Sir Orfeo

General notes

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2500 ¶ Orfeo was a king, {f.300ra} View Facsimile
In Inglond an heiȝe lording,
A stalworþ man & hardi bo,
A: MS has a T, but underdotted.
Large & curteys he was also.
His fader was comen of king Pluto
3000 & his moder of king Juno
Þat sum time were as godes yhold
For auentours þat þai dede & told.
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Þis king soiournd in Traciens
Þat was a cite of noble defens;
For Winchester was cleped þo
5000 Traciens wiþouten no.
¶ Þe king hadde a quen of priis
Þat was ycleped dame Herodis,
Þe fairest leuedi for þe nones
Þat miȝt gon on bodi & bones,
5500 Ful of loue & of godenisse,
Ac no man may telle hir fairnise.

Bifel so in þe comessing of May
Bifel: MS reads Tifel.
When miri & hot is þe day
& oway beþ winter-schours
6000 & eueri feld is ful of flours
& blosme breme on eueri bouȝ,
Oueral wexeþ miri anouȝ,
¶ Þis ich quen, Dame Heurodis,
Tok to maidens of priis
6500 & went in an vndrentide
To play bi an orchard side,
To se þe floures sprede & spring,
sprede: r is superscript.
& to here þe foules sing.
Þai sett hem doun al þre
7000 Vnder a fair ympe-tre
& wel sone þis fair quene
Fel on slepe opon þe grene.
Þe maidens durst hir nouȝt awake
Bot lete hir ligge & rest take.
7500 So sche slepe til afternone,
Þat vndertide was al ydone.
Ac as sone as sche gan awake
Sche crid & loþli bere gan make,
Sche froted hir honden & hir fet
8000 & crached hir visage, it bled wete,
Hir riche robe hye al torett
& was reueysed out of hir witt.
reueysed: MS reads remeyd.
Þe tvo maidens hir biside {f.300rb} View Facsimile
No durst wiþ hir no leng abide
8500 Bot ourn to þe palays ful riȝt
& told boþe squier & kniȝt
Þat her quen awede wold
& bad hem go & hir athold.
Kniȝtes vrn & leuedis also,
9000 Damisels sexti & mo,
In þe orchard to þe quen hye come
& her vp in her armes nome
& brouȝt hir to bed atte last
& held hir þere fine fast;
9500 Ac euer sche held in o cri
& wold vp & owy.
When Orfeo herd þat tiding,
Neuer him nas wers for no þing.
He come wiþ kniȝtes tene
1000 To chaumber riȝt bifor þe quene
& biheld & seyd wiþ grete pite
‘O lef liif, what is te
Þat euer ȝete hast ben so stille
& now gredest wonder schille?
1050 Þi bodi, þat was so white ycore,
Wiþ þine nailes is al totore.
Allas, þi rode þat was so red
Is al wan as þou were ded,
& also þine fingres smale
1100 Beþ al blodi & al pale.
Allas, þi louesom eyȝen to
Lokeþ so man doþ on his fo.
A! dame, ich biseche merci.
Lete ben al þis reweful cri
1150 & tel me what þe is & hou
& what þing may þe help now.’
Þo lay sche stille atte last
& gan to wepe swiþe fast
& seyd þus þe king to
1200 ‘Allas, mi lord Sir Orfeo,
Seþþen we first togider were
Ones wroþ neuer we nere
Bot euer ich haue yloued þe
As mi liif, & so þou me.
1250 Ac now we mot delen ato;
Do þi best, for y mot go.’
‘Allas!’ quaþ he ‘forlorn icham, {f.300va} View Facsimile
Whider wiltow go & to wham?
Whider þou gost ichil wiþ þe,
1300 & whider y go þou schalt wiþ me.’
‘Nay, nay, sir, þat nouȝt nis;
Ichil þe telle al hou it is:
As ich lay þis vndertide
& slepe vnder our orchard-side
1350 Þer come to me to fair kniȝtes,
Wele y-armed al to riȝtes,
& bad me comen an heiȝing
& speke wiþ her lord þe king.
And ich answerd at wordes bold,
1400 Y n[o] durst nouȝt no y nold.
Þai priked oȝain as þai miȝt driue;
Þo com her king also bliue
Wiþ an hundred kniȝtes & mo
& damisels an hundred also
1450 Al on snowe-white stedes;
As white as milke were her wedes,
Y no seiȝe neuer ȝete bifore
So fair creatours ycore.
Þe king hadde a croun on hed,
1500 It nas of siluer no of gold red
Ac it was of a precious ston,
As briȝt as þe sonne it schon.
& as son as he to me cam,
Wold ich, nold ich, he me nam
1550 & made me wiþ him ride
Opon a palfray bi his side
& brouȝt me to his palays,
Wele atird in ich ways,
& schewed me castels & tours,
1600 Riuers, forestes, friþ wiþ flours,
& his riche stedes ichon;
& seþþen me brouȝt oȝain hom
Into our owhen orchard,
& said to me þus afterward
1650 ‘Loke, dame, tomorwe þatow be
Riȝt here vnder þis ympe-tre,
& þan þou schalt wiþ ous go
& liue wiþ ous euermo;
& ȝif þou makest ous ylet,
1700 Whar þou be, þou worst yfet,
& totore þine limes al {f.300vb} View Facsimile
Þat noþing help þe no schal;
& þei þou best so totorn
ȝete þou worst wiþ ous yborn.’

1750 When king Orfeo herd þis cas

‘O we!’ quaþ he ‘allas, allas!
Leuer me were to lete mi liif
Þan þus to lese þe quen mi wiif.’
He asked conseyl at ich man
1800 Ac no man him help no can.
Amorwe þe vndertide is come
& Orfeo haþ his armes ynome
& wele ten hundred kniȝtes wiþ him
Ich y-armed stout & grim;
1850 & wiþ þe quen wenten he
Riȝt vnto þat ympe-tre.
Þai made scheltrom in ich a side
& sayd þai wold þere abide
& dye þer euerichon
1900 Er þe quen schuld fram hem gon.
Ac ȝete amiddes hem ful riȝt
Þe quen was oway ytviȝt,
Wiþ fairi forþ ynome;
Men wist neuer where sche was bicome.
1950 Þo was þer criing, wepe & wo.
Þe king into his chaumber is go
& oft swoned opon þe ston
& made swiche diol & swiche mon
Þat neiȝe his liif was yspent;
2000 Þer was non amendement.
He cleped togider his barouns,
Erls, lordes of renouns,
& when þai al ycomen were
‘Lordinges’ he said ‘bifor ȝou here
2050 Ich ordainy min heiȝe steward
To wite mi kingdom afterward;
In mi stede ben he schal,
To kepe mi londes ouer al.
For now ichaue mi quen ylore,
2100 Þe fairest leuedi þat euer was bore,
Neuer eft y nil no woman se.
Into wildernes ichil te
& liue þer euermore
Wiþ wilde bestes in holtes hore.
2150 & when ȝe vnderstond þat y be spent {f.301ra} View Facsimile
Make ȝou þan a parlement
& chese ȝou a newe king.
Now doþ ȝour best wiþ al mi þing.’

Þo was þer wepeing in þe halle
Þo: MS Io.
An artist's error, despite having the correct
guide letter from the scribe.
2200 & grete cri among hem alle;
Vnneþe miȝt old or ȝong
For wepeing speke a word wiþ tong.
Þai kneled adoun al yfere
& praid him, ȝif his wille were,
2250 Þat he no schuld nouȝt fram hem go.
‘Do way!’ quaþ he ‘it schal be so.’
Al his kingdom he forsoke;
Bot a sclauin on him he toke –
He no hadde kirtel no hode,
2300 Schert, [no] no noþer gode.
Bot his harp he tok algate
& dede him barfot out atte ȝate;
No man most wiþ him go.
O way! what þer was wepe & wo
2350 When he þat hadde ben king wiþ croun
Went so pouerlich out of toun.
Þurth wode & ouer heþ
Into þe wildernes he geþ.
Noþing he fint þat him is ays
2400 Bot euer he liueþ in gret malais.
He þat hadde ywerd þe fowe & griis,
& on bed þe purper biis,
Now on hard heþe he liþ,
Wiþ leues & gresse he him wriþ.
2450 He þat hadde had castels & tours,
Riuer, forest, friþ wiþ flours,
Now, þei it comenci to snewe & frese,
Þis king mot make his bed in mese.
He þat had yhad kniȝtes of priis
2500 Bifor him kneland & leuedis,
Now seþ he noþing þat him likeþ,
Bot wilde wormes bi him strikeþ.
He þat had yhad plente
Of mete & drink, of ich deynte,
2550 Now may he al day digge & wrote
Er he finde his fille of rote.
In somer he liueþ bi wild frut
& berien bot gode lite;
In winter may he noþing finde {f.301rb} View Facsimile
2600 Bot rote, grases, & þe rinde.
Al his bodi was oway duine
For missays, and al tochine.
Lord! who may telle þe sore
Þis king sufferd ten ȝere & more?
2650 His here of his berd blac & rowe
To his girdelstede was growe.
His harp whereon was al his gle
He hidde in an holwe tre;
& when þe weder was clere & briȝt
2700 He toke his harp to him wel riȝt
& harped at his owhen wille.
Into alle þe wode þe soun gan schille
Þat alle þe wilde bestes þat þer beþ
For ioie abouten him þai teþ;
2750 & alle þe foules þat þer were
Come & sete on ich a brere
To here his harping afine,
So miche melody was þerin;
& when he his harping lete wold,
2800 No best bi him abide nold.
¶ He miȝt se him bisides
Oft in hot vndertides
Þe king o fairy wiþ his rout
Com to hunt him al about,
2850 Wiþ dim cri & bloweing
& houndes also wiþ him berking;
Ac no best þai no nome,
No neuer he nist whider þai bicome.
& oþer while he miȝt him se
2900 As a gret ost bi him te
Wele atourned ten hundred kniȝtes,
Ich y-armed to his riȝtes,
Of cuntenaunce stout & fers,
Wiþ mani desplaid baners
2950 & ich his swerd ydrawe hold,
Ac neuer he nist whider þai wold.
& oþer while he seiȝe oþer þing:
Kniȝtes & leuedis com daunceing
In queynt atire gisely,
3000 Queynt pas & softly;
Tabours & trumpes ȝede hem bi,
trumpes: MS reads trunpesi.
& al maner menstraci.

And on a day he seiȝe him biside {f.301va} View Facsimile
Sexti leuedis on hors ride,
3050 Gentil & iolif as brid on ris –
Nouȝt o man amonges hem þer nis.
& ich a faucoun on hond bere,
& riden on haukin bi o riuere.
Of game þai founde wel gode haunt:
3100 Maulardes, hayroun, & cormeraunt,
Þe foules of þe water ariseþ,
Þe faucouns hem wele deuiseþ;
Ich faucoun his pray slouȝ.
Þat seiȝe Orfeo & louȝ
3150 ‘Parfay!’ quaþ he ‘þer is fair game,
Þider ichil, bi Godes name.
Ich was ywon swiche werk to se.’
He aros & þider gan te.
To a leuedi he was ycome,
3200 Biheld & haþ wele vndernome
& seþ bi al þing þat it is
His owhen quen, Dam Heurodis.
ȝern he biheld hir & sche him eke,
Ac noiþer to oþer a word no speke.
3250 For messais þat sche on him seiȝe,
Þat had ben so riche & so heiȝe,
Þe teres fel out of her eiȝe.
Þe oþer leuedis þis yseiȝe
& maked hir oway to ride,
3300 Sche most wiþ him no lenger abide.
‘Allas!’ quaþ he ‘now me is wo.
Whi nil deþ now me slo?
Allas! wroche, þat y no miȝt
Dye now after þis siȝt.
3350 Allas! to long last mi liif
When y no dar nouȝt wiþ mi wiif,
No hye to me, o word speke.
Allas! whi nil min hert breke?
Parfay!’ quaþ he ‘tide wat bitide,
3400 Whider so þis leuedis ride,
Þe selue way ichil streche;
Of liif no deþ me no reche.’
His sclauain he dede on also spac
& henge his harp opon his bac
3450 & had wel gode wil to gon –
He no spard noiþer stub no ston.
In at a roche þe leuedis rideþ {f.301vb} View Facsimile
& he after & nouȝt abideþ.
When he was in þe roche ygo
3500 Wele þre mile oþer mo,
He com into a fair cuntray,
As briȝt so sonne on somers day,
Smoþe & plain & al grene,
Hille no dale nas þer non ysene.
3550 Amidde þe lond a castel he siȝe,
Riche & real & wonder heiȝe.
Al þe vtmast wal
Was clere & schine as cristal;
An hundred tours þer were about,
3600 Degiselich & bataild stout;
Þe butras com out of þe diche,
Of rede gold y-arched riche;
Þe vousour was anow[rn]ed al
Of ich maner diuers aumal.
3650 Wiþin þer wer wide wones
Al of precious stones.
Þe werst piler on to biholde
Was al of burnist gold.
Al þat lond was euer liȝt,
3700 For when it schuld be þerk & niȝt
Þe riche stones liȝt gonne
As briȝt as doþ at none þe sonne.
No man may telle no þenche in þouȝt
Þe riche werk þat þer was wrouȝt;
3750 Bi al þing him þink þat it is
Þe proude court of Paradis.
In þis castel þe leuedis aliȝt,
He wold in after ȝif he miȝt.
¶ Orfeo knokkeþ atte gate,
3800 Þe porter was redi þerate
& asked what he wold haue ydo.
‘Parfay!’ quaþ he ‘icham a minstrel, lo!
To solas þi lord wiþ mi gle,
ȝif his swete wille be.’
3850 Þe porter vndede þe ȝate anon
& lete him into þe castel gon.

Þan he gan bihold about al
& seiȝe ful liggeand wiþin þe wal
Of folk þat were þider ybrouȝt
3900 & þouȝt dede, & nare nouȝt.
Sum stode wiþouten hade {f.302ra} View Facsimile
& sum non armes nade
& sum þurth þe bodi hadde wounde
& sum lay wode, ybounde,
3950 & sum armed on hors sete
& sum astrangled as þai ete
& sum were in water adreynt
& sum wiþ fire al forschreynt;
Wiues þer lay on childbedde,
4000 Sum ded, & sum awedde;
& wonder fele þer lay bisides
Riȝt as þai slepe her vndertides.
Eche was þus in þis warld ynome,
Wiþ fairi þider ycome.
4050 Þer he seiȝe his owhen wiif,
Dame Heurodis, his lef liif,
lef: MS reads liif.
Slepe vnder an ympe-tre,
Bi her cloþes he knewe þat it was he.
¶ & when he hadde bihold þis meruails alle
4100 He went into þe kinges halle.
Þan seiȝe he þer a semly siȝt,
A tabernacle blisseful & briȝt,
Þerin her maister king sete
& her quen fair & swete.
4150 Her crounes, her cloþes, schine so briȝt
Þat vnneþe bihold he hem miȝt.
When he hadde biholden al þat þing
He kneled adoun bifor þe king.
‘O lord’ he seyd ‘ȝif it þi wille were,
4200 Mi menstraci þou schust yhere.’
Þe king answerd ‘what man artow
Þat art hider ycomen now?
Ich, no non þat is wiþ me,
No sent neuer after þe;
4250 Seþþen þat ich here regni gan
Y no fond neuer so fole-hardi man
Þat hider to ous durst wende
Bot þat ichim wald ofsende.’
‘Lord’ quaþ he ‘trowe ful wel,
4300 Y nam bot a pouer menstrel;
&, sir, it is þe maner of ous
To seche mani a lordes hous;
Þei we nouȝt welcom no be,
ȝete we mot proferi forþ our gle.’

4350 Bifor þe king he sat adoun,

& tok his harp so miri of soun,
miri: first i is superscript.
& tempreþ his harp, as he wele can,
& blisseful notes he þer gan,
Þat al þat in þe palays were
4400 Com to him for to here,
& liggeþ adoun to his fete,
Hem þenkeþ his melody so swete.
Þe king herkneþ & sitt ful stille,
To here his gle he haþ gode wille;
4450 Gode bourde he hadde of his gle,
Þe riche quen also hadde he.
When he hadde stint his harping,
Þan seyd to him þe king
‘Menstrel, me likeþ wele þi gle.
4500 Now aske of me what it be,
Largelich ichil þe pay.
Now speke & tow miȝt asay.’
‘Sir’ he seyd ‘ich biseche þe
Þatow woldest ȝiue me
4550 Þat ich leuedi, briȝt on ble,
Þat slepeþ vnder þe ympe-tre.’
‘Nay’ quaþ þe king ‘þat nouȝt nere.
A sori couple of ȝou it were,
For þou art lene, rowe, & blac,
4600 & sche is louesum wiþouten lac;
A loþlich þing it were forþi
To sen hir in þi compayni.’
¶ ‘O sir’ he seyd ‘gentil king,
ȝete were it a wele fouler þing
4650 To here a lesing of þi mouþe,
So, sir, as ȝe seyd nouþe,
What ich wold aski, haue y schold,
& nedes þou most þi word hold.’
Þe king seyd ‘seþþen it is so,
4700 Take hir bi þe hond & go;
Of hir ichil þatow be bliþe.’
He kneled adoun & þonked him swiþe,
His wiif he tok bi þe hond
& dede him swiþe out of þat lond
4750 & went him out of þat þede, –
Riȝt as he come þe way he ȝede.
So long he haþ þe way ynome
To Winchester he is ycome
Þat was his owhen cite; {f.302va} View Facsimile
4800 Ac no man knewe þat it was he.
No forþer þan þe tounes ende
For knoweleche [he] no durst wende,
Bot wiþ a begger y[n] bilt ful narwe,
Þer he tok his herbarwe,
4850 To him & to his owhen wiif,
As a minstrel of pouer liif,
& asked tidinges of þat lond
& who þe kingdom held in hond.
Þe pouer begger in his cote
4900 Told him euerich a grot:
Hou her quen was stole owy
Ten ȝer gon wiþ fairy;
& hou her king en exile ȝede,
Bot no man nist in wiche þede;
4950 & hou þe steward þe lond gan hold,
& oþer mani þinges him told.

Amorwe, oȝain nonetide,
He maked his wiif þer abide;
Þe beggers cloþes he borwed anon,
5000 & heng his harp his rigge opon,
& went him into þat cite,
Þat men miȝt him bihold & se.
Erls & barouns bold,
Buriays & leuedis him gun bihold.
5050 ‘Lo!’ þai seyd ‘swiche a man,
Hou long þe here hongeþ him opan.
Lo! hou his berd hongeþ to his kne.
He is yclongen also a tre.’
a entered superscript.
& as he ȝede in þe strete
5100 Wiþ his steward he gan mete
& loude he sett on him a crie
‘Sir steward’ he seyd ‘merci!
Icham an harpour of heþenisse,
Help me now in þis destresse.’
5150 Þe steward seyd ‘com wiþ me, come;
Of þat ichaue þou schalt haue some.
Euerich gode harpour is welcom me to,
For mi lordes loue Sir Orfeo.’
¶ In þe castel þe steward sat atte mete
5200 & mani lording was bi him sete.
Þer were trompour[s] & tabourers,
Harpours fele, & crouders.
Miche melody þai maked alle {f.302vb} View Facsimile
& Orfeo sat stille in þe halle
5250 & herkneþ. When þai ben al stille
He toke his harp & tempred schille,
Þe bli[sse]fulest notes he harped þere
Þat euer ani man yherd wiþ ere;
Ich man liked wele his gle.
5300 Þe steward biheld & gan yse
& knewe þe harp als bliue.
‘Menstrel’ he seyd ‘so mot þou þriue,
Where hadestow þis harp, & hou?
Y pray þat þou me telle now.’
5350 ¶ ‘Lord’ quaþ he ‘in vncouþe þede,
Þurth a wildernes as y ȝede,
Þer y founde in a dale
Wiþ lyouns a man totorn smale
& wolues him frete wiþ teþ so scharp.
5400 Bi him y fond þis ich harp; y added superscript.
Wele ten ȝere it is ygo.’
‘O’ quaþ þe steward ‘now me is wo.
Þat was mi lord sir Orfeo.
Allas! wreche, what schal y do,
5450 Þat haue swiche a lord ylore?
A way! þat ich was ybore!
Þat him was so hard grace yȝarked
& so vile deþ ymarked!’
Adoun he fel aswon to grounde.
5500 His barouns him tok vp in þat stounde
& telleþ him hou it geþ –
It nis no bot of mannes deþ.
¶ King Orfeo knewe wele bi þan
His steward was a trewe man
5550 & loued him as he auȝt to do
& stont vp & seyt þus ‘lo,
Steward, herkne now þis þing,
ȝif ich were Orfeo þe king
& hadde ysuffred ful ȝore
5600 In wildernisse miche sore
& hadde ywon mi quen owy
Out of þe lond of fairy
& hadde ybrouȝt þe leuedi hende
Riȝt here to þe tounes ende
5650 & wiþ a begger her in ynome
& were miself hider ycome
Pouerlich to þe, þus stille, {f.303ra} View Facsimile
For to asay þi gode wille,
& ich founde þe þus trewe,
5700 Þou no schust it neuer rewe;
Sikerlich, for loue or ay,
Þou schust be king after mi day.
& ȝif þou of mi deþ hadest ben bliþe
Þou schust haue voided also swiþe.’
5750 ¶ Þo al þo þat þerin sete
Þat it was king Orfeo vnderȝete,
& þe steward him wele knewe;
Ouer & ouer þe bord he þrewe
& fel adoun to his fet;
5800 So dede euerich lord þat þer sete
& al þai seyd at o criing
‘ȝe beþ our lord, sir, & our king.’
Glad þai were of his liue,
To chaumber þai ladde him als biliue
5850 & baþed him & schaued his berd
& tired him as a king apert.
& seþþen wiþ gret processioun
Þai brouȝt þe quen into þe toun
Wiþ al maner menstraci.
5900 Lord! þer was grete melody.
For ioie þai wepe wiþ her eiȝe
Þat hem so sounde ycomen seiȝe.
Now king Orfeo newe coround is
& his quen Dame Heurodis
5950 & liued long afterward;
& seþþen was king þe steward.
Harpours in Bretaine after þan
Herd hou þis meruaile bigan
& made herof a lay of gode likeing
6000 & nempned it after þe king;
Þat lay ‘Orfeo’ is yhote;
Gode is þe lay, swete is þe note.
Þus com Sir Orfeo out of his care.
God graunt ous alle wele to fare. amen