King Arthur's Death
Excerpt 1: Sir Cador battles with the King of Lybia.
This scene gives a flavour of the poet’s great pace but also of his understanding of the speed of battle and the tactics of warfare in the fourteenth century:
Then Sir Cador the keen as becomes a true knight,
Cries out “A Cornwall!” and fewters his lance,
And strikes straight through the battle on a great steed;
Many strong men he struck by his strength alone.
When his spear was snapped he eagerly sprung
And swept out his sword which never failed him,
That cut swathes most wide and wounded great knights,
And he works in this way to anguish their flanks
And hews at the hardiest halving their necks asunder
Such that all blends with blood where so his horse barges!
Many nobles that lord did bludgeon to death,
He topples down tyrants and empties their saddles,
Then turns from his toils when he thought the time right!
Then the Lybian king cries full loud
At Sir Cador the keen with cruel words:
“You have won worship and wounded knights;
You act for your boldness like the world is your own -
I am right here and waiting sir, by my word;
Hold yourself fore-warned you had better beware!”
With cornet and clarion many new-made knights
Listened out for the cry, casting lance to the fewter,
Forged forth on their foe on steeds like iron
And felled as they first came full fifty at once;
Shot through the schiltrons and shattered lances,
Laid down in a pile great noble lords,
And thus nobly our new men use all their strengths!
But new nonsense is here that saddens me greatly:
That king of Lybia takes a steed that he liked
And acts most lordly with silver-lioned shield,
Surrounds the melee and piles in amongst it;
Many lords with his lance their lives he steals!
Thus he chases the child-knights of the king’s chamber
And kills in the fields those most chivalrous knights;
With a spear for the chase he chops down many!
Excerpt 2: The Arrival of the Emissaries:
In this section, towards the beginning of the poem, we witness the arrival of the Senator of Rome, with 16 knights in attendance. The lines include a brief caesura (pause) which all contribute to the poem’s pace and metre.
So suddenly entered a Senator of Rome,
With sixteen knights in harness, attending to him.
He saluted the sovereign, and also that hall,
As king to a king, and made bows inclining;
Guinevere in her degree he greeted as he pleased
And bowed again to the King to deliver his message:
“Sir Lucius Iberius, the Emperor of Rome,
Salutes you as subject, under his great seal
Here are its credentials, Sir King, with its fierce words,
In truth it’s no trifle, as his shield here shows!
Now on this New Year, as signed here by notables,
I summon you in this hall to sue for your lands,
That on Lammas day and with no hindrance
You be ready at Rome with all your Round Table,
And appear in his presence with all your prized knights
At the Prime of the day, in pain of your lives,
In that same capital before the King’s self,
When he and his Senators will be sat as they like
To hear of your answer why you hold the lands
That owe homage to him and his elders of old;
Why you have rode over, robbed and ransomed the people
And cut down his cousins, all anointed kings.
There you shall give reckoning for all your Round Table;
Why you rebel against Rome and withhold your dues!
If you refuse this summons, he sends you these words:
He shall seek you over the sea with sixteen kings,
Burn all of Great Britain, and butcher your knights
And bring you back as a beast begging to breathe
Neither to slumber nor sleep under rich heaven
As for dread of Rome you are run to ground!
For if you flee into France or Friesland either
You shall be fetched with force and overthrown for ever!
Your father made fealty, we find in our rolls
In the register of Rome, as looks so right;
Without further trifling, we ask for the tribute
That Julius Ceasar won with his greatest knights!”