The Poetry of Ellin Anderson

NECTANEBUS

By John Gower (1330
1408)
The Poet Who Inspired Shakespeare

Modern English Version
by Richard Brodie and Ellin Anderson
 

The High Creator of all things,
Who’s King of all the other Kings,
Full many a frightful fate, world-wide,
He will but suffer to let slide:
No man knows what the cause may be
But God Almighty, none save He.
And one time, it was proven thus,
By that great king, Nectanebus,
Who had in Egypt held the throne,
But who long in advance was shown,
Through magic and through sorcery
He knew as his great specialty,
How enemies to him did wend,
Against whom he could not defend,
And out of his own land he fled.
It thus befell as he did dread,
As if he had no witchcraft left,
So he of Egypt was bereft.
Disguised, he fled that very day
By ship, and found the surest way
To Macedonia, where he
Arrived right at their chief city.
Three yeomen of his chambered hall
Were there to serve him, one and all,
With whom he trusted well to deal,
For they were true as any steel,
And they came with him to transport
The finest treasures of his court.
They took their lodgings in the town
And were disposed to settle down
Where he did think it best to dwell:
He asked around, and heard men tell,
How their King Philip then had gone
To foes that he made war upon;
But in that city still there was
The queen, by name Olympias,
And with pomp and solemnity
The feast of her nativity
Was held, in honor of this queen,
And since it pleased her to be seen
And praised by people round about,
She primped herself for riding out
In public, after dinnertime.
Soon all were ready, and felt prime,
For this was in the month of May;
The lusty queen, in good array,
Was set upon a mule, pure white:
To see it was a great delight,
The joy that all the city had;
With fresh new trappings, bright and glad,
The noble town was gaily hung;
All held their breath who stood among
The crowd, to see this lady ride.
There was great mirth on every side,
Where she was passing down the street;
There was full many a timbrel beat,
And many a maiden caroling,
And thus, through town, with reveling,
This queen rode to a parkland glade,
Where she did linger long, and stayed
To see diverse games played; she went
To lusty joust and tournament
With merry folk, and so each man
Who could thus play, his play began,
So as to please this noble queen.
Nectanebus came to the green
Amongst the rest, and nigh he drew.
But when this lady he did view,
And of her beauty notice took,
He never could withdraw his look
To see aught else upon the field,
But stood with her alone revealed.
The gear and clothes that he did wear
Made him unlike all others there,
And so it happened that at last,
The queen on him her eye did cast,
And knew that he was strange to see,
While he beheld her steadily,
Unflinching, where his gaze did dwell.
She noted his demeanor well,
And wondered at his staring so,
And bade her men towards him to go.
He came and did her reverence,
While she asked him, through his silence,
From whence he came, what wish had he.
And with these words, quite soberly,
He answered, “A wise clerk I am,
With news for you alone, Madame,
And which I may not tell you here;
But if you want to hear, I fear
It must be said quite privately,
Where none but you and I shall be.”
Thus for a time, he took his leave.
The day went on till it was eve,
When every man might leave his work;
But still, she thought upon this clerk,
And what it was that he might mean:
And in this frame of mind, the queen
Retired to bed, and passed the night,
Till on the morrow, at first light,
She sent for him, and so he came,
With gear, an Astrolabe by name,
That was of finest gold, precious
With stars and circles, marvelous;
And heavenly figures’ renderings
Wrought in book filled with paintings
Unto this lady he did show,
And told of each one, row by row,
Its course and heavenly direction.
She, with interest and affection,
Sat quite still, heard what he might
Reveal, and when the time was right,
He feigned, with words in wisdom’s guise,
A tale, and told it in this wise:
“Madame, but a short while ago,
Where I did dwell in Egypt, so
That I might study this science,
A thought came into my conscience
So that I to the temple went,
And once there, reverent and intent
On sacrifices that I did,
One of the gods to me hath bid
That I should warn you privately
So you and I might ready be,
And that you should not be aghast,
For he on you such love has cast,
That you should be his only dear,
And he shall fill your bed with cheer,
Till you conceive and are with child.”
And with those words, she waxed quite mild,
And turning somewhat red for shame,
She asked him for this great god’s name,
Who wished to keep her company.
“Amon of Libya,” said he.
And she said, “That I’ll not believe
Till I some better proof receive.”
“Madame,” replied Nectanebus,
“As token that it shall be thus,
This night for your enlightenment
A wondrous vision shall be sent.
This Amon shall to you appear,
To show and teach and let you hear
What thing shall afterwards befall.
Know well you ought to, over all,
Make greatest joy of such a lord.
For when you are of one accord,
He shall on you beget a son,
Who with his sword shall overrun
The wider world, in breadth and length;
All earthly kings shall dread his strength.
This I declare, to you alone:
As god on earth he shall be known.”
“If this is true,” then said the queen,
“Tonight, you say, it shall be seen.
And if it falls to me, through grace,
That this god Amon I’ll embrace,
And for my love he’ll nobly sue,
I will bestow enough on you
Whereof you shall forevermore
Be rich.” He thanked her then, therefore,
And took his leave, and forth he went.
She little knew just what he meant
To do, for guile and sorcery
Was what she took for prophecy.
Nectanebus, throughout the day,
When he came home to where he’d stay,
Into his chamber he betook
Himself, and studied many a book,
And through the craft of Artemage,
In wax he formed a small image.
He looked into his equations,
Also, all the constellations,
He looked into their conjunctions,
What’s received through all their functions,
His sign, hour, and ascendant,
On which fortune was dependent,
And the name OLYMPIAS
Upon the image written was
Across her forehead, up above.
And thus, to win his lust of love,
Nectanebus did all this work;
And when time slipped within night’s murk,
So everyone fell fast asleep,
This rendezvous he thought to keep,
As when a fatal hour’s appointed.
First he carefully anointed
That wax figure with an herbal
Brew, and conjurations verbal
Made, enchantment his intent.
This lady, who was innocent
And so knew nothing of his guile,
Did dream, when she had slept a while,
How from the heavens came a light
That made all of her chamber bright,
And she looked back and forth to where
She thought she saw a dragon there,
Whose scales were shining like the sun,
And who had his soft pace begun
With all the friendliness he may,
Towards the bed, as there she lay,
Until he stopped at her bedside.
And she lay still, and never cried,
For in all things, his way was fair,
Quite courteous, and debonair,
And standing close as he could be,
His figure changed, quite suddenly,
And in the form of man, by name,
To her and into bed he came,
And such a work of love he wrought,
Whereof, or so it was she thought,
Through liking of this god Amon,
Her womb arose with child, anon,
And she was wondrous glad withal.
Nectanebus had caused it all,
This dream, and its reality;
When he saw fit, black sorcery
He ceased, and nothing more did say
Of who he was, and straightaway
She started out of sleep, believing
Truth in all of these deceiving
Details that the scholar told,
And was the gladder, manifold,
In hope that her glad reverie
Would soon become reality.
And she longed sorely for the day
When she could tell all that she may
To this beguiler privately,
Who knew it all, as well as she;
And nonetheless, at morning’s sun,
She left all other things undone,
And sent for him, and did attempt
To tell him plainly what she’d dreamt,
And told him also how she knew
That she could trust his word as true,
For she had found that all her vision
Matched exactly, with precision,
What he told to her before.
She prayed him heartily, therefore
That he would keep his covenant
With her, whatever time she spent,
So she might through his ordering
Towards the god do pleasuring,
That she in waking might still keep
The god that she had met in sleep.
Nectanebus, who well knew guile,
On hearing this, did crack a smile,
And said, “Madame, it shall be so.
I must give you a warning, though:
This evening, when he comes to play,
All others must be far away
But I, who shall at his behest
Arrange it all so that your guest
He’ll be, and nothing shall go wrong.
For this, I give you counsel strong,
Madame, kept private it must be,
So no one else except us three
Will know a single hint of this,
Or elsewise, it might go amiss
If you did aught that should him grieve.”
And this he caused her to believe,
While good faith under guile he feigned,
But nonetheless, all he explained
She trusted; and again that night
Within her chamber, all was right,
So this beguiler, hid fast by
In secret till the god drew nigh,
Could wait, as he had set the scene.
And so, this noble, gentle queen
When she most trusted, was deceived.
Night came; the servants were relieved,
Nectanebus took up his place,
And when he’d gauged the time and place,
Through the deceit of magic’s lies,
Put off his wonted manly guise,
And then put on a dragon’s form,
As one who wished to match the norm
That she saw in a dream, before;
And thus, he reached her chamber door.
The queen lay there in bed, to see
And hope, as ever, just as he
Came in, that Libya’s god drew near.
So that she’d be the less in fear,
And since he wished to reassure
Still more, he changed his own figure,
And of a wether the likeness
He took, a sign of nobleness,
With horns, to suit his current whim;
Of gold and jewels, thus gracing him,
A crown upon his head he bore,
And suddenly, right there before
She knew it, as the guileful can,
He turned his form into a man,
And came to bed, and she lay still,
So that she suffered all his will,
As one who thought it no misdeed.
And yet it happened so, indeed:
Although she was partways deceived,
Yet for all that, she had conceived
The worthiest of all mankind
Before or since, you’d ever find
In conquest and in chivalry,
So that through guile and sorcery
There was that noble knight begun
Who all the world thereafter won.
Thus, all had fallen as it should,
Nectanebus had what he would:
With guile, towards his love he sped,
With guile, he came into her bed,
With guile, he got him out again:
He was the shrewdest chamberlain,
To so beguile a worthy queen,
And fool himself, as shall be seen.
But nonetheless, the deed was done,
The bogus god soon cut and run,
Kept quiet, and laid low all night,
But rose with morning’s early light,
And then, at time and leisure’s pace,
Olympias told him her case,
As one who did no guile suspect;
And then two questions did select:
One was, if this great god no more
Would come to her, and furthermore,
How she should then stand in accord
With King Philip, her own liege lord,
When he came home and saw her grown.
“Madame,” he said, “my task alone
Is this; for him I’ll guarantee
That if you want his company
Again at any time, perchance,
Tell me just one day in advance,
And he will be with you that night;
And he possesses such great might
So as to keep you from all blame.
Therefore be comforted, and tame
Those worries that will never be.”
And thus he took his leave, and he
Went forth, and then began to muse
On how the queen he might excuse
To Philip, of what did befall;
And found a craft among them all
Through which he tamed a gull by force,
And thus enchanted, on its course
It flew, and so, when it was night,
On Philip’s tent it did alight,
Where he lay camped amid his host:
When depth of sleep was uttermost,
With charms the seagull to him brought,
And charms Nectanebus had wrought
At home, and in his chamber’s still,
The king he turned unto his will,
And Philip soon did dream and see
The dragon, and what privately
Was done between him and the queen,
And furthermore, he soon had seen
In dreams, just how the god Amon
Rose from the queen, and thereupon
Did flash a ring, wherein a stone
Was set, and graven on it shone
A sun, in which, with Amon nigh,
A lion with a sword he’d spy,
And Amon printed, as he dreamed,
Upon her womb, and thus it seemed
He set his seal, and went away.
With that, the dream went, and with day,
The king began to stir awake,
And sighing long for his wife’s sake,
Where he was lying in his tent,
He wondered greatly what it meant.
With that, he hastened to arise,
And sent at once for the most wise,
Among whom he knew there was one,
A learned cleric, Amphion:
And when the king’s dream he had heard,
What it betokened, he answered,
And said, “As sure as I have life,
A god has lain beside your wife,
And got a son, one who shall win
The world and all it holds within.
As lion king of beasts does stand,
The world obeys at his command,
And it shall with a sword be won
That shines as fair as any sun.”
The king did doubt this fated fame,
But nonetheless, the day he came
To his own land again, renowned,
His wife grown great with child he found.
The king might not himself bestir
Without a gloomy look at her.
But he who knew of all this sorrow,
Sly Nectanebus, that morrow
Used a black magician’s guile
To take a dragon’s form, and while
King Philip sat within his hall,
He came and crawled among them all,
With such a noise and such a roar,
That they were all aghast, and sore
Afraid that they should die anon.
And yet he hurt none, but went on
Towards the royal dais on high,
And when Olympias was nigh,
He stilled his awful noise, and this
Was how he offered his service:
He laid his head upon her breast,
And every fondness she expressed
As round his neck her arm she threw,
And thus she petted him, in view
Of all those present in the hall,
And then at last they saw him fall
To make a bow, on bended knee
Before her; and then suddenly,
His dragon’s shape, grotesque and strange,
He did into an eagle’s change,
And high upon a railing flew,
A marvel in the king’s purview,
For there he preened himself, to groom
His feathers, pleased with every plume,
As hawks do; gave himself a shake,
Whereof all Philip’s hall did quake,
As if an earthquake had begun.
A god was there, said everyone:
The eagle vanished, and the king,
Who saw this strange and wondrous thing,
When he came to his room, alone,
Unto the queen did make his moan,
And did for her forgiveness pray:
He knew, from what he’d seen that day,
Her child was fathered by a god.
Thus was the king, without a rod,
Chastised, and thus, the queen excused
Of that whereof she’d been accused.
And, to give greater evidence,
Soon after that, in the presence
Of King Philip and other men,
When they rode in the fields again,
A pheasant came before their eyes,
And as it flew up to the skies,
In fleeing, caused an egg to fall,
Which broke apart before them all,
And as they token of it kept,
They saw that from the shell there crept
A little serpent on the ground,
That crawled and slithered all around,
And back inside it would have turned,
But for the shining sun that burned
Upon it, and it soon was dead.
Then Amphion the scholar said,
“Just as this snake, when it was out
Went circling its shell round about,
And could not get back in, we see,
So shall it fall in certainty
This child shall all the world surround,
And over all, as king be crowned
As shall befall; and, of young age,
Desire, as his heart shall gauge,
When all the world is in his hand,
To turn again, back to the land
Where he was born, and in this wise,
Homebound, with poison draught he dies.”
The king, who saw this omen sent,
From that day forth, howso it went,
His jealousy had all forgot.
But he that had the child begot,
Nectanebus, in privacy,
The time of its nativity
Did mark upon the stars, and waited,
Then unto the queen related
Everything that should be done,
And marked the hours, one by one,
Minutes all accounted for,
So that the queen in due time bore
This child, and at his time of birth,
Many wonders filled the earth:
Earthquakes all the world could feel,
The sun took on the hue of steel
And lost his light; the gale winds blew
And many strongholds overthrew;
The sea his proper channel changed,
The whole world’s shape was rearranged,
The thunder with his fiery light
So cruel was, on heaven’s height,
That every creature here on earth
Bethought his life of little worth.
The tempests all at last had ceased,
The child was raised, his age increased,
And Alexander he was named,
To whom Calistre, and the famed
Sage Aristotle soon were brought
To teach philosophy’s deep thought,
Astronomy, and all they’d known.
Also to teach, till he was grown,
Nectanebus took him in hand.
But as all men may understand,
With sorcery, as it may wend,
It proved the way to his own end,
And namely, magic to beguile
A lady, trusting all the while,
Supposing truth in all she hears.
But often, he whose evil steers
His ship, is drowned in ill he does,
And that’s exactly how it was.
Nectanebus went out one night,
When it was clear and stars were bright,
And led this young lord up on high
Upon a tower, there to spy
The stars, whose signs he reckoned true,
And said what they amounted to,
As one who knew of everything;
And yet, he had no reckoning
What should unto himself befall.
When he’d told Alexander all,
A question, then, the young lord posed,
And asked of him if he supposed
He knew how he himself would die.
He said, “Else Fortune is awry,
And every star has lost his way,
By my own son, some evil day,
I shall be slain, I may not flee.”
Thought Alexander privately,
“About this, the old dotard lies.”
And then, he took him by surprise,
And suddenly, old bones and all,
He shoved at one thrust from the wall,
And told him, “Lie down there, apart:
What is the good of all your art?
Of other men, you knew each chance,
And of yourself had ignorance:
What you foresaw, amongst it all,
For you, is never to befall.”
Nectanebus had found his death,
Yet while he still had life and breath,
To Alexander he did say
All wrong and blame upon him lay
From point to point, till he was done:
He was Nectanebus’ own son.
Then Alexander, sorry too,
Out of the ditch his father drew,
And told his mother what occurred,
In private; and when she had heard,
And knew the tokens of her play,
She did not know what she should say,
But stood abashed for quite a while,
As to his magic and his guile.
She thought of how she was deceived,
That she had of mere man conceived,
And thought a god on earth was he.
But nonetheless, to such degree
As she might her own honor save,
She put the body in the grave.
Nectanebus had dearly bought
The sorcery that he had wrought;
Though he, over all poor creatures,
Through his characters and figures
Mastery and power had,
God gave him naught but what was bad,
Against whose laws his craft he used
When he, for lust, his God refused,
And made the Devil’s craft his own.
Lo, what good profit had he known?
That thing by which he hoped to stand
Saw him exiled out of the land
That was his own, and from a king
Turned him to a mere underling,
And led him to deceive a queen,
Which caused him anguish unforeseen.
Through lust for love, he got but hate,
An end that he could not abate.
Old slynesses that he once knew,
Young Alexander overthrew;
The father who had misbegot
He slew: a mishap, was it not?
For one misdeed, misdeeds were his
Full yield, as oftentimes it is;
Nectanebus his craft misspent,
So it misfell him, ere he went.
What help can such book-learning be
That makes men do such lunacy?
Black magic is that folly’s name,
And it is always cause for blame.
 

© 2010 by Ellin Anderson. All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be copied or used in any way
without written permission from the author.


Young Barret O'Bara
Seabrook
Tiger and Blue Jewel

Winter's Hill
Maple-Key Song
November in Camelot

Wassail Song
Veleda
Cinderella
The Rooster at Midsummer
Liberty Enlightens the People

The Leap
The Goldfinch
Three Bears
Song of the Lily
White Tree at Twilight
The Christmas Tree

Song-Sparrow
Grand Bois du Nord
The Owl
Moth Summer
Verticordia
The Little God of Joy
Pear-Petals
Photographing the Moon
A Rabbit
Rose, Do You Know
The Two Pining Bachelors
Lorelei
Persephone

Avalon
The Harvest Chorus
The Maple Mask
Ghost Cardinal

The Little Heath-Rose
Found
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Song for the Harp

The Spinner
 
The Prayer of Cephalus
Circe and Ulysses
The Black Arts
Tristan and Isolde & Jupiter's Two Casks

Home Page

More Poems by Ellin Anderson

The Little Mermaid
Vermeer
Anne's Hearth