Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
The Taill of the Lyoun and the Mous
By Robert Henryson (1430?–1506?)
ANE Lyoun at his pray wery foirrun, 1
  To recreat his limmis and to rest,
Beikand 2 his breist and bellie at the sone,
  Under ane tree lay in the fair forrest,
  Swa 3 come ane trip 4 of Myis out of thair nest,        5
Rycht tait and trig, 5 all dansand in ane gyis, 6
And ouer the Lyoun lansit 7 twyis or thrys.
He lay so still, the Myis wes nocht effeird
  Bot to and fro out ouer him tuke thair trace,
Sum tirllit at the campis 8 of his beird,        10
  Sum spairit nocht to claw him on the face;
  Merie and glaid, thus dansit thay ane space,
Till at the last the nobill Lyoun woke,
And with his pow 9 the maister Mous he tuke.
Scho gaif ane cry, and all the laif 10 agast        15
  Thair dansing left, and hid thame sone allquhair;
Scho that wes tane, cryit and weipit fast,
  And said, Allace! oftymes, that scho come thair;
  ‘Now am I tane ane wofull presonair,
And for my gilt traistis 11 incontinent,        20
Of lyfe and deith to thoill 12 the jugement.’
Than spak the Lyoun to that cairfull 13 Mous,
  ‘Thou cative wretche, and vile unworthie thing,
Ouer malapert, and eik presumpteous
  Thow wes, to mak out ouer me thy tripping.        25
  Knew thow nocht weill, I wes baith lord and king
Of Beistis all?’ ‘Yes,’ quod the Mous. ‘I knaw;
But I misknew, because ye lay so law.
‘Lord! I beseik thy kinglie royaltie,
  Heir quhat I say, and tak in pacience;        30
Considder first my simple povertie,
  And syne thy mychtie hie magnificence:
  See als how thingis done of negligence,
Nouther 14 of malice nor presumptioun,
Erar 15 suld haif grace and remissioun.        35
‘We wir repleit, and had grit haboundance
  Of alkin 16 thingis, sic as to us effeird. 17
The sweit sesoun provokit us to dance,
  And mak sic mirth as Nature to us leird. 18
  Ye lay so still, and law upon the eird,        40
That, be my saull, we wend 19 ye had bene deid,
Ellis wald we nocht haif dancit ouer your heid.’
‘Thy fals excuse,’ the Lyoun said agane,
  ‘Sall nocht availl ane myte, I underta: 20
I put the case, I had bene deid or slane        45
  And syne my skyn bene stoppit 21 full of stra,
  Thocht thow had found my figure lyand swa,
Because it bair the prent of my persoun,
Thow suld for feir on knees haif fallin doun.
‘For thy trespas thow sall mak na defence,        50
  My nobill persoun thus to vilipend;
Of thy feiris, nor thy awin negligence,
  For to excuse, thow can na cause pretend;
  Thairfoir thow suffer sall ane schamefull end,
And deith, sic as to tressoun is decreit,        55
On to the gallous harlit 22 be the feit’
‘A mercie, Lord! at thy gentrice 23 I ase: 24
  As thow art king of beistis coronat, 25
Sober thy wraith, and let thy yre ouerpas,
  And mak thy mynd to mercy inclynat;        60
  I grant offence is done to thyne estait,
Quhairfoir I worthie am to suffer deid,
Bot gif 26 thy kinglie mercie reik remeid. 27
‘In everie juge mercy and reuth suld be
  As assessouris, and collaterall.        65
Without mercie Justice is crueltie,
  As said is in the Lawis Spirituall;
  Quhen rigour sittis in the tribunall,
The equitie of Law quha may sustene?
Richt few or nane, but 28 mercie gang betwene.        70
Alswa ye knaw the honour triumphall
  Of all 29 victour upon the strenth dependis
Of his conqueist, quhilk manlie in battell
  Throw jeopardie of weir lang defendis.
  Quhat price or loving 30 quhen the battell endis        75
Is said of him, that ouercummis ane man
Him 31 to defend quhilk nouther may nor can?
‘Ane thousand myis to kill, and eke devoir,
  Is lytill manheid to ane strong Lyoun;
Full lytill worschip haif ye wyn thairfoir,        80
  To quhais strenth is na comparisoun:
  It will degraid some part of your renoun,
To slay ane Mous quhilk may mak na defence,
Bot 32 askand mercie at your Excellence.
Also, it semis 33 nocht your celsitude, 34        85
  Quhilk usis daylie meittis delitious,
To syle your teith, or lippis, with my blude,
  Quhilk to your stomok is contagious:
  Unhailsum meit is of ane sairie 35 Mous,
And that namelie untill ane strang Lyoun        90
Wont till be fed with gentill vennisoun.
‘My lyfe is lytill worth, my deith is less,
  Yet and I leif, I may peradventure
Supple 36 your Hienes beand in destres;
  For oft is sene, ane man of small stature        95
  Reskewit hes ane Lord of hie honour,
Keipit that wes in point to be ouerthrawin, 37
Throw misfortune. Sie cace may be your awin.’
Quhen this was said, the Lyoun his language
  Paissit, 38 and thocht according to ressoun,        100
And gart 39 mercie his cruell yre asswage,
  And to the Mous grantit remissioun,
  Opinnit his pow, and scho on kneis fell doun,
And baith his handis unto the hevin upheld,
Cryand ‘Almychtie God, mot you foryeild!’ 40        105
Quhen scho wes gone, the Lyoun held to hunt,
  For he had nocht, bot levit on his pray,
And slew baith tayme and wylde, as he wes wont,
  And in the cuntrie maid ane greit deray; 41
  Till at the last, the pepill fand the way        110
This cruell Lyoun how that they mycht tak,
Of hempyn cordis strang nettis couth thay mak.
And in ane rod, quhair he wes wont to ryn,
  With raipis rude fra tre to tre it band:
Syne kest ane range on raw the wod 42 within,        115
  With hornis blast, and kennettis 43 fast calland:
  The Lyoun fled, and throw the rone 44 rynnand,
Fell in the nett, and hankit 45 fute and heid,
For all his strenth he couth mak na remeid,
Welterand about with hiddeous rummissing, 46        120
  Quhyles to, quhyles fra, gif he mycht succour get;
Bot all in vane, it vailyeit him na thing,
  The mair he flang, 47 the safter wes the net;
  The raipis rude wes sa about him plet, 48
On everilk syde, that succour saw he none,        125
Bot still lyand, and murnand maid his mone.
‘O lamit Lyoun! liggand 49 heir sa law,
  Quhair is the mycht of magnificence?
Of quhome all brutall beistes in eird stude aw, 50
  And dreid to luke upon thy excellence!        130
  But 51 hoip or help, but succour or defence,
In bandis strang heir mon I ly, allace!
Till I be slane—I see nane uther grace.
‘Thair is na wy 52 that will my harmis wreck, 53
  Nor creature do confort to my croun;        135
Quha sall me bute? 54 quha sall my bandis brek?
  Quha sall me put fra pane of this presoun?’—
  Be 55 he had mide this lamentatioun,
Throw aventure 56 the lytill Mous come neir,
And of the Lyoun hard the pietuous beir. 57        140
And suddandlie it come in till hir mynd
  That it suld be the Lyoun did hir grace,
And said, ‘Now were I fals, and richt unkynd,
  But gif I quit sum part of thy gentrace 58
  Thow did to me:’ and on this way scho gais        145
To hir fellowis, and on thame fast can cry,
‘Cum help, cum help;’ and they come all in hy. 59
‘Lo!’ quod the Mous, ‘this is the samin Lyoun
  That grantit grace to me quhen I wes tane;
And now is fast heir bundin in presoun,        150
  Brekand his heart, with sair murning and mane;
  Bot we him help, of succour wait 60 he nane;
Cum help to quyte ane gude turne for ane uther;
Go, louse 61 him sone;’—and they said, ‘Yea, gude brother.’
They tuke na knyfe, their teith wes scharp aneuch:        155
  To se that sicht, forsuith it wes greit wonder,
How that thay ran amang the raipis teuch
  Befoir, behind, sum yeild 62 about, sum under,
  And schuir 63 the raipis of the nett in schunder;
Syne bad him ryse, and he start up anone,        160
And thankit thame, syne on his way is gone.
Note 1. foundered, spent. [back]
Note 2. basking; as a transitive verb. [back]
Note 3. So. [back]
Note 4. band. [back]
Note 5. gamesome and dainty. [back]
Note 6. figure. [back]
Note 7. darted. [back]
Note 8. long hair, locks. [back]
Note 9. paw. [back]
Note 10. rest. [back]
Note 11. expect. [back]
Note 12. endure. [back]
Note 13. sorrowful. [back]
Note 14. And not. [back]
Note 15. rather. [back]
Note 16. all manner of. [back]
Note 17. appertained. [back]
Note 18. taught. [back]
Note 19. thought. [back]
Note 20. undertake, vow. [back]
Note 21. stuffed. [back]
Note 22. dragged, trundled. [back]
Note 23. nobleness, magnanimity. [back]
Note 24. ask. [back]
Note 25. crowned. [back]
Note 26. unless. [back]
Note 27. bestow pardon. [back]
Note 28. unless. [back]
Note 29. every. [back]
Note 30. praise. [back]
Note 31. For ‘himself.’ [back]
Note 32. unless it be that of. [back]
Note 33. it does not become. [back]
Note 34. highness. [back]
Note 35. sorry. [back]
Note 36. help. [back]
Note 37. that was just upon the point of being overthrown. [back]
Note 38. appeased. [back]
Note 39. caused. [back]
Note 40. Almighty God reward you. [back]
Note 41. disorder. [back]
Note 42. i.e., they drove the wood. [back]
Note 43. hounds. [back]
Note 44. scrub. [back]
Note 45. entangled. [back]
Note 46. roaring. [back]
Note 47. struggled. [back]
Note 48. woven. [back]
Note 49. lying. [back]
Note 50. earth stood in awe. [back]
Note 51. Without. [back]
Note 52. No man. [back]
Note 53. avenge. [back]
Note 54. help. [back]
Note 55. When. [back]
Note 56. By chance. [back]
Note 57. noise. [back]
Note 58. kindness. [back]
Note 59. in haste. [back]
Note 60. knows. [back]
Note 61. loose. [back]
Note 62. went. [back]
Note 63. cut. [back]

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