Sir Orfeo


1 They spurred back as [fast as] they might go

2 Even the worst (least attractive) pillar you could see

3 That [they] saw them [Orfeo and Heurodis] return in safety


Abbreviations: A: Auchinleck MS; B: Bodleian Library MS (Ashmole 61); H: Harley 3810; Bl: Bliss; Bu: Burrow; D&B: Dunn & Byrnes; F&H: French & Hale; Ga: Garbáty; Gi: Gibbs; Ha: Haskell; Ru: Rumble; S: Sands; Sc: Schmidt; Si: Sisam; Z: Zielke.

A begins the poem at line 39 of this edition: Orfeo was a King, which is the first line to appear in the upper left corner of fol. 300a. The previous page has been cut out of the manuscript. Both H and B begin with lines similar to the opening of Lay le Freine, which is found earlier in A, at fol. 261a. There is writing at the top of fol. 300a, which could be a title, though it is in a later hand. Most editors assume that the poem began on 299b. Bl conjectures that thirty-eight lines are missing, noting that the previous page had forty-four lines per column. If the title were written in a larger hand, as titles are elsewhere in the manuscript, and a small illumination were included, that would account for the six lines which, combined with the missing thirty-eight lines would exactly fill the column. He notes that the first twenty-four lines "can be supplied with some certainty," for they reappear in Lay le Freine, but that the remaining fourteen must be reconstructed from H and B. But in fact, he follows only the first twelve lines of Lay le Freine, then reconstructs mainly from H lines 13-24. The fourteen lines between line 24 and 39 on Orfeo's skills at harping occur later in H, (lines 46ff.). Bl thinks they should precede the introduction of Orfeo at line 39. I follow Bl's reconstruction as does Bu, though the great majority of Sir Orfeo editors (Z, D&B, F&H, G, Gi, Sc, and Si) add only twenty-four lines, mainly from Lay le Freine. S and Ha follow A and begin at line 39. Ru follows B and thus avoids the problem. For a thorough discussion of the issues involved in reconstructing the prologue to Sir Orfeo, see Bl's edition, pp. xlv-xlviii; and his article, "Sir Orfeo, lines 1-46," English and Germanic Studies 5 (1953), 7-14; and G. Guillaume, "The Prologues of the Lay le Freine and Sir Orfeo," Modern Language Notes 26 (1921), 458-64. Bl argues that the common prologues to Le Freine and Sir Orfeo suggest that both lays were written by the same author. For a differing opinion, see John B. Beston, "The Case Against Common Authorship of Lay le Freine and Sir Orfeo," Medium Aevum 45 (1976), 153-63.

1 y-write. An illumination has been cut out of A 261a that eclipses most of the last word of line 1. Bl has added it based on the catchline at the foot of folio 260d. This opening line stresses literacy; the image is one of the reader reading and exists alongside the high profile given to performance. Taken together, they illustrate the overlapping of orality and literacy in late medieval culture.

1-26 These lines emphasize the musical and poetic composition of the lay. The end of the text returns to this concern in lines 598-602. The opening to Sir Orfeo places the text in the tradition of the Breton Lay and associates the author with a long line of poets going back to "kinges" who, when they heard "Of ani mervailes," they "token an harp in gle and game / and maked a lay and gaf it name" (lines 19-20). The Prologue suggests some features common to the Breton Lay which are also mentioned in Marie de France's Prologue to her collection of Lais (lines 3-8) and in Guingemar (lines 24-6).

10 The word fairy here and elsewhere in the poem means "land of the fays" or the "fays" themselves. The word fay comes from Old French fée derived from the Latin fata, "the Fates." For further information on Celtic folktale backgrounds see W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries (London: H. Frowde, 1911; rpt. New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, 1966); Howard Rollin Patch, The Other World: According to Descriptions in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950; rpt. New York: Octagon, 1970); John Rhys, Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1901); C. S. Lewis, "The Longaevi," chapter six in his Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), pp. 122-38. See also Dean Baldwin's "Fairy Lore and the Meaning of Sir Orfeo," Southern Folklore Quarterly 41 (1977), 129-42; John B. Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), pp. 146-210 and 233-40; Dorena Allen, "Orpheus and Orfeo: The Dead and the Taken," Medium Aevum 33 (1964), 102-11; Patrizia Grimaldi, "Sir Orfeo as Celtic Folk-Hero, Christian Pilgrim, and Medieval King," in Allegory, Myth, and Symbol, ed. Morton W. Bloomfield (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), pp. 147-61; and J. Burke Severs, "Antecedents of Sir Orfeo." See also notes to line 280 in Sir Launfal.

11 thinges. A: thingeth.

13 A: In breteyne bi hold time / This layes were wrought so seith this rime. H reads In Brytayn this layes arne y-wrytt / Furst y-founde and forthe y-gete. These lines from A are emended with material borrowed from B to preserve the rhyme pattern. B reads That in the leys ben y-wrought, / Fyrst found and forth brought.

17-20 On the traditional association of kings and poets, see Morton W. Bloomfield and Charles W. Dunn, The Role of the Poet in Early Societies (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1989).

23-24 The prologue in A from Lay le Freine rhymes Freine with sothe to sayn. H rhymes that ben trewe with Sir Orphewe. Sir Orfewe may be the title, substituting for Lay le Freine in the A prologue. H reads y wol you telle of Sir Orphewe, assuming "Sir Orfewe" is a proper name for the hero and not a title. I have followed Bl's reconstruction which borrows and alters lines from H.

25 Orfeo's name had a long tradition of being associated with music, art, and the power of eloquence. From the time of Fulgentius, his name had been understood to mean "beautiful voice." See notes to lines 419-52 below.

25-38 These lines, missing in A, are based on H (lines 33-46), occasionally emended from B. The spelling has been adjusted to follow the spellings most often found in A.

26 Harping is often offered as evidence for a hero's nobility and courtly refinement. See Romance of Horn (lines 227-44) and the Northern Middle English Tristrem (lines 1882-94). The medieval figure of the musician-as-king is also found in Biblical portraits of David. See J. B. Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). The harp was considered the most aristocratic and heavenly of instruments. See F. P. Pickering, Literature and Art in the Middle Ages (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1970), pp. 285-301; Curt Sachs, The History of Musical Instruments (New York: Norton, 1940), pp. 261-65.

29 lerned from B. H has loved.

31-33 Multiplication of negatives achieves emphasis in Middle English.

33 al from B.

41 A: T stalworth.

42 curteys, or courteous, in medieval texts does mean "polite," but it carries a much weightier meaning that includes courtly, elite, valuable, upper class, and cultured behaviors as well as generosity.

44 Pluto was, according to classical myth, god of the underworld. Juno was a goddess, the wife of Jupiter, not a king as the author of the poem suggests. These references to the classical Roman deities do not establish a reliable lineage but do suggest the kind of lineage the author ascribes to Orfeo, placing the story firmly in pre-Christian contexts. See Jean Seznec, Survival of the Pagan Gods, trans. Barbara F. Sessions, Bollingen Series 38 (New York: Pantheon, 1961). Interestingly, in Chaucer's Merchant's Tale, Pluto is called "king of Fayerye"; his wife is "Proserpina and al hire fayerye" (IV [E] 2227, 2039).

47-50 Because the poet has set the poem in England, classical and medieval places are conflated; hence, Winchester, the old capital, becomes Thrace.

52 A: herodis. Heurodis is associated with vulnerability to captivity or loss. She has been read as temptation, lust, feeling or emotion; as madness, the irrational, the body; as Eve, a Celtic analogue to Guenevere, a Proserpina figure; as the anima within the male self, the Church, the "bride of Christ"; and as the human soul. Fulgentius interpreted her name as stemming from "eur dike" or "profound, deep, or good judgment": "Euridice uero profunda diiudicatio," Fabius Planciades Fulgentius, Mythologiae III, x, ed. Rudolf Helm (Leipzig: B. G. Teubneri, 1898), p. 76. Fulgentius read the Orpheus and Eurydice story as an allegory for the musical arts. Mortimer J. Donovan, "Herodis in the Auchinleck Sir Orfeo," Medium Aevum 27 (1958), 162-65, suggests that "Heurodis" is similar to the "Herodias" who asks for John the Baptist's head. Or, given A's spelling she might also be linked to Herodis, Pilate's wife, who according to myth walked the earth after the crucifixion, yearning to make things right. See notes to lines 463-68 below.

57-72 The fairy king's abduction of Heurodis occurs in May, a time commonly ascribed to fairy activity. In his article, "Fairy Lore and the Meaning of Sir Orfeo," Southern Folklore Quarterly 41 (1977), 129-42, Dean R. Baldwin identifies several other medieval texts which situate human encounters with fairies in May, often under a tree or in an orchard or forest: the Ballad of Thomas Rhymer, Child 37; Gower's Confessio Amantis IV: 1282-1328 in The English Works of John Gower, ed. G. C. Macaulay EETS e.s. 81 (1900; rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1957). See also W. Y. Evans-Wentz, The Fairy-faith in Celtic Countries (New York: H. Frowde, 1911), p. 124; L. C. Wimberly, Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), pp. 311-13; and K. M. Briggs, "The Fairies and the Realms of the Dead," Folklore 81 (1970), 81-96. Following a postmodern path, Jeff Rider reads the abduction of Heurodis as "the representation of the allegorization, the capture and reduction of myth, which is eventually liberated and brought back to full life through the artist's efforts. Faerie is thus the representation of interpretive power which must destroy artistic harmony and a full aura of potential meaning in order to reveal them and thereby achieve a greater understanding, the power the artist must in turn overcome if he or she is to lead him or herself (or others) out of the wilderness and the poem from the sterile frozen state in which the unmastered imp of interpretation would captivate it" ("Receiving Orpheus in the Middle Ages: Allegorization, Remythification and Sir Orfeo," Papers on Language & Literature 24 [1988], 366).

57 Bifel. A: Uifel.

67 In sprede the r is inserted above the line.

70 The exact meaning of ympe-tree has been debated; it has been variously translated as "grafted tree," "orchard tree," and "apple tree." See Constance Bullock-Davies, "'Ympe-tre' and 'Nemeton,"' Notes and Queries n.s. 9 (1962), 6-9; Sharon Ann Coolidge, "The Grafted Tree in Literature: A Study in Medieval Iconography and Theology," DAI (1977): 2107A Duke University; and her article, "The Grafted Tree in Sir Orfeo: A Study in the Iconography of Redemption," Ball State University Forum 23 (1982), 62-68. Alice E. Lasater has suggested that the ympe-tre corresponds to the grafted tree of Emain found in Irish folklore: "Under the Ympe-Tre or : Where the Action is in Sir Orfeo," Southern Quarterly 12 (1974), 353-63. The notion of a grafted tree is also reminiscent of the golden bough in Virgil's Aeneid (VI: 287-99). Sir Gowther (lines 67-72) contains an episode where a woman is accosted by a demon while lying under a tree. See also Launfal (lines 223ff.), Sir Degaré (lines 70ff.), OF Guingamor (lines 422-95), OF Graelent (lines 220-79) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (lines 718-25). For a parody, see Chaucer's Sir Thopas (lines 796-806) and the satire against friars in the Wife of Bath's Tale (III D, lines 878-880): "Women may go now saufly up and doun. / In every bussh or under every tree / Ther is noon oother incubus but he [meaning friars]." The MED identifies the ympe-tree as a grafted tree or an orchard tree.

75-76 Midday, or noon, was considered a perilous time in both folklore and Christian material. See Friedman Orpheus, pp. 187-190, and his article, "Eurydice, Heurodis, and the Noon-Day Demon," Speculum 41 (1966), 22-29. It is also in the hot undertides (lines 281ff.) that the king o fairy with his rout comes out into the wilderness to hunt and is, consequently, seen by Orfeo. See Psalm 91:3-6: "For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge . . . . You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day, or the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or the destruction that wastes at noonday." In the Vulgate this Psalm (numbered 90) reads: "deliver me from the snare of the hunters . . . from hostile attack, and from the noon-day demon." Friedman cites rabbinical commentary from the Midrash on this noon-day demon: "He has no power when it is cool in the shade and hot in the sun, but only when it is hot in both shade and sun" [Friedman, "Noon-day," p. 28, quoting The Midrash on Psalms, trans. William G. Braude (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959)]. Similar glossing on the Psalm can also be found among Church fathers. Undertyde can refer to mid-morning (i.e., 9:00 a.m.), midday (noon), or midafternoon (3:00 p.m.). See Launfal (line 227).

78-82 Heurodis' behavior here and in lines 105-12 suggests she has gone mad or is fighting madness; see Penelope B. R. Doob, Nebuchadnezzar's Children: Conventions of Madness in Middle English Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 12. Doob reads Sir Orfeo within a Christian context, but she is concerned, too, to read it within a history of mental illness. She writes, "the onset of the disease is sudden; its symptoms are spectacular; and, whether the madness is purgative or punitive, it is clearly symbolic of and caused by the madman's sin."

82 reveyd. A: reueyd. Z reads reneyd. Si emends to reveysed. So too in F&H and S. Bl emends to reueyed.

90 Sexti suggests a large number; likewise, the number hundred suggests an indefinite number in lines 143-44, as does ten hundred in line 183.

102-16 Felicity Riddy, "The Use of the Past in Sir Orfeo," Yearbook of English Studies 6 (1976), 9-10, notes that Orfeo's lament over the impending loss of Heurodis echoes late medieval verse meditations which describe the body of Christ. The contrast between the former beauty of Heurodis and her grotesque self-mutilated present self is similar to the following lines which Riddy cites from English Lyrics of the XIIIth Century, ed. Carleton Brown (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932), p. 35:

His bodi that wes feir and gent
And his neb suo scene
Wes bi-spit and all to-rend,
His rude was worthen grene.

his face so radiant
beslobbered; torn
face had become green
And from John Grimestone's preaching-book, Candet Nudatum Pectus (MS Adv. 18.7.21, 120r):

þee lippes pale and reuli þat er weren brith and rede,
þe eyne þat weren loveli nou ben dimme and dede.
rueful; bright
108 A: al; H and B have as.

129-30 See Ruth 1:16 and H. Bergner, "Sir Orfeo and the Sacred Bonds of Matrimony," Review of English Studies n.s. 30 (1979), 432-34. Orfeo lives up to his pledge; he follows Heurodis into oblivion, exiling himself, and then, once he sees her, follows her into the fairy kingdom. The verse from Ruth reads: "Wither ever thou gost I schal gon and where thou abidest I and thou together shall abidest." Although Ruth speaks these words, not to her husband, but to her mother-in-law, Naomi, the lines were frequently associated with holy matrimony.

135-40 The fairy world's preliminary contact with Heurodis is unsuccessful. The second meeting with the fairy king, himself, involves Heurodis in a brief journey and tour of the Otherworld, lines 142-63, and concludes with a threat, lines 165-74. The fairy king's motives for abducting Heurodis remain mysterious.

140 A: Y n durst. Bl reads: Y no durst nought; F&H, S, and Z read: Y durst nought.

146 The white horse and the white clothes worn by those who escort or meet the protagonists at the boundary of the Otherworld are common in romance and dream vision literature. See Launfal's Blanchard and notes to Launfal, line 326.

150 The crown which is neither silver nor gold but made of some unknown precious gem suggests the Otherworldly nature of the "king," although he is not identified by the narrator as "fairi" until line 193.

156 Although the fairy company apparently rides stedes (line 145), Heurodis rides a palfrey. Steeds were strong horses, often used in battles and in jousting; palfreys were small saddle horses used for riding and were not as powerful. This detail reinforces the vulnerability of the human when surrounded by Otherworldly forces.

157-61 Heurodis' brief description of the beautiful Otherworld is upheld but complicated by the more complete description given later in the poem, lines 347-417. Note the tension in the poem's description of the Otherworld: it is beautiful and macabre, terrifying and elegant, hell and faerie simultaneously. See also Sir Launfal, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the numerous versions of the quest for the Holy Grail to see similar tensions between Christian and non-Christian concepts of the Otherworld in medieval courtly and popular literature. See J. Burke Severs, "The Antecedents of Sir Orfeo"; Dorena Allen, "Orpheus and Orfeo: The Dead and the Taken"; C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), esp. chapter 6 (pp. 122-38) on "The Longaevi," and E. C. Ronquist, "The Powers of Poetry in Sir Orfeo," Philological Quarterly 64 (1985), 101.

170-74 The fairy king's threat is, apparently, a real one. See lines 388-404. Friedman, Orpheus, pp. 193-94, assumes that the fairy king, as a satanic agent, used violence on those humans who resisted him.

174 After this point in the poem, Heurodis never speaks again, though we are privileged to her thoughts in lines 325-26.

187-90 Scheltrom comes from the OE scyld-truma, a tribal battle formation in which warriors used their shields to create a wall of defense. Once again, the human attempt at resistance proves futile against the power of the supernatural. The knights' willingness to die in battle, protecting the queen, also suggests that the humans are expecting a human enemy and do not realize that the "king" is from fairy until after Heurodis is abducted.

194 Compare lines 288, 296, and 494.

205 Orfeo appoints his steward to rule in his absence. The steward is a high court official from the nobility, but in the conventions of medieval romance, he is often evil. This steward proves otherwise. See J. Eadie, "A Suggestion as to the Origin of the Steward in the Middle English Sir Orfeo," Trivium 7 (1972), 54-60. Several scholars assume that Orfeo's good judgment is evidenced by the ordination of the good steward: A. M. Kinghorn, "Human Interest in the Middle English Sir Orfeo," Neophilologus 50 (1966), 359-69; K. R. R. Gros Louis, "The Significance of Sir Orfeo's Self-Exile," Review of English Studies n.s. 18 (1967), 245-52. But see Edward D. Kennedy's argument that Orfeo's personal loss inappropriately overwhelms his better judgment: "Sir Orfeo as Rex Inutilis," Annuale Mediaevale 17 (1976), 88-110.

227-71 Among scholars, considerable disagreement surrounds Orfeo's exile. It can be seen as an act of despair, atonement, or spiritual retreat, or as part of a process of initiation for Orfeo, or as an expression of the great love (or too great a love) Orfeo has for Heurodis. The sclavin (pilgrim's garb), the bare feet, and the renunciation of comfort suggest his desire to suffer. The narrator emphasizes "loss" with the repetition of the phrases "He that hadde" luxury "now" has nothing, and with his own reaction: "Lord! who may telle the sore / This king sufferd ten yere and more?" Orfeo does, however, keep his harp, thus retaining some of his former identity. His regimen follows that of ascetic hermits. See Charles Allyn Williams, The German Legends of the Hairy Anchorite, University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, vol. 18 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1935). Considering the act of exile within folklore tradition, Patrizia Grimaldi notes, "Like the meaning of the voyage of Bran, the meaning of the ten years' journey is not that of a pilgrimage nor is it connected with the expiation of crimes. The stories of 'voyages' (immram) told by Irish storytellers were the dramatizations of an initiation process through experience into a more comprehensive view of the world" (p. 154). But see also, Dean R. Baldwin: "[Orfeo's] time in the wilderness is, then, best understood not as a time of penance nor of trial nor of purification; rather, Orfeo is (unconsciously) following the tradition of lovers generally and romance lovers in particular until his lady can be restored to him" (p. 137). Baldwin points to Ywain and Gawain, ed., Albert B. Friedman and Norman T. Harrington, EETS o.s. 254 (London: Oxford University Press, 1964), lines 1649-56, for support:

An evyl toke him als he stode;
For wa he wex al wilde and wode.
Unto the wod the way he nome;
No man wist whore he bycome.
Obout he welk in the forest,
Als it wore a wilde beste;
His men on ilka syde has soght
Fer and here and findes him noght.


Here, Yvain, rejected by his wife, exiles himself, lives on roots and raw meats (lines 1665-70), and is gradually cured of his lovesickness by a magical ointment (lines 1709-1832). K. R. R. Gros Louis, "The Significance," reminds us that Orfeo does not set out to find Heurodis; "in fact, there is no search in the entire poem, nor does Orfeo ever plan to make one. If we do not recognize this crucial fact, we fail not only to see the uniqueness of Sir Orfeo in the tradition of the Orpheus myth, but also to understand the intention of its author" (pp. 245-46). Gros Louis stresses Orfeo's humility: "the ten years he spends in the wilderness constitute a kind of penance, and because of it, Orfeo receives a gift of grace - Heurodis is returned to him" (p. 247).

231 See 1 Kings 16:23: "So whensoever the evil spirit from the Lord was upon Saul, David took his harp, and played with his hand, and Saul was refreshed, and was better, for the evil spirit departed from him."

241-56 These lines echo numerous medieval texts on the vicissitudes of fortune. See Boethius's Consolatio and Chaucer's Book of the Duchess, lines 599-625. See also Lamentations 1: 1-2; 3: 4-6, 28-30; 4: 1-5. Compare with Henryson, Orpheus and Eurydice, lines 154-163.

255-60 Several scholars have attributed sources and analogues for these lines. See Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini, ed. and trans., John J. Parry, Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 10 (1925), 243-380:
Deplangitque uiros nec cessat fundere fletus,
Pulueribus crines sparsit, uestes que rescidit,
Et prostratus humi nunc hac illac que uolutat.
. . . . . . . . . .

Utitur herbarum radicibus, utitur herbis,
Vtitur arboreo fructu, morisque rubeti.
(lines 65-67; 78-79)
Indeed, the episode in Sir Orfeo shares much in common with Geoffrey's Vita Merlini; Parry translates: "Merlin . . . bewailed the men and did not cease to pour out laments, and he strewed dust on his hair and rent his garments, and prostrate on the ground rolled now hither and now thither . . . . He had now lamented for three whole days and had refused food, so great was the grief that consumed him. Then when he had filled the air with so many and so great complaints, new fury seized him and he departed secretly, and fled to the wood and rejoiced to lie hidden under the ash trees; he marvelled at wild beasts feeding on the grass of the glades; now he chased after them and again he flew past them; he lived on the roots of grasses and on the grass, on the fruit of the trees and on the mulberries of the thicket. He became a silvan man just as though devoted to the woods." In the Vita Merlini, the mad Merlin is also subdued and enticed back into civilization by a messenger's harp-accompanied song. See also the description of Merlin in the Livre d'Artus in The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romance, ed. H. Oskar Sommer (Washington: Carnegie Institute, 1908-16), vii. 125; also available from New York: AMS Press, 1969]:
[Merlins] si fist uenir par art cers & biches & dains et toutes manieres de bestes sauuages enuiron luj pasturer . . . . [Merlins] dist que il ne meniue fors que herbes & racines de bois ausi come ces autres bestes car [fait il] ge nai cure dautres uiandes & ce sont toutes mes deuices. Ne nai cure dostel auoir fors solement dun chaisne crues ou ge me repose par nuit.
For a Christian context, see Nicholas Love's early fifteenth-century The Mirrour of the Blessed Lyf of Jesu Christ, ed. Lawrence F. Powell (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1908), p. 85, cited in Doob, p. 186: "And so the lorde of all the worlde gothe all that long weye bare foote and allone . . . . Gode lorde, where ben youre dukes and erles, knightes and barouns, horses and harneises . . . ? Where ben the trumpes and clariouns and alle othere mynstralcie and herbergeres and purveyoures that schulde goo byfore, and alle othere worschippes and pompes of the world as we wrecched wormes usen? Be not ye that highe lorde of whose joye and blisse hevene and erthe is replenesched? Why than goo yee thus sympilly, alone and on the bare erthe? Sothely the cause is for ye be not at this tyme in youre kyngdom, the which is not of this world. For here ye have anentisshed [humbled] youre self, takynge the manere of a servaunt and not of a kyng." Doob reads Orfeo's exile in a Christian context, finding figural similarities between Orpheus and various Holy Wild Men. She also cites (p. 187) St. Ambrose: "We ought to remember how the first Adam was cast out of paradise into the desert in order to notice how the second Adam returned from the desert to paradise . . . . Naked of spiritual graces, Adam covered himself with the leaves of a tree . . . ." See also Piers Plowman B 15. 261-03.

265-71 See Job 30: 30-31: "My skin is become black upon me, and my bones are dried up with heat. My harp is turned to mourning, and my organ into the voice of those that weep."

269-80 The harping consoles the exiled Orfeo, himself, and "tames" the animals. This tradition goes back to shamanistic origins in pre-Christian material as well as to the classical Orpheus and the biblical David. See, for example, John Lydgate, Reson and Sensualyte, ed. Ernst Sieper, EETS e.s. 84, 89 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, Ltd., 1901-1903) I, 147, lines 5603-11:
The harpis most melodious
Of David and of Orpheous.
Ther melodye was in all
So hevenly and celestiall
That there nys hert, I dar expresse,
Oppressed so with hevynesse,
Nor in sorwe so y-bounde,
That he sholde ther ha founde
Comfort hys sorowe to apese . . .
The taming of the animals by means of the harp and song is one main feature of the Orpheus figure. Boethius, in his Consolatio, writes: "Long ago the Thracian poet, Orpheus, mourned for his dead wife. With his sorrowful music he made the woodland dance and the rivers stand still. He made the fearful deer lie down bravely with the fierce lions: the rabbit no longer feared the dog quieted by his song. But as the sorrow within his breast burned more fiercely, that music which calmed all nature could not console its maker. Finding the gods unbending, he went to the regions of hell" (The Consolation of Philosophy, Book III, metre 12, trans. Richard Green [Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962)], p. 73). The Latin reads: "Quondam funera coniugis / Vates Threicius gemens / Postquam flebilibus modis / Siluas currere mobiles, / Amnes stare coegerat, /Iunxitque intrepidum latus / Saeuis cerua leonibus, / Nec uisum timuit lepus / Iam cantu placidum canem . . . ." King Alfred's translation of Boethius also stresses the power of Orpheus' music: "Once on a time it came to pass that a harp-player lived in the country called Thracia, which was in the kingdom of Crecas. The harper was so good, it was quite unheard of. His name was Orpheus, and he had a wife without her equal, named Euridice. Now men came to say of the harper that he could play the harp so that the forest swayed, and the rocks quivered for the sweet sound, and wild beasts would run up and stand still as if they were tame, so still that men or hounds might come near them, and they fled not. The harper's wife died, men say, and her soul was taken to hell. Then the harpman became so sad that he could not live in the midst of other men, but was off to the forest, and sat upon the hills both day and night, weeping, and playing on his harp so that the woods trembled and the rivers stood still, and hart shunned not lion, nor hare hound, nor did any beast feel rage or fear towards any other for gladness of the music. And when it seemed to the harper that nothing in this world brought joy to him he thought he would seek out the gods of hell and essay to win them over with his harp, and pray them to give him back his wife." King Alfred's Version of the Consolations of Boethius, trans. Walter John Sedgefield (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1900), p. 116. OE text: King Alfred's Old English Version of Boethius' "De consolatione philosophiae," ed. Walter John Sedgefield (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899), pp. 101-02. See also J. Burke Severs, "The Antecedents of Sir Orfeo," in Studies in Medieval Literature in Honor of Professor Albert Croll Baugh, ed. MacEdward Leach (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1961), pp. 188-90; note 3, 203-04. Although not, apparently, a direct source for the Orfeo-poet, Alfred's account offers an interesting comparison with the Breton lay here. See also Michael Masi, "The Christian Music of Sir Orfeo," Classica Folia 28 (1974), 3-20.

281-17 Just as the fairy world made contact with Heurodis several times before she was actually abducted, Orfeo witnesses fairies several times before he actually sees and recognizes Heurodis. The fairy occupations - hunting, parading, dancing, making music, and hawking - correspond to the royal activities Orfeo had enjoyed before his exile. Eleanor Hull, "The Idea of Hades in Celtic Literature," Folklore 8 (1907), 121-65, maintains that Celtic myth regularly ascribed to its Otherworld activities and objects found in everyday life, as if objects could exist in two worlds at once. The link between fairies, ladies, and falconry has a long tradition. Compare Sir Launfal, lines 960-72; Sir Landevale, line 447; OF Le Bel Inconnu, lines 3840-43; 3936-49. See also D. W. Robertson, Jr., A Preface to Chaucer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 190-94 and figures 8 and 9.

287 Notably, this hunt appears to be aimless; no game is taken. It seems to resemble the Otherworld condition of suspended life described in lines 389-90.

319-30 For commentary on this recognition scene, see Lewis J. Owen, "The Recognition Scene in Sir Orfeo," Medium Aevum 40 (1971), 249-53.

331-38 See lines 175-78, 195-200; 542-52.

333 wreche. A: wroche. H: wreche. So too in F&H, Z, and S.

339-54 Whereas Orfeo's first loss of Heurodis is followed immediately by his exile, and journey into the wilderness, this second separation is followed immediately by his journey into the fairy country. This time he is able to see and to follow the fairy company, whereas the initial abduction was, apparently, invisible.

340-41 See lines 129-30.

351-76 See The Vision of Josaphat. Josaphat passes over a plain of vast extent, where there are sweet-smelling flowers and strange, wondrous fruits. The leaves of the tree make clear music to a soft breeze and send forth delicate fragrances. A city walled with gold shines with unspeakable brightness. See the description of opulence in Isaiah 2: 7-10, 12, 15: "Their land is filled with silver and gold, and there is no end to their treasures; their land is filled with horses, and there is no end to their chariots. Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made. And so people are humbled, and everyone is brought low - do not forgive them! Enter into the rock, and hide in the dust from the terror of the Lord . . . For the Lord of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up and high . . . against every high tower, and against every fortified wall." See also the description of the city in the OF Le Bel Inconnu (lines 1877-1916) and the fortress in Guingamor (lines 356-70; 389-91).

360 I have translated this line as "Wonderful with strong battlements." Walls which were "bataild" had indentations which protected the wall's defendants during assault. The MED lists meanings for the word "batild" as follows: "a) furnished with (indented) parapets, battlements; also walled, fortified. . . . b) crenelated; c) ornamented or edged with an indented design, notched." The MED entry identifies this line from Sir Orfeo as an example of the first meaning.

376 Paradis occurs only twice in the poem: here, and in line 37 where it describes Orfeo's musical power. The paradis of the Otherworld holds beauty and sorrow, just as Orfeo's songs can, but the paradis of sound, Orfeo's music, is powerful enough to restore the dead to life and to break the boundaries between the two realms, whereas the beauty of the fairy castle is static and its visual beauty does not restore the dead.

387-04 Compare with the formulaic listings of people in purgatory and in heaven from St. Patrick's Purgatory or Owayne Miles (also found in the Auchinleck). See St. Patrick's Purgatory, ed. Robert Easting. EETS o.s. 298 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 15 and 27. Stanzas 77-79 include the following lines:
Sum bi the fet wer honging,
With iren hokes al brening,
And sum bi the swere,
And sum bi wombe and sum bi rigge,
Al otherwise than y can sigge,
In divers manere.
And sum in forneise wern ydon,
With molten ledde and quic brunston
Boiland above the fer,
And sum bi the tong hing . . .
And sum on grediris layen there . . .
A similar formulaic listing characterizes souls in heaven in stanzas 153-54:
Sum soule he seyye woni bi selve,
And sum bi ten and bi twelve,
And everich com til other;
And when thai com togiders ywis,
Alle thai made miche blis . . .
Sum he seiye gon in rede scarlet,
And sum in pourper wele ysett,
And sum in sikelatoun;
As the prest ate masse wereth . . .
And sum gold bete al doun.
388 seighe liggeand. A: sei3e ful liggeand.

406 liif. A: liif liif.

419-52 Orfeo, playing his harp and singing, mirrors the narrator of the lay who, then, becomes "hero of his own poem" (Rider, p. 357). The poem comes to inscribe the symbol of Orfeo as artist. See also Fulgentius (6th c.) Mythologies 3:10, cited in Fulgentius the Mythographer, trans. Leslie George Whitbread (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971), p. 96: "Now this legend is an allegory of the art of music. For Orpheus stands for oreafone [oraia phone], that is, matchless sound, and Eury dice [eur dike] is deep judgement . . . ." Fulgentius used the Orpheus-Eurydice myth within a description of the education in the arts. His etymological analysis of the two names associates the characters with abstract concepts. For discussions of the poet's self-referentiality, see Ronquist, pp. 100, 110-12; and Lerer, pp. 94 and 106-09. The beauty, opulence, and chamber of horrors all seem undercut once the harper begins to play. The Otherworld and its fairy king become bound to cultural codes and laws and are no longer beyond recognition. The law of "trouthe" and the beauty of art rule even over the fairy king. The association of Orpheus with eloquence can also be seen in Nicholas Trivet (cited on page 22 of this volume).

419-74 See the fifteenth-century Ovide moralisé: "By Orpheus and his harp one should understand the persons of our Lord Jesus Christ, son of God and Father, omnipotent in his divinity, and the glorious Virgin Mary in her humanity. He played his harp so melodiously that he drew forth from hell the saintly souls of the saintly fathers who had descended there through the sin of Adam and Eve. . . . And by the harp of the aforementioned Orpheus one should understand twenty-two well-tuned and harmonious strings on which our aforementioned Lord Jesus Christ played while in this world. By ten of these strings one should understand the Ten Commandments of God's laws and by the other twelve strings are signified the twelve articles of the faith of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ . . . ." C. de Boer, ed., Ovide moralisé en prose (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1954), p. 264. The success Orfeo has retrieving Heurodis is reminiscent of Christ's successful rescue of humanity from the bonds of Hell in the Harrowing of Hell. See Friedman, esp. chapter three; and Peter Dronke, "The Return of Eurydice," Classica et Mediaevalia 23 (1962), 198-215.

430 Orfeo tells a bit of a lie here: although he is poor and a minstrel of the woods, he is also Heurodis' husband and a king. His disguise gives him an advantage over the fairy king.

439-41 See lines 249-50. In the same way that Orfeo had tamed the wild animals in lines 270-80, he tames the forces of the Otherworld. See also the late thirteenth-century, northern English Tristrem (lines 1882-94), a text which is included in the Auchinleck MS. Tristan is, of course, in many texts throughout Europe associated with harping and musicianship. In the Middle English version, a sort of battle of the musicians takes place after an Irish earl, disguised as a minstrel, wins Ysonde from King Mark. Tristrem, returning from the hunt, finds Ysonde missing, and by the power of his own musicianship, he retrieves the lost Ysonde:

His gle al for to here
The levedi was sett onland
To play bi the rivere;
Th'erl ladde hir bi hand;
Tristrem, trewe fere,
Mirie notes he fand
Opon his rote of yvere,
As thai were on the strand;
That stounde
Thurch that semly sand
Ysonde was hole and sounde.
Hole sche was and sounde
Thurch vertu of his gle.
(lines 1882-94)

Delightful; played
Through; comforting message

efficacy of his music
(Sir Tristrem in Lancelot of the Laik and Sir Tristrem, ed. Alan Lupack [Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 1994], pp. 209-10). See also Peter Lombard's commentary on Psalm 150 (where David plays the harp to praise God): "Laudate eum in cithara, id est ut sponsum quia ab imis liberavit," Commentarium in Psalmos, in PL, ed. J. P. Migne (Paris, 1854), 191: col. 1291.

449 Z, in his 1880 edition of Sir Orfeo (p. 137), notes the similarity between this clothing exchange and a similar episode in King Horn (lines 1052-53). It is a similarity more fully explored by Nimchinsky, "Orfeo, Guillaume, and Horn," Romance Philology 22 (1968), 1-14.

450 aske. A: alke. So emended by everyone.

463-68 Trouthe must be observed as the fairyland abides by the customs of the ideal medieval court. Kings, especially, must abide by their word. But Orfeo doesn't tempt the king; he flees with Heurodis before the king could possibly martial any resistance. The rash boon is, of course, common in folklore. It also exists within religious writing. See Mark 6:14-29, where Herod makes a rash promise to Herodias' daughter: "Whatsoever thou shalt ask I will give thee, though it be the half of my kingdom." Instead of property or wealth, she asks for the head of John the Baptist: "And the king was struck sad. Yet because of his oath, and because of them that were with him at table, he would not displease her."

477-82 The narrative moves away from its former focus on Orfeo's journey to free Heurodis and becomes a story about the testing of a steward. It has analogues in the return story of Odysseus, whose disguise allows him to test the citizens of Ithaca, who returns first to the lowly swineherd's hut on the edge of town, and whose powerful bow-stringing parallels Orfeo's harp-playing. See also Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, where the Duke returns to test his appointed substitute.

482 no durst wende. A: ne durst wende. F&H and S read he durst wende; Bl reads no durst wende.

483 y-bilt ful narwe is a difficult phrase. See Bl (p. 54); or Angus McIntosh, quoted by M. L. Samuels in his review of Bl, Medium Aevum 24 (1955), 60.

497 Orfeo's return occurs around the same time of day as Heurodis' disappearance. See notes to line 75.

519 The steward has continued Orfeo's practice of retaining good musicians, but Orfeo has certainly learned to be wary of appearances. The presence of musicians at meals and celebrations is a convention which usually signifies the civilized world and reflects court culture; see, for example, Emaré (lines 388-90). See also the parable of the good steward found in Luke 12: 37-48.

521 A: trompour.

522 Crouders is a word meaning "croud-players" which derives from the Welsh crwth, a Celtic string instrument which was played with a bow and plucked with the fingers. However, the MED refers to this line in Sir Orfeo and interprets the word as "one who plays the crowd."

527 blissefulest. A: blifulest.

535-74 Orfeo tells a second falsehood. The first one was a lie of omission; here he tells the steward that he found Orfeo dying of wounds in the wilderness, which is, in a way, true at least psychologically. However, his primary purpose is to explain how he got Orfeo's harp. This also allows him to test the steward fully.

544-45 See lines 333-35.

558-74 In their edition of the poem, Schmidt and Jacobs note: "This long sentence with its eight conditional clauses is structurally reminiscent of lines 241-56."

578 F&H gloss: "Knocked the board off its trestles in his haste" (I, 340).

596 Although the traditional romance ending usually confirms that the happy couple's progeny continue to rule the kingdom, Sir Orfeo leaves us only with the information that the loyal steward became king after Orfeo and Heurodis die.

598-99 See lines 18-20.

603-04 The conventional blessing given by the minstrel to the audience carries significant implications at the end of a tale in which song and poetry rescue Heurodis and literally charm away adversity.
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Sir Orfeo


   We redeth oft and findeth y-write,   
And this clerkes wele it wite,
Layes that ben in harping
Ben y-founde of ferli thing:
Sum bethe of wer and sum of wo,
And sum of joie and mirthe also,
And sum of trecherie and of gile,
Of old aventours that fel while;
And sum of bourdes and ribaudy,
And mani ther beth of fairy.   
Of al thinges that men seth,   
Mest o love, forsothe, they beth.
In Breteyne this layes were wrought,   
First y-founde and forth y-brought,
Of aventours that fel bi dayes,
Wherof Bretouns maked her layes.
When kinges might ovr y-here   
Of ani mervailes that ther were,
Thai token an harp in gle and game
And maked a lay and gaf it name.
Now of this aventours that weren y-falle
Y can tel sum, ac nought alle.
Ac herkneth, lordinges that ben trewe,   
Ichil you telle of "Sir Orfewe."
Orfeo mest of ani thing   
Lovede the gle of harping.   
Siker was everi gode harpour
Of him to have miche honour.
Himself he lerned forto harp,   
And leyd theron his wittes scharp;
He lerned so ther nothing was   
A better harpour in no plas.
In al the warld was no man bore   
That ones Orfeo sat bifore -
And he might of his harping here -
Bot he schuld thenche that he were
In on of the joies of Paradis,
Swiche melody in his harping is.
   Orfeo was a king,
In Inglond an heighe lording,
A stalworth man and hardi bo;   
Large and curteys he was also.   
His fader was comen of King Pluto,
And his moder of King Juno,   
That sum time were as godes yhold
For aventours that thai dede and told.
This king sojournd in Traciens,   
That was a cité of noble defens -
For Winchester was cleped tho
Traciens, withouten no.
   The king hadde a quen of priis
That was y-cleped Dame Heurodis,   
The fairest levedi, for the nones,
That might gon on bodi and bones,
Ful of love and godenisse -
Ac no man may telle hir fairnise.
   Bifel so in the comessing of May   
When miri and hot is the day,
And oway beth winter schours,
And everi feld is ful of flours,
And blosme breme on everi bough
Over al wexeth miri anought,
This ich quen, Dame Heurodis
Tok to maidens of priis,
And went in an undrentide
To play bi an orchardside,
To se the floures sprede and spring   
And to here the foules sing.
Thai sett hem doun al thre
Under a fair ympe-tre,   
And wel sone this fair quene
Fel on slepe opon the grene.
The maidens durst hir nought awake,
Bot lete hir ligge and rest take.
So sche slepe til after none,   
That undertide was al y-done.
Ac, as sone as sche gan awake,
Sche crid, and lothli bere gan make;   
Sche froted hir honden and hir fete,
And crached hir visage - it bled wete -
Hir riche robe hye al to-rett
And was reveyd out of hir wit.   
The two maidens hir biside
No durst with hir no leng abide,
Bot ourn to the palays ful right
And told bothe squier and knight
That her quen awede wold,
And bad hem go and hir at-hold.
Knightes urn and levedis also,
Damisels sexti and mo.   
In the orchard to the quen hye come,
And her up in her armes nome,
And brought hir to bed atte last,
And held hir there fine fast.
Ac ever she held in o cri
And wold up and owy.
   When Orfeo herd that tiding
Never him nas wers for nothing.
He come with knightes tene
To chaumber, right bifor the quene,
And bi-held, and seyd with grete pité,
"O lef liif, what is te,   
That ever yete hast ben so stille
And now gredest wonder schille?
Thy bodi, that was so white y-core,
With thine nailes is all to-tore.
Allas! thy rode, that was so red,
Is al wan, as thou were ded;   
And also thine fingres smale
Beth al blodi and al pale.
Allas! thy lovesum eyyen to
Loketh so man doth on his fo!
A, dame, ich biseche, merci!
Lete ben al this reweful cri,
And tel me what the is, and hou,
And what thing may the help now."
Tho lay sche stille atte last
And gan to wepe swithe fast,
And seyd thus the King to:
"Allas, mi lord, Sir Orfeo!
Sethen we first togider were,
Ones wroth never we nere;
Bot ever ich have yloved the
As mi liif and so thou me;
Ac now we mot delen ato;
Do thi best, for y mot go."
"Allas!" quath he, "forlorn icham!
Whider wiltow go, and to wham?
Whider thou gost, ichil with the,   
And whider y go, thou schalt with me."
"Nay, nay, Sir, that nought nis!
Ichil the telle al hou it is:
As ich lay this undertide
And slepe under our orchardside,
Ther come to me to fair knightes,   
Wele y-armed al to rightes,
And bad me comen an heighing
And speke with her lord the king.
And ich answerd at wordes bold,
Y durst nought, no y nold.   
Thai priked oyain as thai might drive; 1
Tho com her king, also blive,
With an hundred knightes and mo,
And damisels an hundred also,
Al on snowe-white stedes;
As white as milke were her wedes.   
Y no seighe never yete bifore
So fair creatours y-core.
The king hadde a croun on hed;
It nas of silver, no of gold red,   
Ac it was of a precious ston -
As bright as the sonne it schon.
And as son as he to me cam,
Wold ich, nold ich, he me nam,
And made me with him ride
Opon a palfray bi his side;   
And brought me to his palays,   
Wele atird in ich ways,
And schewed me castels and tours,
Rivers, forestes, frith with flours,
And his riche stedes ichon.
And sethen me brought oyain hom
Into our owhen orchard,
And said to me thus afterward,
"'Loke, dame, tomorwe thatow be
Right here under this ympe-tre,
And than thou schalt with ous go
And live with ous evermo.
And yif thou makest ous y-let,
Whar thou be, thou worst y-fet,   
And totore thine limes al
That nothing help the no schal;
And thei thou best so totorn,
Yete thou worst with ous y-born."'    
   When King Orfeo herd this cas,
"O we!" quath he, "Allas, allas!
Lever me were to lete mi liif
Than thus to lese the quen, mi wiif!"
He asked conseyl at ich man,
Ac no man him help no can.
Amorwe the undertide is come
And Orfeo hath his armes y-nome,
And wele ten hundred knightes with him,
Ich y-armed, stout and grim;
And with the quen wenten he
Right unto that ympe-tre.
Thai made scheltrom in ich a side   
And sayd thai wold there abide
And dye ther everichon,
Er the quen schuld fram hem gon.
Ac yete amiddes hem ful right
The quen was oway y-twight,
With fairi forth y-nome.
Men wist never wher sche was bicome.   
Tho was ther criing, wepe and wo!
The king into his chaumber is go,
And oft swoned opon the ston,
And made swiche diol and swiche mon
That neighe his liif was y-spent -
Ther was non amendement.
He cleped togider his barouns,
Erls, lordes of renouns,
And when thai al y-comen were,
"Lordinges," he said, "bifor you here
Ich ordainy min heighe steward   
To wite mi kingdom afterward;
In mi stede ben he schal
To kepe mi londes overal.
For now ichave mi quen y-lore,
The fairest levedi that ever was bore,
Never eft y nil no woman se.
Into wildernes ichil te
And live ther evermore
With wilde bestes in holtes hore;
And when ye understond that y be spent,
Make you than a parlement,
And chese you a newe king.
Now doth your best with al mi thing."
   Tho was ther wepeing in the halle
And grete cri among hem alle;
Unnethe might old or yong
For wepeing speke a word with tong.
Thai kneled adoun al y-fere
And praid him, yif his wille were,
That he no schuld nought fram hem go.
"Do way!" quath he, "It schal be so!"
Al his kingdom he forsoke;   
Bot a sclavin on him he toke.
He no hadde kirtel no hode,
Schert, ne no nother gode,
Bot his harp he tok algate   
And dede him barfot out atte gate;
No man most with him go.
O way! What ther was wepe and wo,
When he that hadde ben king with croun
Went so poverlich out of toun!
Thurth wode and over heth
Into the wildernes he geth.
Nothing he fint that him is ays,
Bot ever he liveth in gret malais.
He that hadde y-werd the fowe and griis,
And on bed the purper biis,
Now on hard hethe he lith,
With leves and gresse he him writh.
He that hadde had castels and tours,
River, forest, frith with flours,
Now, thei it comenci to snewe and frese,
This king mot make his bed in mese.
He that had y-had knightes of priis
Bifor him kneland, and levedis,
Now seth he nothing that him liketh,
Bot wilde wormes bi him striketh.
He that had y-had plenté
Of mete and drink, of ich deynté,
Now may he al day digge and wrote   
Er he finde his fille of rote.
In somer he liveth bi wild frut,
And berien bot gode lite;
In winter may he nothing finde
Bot rote, grases, and the rinde.
Al his bodi was oway dwine
For missays, and al to-chine.
Lord! who may telle the sore
This king sufferd ten yere and more?
His here of his berd, blac and rowe,   
To his girdel-stede was growe.
His harp, whereon was al his gle,
He hidde in an holwe tre;
And when the weder was clere and bright,   
He toke his harp to him wel right
And harped at his owhen wille.
Into alle the wode the soun gan schille,
That alle the wilde bestes that ther beth
For joie abouten him thai teth,
And alle the foules that ther were
Come and sete on ich a brere
To here his harping a-fine -
So miche melody was therin;
And when he his harping lete wold,
No best bi him abide nold.   
   He might se him bisides,
Oft in hot undertides,
The king o fairy with his rout
Com to hunt him al about
With dim cri and bloweing,
And houndes also with him berking;
Ac no best thai no nome,   
No never he nist whider they bicome
And other while he might him se
As a gret ost bi him te,
Wele atourned, ten hundred knightes,
Ich y-armed to his rightes,
Of cuntenaunce stout and fers,
With mani desplaid baners,
And ich his swerd y-drawe hold -
Ac never he nist whider thai wold.
And otherwile he seighe other thing:
Knightes and levedis com daunceing
In queynt atire, gisely,
Queynt pas and softly;
Tabours and trunpes yede hem bi,
And al maner menstraci.
   And on a day he seighe him biside
Sexti levedis on hors ride,
Gentil and jolif as brid on ris;
Nought o man amonges hem ther nis;
And ich a faucoun on hond bere,
And riden on haukin bi o rivere.
Of game thai founde wel gode haunt -
Maulardes, hayroun, and cormeraunt;
The foules of the water ariseth,
The faucouns hem wele deviseth;
Ich faucoun his pray slough -
That seigh Orfeo, and lough:
"Parfay!" quath he, "ther is fair game;
Thider ichil, bi Godes name;
Ich was y-won swiche werk to se!"
He aros, and thider gan te.   
To a levedi he was y-come,
Biheld, and hath wele undernome,
And seth bi al thing that it is
His owhen quen, Dam Heurodis.
Yern he biheld hir, and sche him eke,
Ac noither to other a word no speke;
For messais that sche on him seighe,
That had ben so riche and so heighe,
The teres fel out of her eighe.
The other levedis this y-seighe
And maked hir oway to ride -
Sche most with him no lenger abide.
   "Allas!" quath he, "now me is wo!"   
Whi nil deth now me slo?
Allas, wreche, that y no might   
Dye now after this sight!
Allas! to long last mi liif,
When y no dar nought with mi wiif,
No hye to me, o word speke.
Allas! Whi nil min hert breke!
Parfay!" quath he, "tide wat bitide,   
Whiderso this levedis ride,   
The selve way ichil streche -
Of liif no deth me no reche."
His sclavain he dede on also spac
And henge his harp opon his bac,
And had wel gode wil to gon -
He no spard noither stub no ston.
In at a roche the levedis rideth,
And he after, and nought abideth.
   When he was in the roche y-go,
Wele thre mile other mo,
He com into a fair cuntray   
As bright so sonne on somers day,
Smothe and plain and al grene -
Hille no dale nas ther non y-sene.
Amidde the lond a castel he sighe,
Riche and real and wonder heighe.
Al the utmast wal
Was clere and schine as cristal;
An hundred tours ther were about,
Degiselich and bataild stout.    
The butras com out of the diche
Of rede gold y-arched riche.
The vousour was avowed al
Of ich maner divers aumal.
Within ther wer wide wones,
Al of precious stones;
The werst piler on to biholde 2
Was al of burnist gold.
Al that lond was ever light,
For when it schuld be therk and night,
The riche stones light gonne
As bright as doth at none the sonne.
No man may telle, no thenche in thought,
The riche werk that ther was wrought.
Bi al thing him think that it is
The proude court of Paradis.   
In this castel the levedis alight;
He wold in after, yif he might.
Orfeo knokketh atte gate;
The porter was redi therate
And asked what he wold hav y-do.
"Parfay!" quath he, "icham a minstrel, lo!
To solas thi lord with mi gle,
Yif his swete wille be."
The porter undede the gate anon
And lete him into the castel gon.
   Than he gan bihold about al,   
And seighe liggeand within the wal   
Of folk that were thider y-brought
And thought dede, and nare nought.
Sum stode withouten hade,
And sum non armes nade,
And sum thurth the bodi hadde wounde,
And sum lay wode, y-bounde,
And sum armed on hors sete,
And sum astrangled as thai ete;
And sum were in water adreynt,
And sum with fire al forschreynt.
Wives ther lay on childe bedde,
Sum ded and sum awedde,
And wonder fele ther lay bisides
Right as thai slepe her undertides;
Eche was thus in this warld y-nome,
With fairi thider y-come.
Ther he seighe his owhen wiif,
Dame Heurodis, his lef liif,   
Slepe under an ympe-tre -
Bi her clothes he knewe that it was he.
   And when he hadde bihold this mervails alle,
He went into the kinges halle.
Than seighe he ther a semly sight,
A tabernacle blisseful and bright,
Therin her maister king sete
And her quen, fair and swete.
Her crounes, her clothes schine so bright
That unnethe bihold he him might.
When he hadde biholden al that thing,
He kneled adoun bifor the king:
"O lord," he seyd, "yif it thi wille were,   
Mi menstraci thou schust y-here."
The king answered, "What man artow,
That art hider y-comen now?
Ich, no non that is with me,
No sent never after the.
Sethen that ich here regni gan,
Y no fond never so folehardi man
That hider to ous durst wende
Bot that ic him wald ofsende."
"Lord," quath he, "trowe ful wel,
Y nam bot a pover menstrel;   
And, sir, it is the maner of ous
To seche mani a lordes hous -
Thei we nought welcom no be,
Yete we mot proferi forth our gle."
Bifor the king he sat adoun
And tok his harp so miri of soun,
And tempreth his harp, as he wele can,
And blisseful notes he ther gan,
That al that in the palays were   
Com to him forto here,
And liggeth adoun to his fete -
Hem thenketh his melody so swete.
The king herkneth and sitt ful stille;
To here his gle he hath gode wille.
Gode bourde he hadde of his gle;
The riche quen also hadde he.
When he hadde stint his harping,
Than seyd to him the king,
"Menstrel, me liketh wel thi gle.   
Now aske of me what it be,   
Largelich ichil the pay;
Now speke, and tow might asay."
"Sir," he seyd, "ich biseche the
Thatow woldest give me
That ich levedi, bright on ble,
That slepeth under the ympe-tree."
"Nay!" quath the king, "that nought nere!
A sori couple of you it were,
For thou art lene, rowe and blac,
And sche is lovesum, withouten lac;
A lothlich thing it were, forthi,
To sen hir in thi compayni."
   "O sir!" he seyd, "gentil king,   
Yete were it a wele fouler thing
To here a lesing of thi mouthe!
So, sir, as ye seyd nouthe,
What ich wold aski, have y schold,
And nedes thou most thi word hold."
The king seyd, "Sethen it is so,
Take hir bi the hond and go;
Of hir ichil thatow be blithe."
He kneled adoun and thonked him swithe.
His wiif he tok bi the hond,
And dede him swithe out of that lond,
And went him out of that thede -
Right as he come, the way he yede.
   So long he hath the way y-nome   
To Winchester he is y-come,
That was his owhen cité;
Ac no man knewe that it was he.
No forther than the tounes ende
For knoweleche no durst he wende,
Bot with a begger, y-bilt ful narwe,
Ther he tok his herbarwe
To him and to his owhen wiif
As a minstrel of pover liif,
And asked tidinges of that lond,
And who the kingdom held in hond.
The pover begger in his cote
Told him everich a grot:
Hou her quen was stole owy,
Ten yer gon, with fairy,
And hou her king en exile yede,
But no man nist in wiche thede;
And how the steward the lond gan hold,
And other mani thinges him told.
   Amorwe, oyain nonetide,   
He maked his wiif ther abide;
The beggers clothes he borwed anon
And heng his harp his rigge opon,
And went him into that cité
That men might him bihold and se.
Erls and barouns bold,
Buriays and levedis him gun bihold.
"Lo!" thai seyd, "swiche a man!
Hou long the here hongeth him opan!
Lo! Hou his berd hongeth to his kne!
He is y-clongen also a tre!"
And, as he yede in the strete,
With his steward he gan mete,
And loude he sett on him a crie:
"Sir steward!" he seyd, "merci!
Icham an harpour of hethenisse;
Help me now in this destresse!"
The steward seyd, "Com with me, come;
Of that ichave, thou schalt have some.
Everich gode harpour is welcom me to
For mi lordes love, Sir Orfeo."
   In the castel the steward sat atte mete,   
And mani lording was bi him sete;
Ther were trompours and tabourers,   
Harpours fele, and crouders -   
Miche melody thai maked alle.
And Orfeo sat stille in the halle
And herkneth; when thai ben al stille,
He toke his harp and tempred schille;
The blissefulest notes he harped there   
That ever ani man y-herd with ere -
Ich man liked wele his gle.
The steward biheld and gan y-se,
And knewe the harp als blive.
"Menstrel!" he seyd, "so mot thou thrive,
Where hadestow this harp, and hou?   
Y pray that thou me telle now."
   "Lord," quath he, "in uncouthe thede
Thurth a wildernes as y yede,
Ther y founde in a dale
With lyouns a man totorn smale,
And wolves him frete with teth so scharp.
Bi him y fond this ich harp;
Wele ten yere it is y-go."
"O!" quath the steward, "now me is wo!
That was mi lord, Sir Orfeo!
Allas, wreche, what schal y do,   
That have swiche a lord y-lore?
A, way that ich was y-bore!
That him was so hard grace y-yarked,
And so vile deth y-marked!"
Adoun he fel aswon to grounde;
His barouns him tok up in that stounde
And telleth him how it geth -
"It is no bot of mannes deth!"
   King Orfeo knewe wele bi than
His steward was a trewe man
And loved him as he aught to do,
And stont up, and seyt thus, "Lo,
Steward, herkne now this thing:
Yif ich were Orfeo the king,   
And hadde y-suffred ful yore
In wildernisse miche sore,
And hadde ywon mi quen o-wy
Out of the lond of fairy,
And hadde y-brought the levedi hende
Right here to the tounes ende,
And with a begger her in y-nome,
And were mi-self hider y-come
Poverlich to the, thus stille,
For to asay thi gode wille,
And ich founde the thus trewe,
Thou no schust it never rewe.
Sikerlich, for love or ay,
Thou schust be king after mi day;
And yif thou of mi deth hadest ben blithe,
Thou schust have voided, also swithe."
   Tho all tho that therin sete
That it was King Orfeo underyete,
And the steward him wele knewe -
Over and over the bord he threwe,   
And fel adoun to his fet;
So dede everich lord that ther sete,
And all thai seyd at o criing:
"Ye beth our lord, sir, and our king!"
Glad thai were of his live;
To chaumber thai ladde him als belive
And bathed him and schaved his berd,
And tired him as a king apert;
And sethen, with gret processioun,
Thai brought the quen into the toun
With al maner menstraci -
Lord! ther was grete melody!
For joie thai wepe with her eighe
That hem so sounde y-comen seighe. 3
Now King Orfeo newe coround is,
And his quen, Dame Heurodis,
And lived long afterward,
And sethen was king the steward.   
   Harpours in Bretaine after than
Herd hou this mervaile bigan,   
And made herof a lay of gode likeing,
And nempned it after the king.
That lay "Orfeo" is y-hote;
Gode is the lay, swete is the note.
Thus com Sir Orfeo out of his care:   
God graunt ous alle wele to fare! Amen!
written; (see note)
these scholars; know
are in song
composed about marvelous things
Some are of war; grief
adventures; happened once
jokes; ribaldry
the Otherworld; (see note)
relate; (see note)
Most of; in truth
Brittany these; made; (see note)
composed; produced
happened in olden times
anywhere hear; (see note)
took; minstrelsy
have happened
I; but
But listen; (see note)
I will
most; (see note)
glee or music; (see note)
Sure; good
He taught himself to; (see note)
in no way; (see note)
born; (see note)
high (great) lord
brave both; (see note)
Generous; courtly; (see note)
descended from
(see note)
Who once; considered to be gods
dwelled; (see note)
called; then
queen of excellence
called; (see note)
lady indeed
walk [about] in
But; beauty
It happened; beginning; (see note)
merry (pleasant)
blossoms bright
Everywhere grow; enough
two; refinement
late morning
enjoy themselves
(see note)
hear; birds
grafted tree; (see note)
very quickly
let her lie
slept; noon; (see note)
Until midday; past
But; began [to]
loathsome outcry made; (see note)
rubbed; hands
scratched her face; profusely
she tore all to pieces
driven; (see note)
Dared not; longer
ran; immediately
their; was going mad
bade them; seize
ran; ladies
[numbering] sixty and more; (see note)
hastily came
their arms took
very securely
persisted in one
wished [to go]; away
had he been as grieved by anything
came; ten
beheld [her]; sorrow
dear life; with you; (see note)
Who; yet; calm
But; cries strangely shrilly
torn to pieces
pale, as [if]; (see note)
lovely two eyes
as; foe
Let be; pitiful
what's bothering you; how
very hard
Never once; angry [with one another]
must separate apart
I must
utterly lost I am
Where will you; whom
I will [go]; (see note)
cannot be
I will; all how
two; (see note)
quite properly
bade; in haste
dared not, nor did I want to; (see note)
their; as quickly
their garments; (see note)
(see note)
Whether I wished or not he took me
palfrey; (see note)
(see note)
adorned; every way
woods with flowers
gorgeous steeds each one
afterwards; back home
that you
a hindrance for us
Wherever; will be fetched; (see note)
torn apart; limbs
though (even if) you are so torn
Yet; will be carried with us; (see note)
I'd rather lose
advice from each person
The next day; high noon
Each; strong; fierce
a rank of armed men on each; (see note)
die; everyone
Before; from
yet amidst them straightaway
enchantment; taken
never knew; gone; (see note)
has gone
swooned; stone (i.e., floor)
such dole; moan
almost; ended
no remedy for it
I ordain; high; (see note)
rule; henceforth
I have; lost
lady; born
Never again will I see another woman
I will go
woods grey
do; affairs
Hardly; young
from them
(see note)
Only; pilgrim's mantle
had neither tunic nor hood
Shirt; goods
at any rate; (see note)
passed barefoot
in such poverty out of his town
Through; heath
finds; for him; comfort
worn the variegated and grey fur; (see note)
purple linen
heath; lies
covers himself
woodland; flowers
although it begins; snow; freeze
must; moss
kneeling; ladies
sees; pleases
snakes; glide
dig; grub; (see note)
berries of little worth
Except roots; bark
away dwindled
hardship; chapped
hair; beard; rough; (see note)
weather; (see note)
played; own desire
sound began to resound
sat; briar
would leave off
beast; would remain
nearby; (see note)
of fairyland; company
blowing [of horns]
But they took no beast (game); (see note)
Nor did he ever know where they went
at other times
army; went
All properly armed
knew not whither; went
elegant; skillfully
Graceful steps
drums and trumpets went
sorts of minstralsy
on a certain day
Sixty ladies
lively as bird on bough
Not a single man was with them
each a falcon on [her] hand bore
a-hawking by a
great plenty
Mallards, heron; cormorant
Each; prey killed
saw; laughed
By my faith
I'll [go]
I was wont such sport
began [to] approach
(see note)
Eagerly; also
But neither
Who; exalted
(see note)
Will not; slay
(see note)
too long lasts
Nor she; one
will not
come what may; (see note)
Wherever these; (see note)
same; hasten
nor; I do not care
pilgrim's gown he put on quickly
very good desire
avoided; stump
Into a rock
country; (see note)
as sun on summer's
Smooth and level
was not to be seen
royal; wonderously high
All [of] the outermost wall
Wonderful with strong battlements; (see note)
buttresses; moat
vaulting; adorned
With every kind of enamel
were spacious dwellings
stone's light shone
nor think
(see note)
wished to enter if
I am
entertain; my minstrelsy
(see note)
lying; (see note)
seemed dead, but were not
stood; head
had no arms
they ate
driven mad
wondrous many
Just as; their
enchantment brought there
dear life; (see note)
these marvels
canopy beautiful
(see note)
should hear
are you
Neither I, nor no one
Since; reign
to us dared come
Unless I wished him summoned
(see note)
seek many
Although (even if)
must offer
merry; sound
tunes; knows well [how to do]
(see note)
They think
listens; sits quietly
his (Orfeo's); he (the king)
Great pleasure; songs
(see note)
what[ever] you wish; (see note)
if you wish to find out
beseech you
That you
same; of complexion
that could never be
lean, rough
beautiful; blemish
loathly; therefore
(see note)
much more disgraceful
hear a lie from
just now
might ask [for]; I should
by necessity
With; I wish that you be happy
taken; (see note)
further; town's
Because he did not want to be recognized; (see note)
[whose house] was very small; (see note)
For himself and for
every scrap
their; away
ago; by magic
into; went
no one knew; country
The next day, towards noon; (see note)
stay with the beggar
Burgesses (citizens)
hair; upon
gnarled like
he (Orfeo); him (the steward)
I am; from heathendom
what I have
table; (see note)
trumpeters; drummers; (see note)
many; stringplayers; (see note)
tuned it loudly
most beautiful; (see note)
began to perceive
at once
If you wish to thrive
did you get; how
unknown land; (see note)
torn in small pieces
had devoured
(see note)
O, woe; born
to him; bitter fortune was allotted
[a] death was ordained
in a faint
it (the world)
There is no remedy for man's death!
(see note)
very long ago
won away
gracious lady
had placed her
In poverty
should never regret it
Surely; fear
But if; happy
been banished immediately
Then all those
Recognized that it was
overturned the table; (see note)
his (Orfeo's)
in one cry
led him immediately
clothed; openly
their eyes
newly crowned
And after [that]; (see note)
(see note)
made of it; great delight
sorrow; (see note)

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