When that Phebus his chaire of gold so hy
Had whirled up the sterry sky aloft,
And in the Bole was entred certainly;
Whan shoures swete of rain discended soft,
Causing the ground, felë tymes and oft,
Up for to give many an hoolsom air,
And every plain was [eek y-]clothed fair
With newe grene, and maketh smalë floures
To springen here and there in feld and mede;
So very good and hoolsom be the shoures
That it reneweth, that was old and deede
In winter-tyme; and out of every seede
Springeth the herbë, so that every wight
Of this sesoun wexeth [ful] glad and light.
And I, só glad of the seson swete,
Was happed thus upon a certain night;
As I lay in my bed, sleep ful unmete
Was unto me; but, why that I ne might
Rest, I ne wist; for there nas erthly wight,
As I suppose, had more hertës ese
Than I, for I n’ad siknesse nor disese.
Wherfore I mervail gretly of my-selve,
That I so long, withouten sleepë lay;
And up I roos, three houres after twelve,
About the [very] springing of the day,
And on I put my gere and myn array;
And to a plesaunt grovë I gan passe,
Long or the brightë sonne uprisen was,
In which were okës grete, streight as a lyne,
Under the which the gras, so fresh of hew,
Was newly spronge; and an eight foot or nyne
Every tree wel fro his felawe grew,
With braunches brode, laden with leves new,
That sprongen out ayein the sonnë shene,
Som very rede, and som a glad light grene;
Which, as me thought, was right a plesaunt sight.
And eek the briddes song[ës] for to here
Would have rejoised any erthly wight.
And I, that couth not yet, in no manere,
Here the nightingale of al the yere,
Ful busily herkned, with herte and ere,
If I her voice perceive coud any-where.
And at the last, a path of litel brede
I found, that gretly had not used be,
For it forgrowen was with gras and weede,
That wel unneth a wight [ther] might it see.
Thought I, this path som whider goth, pardè,
And so I folowèd, til it me brought
To right a plesaunt herber, wel y-wrought,
That benched was, and [al] with turves new
Freshly turved, wherof the grenë gras
So small, so thik, so short, so fresh of hew,
That most lyk to grene wol, wot I, it was.
The hegge also, that yede [as] in compas
And closed in al the grene herbere,
With sicamour was set and eglantere,
Writhen in-fere so wel and cunningly
That every braunch and leef grew by mesure,
Plain as a bord, of on height, by and by,
[That] I sy never thing, I you ensure,
So wel [y-]don; for he that took the cure
It [for] to make, I trow, did al his peyn
To make it passe al tho that men have seyn.
And shapen was this herber, roof and al,
As [is] a prety parlour, and also
The hegge as thik as [is] a castle-wal,
That, who that list without to stond or go,
Though he wold al-day pryen to and fro,
He shuld not see if there were any wight
Within or no; but oon within wel might
Perceive al tho that yeden there-without
In the feld, that was on every syde
Covered with corn and gras, that, out of dout,
Though oon wold seeken al the world wyde,
So rich a feld [ne] coud not be espyed
[Up]on no cost, as of the quantitee,
For of al good thing ther was [greet] plentee.
And I, that al this plesaunt sight [than] sy,
Thought sodainly I felt so sweet an air
[Come] of the eglantere, that certainly,
Ther is no hert, I deme, in such despair,
Ne with [no] thoughtës froward and contrair
So overlaid, but it shuld soone have bote,
If it had onës felt this savour sote.
And as I stood and cast asyde myn y,
I was ware of the fairest medle-tree
That ever yet in al my lyf I sy,
As full of blossomës as it might be.
Therin a goldfinch leping pretily
Fro bough to bough, and, as him list, he eet
Here and there, of buddes and floures sweet.
And to the herber-sydë was joining
This fairë tree, of which I have you told;
And, at the last, the brid began to sing,
Whan he had eten what he etë wold,
So passing sweetly, that, by manifold,
It was more plesaunt than I coud devyse;
And whan his song was ended in this wyse,
The nightingale with so mery a note
Answéred him, that al the wodë rong
So sodainly, that, as it were a sot,
I stood astonied; so was I with the song
Through ravishèd, that, [un]til late and long
Ne wist I in what place I was, ne where;
And ay, me thought, she song even by myn ere.
Wherfore about I waited busily
On every syde, if I her mightë see;
And, at the last, I gan ful wel aspy
Wher she sat in a fresh green laurer-tree
On the further syde, even right by me,
That gave so passing a delicious smel
According to the eglantere ful wel.
Wherof I had so inly greet plesyr
That, as me thought, I surely ravished was
Into Paradyse, where my desyr
Was for to be, and no ferther [to] passe
As for that day, and on the sotë gras
I sat me doun; for, as for myn entent,
The birdës song was more convenient,
And more plesaunt to me, by many fold,
Than mete or drink, or any other thing;
Thereto the herber was so fresh and cold,
The hoolsom savours eek so comforting
That, as I demed, sith the beginning
Of the world, was never seen, or than,
So plesaunt a ground of non erthly man.
And as I sat, the briddës herkning thus,
Me thought that I herd voices sodainly,
The most sweetest and most delicious
That ever any wight, I trow trewly,
Herde in his lyf, for [that] the armony
And sweet accord was in so good musyk,
Thát the voice to angels most was lyk.
At the last, out of a grove even by,
That was right goodly and plesaunt to sight,
I sy where there cam singing lustily
A world of ladies; but to tell aright
Their greet beautè, it lyth not in my might,
Ne their array; nevertheless, I shal
Tell you a part, though I speke not of al.
In surcotes whyte, of veluet wel sitting,
They were [y-]clad; and the semes echoon,
As it were a maner garnishing,
Was set with emeraudës, oon and oon,
By and by; but many a richë stoon
Was set [up-]on the purfils, out of dout,
Of colors, sleves, and trainës round about;
As gret[e] perlës, round and orient,
Diamondës fyne and rubies rede,
And many another stoon, of which I want
The namës now; and everich on her hede
A richë fret of gold, which, without drede,
Was ful of statly richë stonës set;
And every lady had a chapëlet
On her hede, of [leves] fresh and grene,
So wel [y-]wrought, and so mervéilously,
Thát it was a noble sight to sene;
Some of laurer, and some ful plesauntly
Had chapëlets of woodbind, and sadly
Some of agnus-castus ware also
Chápëlets fresh; but there were many tho
That daunced and eek song ful soberly;
But al they yede in maner of compas.
But oon ther yede in-mid the company.
Sole by her-self; but al folowed the pace
[Which] that she kept, whos hevenly-figured face
So plesaunt was, and her wel-shape persòn,
That of beautè she past hem everichon.
And more richly beseen, by manifold,
She was also, in every maner thing;
On her heed, ful plesaunt to behold,
A crowne of gold, rich for any king;
A braunch of agnus-castus eek bering
In her hand; and, to my sight, trewly,
She lady was of [al] the company.
And she began a roundel lustily,
That Sus le foyl de vert moy men call,
Seen, et mon joly cuer endormi;
And than the company answéred all
With voice[s] swete entuned and so small,
That me thought it the sweetest melody
That ever I herdë in my lyf, soothly.
And thus they came[n], dauncing and singing,
Into the middes of the mede echone,
Before the herber, where I was sitting,
And, god wot, me thought I was wel bigon;
For than I might avyse hem, on by on,
Who fairest was, who coud best dance or sing,
Or who most womanly was in al thing.
They had not daunced but a litel throw
When that I herd, not fer of, sodainly
So greet a noise of thundring trumpës blow,
As though it shuld have départed the sky;
And, after that, within a whyle I sy
From the same grove, where the ladyes come out,
Of men of armës coming such a rout
As al the men on erth had been assembled
In that place, wel horsed for the nones,
Stering so fast, that al the erth[ë] trembled;
But for to speke of riches and [of] stones,
And men and hors, I trow, the largë wones
Of Prester John, ne al his tresory
Might not unneth have bought the tenth party!
Of their array who-so list herë more,
I shal reherse, so as I can, a lyte.
Out of the grove, that I spak of before,
I sy come first, al in their clokes whyte,
A company, that ware, for their delyt,
Chapëlets fresh of okës cereal
Newly spronge, and trumpets they were al.
On every trumpe hanging a brood banere
Of fyn tartarium, were ful richly bete;
Every trumpet his lordës armës bere;
About their nekkës, with gret perlës set,
Colers brode; for cost they would not lete,
As it would seme; for their scochones echoon
Were set about with many a precious stoon.
Their hors-harneys was al whyte also;
And after hem next, in on company,
Cámë kingës of armës, and no mo,
In clokës of whyte cloth of gold, richly;
Chapelets of greene on their hedes on hy,
The crownës that they on their scochones bere
Were set with perlë, ruby, and saphere,
And eek gret diamondës many on;
But al their hors-harneys and other gere
Was in a sute according, everichon,
As ye have herd the foresayd trumpets were;
And, by seeming, they were nothing to lere;
And their gyding they did so manerly.
And after hem cam a greet company
Of heraudës and pursevauntës eke
Arrayed in clothës of whyt veluët;
And hardily, they were nothing to seke
How they [up]on hem shuld the harneys set;
And every man had on a chapëlet;
Scóchones and eke hors-harneys, indede,
They had in sute of hem that before hem yede.
Next after hem, came in armour bright,
Al save their hedes, seemely knightës nyne;
And every clasp and nail, as to my sight,
Of their harneys, were of red gold fyne;
With cloth of gold, and furred with ermyne
Were the trappurës of their stedës strong,
Wyde and large, that to the ground did hong;
And every bosse of brydel and peitrel
That they had, was worth, as I would wene,
A thousand pound; and on their hedës, wel
Dressed, were crownës [al] of laurer grene,
The best [y-]mad that ever I had seen;
And every knight had after him ryding
Three henshmen, [up]on him awaiting;
Of whiche the first, upon a short tronchoun,
His lordës helme[t] bar, so richly dight,
That the worst was worth[y] the raunsoun
Of a[ny] king; the second a sheld bright
Bar at his nekke; the thridde bar upright
A mighty spere, ful sharpe [y-]ground and kene;
And every child ware, of leves grene,
A fresh chapelet upon his heres bright;
And clokes whyte, of fyn veluet they ware;
Their stedës trapped and [a]rayed right
Without[en] difference, as their lordës were.
And after hem, on many a fresh co[u]rsere,
There came of armed knightës such a rout
That they besprad the largë feld about.
And al they ware[n], after their degrees,
Chapëlets new, made of laurer grene,
Some of oke, and some of other trees;
Some in their handës berë boughës shene,
Some of laurer, and some of okës kene,
Some of hawthorn, and some of woodbind,
And many mo, which I had not in mind.
And so they came, their hors freshly stering
With bloody sownës of hir trompës loud;
Ther sy I many an uncouth disgysing
In the array of these knightës proud;
And at the last, as evenly as they coud,
They took their places in-middes of the mede,
And every knight turned his horse[s] hede
To his felawe, and lightly laid a spere
In the [a]rest, and so justës began
On every part about[en], here and there;
Som brak his spere, som drew down hors and man;
About the feld astray the stedës ran;
And, to behold their rule and governaunce,
I you ensure, it was a greet plesaunce.
And so the justës last an houre and more;
But tho that crowned were in laurer grene
Wan the pryse; their dintës were so sore
That ther was non ayenst hem might sustene;
And [than] the justing al was left of clene;
And fro their hors the nine alight anon;
And so did al the remnant everichon.
And forth they yede togider, twain and twain,
That to behold, it was a worldly sight,
Toward the ladies on the grenë plain,
That song and daunced, as I sayd now right.
The ladies, as soone as they goodly might,
They breke[n] of both the song and dance,
And yede to mete hem, with ful glad semblance.
And every lady took, ful womanly,
Bý the hond a knight, and forth they yede
Unto a fair laurer that stood fast by,
With levës lade, the boughës of gret brede;
And to my dome, there never was, indede,
[A] man that had seen half so fair a tree;
For underneth it there might wel have be
An hundred persons, at their own plesaunce,
Shadowed fro the hete of Phebus bright
So that they shuld have felt no [greet] grevaunce
Of rain, ne hail, that hem hurt[ë] might.
The savour eek rejoice would any wight
That had be sick or melancolious,
It was so very good and vertuous.
And with gret reverence they enclyned low
[Un]to the tree, so sote and fair of hew;
And after that, within a litel throw,
Bigonne they to sing and daunce of-new;
Some song of love, some playning of untrew,
Environing the tree that stood upright;
And ever yede a lady and a knight.
And at the last I cast myn eye asyde,
And was ware of a lusty company
That came, roming out of the feld wyde,
Hond in hond, a knight and a lady;
The ladies alle in surcotes, that richly
Purfyled were with many a riche stoon;
And every knight of greene ware mantles on,
Embrouded wel, so as the surcotes were,
And everich had a chapelet on her hede;
Which did right wel upon the shyning here,
Made of goodly floures, whyte and rede.
The knightës eke, that they in hond lede,
In sute of hem, ware chapelets everichon;
And hem before went minstrels many on,
As harpës, pypës, lutës, and sautry,
Al in greene; and on their hedës bare
Of dyvers flourës, mad ful craftily,
Al in a sute, goodly chapelets they ware;
And so, dauncing, into the mede they fare,
In-mid the which they found a tuft that was
Al oversprad with flourës in compas.
Where[un]to they enclyned everichon
With greet reverence, and that ful humblely;
And, at the last[ë], there began anon
A lady for to sing right womanly
A bargaret in praising the daisy;
For, as me thought, among her notës swete,
She sayd, ‘Si doucë est la Margarete.’
Thén they al answéred her infere,
So passingly wel, and so plesauntly,
Thát it was a blisful noise to here.
But I not [how], it happed sodainly,
As, about noon, the sonne so fervently
Wex hoot, that [al] the prety tender floures
Had lost the beautè of hir fresh coloures,
For-shronk with hete; the ladies eek to-brent,
That they ne wist where they hem might bestow.
The knightës swelt, for lak of shade ny shent;
And after that, within a litel throw,
The wind began so sturdily to blow,
That down goth al the flourës everichon
So that in al the mede there laft not on,
Save suche as socoured were, among the leves,
Fro every storme, that might hem assail,
Growing under hegges and thikke greves;
And after that, there came a storm of hail
And rain in-fere, so that, withouten fail,
The ladies ne the knightës n’ade o threed
Drye [up]on hem, so dropping was hir weed.
And when the storm was clene passed away,
Tho [clad] in whyte, that stood under the tree,
They felt[ë] nothing of the grete affray,
That they in greene without had in y-be.
To hem they yedë for routh and pitè,
Hem to comfort after their greet disese;
So fain they were the helpless for to ese.
Then was I ware how oon of hem in grene
Had on a crown[ë], rich and wel sitting;
Wherfore I demed wel she was a quene,
And tho in greene on her were awaiting.
The ladies then in whyte that were coming
Toward[ës] hem, and the knightës in-fere
Began to comfort hem and make hem chere.
The quene in whyte, that was of grete beautè,
Took by the hond the queen that was in grene,
And said, ‘Suster, I have right greet pitè
Of your annoy, and of the troublous tene
Wherein ye and your company have been
So long, alas! and, if that it you plese
To go with me, I shal do you the ese
In al the pleisir that I can or may.’
Wherof the tother, humbly as she might,
Thanked her; for in right ill aray
She was, with storm and hete, I you behight.
And every lady then, anon-right,
That were in whyte, oon of hem took in grene
By the hond; which when the knightes had seen,
In lyke wyse, ech of hem took a knight
Clad in grene, and forth with hem they fare
[Un]to an heggë, where they, anon-right,
To make their justës, [lo!] they would not spare
Boughës to hew down, and eek treës square,
Wherewith they made hem stately fyres grete
To dry their clothës that were wringing wete.
And after that, of herbës that there grew,
They made, for blisters of the sonne brenning,
Very good and hoolsom ointments new,
Where that they yede, the sick fast anointing;
And after that, they yede about gadring
Plesaunt saladës, which they made hem ete,
For to refresh their greet unkindly hete.
The lady of the Leef then gan to pray
Her of the Flour, (for so to my seeming
They should[ë] be, as by their [quaint] array),
To soupe with her; and eek, for any thing,
That she should with her al her people bring.
And she ayein, in right goodly manere,
Thanketh her of her most freendly chere,
Saying plainly, that she would obey
With al her hert al her commaundëment.
And then anon, without lenger delay,
The lady of the Leef hath oon y-sent
For a palfray, [as] after her intent,
Arayed wel and fair in harneys of gold,
For nothing lakked, that to him long shold.
And after that, to al her company
She made to purvey hors and every thing
That they needed; and then, ful lustily,
Even by the herber where I was sitting,
They passed al, so plesantly singing,
That it would have comfórted any wight;
But then I sy a passing wonder sight:—
For then the nightingale, that al the day
Had in the laurer sete, and did her might
The hool servyse to sing longing to May,
Al sodainly [be]gan to take her flight;
And to the lady of the Leef forthright
She flew, and set her on her hond softly,
Which was a thing I marveled of gretly.
The goldfinch eek, that fro the medle-tree
Was fled, for hete, into the bushes cold,
Unto the lady of the Flour gan flee,
And on her hond he set him, as he wold,
And plesantly his wingës gan to fold;
And for to sing they pained hem both as sore
As they had do of al the day before.
And so these ladies rood forth a gret pace,
And al the rout of knightës eek in-fere;
And I, that had seen al this wonder case,
Thought [that] I would assay, in some manere,
To know fully the trouth of this matere,
And what they were that rood so plesantly.
And, when they were the herber passed by,
I drest me forth, and happed to mete anon
Right a fair lady, I you ensure;
And she cam ryding by herself aloon,
Al in whyte, with semblance ful demure.
I salued her, and bad good aventure
Might her befall, as I coud most humbly;
And she answered, ‘My doughter, gramercy!’
‘Madam,’ quod I, ‘if that I durst enquere
Of you, I wold fain, of that company,
Wit what they be that past by this herbere?’
And she ayein answéred right freendly:
‘My fair daughter, al tho that passed hereby
In whyte clothing, be servants everichoon
Unto the Leef, and I my-self am oon.
See ye not her that crowned is,’ quod she,
‘Al in whyte?’ ‘Madamë,’ quod I, ‘yis!’
‘That is Diane, goddesse of chastitè;
And, for bicause that she a maiden is,
In her hond the braunch she bereth, this
That agnus-castus men call properly;
And alle the ladies in her company
Which ye see of that herb[ë] chaplets were,
Be such as han kept ay hir maidenhede;
And al they that of laurer chaplets bere
Be such as hardy were and wan, indede,
Victorious name which never may be dede.
And al they were so worthy of hir hond,
[As] in hir tyme, that non might hem withstond.
And tho that werë chapelets on hir hede
Of fresh woodbind, be such as never were
To love untrew in word, [ne] thought, ne dede,
But ay stedfast; ne for plesaunce, ne fere,
Though that they shuld hir hertës al to-tere,
Would never flit, but ever were stedfast,
Til that their lyves there asunder brast.’
‘Now, fair madam,’ quod I, ‘yet I would pray
Your ladiship, if that it might be,
That I might know[ë], by some maner way,
Sith that it hath [y-]lyked your beautè,
The trouth of these ladies for to tel me;
What that these knightës be, in rich armour;
And what tho be in grene, and were the flour;
And why that some did reverence to the tree,
And some unto the plot of flourës fair?’
‘With right good wil, my fair doughter,’ quod she,
‘Sith your desyr is good and debonair.
Tho nine, crownèd, be very exemplair
Of all honour longing to chivalry,
And those, certain, be called the Nine Worthy,
Which ye may see [here] ryding al before,
That in hir tyme did many a noble dede,
And, for their worthines, ful oft have bore
The crowne of laurer-leves on their hede,
As ye may in your old[ë] bokes rede;
And how that he, that was a conquerour,
Had by laurer alway his most honour.
And tho that bere boughës in their hond
Of the precious laurer so notáble,
Be such as were, I wol ye understond,
Noble knightës of the Round[ë] Table,
And eek the Douseperes honourable;
Which they bere in signe of victory,
As witness of their dedes mightily.
Eek there be knightës olde of the Garter,
That in hir tyme did right worthily;
And the honour they did to the laurer
Is, for by [it] they have their laud hoolly,
Their triumph eek, and martial glory;
Which unto hem is more parfyt richesse
Than any wight imagine can or gesse.
For oon leef given of that noble tree
To any wight that hath don worthily,
And it be doon so as it ought to be,
Is more honour then any thing erthly.
Witnesse of Rome that founder was, truly,
Of all knighthood and dedës marvelous;
Record I take of Titus Livius.
And as for her that crowned is in greene,
It is Flora, of these flourës goddesse;
And al that here on her awaiting been,
It are such [folk] that loved idlenes,
And not delyte [had] of no busines
But for to hunt and hauke, and pley in medes,
And many other such [lyk] idle dedes.
And for the greet delyt and [the] plesaunce
They have [un]to the flour, so reverently
They unto it do such [gret] obeisaunce,
As ye may see.’ ‘Now, fair madame,’ quod I,
‘If I durst ask what is the cause and why
That knightës have the signe of [al] honour
Rather by the Leef than by the Flour?’
‘Sothly, doughter,’ quod she, ‘this is the trouth:
For knightës ever should be persévering,
To seeke honour without feintyse or slouth,
Fro wele to better, in al maner thing;
In signe of which, with Levës ay lasting
They be rewarded after their degree,
Whos lusty grene may not appeired be,
But ay keping hir beautè fresh and greene;
For there nis storm [non] that may hem deface,
Hail nor snow, wind nor frostës kene;
Wherfore they have this propertè and grace.
And for the Flour within a litel space
Wol be [y-]lost, so simple of nature
They be, that they no grevance may endure,
And every storm wil blow hem sone away,
Ne they last not but [as] for a sesoun,
That is the cause, the very trouth to say,
That they may not, by no way of resoun,
Be put to no such occupacioun.’
‘Madame,’ quod I, ‘with al my hool servyse
I thank you now, in my most humble wyse.
For now I am acértainèd throughly
Of every thing I désired to know.’
‘I am right glad that I have said, sothly,
Ought to your pleysir, if ye wil me trow,’
Quod she ayein, ‘but to whom do ye ow
Your servyce? and which wil ye honour,
Tel me, I pray, this yeer, the Leef or Flour?’
‘Madame,’ quod I, ‘though I [be] leest worthy,
Unto the Leef I ow myn observaunce.’
‘That is,’ quod she, ‘right wel don, certainly,
And I pray god to honour you avaunce,
And kepe you fro the wikked rémembraunce
Of Male-Bouche, and al his crueltè;
And alle that good and wel-condicioned be.
For here may I no lenger now abyde,
I must folowe the gret[ë] company
That ye may see yonder before you ryde.’
And forth[right], as I couth, most humblely,
I took my leve of her as she gan hy
After hem, as fast as ever she might;
And I drow hoomward, for it was nigh night;
And put al that I had seen in wryting,
Under support of hem that lust it rede.
O litel book, thou art so unconning,
How darst thou put thy-self in prees for drede?
It is wonder that thou wexest not rede,
Sith that thou wost ful lyte who shal behold
Thy rude langage, ful boistously unfold.