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◈ The Canterbury Tales ◈

◇ The Knight’s Tale ◇

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 1. The Knight’s Tale
   1.1. (Part One)
   1.2. (Part Two)
   1.3. (Part Three)
   1.4. (Part Four)

1. The Knight’s Tale

0 Iamque domos patrias Scithice post aspera gentis prelia laurigeroetc.
1 And now after fierce battles with the Scythian people (Theseus) nears home in his laurel-crowned (chariot) etc.’
2 (Statius: Thebaid XII, 519-520)
3 Here begins the Knight’s Tale.

1.1. (Part One)

0 Once on a time, as old stories tell us,
1 There was a Duke whose name was Theseus.
2 Of Athens he was lord and governor,
3 And in his time so great a conqueror
4 Mightier was there none under the sun.
5 Full many a rich land had he won,
6 What with his wisdom and his chivalry.
7 He conquered all the Amazon country,
8 That long ago was known as Scythia,
9 And wedded its queen Hippolyta,
10 And brought her home to his own country
11 With much glory and great festivity,
12 And also her young sister Emily.
13 And so with victory and melody
14 I’ll let this noble Duke to Athens ride
15 And all his host in arms him beside.
16 And were it not indeed too long to hear,
17 I would have told you fully of the manner
18 In which the Amazon kingdom was seized
19 By Theseus and by his chivalry,
20 And of the great battle on occasion
21 Twixt the Athenian and the Amazon,
22 And how he besieged Hippolyta,
23 The brave and lovely queen of Scythia,
24 And of the feast they had at their wedding
25 And of the tempest at their home-coming;
26 But all of that I must omit for now.
27 I have, God knows, a large field to plough,
28 Weak oxen pull my blade, the field is rough.
29 The remnant of my tale is long enough.
30 Likewise I’ll not delay us on the route;
31 Let every fellow tell his tale about,
32 And let us see who shall that supper win!
33 Where I left off, I will again begin.
34 This Duke of whom I now make mention,
35 When he was almost come into the town,
36 In all his splendour and his great pride,
37 Became aware, as he glanced aside,
38 That there kneeled in the highway
39 Two by two, a company of ladies,
40 One behind the other, in clothes black.
41 But such a wail, such cries they made, alack,
42 That in this world there is no creature living
43 That ever heard another such lamenting.
44 And this crying was not heard to cease
45 Till they the reins of his bridle seized.
46 What folk are you that at my home-coming
47 So disturb my feast with your crying?
48 Quoth Theseus. ‘Do you so envy my
49 Honour that thus you complain and cry?
50 Who has maltreated you or offended?
51 And tell me if what’s done may be amended,
52 And why you are clothed thus all in black.’
53 The eldest lady of them all spoke back,
54 Swooning, so deathly-white she did appear,
55 That it was pitiful to see and hear,
56 And said: ‘Lord to whom Fortune doth give
57 Victory, you who as a conqueror do live,
58 We do not mourn your glory and honour,
59 But we beseech your mercy and succour.
60 Have mercy on our woe and our distress!
61 Some drop of pity, in your graciousness,
62 Upon us wretched women let it fall.
63 For sure, my lord, there is none of us all
64 That has not been a duchess or a queen.
65 Now we are captives, as can well be seen,
66 Thanks be to Fortune and her fickle wheel,
67 That no estate lets full assurance feel.
68 Indeed, lord, to attend your presence we
69 In this divine temple of Clemency
70 Have been waiting all this long fortnight.
71 Now help us lord, since you possess the might!
72 I, wretched Queen, that weep and wail thus
73 Was once the wife of King Capaneus
74 Who died at Thebesaccursed be the day! –
75 And all of us in all our sad array
76 Who are making this fond lamentation,
77 We all lost our husbands in that town,
78 While the siege thereabout it lay.
79 And yet now old Creon, sad to say,
80 That is now the lord of Thebes the city,
81 Filled full with anger and iniquity,
82 He out of spite, and out of tyranny,
83 To do the dead bodies villainy
84 Of all our lords that have been slain,
85 Has all the bodies in a heap lain,
86 And will not give his order and assent
87 For them to be buried or be burnt,
88 But lets the dogs eat them, out of spite.’
89 And with that word, without more respite,
90 They fell prone and cried piteously:
91 Have on us wretched women some mercy,
92 And let our sorrow penetrate your heart!’
93 The noble Duke with pity gave a start,
94 Leapt from his horse as he heard her speak.
95 He thought that his own heart would break
96 At seeing such piteous victims of fate,
97 That had once been of such great estate.
98 And raised them in his arms, and then
99 Comforted them with generous intent,
100 And swore his oath, as being a true knight,
101 He would so vigorously apply his might
102 To the tyrant Creon, vengeance on him wreak,
103 That all the people of Greece would speak
104 Of how Theseus their Creon served,
105 As one whose death was richly deserved.
106 And at once, with little more delay,
107 He rode forth, his banner did display
108 Towards Thebes, and all his host beside.
109 No nearer Athens would he go or ride,
110 Nor rest at ease scarcely half a day,
111 But onward on his way that night he lay,
112 And sent, at once, the Queen, Hippolyta,
113 And Emily, her beautiful young sister,
114 To the town of Athens there to dwell,
115 And forth he rode; there is no more to tell.
116 The image of red Mars, with spear and shield
117 So shone on his white banners, in the field,
118 That all the meadows glittered up and down,
119 And with his banner, his pennon of renown,
120 Of gold full rich, on which there was a beast,
121 The Minotaur, whom he had slain in Crete.
122 So rode the Duke, so rode this conqueror,
123 And in his host of chivalry the flower,
124 Till he came to Thebes, there did alight,
125 Fair in a field, where he thought to fight.
126 But to speak briefly now of this thing,
127 With Creon, he that was of Thebes king,
128 He fought, and slew him like a manly knight
129 In open battle, and put the folk to flight.
130 And by assault he won the city after,
131 And razed the walls, every spar and rafter;
132 And to the ladies he restored again
133 The bones of their husbands that were slain,
134 To perform their obsequies, in usual guise.
135 Though it were all too long to devise
136 The great clamour and the sad lamenting
137 That the ladies made at the burning
138 Of the bodies, and the great honour
139 That Theseus the noble conqueror
140 Did the ladies, when their way they went;
141 For to speak briefly, such is my intent.
142 When that this worthy Duke, this Theseus,
143 Had slain Creon and conquered Thebes thus,
144 Still in the field he took all night his rest,
145 And with the country did as pleased him best.
146 To ransack the heaped bodies of the dead,
147 To strip them of armour, and clothes indeed,
148 The pillagers worked busily, with care,
149 After the battle and the victory there.
150 And it so befell that in the heap they found,
151 Pierced with many a grievous bloody wound,
152 Two young knights, lying side by side,
153 Both in like armour, richly wrought beside;
154 Of whom, Arcita was the name of one,
155 That of the other knight was Palamon.
156 Not fully quick nor fully dead they were,
157 But by their coats of arms and their gear
158 The heralds knew them, amongst them all,
159 And that they were of the blood royal
160 Of Thebes, and of two sisters born.
161 Out of the heap the pillagers have them borne
162 And gently carry them to Theseustent
163 And he at once has them swiftly sent
164 To Athens, to be confined in prison
165 Perpetually; allowing them no ransom.
166 And when the noble Duke had so done,
167 He took his horse and home he rode anon,
168 Crowned with laurel as a conqueror;
169 And there he lived in joy and in honour
170 All his life; what more need I say now?
171 And in a tower, in anguish and in woe,
172 Dwelled this Arcita and this Palamon,
173 For ever; no gold could buy their freedom.
174 So passed year on year, and day on day,
175 Until one morning in the month of May
176 Young Emily, she fairer to be seen
177 Than is the lily on its stalk of green,
178 And fresher than the May with flowers new
179 For with the rose’s colour strove her hue;
180 I know not which was finer of the two
181 Ere it was day, as she was wont to do,
182 She has risen, and dressed at first light,
183 For May will have no slothfulness a-night,
184 The season pricks at every gentle heart,
185 And makes it from its sleep begin to start,
186 And says: ‘Arise, perform your observance!’
187 And this made Emily rouse her remembrance
188 Of the honour due to May, and so to rise.
189 She was clothed fresh to watching eyes;
190 Her yellow hair was braided in a tress
191 Behind her back, a yard long, I guess.
192 And in the garden, as the sun up-rose,
193 She walked up and down, and as she chose
194 Gathered flowers, mingled, white and red,
195 To make a woven garland for her head,
196 And sang like an angel, as she went along.
197 The great tower, that was so thick and strong,
198 That of the castle was the chief dungeon,
199 In which the knights were imprisoned,
200 Of which I told, and will tell you all,
201 Was closely bonded to the garden wall
202 Near which this Emily did her walking.
203 Bright was the sun and clear that morning,
204 And Palamon, that woeful prisoner,
205 As was his wont, by leave of his gaoler,
206 Had risen and he roamed a room on high,
207 Where all the noble city met his eye,
208 And so the garden, full of branches green,
209 Where this fresh Emily the sweetly seen
210 Was at play, and she roamed up and down.
211 This sorrowful prisoner, this Palamon,
212 Pacing the chamber, roaming to and fro
213 And to himself complaining of his woe;
214 That he was born, he often criedalas!’
215 And so it befell, by chance or happenstance,
216 That through a window, thick with many a bar
217 Of iron large and square as any spar,
218 He cast his eye upon Emilia,
219 And thereupon he blanched, and criedAh!’
220 As though he had been stung to the heart.
221 And with that cry Arcita gave a start
222 And said: ‘My cousin, what aileth thee,
223 Who are so pale and death-like to see?
224 Why did you cry out? Who gives offence?
225 For God’s love, show every patience
226 With our prison, not otherwise can it be!
227 Fortune has sent us this adversity.
228 Some weak aspect or disposition
229 Of Saturn, in some configuration,
230 Has yielded this, however we have sworn;
231 So stood the heavens when that we were born.
232 We must endure; that is the short and plain.’
233 And Palamon answered, and spoke again:
234 Cousin, indeed, you are in confusion,
235 You are deceived in your imagination.
236 This gaol was not the reason for my cry,
237 But I was wounded now, through the eye
238 To the heart, it will be the death of me.
239 The beauty of that lady that I see
240 Yonder in the garden roaming to and fro
241 Is the cause of all my crying and my woe.
242 I know not if she be woman or a goddess,
243 But Venus she is in truth, I’d guess.’
244 And with that on his knees down he fell
245 And said: Venus, if it be your will
246 To appear before me in this figure
247 In that garden, a sorrowful wretched creature,
248 Out of this prison help us to escape.
249 And if my destiny is already shaped
250 By eternal word to die in prison,
251 On our lineage have some compassion,
252 That is brought so low by tyranny.’
253 And at that word Arcita chanced to see
254 This lady as she roamed to and fro,
255 And at the sight her beauty hurt him so,
256 That if Palamon had been wounded sore,
257 Arcita hurts as much as him or more.
258 And with a sigh he says piteously:
259 The fresh beauty slays me suddenly
260 Of her that roams about in yonder place,
261 And but I have her mercy and her grace,
262 That I may see her, at the least, some way,
263 I am but dead; there is no more to say.’
264 Now Palamon when he heard these words,
265 Looked at him angrily and so answered:
266 Say you this in earnest, or in play?’
267 Nay,’ quoth Arcita, ‘in earnest, by my faith!
268 God help me so, I have no wish to play.’
269 Palamon began to knit his brow, and say:
270 There accrues to you,’ he quoth, ‘no honour
271 In being false, or proving now a traitor
272 To me, who am your cousin and your brother
273 Deeply sworn, and each bound to the other,
274 That never, lest we both may die in pain,
275 Never, until death shall part us twain,
276 Shall either in love be hindrance to the other,
277 Nor in any other way, my dear brother,
278 Rather you should truly further me
279 In every case, as I shall further thee.
280 This was your oath and mine also, I say,
281 I know in truth you dare not it gainsay.
282 So are you my confidant, beyond doubt.
283 And now you will falsely be about
284 Loving my lady, whom I love and serve
285 And ever shall, as long as heart deserve.
286 Now indeed, false Arcita, you shall not so!
287 I loved her first, and told you of my woe
288 As my confidant, and my brother sworn
289 To further me, as I have said before.
290 By which you are bound as a true knight
291 To help me, if it lies within your might,
292 Or else you will prove false, I dare maintain!’
293 Then Arcita proudly answered him again:
294 You shall,’ he quoth, ‘rather be false than I.
295 And you are false, I tell you that outright;
296 For par amour I loved her first, not you.
297 What did you say? You scarcely knew
298 Whether she was a woman or a goddess?
299 Your is affection born of holiness,
300 And mine is love as for the creature,
301 And that is why I told you at a venture,
302 Being my cousin and my brother sworn.
303 Suppose it so that you loved her before:
304 Do you not know the old clerkssaw,
305 Who shall bind a lover with the law?’
306 Love is a greater law, by head and hand,
307 Than is imposed by any earthly man.
308 And therefore social laws and such decrees
309 Are broken each day for love, by all degrees.
310 A man must love, despite himself, give heed;
311 He may not flee it though he die, indeed,
312 Be she a maid, a widow, or a wife.
313 And then you are little likely, in this life,
314 To stand in grace with her; no more shall I.
315 You know too well, yourself, and no lie,
316 That you and I are condemned to prison
317 Perpetually; and granted no ransom
318 We strive as the hounds did for the bone;
319 They fought all day and neither did it own.
320 There came a kite, while they were waxing wrath,
321 And carried off the bone between them both.
322 And therefore, at the king’s court, my brother,
323 Each man for himself; law there’s none other.
324 Love if you wish; I love, and ever shall.
325 And truly believe, brother, this is all:
326 Here in this prison must we endure;
327 And each of us our own chance assure.’
328 Great was the strife and long between the two,
329 If I had leisure to tell it all to you.
330 But to the point: it happened on a day,
331 To explain it as briefly as I may,
332 A worthy Duke, named Pirithous,
333 Who had been friends with Duke Theseus
334 Since the days when they were children,
335 Had come to Athens, visiting his friend,
336 And to amuse himself as he would do;
337 For in this world he loved no man so,
338 And he was loved as tenderly again.
339 So well they loved, as the old books say,
340 That when the one was dead, true to tell,
341 His friend went and sought him down in Hell.
342 But that is not the story I write here.
343 Duke Pirithous truly loved Arcita,
344 And knew him well at Thebes many a year,
345 And finally, at the request and prayer
346 Of Pirithous, without any ransom,
347 Duke Theseus let him out of prison,
348 To go free, wherever he might choose,
349 In such a guise as I shall tell to you.
350 This was the pledge, let me plainly write,
351 Between Theseus and Arcita, this I cite,
352 That if so be it Arcita was found,
353 Ever in life, by day or night, on ground
354 That in any way belonged to Theseus,
355 And he were caught, it was agreed thus:
356 That with a sword he should lose his head.
357 There was no other remedy be it said,
358 But to take his leave, and homeward step.
359 Let him beware; his pledge is now his neck.
360 How great a sorrow Arcita reveals!
361 The stroke of death in his heart he feels.
362 He weeps, he wails, he cries piteously;
363 He waits to slay himself secretly.
364 He says: ‘Alas the day that I was born!
365 Now is my prison worse than before;
366 Now am I doomed eternally to dwell
367 Not in Purgatory, but in Hell.
368 Alas that ever I knew Perithous!
369 Else I had dwelt with Theseus
370 Fettered in his prison, evermore so;
371 Then had I been in bliss, and not in woe.
372 Only the sight of she whom I serve,
373 Though that I never her grace may deserve,
374 Would have sufficed right enough for me.
375 ‘O dear cousin Palamon,’ quoth he,
376 Yours is the victory in this venture!
377 Full blissfully in prison you endure
378 In prison? No, for sure, in Paradise.
379 Well for you has Fortune cast the dice,
380 You have sight of her, and I the absence.
381 For it is possible, since you have her present,
382 And are a knight, and one noble and able,
383 That by chance, since Fortune’s changeable,
384 You may sometime your desire attain.
385 But I that am exiled, destitute again
386 Of all grace, and in such great despair
387 That neither earth nor water, fire nor air,
388 Nor creature that of them compounded is,
389 May help me or comfort me in this,
390 Now I must die in sadness and distress.
391 Farewell my life, my joy, and my gladness!
392 Alas, why do folk in general moan
393 About God’s providence or Fortune,
394 That often yields to them in many a guise
395 Much better fates than they themselves devise?
396 Some man is so desirous of riches,
397 They cause his murder, or a great sickness.
398 Another man that would his freedom gain,
399 Is freed, then by his own household slain.
400 Infinite harm is hidden in this matter;
401 We know not what it is we pray for here.
402 We fare as one that drunk is as a mouse:
403 A drunken man knows he has a house,
404 But knows not the right way thither,
405 And to a drunken man it’s slide and slither.
406 And that is how for sure in this world we
407 Go searching hard to find felicity,
408 But we go wrong so often, tell no lie.
409 Thus may we all say, and so will I,
410 That had gone and formed the grand opinion
411 That if I might escape from prison,
412 Then I would be in joy and perfect health,
413 Where instead I am exiled from my wealth,
414 Since that I may not see you, Emily.
415 I am but dead; there is no remedy.’
416 Now on the other hand Palamon,
417 When he knew that Arcita had gone,
418 Such sorrow made that the great tower
419 Echoed to his yowling and his clamour.
420 The very fetters on his shins yet
421 Were with his bitter salt tears wet.
422 Alas,’ quoth he, ‘Arcita, cousin mine,
423 Of all our strife, God knows, comes meagre wine!
424 You walk now in Thebes at your large,
425 And with my woe you are little charged.
426 You may, possessing wisdom and manhood,
427 Assemble all the folk among our kindred,
428 And start so fierce a war in this city
429 That by some venture, or some treaty,
430 You may have her to be your lady wife
431 For whose sake I must needs lose my life.
432 For, as regards the possibility,
433 Since you are now at large, of prison free,
434 And are a lord, great is your advantage,
435 More than mine who starve here in a cage.
436 For I must weep and wail while I live,
437 With all the woe that prison life may give,
438 And with the pain that love grants also,
439 That doubles my torment and my woe.’
440 With that he felt the fire of envy start
441 Within his breast, and seize him by the heart,
442 So furiously he like was to behold
443 As box-wood, pale, or ashes dead and cold.
444 Then said he: ‘O cruel goddess, that controls,
445 This world with your eternal words enfolds,
446 Engraving in your tables of adamant
447 The eternal destinies that you will grant,
448 What more is mankind to you of old
449 Than a flock of sheep cowering in a fold?
450 For man is slain as easily as any beast,
451 And dwells alike in prison, and is seized,
452 And suffers sickness, great adversity,
453 And often he is guiltless, indeed.
454 What justice is there in your prescience
455 That torments guiltless innocence?
456 And yet all my penance is increased:
457 For man is bound to do as he agreed,
458 For God’s sake, in curbing of his will,
459 Whereas a beast may all its lust fulfil.
460 And when a beast is dead it feels no pain,
461 But man after death must weep again,
462 Though in this world he had care and woe;
463 Without a doubt, things may happen so.
464 The answer to this I leave to the divines;
465 But well I know that in this world man pines.
466 Alas, I see a serpent or a thief,
467 That to many a man has done mischief,
468 Go where he wishes, and at will return,
469 But I must be imprisoned through Saturn,
470 And Juno, jealous and furious, who would
471 Destroy well nigh all the Theban blood,
472 And Thebes itself, its ruined walls spread wide,
473 While Venus slays me from the other side,
474 For jealousy and fear of Arcita.’
475 Now will I turn from Palamon and here
476 Leave him in his prison now to dwell,
477 And of Arcita on the instant tell.
478 The summer passes, and the nights long
479 Increase in double wise the pains strong,
480 Both of the lover and the prisoner.
481 I know not which of them is the sadder:
482 For briefly for to tell, this Palamon
483 Is damned perpetually to prison,
484 In chains and fetters to his final breath;
485 Arcita is banished, on pain of death,
486 Exiled for evermore from that country,
487 And nevermore his lady shall he see.
488 You lovers, now I ask of you this question:
489 Who suffers worst, Arcita or Palamon?
490 The one may see his lady day by day,
491 But in prison he must dwell always;
492 The other where he wishes ride or go,
493 But he shall see his lady nevermore.
494 Judge as it pleases you, who know and can,
495 For I will finish that which I began.

1.2. (Part Two)

0 When that Arcita at Thebes arrived was,
1 All the day he languished, criedalas!’
2 For he shall see his lady nevermore.
3 And briefly to conclude all his woe,
4 So much sorrow had never a creature
5 That is or shall be while the world endures.
6 Of sleep, of meat, of drink, he is bereft,
7 So that he waxes dry as a spear-shaft;
8 His eyes hollow and grisly to behold,
9 His hue sallow and pale as ashes cold.
10 And solitary he was and ever alone,
11 And wailing all the night, making his moan.
12 And if he heard a song or instrument,
13 Then he would weep, to infinite extent.
14 So feeble were his spirits and so low,
15 And changed so that no man might know
16 His speech, nor his voice, that they heard.
17 And in his manner for all the world he fared
18 As not only seized with loversmalady
19 Of heroes, rather with the lunacy
20 Engendered by a humour melancholic
21 Up top, in his cerebrum fantastic.
22 And briefly, was so turned upside-down
23 In body and disposition, foot to crown,
24 Of this woeful lover, Sir Arcita
25 Why write all day about his discomposure?
26 When he had endured two years or so
27 Of this cruel torment, this pain and woe,
28 At Thebes, in his own country, as I said,
29 Upon a night, asleep, and in his bed,
30 He thought he saw the winged god Mercury
31 Standing before him, bidding him be merry.
32 His wand of sleep he bore in hand upright;
33 A cap he wore upon his hair bright.
34 Arrayed was this god, remarked Arcita,
35 As he was when Argus was the sleeper;
36 And he said thus: ‘To Athens shall you wend,
37 There to your woe there is ordained an end.’
38 And these words woke Arcita with a start.
39 Now, truly, however much it pains my heart,’
40 Quoth he, ‘to Athens right now will I fare.
41 Not even for dread of death will I despair
42 But see my lady that I love and serve;
43 In her presence from death I shall not swerve.’
44 And with that word he seized a great mirror,
45 And saw in it that changed was all his colour,
46 And saw his visage all of another kind.
47 And right away it came into his mind
48 That, since his face was so disfigured
49 From the sickness that he had endured,
50 He might well if he kept a humble tone
51 Live in Athens evermore unknown,
52 And see his lady well nigh every day.
53 And so at once he changed his array,
54 And clad himself as does a labourer;
55 And all alone, save only for a squire
56 That knew his secrets and his cause,
57 And was disguised as humbly as he was,
58 To Athens is he gone the quickest way.
59 And to the court he went upon a day,
60 And at the gate offered his services,
61 To drudge and draw, whatever men thought best.
62 And briefly of this matter to explain,
63 He started work for a chamberlain,
64 The which was dwelling there with Emily,
65 For he was wise and swiftly could espy