Song and Legend From the Middle Ages by William D. McClintock and Porter Lander McClintock

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  • 1893
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Assistant Professor of English Literature, University Of Chicago AND

Chautauqua Reading Circle Literature



Owing to the necessarily fragmentary character of the readings of this volume, it has seemed well to the editors to indicate a list of books for those who wish a wider reading In Mediaeval Literature. These books are all available and cheap.

1. French Literature.
(1) Longfellow’s “Poets and Poetry of Europe”. (2) O’Hagan’s “The Song of Roland”.
(3) Rourdillon’s “Aucassin and Nicolette”. (4) Malory’s “Morte Darthur”.
(5) Chaucer’s “Romance of the Rose”. (6) Caxton’s “Reynard the Fox”.
(7) Saintsbury’s “Short History of French Literature”. 2. Spanish Literature.
(1) Longfellow, as above.
(2) Ormsby’s “The Cid”.
(3) Lockhart’s “Ancient Spanish Ballads”. 3. Scandinavian Literature.
(1) Longfellow, as above.
(2) Anderson’s “Norse Mythology”.
4. German Literature.
(1) Longfellow, as above.
(2) Lettsom’s “Niebelungenlied”.
(3) Scherer’s “History of German Literature”. 5. Italian Literature.
(1) Longfellow, as above.
(2) Rossetti’s “Dante and his Circle”. (3) Cary’s “The Divine Comedy”.
(4) Norton’s “The Divine Comedy”.
(5) Campbell’s “The Sonnets and Poems of Petrarch”.


The aim of this little book is to give general readers some idea of the subject and spirit of European Continental literature in the later and culminating period of the Middle Ages–the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries.

It goes without saying that translations and selections are, in general, inadequate to the satisfactory representation of any literature. No piece of writing, of course, especially no piece of poetry, can be perfectly rendered into another tongue; no piece of writing can be fairly represented by detached portions. But to the general English reader Continental Mediaeval liteature, so long as it remains in the original tongues, is inaccessible; and translations of many entire works are not within easy reach.

What translation and selection can do in this case, is to put into the hands of the ordinary student of the Middle Ages sufficient material for forming an estimate of the subjects that interested the mediaeval mind and the spirit in which they were treated. And this is what the general reader desires. Matters of form and expression–the points that translation cannot reproduce–belong, of course, to the specialist.

The claim that so slender a volume of selections can represent even the subject and spirit of so vast a body of literature, is saved from being unreasonable or presumptuous by a consideration of the fact that, from causes easy to trace, the national literatures of Continental Europe had many common characteristics: the range of subjects was not unlimited; the spirit is the same in all.

No English is included for two reasons: Mediaeval English literature is easily accessible to those readers for whom this book is prepared; during the special period in which the best mediaeval literature was developed, England was comparatively unproductive.

The constant aim has been to put before the reader the literature itself, with comment barely sufficient to make an intelligible setting for the selections. Criticism of all kinds has been avoided, so that the reader may come to his material with judgment entirely unbiased.
The translations used have been selected largely with a view to their accessibility, so that readers who desire to enlarge the scope of their reading may easily find the books they need. Caxton’s “Reynard the Fox”, and “The Romance of the Rose”, attributed to Chaucer, were chosen because they convey an impression of the quaint flavor of the original, which is lost in a modern version. The slight adaptations and transliterations made in these two selections are entirely defensible on the score of intelligibility.

Our acknowledgments are due to Prof. William I. Knapp, of the University of Chicago, for the use of books from his valuable library, and for the permission, most highly prized, to print for the first time some of his translations of the Cid ballads.

THE EDITORS. Chicago, April, 1893.


The Middle Ages extend from the fifth to the fifteenth century, from the fall of the Roman Empire to the establishment of the great modern states. The general outline of the history of the Middle Ages can be seen in the following excellent table:[1]

[1] Drury’s “History of the Middle Ages”, page XIV.

1. The decline of the Roman Empire and the successful accomplishment of two invasions.

2. The transient brilliancy of the Arabian civilization.

3. The attempted organization of a new empire by Charlemagne, and its dissolution.

4. The rise and prevalence of feudalism.

5. The successive crusades.

6. The contest between the pope and the emperor for the sovereignty of the world.

The history of these ten centuries falls naturally into three great divisions:

1. Fifth to tenth century, the destruction of the past and transition to new forms.

2. Eleventh to thirteenth century, feudal society with its customs, its institutions, its arts, and its literatures.

3. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a second time of transition.

The period, then, of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries was one of intense political life, of advanced national self-consciousness, of rich, highly-organized society. It was moreover a period of common ideas, movements, and tendencies over all Europe. Several factors enter into this result:

1. The church was completely organized, forming a common life and teaching everywhere. She had learned to employ the savage vigor and conquering instincts of the northern barbarians as defenses and aggressive missions of her spirit and ideas. The monasteries were homes of learning, and from them issued the didactic literature and the early drama.

2. This resulted in that romantic institution or ideal of chivalry, whose ten commandments explain so much of mediaeval life and art.[1]

[1] “Chivalry”, by Leon Gautier, 1891, p. 26.

(1) Thou shalt believe all the church teaches, and shalt observe all its directions.

(2) Thou shalt defend the church.

(3) Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.

(4) Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.

(5) Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.

(6) Thou shalt make war against the inflael without cessation and without mercy.

(7) Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the law of God.

(8) Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word.

(9) Thou shalt be generous and give largesse to every one.

(10) Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.

3. This combination of the Christian and the warrior found its public activity most completely in the Crusades. They gave a common motive and ideal to all the knights of Europe. They brought them together for thinking and for fighting. They spread national traditions and literatures. They made the whole face of Europe and the borders of the Mediterranean known to the ambitious, venturesome, daring, and heroic of every European country. The exploits of chivalric knights were told from camp to camp and taken back home to be told again in the castles.

4. Another institution of feudalism that helped to make this common subject and spirit of mediaeval literature was the minstrel, who was attached to every well-appointed castle. This picturesque poet–gleeman, trouvere or troubadour sang heroic stories and romances of love in the halls of castles and in the market places of towns. He borrowed from and copied others and helped to make the common method and traditions of mediaeval song.

5. Other elements in this result were the extensions of commerce and the growth of traveling as a pleasure.

6. Finally, the itinerant students and teachers of mediaeval universities assisted in the making of this common fund of ideas and material for literature.

(7) Behind and within all the separate national literatures lay the common Christian-Latin literature of the early Middle Ages, undoubtedly the cause of the rather startling perfection of form shown by much of the work of the period we are studying.[1]

[1] See Ebert “Allgemeine Geschichte der Literatur des Mittelalters”. Vol. I., p. 11.

The result of all these unifying tendencies is to give a strong family likeness to the productions of the various European countries of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. The subject matter often varies, but the motive and form of writing are much alike. This likeness can be seen by a short survey of the more important kinds of literature of the period.


In every country in which the national epic grew up it had the same origin and line of development. First there was the historical hero. His deeds were related by the traveling gleeman or minstrel–in brief chapters or ballads. Gradually mythical and supernatural elements came in; the number of achievements and the number of ballads grew very large; in this oral state they continued for many years, sometimes for centuries.

Finally, they were collected, edited, and written down–generally by a single editor. In all cases the names of the poets of the ballads are lost; in most cases the names of their redactors are but conjectural. “The Song of Roland”, and the “Poem of the Cid” are typical, simple, national epics. The “Niebelungen Lied” is complicated by the fact that the legends of many heroes are fused into one poem, by the fact that it had more than one editor, and by the survival of mythological elements which mingle confusedly with Christian features. The national epic is the expression of the active side of chivalry. Italy has no national epic, both because she was too learned to develop a folk-poetry, and because the ideas of chivalry were never very active in her history.


The numberless romances that sprang up in the literary period of the Middle Ages may be thrown into three groups:

1. Those belonging to the legend of Arthur and the Round Table. They had their starting point in the history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, which was partly invented, but had some basis in a tradition common to the Bretons and the Welsh. The romances based upon this legend sprang up apparently simultaneously in England and France. Through minstrel romances, founded upon the Breton popular tradition, the Arthur legend probably first found its way into European literature. With it was early fused the stories of the Holy Grail and of Parzival. In the twelfth century these stories were widely popular in literary form in France and Germany, and later they passed into Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia. Their influence upon the life and thought of Mediaeval Europe is very important. They did much to modify the entire institution of chivalry.[1]

[1] Leon Gautier’s “Chivalry”, chap. IV., Section V.

2. The Romances of Antiquity, of which there are three varieties:

(1) Those which were believed to be direct reproductions, such as the Romances of Thebes, of Aeneas, of Troy, whose authors acknowledged a debt to Vergil, Statius, and other classic writers.

(2) Those based upon ancient history not previously versified, such as the Romance of Alexander.

(3) Those which reproduced the names and nothing else from antiquity.

These romances, too, were a common European possession. The most important and influential of them are the Romance of Troy, and the Romance of Alexander. They appear in different forms in the literature of every mediaeval nation in Europe.

3. There was in each national literature a vast number of unaffiliated romances. A romance of this group usually contained a love story, a tale of adventure, or a religious experience in the form of a story. They are not clearly distinct from the class of popular tales. On the whole, the romance is more serious and dignified than the tale. Examples of this kind of a romance are Hartmann von Aue’s “Henry the Leper”, and the French “Flore et Blanchefleur”.


Perhaps no other part of its literature shows more striking proof of the common life and interests of Mediaeval Europe than does the lyric poetry of the period. In Northern France, in Provence, in all parts of Germany, in Italy, and a little later in Spain, we see a most remarkable outburst of song. The subjects were the same in all the countries. Love-the love of feudal chivalry–patriotism, and religion were the themes that employed the mediaeval lyrist in whatever country he sang. In all these lyrics much was made of form, the verse being always skillfully constructed, sometimes very complicated. The lyric poetry of Italy was more learned and more finished in style than that of the other countries.

In Northern France the poet was called a trouvere, in Provence a troubadour, in Germany a minnesinger. The traveling minstrel was in France a jongleur (Provencal jogleur). The distinction between trouvere or troubadour and jongleur is not always to be sharply drawn. Sometimes in France and Provence the same poet composed his verses and sang them–was both trouvere or troubadour and jongleur; while in Germany the minnesingers were generally both poets and minstrels.


No distinct line can be drawn between Tales and Fables; between Romances and Tales; nor between Fables and Allegories. These varieties of writings merge into one another.

The number of tales in circulation in Mediaeval Europe was exceedingly large. These tales came from many different sources: from Oriental lands, introduced by the Moors, or brought back by the crusaders; from ancient classical literature; from traditions of the church and the lives of the saints; from the old mythologies; from common life and experience. Among many mediaeval collections of them, the most famous are the “Decameron” of Boccaccio, and the “Geste Romanorum”, a collection made and used by the priests in instructing their people.


Under didactic literature we would include a large mass of writing not strictly to be called pure literature–sermons, homilies, chronicles, bestiaries, and chronologies. Nearly all these were written in verse, as prose did not begin to be used for literature until very late in the Middle Ages. The mediaeval mind, under the influence of the scholastic theology, grew very fond of allegory. The list of allegories is exhaustless, and some of the allegories well-nigh interminable. It is not easy to say whether the “Romance of Reynard the Fox” is a series of fables or an allegory. The fact that a satire on human affairs runs through it constantly, warrants us in calling it an allegory. Some phase of the Reynard legend formed the medium of expression of the thought of every mediaeval nation in Europe. Perhaps the most popular and influential allegory of the Middle Ages was “The Romance of the Rose”, written in France but translated or imitated in every other country. Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is an allegory of a very elevated kind.


The origin and line of development of the drama in all the countries of Mediaeval Europe is this: Dramatic representations in connection with the liturgy of the church were first used in the service; then they were extended to church festivals and ceremonies. By degrees portions of Bible history were thrown into dramatic form; then the lives of the saints furnished material. A distinction grew up between Mystery Plays–those founded on Bible history–and Miracle Plays–those founded on the lives of the saints. These plays were performed both in the churches and in the open air. They were written usually by the clergy. Gradually there grew up a play in which the places of religious characters were taken by abstract virtues and vices personified, and plays called Moralities were produced. They were played chiefly by tradesmen’s guilds. Alongside the sacred drama are to be found occasional secular dramatic attempts, farces, carnival plays, and profane mysteries. But their number and significance are small. The medivaeval drama is historically interesting, but in itself does not contain much interest. It is impossible to give an idea of it by selection.



French Literature of the Middle Ages was produced between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries, having its greatest development in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It must be divided into two sections according to the part of France where it was produced.

I. French Literature proper, or that composed in the northern half of France.

II. Provencal Literature, or that developed in Provence.

The most obvious difference between these is that the Provencal literature had little of the epic and romantic, but developed the lyric extensively, especially lyrics of love.

The following table will show the more important kinds of French Mediaeval Literature.[1]

[1] This classification is adapted from M. Gaston Paris’ excellent sketch “La Litterature Francaise au Moyen Age”, 1890, and Saintsbury’s “Short History of French Literature”, 1889.

I. Narrative Literature.

1. The National Epics.

2. Romances of Antiquity.

3. Arthurian Romances.

4. Romances of Adventure.

5. Tales and Fables.

6. Chronicles.

II. Didactic Literature.

1. Allegories–“The Romance of the Rose”.

2. Satires.

3. Homilies, etc.

III. Lyric Literature.


The French national epics (called “Chansons de Gestes”, songs of heroic deeds) are those narrative poems which are founded on early French history, and recount the deeds of national heroes. They are, for the most part, based on the deeds of Charlemagne and his nobles. They are peculiar to Northern France. Their date of production extends from the eleventh to the fourteenth century, their best development being in the eleventh and twelfth.

These epic poems number more than one hundred. They vary in length from one thousand to thirty thousand lines. The whole mass is said to contain between two and three million lines. Like all folk epics, they are based upon earlier ballads composed by many different poets. These ballads were never written down and are completely lost. The epic is a compilation and adaptation, presumably by a single poet, of the material of the ballads. In every case the names of the poets of the French epics are lost. They were trouveres and their poems were carried about in memory or in manuscript by the jongleurs or minstrels, and sung from castle to castle and in the market places. The best of them are: “The Song of Roland”; “Amis et Amiles”; “Aliscans”; “Gerard de Roussillon”; “Raoul de Cambrai”. Of these the oldest and confessedly the greatest is The Song of Roland, from which our extracts are taken.

The Song of Roland is based upon the following events (the events as narrated in the poem differ widely from those of the actual history): Charlemagne has warred seven years in Spain, when Marsile, king of Saragossa, the only city that has withstood the emperor, sends a feigned submission. Roland, the king’s nephew, offers to go to Saragossa to settle the terms of the treaty. He is rejected as too impetuous, when he suggests that Ganelon go. This bitterly annoys Ganelon, and when he meets Marsile he makes a treacherous plot by which Charlemagne is to be induced to go back to France, with Roland in command of the rear guard. The plan works, and when the advanced party of the French army is out of reach, the Saracens fall upon the rear guard in the pass of Roncevalles and completely destroy it. The death of Roland, the return and grief of the king, and his vengeance on the pagans form the central incident of the poem. Ganelon is afterwards tried for his treachery, condemned, and executed.


Stanza I.–
The king, our Emperor Carlemaine,
Hath been for seven full years in Spain. From highland to sea hath he won the land; City was none might his arm withstand;
Keep and castle alike went down–
Save Saragossa, the mountain town.
The King Marsilius holds the place, Who loveth not God, nor seeks His grace: He prays to Apollin, and serves Mahound; But he saved him not from the fate he found.

King Marsile held a council and decided to offer Charlemagne a feigned submission. Karl summons his council to consider this.

Stanza 8.–
King Karl is jocund and gay of mood, He hath Cordres city at last subdued;
Its shattered walls and turrets fell By catapult and mangonel;
Not a heathen did there remain
But confessed himself Christian or else was slain. The Emperor sits in an orchard wide,
Roland and Olivier by his side:
Samson the duke, and Anseis proud;
Geoffrey of Anjou, whose arm was vowed The royal gonfalon to rear;
Gereln, and his fellow in arms, Gerier: With them many a gallant lance,
Full fifteen thousand of gentle France. The cavaliers sit upon carpets white
Playing at tables for their delight; The older and sager sit at chess,
The bachelors fence with a light address. Seated underneath a pine,
Close beside an eglantine,
Upon a throne of beaten gold,
The lord of ample France behold;
White his hair and beard were seen, Fair of body, and proud of mien,
Who sought him needed not ask, I ween. The ten alight before his feet,
And him in all observance greet.

The treacherous plot has succeeded. Charles, with the main part of his army, has gone ahead, the Saracens have fallen on the rear-guard, and are destroying it. Oliver begs Roland to sound his wonderful horn and summon aid.

Stanza 87.–
“O Roland, sound on your ivory horn, To the ear of Karl shall the blast be borne: He will bid his legions backward bend,
And all his barons their aid will lend.” “Now God forbid it, for very shame,
That for my kindred were stained with blame, Or that gentle France to such vileness fell: This good sword that hath served me well, My Durindana such strokes shall deal,
That with blood encrimsoned shall be the steel. By their evil star are the felons led;
They shall all be numbered among the dead!”

Stanza 88.–
“Roland, Roland, yet wind one blast! Karl will hear ere the gorge be passed,
And the Franks return on their path fall fast! “I will not sound on mine ivory horn:
It shall never be spoken of me in scorn, That for heathen felons one blast I blew; I may not dishonour my lineage true.
But I will strike, ere this fight be o’er, A thousand strokes and seven hundred more, And my Durindana will drip with gore.
Our Franks shall bear them like vassals brave. The Saracens shall flock but to find a grave.”

Stanza 89.–
“I deem of neither reproach nor stain. I have seen the Saracen host of Spain,
Over plain and valley and mountain spread, And the regions hidden beneath their tread. Countless the swarm of the foe, and we
A marvellous little company.”
Roland answered him, “All the more
My spirit within me burns therefore. God and the angels of heaven defend
That France through me from her glory bend. Death were better than fame laid low.
Our Emperor loveth a downright blow.”

At last Roland blows his horn, but it is too late. All the Moors are slain or routed, but so are all the Franks save Roland, and he has received his death blow.

Stanza 195–
That Death was on him he knew full well; Down from his head to his heart it fell. On the grass beneath a pinetree’s shade, With face to earth his form he laid,
Beneath him placed he his horn and sword, And turned his face to the heathen horde. Thus hath he done the sooth to show,
That Karl and his warriors all may know, That the gentle count a conqueror died.
Mea Culpa full oft he cried;
And, for all his sins, unto God above, In sign of penance, he raised his glove.

Stanza 197.–
Beneath a pine was his resting-place, To the land of Spain hath he turned his face. On his memory rose full many a thought
Of the lands he won and the fields he fought; Of his gentle France, of his kin and line; Of his nursing father King Karl benign;
He may not the tear and sob control, Nor yet forgets he his parting soul.
To God’s compassion he makes his cry: “O Father true, who canst not lie,
Who didst Lazarus raise unto life again, And Daniel shield in the lions’ den;
Shield my soul from its peril, due
For the sins I sinned my lifetime through.” He did his right hand glove upliftst.
Gabriel took from his hand the gift; Then drooped his head upon his breast,
And with clasped hands he went to rest. God from on high sent down to him
One of his angel cherubim–
Saint Michael of Peril of the sea,
Saint Gabriel in company–
From heaven they came for that soul of price, And they bore it with them to Paradise.

The king hears Roland’s horn and hurries back, only to find him and all his knights slain. He swoons, revives, but swoons again.

Stanza 212.–
As Karl the king revived once more, His hands were held by barons four.
He saw his nephew, cold and wan;
Stark his frame, but his hue was gone; His eyes turned inward, dark and dim;
And Karl in love lamented him:
“Dear Roland, God thy spirit rest
In paradise, amongst His blest!
In evil hour thou soughtest Spain:
No day shall dawn but sees my pain, And me of strength and pride bereft,
No champion of mine honour left;
Without a friend beneath the sky;
And though my kindred still be nigh, Is none like thee their ranks among.”
With both his hands his beard he wrung. The Franks bewailed in unison;
A hundred thousand wept like one.

Stanza 213.–
“Dear Roland, I return again
To Laon, to mine own domain;
Where men will come from many a land, And seek Count Roland at my hand.
A bitter tale must I unfold–
‘In Spanish earth he lieth cold.’
A joyless realm henceforth I hold,
And weep with daily tears untold.

Stanza 214–
“Dear Roland, beautiful and brave,
All men of me will tidings crave,
When I return to La Chapelle.
Oh, what a tale is mine to tell!
That low my glorious nephew lies.
Now will the Saxon foeman rise;
Palermitan and Afric bands,
And men from fierce and distant lands. To sorrow sorrow must succeed;
My hosts to battle who shall lead,
When the mighty captain is overthrown? Ah! France deserted now, and lone.
Come, death, before such grief I bear.” Began he with his hands to tear;
A hundred thousand fainted there.

Stanza 215.–
“Dear Roland, and was this thy fate? May Paradise thy soul await.
Who slew thee wrought fair France’s bane: I cannot live so deep my pain.
For me my kindred lie undone;
And would to Holy Mary’s Son,
Ere I at Cizra’s gorge alight,
My soul may take its parting flight: My spirit would with theirs abide;
My body rest their dust beside.”
With sobs his hoary beard he tore.
“Alas!” said Naimes, “for the Emperor.”

The Franks take terrible vengeance on the Moors who survive. Then they bury their dead comrades and all return to France.

Stanza 225.
–From Spain the Emperor made retreat, To Aix in France, his kingly seat;
And thither, to his halls, there came, Alda, the fair and gentle dame.
“Where is my Roland, sire,” she cried, “Who vowed to take me for his bride?
O’er Karl the flood of sorrow swept; He tore his beard and loud he wept.
“Dear Sister, gentle friend,” he said, “Thou seekest one who lieth dead:
I plight to thee my son instead,–
Louis, who lord of my realm shall be.” “Strange,” she said, “this seems to me.
God and his angels forbid that I
Should live on earth if Poland die.” Pale grow her cheek–she sank amain,
Down at the feet of Carlemaine.
So died she. God receive her soul!
The Franks bewail her in grief and dole.

Stanza 226.–
So to her death went Alda fair.
The king but deemed she fainted there. While dropped his tears of pity warm,
He took her hands and raised her form. Upon his shoulder drooped her head,
And Karl was ware that she was dead. When thus he saw that life was o’er,
He summoned noble ladies four.
Within a cloister was she borne;
They watched beside her until morn; Beneath a shrine her limbs were laid;
Such honour Karl to Alda paid.


Another form of narrative literature in the Middle Ages is that of Romances, and the great products of it are the Arthurian Romances and the Romances of Antiquity. THE ARTHURIAN CYCLE OF ROMANCES is a set of romantic stories founded on the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, with which was early fused the legend of the Holy Graal. The legend has sources as far back as the ninth century, but expanded into definite shape in France and England in the twelfth. It had its first and highest popular development in France. Here they were collected and thrown into verse by Chrestien de Troyes. It became at once a general European possession and expanded to vast proportions. In England the Arthur stories flourished both independently and as translations from French. Sir Thomas Malory collected in the latter part of the fifteenth century a great number of these sources, translated, edited, abridged, and rewrote the whole into that charming book “Morte D’Arthur”. It is accepted that this book, though so late, gives a true impression of the characteristics of the older romances. We select from this rather than from other translations of French originals, to give a mediaeval flavor to the selection and have the advantage of quoting a classic.

Alongside the Arthurian Romances, flourished many romances of antiquity. The more important of these cycles are the ROMANCE OF ALEXANDER and the ROMANCE OF TROY, while others worth mentioning are the ROMANCE OF THEBES and the ROMANCE OF AENEAS. They are all very long poems, consisting of series of stories partly derived from classic sources, partly invented by trouveres. They are important (1) as connecting, however loosely, mediaeval with classical literature, and (2) as showing some scholarship on the part of their authors and interest in general culture.


Book I. Chapter 23.

How Arthur by the mean of Merlin gat Excalibur his sword of the Lady of the lake.

Right so the king and he departed, and went until an hermit that was a good man and a great leach. So the hermit searched all his wounds and gave him good salves; so the king was there three days, and then were his wounds well amended that he might ride and go, and so departed. And as they rode, Arthur said, I have no sword. No force, said Merlin, hereby is a sword that shall be yours and I may. So they rode till they came to a lake, the which was a fair water and broad, and in the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand. Lo, said Merlin, yonder is that sword that I spake of. With that they saw a damsel going upon the lake: What damsel is that? said Arthur. That is the Lady of the lake, said Merlin; and within that lake is a rock, and therein is as fair a place as any on earth, and richly beseen, and this damsel will come to you anon, and then speak ye fair to her that she will give you that sword. Anon withal came the damsel unto Arthur and saluted him, and he her again. Damsel, said Arthur, what sword is that, that yonder the arm holdeth above the water? I would it were mine’ for I have no sword. Sir Arthur king, said the damsel, that sword is mine, and if ye will give me a gift when I ask it you, ye shall have it. By my faith, said Arthur, I will give you what gift ye will ask. Well, said the damsel, go ye into yonder barge and row yourself to the sword, and take it and the scabbard with you, and I will ask my gift when I see my time. So Sir Arthur and Merlin alight, and tied their horses to two trees, and so they went into the ship, and when they came to the sword that the hand held, Sir Arthur took it up by the handles, and took it with him. And the arm and the hand went under the water; and so they came unto the land and rode forth.

Book III. Chapter 1.

How king Arthur took a wife, and wedded Guenever daughter to Leodegrance, king of the land of Cameliard, with whom he had the Round Table.

In the beginning of Arthur, after he was chosen king by adventure and by grace–for the most part of the barons knew not that he was Uther Pendragon’s son, but as Merlin made it openly known,–many kings and lords made great war against him for that cause; but well Arthur overcame them all; for the most part of the days of his life he was ruled much by the council of Merlin. So it fell on a time king Arthur said unto Merlin, My barons will let me have no rest, but needs I must take a wife, and I will none take but by thy council and by thine advice. It is well done, said Merlin, that ye take a wife, for a man of your bounty and nobleness should not be without a wife. Now is there any that ye love more than another? Yea, said king Arthur, I love Guenever, the daughter of king Leodegrance, of the land of Cameliard, which Leodegrance holdeth in his house the Table Round, that ye told he had of my father, Uther. And this damsel is the most valiant and fairest lady that I know living, or yet that ever I could find. Sir, said Merlin, as of her beauty and fairness she is one of the fairest on live. But and ye loved her not so well as ye do, I could find you a damsel of beauty and of goodness that ghould like you and plea-se you, and your heart were not set; but there as a man’s heart is set, he will be loth to return. That is truth, said king Arthur. But Merlin warned the king covertly that Guenever was not wholesome for him to take to wife, for he warned him that Launcelot should love her, and she him again; and so he turned his tale to the adventures of the Sangreal. Then Merlin desired of the king to have men with him that should enquire of Guenever, and so the king granted him. And Merlin went forth to king Leodegrance of Cameliard, and told him of the desire of the king that he would have unto his wife Guenever his daughter. That is to me, said king Leodegrance, the best tidings that ever I heard, that so worthy a king of prowess and noblesse will wed my daughter. And as for my lands I will give him wist I it might please him, but he hath lands enough, him needeth none, but I shall send him a gift shall please him much more, for I shall give him the Table Round, the which Uther Pendragon gave me, and when it is full complete there is an hundred knights and fifty. And as for an hundred good knights I have myself, but I lack fifty, for so many have been slain in my days. And so king Leodegrance delivered his daughter Guenever unto Merlin, and the Table Round, with the hundred knights, and so they rode freshly, with great royalty, what by water and what by land, till that they came nigh unto London.

Book III. Chapter 2.

How the knights of the Round Table were ordained, and their sieges blessed by the bishop of Canterbury.

When king Arthur heard Of the coming of Guenever and the hundred knights with the Table Round, then king Arthur made great joy for their coming, and that rich present, and said openly, This fair lady is passing welcome unto me, for I have loved her long, and therefore there is nothing so lief to me. And these knights with the Round Table please me more than right great riches. And in all haste the king let ordain for the marriage and the coronation in the most honourablest wise that could be devised. Now Merlin, said king Arthur, go thou and espy me in all this land fifty knights which be of most prowess and worship. Within short time Merlin had found such knights that should fulfil twenty and eight knights, but no more he could find. Then the bishop of Canterbury was fetched, and he blessed the sieges with great royalty and devotion, and there set the eight and twenty knights in their sieges. And when this was done Merlin said, Fair sirs, ye must all arise and come to king Arthur for to do him homage; he will have the better will to maintain you. And so they arose and did their homage. And when they were gone Merlin found in every siege letters of gold that told the knights’ names that had sitten therein. But two sieges were void: And so anon came young Gawaine, and asked the king a gift. Ask, said the king, and I shall grant it you. Sir, I ask that ye will make me knight that same day ye shall wed fair Guenever. I will do it with a good will, said king Arthur, and do unto you all the worship that I may, for I must by reason you are my nephew, my sister’s son.

It is now the Vigil of the feast of Pentecost, and the knights are all at Arthur’s court. Sir Launcelot is suddenly desired to go on a mission by a fair damsel who takes him to a forest and an abbey.

Book XIII. Chapter 1.

Truly, said Sir Launcelot, a gentlewoman brought me hither, but I know not the cause. In the meanwhile, as they thus stood talking together, there came twelve nuns which brought with them Galahad, the which was passing fair and well made, that unneth in the world men might not find his match; and all those ladies wept. Sir, said the ladies, we bring you here this child, the which we have nourished, and we pray you to make him a knight; for of a more worthier man’s hand may he not receive the order of knighthood. Sir Launcelot beheld that young squire, and saw him seemly and demure as a dove, with all manner of good features, that he wend of his age never to have seen so fair a man of form. Then said Sir Launcelot, Cometh this desire of himself? He and all they said, Yea. Then shall he, said Sir Launcelot, receive the high order of knighthood as tomorrow at the reverence of the high feast. That night Sir Launcelot had passing good cheer, and on the morn at the hour of prime, at Galahad’s desire, he made him knight, and said, God make him a good man, For beauty faileth you not as any that liveth.

Sir Launcelot returns to court. It is noticed that the back of the “siege (seat) perilous,” at the Round Table has a new inscription saying that this day this long unfilled seat should be filled. Before sitting down to feast on this day, it was an old custom to see “some adventure.”

Book XIII. Chapter 2.

So as they stood speaking, in came a squire, and said unto the king, Sir, I bring unto you marvellous tidings. What be they? said the king. Sir, there is here beneath at the river a great stone, which I saw fleet above the water, and therein saw I sticking a sword. The king said, I will see that marvel. So all the knights went with him, and when they came unto the river, they found there a stone fleeting, as it were of red marble, and therein stack a fair and a rich sword, and in the pomell thereof were precious stones, wrought with subtil letters of gold. Then the barons read the letters, which said in this wise: Never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang, and he shall be the best knight of the world. When the king had seen these letters, he said unto Sir Launcelot, Fair sir, this sword ought to be yours, for I am sure ye be the best knight of the world. Then Sir Launcelot answered full soberly: Certes, sir, it is not my sword: also, sir, wit ye well I have no hardiness to set my hand to, for it longed not to hang by my side. Also who that assayeth to take that sword, and falleth of it, he shall receive a wound by that sword, that he shall not be whole long after. And I will that ye wit that this same day will the adventures of the Sancgreal, that is called the holy vessel, begin.

Sir Gawaine tries to draw out the sword but fails. They sit at table and an old man brings in the young knight, Sir Galahad.

Book XIII. Chapter 4.

Then the old man made the young man to unarm him; and he was in a coat of red sendel, and bare a mantle upon his shoulder that was furred with ermine, and put that upon him. And the old knight said unto the young knight, Sir, follow me. And anon he led him unto the siege perilous, where beside sat Sir Launcelot, and the good man lift up the cloth, and found there letters that said thus: This is the siege of Galahad the haut prince. Sir, said the old knight, wit ye well that place is yours. And then he set him down surely in that siege . . . . . . . . . Then all the knights of the Table Round marvelled them greatly of Sir Galahad, that he durst sit there in that siege perilous, and was so tender of age, and wist not from whence he came, but all only by God, and said, This is he by whom the Sancgreal shall be achieved, for there sat never none but he, but he were mischieved.

King Arthur showed the stone with the sword in it to Sir Galahad. He lightly drew out the sword and put it in his sheath. Then the king had all his knights come together to joust ere they departed.

Book XIII. Chapter 6.

Now, said the king, I am sure at this quest of the Sancgreal shall all ye of the Table Round depart, and never shall I see you again whole together, therefore I will see you all whole together in the meadow of Camelot, to just and to tourney, that after your death men may speak of it, that such good knights were wholly together such a day. As unto that council, and at the king’s request, they accorded ill, and took on their harness that longed unto justing. But all this moving of the king was for this intent, for to see Galahad proved, for the king deemed he should not lightly come again unto the court after his departing. So were they assembled in the meadow, both more and less. Then Sir Galahad, by the prayer of the king and the queen, did upon him a noble jesserance, and also he did on his helm, but shield would he take none for no prayer of the king. And then Sir Gawaine and other knights prayed him to take a spear. Right so he did; and the queen was in a tower with all her ladies for to behold that tournament. Then Sir Galahad dressed him in the midst of the meadow, and began to break spears marvellously, that all men had wonder of him, for he there surmounted all other knights, for within a while he had thrown down many good knights of the Table Round save twain, that was Sir Launcelot and Sir Percivale.

Book XIII. Chapter 7.

And then the king and all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong to the great minster. And so after upon that to supper, and every knight sat in his own place as they were toforehand. Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place should all to- drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sun-beam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other by their seeming fairer than ever they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while, and so they looked every man on other, as they had been dumb. Then there entered into the hall the holy Graile covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it. And there was all the hall full filled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world: and when the holy Graile had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became. Then had they all breath to speak. And then the king yielded thankings unto God of his good grace that he had sent them. Certes, said the king, we ought to thank our Lord Jesu greatly, for that he hath shewed us this day at the reverence of this high feast of Pentecost. Now, said Sir Gawaine, we have been served this day of what meats and drinks we thought on, but one thing beguiled us, we might not see the holy Graile, it was so preciously covered: wherefore I will make here avow, that to-morn, without longer abiding, I shall labour in the quest of the Sancgreal, that I shall hold me out a twelvemonth and a day, or more if need be, and never shall I return again unto the court till I have seen it more openly than it hath been seen here; and if I may not speed, I shall return again as he that may not be against the will of our Lord Jesu Christ. When they of the Table Round heard Sir Gawaine say so, they arose up the most party, and made such avows as Sir Gawaine had made.

Book XVII. Chapter 20.

How Galahad and his fellows were fed of the holy Sangreal, and how our Lord appeared to them, and other things. Then king Pelles and his son departed. And therewithal beseemed them that there came a man and four angels from heaven, clothed in likeness of a bishop, and had a cross in his hand, and these four angels bare him up in a chair, and set him down before the table of silver whereupon the Sancgreal was, and it seemed that he had in midst of his forehead letters that said, See ye here Joseph the first bishop of Christendom, the same which our Lord succoured in the city of Sarras, in the spiritual place. Then the knights marvelled, for that bishop was dead more than three hundred years tofore. Oh knights, said he, marvel not, for I was sometime an earthly man. With that they heard the chamber door open, and there they saw angels, and two bare candles of wax, and the third a towel, and the fourth a spear which bled marvellously, that three drops fell within a box which he held with his other hand. And they set the candles upon the table, and the third the towel upon the vessel, and the fourth, the holy spear even upright upon the vessel. And then the bishop made semblant as though he would have gone to the sacring of the mass. And then he took an ubbly, which was made in likeness of bread; and at the lifting up there came a figure in likeness of a child, and the visage was as red and as bright as any fire, and smote himself into the bread, so that they all saw it, that the bread was formed of a fleshly man, and then he put it into the holy vessel again. And then he did that longed to a priest to do to a mass. And then he went to Galahad and kissed him, and bad him go and kiss his fellows, and so he did anon. Now, said he, servants of Jesu Christ, ye shall be fed afore this table with sweet meats, that never knights tasted. And when he had said, he vanished away; and they set them at the table in great dread, and made their prayers. Then looked they, and saw a man come out of the holy vessel, that had all the signs of the passion of Jesu Christ, bleeding all openly, and said, My knights and my servants and my true children, which be come out of deadly life into spiritual life, I will now no longer hide me from you, but ye shall see now a part of my secrets and of my hid things: now hold and receive the high meat which ye have so much desired. Then took he himself the holy vessel, and came to Galahad, and he kneeled down and there he received his Saviour, and after him so received all his fellows; and they thought it so sweet that it was marvellous to tell. Then said he to Galahad, Son, wotest thou what I hold betwixt my hands? Nay, said he, but if ye will tell me. This is, said he, the holy dish wherein I ate the lamb on Sher-thursday. And now hast thou seen that thou most desiredst to see, but yet hast thou not seen it so openly as thou shalt see it in the city of Sarras, in the spiritual place.


Lyric poetry sprang up very early in Northern France, having a spontaneous and abundant growth in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Of the earliest lyrics, the critics distinguish two varieties (l) the Romance, and (2) the Pastourelle. These are generally dramatic love stories, full of gay and simple life and extremely artistic and musical in form. Along with these was produced a vast amount of simple lyric poetry on love and other personal emotions. The number of poems written was immense. About two hundred names of poets have come down to us, besides hundreds of anonymous pieces.

The Romances and Pastourelles of the northern trouveres were soon greatly influenced by the more artful poetry of the Provencal troubadours, producing the highly artificial but charming rondeaus and ballades of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. But the freshest, most individual work is that of the earlier time.

CHATELAIN DE COUCY. Thirteenth Century.

The first approach of the sweet spring Returning here once more,–
The memory of the love that holds
In my fond heart such power,–
The thrush again his song assaying,– The little rills o’er pebbles playing,
And sparkling as they fall,–
The memory recall
Of her on whom my heart’s desire
Is, shall be, fixed till I expire.

With every season fresh and new
That love is more inspiring:
Her eyes, her face, all bright with joy,– Her coming, her retiring,
Her faithful words, her winning ways,– That sweet look, kindling up the blaze,
Of love, so gently still,
To wound, but not to kill,–
So that when most I weep and sigh,
So much the higher springs my joy.

–Tr. by Taylor.


Lady, the fates command, and I must go,– Leaving the pleasant land so dear to me: Here my heart suffered many a heavy woe; But what is left to love, thus leaving thee? Alas! that cruel land beyond the sea!
Why thus dividing many a faithful heart, Never again from pain and sorrow free,
Never again to meet, when thus they part?

I see not, when thy presence bright I leave, How wealth, or joy, or peace can be my lot; Ne’er yet my spirit found such cause to grieve As now in leaving thee; and if thy thought Of me in absence should be sorrow-fraught, Oft will my heart repentant turn to thee, Dwelling in fruitless wishes, on this spot, And all the gracious words here said to me.

O gracious God! to thee I bend my knee, For thy sake yielding all I love and prize; And O, how mighty must that influence be, That steals me thus from all my cherished joys! Here, ready, then, myself surrendering,
Prepared to serve thee, I submit; and ne’er To one so faithful could I service bring, So kind a master, so beloved and dear.

And strong my ties,–my grief unspeakable! Grief, all my choicest treasures to resign; Yet stronger still the affections that impel My heart toward Him, the God whose love is mine. That holy love, how beautiful! how strong! Even wisdom’s favorite sons take refuge there; ‘T is the redeeming gem that shines among Men’s darkest thoughts,–for ever bright and fair.

–Tr. by Taylor.

GACE BRULE. Thirteenth Century.

The birds, the birds of mine own land I heard in Brittany;
And as they sung, they seemed to me The very same I heard with thee.
And if it were indeed a dream,
Such thoughts they taught my soul to frame That straight a plaintive number came,
Which still shall be my song,
Till that reward is mine which love hath promised long.

–Tr. by Taylor.

RAOUL DE SOISSONS. Thirteenth Century.

Ah! beauteous maid,
Of form so fair!
Pearl of the world,
Beloved and dear!
How does my spirit eager pine
But once to press those lips of thine!– Yes, beauteous maid,
Of form so fair!
Pearl of the world,
Beloved and dear!

And if the theft
Thine ire awake,
A hundred fold
I’d give it back,–
Thou beauteous maid,
Of form so fair!
Pearl of the world,
Beloved and dear!

–Tr. by Taylor.


During the latter half of the thirteenth century several new and highly artificial forms of verse were developed. The chief of these were the Ballade and Chant Royal, the Rondel, Roudeau, Triolet, Virelay. These are all alike in being short poems, generally treating of love, and making special use of a refrain and the repetition of words and lines. They differ in the number of verses in a stanza, of stanzas In the poem, and the order and number of rhymes. Their poetic value is not great because the poet so easily lost sight of his subject in perfecting his verse form.


Take time while yet it is in view,
For fortune is a fickle fair:
Days fade, and others spring anew;
Then take the moment still in view. What boots to toil and cares pursue?
Each month a new moon bangs in air. Take, then, the moment still in view,
For fortune is a fickle fair.

–Froissart. Tr. Anonymous.


Now Time throws off his cloak again
Of ermined frost, and cold and rain, And clothes him in the embroidery
Of glittering son and clear blue sky. With beast and bird the forest rings,
Each in his jargon cries or sings;
And Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and cold and rain.

River, and fount, and tinkling brook
Wear in their dainty livery
Drops of silver jewelry;
In new-made suit they merry look;
And Time throws off his cloak again Of ermined frost, and cold and rain.

–Charles d’Orleans. Tr. by Longfellow.


Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais, Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere,–
She whose beauty was more than human? …. But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on? (From love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine? …. But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies, With a voice like any mermaiden,–
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,– And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,– Mother of God, where are they then? …. But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year, Save with thus much for an overword,–
But where are the snows of yester-year?

–Villon. Tr. by D. G. Rossetti.


Modern scholars separate the treatment of Provencal literature from that of French. It was written in a different dialect, was subject to somewhat different laws of development, and after a short period of activity died almost completely away.

Provencal literature is that produced in ancient Provence or Southern France. Its period of life extended from the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, its middle and only important period being that of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This literature contains examples of all the varieties of French literature of the Middle Ages, but the only work that is original and important is its lyric poetry. This was composed by the troubadours (corresponding to the French trouveres) and sung by jongleurs or minstrels. The names of 460 Provencal poets and 251 anonymous pieces have come down to us. The one great theme of troubadour-singing–one, too, upon which he was original and a master–was that of passionate love. With this as subject, these poets united an eagerness for form, and were the first to perfect verse in any modern language.

PIERRE ROGIERS. Twelfth Century.

Who has not looked upon her brow
Has never dreamed of perfect bliss, But once to see her is to know
What beauty, what perfection, is.

Her charms are of the growth of heaven, She decks the night with hues of day:
Blest are the eyes to which ‘t is given On her to gaze the soul away!

–Tr. by Costello.


No, never since the fatal time
When the world fell for woman’s crime, Has Heaven in tender mercy sent–
All preordaining, all foreseeing–
A breath of purity that lent
Existence to so fair a being!
Whatever earth can boast of rare,
Of precious, and of good,–
Gaze on her form, ‘t is mingled there, With added grace endued.

Why, why is she so much above
All others whom I might behold,
Whom I, unblamed, might dare to love, To whom my sorrows might be told?
O, when I see her, passing fair,
I feel how vain is all my care:
I feel she all transcends my praise, I feel she must contemn my lays:
I feel, alas! no claim have I
To gain that bright divinity!
Were she less lovely, less divine,
Less passion and despair were mine.

–Tr. by Costello.

THE MONK OF MONTAUDON. Thirteenth Century.

I love the court by wit and worth adorned, A man whose errors are abjured and mourned, My gentle mistress by a streamlet clear, Pleasure, a handsome present, and good cheer.

I love fat salmon, richly dressed, at noon; I love a faithful friend both late and soon.

I hate small gifts, a man that’s poor and proud, The young who talk incessantly and loud; I hate in low-bred company to be,
I hate a knight that has not courtesy. I hate a lord with arms to war unknown,
I hate a priest or monk with beard o’ergrown; A doting husband, or a tradesman’s son,
Who apes a noble, and would pass for one. I hate much water and too little wine,
A prosperous villain and a false divine; A niggard lout who sets the dice aside;
A flirting girl all frippery and pride; A cloth too narrow, and a board too wide; Him who exalts his handmaid to his wife, And her who makes her groom her lord for life; The man who kills his horse with wanton speed, And him who fails his friend in time of need.

–Tr. by Costello.

PIERRE VIDAL. End Twelfth Century.

Of all sweet birds, I love the most
The lark and nightingale:
For they the first of all awake,
The opening spring with songs to hail.

And I, like them, when silently
Each Troubadour sleeps on,
Will wake me up, and sing of love
And thee, Vierna, fairest one!
. . . .
The rose on thee its bloom bestowed, The lily gave its white,
And nature, when it planned thy form A model framed of fair and bright.

For nothing, sure, that could be given, To thee hath been denied;
That there each thought of love and joy In bright perfection might reside.

–Tr. by Taylor.

GUIRAUT DE BORNEILH. End Thirteenth Century.

Companion dear! or sleeping or awaking, Sleep not again! for, lo! the morn is nigh, And in the east that early star is breaking, The day’s forerunner, known unto mine eye. The morn, the morn is near.

Companion dear! with carols sweet I’ll call thee; Sleep not again! I hear the birds’ blithe song Loud in the woodlands; evil may befall thee, And jealous eyes awaken, tarrying long,
Now that the morn is near.

Companion dear! forth from the window looking, Attentive mark the signs of yonder heaven; Judge if aright I read what they betoken: Thine all the loss, if vain the warning given. The morn, the morn is near.

Companion dear! since thou from hence wert straying, Nor sleep nor rest these eyes have visited; My prayers unceasing to the Virgin paying, That thou in peace thy backward way might tread. The morn, the morn, is near.

Companion dear! hence to the fields with me! Me thou forbad’st to slumber through the night, And I have watched that livelong night for thee; But thou in song or me hast no delight,
And now the morn is near.


Companion dear! so happily sojourning, So blest am I, I care not forth to speed: Here brightest beauty reigns, her smiles adorning Her dwelling-place,–then wherefore should I heed The morn or jealous eyes?

–Tr. by Taylor.



A large and popular class of writing of the French Middle Ages was that of FABLIAUX or Fables. A Fable is “a recital, for the most part comic, of a real or possible event occurring in the ordinary affairs of human life.”[1] We possess some two hundred of these fables, varying in length from twenty to five hundred lines. They are generally mocking, jocular, freespoken, half satirical stories of familiar people, and incidents in ordinary life. The follies of the clergy are especially exposed, though the peasants, knights, and even kings furnish frequent subjects. They are commonly very free and often licentious in language. The following is an example of the simpler kind of Fables.

[1] Quoted by Saintsbury from M. de Montaiglon, editor of the latest collection of Fabliaux (Parts l872-’88).


Ye lordlings all, come lend an ear;
It boots ye naught to chafe or fleer, As overgrown with pride:
Ye needs must hear Dan Guerin tell
What once a certain priest befell,
To market bent to ride.

The morn began to shine so bright,
When up this priest did leap full light And called his folk around:
He bade them straight bring out his mare, For he would presently repair
Unto the market-ground.

So bent he was on timely speed,
So pressing seemed his worldly need, He weened ‘t were little wrong
If pater-nosters he delayed,
And cast for once they should be said E’en as he rode along.

And now with tower and turret near
Behold the city’s walls appear,
When, as he turned aside,
He chanced in evil hour to see
All hard at hand a mulberry-tree
That spread both far and wide.

Its berries shone so glossy black,
The priest his lips began to smack, Full fain to pluck the fruit;
But, woe the while! the trunk was tall, And many a brier and thorn did crawl
Around that mulberry’s root.

The man, howbe, might not forbear,
But reckless all he pricked his mare In thickest of the brake;
Then climbed his saddle-bow amain,
And tiptoe ‘gan to stretch and strain Some nether bough to take.
A nether bough he raught at last;
He with his right hand held it fast, And with his left him fed:
His sturdy mare abode the shock,
And bore, as steadfast as a rock,
The struggling overhead.

So feasted long the merry priest,
Nor much bethought him of his beast Till hunger’s rage was ended:
Then, “Sooth!” quoth he, “whoe’er should cry, ‘What ho, fair sir!’ in passing by,
Would leave me here suspended.”

Alack! for dread of being hanged,
With voice so piercing shrill he twanged The word of luckless sound,
His beast sprang forward at the cry, And plumb the priest dropped down from high Into the brake profound.

There, pricked and pierced with many a thorn, And girt with brier, and all forlorn,
Naught boots him to complain:
Well may ye ween how ill bested
He rolled him on that restless bed, But rolled and roared in vain:

For there algates he must abide
The glowing noon, the eventide,
The livelong night and all;
The whiles with saddle swinging round, And bridle trailing on the ground,
His mare bespoke his fall.

O, then his household shrieked for dread, And weened at least he must be dead;
His lady leman swooned:
Eftsoons they hie them all to look
If haply in some dell or nook
His body might be found.

Through all the day they sped their quest; The night fled on, they took no rest;
Returns the morning hour:
When, lo! at peeping of the dawn.
It chanced a varlet boy was drawn
Nigh to the mulberry-bower.

The woful priest the help descried:
“O, save my life! my life!” he cried, “Enthralled in den profound!
O, pluck me out, for pity’s sake,
From this inextricable brake,
Begirt with brambles round!”

“Alas, my lord! my master dear!
What ugly chance hath dropped thee here?” Exclaimed the varlet youth.
“‘T was gluttony”‘ the priest replied, With peerless folly by her side:
But help me straight,for ruth!”

By this were come the remnant rout;
With passing toil they plucked him out, And slowly homeward led:
But, all so tattered in his hide,
Long is he fain in bed to bide,
But little less than dead.

–Tr. by Way.

A special development of the fable is the mock-epic “Reynard the Fox”, one of the most noteworthy developments in literature of the Middle Ages. It is an elaborate, semi-epic set of stories in which Reynard is the embodiment of cunning and discreet valor, while his great enemy, Isegrim, the wolf, represents stupid strength. From the beginning of this set of fables, there is a tone of satirical comment on men and their affairs. In the later developments of the story, elaborate allegories are introduced, and monotonous moralizings take the place of the earlier, simpler humor.

The fable reached its greatest development in France, but all Europe shared in making and delighting in it.

Our extracts are taken from Caxton’s translation of the Flemish form of the legend.


Part II. Chapter 33.


Then spoke Erswynde, the wolf’s wife, “Ach! Fell Reynard, no man can keep himself from thee, thou canst so well utter thy words and thy falseness; but it shall be evil, rewarded in the end. How broughtest thou me once, into the well, where the two buckets hung by one cord running through one pulley which went one up and another down? Thou sattest in one bucket beneath in the pit in great dread. I came thither and heard thee sigh and make sorrow, and asked thee how thou camest there. Thou saidst that thou hadst there so many good fishes eaten out of the water that thy belly wouldst burst. I said, ‘tell me how I shall come to thee.’ Then saidst thou: ‘Aunt, spring into that bucket that hangeth there, and thou shalt come anon to me.’ I did so, and I went downward and ye came upward, and then I was all angry. Thou saidst, ‘thus fareth the world, that one goeth up and another goeth down.’ Then sprang ye forth and went your way, and I abode there alone, sitting an whole day, sore and hungry and acold. And thereto had I many a stroke ere I could get thence.” “Aunt,” said the fox, “though the strokes did you harm, I had leifer ye had them than I, for ye may better bear them, for one of us must needs have had them. I taught you good; will you understand it and think on it, that ye another time take heed and believe no man over hastily, is he friend or cousin. For every man seeketh his own profit. They be now fools that do not so, and especially when they be in jeopardy of their lives.”

Part II. Chapter 35.


The wolf said, “I may well forbear your mocks and your scorns, and also your fell, venomous words’ strong thief that you are. Ye said that I was almost dead for hunger when ye helped me in my need. That is falsely lied; for it was but a bone that ye gave to me; ye had eaten away all the flesh that was thereon. And ye mock me and say that I am hungry here where I stand. That touched my worship too nigh. What many a spighty word have ye brought forth with false lesings.[1] And that I have conspired the king’s death, for the treasure that you have said to him is in Hulsterlo. And ye have also my wife shamed and slandered that she shall never recover it. And I should ever be disworshipped thereby if I avenged it not. I have forborne you long, but now ye shall not escape me. I cannot make here of great proof, but I say here before my lord, and before all them that been here, that thou art a false traitor and a murderer, and that I shall prove and make good on thy body within lists in the field, and that, body against body. And then shall our strife have an end. And thereto I cast to thee my glove, and take thou it up. I shall have right of thee or die therefor.

[1] Lyings.

Reynard the Fox thought, “how came I on this company? We been not both alike.[1] I shall not well con[2] stand against this strong thief. All my proof is now come to an end.”

[1] Of equal strength. [2] Know how to.

Yet, thought the fox, “I have good advantage. The claws of his fore feet been off and his feet been yet sore thereof, when for my sake he was unshod. He shall be somewhat the weaker.”

Then said the fox, “who that sayeth that I am a traitor or a murderer? I say he lieth falsely, and that art thou especially Isegrym. Thou bringest me there as I would be. This have I oft desired. Lo! there is my pledge that all thy words been false and that I shall defend me and make good that thou liest.

The king received the pledges and amitted[1] the battle, and asked borrows[2] of them both, that on the morn they should come and perform their battle and do as they ought to do. Then the Bear and the Cat were borrows for the wolf, and for the Fox were borrows Grymbert,[3] the dasse,[4] and Bytelnys.[5]

[1] Admitted. [2] Pledges. [3] The badger. [4] A small fox. [5] The elder daughter of the apes.


French mediaeval literature includes many tales less elaborate in form and less “heroic” in subject than the epics and romances and without the satire and humor of the fables. The best of them are the love stories, and of these the most beautiful is “Aucassin and Nicolette”, by an unknown trouvere of the thirteenth century. It is an alternation of prose narrative and dainty narrative lyrics. The story is that of two lovers parted temporarily by the pride and cruelty of the youth’s father. But, remaining true to each other, they are, after many vicissitudes, happily united. Our extracts are from Bourdillon’s beautiful translation.


Sec. 1.–
Who were fain good verse to hear,
Of the aged captives’ cheer,
Of two children fair and feat,
Aucassin and Nicolette,–
What great sorrows suffered he,
And what deeds did valiantly
For his love, so bright of blee?
Sweet the song, and fair the say,
Dainty and of deft array.
So astonied wight is none,
Nor so doleful nor undone,
None that doth so sorely ail,
If he hear, shall not be hale,
And made glad again for bliss,
So sweet it is!

The hero refuses to become a knight and go to war unless his father will give him Nicolette for wife.

See. 8.–
Aucassin was of Beaucaire,
And abode in castle fair.
None can move him to forget
Dainty-fashioned Nicolette
Whom his sire to him denies;
And his mother sternly cries:
“Out on thee! what wilt thou, loon? Nicolette is blithe and boon?
Castaway from Carthage she!
Bought of Paynim compayne!
If with woman thou wilt mate,
Take thee wife of high estate!”
“Mother, I can else do ne’er!
Nicolette is debonair;
Her lithe form, her face, her bloom, Do the heart of me illume.
Fairly mine her love may be
So sweet is she!”

This the father refuses to do, and has Nicolette shut up in a tower. But the son stubbornly persists. At last it is agreed that if Aucassin returns from fighting he may see and kiss his lover.

Sec. 9.–
Aucassin heard of the kiss
Which on return shall be his.
Had one given him of pure gold
Marks a hundred thousand told,
Not so blithe of hear he were.
Rich array he bade them bear:
They made ready for his wear.
He put on a hauberk lined,
Helmet on his head did bind,
Girt his sword with hilt pure gold, Mounted on his charger bold;
Spear and buckler then he took;
At his two feet cast a look:
They trod in the stirrups trim.
Wondrous proud he carried him
His dear love he thought upon,
And his good horse spurred anon,
Who right eagerly went on.
Through the gate he rode straightway, Into the fray.

Aucassin was greatly successful, but on his return his father would not keep his promise, and shut him up in prison.

See. 12.–
Aucassin was put in prison, as you have listened and heard, and Nicolette on the other hand, was in the chamber. It was in the summer-time, in the month of May, when the days are warm, long, and bright, and the nights still and cloudless. Nicolette lay one night on her bed and saw the moon shine bright through a window, and heard the nightingale sing in the garden, and then she bethought her of Aucassin, her friend, whom she loved so much. She began to consider of the Count Garin of Beaucaire, who hated her to death; and she thought to herself that she would remain there no longer; since if she were betrayed, and the Count Garin knew it, he would make her to die an evil death. She perceived that the old woman who was with her was asleep. She got up, and put on a gown which she had, of cloth-of-silk and very good; and she took bedclothes and towels, and tied one to another, and made a rope as long as she could, and tied it to the pillar of the window, and let herself down into the garden; and she took her dress in one hand before and in the other behind, and tucked it up, because of the dew which she saw thick on the grass, and she went away down in the garden.

Her hair was golden and in little curls, and her eyes blue-gray and laughing, and- her face oval, and her nose high and well set, and her lips vermeil, so as is no rose nor cherry in summertime, and her teeth white and small, and her bosom was firm, and heaved her dress as if it had been two walnuts; and atween the sides she was so slender that you could have clasped her in your two hands; and the daisy blossoms which she broke off with the toes of her feet, which lay fallen over on the bend of her foot, were right black against her feet and her legs, so very white was the maiden.

She came to the postern door, and unfastened it, and went out through the streets of Beaucaire, keeping in the shadow, for the moon shone very bright; and she went on till she came to the tower where her lover was. The tower was shored up here and there, and she crouched down by one of the pillars, and wrapped herself in her mantle; and she thrust her head into a chink in the tower, which was old and ruinous, and heard Aucassin within weeping and making great ado, and lamenting for his sweet friend whom he loved so much. And when she had listened enough to him she began to speak.

After telling each their love, Nicolette was obliged to flee. She went to a great forest and talked with the herd-boys.

Sec. 19.–
Nicolette, bright-favored maid,
To the herds her farewell bade,
And her journey straight addressed
Right amid the green forest,
Down a path of olden day;
Till she reached an open way
Where seven roads fork, that go out Through the region round about.
Then the thought within her grew,
She will try her lover true,
If he love her as he said:
She took many a lily head,
With the bushy kermes-oak shoot,
And of leafy boughs to boot,
And a bower so fair made she,–
Daintier I did never see!
By the ruth of heaven she sware,
Should Aucassin come by there,
And not rest a little space,
For her love’s sake’ in that place, He should ne’er her lover be,
Nor his love she.

Aucassin escapes, comes to the forest, finds his lover, and they agree to go away together.

Sec. 27–
Aucassin, the fair, the blond,
Gentle knight and lover fond,
Rode from out the thick forest;
In his arms his love was pressed,
On the saddlebow before;
And he kissed her o’er and o’er,
Eyes and brows and lips and chin.
Then to him did she begin;

“Aucassin, fair lover sweet,
To what country shall we fleet?
“Sweet my love, what should I know? Little care I where we go,
In the greenwood or away,
So I am with thee alway.”
Hill and vale they fleeted by,
Town and fortress fenced high,
Till they eame at dawn of day
Where the sea before them lay;
There they lighted on the sand,
Beside the strand.

They have many adventures and are again separated. Nicolette is earried to Carthage. She finally escapes and makes her way in disguise to Beaucaire where Aucassin was.

Sec. 39.–
Aucassin was at Beaucaire
‘Neath the tower a morning fair.
On a stair he sat without,
With his brave lords round about:
Saw the leaves and flowers spring,
Heard the song-birds carolling;
Of his love he thought anew,
Nicolette the maiden true,
Whom he loved so long a day;
Then his tears and sighs had way.
When, behold before the stair,
Nicolette herself stood there,
Lifted viol, lifted bow,
Then she told her story so:
“Listen, lordlings brave, to me,
Ye that low or lofty be!
Liketh you to hear a stave,
All of Aucassin the brave,
And of Nicolette the true?
Long they loved and long did rue,
Till into the deep forest
After her he went in quest.
From the tower of Torelore
Them one day the Paynim bore,
And of him I know no more.
But true-hearted Nicolette
Is in Carthage castle yet;
To her sire so dear is she,
Who is king of that countrie.
Fain they would to her award
Felon king to be her lord.
Nicolette will no Paynim,
For she loves a lording slim,
Aucassin the name of him.
By the holy name she vows
That no lord will she espouse,
Save she have her love once moe
She longs for so!”

She is at last revealed to him, and all ends happily.

Sec. 41.–
Now when Aucassin did hear
Of his own bright favored fere,
That she had arrived his shore,
Glad he was as ne’er before.
Forth with that fair dame he made
Nor until the hostel stayed.
Quickly to the room they win,
Where sat Nicolette within.
When she saw her love once more,
Glad she was as ne’er before.
Up she sprang upon her feet,
And went forward him to meet.
Soon as Aucassin beheld,
Both his arms to her he held,
Gently took her to his breast,
All her face and eyes caressed.
Long they lingered side by side;
And the next day by noontide Aucassin her lord became; Of Beaucaire he made her Dame.
After lived they many days,
And in pleasure went their ways.
Now has Aucassin his bliss,
Likewise Nicolette ywis.
Ends our song and story so;
No more I know.


France produced, along with its heroic poetry, its romances, tales, and lyrics, much serious and allegorical work. This was in the shape of homilies, didatic poems, and long allegories touching manners and morals. Of these last the most famous and important is “The Romance of the Rose”. It was the most popular book of the Middle Ages in France. It was begun by William of Lorris about 1240, the first draft extending to 4670 lines. Some forty years later, Jean de Meung, or Clapinel, wrote a continuation extending the poem to 22,817 lines. The general story is of a visit to a garden of delights, on the outside of which are all unlovely things. Within the garden the personages and action are allegories of the art of love. Here are Leisure, Enjoyment, Courtesy, the God of Love himself, love in the form of a beautiful Rose, Gracious Reception, Guardianship, Coyness, and Reason. Our extracts are taken from the translation into English attributed–it now seems with great probability–to Chaucer.

NOTE.–These extracts from Chaucer’s translation are not re-translated nor adapted. Chaucer’s words are retained in every case. Their spelling is modernized. In those cases in which they needed for the rhythm, certain inflectional endings, e, en, es, are retained and are printed in parentheses. The reader has only to remember that he must pronounce every syllable needed to make the lines rhythmical. In only four cases has the rhyme been affected by the changed spelling. For defense of this modern spelling of Chaucer, the reader is referred to Lounsbury’s “Studies in Chaucer,” Vol. III., pp. 264-279.

Ll. 49-91.–
That it was May me thought(e) tho[1] It is five year or more ago;
That it was May, thus dreamed me,
In time of love and jollity.
That all thing ‘ginneth waxen gay,