La Morte d’Arthur
The Legend of Sir Launcelot
Collected from the MS. in the Harleian Library
Merry it is in time of June,
When fennel hangeth abroad in toun.
Violet and rose-flower,
Woneth then in maiden’s bower;
The sun is hot, the day is long,
Larks maketh merry song,
And King Arthur bears his crown
In Cardoile that noble toun.
* * * * * *
Launcelot and the queen were cledde,
In robes of a rich wede,
Samyte white with silver shredde,
Ivory saddle and white stede:
Saumbucs of the same thredde,
That wrought was in the heathen thede,
Launcelot her bridle ledde
In the Romans as we rede.
The other knights every one,
In samyte green of heathen land,
And their kirtles, ride alone,
And each knight a green garland:
Saddles set with rich stone,
Each an olive-branch in hand—
All the field about them shone;
And the knights full loud singand.
Then bespake him Sir Gawain
That was hardy knight and free,—
“Launcelot, thou may’st nought with say’n
That thou hast slain my brethren three!
Forthwith we will prove our main,
Whether in field shall have the gree;
Or either of us shall other slayn,
Blithe shall I never be.”
The lord that was of great honoùr,
Himself Sir Launcelot du Lake
Above the gates upon the tower,
Comely to the King he spake:
“My lord, God save your honoùr!
Me is woe now for yeur sake
Against thy kin to stand in stour,
But needs I must this battle take.
* * * * * *
Through the helm unto the head,
Was hardy Gawain wounded so,
That Launcelot him lying leaved;
On foot might he no farther go—
“Gawain, while thou might stiffly stand,
Many a stroke of thee I stood,
And I forbare thee in every land
For love, and for the king’s blood.”
The king was ever near beside,
And hew on him with all his mayne;
But he so courteous was that tide,
One stroke he wolde no smite again.
“Alas!” quoth Launcelot, “woe is me,
That ever I should see with sight
Before me him unhorsed be—
The noble king that made me knight!”
* * * * * *
The maiden is ready for to ride
In a full rich aparaylment
Of samyte green, with mickle pride,
That wrought was in the orient.
A dwarf shall wende by her side;
Such was Launcelot’s comaundement;
So were the manners in that tide,
When a maid on message went.
The maiden was full sheen to shew
Upon her steed when she was set;
Her saddle all of one hue,
Of a green velvèt;
In her hand a branch new
For why that no man should her let:
Thereby men messengers knew
In a host when they were met.
The king was locked in a field,
By a river broad and driech;
Awhile she waited, and beheld
Pavylouns all pight on high:
She saw there many comely gilt
With pommelles bright as goldis beghe,
On one hung the king’s shield—
That pavyloun she drew nigh.
* * * * * *
At might when Arthur was in bed,
(He should have battle upon the morrow,)
In strange dream he was bested,
That many should that day have sorrow.
He thought he sat in gold all clad,
As he was comely king with crown,
Upon a wheel that full wide spread,
And all his knights to him boun.
The wheel was ferly rich and round,
In world was never none half so high;
Thereon he sat richly crowned
With many a besaunt, broche and beye.
He looked down upon the ground,
A black water under him lay,
With dragons fell all unbound,
That no man durst them stay.
He was wonder ’feared to fall
Among the fiends that there fought—
The wheel overturned there withall,
And each by a limb him caught.
* * * * * *
The king fell again on sleep,
(About him was set tapers seven,)
He saw Sir Gawain by him keep
With more folk than men can neven,
Over a river broad and deep,
All seemed angels come from heaven.
The king was never yet so fain,
His brave foster-son to see—
“Welcome,” he said, “Sir Gawain!
An thou might live, well with me!
Now, my friend, without lying,
What are the folk that follow thee?”
“Certes, Sir,” he said again,
“They bide in bliss where I might be.
“Lords they were and ladies rare,
In this worldis life forlorn,
While I was man alive and fair,
Against their foes I fought for’n
Now find I them my most friend—
They bless the time when I was born;
They ask’d leave with me to wend,
To meet with you upon this morn.”
* * * * * *
The king lies stiff aneath his shield,
With his good sword Escalibore—
There was thilk arrows in the field,
That ye colde see the sun no more.
He calleth Sir Bedwer to his side;
“As thou are true and loyal man,
Take this sword ere eventide,
And cast it into the waves wan.”
Sir Bedwer saw that deed best,
And to the good sword he went,
Into the sea full far he cast.
Then might he see what it meant.
There came a hand withouten wrist
Out of the sea, and fair it shone;
And waved thrice as it were kissed,
And syne it gleamed and away ’tis gone.
To the king he went in fear,
And said, “Lief Sir, I saw a hand;
Out of the water it came all bare,
And thrice brandish’d that rich brand.”
“Help me!, soon were I there!”
He led his lord unto the strand:
A rich ship with masts and oar,
Full of ladies there they fand.
The ladies that were fair and free,
Courteously the sails strung,
And one that brightest was of blee,
Weeped sore and hands wrung.
“Brother,” she said, “woe is me!
From leeching thou hast been too long—
Alas! that wound is sad to see,
And thy death-pains are full strong!”
* * * * * *
Launcelot is come to land,
To help King Arthur with his host;
He hath foughten with belt and brand,
But the king’s good sword is lost.
There is a light in the forest yon,
And it is holy Pentecost—
And there is a bier without help of man,
Built as it were of eventide frost.
It shineth like unto diamonds all,
And there are hundred lights atour;
Over it is a purple pall,
Fit for a king of high honoùr.
“Wotteth thou not, thou holy clerk,
How this gay tomb cometh here?”
“It was eventide and dark,
When five damosels brought the bier.
They came in a boat of gold,
Silver and cendal of sweet odour;
And they bade me threescore masses hold,
For the soul of our good king Arthoùr.”
Then Launcelot kneeled down in the dust,
“I pray thee now by this good light,
Lay me and my true sword to rest,
By side of him that made me knight.”
And there he lieth—the truest knight
That ever foughten under shield;
The fullest friend to luckless wight,
That ever bestrode horse in field.
The goodliest shape among the best,
The gentillest in bower and hall;
The sternest foe with spear in rest,
The kindest at his foe’s downfall!”
- Housings—Samyte was a rich silk, generally embroidered, and brought from the East. ↩
- Saxon for land.—Romances or Romans seem to keep that name, from having been originally written in the Latin tongue. ↩
- Having the gree seems to mean here, which should have the best degree. ↩
- Sir Launcelot was the fosterson of Merlin’s fair lady of the lake, and gave offence to King Arthur by his attachment to Queen Guenever. ↩
- That time;—the same phrase occurs in the stanza, which describes a lady’s mission with Launcelot’s sign of truce. ↩
- Hinder. ↩
- Slow. ↩
- Crowns.—The pommelles were the balls of the tents. ↩
- Coins, ornaments, and crowns of gold. Boun in the verse above signifies ready, or obedient. ↩
- Name. ↩
- For them. ↩
- A few verses are omitted here, descriptive of Arthur’s battle with his perfidious foster-son Modred, by whom his dream appears to have been verified. Escalibore was his miraculous sword, on which was engraved, “Kerve steel, & yren, & al thing.” ↩
- Around.—The last four stanzas are collected from the prose fragments in the Museum. The original romance is about 3850 lines, apparently written in the 15th century. Sir Launcelot was buried by Arthur’s side in the chapel of Glastonbury. His suspected queen Guenever died penitent in Ambresbury cloister. The MS. exists at the Museum—Bibl. Reg. 14 E. iii 19 c. xiii. and 20 c. vi. ↩