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Sir Orfeo
ca. 1330



Sir Orfeo

[We redeth oft and findeth ywrite,
And this clerkes wele it wite,
Layes that ben in harping
Ben yfounde of ferli thing.
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while,
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.
Of al thinges that men seth,
Mest o love, for sothe, thai beth.
In Breteyne this layes were wrou3t,
First yfounde and forth ybrou3t,
Of aventours that fel bi dayes,
Wherof Bretouns made her layes.
When kinges mi3t our yhere
Of ani mervailes that ther were,
Thai token an harp in gle and game
And maked a lay and 3af it name.
Now of this aventours that weren yfalle
Y can tel sum, ac nou3t alle.
Ac herkneth, lordinges that beth trewe,
Ichil 3ou telle of Sir Orfewe.

Orfeo mest of ani thing
Loved the gle of harping.
Siker was everi gode harpour
Of him to have miche honour.
Himself he lerned for to harp
And leyd theron his wittes scharp;
He lerned so ther nothing was
A better harpour in no plas.
In al the warld was no man bore
That ones Orfeo sat bifore,
And he mi3t of his harping here,
Bot he schuld thenche that he were
In on of the joies of Paradis,
Swiche melody in his harping is.]

Orfeo was a king
In Inglond, an hei3e lording,
A stalworth man and hardi bo,
Large and curteys he was also;
His fader was comen of King Pluto
And his moder of King Juno,
That sumtime were as godes yhold
For aventours that thai dede and told.
This king sojournd in Traciens,
That was a cité of noble defens,
For Winchester was cleped tho
Traciens, withouten no.
The king hadde a quen of priis
That was ycleped Dame Herodis,
The fairest levedi, for the nones,
That mi3t gon on bodi and bones,
Ful of love and of godenisse;
Ac no man may telle hir fairnise.

Bifel so in the comessing of May
When miri and hot is the day,
And oway beth winter schours,
And everi feld is ful of flours,
And blosme breme on everi bou3
Over al wexeth miri anou3,
This ich quen, Dame Heurodis,
Tok to maidens of priis,
And went in an undrentide
To play bi an orchard side,
To se the floures sprede and spring
And to here the foules sing.
Thai sett hem doun al thre
Under a fair ympe-tre,
And wel sone this fair quene
Fel on slepe opon the grene.
The maidens durst hir nou3t awake,
Bot fete hir ligge and rest take;
So sche slepe til after none,
That undertide was al ydone.
Ac as sone as sche gan awake,
Sche crid and lothli bere gan make,
Sche froted hir honden and hir fet
And crached hir visage, it bled wete,
Hir riche robe hye al torett,
And was reveyd out of hir witt.
The tuo maidens hir biside
No durst with hir no leng abide,
Bot ourn to the palays ful ri3t
And told bothe squier and kni3t
That her quen awede wold,
And bad hem go and hir at-hold.
Kni3tes urn, and levedis also,
Damisels sexti and mo,
In the orchard to the quen hye come,
And her up in her armes nome
And brou3t hir to bed atte last,
And held hir there fine fast,
Ac ever sche held in o cri,
And wold up and owy.

When Orfeo herd that tiding,
Never him nas wers for nothing;
He come with kni3tes tene
To chaumber ri3t bifor the quene,
And biheld and seyd with grete pité:
«O lef liif, what is te,
That ever 3ete hast ben so stille
And now gredest wonder schille?
Thi bodi that was so white ycore
With thine nailes is al totore;
Allas, thi rode that was so red
Is al wan as thou were ded,
And also thine fingres smale
Beth al blodi and al pale.
Allas, thi lovesom ey3en to
Loketh so man doth on his fo.
A, dame, ich biseche merci!
Lete ben al this reweful cri,
And tel me what the is and hou,
And what thing may the help now.»

Tho lay sche stille atte last
And gan to wepe swithe fast,
And seyd thus the king to:
«Alias mi lord, Sir Orfeo,
Seththen we first togider were,
Ones wroth never we nere,
Bot ever ich have yloved the
As mi liif, and so thou me,
Ac now we mot delen ato;
Do thi best, for y mot go.»

«Allas,» quath he, «forlorn ich am!
Whider wiltow go, and to wham?
Whider thou gost ichil with the,
And whider y go thou schalt with me.»

«Nay, nay, sir, that nou3t nis;
Ichil the telle al hou it is.
As ich lay this undertide
And slepe under our orchard side,
Ther come to me to fair kni3tes
Wele y-armed al to ri3tes,
And bad me comen an hei3ing
And speke with her lord the king,
And ich answerd at wordes bold,
Y no durst nou3t, no y nold.
Thai priked o3ain as thai mi3t drive;
Tho com her king also blive
With an hundred kni3tes and mo
And damisels an hundred also,
Al on snowe-white stedes,
As white as milke were her wedes.
Y no sei3e never 3ete bifore
So fair creatours ycore;
The king hadde a croun on hed,
It nas of silver no of gold red,
Ac it was of a precious ston,
As bri3t as the sonne it schon.
And as son as he to me cam,
Wold ich, nold ich, he me nam,
And made me with him ride
Opon a palfray bi his side,
And brou3t me to his palays
Wele atird in ich ways,
And schewed me castels and tours,
Rivers, forestes, frith with flours,
And his riche stedes ichon,
And seththen me brou3t o3ain hom
Into our owhen orchard,
And said to me thus afterward:
«Loke, dame, tomorwe thatow be
Ri3t here under this ympe-tre,
And then thou schalt with ous go
And live with ous evermo;
And 3if thou makest ous ylet,
Whar thou be, thou worst yfet,
And totore thine limes al,
That nothing help the no schal,
And thei thou best so totorn,
3ete thou worst with ous yborn.»

When King Orfeo herd this cas,
«O we!» quath he, «allas, allas!
Lever me were to lete mi liif
Than thus to lese the quen mi wiif.»
He asked conseyl at ich man,
Ac no man him help no can.
Amorwe the undertide is come
And Orfeo hath his armes ynome
And wele ten hundred kni3tes with him,
Ich y-armed stout and grim,
And with the quen wenten he
Ri3t unto that ympe-tre.
Thai made scheltrom in ich a side,
And sayd thai wold there abide
And dye ther everichon
Er the quen schuld fram hem gon;
Ac 3ete amiddes hem ful ri3t
The quen was oway ytui3t,
With fairi forth ynome;
Men wist never wher sche was bicome.

Tho was ther criing, wepe and wo;
The king into his chaumber is go
And oft swoned opon the ston,
And made swiche diol and swiche mon
That nei3e his liif was yspent;
Ther was non amendement.
He cleped togider his barouns,
Erls, lordes of renouns,
And when thai al ycomen were,
«Lordinges,» he said, «bifor 3ou here
Ich ordainy min hei3e steward
To wite mi kingdom afterward.
In mi stede ben he schal,
To kepe mi londes over al;
For now ichave mi quen ylore,
The fairest levedi that ever was bore,
Never eft y nil no woman se.
Into wildernes ichil te
And live ther evermore
With wilde bestes in holtes hore,
And when 3e understond that y be spent,
Make 3ou than a parlement
And chese 3ou a newe king.
Now doth 3our best with al mi thing.»

Tho was ther wepeing in the halle,
And grete cri among hem alle;
Unnethe mi3t old or 3ong
For wepeing speke a word with tong.
Thai kneled adoun al yfere
And praid him, 3if his wille were,
That he no schuld nou3t fram hem go.
«Do way!» quath he, «It schal be so.»
Al his kingdom he forsoke,
Bot a sclavin on him he toke;
He no hadde kirtel no hode,
Schert no no nother gode;
Bot his harp he tok algate
And dede him barfot out atte 3ate;
No man most with him go.

O way! what ther was wepe and wo
When he that hadde ben king with croun
Went so poverlich out of toun.
Thurth wode and over heth
Into the wildernes he geth;
Nothing he fint that him is ays,
Bot ever he liveth in gret malais.
He that hadde ywerd the fowe and griis,
And on bed the purper biis,
Now on hard hethe he lith,
With leves and gresse he him writh.
He that hadde had castels and tours,
River, forest, frith with flours,
Now thei it comenci to snewe and frese,
This king mot make his bed in mese.
He that had yhad kni3tes of priis
Bifor him kneland, and levedis,
Now seth he nothing that him liketh,
Bot wilde wormes bi him striketh.
He that had yhad plenté
Of mete and drink, of ich deynté,
Now may he al day digge and wrote
Er he finde his fille of rote.
In somer he liveth bi wild frut
And berien bot gode lite;
In winter may he nothing finde
Bot rote, grases and the rinde;
Al his bodi was oway duine
For missays, and al tochine.
Lord, who may telle the sore
This king sufferd ten 3ere and more?
His here of his berd, blac and rowe,
To his girdel-stede was growe.
His harp whereon was al his gle
He hidde in an holwe tre,
And when the weder was clere and bri3t,
He toke his harp to him wel ri3t
And harped at his owhen wille;
Into alle the wode the soun gan schille,
That alle the wilde bestes that ther beth
For joie abouten him thai teth,
And alle the foules that ther were
Come and sete on ich a brere
To here his harping afine,
So miche melody was therin;
And when he his harping fete wold,
No best bi him abide nold.

He mi3t se him bisides,
Oft in hot undertides,
The king o fairy with his rout
Com to hunt him al about
With dim cri and bloweing,
And houndes also with him berking;
Ac no best thai no nome,
No never he nist whider thai bicome.
And otherwhile he mi3t him se
As a gret ost bi him te,
Wele atourned, ten hundred kni3tes,
Ich y-arrned to his ri3tes,
Of cuntenaunce stout and fers,
With mani desplaid baners,
And ich his swerd ydrawe hold;
Ac never he nist whider thai wold.
And otherwhile he sei3e other thing:
Kni3tes and levedis com daunceing
In queynt atire gisely,
Queynt pas and softly;
Tabours and trunpes 3ede hem bi,
And al maner menstraci.

And on a day he sei3e him biside
Sexti levedis on hors ride,
Gentil and jolif as brid on ris;
Nou3t o man amonges hem ther nis;
And ich a faucon on hond bere,
And riden on haukin bi o rivere.
Of game thai founde wel gode haunt,
Maulardes, hayroun and cormeraunt.
The foules of the water ariseth,
The faucouns hem wele deviseth;
Ich faucoun his pray slou3.
That sei3e Orfeo and lou3.
«Parfay,» quath he, «ther is fair game.
Thider ichil, bi Godes name!
Ich was ywon swiche werk to se.»
He aros and thider gan te;
To a levedi he was ycome,
Biheld and hath wele undernome
And seth bi al thing that it is
His owhen quen, Dam Heurodis.
3ern he biheld hir, and sche him eke,
Ac noither to other a word no speke;
For messais that sche on him sei3e,
That had ben so riche and so hei3e,
The teres fel out of her ei3e.
The other levedis this ysei3e
And maked hir oway to ride;
Sche most with him no lenger abide.
«Allas,» quath he, «now me is wo.
Whi nil deth now me slo?
Allas, wroche, that y no mi3t
Dye now after this si3t.
Allas, to long last mi liif,
When y no dar nou3t with mi wiif,
No hye to me, o word speke.
Allas, whi nil min hert breke?
Parfay,» quath he, «tide wat bitide,
Whider so this levedis ride,
The selve way ichil streche.
Of liif no deth me no reche.»

His sclavain he dede on also spac
And henge his harp opon his bac,
And had wel gode wil to gon;
He no spard noither stub no ston.
In at a roche the levedis rideth
And he after and nou3t abideth.
When he was in the roche ygo
Wele thre mile other mo,
He com into a fair cuntray
As bri3t so sonne on somers day,
Smothe and plain and al grene,
Hille no dale nas ther non ysene.
Amidde the lond a castel he si3e,
Riche and real and wonder hei3e.
Al the utmast wal
Was clere and schine as cristal;
An hundred tours ther were about,
Degiselich and bataild stout;
The butras com out of the diche
Of rede gold y-arched riche;
The vousour was anowrned al
Of ich maner divers aumal.
Within ther wer wide wones
Al of precious stones;
The werst piler on to biholde
Was al of burnist gold.
Al that lond was ever li3t,
For when it schuld be therk and ni3t,
The riche stones li3t gonne
As bri3t as doth at none the sonne.
No man may telle no thenche in thou3t
The riche werk that ther was wrou3t;
Bi al thing him think that it is
The proude court of Paradis.
In this castel the levedis ali3t;
He wold in after 3if he mi3t.

Orfeo knokketh atte gate;
The porter was redi therate
And asked what he wold have ydo.
«Parfay,» quath he, «ich am a minstrel, lo!
To solas thi lord with mi gle,
3if his swete wille be.»
The porter undede the 3ate anon
And lete him in to the castel gon.

Than he gan bihold about al,
And sei3e liggeand within the wal
Of folk that were thider ybrou3t
And thou3t dede and nare nou3t.
Sum stode withouten hade,
And sum non armes nade,
And sum thurth the bodi hadde wounde,
And sum lay wode ybounde,
And sum armed on hors sete,
And sum astrangled as thai ete,
And sum were in water adreynt,
And sum with fire al forschreynt;
Wives ther lay on child-bedde,
Sum ded and sum awedde,
And wonder fele ther lay bisides
Ri3t as thai slepe her undertides;
Eche was thus in this warld ynome,
With fairi thider ycome.
Ther he sei3e his owhen wiif,
Dame Heurodis, his lef liif,
Slepe under an ympe-tre;
Bi her clothes he knewe that it was he.
And when he hadde bihold this mervails alle
He went in to the kinges halle;
Than sei3e he ther a semly si3t,
A tabernacle blisseful and bri3t,
Therin her maister king sete
And her quen fair and swete;
Her crounes, her clothes schine so bri3t
That unnethe bihold he hem mi3t.
When he hadde biholden al that thing,
He kneled adoun bifor the king.
«O lord,» he seyd, «3if it thi wille were,
Mi menstraci thou schust yhere.»
The king answerd: «What man artow
That art hider ycomen now?
Ich, no non that is with me,
No sent never after the.
Seththen that ich here regni gan,
Y no fond never so folehardi man
That hider to ous durst wende
Bot that ichim wald ofsende.»
«Lord,» quath he, «trowe ful wel,
Y nam bot a pover menstrel,
And, sir, it is the maner of ous
To seche mani a lordes hous;
Thei we nou3t welcom no be,
3ete we mot proferi forth our gle.»

Bifor the king he sat adoun
And tok his harp so miri of soun,
And tempreth his harp as he wele can,
And blisseful notes he ther gan,
That al that in the palays were
Com to him for to here,
And liggeth adoun to his fete,
Hem thenketh his melody so swete.
The king herkneth and sitt ful stille,
To here his gle he hath gode wille;
Gode bourde he hadde of his gle,
The riche quen also hadde he.
When he hadde stint his harping
Than seyd to him the king:
«Menstrel, me liketh wele thi gle.
Now aske of me what it be;
Largelich ichil the pay.
Now speke and tow mi3t asay.»
«Sir,» he seyd, «ich biseche the
Thatow woldest 3ive me
That ich levedi bri3t on ble
That slepeth under the ympe-tre.»
«Nay,» quath the king, «that nou3t nere!
A sori couple of 3ou it were,
For thou art lene, rowe and blac,
And sche is lovesum withouten lac.
A lothlich thing it were forthi
To sen hir in thi compayni.»
«O sir,» he seyd, «gentil king,
3ete were it a wele fouler thing
To here a lesing of thi mouthe.
So, sir, as 3e seyd nouthe,
What ich wold aski, have y schold,
And nedes thou most thi word hold.»
The king seyd, «Seththen it is so,
Take hir bi the hond and go.
Of hir ichil thatow be blithe.»
He kneled adoun and thonked him swithe
His wiif he tok bi the hond
And dede him swipe out of that lond,
And went him out of that thede;
Ri3t as he come, the way he 3ede.

So long he hath the way ynome,
To Winchester he is ycome,
That was his owhen cité,
Ac no man knewe that it was he.
No forther than the tounes ende
For knoweleche no durst he wende,
Bot with a begger ybilt ful narwe,
Ther he tok his herbarwe
To him and to his owhen wiif
As a minstrel of pover liif,
And asked tidinges of that lond
And who the kingdom held in hond.
The pover begger in his cote
Told him everich a grot,
Hou her quen was stole owy
Ten 3er gon with fairy,
And hou her king en exile 3ede,
Bot no man nist in wiche thede,
And hou the steward the lond gan hold,
And other mani thinges him told.

Amorwe o3ain none-tide
He maked his wiif ther abide;
The beggers clopes he borwed anon
And heng his harp his rigge opon,
And went him into that cité
That men mi3t him bihold and se.
Erls and barouns bold,
Burjays and levedis him gun bihold.
«Lo!» thai seyd, «swiche a man!
Hou long the here hongeth him opan.
Lo, hou his berd hongeth to his kne!
He is yclongen also a tre.»
And as he 3ede in the strete,
With his steward he gan mete
And loude he sett on him a crie:
«Sir steward,» he seyd, «merci!
Ich am an harpour of hethenisse;
Help me now in this destresse.»
The steward seyd, «Com with me, come!
Of that ichave thou schalt have some.
Everich gode harpour is welcom me to
For mi lordes love Sir Orfeo.»

In the castel the steward sat atte mete,
And mani lording was bi him sete;
Ther were trompours and tabourers,
Harpours fele and crouders;
Miche melody thai maked alle,
And Orfeo sat stille in the halle
And herkneth when thai ben al stille.
He toke his harp and tempred schille;
The blifulest notes he harped there
That ever ani man yherd with ere;
Ich man liked wele his gle.
The steward biheld and gan yse,
And knewe the harp als blive.
«Menstrel,» he seyd, «so mot thou thrive,
Where hadestow this harp and hou?
Y pray that thou me telle now.»
«Lord,» quath he, «in uncouthe thede
Thurth a wildernes as y 3ede,
Ther y founde in a dale
With lyouns a man totorn smale,
And wolves him frete with teth so scharp;
Bi him y fond this ich harp,
Wele ten 3ere it is ygo.»
«O,» quath the steward, «now me is wo!
That was mi lord Sir Orfeo.
Allas, wreche, what schal y do
That have swiche a lord ylore?
A, way, that ich was ybore!
That him was so hard grace y3arked
And so vile deth ymarked!»
Adoun he fel aswon to grounde;
His barouns him tok up in that stounde
And telleth him hou it geth:
It nis no bot of mannes deth.

King Orfeo knewe wele bi than
His steward was a trewe man
And loved him as he au3t to do,
And stont up and seyt thus, lo:
«Steward, herkne now this thing.
3if ich were Orfeo the king,
And hadde ysuffred ful 3ore
In wildernisse miche sore,
And hadde ywon mi quen owy
Out of the lond of fairy,
And hadde ybrou3t the levedi hende
Ri3t here to the tounes ende,
And with a begger her in ynome,
And were miself hider ycome
Poverlich to the thus stille
For to asay thi gode wille,
And ich founde the thus trewe,
Thou no schust it never rewe.
Sikerlich, for love or ay,
Thou schust be king after mi day.
And 3if thou of mi deth hadest ben blithe,
Thou schust have voided also swithe.»

Tho al tho that perin sete
That it was King Orfeo under3ete,
And the steward him wele knewe,
Over and over the bord he threwe
And fel adoun to his fet,
So dede everich lord that ther sete,
And al thai seyd at o criing:
«3e beth our lord, sir, and our king!»
Glad thai were of his live.
To chaumber thai ladde him als bilive,
And bathed him and schaved his berd
And tired him as a king apert,
And seththen with gret processioun
Thai brou3t the quen in to the toun
With al maner menstraci.
Lord, ther was grete melody!
For joie thai wepe with her ei3e
That hem so sounde.ycomen sei3e.

Now King Orfeo newe coround is,
And his quen Dame Heurodis,
And lived long afterward,
And seththen was king the steward.
Harpours in Bretaine after than
Herd hou this mervaile bigan
And made herof a lay of gode likeing
And nempned it after the king;
That lay «Orfeo» is yhote;
Gode is the lay, swete is the note.
Thus com Sir Orfeo out of his care;
God graunt ous alle wele to fare. Amen.
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