The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

Page 4

My spirit would with theirs abide;

My body rest with 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 Roland die."

Pale grew her cheek---she sank amain,

Down at the feet of Carlemaine.

So died she. God received 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 mediæval 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 nd the Romance of Aeneas. They are all very long poems, consisting of series of stories partly derived from classic sources, partly invented by trouvères. They are important [1] as connecting, however loosely, mediæval with classical literature, and [2] as showing some scholarship on the part of their authros and interest in general culture.

From Morte D'Arthur

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 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 should like you and please 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.

Index  |  Previous page  |  Next page