From Confessio Amantis
Who Inspired Shakespeare
Modern English Version by Ellin
Anderson and Richard Brodie
A worthy Christian knight did dwell
In great Rome, as the sagas tell,
And he the scepter’s right did claim:
Tiberius Constantine by name,
Whose wife was known as Ytalie;
Together, they no progeny
Did have, except a single maid,
And she her God so well repaid
And pleased, that all the wide world’s fame
Spoke worshipfully of her good name.
Constance, as in the Chronicle
She’s called, was of the faith so full
That all the great of Barbarie,
The merchant class, especially,
She had converted, when to Rome
They came one time unto her home
To show such things as they had brought,
Which she at a just value bought;
And more than that, in such a way
She spoke wise words to them, and they
Of Christ’s faith were so well informed
That thereby they were all reformed,
So that baptism they received,
And of their false gods were relieved.
When certain of their faith, these men
Went home to Barbarie again,
And there, the Sultan for them sent,
And asked of them to what extent
Their former faith had been forsaken.
And they, who had undertaken
The right faith to keep and hold,
The substance of their story told,
With all of the whole circumstance.
And when the Sultan, of Constance,
Touching on questions they answered,
Every grace and beauty heard,
As he was planning then to wed,
In all haste, his own cause he sped,
To send out his request for marriage.
Furthermore, to show good carriage,
He said that if she’d be his,
Then Christ, who this world’s savior is,
He would believe: this being recorded,
They were on each side accorded.
Thereupon, to make an end,
The Sultan’s hostages they send
To Rome: twelve princes’ sons depart,
Whereof her father, in his heart,
Was glad, and with the Pope advised,
Two cardinals this Pope assized
With other lords, full many so
That with his daughter they should go
To see the Sultan be converted.
But what never was well-hearted,
Envy travailed in arousal
To disturb this pair’s espousal,
Secretly, with none aware.
The dam who did this Sultan bear
Was then alive, and this she thought
Unto herself: “If it is brought
About that my son weds like this,
Then I have lost my joy and bliss,
For then my status is disgraced.”
Thus thinking, she anon had traced
By slyness, how she might beguile
Her son, and so within a while,
Between the two, when he was near,
She feigned sweet words into his ear,
And in this wise began to say:
“My son, I’m in a double way
With all my heart both blithe and glad,
For I myself so often had
Desired that you, as men saith,
Receive and take on a new faith,
Which shall be furthering of thy life;
And this too, such an honored wife,
The daughter of an Emperor
To wed, it shall be great honor.
Therefore, my son, I you beseech
That I myself such grace might reach,
When that my daughter come shall be,
If I might then, especially,
So as methinks it honorable,
Be the one who the first feast shall
Make here unto her welcoming.”
The Sultan granted her asking,
And thereof she was glad enough.
For under all the genial bluff
She feigned with false words that she said,
Behind his back, she wished him dead.
And thereupon, her ordinance
She made so that when young Constance
Was come forth with the Roman men,
Wise clerk and worthy citizen,
The richest feast she had created:
And when they were fully sated,
False confederates she bid
Extend the envy that she hid,
And all those who were seen to be
Openly, or else privately,
Content her son might thus engage,
She slaughtered in a sudden rage
Along the table where they sat,
And none could have prevented that.
Her own son was not saved, that night,
But died with them of the same plight.
Yet those whom the high God would spare
No peril shall undo; and there,
This worthy maiden, who was near,
Stood, as they say, near dead from fear,
To see that feast stand in a flood,
All of their revels turned to blood.
The cups and dishes in that hall
Were blood-bedizened, one and all;
She saw guests die on every side;
No wonder that she wept and cried,
And made full many a woeful moan.
When all were slain but she alone,
This ancient fiend, this Saracen,
Let take anon this Constance then
All of the goods she thither brought,
And then prepared, as per her thought,
A naked ship, made rudderless,
For her and all she did possess,
Victualled full for years full five;
Where that the wind this ship would drive,
She set off on the waves so wild.
But He who shields His every child,
Three years, till it was brought to land,
Her ship to steer had taken in hand,
Which in Northumberland arrives,
And as it happed, the ship then drives
Beneath a castle, with the tide
That by the Humber’s bank did glide,
A fortress that was the king’s own,
He that as Allee then was known:
A Saxon and a worthy knight,
But nothing he believed was right.
This castle had a chatelain,
Elda, the king’s own chamberlain,
A knightly man, by his own law;
And when upon the waves he saw
The lonely ship was driven so,
He bade anon his men should go
To see whatever signs they may.
This was upon a summer’s day;
The ship was searched, and Constance found;
Elda was told she’d run aground,
And then was with his wife, anon,
Towards this tender lady gone,
Where they found riches passing great;
But she would not explain her state
When the pair asked her name and place.
And nonetheless, in any case,
With reverent honor, from the ship,
They took her into fellowship,
Because her presence made them glad.
Yet no degree of joy she had,
But sorrowed sore, because she found
No Christendom grew on that ground;
But in all else she had her way,
And thus, in peace, she chose to stay.
Dame Hermyngeld, who was the wife
Of Elda, like her very life
Did Constance love; and it fell so,
Conversing all day, to and fro,
Through grace of God to guide the deed,
This maiden Constance taught the creed
Unto this wife so perfectly,
That on a day come speedily,
In company with her husband,
Where they went walking on the strand,
A blind man who had come there, led
Unto this wife, then cried and pled,
With both hands up, as if he’d pray
To her, and in this wise did say:
“Oh Hermyngeld, you that Christ’s faith
Informs, and just as Constance saith,
Received hast, give me back my sight.”
Upon his words her heart took flight,
In thinking on which course was best,
But she considered his request,
And said, “In trust of Christ’s own way,
Who was set on the cross to slay,
Thou dim-eyed man, behold and see.”
With that, he thanked God on his knee
And took his eyesight back anon,
Which was a thing to marvel on,
But Elda wondered most of all:
This open thing that did befall
His wife, convinced him in this way
That he the faith must needs obey.
Now hear what followed on this thing.
This Elda forth unto the king
Upon the morrow left, and rode,
And Hermyngeld at home abode
With Constance, who was well at ease.
Elda, who thought his king to please,
As one who then unwedded was,
Told him of Constance; this he does
As well and plainly as he could.
The king was glad, and said he would
Come thither, and in such a wise
That he himself might scrutinize
Her at a time set hastily.
This Elda trusted specially
A knight who, ever since childhood
He had raised up into manhood:
To him he told all that he thought,
Whereof at last regret was brought;
And nonetheless, unto his bride,
Lord Elda bade this knight to ride
So she’d make ready everything
Against the coming of the king,
And said that he himself, before,
Had thought to come, and bade therefore
He’d mark the time, and told him when.
This knight rode forth on his way then,
And true it was, when time had passed,
He had, all in his mind, compassed
How Constance he might force, and win;
But he could see no route therein,
Whereby his lust began to abate,
And what was love then turned to hate;
Of her honor he had envy,
So that, thanks to his treachery,
A lie within his heart he cast.
Till he came home, he hied him fast,
And made this wife to understand
The message sent by her husband:
And thereupon, all that long day,
They set all things in good array,
That all was just as it should be
For everything, in its degree;
And when the day turned into night,
This dame went to the bed, to light
Where the fair maiden with her lay.
This false knight, after some delay,
Had tarried till they were asleep,
As he who bides his time, to keep
At deadly workings he’d fulfill.
And to the bed he stalked, quite still,
Where that he wist was Elda’s wife,
And in his hand a razor-knife
He bore, with which her throat he slit,
And privily got rid of it,
Just under the bed’s other side,
The edge that Constance lay beside.
Elda came home on that same night,
And softly, with a shaded light,
As one that did not want to wake
His wife, his quiet way did take
Into the chamber, where was lying
Hermyngeld, bled out and dying;
Constance lay fast by, and she
Had fallen asleep; and suddenly
He cried aloud, and she awoke,
And cast a look, but never spoke,
And saw this lady bleeding near
Her side, whereof near dead for fear
She swooned, and still as stone had gone
Where she lay; Elda thereupon
Into the castle gave a shout,
And up starts every man about,
And forth into the room they went.
But he who all untruth had meant,
This false knight, swore among them all
As to this thing that did befall
The dame, that Constance did the deed;
And to the bedside with all speed,
After the falsehood he did speak,
He went, and made as if to seek,
And found the knife lain by the bed,
And then he cried aloud, and said,
“Lo, see the knife all bloody there!
What need we more, in this affair,
To ask?” And thus her innocence
He slanders to that audience
With these false words, whose truth he feigns.
But yet, for all his pleading pains,
Lord Elda no full credence took:
It happened that there lay a book
Upon which, so that all could see,
This knight swore, speaking stridently
That all should hear above the din,
“Now by this book, as writ herein,
Constance is guilty, well I note.”
With that, the hand of heaven smote
This knight, in token of false oath,
Such that he lost his eyes, and both
Fell from his head; with one great bound
They started, and were never found.
A voice was heard, just when they fell,
Which said, “Oh, thou man damned to hell,
Lo, thus did God His vengeance wreak
That thou against Constance did speak;
Confess the truth before you die.”
He told out his felonious lie,
And perished with his tale anon.
Into the ground, where all have gone,
This dead lady was soon begraved.
Elda now thought his honor saved,
And that helped him restrain his sorrow.
On the day after the morrow
Came the king, as was accorded;
When it was to him reported
What God wrought by Fate’s decree,
He took it into memory,
And thought more of it than he’d say.
For all of his whole heart he’d lay
Upon Constance, and said he should
For love of her, if that she would,
Be baptized, and in Christ’s own creed
Believe, and even beyond this deed,
Wed her, and on this vow of his,
Assured each of the other is.
And, to make short work of these tales,
There came a bishop out of Wales
From Bangor, who was called Lucie,
Who through the gracious Almighty
The king and many another there
Did christen, and between the pair,
Lucie performed the marriage, yet
For neither love nor rage nor threat
Would Constance tell them who she was;
Nonetheless, it was moot, because
The king was glad how so it stood,
For well he knew and understood
That Constance was a noble creature.
That high Maker of all Nature
Visited her instantly
That all would know, quite openly,
She was with child, and by the king,
Whereof, above each other thing,
He thanked God, and he was right glad.
And as it fell that time, he had
Been bent on war, and so must ride;
And then, while he should there abide,
He left at home to guard his wife
Such as he knew of holy life,
First Elda, and the bishop, too;
And with his power, forth he flew
Against the Scots, to make a stand
In that war which he took in hand.
The time had come, as Nature sets,
The lady to her chamber gets,
And soon has borne a full-term son,
Whereof she’s joyful when it’s done:
She was delivered safe and fast.
The bishop, as done in the past,
Baptized him Moris then, as well.
And thereupon, as it befell,
The letters written to record
The birth, they sent to their liege lord,
Those who were keepers of the queen;
And he who’d serve as go-between,
The messenger, to Knaresburgh town,
Which he should pass through, traveling down
The road, came riding the next day,
And there, the king’s own mother lay,
Whose had the name Domilde, and she
Spoiled matters after that, for he,
Thinking he’s owed some thanks and gold,
Unto this lady went, and told
Of all his message, every word,
And with feigned joy the lady heard,
And gave him gifts most generously.
But in the night, all secretly,
She took the letters he had brought,
Read them from point to point, and sought,
As she was thoroughly untrue,
To have some others written new,
Instead of them, and thus they speak:
“To our liege lord, we humbly seek
That thou with us will not be wroth,
Though we such things as to thee doth
Seem loathsome, truly certify.
Thy wife, who does from Faerie hie,
Of such a child delivered is,
There’s no kind more amiss than his.
But so it shan’t be on display,
We have it kept out of the way,
Purely for dread of public shame.
A common child we gave the name
Of that which was so wrongly born,
Took him, and thereto we have sworn
That none but only thou and we
Shall know of this in secrecy:
Moris it’s called, and thus men ween
That it was born of your own queen
And was of thine own body gotten.
This thing may not be forgotten,
Lest you won’t send us word anon
What is thy word now thereupon.”
The letter that she did devise
Was counterfeited in such wise
That none would any change perceive;
And she, who thought how to deceive,
Laid it where she that other took.
And when this page his sleep forsook,
Still knowing nothing of the deed,
He rose and rode out at great speed,
And took the letter to the king.
When Allee saw this dreadful thing,
He kept his anguish under guise,
But nonetheless, in manner wise,
He wrote again, and gave this charge,
That they’d not suffer her at large
To go about, but keep her still,
Till they had heard more of his will.
This messenger was still giftless,
But with this letter, nonetheless,
If lief or loath, it mattered not,
In all haste, back again he got
By Knaresburgh, whereupon he went
Unto the mother, his intent
That what he found out from the king
He’d tell, and when she heard this thing,
She said he should abide all night
With cheer and feasting, as was right,
Feigning he was a man to thank.
But he, with strong wine that he drank,
Besides the travails of the day,
Was drunk, and while asleep he lay,
His letters she did scrutinize,
And had them made quite otherwise.
There was a new one she had writ,
Which said: “I’ll have you know, to wit,
That through the counsel you two spun,
I’m at the point of being undone,
As he who is a king deposed.
For every person has supposed
How my wife Constance is a fay,
And if I should, they say, delay
To put her from my company,
All homage to my sovereignty
Is lost; and furthermore, they tell
Her child shall not among them dwell
For claiming any heritage.
So, I can see no advantage,
But all is lost, if she abide:
Therefore, to look on every side
Towards this mischief, as it stands,
I charge and bid you these commands,
That you should victual the same
Ship, as it was when she first came
Therein, and put them both in, so,
Herself forthwith, her child also,
And thus, brought forth unto the deep,
Betake them for the sea to keep.
A span of four days’ time I’ll set
That you this thing no longer let
Go, that your life be not forfeit.”
And thus this letter, counterfeit,
The messenger, still unaware,
Upon the king’s behalf did bear,
And so he took it where he should.
But when they fully understood
And read that which was writ within,
So great a sorrow they begin,
As if when their own mother dies,
Burnt in a fire before their eyes:
There was weeping, and woe spared none,
But finally, the thing was done.
Upon the sea they had her brought,
Though she of all the cause knew not,
And so, where tidal currents run,
This lady dwelt with her young son:
And then her hands to Heaven’s throne
She stretched, and in a gentle tone,
While kneeling upon her bare knee,
She said, “Oh, thou high majesty,
Who sees all loyalty pledged in truth,
Take on this woeful woman ruth,
And on this child that I shall keep.”
With those words, she began to weep,
Swooning as dead, and there she lay.
But He whose might all things can sway
Comforted her, and then at last,
She looked up, and her eyes she cast
Upon her child, and spoke this thought:
“For me, I know it matters not
What sorrow I suffer, but for thee,
I think it is a great pity,
For if I starve, then thou shalt die,
So I must needs be strong, and I
For motherhood and tenderness,
With all of my whole busyness,
Ordain me for this role, no worse,
Than that of she who’ll be thy nurse.”
Thus, she was strengthened for to stand;
And then, she took her child in hand,
And suckled it, and ever along
The way, she wept, or sang a song
With which to rock her child asleep.
And thus, her own child for to keep,
She had it in God’s curacy.
And so it fell, by destiny,
When that the year had made his end,
Her ship, which on its way must wend,
Through strength of wind that God had given,
Eastward and to Spain was driven,
And stuck beneath a castle wall,
Wherein a heathen admiral
Was lord, and he a steward had,
One Theloüs, altogether bad,
A false knight and a reprobate.
He went to look, and see what state
The ship had come in, and he found
This lady, with her hand around
Her child, alone but for her son.
He took good heed of her person,
And saw she was a worthy wight,
And thought he would, when it was night,
Demean her, as per his own will,
And let her stay therein, quite still,
That she’d see no more men that day.
At God’s own will, and thus, she lay,
Unknowing what should her betide;
And it fell so that by night’s tide
This knight, without his fellowship,
By stolen boat, came to that ship,
And thought he would his pleasure take,
And swore, if any fuss she’d make,
Then certainly, she had to die.
She saw there was no way to fly,
And said he should console her well
If he’d look out at port, to tell
That none was near the place, or hid,
Who might know just what deed they did,
And then he might do what he would.
He was right glad she said he could,
And to the door anon he went:
She prayed to God, whose ear He bent,
And suddenly, out he was thrown
And drowned, and just then there was blown
A gentle fair wind from the land,
And thus, almighty God’s own hand
Defended her, and off she went.
And when three years were fully spent,
Her ship was driven forth one day,
To where a mighty navy lay
Of all ships in the world at once:
And as God willed it, for the nonce,
Her ship went in among them all,
And stopped not till it came to loll
Before that vessel, which it beat,
That was the master of the fleet,
But there it rested and abode.
This great ship on its anchor rode;
The lord came forth, and when he saw
The other that had come to draw
So nigh, he wondered what might be
Inside, and bade them go and see.
This lady, though, had crept aside,
As one who thought it best to hide
Herself, not knowing who they were;
They sought about, soon finding her,
And brought her with her little man,
And thereupon, this lord began
Inquiring as to whence she came,
And who she was. Thus quoth the dame:
“A woman who, woefully stranded,
Had a lord, and he commanded
I should, with my little son,
Go forth upon the waves; ‘twas done,
But what the cause was, I know not.
Yet He who knows all things has wrought,
And now I thank him, of his might
My child and I to keep upright
So that both have been saved, we two.”
This lord, moreover, asked her who
And how she worshipped, and she said,
“I live and trust in Christ, who bled
And died upon the holy tree.”
“What is your name?” So then quoth he.
“My name is Couste,” she replied;
But furthermore for naught he pried,
As to her state, to know full plain;
To him, she’d nothing else explain
Except her name, which she had feigned;
All other things she kept restrained,
That not a word more did she tell.
This lord then asked of her, as well,
To stay and keep him company,
And said he sailed from Barbarie
To Romewards, and then home he went.
Though she supposed just what it meant,
She said that with him she would wend,
And stay with him till her life’s end,
If it be unto his pleasance.
And thus, upon her acquaintance,
He told her plainly how it stood,
How gentle Roman blood and good
In Barbarie had been betrayed,
And thereupon, he had essayed
To wage war, and by such vengeance,
That none of all that alliance
Who this foul treason did contrive
Had from the sword escaped alive;
But of this Constance, any trace
He could not know, in any case,
Of why she came, per his intent.
Her ear unto his words she lent,
But nothing did her face express.
And in this matter, nonetheless
It happened at this time, just so:
This lord, with whom she then should go,
Was of great Rome a senator,
And of her sire, the emperor,
He took the niece to be his wife,
Whose father was still blessed with life,
And was Salustes called, by name;
This wife, called Heleine, was the same
To whom Constance was the cousin.
Thus to the sick, a medicine
Hath God ordained, out of His grace,
That forthwith in that very place
This senator his troth did plight,
Forever, while he lived and might
Keep her in honor and in wealth,
Be it so God would give her health,
This lady that Fortune had sent.
And thus by ship forth-sailing went
She and her child to Rome, thus brought
Unto his wife, whom he besought
To take her into company:
And she, who knew from courtesy
All that a good wife should get done,
Was inwards glad that she had won
The fellowship of one so good.
Twelve years went by, and as it stood,
This emperor’s daughter, then called Couste,
There with the daughter of Saluste
Was kept, but none were quick to guess
Just what she was, and nonetheless
They thought that surely she must be
In status, one of high degree,
And all alive did love her well.
Now hark how Fortune’s wheel, pell-mell,
Which ever turns, went round about.
The king, Allee, while he was out,
As you have now already heard,
Deceived was, through his mother’s word,
But when he came back home again,
He asked of his royal chamberlain
And of the bishop thus also,
Where they had caused the queen to go,
And they replied, just as he said;
And then they had the letter read
That had decreed what he thought good,
And told him plainly how it stood,
And said it was a great pity
That such a worthy one as she,
With such child as she had borne,
So suddenly should be forlorn.
He asked them what child had been there,
And they responded that nowhere,
In all the world, though mankind sought,
Was there a woman who had brought
A fairer child than this alone.
And then he asked them, why postpone
What they’d not written long ago:
They told him that they had done so.
He said, “Nay.” They said, “Yea.”
He read the letter on display,
Which they denied each way they could.
And then it was well understood
That there was treason in this thing.
The messenger before the king
Was brought, and sudden questions posed;
And he, which nothing had supposed
But all was well, began to say
That he nowhere upon the way
Abode, but only in one place;
And for a cause, because he’d race
About as he went to and fro,
At Knaresburgh for two nights, for so
The king’s own mother made him dwell.
And when of this the king heard tell,
Within his heart he knew quite fast
The treason that his mother cast,
And thought that he would not abide,
But forth upon the moment’s tide
He took his horse and rode anon.
And with him many more rode on,
To Knaresburgh; having thus departed,
Like a fire that tinder started,
In such rage, so says the book,
His mother suddenly he took
And said unto her in this wise:
“Oh beast of hell, by what assize
Have you deserved to die this day,
That have so falsely put away
With treason of thy slandering
The truest I have known, as king,
Of wives, also the most honest?
But I this I swear: at my behest,
I’ll be avenged ere I am gone.”
A fire he had made thereupon,
And bade his men to cast her in;
But first, she told out all the sin,
And let all of them know, to wit,
How she had got those letters writ,
From point to point as each was wrought.
And then unto death she was brought,
And burned before her own son’s eye:
Whereof all those who saw her die,
And heard just how the cause then stood,
Said that the judgement was all good,
That which her son had justly served;
For this she had so well deserved
Through treason of her own false tongue,
Which through the land was after sung:
Constance, for whom all wights lamented.
But he whom all woe tormented,
This sad king, was hurt so sore,
That he should be glad nevermore,
He said, ever again to wed,
Till he knew how and where she sped,
Who once had been his dear first wife:
And thus his young and joyless life
He then drives forth so as he may,
Till it befell upon a day
When his war triumphs were achieved,
And he thought he would be relieved
For his soul’s health, thanks to the blesséd
Faith that he had taken, he said
That to Rome on pilgrimage
He’d go, where the pope was Pelage,
To take of divine absolution,
And upon this one condition:
He made Edwyn his lieutenant,
Who to him was heir apparent,
That the land, in his absence,
He’d rule, and thus by his prudence,
With all things well begun thereon,
He took his leave, and forth is gone.
Elda, who went with him from home,
While they were still not quite at Rome,
Sent on before, all to purvey,
And be his guide upon the way,
And help him as his harbinger,
Went asking who was senator,
So that this man’s name he might ken.
Of Capadoce, they said, Arcenne
He’s called, a worthy knight, they say.
To him went Elda right away,
And told him of his lord tidings,
And prayed that for the best of kings
He would assign rooms presently;
And so he did, goodheartedly.
When all was done to grant his boon,
The king himself did come there soon.
This senator, when come to Rome,
To Couste and his wife at home,
Told them how such a king, Allee,
In great array, to the city
Had come, and Couste, upon his tale,
With tightening heart and color pale,
Fell swooning, and he marveled at
How suddenly she’d ailed at that,
And caught her up, and when she woke,
She sighed with piteous look, and spoke
Of her feigned sickness of the sea;
But it was for the king, Allee,
For joy that fell into her thought
Of him that to the town God brought.
This king had told His Holiness
All that he could find out, or guess,
Of what grieved him in his conscience;
And then, he thought, in reverence
Of papal state, ere that he went,
To make a feast, and thus he sent
Unto the senator to come
Upon the morrow, and with some
Others to join him at the fête.
And this tale Couste did not forget,
But to Moris her son she told
That on the morrow, making bold
In all he ever could, he might
Be present in the king’s own sight,
So that the king sees him pass by.
Moris, before the king’s own eye,
Upon the morrow, where he sat,
Full often stood, and after that,
The king his look upon him cast,
And in that face, the thought stuck fast,
He did see his own wife, Constance,
For Nature, as to resemblance
Of face, clothed them so that he’d find
That they were both of the same kind.
The king was moved within his thought,
By what he saw; why, he knew not;
This child he loved quite naturally,
And yet knew not the cause, but he
Well saw and also understood
That right next to Arcenne he stood,
And quickly asked him then and there
If this child was his son and heir.
Arcenne said, “Yes, so I him call,
And would it did that way befall,
But it is all made otherwise.”
And then, he started to advise
How he found the child’s mother, banned
Across the sea from every land
Within a ship made rudderless,
And how this lady, all helpless,
Forth with her child he had drawn out.
The king had understood, no doubt,
The tale, and asked for the child’s name,
And for the mother, too, the same,
That he would tell him, as he pled.
“Moris this child is called,” he said,
“His mother is called Couste, and this,
I know not what it means, ywis.”
But well enough Allee knew it,
Whereof he smiled and laughed a bit,
For Couste in Saxon is to say
Constance, as in the Roman way.
But who could tell, specifically,
What then fell in his fantasy,
And how his wits ran and returned
Upon the love in which he burned.
It was a wonder for to hear:
For he was neither there nor here,
But clean out of himself away;
He knew not what to think or say,
So fain he would that it were she,
Whereof in his heart’s privacy
Began the war of yea and nay,
The which in such a balance lay
That his composure, for a spell
He lost, till he might know how fell
The truth, but in his memory,
The man who lies in purgatory
Would not desire heaven more
In longing for it all so sore
If he knew what might him betide.
And with the tables laid aside,
And all men risen round about,
The king waved his attendants out,
And with this senator, alone,
He spoke, and made his wishes known
To see this Couste, where she did dwell
At home with him, as he did tell.
The senator was pleased, and prayed
The thing no longer be delayed;
To see this Couste went the king;
And she was warned about this thing,
And then with Heleine forth she came
Towards the king, and he the name
Heard well, and when he saw his wife,
Anon with all his full heart’s life
He caught her in his arms, to kiss.
Never a man knew so much bliss
Or saw more joy than Allee had,
Whereof all there were more than glad
Who heard tell of this happy chance.
The king then with his wife, Constance,
Who was what he had most desired,
In Rome, till some time had expired,
Abode, and made him well at ease.
But yet, still he could never please
His wife, that she to him would say
Of her state, how the plain truth lay,
In what country she had been bore,
Nor what she was, and yet, therefore,
With all his wits, he had to seek.
Thus as they lie abed and speak,
She pleads with him, and counsels troth
That for the honor of them both,
Because she thought it not the least
Improper, a most worthy feast
He’d make, ere he went, in the city,
Where the emperor would be.
He granted all for which she pled.
But as men in that time have said,
This emperor, from the very day
That first his daughter went away
Was nevermore thereafter glad;
Whenever any man him bade
For grace, and for his daughter’s sake,
Such grace he never would forsake;
And thus full great alms he made there,
Whereof for her rose many a prayer.
This emperor, out of the town
Within its ten-mile circuit, down
Where he thought it to be the best,
Had sundry places for to rest;
As just as Fortune would propose,
He then did dwell at one of those.
The king Allee, forth with the assent
Of Couste his wife, had thither sent
Moris his son, as he was taught,
To Constantine, and on the spot
He in his father’s cause besought,
As being the one his lordship sought,
That out of his high worthiness
He’d do him such a great kindness,
His own great town to come and see,
And spend some time in the city,
So that his father might not spare
To come once and eat with him there.
This lord then granted his request;
And on the day of this great fest,
In honor of their emperor,
King Allee and the senator
Forth with their wives went, two by two,
With many a lord and lady, who
On horses rode behind their train;
Till it befell, upon a plain,
They saw the emperor coming.
With that, Constance anon, pleading,
Spoke to her lord, that he’d abide,
So that she might before him ride,
To hail the emperor on his route,
The first one who should him salute;
And after, as her lord did grant,
Upon a white mule ambulant
Forth with a few then rode this queen;
They wondered just what she might mean,
And rode on, at a slower pace;
But when this lady face to face
Had come to him, in his presence,
She spoke out to that audience:
“My lord, my father, may you be
Well, and at this time, as I see,
Your honor and good health I bless,
Which are the cure for my distress,
I give thanks unto God’s own might.”
For joy, her father’s heart took flight
At what she told in remembrance;
And when he knew it was Constance,
Was never father half so blithe;
Weeping, of kisses took his tithe,
So that his heart was overcome,
For if his mother were to come
From death to life out of the grave,
He might no more of wonder crave
Than he had when he saw his dear.
With that, then her own lord came near
The emperor, and his loyalty sealed;
But then, when Fortune had revealed
How fate for Constance turned about,
No heart so hard it got left out
Of pity, so it never wept.
Arcennus, who had found and kept
Constance, was glad how things did fall,
And so, with joy among them all,
They rode in at the Roman gate.
The emperor thought that all too late
His Holiness the Pope would come,
And of the lords, he then sent some
To tell him there’s no time to waste;
And so, he came forth in all haste,
And when this story he had heard,
How wonderfully this chance occurred,
He thanked God for His miracle,
For whose might there’s no obstacle.
The king made them a noble feast,
And they were glad, to say the least.
A parliament, ere that they went,
They did convene with this intent:
To put Rome in full hope, because
Moris the heir apparent was,
And should abide there with them still,
For such was all the empire’s will.
When everything was fully spoke
Of sorrow, and quenched was that smoke,
He took his leave, Allee the king,
And with full many a right rich thing
The emperor thought fit to give,
He went, a glad life for to live,
For he had Constance in his hand,
Which was the comfort of his land.
And when he came back home again,
There was no tongue among all men
Could say what joy that time was seen
For him in finding his dear queen,
Who first was sent by God’s command,
When she was driven on the strand,
By whom the misbelief of sin
Was canceled, so Christ’s faith came in
To them that formerly were blind.
But he that hinders every kind
And for no gold may yet be bought,
Death, coming ere he could be sought,
Took such acquaintance with this king
That he with all his following
Might not at all defend his life;
And thus he parted from his wife,
Which made her sorrow enough thereon.
And thereupon, her heart was drawn
To leave England forevermore,
And go where she preferred, before:
To Rome, the place that she forsook;
And thus, of all the land she took
Her leave, and went to Rome again.
And after that, the books say, then
She was not there for long, alone,
When death likewise had overthrown
Her worthy father, and men said
That he within her arms fell dead.
And the next year, it did occur
That God made the same end for her,
And from this world of fantasy
Took her into his company.
And Moris then was crowned, her son,
Who did so greatly abandon
Himself to Christ’s faith, that men call
Moris the Christianest of all.
And thus, the nobleness of love
Was set, at last, all things above;
And so, as you have heard before,
Those false tongues were lost evermore
That upon love would liars be.
Therefore, to touch this sin, Envy,
Which does belong to slandering,
Beware that you do no lying
In hindrance of another wight:
And if you would be taught aright
What mischief slandering will do
By other ways, a tale that’s true
Now might you hear next, in a trice,
Which is accordant to this vice.
(The Tale of Demetrius and Perseus.)
© 2022 by Ellin
Anderson. All rights reserved.
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without written permission from the author.