Thursday, 8 January 2009

from The Knight's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer

This fragment from The Knight's Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) tells Poet-in-Residence that nothing has changed. Seven centuries have gone by and nothing has changed. It's a sorry state of affairs and it's high time that the world woke up and rejected the nightmare that is warfare. The poem has been 'translated' into Modern English for ease of reading. Chaucer's original appears below Poet-in-Residence's updated version.

from The Knight's Tale

There I first saw the dark imaginings
of felony, and all the scheming;
the cruel ire, red as any glowing coal,
the pick-purse, and yes pale dread;
the smiler with the knife under the cloak,
the stable burning with the black smoke;
the treason and the murder in the bed;
the open war with wounds blood-covered;
strife, with bloody knife and sharp menace.

All full of groaning was that sorry place.

The slayer of himself, yet I saw there -
his heart-blood covered all his hair -
the nail driven in the forehead by night;
the cold death, with upward gaping mouth.

And in the temple sat misfortune
with discomfort and sorry countenance.

And I saw madness, laughing in his rage,
armed complaint, outcry and fierce outrage;
the corpses in the woods, with throats cut;
a thousand slain, and not killed by plague;
the tyrant with the prey removed by force,
the town destroyed, there was no thing left.

And I saw the burnt ships dancing in the storm

from The Knight's Tale

Ther saugh I first the derke ymaginyng
Of Felonye, and al the compassyng;
The crueel Ire, reed as any gleede;
The pykepurs, and eek the pale Drede;
The smylere with the knyf under the cloke;
The shepne brennynge with the blake smoke;
The tresoun of the mordrynge in the bedde;
Contek, with bloody knyf and sharp manace.
Al ful of chirkyng was that sory place.
The sleere of hymself yet saugh I ther -
His herte-blodd hath bathed al his heer -
The nayl ydryven in the shode anyght;
The colde deeth, with mouth gapyng anyght;
Amyddes of the temple sat Meschaunce,
With confort and sory cotenaunce.
Yet saugh I Woodnesse, laughynge in his rage,
Armed Compleint, Outhees and fiers Outrage;
The careyne in the busk, with throte ycorve;
A thousand slayn, and nat of qualm ystorve;
The tiraunt, with the pray of force yraft,
The toun destroyed, there was no thyng laft.
Yet saugh I brent the shippes hoppesteres;


  1. As you say, nothing has changed. Matthew Parriss makes a good point in today's Times. He says that what would happen if we all ignored the Middle East Crisis? If nobody pontificated about it or took sides, if the news media retreated - if we all stopped listening to and talking about it? It wouldn't go away for sure, but I do always feel that the media fans the flames - and it looks as though it was the case in Chaucer's day too. Oh Man's inhumanity to man -

  2. Hello Weaver,
    I think Matthew Parriss's point is a valid one. Take a look at 'Why Mr Guo will win the war' on 'Bard on the Run' if you have a minute.

  3. nice translation Gwilym and yes a sad sorry element of humanity is war

  4. Thanks John. Fratricide is what it is.

  5. Your updated version packs a punch. Nothing has changed, as you say. (there's some insightful stuff about war, aggression and history in the IM Banks I'm reading at the moment, but I haven't really taken it in yet).


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