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Marie de France, who wrote in the late 1100s, is the earliest known French woman of letters, though she may have lived in England and written for Eleanor of Aquitaine, and is one of the greatest of medieval poets. Many of her works, she claims, are based on Breton lais. She composed two Arthurian romances, Chevrefueil, a Tristan story, and Lanval, a story of a knight of the Round Table who falls in love with a lady from the Otherworld. The three passages from Lanval below are the opening of the story, a scene in which Guenevere tries to seduce Lanval, and the closing.
For an MP3 file of the reading,
Ewert, pp. 58-59, ll. 1-38
L'aventure d'un autre lai,
Cum ele avient, vus cunterai:
Fait fu d'un mut gentil vassal;
En bretans l'apelent Lanval.
A Kardoel surjurnot li reis,
Artur, le pruz et li curteis,
Pur les Escoz e pur les Pis,
Que destruieient le païs;
En la tere de Loengre entroënt
E mut suvent la damagoënt.
A la pentecuste en esté
I aveit li reis sujurné.
Asez i duna riches duns:
E as cuntes e as baruns,
A ceus de la table roünde--
N'ot tant de teus en tut le munde.
Femmes e tere departi,
Par tut, fors un qui l'ot servi:
Ceo fut Lanval, ne l'en sovient,
Ne nul des soens bien ne li tient.
Pur sa valur, pur sa largesce,
Pur sa beauté, pur sa prüesce
L'envioënt tut li plusur;
Tel li mustra semblant d'amur,
S'al chevaler mesavenist,
Ja une feiz ne l'en pleinsist.
Fiz a rei fu de haut parage,
Mes luin ert de sun heritage.
De la meisnee le rei fu.
Tut sun aveir ad despendu;
Kar li reis rien ne li dona,
Ne Lanval ne li demanda.
Ore est Lanval mut entrepris,
Mut est dolent e mut pensis.
Seignurs, ne vus esmerveillez:
Hume estrange descunseillez
Mut est dolent en autre tere,
Quant il ne seit u sucurs quere.
The adventure of another lay,
Just as it happened, I'll relay:
It tells of a very nice nobleman,
And it's called Lanval in Breton.
King Arthur was staying at Carduel--
That King of valiant and courtly estate--
His borders there he guarded well
Against the Pict, against the Scot,
Who'd cross into Logres to devastate
The countryside often, and a lot.
He held court there at Pentecost,
The summer feast we call Whitsun,
Giving gifts of impressive cost
To every count and each baron
And all knights of the Round Table.
Never elsewhere so many, such able
Knights assembled! Women and land
He shared out with generous hand
To all but one who'd served. Lanval
He forgot: no man helped his recall.
For being brave and generous,
For his beauty and his prowess,
He was envied by all the court;
Those who claimed to hold him dear,
If Fortune had brought him up short,
Would not have shed a kindly tear.
A king's son, he'd a noble lineage,
But now, far from his heritage,
He'd joined the household of the King.
He'd spent all the money he could bring
Already. The King gave him no more--
He gave just what Lanval asked for.
Now Lanval knows not what to do;
He's very thoughtful, very sad.
My lords, I don't astonish you:
A man alone, with no counsel--or bad--
A stranger in a strange land
Is sad, when no help's at hand.
[Lanval rides out of Carlisle and stops to rest by a stream, where he is approached by two women who lead him to a third. This lady takes him as her lover, gives him all the money he needs to live generously, and promises to be with him whenever he wishes; he has only to go somewhere private and think of her. However, she warns him that their relationship will end if he ever tells anyone else about her.]
For an MP3 file of the reading,
Ewert, pp. 63-66, ll. 219-328
Ceo m'est avis, meïsmes l'an,
Aprés la feste seint Johan,
D'ici qu'a trente chevalier
S'erent alé esbanïer
En un vergier desuz la tur
U la reïne ert a surjur;
Ensemble od eus esteit Walwains
E sis cusins, li beaus Ywains.
E dist Walwains, li francs, li pruz,
Que tant se fist amer de tuz:
"Par Deu, seignurs, nus feimes mal
De nostre cumpainun Lanval,
Que tant est larges e curteis,
E sis peres est riches reis,
Que od nus ne l'avum amené."
Atant sunt ariere turné;
A sun ostel revunt ariere,
Lanval ameinent par preere.
A une fenestre entaillie
S'esteit la reïne apuïe;
Treis dames ot ensemble od li.
La maisnie le rei choisi;
Lanval conut e esgarda.
Une des dames apela;
Par li manda ses dameiseles,
Les plus quointes e les plus beles:
Od li s'irrunt esbainïer
La u cil erent al vergier.
Trente en menat od li e plus;
Par les degrez descendent jus.
Les chevalers encuntre vunt,
Que pur eles grant joië unt.
Il les unt prises par les mains;
Cil parlemenz n'ert pas vilains.
Lanval s'en vait a une part,
Mut luin des autres; ceo l'est tart
Que s'amie puïst tenir,
Baiser, acoler e sentir;
L'autrui joie prise petit,
Si il nen ad le suen delit.
Quant la reïne sul le veit,
Al chevaler en va tut dreit;
Lunc lui s'asist, si l'apela.
Tut sun curage li mustra:
"Lanval, mut vus ai honuré
E mut cheri e mut amé.
Tute m'amur poëz aveir;
Kar me dites vostre voleir!
Ma drüerie vus otrei;
Mut devez estre lié de mei."
"Dame," fet il, "lessez m'ester!
Jeo n'ai cure de vus amer.
Lungement ai servi le rei;
Ne li voil pas mentir ma fei.
Ja pur vus ne pur vostre amur
Ne mesferai a mun seignur."
La reïne s'en curuça;
Irie fu, si mesparla.
"Lanval," fet ele, "bien le quit,
Vuz n'amez gueres tel delit;
Asez le m'ad hum dit sovent
Que des femmez n'avez talent.
Vallez avez bien afeitiez,
Ensemble od eus vus deduiez.
Vileins cuarz, mauveis failliz!
Mut est mi sires maubailliz
Que pres de lui vus ad suffert;
Mun escïent que Deus en pert!"
Quant il l'oï, mut fu dolent;
Del respundre ne fu pas lent.
Teu chose dist par maltalent
Dunt il se repenti sovent.
"Dame," dist il, "de cel mestier
Ne me sai jeo nïent aidier;
Mes jo aim, e si sui amis
Cele ke deit aver le pris
Sur tutes celes que jeo sai.
E une chose vus dirai,
Bien le sachez a descovert:
Une des celes ke la sert,
Tute la plus povre meschine,
Vaut meuz de vus, dame reïne,
De cors, de vis e de beauté,
D'enseignement e de bunté!"
La reïne s'en part atant,
En sa chambrë en vait plurant.
Mut fu dolente e curuciee
De ceo k'il l'out si avilee.
En sun lit malade cucha;
Jamés, ceo dit, ne levera
Si li reis ne l'en feseit dreit
De ceo dunt ele se pleindreit.
Li reis fu del bois repeiriez,
Mut out le jur esté haitiez.
As chambres la reïne entra.
Quant el le vit, si se clamma;
As piez li chiet, merci li crie
E dit que Lanval l'ad hunie:
De drüerie la resquist;
Pur ceo que ele l'en escundist,
Mut la laidi e avila;
De tele amie se vanta,
Que tant iert cuinte e noble e fiere
Que meuz valut sa chamberere,
La plus povre que tant serveit,
Que la reïne ne feseit.
Li reis s'en curuçat forment,
Juré en ad sun serement:
S'il ne s'en peot en curt defendre,
Il le ferat ardre u pendre.
It was that year (I think I can say)
After St. John's or Midsummer's Day,
Some thirty knights--knighthood's flower--
Went out to do some playing
In the orchard near the tower
Where Queen Guinevere was staying;
Among these knights was Gawain,
And his cousin, handsome Yvain.
Gawain said (valiant, frank and free,
The love of every man held he),
"In God's name, my lords, we sin
Against Lanval, our companion,
So courtly and generous in everything--
And his father's a wealthy king--
He should be here; we've done him wrong."
Right away they all turned back;
To his hostel they followed the track,
And begged Lanval to come along.
At a window, framed in stone,
The Queen leaned out--not alone,
But with three ladies. Lo and behold,
She spotted the knights of the King's household.
She recognized, and stared at, Lanval.
She gave one of her ladies a call.
She wants a group of maidens collected,
For beauty and manners they're selected,
To stroll and play with the Queen
In the orchard, where the knights were seen.
Thirty girls she leads, or more.
Down the steps and out the door.
Here to meet them come the knights,
Greatly gladdened by such sights.
Hand-in-hand, their conversations
Are free of low-class intimations.
Lanval goes off all alone,
Far from the others; for his own
Friend he just can't wait--not much--
For her kiss, her embrace, her touch.
Little he cares about others' delight
When he can't enjoy his own!
The Queen saw him go off alone,
And she headed straight for that knight.
She sat near him, she called him over,
She spoke as her heart would move her:
"Lanval, I really do respect you,
I really care, I really love,
And you can have all my love.
Tell me what you want! I expect you
Must be happy at what I say.
I'm offering to go all the way."
"Lady," he said, "Let me go!
I never thought to love you so!
I've served the King for many a day;
His faith in me I won't betray.
Not for you, your love, or anything
Would I ever act against my King!"
The Queen's heart filled with anger;
Furious, she spoke a slander:
"Lanval," she said, "I think they're right.
You don't care much for such delight;
People have told me again and again
That women offer you no pleasure--
With a few well-schooled young men
You prefer to pass your leisure.
Peasant coward, faithless sinner,
My lord the King is hardly the winner
In letting your sort hang around;
He's losing God's own grace, I've found!"
Lanval is anguished by these lies;
Quickly the accused replies.
He says a thing, in that angry moment,
Of which he'll many times repent.
"My lady: That job--don't doubt it,
I wouldn't know how to go about it.
But I do love--I alone love
A lady who'd win the prize
Over all women I've known of.
And I'll tell you this, without disguise,
Just because you need to know:
Her serving maids, a poor or low
One, even, the poorest in her train,
Is better than you are, Lady Queen:
In beauty of body and of face,
In goodness and in well-bred grace."
Away now went the Queen,
Up to her room, all crying.
Pain and anger drove her wild--
She'd been insulted and reviled.
Sick with it, she took to her bed.
Never would she get up, she said,
Unless the King her complaint oversaw,
And gave her justice according to law.
The King had just come home from the wood;
His day's hunting had been good.
He went into the Queen's chamber.
She cried out, loud, when first she
Saw him, fell at his feet, begged mercy,
Accused Lanval--he had shamed her!
He'd asked her for a love-affair,
She'd said no, with this result:
He'd offered her an ugly insult.
He boasted of a friend so fair,
So full of pride, breeding, honor,
That the chambermaid who waited on her--
The lowliest, poorest of the poor--
Compared to the Queen, was worth far more.
The King was angry, to the core.
His oath against Lanval he swore:
In court he'd prove he was no liar,
Or else he'd hang, or die by fire.
[Lanval now has two problems: he can't contact his beloved lady any more, having spoken of her; and he is arrested on King Arthur's orders. Gawain continues to be his friend during a preliminary arraignment during which Lanval insists that he is innocent of propositioning the Queen but was telling the truth about his beloved. Lanval's trial is postponed until a quorum of barons can be assembled. At the trial, the Count of Cornwall decrees that Lanval can vindicate himself by producing the lady he spoke of. At that point, two ladies ride up who fit that description, but Lanval refuses to recognize them--they are not his beloved. Two more even lovelier ladies arrive, with the same result. Finally the beloved lady rides into the court, and Lanval is overjoyed.]
For an MP3 file of the reading,
Ewert, pp. 73-74, ll. 601-646
La damë entra al palais;
Unques si bele n'i vient mais.
Devant le rei est descendue
Si que de tuz iert bien veüe.
Sun mantel ad laissié chaeir,
Que meuz la puïssent veer.
Li reis, que mut fu enseigniez,
Il s'est encuntre li dresciez,
E tuit li autre l'enurerent,
De li servir se presenterent.
Quant il l'orent bien esgardee
E sa beauté forment loëe,
Ele parla en teu mesure
Kar de demurer nen ot cure:
"Reis, j'ai amé un tuen vassal:
Veez le ci! ceo est Lanval.
Acheisuné fu en ta curt--
Ne vuil mie que a mal li turt--
De ceo qu'il dist, ceo sachez tu
Que la reïne ad tort eü:
Unques nul jur ne la requist.
De la vantance kë il fist,
Si par me peot estre aquitez,
Par voz baruns seit delivrez!"
Ceo qu'il en jugerunt par dreit
Li reis otr[ei] ke issi seit.
N'i ad un sul que n'ait jugié
Que Lanval ad tut desrainié:
Delivrez est par lur esgart,
E la pucele s'en depart.
Ne la peot li reis retenir;
Asez gent ot a li servir.
Fors de la sale aveient mis
Un grant perrun de marbre bis,
U li pesant humme muntoënt,
Que de la curt le rei aloent:
Lanval esteit munté dessus.
Quant la pucele ist fors a l'us,
Sur le palefrei detriers li
De plain eslais Lanval sailli.
Od li s'en vait en Avalun,
Ceo nus recuntent li Bretun,
En un isle que mut est beaus;
La fu ravi li dameiseaus.
Nul hum n'en oï plus parler,
Ne jeo n'en sai avant cunter.
The lady rides in at the palace door,
Lovelier than any, since or before,
To come there. Up to the King she rides,
And dismounts, so she can be seen from all sides.
She drops her cloak upon the floor,
So that they all can see her more.
The King, well-bred and most polite,
Stands up to meet her, as is right.
The others, after they observe her,
Crowd up to honor her and serve her.
Once they've all tired out their eyes,
And praised her beauty to the skies,
She began to have her say there,
For she didn't want to stay there:
O King, I have loved your vassal,
This one, here! I mean Lanval.
In your court he's accused of crime.
I didn't want him to have a bad time
For what he said; all along,
You know, the Queen was in the wrong;
He never asked anything of her.
As for his boasting of his lover,
If the law's satisfied by what you see,
May your barons set him free!"
The King approves in advance
Any judgement the barons make.
They decide--and it doesn't take
Long--Lanval's made the perfect defense.
He is freed by their verdict,
And the maiden makes her exit.
The King can't keep her there at all;
She has enough servants of her own.
There was set, outside the hall
A great dark marble mounting-stone,
For an armed knight to climb on his horse,
When from the castle he set his course.
Lanval had climbed up there to wait.
When the maiden came out the gate,
Lanval made his leap, at full speed,
Up behind her, onto her steed.
With her he's gone to Avalon--
Or so say the poets in Breton--
To the fair island far away
She ravished that noble youth;
No-one can say any more with truth,
And I have no more to tell of this lay.
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