The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

French Literature

Page 10

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 filled 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 restles 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 weaned at least he must be dead;

His lady leman swooned:

Eftsoons they hie them all to look

If happily in some dell or nook

His body might be found.

Though 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 woeful 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.

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