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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
’Tis of Aucassin and Nicolette
Aucassin and Nicolette (Twelfth Century)
 
Translation of Andrew Lang

  WHO would list to the good lay,
Gladness of the captive gray?
’Tis how two young lovers met,
Aucassin and Nicolette;
Of the pains the lover bore,
And the perils he outwore,
For the goodness and the grace
Of his love, so fair of face.
  
Sweet the song, the story sweet,
There is no man hearkens it,
No man living ’neath the sun,
So outwearied, so fordone,
Sick and woeful, worn and sad,
But is healèd, but is glad,
        ’Tis so sweet.

So say they, speak they, tell they The Tale,

How the Count Bougart of Valence made war on Count Garin of Beaucaire,—war so great, so marvelous, and so mortal that never a day dawned but alway he was there, by the gates and walls and barriers of the town, with a hundred knights, and ten thousand men-at-arms, horsemen and footmen: so burned he the Count’s land, and spoiled his country, and slew his men. Now, the Count Garin of Beaucaire was old and frail, and his good days were gone over. No heir had he, neither son nor daughter, save one young man only; such an one as I shall tell you. Aucassin was the name of the damoiseau: fair was he, goodly, and great, and featly fashioned of his body and limbs. His hair was yellow, in little curls, his eyes blue-gray and laughing, his face beautiful and shapely, his nose high and well set, and so richly seen was he in all things good, that in him was none evil at all. But so suddenly was he overtaken of Love, who is a great master, that he would not, of his will, be a knight, nor take arms, nor follow tourneys, nor do whatsoever him beseemed. Therefore his father and mother said to him:—
  1
  “Son, go take thine arms, mount thine horse, and hold thy land, and help thy men, for if they see thee among them, more stoutly will they keep in battle their lives and lands, and thine and mine.”  2
  “Father,” answered Aucassin, “what are you saying now? Never may God give me aught of my desire, if I be a knight, or mount my horse, or face stour and battle wherein knights smite and are smitten again, unless thou give me Nicolette, my true love, that I love so well.”  3
  “Son,” said the father, “this may not be. Let Nicolette go. A slave girl is she, out of a strange land, and the viscount of this town bought her of the Saracens, and carried her hither, and hath reared her and had her christened, and made her his god-daughter, and one day will find a young man for her, to win her bread honorably. Herein hast thou naught to make nor mend; but if a wife thou wilt have, I will give thee the daughter of a king, or a count. There is no man so rich in France, but if thou desire his daughter, thou shall have her.”  4
  “Faith! my father,” said Aucassin, “tell me where is the place so high in all the world, that Nicolette, my sweet lady and love, would not grace it well? If she were Empress of Constantinople or of Germany, or Queen of France or England, it were little enough for her; so gentle is she and courteous, and debonnaire, and compact of all good qualities.”  5
 
Imprisonment of Nicolette

  When Count Garin of Beaucaire knew that he would not avail to withdraw Aucassin, his son, from the love of Nicolette, he went to the viscount of the city, who was his man, and spake to him saying:—“Sir Count: away with Nicolette, thy daughter in God; cursed be the land whence she was brought into this country, for by reason of her do I lose Aucassin, that will neither be a knight, nor do aught of the things that fall to him to be done. And wit ye well,” he said, “that if I might have her at my will, I would burn her in a fire, and yourself might well be sore adread.”
  6
  “Sir,” said the Viscount, “this is grievous to me that he comes and goes and hath speech with her. I had bought the maid at mine own charges, and nourished her, and baptized, and made her my daughter in God. Yea, I would have given her to a young man that should win her bread honorably. With this had Aucassin, thy son, naught to make or mend. But sith it is thy will and thy pleasure, I will send her into that land and that country where never will he see her with his eyes.”  7
  “Have a heed to thyself,” said the Count Garin: “thence might great evil come on thee.”  8
  So parted they each from the other. Now the Viscount was a right rich man: so had he a rich palace with a garden in face of it; in an upper chamber thereof he had Nicolette placed, with one old woman to keep her company, and in that chamber put bread and meat and wine and such things as were needful. Then he had the door sealed, that none might come in or go forth, save that there was one window, over against the garden, and quite strait, through which came to them a little air.  9
 
  Here singeth one:
    Nicolette as ye heard tell
  Prisoned is within a cell
  That is painted wondrously
  With colors of a far countrie.
At the window of marble wrought,
There the maiden stood in thought,
With straight brows and yellow hair,
  Never saw ye fairer fair!
  On the wood she gazed below,
  And she saw the roses blow,
  Heard the birds sing loud and low,
  Therefore spoke she woefully:
  “Ah me, wherefore do I lie
  Here in prison wrongfully?
  Aucassin, my love, my knight,
  Am I not thy heart’s delight?
  Thou that lovest me aright!
  ’Tis for thee that I must dwell
  In this vaulted chamber cell,
  Hard beset and all alone!
  By our Lady Mary’s Son
  Here no longer will I wonn,
          If I may flee!”
  10
 
Aucassin and the Viscount
[The Viscount speaks first]

“PLENTIFUL lack of comfort hadst thou got thereby; for in Hell would thy soul have lain while the world endures, and into Paradise wouldst thou have entered never.”
  11
  “In Paradise what have I to win? Therein I seek not to enter, but only to have Nicolette, my sweet lady that I love so well. For into Paradise go none but such folk as I shall tell thee now: Thither go these same old priests, and halt old men and maimed, who all day and night cower continually before the altars, and in these old crypts; and such folks as wear old amices, and old clouted frocks, and naked folks and shoeless, and those covered with sores, who perish of hunger and thirst, and of cold, and of wretchedness. These be they that go into Paradise; with them have I naught to make. But into Hell would I fain go; for into Hell fare the goodly clerks, and goodly knights that fall in tourneys and great wars, and stout men-at-arms, and the free men. With these would I liefly go. And thither pass the sweet ladies and courteous, that have two lovers, or three, and their lords also thereto. Thither goes the gold, and the silver, and fur of vair, and fur of gris; and there too go the harpers, and minstrels, and the kings of this world. With these I would gladly go, let me but have with me Nicolette, my sweetest lady.”  12
 
Aucassin Captures Count Bougart

THE DAMOISEAU was tall and strong, and the horse whereon he sat was right eager. And he laid hand to sword, and fell a-smiting to right and left, and smote through helm and nasal, and arm, and clenched hand, making a murder about him, like a wild boar when hounds fall on him in the forest, even till he struck down ten knights, and seven he hurt; and straightway he hurled out of the press, and rode back again at full speed, sword in hand. Count Bougart of Valence heard it said that they were to hang Aucassin, his enemy, so he came into that place and Aucassin was ware of him. He gat his sword into his hand, and struck at his helm with such a stroke that it drave it down on his head, and he being stunned, fell groveling. And Aucassin laid hands on him, and caught him by the nasal of his helmet, and gave him up to his father.
  13
  “Father,” quoth Aucassin, “lo, here is your mortal foe, who hath so warred on you and done you such evil. Full twenty months did this war endure, and might not be ended by man.”  14
  “Fair son,” said his father, “thy feats of youth shouldst them do, and not seek after folly.”  15
  “Father,” saith Aucassin, “sermon me no sermons, but fulfill my covenant.”  16
  “Ha! what covenant, fair son?”  17
  “What, father! hast thou forgotten it? By mine own head, whosoever forgets, will I not forget it, so much it hath me at heart. Didst thou not covenant with me when I took up arms, and went into the stour, that if God brought me back safe and sound, thou wouldst let me see Nicolette, my sweet lady, even so long that I may have of her two words or three, and one kiss? So didst thou covenant, and my mind is that thou keep thy word.”  18
  “I?” quoth the father; “God forsake me when I keep this covenant! Nay, if she were here, I would have burned her in the fire, and thou thyself shouldst be sore adread.”  19
 
The Lovers’ Meeting

AUCASSIN was cast into prison as ye have heard tell, and Nicolette, of her part, was in the chamber. Now it was summertime, the month of May, when days are warm, and long, and clear, and the nights still and serene. Nicolette lay one night on her bed, and saw the moon shine clear through a window, and heard the nightingale sing in the garden, and she minded her of Aucassin her friend, whom she loved so well. Then fell she to thoughts of Count Garin of Beaucaire, that he hated her to death; and therefore deemed she that there she would no longer abide, for that, if she were told of, and the Count knew where she lay, an ill death he would make her die. She saw that the old woman was sleeping who held her company. Then she arose, and clad her in a mantle of silk she had by her, very goodly, and took sheets of the bed and towels and knotted one to the other, and made therewith a cord as long as she might, and knotted it to a pillar in the window, and let herself slip down into the garden; then caught up her raiment in both hands, behind and before, and kilted up her kirtle, because of the dew that she saw lying deep on the grass, and so went on her way down through the garden.
  20
  Her locks were yellow and curled, her eyes blue-gray and smiling, her face featly fashioned, the nose high and fairly set, the lips more red than cherry or rose in time of summer, her teeth white and small; and her breasts so firm that they bore up the folds of her bodice as they had been two walnuts; so slim was she in the waist that your two hands might have clipped her; and the daisy flowers that brake beneath her as she went tiptoe, and that bent above her instep, seemed black against her feet and ankles, so white was the maiden. She came to the postern-gate, and unbarred it, and went out through the streets of Beaucaire, keeping always on the shadowy side, for the moon was shining right clear, and so wandered she till she came to the tower where her lover lay. The tower was flanked with pillars, and she cowered under one of them, wrapped in her mantle. Then thrust she her head through a crevice of the tower, that was old and worn, and heard Aucassin, who was weeping within, and making dole and lament for the sweet friend he loved so well. And when she had listened to him some time she began to say:—  21
 
  Here one singeth:
  Nicolette, the bright of brow,
On a pillar leanèd now,
All Aucassin’s wail did hear
For his love that was so dear,
Then the maid spake low and clear:—
“Gentle knight, withouten fear,
Little good befalleth thee,
Little help of sigh or tear.
Ne’er shalt thou have joy of me.
Never shalt thou win me; still
Am I held in evil will
Of thy father and thy kin.
Therefore must I cross the sea,
And another land must win.”
Then she cut her curls of gold,
Cast them in the dungeon hold,
Aucassin doth clasp them there,
Kiss’th the curls that were so fair,
Them doth in his bosom bear,
Then he wept, e’en as of old,
        All for his love!

Thus say they, speak they, tell they The Tale.
  22
 
  When Aucassin heard Nicolette say that she would pass into a far country, he was all in wrath.  23
  “Fair, sweet friend,” quoth he, “thou shalt not go, for then wouldst thou be my death. And the first man that saw thee and had the might withal, would take thee straightway into his bed to be his leman. And once thou earnest into a man’s bed, and that bed not mine, wit ye well that I would not tarry till I had found a knife to pierce my heart and slay myself. Nay, verily, wait so long I would not; but would hurl myself so far as I might see a wall, or a black stone, and I would dash my head against it so mightily that the eyes would start and my brain burst. Rather would I die even such a death than know that thou hadst lain in a man’s bed, and that bed not mine.”  24
  “Aucassin,” she said, “I trow thou lovest me not as much as thou sayest, but I love thee more than thou lovest me.”  25
  “Ah, fair, sweet friend,” said Aucassin, “it may not be that thou shouldest love me even as I love thee. Woman may not love man as man loves woman; for a woman’s love lies in her eye, and the bud of her breast, and her foot’s tiptoe, but the love of a man is in his heart planted, whence it can never issue forth and pass away.”  26
  Now when Aucassin and Nicolette were holding this parley together, the town’s watchmen were coming down a street, with swords drawn beneath their cloaks, for Count Garin had charged them that if they could take her, they should slay her. But the sentinel that was on the tower saw them coming, and heard them speaking of Nicolette as they went, and threatening to slay her.  27
  “God,” quoth he, “this were great pity to slay so fair a maid! Right great charity it were if I could say aught to her, and they perceive it not, and she should be on her guard against them, for if they slay her, then were Aucassin, my damoiseau, dead, and that were great pity.”  28
 
  Here one singeth:
  Valiant was the sentinel,
Courteous, kind, and practiced well,
So a song did sing and tell,
Of the peril that befell.
“Maiden fair that lingerest here,
Gentle maid of merry cheer,
Hair of gold, and eyes as clear
As the water in a mere,
Thou, meseems, hast spoken word
To thy lover and thy lord,
That would die for thee, his dear;
Now beware the ill accord
Of the cloaked men of the sword:
These have sworn, and keep their word,
They will put thee to the sword
        Save thou take heed!”
  29
 
Nicolette Builds Her Lodge

  NICOLETTE, the bright of brow,
  From the shepherds doth she pass
All below the blossomed bough
  Where an ancient way there was,
Overgrown and choked with grass,
Till she found the cross-roads where
Seven paths do all way fare;
Then she deemeth she will try,
Should her lover pass thereby,
If he love her loyally.
So she gathered white lilies,
Oak-leaf, that in greenwood is,
Leaves of many a branch, iwis,
Therewith built a lodge of green,
Goodlier was never seen.
Swore by God, who may not lie:
“If my love the lodge should spy,
He will rest a while thereby
If he love me loyally.”
Thus his faith she deemed to try,
“Or I love him not, not I,
        Nor he loves me!”
  30
 
Aucassin, Seeking Nicolette, Comes upon a Cowherd

AUCASSIN fared through the forest from path to path after Nicolette, and his horse bare him furiously. Think ye not that the thorns him spared, nor the briars, nay, not so, but tare his raiment, that scarce a knot might be tied with the soundest part thereof, and the blood spurted from his arms, and flanks, and legs, in forty places, or thirty, so that behind the Childe men might follow on the track of his blood in the grass. But so much he went in thoughts of Nicolette, his lady sweet, that he felt no pain nor torment, and all the day hurled through the forest in this fashion nor heard no word of her. And when he saw vespers draw nigh, he began to weep for that he found her not. All down an old road, and grass-grown, he fared, when anon, looking along the way before him, he saw such an one as I shall tell you. Tall was he, and great of growth, ugly and hideous: his head huge, and blacker than charcoal, and more than the breadth of a hand between his two eyes; and he had great cheeks, and a big nose and flat, big nostrils and wide, and thick lips redder than steak, and great teeth yellow and ugly, and he was shod with hosen and shoon of ox-hide, bound with cords of bark up over the knee, and all about him a great cloak two-fold; and he leaned upon a grievous cudgel, and Aucassin came unto him, and was afraid when he beheld him.
  31
 
Aucassin Finds Nicolette’s Lodge

SO they parted from each other, and Aucassin rode on; the night was fair and still, and so long he went that he came to the lodge of boughs that Nicolette had builded and woven within and without, over and under, with flowers, and it was the fairest lodge that might be seen. When Aucassin was ware of it, he stopped suddenly, and the light of the moon fell therein.
  32
  “Forsooth!” quoth Aucassin, “here was Nicolette, my sweet lady, and this lodge builded she with her fair hands. For the sweetness of it, and for love of her, will I now alight, and rest here this night long.”  33
  He drew forth his foot from the stirrup to alight, and the steed was great and tall. He dreamed so much on Nicolette, his right sweet friend, that he fell heavily upon a stone, and drave his shoulder out of its place. Then knew he that he was hurt sore; nathless he bore him with that force he might, and fastened his horse with the other hand to a thorn. Then turned he on his side, and crept backwise into the lodge of boughs. And he looked through a gap in the lodge and saw the stars in heaven, and one that was brighter than the rest; so began he to say:—  34
 
  Here one singeth:
  “Star, that I from far behold,
  Star the moon calls to her fold,
Nicolette with thee doth dwell,
  My sweet love, with locks of gold,
God would have her dwell afar,
Dwell with him for evening star.
Would to God, whate’er befell,
Would that with her I might dwell.
I would clip her close and strait;
Nay, were I of much estate,
  Some king’s son desirable,
Worthy she to be my mate,
  Me to kiss and clip me well,
        Sister, sweet friend!”

So speak they, say they, tell they The Tale.
  35
 
  When Nicolette heard Aucassin, she came to him, for she was not far away. She passed within the lodge, and threw her arms about his neck, clipped him and kissed him.  36
  “Fair, sweet friend, welcome be thou!”  37
  “And thou, fair, sweet love, be thou welcome!”  38
  So either kissed and clipped the other, and fair joy was them between.  39
  “Ha! sweet love,” quoth Aucassin, “but now was I sore hurt, and my shoulder wried, but I take no heed of it, nor have no hurt therefrom, since I have thee.”  40
  Right so felt she his shoulder and found it was wried from its place. And she so handled it with her white hands, and so wrought in her surgery, that by God’s will who loveth lovers, it went back into its place. Then took she flowers, and fresh grass, and leaves green, and bound them on the hurt with a strip of her smock, and he was all healed.  41
 
Nicolette Sails to Carthage

WHEN all they of the court heard her speak thus, that she was daughter to the king of Carthage, they knew well that she spake truly; so made they great joy of her, and led her to the castle with great honor, as a king’s daughter. And they would have given her to her lord a king of Paynim, but she had no mind to marry. There dwelt she three days or four. And she considered by what device she might seek for Aucassin. Then she got her a viol, and learned to play on it; till they would have married her one day to a rich king of Paynim, and she stole forth by night, and came to the seaport, and dwelt with a poor woman thereby. Then took she a certain herb, and therewith smeared her head and her face, till she was all brown and stained. And she had a coat, and mantle, and smock, and breeches made, and attired herself as if she had been a minstrel. So took she the viol and went to a mariner, and so wrought on him that he took her aboard his vessel. Then hoisted they sail, and fared on the high seas even till they came to the land of Provence. And Nicolette went forth and took the viol, and went playing through all the country, even till she came to the castle of Beaucaire, where Aucassin was.
  42
 
  Here singeth one:
  At Beaucaire below the tower
Sat Aucassin on an hour,
Heard the bird, and watched the flower,
With his barons him beside.
Then came on him in that tide
The sweet influence of love
And the memory thereof;
Thought of Nicolette the fair,
And the dainty face of her
He had loved so many years.
Then was he in dule and tears!
Even then came Nicolette;
On the stair a foot she set,
And she drew the viol bow
O’er the strings and chanted so:—
“Listen, lords and knights, to me,
Lords of high or low degree,
To my story list will ye
All of Aucassin and her
That was Nicolette the fair?
And their love was long to tell;
Deep woods through he sought her well:
Paynims took them on a day
In Torelore, and bound they lay.
Of Aucassin naught know we,
But fair Nicolette the free
  Now in Carthage doth she dwell;
  There her father loves her well,
Who is king of that countrie.
Her a husband hath he found,
Paynim lord that serves Mahound!
Ne’er with him the maid will go,
For she loves a damoiseau,
Aucassin, that ye may know,
Swears to God that never mo
With a lover will she go
Save with him she loveth so
        In long desire.”
  43
 
 
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