Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Boy Perceval
The Legend of the Holy Grail
From the ‘Parzival’ of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translation of George McLean Harper

WHEN doubt a human conscience gnaws,
Peace from that breast her light withdraws.
Beauty and ugliness we find
Even in the bravest heart combined,
If taint be in him, great or slight,        5
As in the magpie black and white.
Yet ofttimes may he savèd be,
For both share in his destiny—
High heaven and the abyss of hell.
But when the man is infidel,        10
Of midnight blackness is his soul,
His course is towards yon pitchy hole;
While he of steady mind pursues
The shining road the righteous choose.
A knight-at-arms am I by birth;        15
In me sleep warlike strength and worth;
She who might love me for my song
Would show a judgment sadly wrong.
For if I seek a lady’s grace,
And may not go before her face        20
With honors won by shield and sword,
I will not woo her, by my word!
No other game can have my praise
When Love’s the stake and Knighthood plays.
  I find the usage much to blame        25
Which makes no difference in the name
Of women false and women true.
Clear-voiced are all, but not a few
Quickly to evil courses run,
While others every folly shun.        30
So goes the world; but still ’tis shame
The bad ones share that honored name.
Loyal and fair is womanhood,
When once the name is understood.
  Many there are who cannot see        35
Anything good in poverty.
But he who bears its trials well
May save his faithful soul from hell!
These trials once a woman bore
And gained thereby of grace a store.        40
Not many in their youth resign
Riches in life for wealth divine.
I know not one in all the earth,
Whate’er the sex or age or birth;
For mortals all in this agree.        45
But Herzeloide the rich ladie
From her three lands afar did go—
She bore such heavy weight of woe.
In her was no unfaithfulness,
As every witness did confess.        50
All dark to her was now the sun;
The world’s delights she fain would shun.
Alike to her were night and day,
For sorrow followed her alway.
  Now went the mourning lady good        55
Forth from her realm into a wood
In Soltanè the wilderness;
Not for flowers, as you might guess;
Her heart with sorrow was so full
She had no mind sweet flowers to pull,        60
Red though they were and bright, or pale.
She brought with her to that safe vale
Great Gahmuret’s her lord’s young child.
Her servants, with them there exiled,
Tilled the scant glebe with hoe and plow.        65
To run with them she’d oft allow
Her son. And e’er his mind awoke
She summoned all this vassal folk,
And on them singly, woman and man,
She laid this strange and solemn ban:        70
Never of knights to utter word,—
“For if of them my darling heard,
And knightly life and knightly fare,
’Twould be a grief to me, and care.
Now guard your speech and hark to me,        75
And tell him naught of chivalrie.”
  With troubled mien they all withdrew;
And so concealed, the young boy grew
Soltanè’s greenwood far within.
No royal sports he might begin        80
Save one,—to draw the bow
And bring the birds above him low
With arrows cut by his own hand,
All in that forest land.
  But when one day a singing bird        85
He shot, and now no longer heard
Its thrilling note, he wept aloud,
This boy so innocent yet proud,
And beat his breast and tore his hair,
This boy so wild yet wondrous fair.        90
  At the spring in the glade
He every day his toilet made.
Free had he been from sorrow
Till now, when he must borrow
Sweet pain from birds.        95
Into his heart their music pressed
And swelled it with a strange unrest.
Straight to the queen he then did run;
She said, “Who hurt thee, pretty son?”
But naught could he in answer say—        100
’Tis so with children in our day.
  Long mused the queen what this might be,
Till once beneath a greenwood tree
She saw him gazing and sighing still.
Then knew ’twas a bird’s song did fill        105
Her darling’s breast with yearning pain
And haunting mystery.
  Queen Herzeloide’s anger burned
Against the birds, she knew not why;
Her serving-folk she on them turned        110
And bade to quench their hated cry,
And chase and beat and kill
In every brake, on every hill.
Few were the birds that flew away
And saved their lives in that fierce fray;        115
Yet some escaped to live and sing
Joyous, and make the forest ring.
  Unto the queen then spoke the boy,
“Why do you rob them of their joy?”
Such intercession then he made,        120
His mother kissed him while she said,
“Why should I break God’s law, and rob
The birds of innocent delight?”
Then to his mother spoke the boy,
“O mother, what is God?”        125
  “My son, in solemn truth I say
He is far brighter than the day,
Though once his countenance did change
Into the face of man.
O son of mine, give wisely heed,        130
And call on him in time of need,
Whose faithfulness has never failed
Since first the world began.
And one there is, the lord of hell,
Black and unfaithful, as I tell:        135
Bear thou towards him a courage stout,
And wander not in paths of doubt.”
  His mother taught him to discern
Darkness and light; he quick did learn.
The lesson done, away he’d spring        140
To practice with the dart and sling.
Full many an antlered stag he shot
And home to his lady mother brought;
Through snow or floods, it was the same,
Still harried he the game.        145
Now hear the tale of wonder:
When he had brought a great stag low,
Burden a mule might stagger under,
He’d shoulder it and homeward go!
  Now it fell out upon a day        150
He wandered down a long wood-way,
And plucked a leaf and whistled shrill,
Near by a road that crossed a hill.
And thence he heard sharp hoof-strokes ring,
And quick his javelin did swing;        155
Then cried: “Now what is this I hear?
What if the Devil now appear,
With anger hot, and grim?
But certain I will not flee him!
Such fearful things my mother told—        160
I ween her heart is none too bold.”
  All ready thus for strife he stood,
When lo! there galloped through the wood
Three riders, shining in the light,
From head to foot in armor dight.        165
The boy all innocently thought
Each one a god, as he was taught.
No longer upright then stood he,
But in the path he bent his knee.
Aloud he called, and clear and brave,        170
“Save, God, for thou alone canst save!”
The foremost rider spoke in wrath
Because the boy lay in the path:
“This clumsy Welsh boy
Hinders our rapid course.”        175
A name we Bavarians wear
Must the Welsh also bear:
They are clumsier even than we,
But good fighters too, you’ll agree.
A graceful man within the round        180
Of these two lands is rarely found.
  That moment came a knight
In battle-gear bedight,
Galloping hard and grim
Over the mountain’s rim.        185
The rest had ridden on before,
Pursuing two false knights, who bore
A lady from his land.
That touched him near at hand;
The maid he pitied sore,        190
Who sadly rode before.
After his men he held his course,
Upon a fine Castilian horse.
His shield bore marks of many a lance;
His name—Karnacharnanz,        195
Le comte Ulterlec.
  Quoth he, “Who dares to block our way?”
And forth he strode to see the youth,
Who thought him now a god in sooth,
For that he was a shining one:        200
His dewy armor caught the sun,
And with small golden bells were hung
The stirrup straps, that blithely swung
Before his greavèd thighs
And from his feet likewise.        205
Bells on his right arm tinkled soft
Did he but raise his hand aloft.
Bright gleamed that arm from many a stroke,
Warded since first to fame he woke.
Thus rode the princely knight,        210
In wondrous armor dight.
  That flower of manly grace and joy,
Karnacharnanz, now asked the boy:
“My lad, hast seen pass by this way
Two knights that grossly disobey        215
The rules of all knight-errantry?
For with a helpless maid they flee,
Whom all unwilling they have stolen,
To honor lost, with mischief swollen.”
The boy still thought, despite his speech,        220
That this was God; for so did teach
His mother Herzeloide, the queen—
To know him by his dazzling sheen.
He cried in all humility,
“Help, God, for all help comes from thee!”        225
And fell in louder suppliance yet
Le fils du roi Gahmuret.
  “I am not God,” the prince replied,
“Though in his law I would abide.
Four knights we are, couldst thou but see        230
What things before thine eyen be.”
  At this the boy his words did stay:
“Thou namest knights, but what are they?
And if thou hast not power divine,
Tell me, who gives, then, knighthood’s sign?”        235
“King Arthur, lad, it is;
And goest thou to him, I wis
That if he gives thee knighthood’s name
Thou’lt have in that no cause for shame.
Thou hast indeed a knightly mien.”        240
The chevalier had quickly seen
How God’s good favor on him lay.
The legend telleth what I say,
And further doth confirm the boast
That he in beauty was the first        245
Of men since Adam’s time: this praise
Was his from womankind always.
  Then asked he in his innocence,
Whereon they laughed at his expense:
“Ay, good sir knight, what mayst thou be,        250
That hast these many rings I see
Upon thy body closely bound
And reaching downward to the ground?”
With that he touched the rings of steel
Which clothed the knight from head to heel,        255
And viewed his harness curiously.
“My mother’s maids,” commented he,
“Wear rings, but have them strung on cords,
And not so many as my lord’s.”
  Again he asked, so bold his heart:        260
“And what’s the use of every part?
What good do all these iron things?
I cannot break these little rings.”
  The prince then showed his battle blade:
“Now look ye, with this good sword’s aid,        265
I can defend my life from danger
If overfallen by a stranger,
And for his thrust and for his blow
I wrap myself in harness, so.”
Quick spoke the boy his hidden thought:        270
“’Tis well the forest stags bear not
Such coats of mail, for then my spear
Would never slay so many deer.”
  By this the other knights were vexed
Their lord should talk with a fool perplexed.        275
The prince ended: “God guard thee well,
And would that I had thy beauty’s spell!
And hadst thou wit, then were thy dower
The richest one in heaven’s power.
May God’s grace ever with thee stay.”        280
Whereat they all four rode away,
Until they came to a field
In the dark forest concealed.
There found the prince some peasant-folk
Of Herzeloide with plow and yoke.        285
Their lot had never been so hard,
Driving the oxen yard by yard,
For they must toil to reap the fruit
Which first was seed and then was root.
  The prince bade them good-day,        290
And asked if there had passed that way
A maiden in distressful plight.
They could not help but answer right,
And this is what the peasants said:
“Two horsemen and a maid        295
We saw pass by this morning;
The lady, full of scorning,
Rode near a knight who spurred her horse
With iron heel and language coarse.”
  That was Meliakanz;        300
After him rode Karnacharnanz.
By force he wrested the maid from him;
She trembled with joy in every limb.
Her name, Imaine
Of Bellefontaine.        305
  The peasant folk were sore afraid
Because this quest the heroes made;
They cried: “What evil day for us!
For has young master seen them thus
In iron clad from top to toe,        310
The fault is ours, ours too the woe!
And the queen’s anger sure will fall
With perfect justice on us all,
Because the boy, while she was sleeping,
Came out this morning in our keeping.”        315
  The boy, untroubled by such fear,
Was shooting wild stags far and near;
Home to his mother he ran at length
And told his story; and all strength
Fled from her limbs, and down she sank,        320
And the world to her senses was a blank.
  When now the queen
Opened her eyelids’ screen,
Though great had been her dread,
She asked: “Son, tell me who has fed        325
Thy fancy with these stories
Of knighthood’s empty glories?”
“Mother, I saw four men so bright
That God himself gives not more light;
Of courtly life they spoke to me,        330
And told how Arthur’s chivalry
Doth teach all knighthood’s office
To every willing novice.”
  Again the queen’s heart ’gan to beat.
His wayward purpose to defeat,        335
She thought her of a plan
To keep at home the little man.
  The noble boy, in simplest course,
Begged his mother for a horse.
Her secret woe broke out anew;        340
She said, “Albeit I shall rue
This gift, I can deny him naught.
Yet there are men,” she sudden thought,
“Whose laughter is right hard to bear;
And if fool’s dress my son should wear        345
On his beautiful shining limbs,
Their scorn will scatter all these whims,
And he’ll return without delay.”
This trick she used, alack the day!
A piece of coarse sackcloth she chose        350
And cut thereout doublet and hose,
From his neck to his white knees,
And all from one great piece,
With a cap to cover head and ears;
For such was a fool’s dress in those years.        355
Then instead of stockings she bound
Two calfskin strips his legs around.
None would have said he was the same,
And all who saw him wept for shame.
The queen, with pity, bade him stay        360
Until the dawn of a new day;
“Thou must not leave me yet,” beseeching,
“Till I have given thee all my teaching:
On unknown roads thou must not try
To ford a stream if it be high.        365
But if it’s shallow and clear,
Pass over without fear.
Be careful every one to greet
Whom on thy travels thou mayst meet;
And if any gray-bearded man        370
Will teach thee manners, as such men can,
Be sure to follow him, word and deed;
Despise him not, as I thee reed.
One special counsel, son, is mine:
Wherever thou, for favor’s sign,        375
Canst win a good woman’s ring or smile,
Take them, thy sorrows to beguile.
Canst kiss her too, by any art,
And hold her beauty to thy heart,
’Twill bring thee luck and lofty mood,        380
If she chaste is, and good.
Lacheleim, the proud and bold,
Won from thy princes of old—
I’d have thee know, O son of mine—
Two lands that should be fiefs of thine,        385
Waleis and Norgals.
One of thy princes, Turkentals,
Received his death from this foe’s hands;
And on thy people he threw bands.”
  “Mother, for that I’ll vengeance wreak:        390
My javelin his heart shall seek.”
  Next morning at first break of day
The proud young warrior rode away.
The thought of Arthur filled his mind.
Herzeloide kissed him and ran behind.        395
The world’s worst woe did then befall.
When no more she saw young Parzival
(He rode away. Whom bettered be?)
The queen from every falseness free
Fell to the earth, where anguish soon        400
Gave her Death’s bitter boon.
Her loyal death
Saves her from hell’s hot breath.
’Twas well she had known motherhood!
Thus sailed this root of every good,        405
Whose flower was humility,
Across that rich-rewarding sea.
Alas for us, that of her race
Till the twelfth age she left no trace!
Hence see we so much falsehood thrive.        410
Yet every loyal woman alive
For this boy’s life and peace should pray,
As he leaves his mother and rides away.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.