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PALAMON AND ARCITE;

OR,

THE KNIGHT'S TALE.

BOOK I.

In days of old, there lived, of mighty fame,
A valiant prince, and Theseus was his name;
A chief, who more in feats of arms excellid,
The rising nor the setting sun beheld.
Of Athens he was lord ; much land he won,
And added foreign countries to his crown.
In Scythia with the warrior queen he strove,
Whom first by force he conquer'd, then by love;
He brought in triumph back the beauteous dame,
With whom her sister, fair Emilia, came.
With honour to his home let Theseus ride,
With love to friend, and fortune for his guide,
And his victorious army at his side.
I
pass

their warlike pomp, their proud array, Their shouts, their songs, their welcome on the way;

But, were it not too long, I would recite
The feats of Amazons, the fatal fight
Betwixt the hardy queen, and hero knight;
The town besieged, and how much blood it cost
The female army, and the Athenian host;
The spousals of Hippolita the queen;
What tilts and tourneys at the feast were seen;
The storm at their return, the ladies' fear;
But these, and other things, I must forbear.
The field is spacious I design to sow,
With oxen far unfit to draw the plow :
The remnant of my 'tale is of a length
To tire your patience, and to waste my strength;
And trivial accidents shall be forborne,
That others may have time to take their turn;
As was at first enjoin'd us by mine Host,
That he whose tale is best, and pleases most,
Should win his supper at our common cost.
And therefore where I left, I will pursue
This ancient story, whether false or true,
In hope it may be mended with a new.

The prince I mention'd, full of high renown,
In this array drew near the Athenian town;
When in his pomp and utmost of his pride,
Marching, he chanced to cast his eye aside,
And saw

a choir of mourning dames, who lay, By two and two, across the common way: At his approach they raised a rueful cry, And beat their breasts, and held their hands on high; Creeping and crying, till they seized at last His courser's bridle, and his feet embraced.

Tell me, said Theseus, what and whence you are, And why this funeral pageant you prepare? Is this the welcome of my worthy deeds, To meet my triumph, in ill-omen'd weeds?

.

Or envy you my praise, and would destroy
With grief my pleasures, and pollute my joy?
Or are you injured, and demand relief?
Name your request, and I will ease your grief.-

The most in years, of all the mourning train,
Began; but swooned first away for pain :
Then, scarce recover'd, spoke :-Nor envy we
Thy great renown, nor grudge thy victory :
'Tis thine, O king, the afflicted to redress,
And fame has fill'd the world with thy success :
We wretched women sue for that alone,
Which of thy goodness is refused to none;
Let fall some drops of pity on our grief,
If what we beg be just, and we deserve relief;
For none of us, who now thy grace implore,
But held the rank of sovereign queen before ;
Till, thanks to giddy chance, which never bears,
That mortal bliss should last for length of years,
She cast us headlong from our high estate,
And here in hope of thy return we wait;
And long have waited in the temple nigh,
Built to the gracious goddess Clemency.
But reverence thou the power, whose name it bears ;
Relieve the oppress’d, and wipe the widow's tears.
I, wretched I, have other fortune seen,
The wife of Capaneus, and once a queen :
At Thebes he fell; curst be the fatal day!
And all the rest thou seest in this array,
To make their moan, their lords in battle lost
Before that town besieged by our confederate host;
But Creon, old and impious, who commands
The Theban city, and usurps the lands,
Denies the rites of funeral fires to those
Whose breathless bodies yet he calls his foes.
Unburn'd, unburied, on a heap they lie ;
Such is their fate, and such his tyranny;

No friend has leave to bear away the dead,
But with their lifeless limbs his hounds are fed. -
At this she shriek'd aloud ; the mournful train
Echo'd her grief, and, grovelling on the plain,
With groans, and hands upheld, to move his mind,
Besought his pity to their helpless kind.

The prince was touch’d, his tears began to flow,
And, as his tender heart would break in two,
He sigh’d; and could not but their fate deplore,
So wretched now, so fortunate before.
Then lightly from his lofty steed he flew,
And raising one by one the suppliant crew,
To comfort each, full solemnly he șwore,
“ That, by the faith which knights to knighthood

bore, And whate'er else to chivalry belongs, He would not cease, till he revenged their wrongs; That Greece should see perform’d what he declared, And cruel Creon find his just reward.”He said no more, but, shunning all delay, Rode on, nor enter'd Athens on his way ; But left his sister and his queen behind, And waved his royal banner in the wind, Where, in an argent field, the God of War Was drawn triumphant on his iron car; Red was his sword, and shield, and whole attire, And all the godhead seem'd to glow with fire; Even the ground glitter'd where the standard flew, And the green grass was dyed to sanguine hue. High on his pointed lance, his pennon bore * His Cretan fight, the conquer'd Minotaur :

• The poet here introduces a distinction well known in heraldry. The banner was a square flag, which only barons of a great lineage and power had a right to display. The pennon was

The soldiers shout around with generous rage,
And in that victory their own presage.
He praised their ardour ; inly pleased to see
His host the flower of Grecian chivalry.
All day he march'd, and all the ensuing night,
And saw the city with returning light.
The
process

of the war I need not tell,
How Theseus conquer'd, and how Creon fell ;
Or after, how by storm the walls were won,
Or how the victor sack'd and burn'd the town ;
How to the ladies he restored again
The bodies of their lords in battle slain ;
And with what ancient rites they were interrd, -
All these to fitter times shall be deferr'd :
I spare the widows' tears, their woful cries,
And howling at their husbands' obsequies ;
How Theseus at these funerals did assist,
And with what gifts the mourning dames dismiss'd.

Thus when the victor-chief had Creon slain,
And conquerd Thebes, he pitch'd upon the plain
His mighty camp, and, when the day return'd,
The country wasted, and the hamlets burn'd,
And left the pillagers, to rapine bred,
Without controul, to strip and spoil the dead.

There, in a heap of slain, among the rest,
Two youthful knights they found beneath a load

oppress'd
Of slaughter'd foes, whom first to death they sent,
The trophies of their strength, a bloody monument.
Both fair, and both of royal blood they seem'd,
Whom kinsmen to the crown the heralds deem'd;

a forked streamer borne by a knight: Theseus carried both to the field, each bearing a separate device. Chaucer says,

“ And by his banner borne is his pennon.

!

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