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Pars Prima

At Sarra, in the land of Tartary,
There dwelt a king that warrayed Russie,
Through which there died many a doughty man;
This noble king was called Cambuscan,
Which in his time was of so great renown,
That there was nowhere in no regioun
So excellent a lord in alle thing:
Him lacked nought that longeth to a king,
As of the sect of which that he was born.
He kept his law to which he was y-sworn,
And thereto he was hardy, wise, and rich,
And piteous and just, always y-lich;
True of his word, benign and honourable;
Of his corage as any centre stable;
Young, fresh, and strong, in armes desirous
As any bachelor of all his house.
A fair person he was, and fortunate,
And kept alway so well his royal estate,
That there was nowhere such another man.
This noble king, this Tartar Cambuscan,
Hadde two sons by Elfeta his wife,
Of which the eldest highte Algarsife,
The other was y-called Camballo.
A daughter had this worthy king also,
That youngest was, and highte Canace:
But for to telle you all her beauty,
It lies not in my tongue, nor my conning;
I dare not undertake so high a thing:
Mine English eke is insufficient,
It muste be a rhetor excellent,
That couth his colours longing for that art,
If he should her describen any part;
I am none such, I must speak as I can.

And so befell, that when this Cambuscan
Had twenty winters borne his diadem,
As he was won't from year to year, I deem,
He let the feast of his nativity
Do crye, throughout Sarra his city,
The last Idus of March, after the year.
Phoebus the sun full jolly was and clear,
For he was nigh his exaltation
In Marte's face, and in his mansion
In Aries, the choleric hot sign:
Full lusty was the weather and benign;
For which the fowls against the sunne sheen,
What for the season and the younge green,
Full loude sange their affections:
Them seemed to have got protections
Against the sword of winter keen and cold.
This Cambuscan, of which I have you told,
In royal vesture, sat upon his dais,
With diadem, full high in his palace;
And held his feast so solemn and so rich,
That in this worlde was there none it lich.
Of which if I should tell all the array,
Then would it occupy a summer's day;
And eke it needeth not for to devise
At every course the order of service.
I will not tellen of their strange sewes,
Nor of their swannes, nor their heronsews.
Eke in that land, as telle knightes old,
There is some meat that is full dainty hold,
That in this land men reck of it full small:
There is no man that may reporten all.
I will not tarry you, for it is prime,
And for it is no fruit, but loss of time;
Unto my purpose I will have recourse.
And so befell that, after the third course,
While that this king sat thus in his nobley,
Hearing his ministreles their thinges play
Before him at his board deliciously,
In at the halle door all suddenly
There came a knight upon a steed of brass,
And in his hand a broad mirror of glass;
Upon his thumb he had of gold a ring,
And by his side a naked sword hanging:
And up he rode unto the highe board.
In all the hall was there not spoke a word,
For marvel of this knight; him to behold
Full busily they waited, young and old.

This strange knight, that came thus suddenly,
All armed, save his head, full richely,
Saluted king, and queen, and lordes all,
By order as they satten in the hall,
With so high reverence and observance,
As well in speech as in his countenance,
That Gawain with his olde courtesy,
Though he were come again out of Faerie,
Him coulde not amende with a word.
And after this, before the highe board, by one word
He with a manly voice said his message,
After the form used in his language,
Withoute vice of syllable or letter. fault
And, for his tale shoulde seem the better,
Accordant to his worde's was his cheer,
As teacheth art of speech them that it lear.
Albeit that I cannot sound his style,
Nor cannot climb over so high a stile,
Yet say I this, as to commune intent,
Thus much amounteth all that ever he meant,
If it so be that I have it in mind.
He said; "The king of Araby and Ind,
My liege lord, on this solemne day
Saluteth you as he best can and may,
And sendeth you, in honour of your feast,
By me, that am all ready at your hest,
This steed of brass, that easily and well
Can in the space of one day naturel
(This is to say, in four-and-twenty hours),
Whereso you list, in drought or else in show'rs,
Beare your body into every place
To which your hearte willeth for to pace,
Withoute wem of you, through foul or fair. hurt, injury
Or if you list to fly as high in air
As doth an eagle, when him list to soar,
This same steed shall bear you evermore
Withoute harm, till ye be where you lest
(Though that ye sleepen on his back, or rest),
And turn again, with writhing of a pin. twisting
He that it wrought, he coude many a gin;
He waited in any a constellation,
Ere he had done this operation,
And knew full many a seal and many a bond
This mirror eke, that I have in mine hond,
Hath such a might, that men may in it see
When there shall fall any adversity
Unto your realm, or to yourself also,
And openly who is your friend or foe.
And over all this, if any lady bright
Hath set her heart on any manner wight,
If he be false, she shall his treason see,
His newe love, and all his subtlety,
So openly that there shall nothing hide.
Wherefore, against this lusty summer-tide,
This mirror, and this ring that ye may see,
He hath sent to my lady Canace,
Your excellente daughter that is here.
The virtue of this ring, if ye will hear,
Is this, that if her list it for to wear
Upon her thumb, or in her purse it bear,
There is no fowl that flyeth under heaven,
That she shall not well understand his steven,
And know his meaning openly and plain,
And answer him in his language again:
And every grass that groweth upon root
She shall eke know, to whom it will do boot,
All be his woundes ne'er so deep and wide.
This naked sword, that hangeth by my side,
Such virtue hath, that what man that it smite,
Throughout his armour it will carve and bite,
Were it as thick as is a branched oak:
And what man is y-wounded with the stroke
Shall ne'er be whole, till that you list, of grace,
To stroke him with the flat in thilke place
Where he is hurt; this is as much to sayn,
Ye muste with the flatte sword again
Stroke him upon the wound, and it will close.
This is the very sooth, withoute glose;
It faileth not, while it is in your hold."

And when this knight had thus his tale told,
He rode out of the hall, and down he light.
His steede, which that shone as sunne bright,
Stood in the court as still as any stone.
The knight is to his chamber led anon,
And is unarmed, and to meat y-set.
These presents be full richely y-fet,
This is to say, the sword and the mirrour, —
And borne anon into the highe tow'r,
With certain officers ordain'd therefor;
And unto Canace the ring is bore
Solemnely, where she sat at the table;
But sickerly, withouten any fable,
The horse of brass, that may not be remued.
It stood as it were to the ground y-glued;
There may no man out of the place it drive
For no engine of windlass or polive;
And cause why, for they can not the craft;
And therefore in the place they have it laft, of the mechanism
Till that the knight hath taught them the mannere
To voide him, as ye shall after hear.
Great was the press, that swarmed to and fro
To gauren on this horse that stoode so:
For it so high was, and so broad and long,
So well proportioned for to be strong,
Right as it were a steed of Lombardy;
Therewith so horsely, and so quick of eye,
As it a gentle Poileis courser were:
For certes, from his tail unto his ear
Nature nor art ne could him not amend
In no degree, as all the people wend.
But evermore their moste wonder was
How that it coulde go, and was of brass;
It was of Faerie, as the people seem'd.
Diverse folk diversely they deem'd;
As many heads, as many wittes been.
They murmured, as doth a swarm of been,
And made skills after their fantasies,
Rehearsing of the olde poetries,
And said that it was like the Pegasee,
The horse that hadde winges for to flee;
Or else it was the Greeke's horse Sinon,
That broughte Troye to destruction,
As men may in the olde gestes read.
Mine heart," quoth one, "is evermore in dread;
I trow some men of armes be therein,
That shape them this city for to win:
It were right good that all such thing were know."
Another rowned to his fellow low,
And said, "He lies; for it is rather like
An apparence made by some magic,
As jugglers playen at these feastes great."
Of sundry doubts they jangle thus and treat.
As lewed people deeme commonly
Of thinges that be made more subtilly
Than they can in their lewdness comprehend;
They deeme gladly to the badder end.
And some of them wonder'd on the mirrour, the worst
That borne was up into the master tow'r,
How men might in it suche thinges see.
Another answer'd and said, it might well be
Naturally by compositions
Of angles, and of sly reflections;
And saide that in Rome was such a one.
They speak of Alhazen and Vitellon,
And Aristotle, that wrote in their lives
Of quainte mirrors, and of prospectives,
As knowe they that have their bookes heard.
And other folk have wonder'd on the swerd,
That woulde pierce throughout every thing;
And fell in speech of Telephus the king,
And of Achilles for his quainte spear,
For he could with it bothe heal and dere,
Right in such wise as men may with the swerd
Of which right now ye have yourselves heard.
They spake of sundry hard'ning of metal,
And spake of medicines therewithal,
And how, and when, it shoulde harden'd be,
Which is unknowen algate unto me.
Then spake they of Canacee's ring,
And saiden all, that such a wondrous thing
Of craft of rings heard they never none,
Save that he, Moses, and King Solomon,
Hadden a name of conning in such art.
Thus said the people, and drew them apart. knowledge
Put natheless some saide that it was
Wonder to maken of fern ashes glass,
And yet is glass nought like ashes of fern;
But for they have y-knowen it so ferne
Therefore ceaseth their jangling and their wonder.
As sore wonder some on cause of thunder,
On ebb and flood, on gossamer and mist,
And on all things, till that the cause is wist.
Thus jangle they, and deemen and devise,
Till that the king gan from his board arise.

Phoebus had left the angle meridional,
And yet ascending was the beast royal,
The gentle Lion, with his Aldrian,
When that this Tartar king, this Cambuscan,
Rose from the board, there as he sat full high
Before him went the loude minstrelsy,
Till he came to his chamber of parements,
There as they sounded diverse instruments,
That it was like a heaven for to hear.
Now danced lusty Venus' children dear:
For in the Fish their lady sat full
And looked on them with a friendly eye.
This noble king is set upon his throne;
This strange knight is fetched to him full sone,
And on the dance he goes with Canace.
Here is the revel and the jollity,
That is not able a dull man to devise:
He must have knowen love and his service,
And been a feastly man, as fresh as May,
That shoulde you devise such array.
Who coulde telle you the form of dances
So uncouth, and so freshe countenances
Such subtle lookings and dissimulances,
For dread of jealous men's apperceivings?
No man but Launcelot, and he is dead.
Therefore I pass o'er all this lustihead
I say no more, but in this jolliness
I leave them, till to supper men them dress.
The steward bids the spices for to hie
And eke the wine, in all this melody;
The ushers and the squiers be y-gone,
The spices and the wine is come anon;
They eat and drink, and when this hath an end,
Unto the temple, as reason was, they wend;
The service done, they suppen all by day
What needeth you rehearse their array?
Each man wot well, that at a kinge's feast
Is plenty, to the most, and to the least,
And dainties more than be in my knowing.

At after supper went this noble king
To see the horse of brass, with all a rout
Of lordes and of ladies him about.
Such wond'ring was there on this horse of brass,
That, since the great siege of Troye was,
There as men wonder'd on a horse also,
Ne'er was there such a wond'ring as was tho.
But finally the king asked the knight
The virtue of this courser, and the might,
And prayed him to tell his governance.
The horse anon began to trip and dance,
When that the knight laid hand upon his rein,
And saide, "Sir, there is no more to sayn,
But when you list to riden anywhere,
Ye muste trill a pin, stands in his ear,
Which I shall telle you betwixt us two;
Ye muste name him to what place also,
Or to what country that you list to ride.
And when ye come where you list abide,
Bid him descend, and trill another pin
(For therein lies th' effect of all the gin),
And he will down descend and do your will,
And in that place he will abide still;
Though all the world had the contrary swore,
He shall not thence be throwen nor be bore.
Or, if you list to bid him thennes gon,
Trill this pin, and he will vanish anon
Out of the sight of every manner wight,
And come again, be it by day or night,
When that you list to clepe him again call
In such a guise, as I shall to you sayn
Betwixte you and me, and that full soon.
Ride when you list, there is no more to do'n.'
Informed when the king was of the knight,
And had conceived in his wit aright
The manner and the form of all this thing,
Full glad and blithe, this noble doughty king
Repaired to his revel as beforn.
The bridle is into the tower borne,
And kept among his jewels lefe and dear;
The horse vanish'd, I n'ot in what mannere,
Out of their sight; ye get no more of me:
But thus I leave in lust and jollity
This Cambuscan his lordes feastying,
Until well nigh the day began to spring.

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