Yvain, the Knight of the Lion/Part 3

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Yvain, the Knight of the Lion by Chrétien de Troyes, translated by W. W. Comfort
Part III

(Vv. 1589-1652.) The damsel stood in such favour with her lady that she had no fear of telling her anything, regardless of the consequences, for she was her confidante and companion. Then, why should she be backward in comforting her lady and in giving her advice which should redound to her honour? The first time she said to her privily: "My lady, I greatly marvel to see you act so extravagantly. Do you think you can recover your lord by giving away thus to your grief?" "Nay, rather, if I had my wish," says she, "I would now be dead of grief." "And why?" "In order to follow after him." "After him? God forbid, and give you again as good a lord, as is consistent with His might." "Thou didst never speak such a lie as that, for He could never give me so good a lord again." "He will give you a better one, if you will accept him, and I can prove it." "Begone! Peace! I shall never find such a one." "Indeed you shall, my lady, if you will consent. Just tell me, if you will, who is going to defend your land when King Arthur comes next week to the margin of the spring? You have already been apprised of this by letters sent you by the Dameisele Sauvage. Alas, what a kind service she did for you! you ought to be considering how you will defend your spring, and yet you cease not to weep! If it please you, my dear lady, you ought not to delay. For surely, all the knights you have are not worth, as you well know, so much as a single chamber-maid. Neither shield nor lance will ever be taken in hand by the best of them. You have plenty of craven servants, but there is not one of them brave enough to dare to mount a steed. And the King is coming with such a host that his victory will be inevitable." The lady, upon reflection, knows very well that she is giving her sincere advice, but she is unreasonable in one respect, as also are other women who are, almost without exception, guilty of their own folly, and refuse to accept what they really wish. "Begone," she says; "leave me alone. If I ever hear thee speak of this again it will go hard with thee, unless thou flee. Thou weariest me with thy idle words." "Very well, my lady," she says; "that you are a woman is evident, for woman will grow irate when she hears any one give her good advice."


(Vv. 1653-1726.) Then she went away and left her alone. And the lady reflected that she had been in the wrong. She would have been very glad to know how the damsel could ever prove that it would be possible to find a better knight than her lord had ever been. She would be very glad to hear her speak, but now she has forbidden her. With this desire in mind, she waited until she returned. But the warning was of no avail, for she began to say to her at once: "My lady, is it seemly that you should thus torment yourself with grief? For God's sake now control yourself, and for shame, at least, cease your lament. It is not fitting that so great a lady should keep up her grief so long. Remember your honourable estate and your very gentle birth! Think you that all virtue ceased with the death of your lord? There are in the world a hundred as good or better men." "May God confound me, if thou dost not lie! Just name to me a single one who is reputed to be so excellent as my lord was all his life." "If I did so you would be angry with me, and would fly into a passion and you would esteem me less." "No, I will not, I assure thee." "Then may it all be for your future welfare if you would but consent, and may God so incline your will! I see no reason for holding my peace, for no one hears or heeds what we say. Doubtless you will think I am impudent, but I shall freely speak my mind. When two knights have met in an affray of arms and when one has beaten the other, which of the two do you think is the better? For my part I award the prize to the victor. Now what do you think?" "It seems to me you are laying a trap for me and intend to catch me in my words." "Upon my faith, you may rest assured that I am in the right, and I can irrefutably prove to you that he who defeated your lord is better than he was himself. He beat him and pursued him valiantly until he imprisoned him in his house." "Now," she replies, "I hear the greatest nonsense that was ever uttered. Begone, thou spirit charged with evil! Begone, thou foolish and tiresome girl! Never again utter such idle words, and never come again into my presence to speak a word on his behalf!" "Indeed, my lady, I knew full well that I should receive no thanks from you, and I said so before I spoke. But you promised me you would not be displeased, and that you would not be angry with me for it. But you have failed to keep your promise, and now, as it has turned out, you have discharged your wrath on me, and I have lost by not holding my peace."


(Vv. 1727-1942.) Thereupon she goes back to the room where my lord Yvain is waiting, comfortably guarded by her vigilance. But he is ill at ease when he cannot see the lady, and he pays no attention, and hears no word of the report which the damsel brings to him. The lady, too, is in great perplexity all night, being worried about how she should defend the spring; and she begins to repent of her action to the damsel, whom she had blamed and insulted and treated with contempt. She feels very sure and certain that not for any reward or bribe, nor for any affection which she may bear him, would the maiden ever have mentioned him; and that she must love her more than him, and that she would never give her advice which would bring her shame or embarrassment: the maid is too loyal a friend for that. Thus, lo! the lady is completely changed: she fears now that she to whom she had spoken harshly will never love her again devotedly; and him whom she had repulsed, she now loyally and with good reason pardons, seeing that he had done her no wrong. So she argues as if he were in her presence there, and thus she begins her argument: "Come," she says, "canst thou deny that my lord was killed by thee?" "That," says he, "I cannot deny. Indeed, I fully admit it." "Tell me, then, the reason of thy deed. Didst thou do it to injure me, prompted by hatred or by spite?" "May death not spare me now, if I did it to injure you." "In that case, thou hast done me no wrong, nor art thou guilty of aught toward him. For he would have killed thee, if he could. So it seems to me that I have decided well and righteously." Thus, by her own arguments she succeeds in discovering justice, reason, and common sense, how that there is no cause for hating him; thus she frames the matter to conform with her desire, and by her own efforts she kindles her love, as a bush which only smokes with the flame beneath, until some one blows it or stirs it up. If the damsel should come in now, she would win the quarrel for which she had been so reproached, and by which she had been so hurt. And next morning, in fact, she appeared again, taking the subject up where she had let it drop. Meanwhile, the lady bowed her head, knowing she had done wrong in attacking her. But now she is anxious to make amends, and to inquire concerning the name, character, and lineage of the knight: so she wisely humbles herself, and says: "I wish to beg your pardon for the insulting words of pride which in my rage I spoke to you: I will follow your advice. So tell me now, if possible, about the knight of whom you have spoken so much to me: what sort of a man is he, and of what parentage? If he is suited to become my mate, and provided he be so disposed, I promise you to make him my husband and lord of my domain. But he will have to act in such a way that no one can reproach me by saying: `This is she who took him who killed her lord.'" "In God's name, lady, so shall it be. You will have the gentlest, noblest, and fairest lord who ever belonged to Abel's line." "What is his name?" "My lord Yvain." "Upon my word, if he is King Urien's son he is of no mean birth, but very noble, as I well know." "Indeed, my lady, you say the truth." "And when shall we be able to see him?" "In five days' time." "That would be too long; for I wish he were already come. Let him come to-night, or to-morrow, at the latest." "My lady, I think no one could fly so far in one day. But I shall send one of my squires who can run fast, and who will reach King Arthur's court at least by to-morrow night, I think; that is the place we must seek for him." "That is a very long time. The days are long. But tell him that to-morrow night he must be back here, and that he must make greater haste than usual. If he will only do his best, he can do two days' journey in one. Moreover, to-night the moon will shine; so let him turn night into day. And when he returns I will give him whatever he wishes me to give." "Leave all care of that to me; for you shall have him in your hands the day after to-morrow at the very latest. Meanwhile you shall summon your men and confer with them about the approaching visit of the King. In order to make the customary defence of your spring it behoves you to consult with them. None of them will be so hardy as to dare to boast that he will present himself. In that case you will have a good excuse for saving that it behoves you to marry again. A certain knight, highly qualified, seeks your hand; but you do not presume to accept him without their unanimous consent. And I warrant what the outcome will be: I know them all to be such cowards that in order to put on some one else the burden which would be too heavy for them, they will fall at your feet and speak their gratitude; for thus their responsibility will be at an end. For, whoever is afraid of his own shadow willingly avoids, if possible, any meeting with lance or spear; for such games a coward has no use." "Upon my word," the lady replies, "so I would have it, and so I consent, having already conceived the plan which you have expressed; so that is what we shall do. But why do you tarry here? Go, without delay, and take measures to bring him here, while I shall summon my liege-men." Thus concluded their conference. And the damsel pretends to send to search for my lord Yvain in his country; while every day she has him bathed, and washed, and groomed. And besides this she prepares for him a robe of red scarlet stuff, brand new and lined with spotted fur. There is nothing necessary for his equipment which she does not lend to him: a golden buckle for his neck, ornamented with precious stones which make people look well, a girdle, and a wallet made of rich gold brocade. She fitted him out perfectly, then informed her lady that the messenger had returned, having done his errand well. "How is that?" she says, "is he here? Then let him come at once, secretly and privily, while no one is here with me. See to it that no one else come in, for I should hate to see a fourth person here." At this the damsel went away, and returned to her guest again. However, her face did not reveal the joy that was in her heart; indeed, she said that her lady knew that she had been sheltering him, and was very much incensed at her. "Further concealment is useless now. The news about you has been so divulged that my lady knows the whole story and is very angry with me, heaping me with blame and reproaches. But she has given me her word that I may take you into her presence without any harm or danger. I take it that you will have no objection to this, except for one condition (for I must not disguise the truth, or I should be unjust to you): she wishes to have you in her control, and she desires such complete possession of your body that even your heart shall not be at large." "Certainly," he said, "I readily consent to what will be no hardship to me. I am willing to be her prisoner." "So shall you be: I swear it by this right hand laid upon you!. Now come and, upon my advice, demean yourself so humbly in her presence that your imprisonment may not be grievous. Otherwise feel no concern. I do not think that your restraint will be irksome." Then the damsel leads him off, now alarming, now reassuring him, and speaking to him mysteriously about the confinement in which he is to find himself; for every lover is a prisoner. She is right in calling him a prisoner; for surely any one who loves is no longer free.


(Vv. 1943-2036.) Taking my lord Yvain by the hand, the damsel leads him where he will be dearly loved; but expecting to be ill received, it is not strange if he is afraid. They found the lady seated upon a red cushion. I assure you my lord Yvain was terrified upon entering the room, where he found the lady who spoke not a word to him. At this he was still more afraid, being overcome with fear at the thought that he had been betrayed. He stood there to one side so long that the damsel at last spoke up and said: "Five hundred curses upon the head of him who takes into a fair lady's chamber a knight who will not draw near, and who has neither tongue nor mouth nor sense to introduce himself." Thereupon, taking him by the arm, she thrust him forward with the words: "Come, step forward, knight, and have no fear that my lady is going to snap at you; but seek her good-will and give her yours. I will join you in your prayer that she pardon you for the death of her lord, Esclados the Red." Then my lord Yvain clasped his hands, and failing upon his knees, spoke like a lover with these words: "I will not crave your pardon, lady, but rather thank you for any treatment you may inflict on me, knowing that no act of yours could ever be distasteful to me." "Is that so, sir? And what if I think to kill you now?" "My lady, if it please you, you will never hear me speak otherwise." "I never heard of such a thing as this: that you put yourself voluntarily and absolutely within my power, without the coercion of any one." "My lady, there is no force so strong, in truth, as that which commands me to conform absolutely to your desire. I do not fear to carry out any order you may be pleased to give. And if I could atone for the death, which came through no fault of mine, I would do so cheerfully." "What?" says she, "come tell me now and be forgiven, if you did no wrong in killing my lord?" "Lady," he says, "if I may say it, when your lord attacked me, why was I wrong to defend myself? When a man in self-defence kills another who is trying to kill or capture him, tell me if in any way he is to blame." "No, if one looks at it aright. And I suppose it would have been no use, if I had had you put to death. But I should be glad to learn whence you derive the force that bids you to consent unquestioningly to whatever my will may dictate. I pardon you all your misdeeds and crimes. But be seated, and tell us now what is the cause of your docility?" "My lady," he says, "the impelling force comes from my heart, which is inclined toward you. My heart has fixed me in this desire." "And what prompted your heart, my fair sweet friend?" "Lady, my eyes." "And what the eyes?" "The great beauty that I see in you." "And where is beauty's fault in that?" "Lady, in this: that it makes me love." "Love? And whom?" "You, my lady dear." "I?" "Yes, truly." "Really? And how is that?" "To such an extent that my heart will not stir from you, nor is it elsewhere to be found; to such an extent that I cannot think of anything else, and I surrender myself altogether to you, whom I love more than I love myself, and for whom, if you will, I am equally ready to die or live." "And would you dare to undertake the defence of my spring for love of me?" "Yes, my lady, against the world." "Then you may know that our peace is made."


(Vv. 2037-2048.) Thus they are quickly reconciled. And the lady, having previously consulted her lords, says: "We shall proceed from here to the hall where my men are assembled, who, in view of the evident need, have advised and counselled me to take a husband at their request. And I shall do so, in view of the urgent need: here and now I give myself to you; for I should not refuse to accept as lord, such a good knight and a king's son."


(Vv. 2049-2328.) Now the damsel has brought about exactly what she had desired. And my lord Yvain's mastery is more complete than could be told or described; for the lady leads him away to the hall, which was full of her knights and men-at-arms. And my lord Yvain was so handsome that they all marvelled to look at him, and all, rising to their feet, salute and bow to my lord Yvain, guessing well as they did so: "This is he whom my lady will select. Cursed be he who opposes him! For he seems a wonderfully fine man. Surely, the empress of Rome would be well married with such a man. Would now that he had given his word to her, and she to him, with clasped hand, and that the wedding might take place to-day or tomorrow." Thus they spoke among themselves. At the end of the hall there was a seat, and there in the sight of all the lady took her place. And my lord Yvain made as if he intended to seat himself at her feet; but she raised him up, and ordered the seneschal to speak aloud, so that his speech might be heard by all. Then the seneschal began, being neither stubborn nor slow of speech: "My lords," he said, "we are confronted by war. Every day the King is preparing with all the haste he can command to come to ravage our lands. Before a fortnight shall have passed, all will have been laid waste, unless some valiant defender shall appear. When my lady married first, not quite seven years ago, she did it on your advice. Now her husband is dead, and she is grieved. Six feet of earth is all he has, who formerly owned all this land, and who was indeed its ornament. [1] It is a pity he lived so short a while. A woman cannot bear a shield, nor does she know how to fight with lance. It would exalt and dignify her again if she should marry some worthy lord. Never was there greater need than now; do all of you recommend that she take a spouse, before the custom shall lapse which has been observed in this town for more than the past sixty years." At this, all at once proclaim that it seems to them the right thing to do, and they all throw themselves at her feet. They strengthen her desire by their consent; yet she hesitates to assert her wishes until, as if against her will, she finally speaks to the same intent as she would have done, indeed, if every one had opposed her wish: "My lords, since it is your wish, this knight who is seated beside me has wooed me and ardently sought my hand. He wishes to engage himself in the defence of my rights and in my service, for which I thank him heartily, as you do also. It is true I have never known him in person, but I have often heard his name. Know that he is no less a man than the son of King Urien. Beside his illustrious lineage, he is so brave, courteous, and wise that no one has cause to disparage him. You have all already heard, I suppose, of my lord Yvain, and it is he who seeks my hand. When the marriage is consummated, I shall have a more noble lord than I deserve." They all say: "If you are prudent, this very day shall not go by without the marriage being solemnised. For it is folly to postpone for a single hour an advantageous act." They beseech her so insistently that she consents to what she would have done in any case. For Love bids her do that for which she asks counsel and advice; but there is more honour for him in being accepted with the approval of her men. To her their prayers are not unwelcome; rather do they stir and incite her heart to have its way. The horse, already under speed, goes faster yet when it is spurred. In the presence of all her lords, the lady gives herself to my lord Yvain. From the hand of her chaplain he received the lady, Laudine de Landuc, daughter of Duke Laudunet, of whom they sing a lay. That very day without delay he married her, and the wedding was celebrated. There were plenty of mitres and croziers there, for the lady had summoned her bishops and abbots. Great was the joy and rejoicing, there were many people, and much wealth was displayed — more than I could tell you of, were I to devote much thought to it. It is better to keep silent than to be inadequate. So my lord Yvain is master now, and the dead man is quite forgot. He who killed him is now married to his wife, and they enjoy the marriage rights. The people love and esteem their living lord more than they ever did the dead. They served him well at his marriage-feast, until the eve before the day when the King came to visit the marvellous spring and its stone, bringing with him upon this expedition his companions and all those of his household; not one was left behind. And my lord Kay remarked: "Ah, what now has become of Yvain, who after his dinner made the boast that he would avenge his cousin's shame? Evidently he spoke in his cups. I believe that he has run away. He would not dare to come back for anything. He was very presumptuous to make such a boast. He is a bold man who dares to boast of what no one would praise him for, and who has no proof of his great feats except the words of some false flatterer. There is a great difference between a coward and a hero; for the coward seated beside the fire talks loudly about himself, holding all the rest as fools, and thinking that no one knows his real character. A hero would be distressed at hearing his prowess related by some one else. And yet I maintain that the coward is not wrong to praise and vaunt himself, for he will find no one else to lie for him. If he does not boast of his deeds, who will? All pass over him in silence, even the heralds, who proclaim the brave, but discard the cowards." When my lord Kay had spoken thus, my lord Gawain made this reply: "My lord Kay, have some mercy now! Since my lord Yvain is not here, you do not know what business occupies him. Indeed. he never so debased himself as to speak any ill of you compared with the gracious things he has said." "Sire," says Kay, "I'll hold my peace. I'll not say another word to-day, since I see you are offended by my speech." Then the King, in order to see the rain, poured a whole basin full of water upon the stone beneath the pine, and at once the rain began to pour. It was not long before my lord Yvain without delay entered the forest fully armed, tiding faster than a gallop on a large, sleek steed, strong, intrepid, and fleet of foot. And it was my lord Kay's desire to request the first encounter. For, whatever the outcome might be, he always wished to begin the fight and joust the first, or else he would be much incensed. Before all the rest, he requested the King to allow him to do battle first. The King says: "Kay, since it is your wish, and since you are the first to make the request, the favour ought not to be denied." Kay thanks him first, then mounts his steed. If now my lord Yvain can inflict a mild disgrace upon him, he will be very glad to do so; for he recognises him by his arms. [2] Each grasping his shield by the straps, they rush together. Spurring their steeds, they lower the lances, which they hold tightly gripped. Then they thrust them forward a little, so that they grasped them by the leather-wrapped handles, and so that when they came together they were able to deal such cruel blows that both lances broke in splinters clear to the handle of the shaft. My lord Yvain gave him such a mighty blow that Kay took a summersault from out of his saddle and struck with his helmet on the ground. My lord Yvain has no desire to inflict upon him further harm, but simply dismounts and takes his horse. This pleased them all, and many said: "Ah, ah, see how you prostrate lie, who but now held others up to scorn! And yet it is only right to pardon you this time; for it never happened to you before." Thereupon my lord Yvain approached the King, leading the horse in his hand by the bridle, and wishing to make it over to him. "Sire," says he, "now take this steed, for I should do wrong to keep back anything of yours." "And who are you?" the King replies; "I should never know you, unless I heard your name, or saw you without your arms." Then my lord told him who he was, and Kay was overcome with shame, mortified, humbled, and discomfited, for having said that he had run away. But the others were greatly pleased, and made much of the honour he had won. Even the King was greatly gratified, and my lord Gawain a hundred times more than any one else. For he loved his company more than that of any other knight he knew. And the King requested him urgently to tell him, if it be his will, how he had fared; for he was very curious to learn all about his adventure; so the King begs him to tell the truth. And he soon told him all about the service and kindness of the damsel, not passing over a single word, not forgetting to mention anything. And after this he invited the King and all his knights to come to lodge with him, saying they would be doing him great honour in accepting his hospitality. And the King said that for an entire week he would gladly do him the honour and pleasure, and would bear him company. And when my lord Yvain had thanked him, they tarry no longer there, but mount and take the most direct road to the town. My lord Yvain sends in advance of the company a squire beating a crane-falcon, in order that they might not take the lady by surprise, and that her people might decorate the streets against the arrival of the King. When the lady heard the news of the King's visit she was greatly pleased; nor was there any one who, upon hearing the news, was not happy and elated. And the lady summons them all and requests them to go to meet him, to which they make no objection or remonstrance, all being anxious to do her will.


(Vv. 2329-2414.) [3] Mounted on great Spanish steeds, they all go to meet the King of Britain, saluting King Arthur first with great courtesy and then all his company. "Welcome," they say, "to this company, so full of honourable men! Blessed be he who brings them hither and presents us with such fair guests!" At the King's arrival the town resounds with the joyous welcome which they give. Silken stuffs are taken out and hung aloft as decorations, and they spread tapestries to walk upon and drape the streets with them, while they wait for the King's approach. And they make still another preparation, in covering the streets with awnings against the hot rays of the sun. Bells, horns, and trumpets cause the town to ring so that God's thunder could not have been heard. The maidens dance before him, flutes and pipes are played, kettle-drums, drums, and cymbals are beaten. On their part the nimble youths leap, and all strive to show their delight. With such evidence of their joy, they welcome the King fittingly. And the Lady came forth, dressed in imperial garb a robe of fresh ermine — and upon her head she wore a diadem all ornamented with rubies. No cloud was there upon her face, but it was so gay and full of joy that she was more beautiful, I think, than any goddess. Around her the crowd pressed close, as they cried with one accord: "Welcome to the King of kings and lord of lords!" The King could not reply to all before he saw the lady coming toward him to hold his stirrup. However, he would not wait for this, but hastened to dismount himself as soon as he caught sight of her. Then she salutes him with these words: "Welcome a hundred thousand times to the King, my lord, and blessed be his nephew, my lord Gawain!" The King replies: "I wish all happiness and good luck to your fair body and your face, lovely creature!" Then clasping her around the waist, the King embraced her gaily and heartily as she did him, throwing her arms about him. I will say no more of how gladly she welcomed them, but no one ever heard of any people who were so honourably received and served. I might tell you much of the joy should I not be wasting words, but I wish to make brief mention of an acquaintance which was made in private between the moon and the sun. Do you know of whom I mean to speak? He who was lord of the knights, and who was renowned above them all, ought surely to be called the sun. I refer, of course, to my lord Gawain, for chivalry is enhanced by him just as when the morning sun sheds its rays abroad and lights all places where it shines. And I call her the moon, who cannot be otherwise because of her sense and courtesy. However, I call her so not only because of her good repute, but because her name is, in fact, Lunete.


Endnotes[edit]

NOTE: Endnotes supplied by Prof. Foerster are indicated by "(F.)"; all other endnotes are supplied by W.W. Comfort.

  1. W.L. Holland in his note for this passage recalls Schiller's "Jungfrau von Orleans", Act III. Sc. 7, and Shakespeare, first part of "King Henry IV.", Act V. Sc. 4: "When that this body did contain a spirit, A kingdom for it was too small a bound; But now two paces of the vilest earth Is room enough."
  2. (15) Foerster regards this excuse for Kay's defeat as ironical.
  3. It is hoped that the following passage may have retained in the translation some of the gay animation which clothes this description of a royal entry into a mediaeval town.