesse 56 laughying in his rage;
Armed complaint, outhees, 57 and fiers outrage.
The caroigne 58 in the bussh, with throte y-corve: 59        275
A thousand slain, and not of qualme y-storve; 60
The tiraunt, with the prey by force y-raft; 61
The toun destroyëd, ther was no thyng laft.
Yet sawgh I brent 62 the schippes hoppesteres; 63
The huntë 64 strangled with the wildë beres: 65        280
The sowe freten 66 the child right in the cradel;
The cook i-skalded, for al his longe ladel.
Nought was foryete 67 by 68 the infortune of Marte;
The cartere over-ryden with his carte,
Under the whel ful lowe he lay adoun.        285
Ther were also of Martes divisioun,
The barbour, and the bocher; and the smyth
That forgeth scharpë swerdës on his stith 69
And al above depeynted 70 in a tour
Saw I conquést sittyng in gret honour,        290
With the scharpë swerd over his heed
Hangynge by a sotil 71 twynës threed.
Note 1. ne wot, know not. [back]
Note 2. wont, custom. [back]
Note 3. adjoining. [back]
Note 4. accident or chance. [back]
Note 5. bolt. [back]
Note 6. blenched, started. [back]
Note 7. am merely. [back]
Note 8. started up. [back]
Note 9. quaked. [back]
Note 10. mad. [back]
Note 11. caught. [back]
Note 12. tricked. [back]
Note 13. choose. [back]
Note 14. escape. [back]
Note 15. sitteth. [back]
Note 16. were it not. [back]
Note 17. reject. [back]
Note 18. in spite of. [back]
Note 19. knowledge. [back]
Note 20. willingly. [back]
Note 21. then. [back]
Note 22. must, shall. [back]
Note 23. helped. [back]
Note 24. mad. [back]
Note 25. sighs. [back]
Note 26. marigolds. [back]
Note 27. where. [back]
Note 28. forgotten. [back]
Note 29. captive. [back]
Note 30. servitude. [back]
Note 31. divided empire. [back]
Note 32. guide, turn. [back]
Note 33. lace, snare. [back]
Note 34. nevertheless. [back]
Note 35. floating. [back]
Note 36. waves. [back]
Note 37. harp. [back]
Note 38. interior. [back]
Note 39. is called. [back]
Note 40. beast, animal. [back]
Note 41. moaning in a gust. [back]
Note 42. slope. [back]
Note 43. burnished. [back]
Note 44. strait, narrow. [back]
Note 45. rush. [back]
Note 46. shake. [back]
Note 47. across and downwards. [back]
Note 48. great as a tun. [back]
Note 49. live coal. [back]
Note 50. stable. [back]
Note 51. burning. [back]
Note 52. strife. [back]
Note 53. shrieking. [back]
Note 54. suicide. [back]
Note 55. temple. [back]
Note 56. madness. [back]
Note 57. outcry. [back]
Note 58. carcase. [back]
Note 59. cut. [back]
Note 60. dead of sickness. [back]
Note 61. reft. [back]
Note 62. burnt. [back]
Note 63. the dancing ships. [back]
Note 64. hunter. [back]
Note 65. bears. [back]
Note 66. (I saw) the sow eat. [back]
Note 67. forgotten. [back]
Note 68. as regards. [back]
Note 69. anvil. [back]
Note 70. painted. [back]
Note 71. subtle, thin. [back]
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