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Sir Isumbras


1 They folded the cloak and gave it to him (Isumbras)

2 Devise a way to come into the land where I am, / And we will slay the king (Sultan)

3 For my lord's soul, or for his love if he is alive, I will always give you clothes and food

4 And commanded those that were heathen to be christened quickly


In the text initial ff is transcribed as F. Terminal -ff I have left as in the MS, though usually modern transcription would be -f as in off for of.

Before 1 The text is preceded by an incipit: Hic incipit de milite Ysumbras.

1-18 Though the manuscripts all vary in their introductory stanzas, the Cotton manuscript includes a longer depiction of Isumbras' prosperity, with greater emphasis on his courtesy.
God that made bothe erthe and hevenne
And all this worlde in deyes sevenn,
    That is full of myghthe,
Sende us alle his blessynge,
Lasse and more, olde and yynge,
    And kepe us day and nyghte.

I wyll you tell of a knyghte
That dowghty was in eche a fyghte,
    In towne and eke in felde;
Ther durste no man his dynte abyde,
Ne no man ageyn hym ryde,
    With spere ne with schelde.

A man he was ryche ynowghe
Of oxen to drawe in his plowghe
    And stedes also in stalle;
He was bothe curteys and hende,
Every man was his frende
    And loved he was with all.

A curteys man and hende he was;
His name was kalled Syr Isumbras,
    Bothe curteys and fre,
His gentylnesse nor his curtesye
There kowthe no man hit discrye;
    A ffull good man was he.

blows sustain


3, 6 These lines are supplied from the Thornton manuscript. They do not appear in the Gonville-Caius text.

8 hardy. MS: handy. Broh's emendation.

9 This line is written in the margin of the manuscript, as are other tag lines on the first folio.

10 Ysumbras. The first “element” of this name seems to derive from the Germanic isen ‘iron’ and, according to Purdie, “continental records reveal a great variety of early medieval names containing this evocative element” (“Generic Identity,” p. 119).

15 fair. The first letter is obscured by deterioration of the manuscript, and the fact that this is written in the margin.

19–21 Fowler has examined the significance of clothing and nakedness in Sir Isumbras, and states that “as these features of the narrative recur, they accumulate into the topos of investiture.” In this opening passage, Isumbras is “established as a paragon of wealth and ‘gentylnesse’, in part by his habit of giving clothing to his followers” (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 100).

21 and. MS: (missing). Broh's emendation. Parts of the line are not legible in the manuscript.

32-33 MS is scarcely legible. Broh and Schleich agree on this reading, which is based, in part, on the Cotton MS.

33 names sevene. Jewish tradition offers several versions of the Diety's seven names, generally agreeing on Adonai, Eloheim, El, and Yahweyl Jehova. Others are Ely Saboth, Alpha, Omega, Messian, Pastor, and Agnus. They were to be spoken and written with care, for their expression evoked mystic powers.

35-172 These lines are supplied from the Cotton manuscript. A folio (fol. 97) has been cut from the Gonville-Caius text.

41 Birds are conventional messengers, though less common in romance. The Holy Ghost traditionally is depicted as a dove. A stag is the messenger in the Eustace legend.

64–102 Fowler (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 101) rightly notes the allusions to Job found in this part of the tale:
Job-like, Isumbras suffers the loss of his animals, retainers, buildings and riches. His devastation is visually expressed by a ‘a dolfull syghte’ [line 97] that is as central to the reader’s understanding of the tale as it is traumatic to the hero . . . Stripped of their social status, the members of his family stand before him in their original animal bodies. The phrase ‘naked as they were borne’ alludes to Job 1.21, where Job patiently compares his loss of his children to his state of nakedness at birth and death. This image of lack of clothing resonates as a kind of limit case, a bottom line of human existence. It figures the human body without its social inflections, without dominion of any kind.
100 In the Middle Ages, it was not uncommon to sleep naked.

133-34 Knights departing on Crusade "took the cross," that is, wore red crosses on their surcoats as a sign of their vow to fight for God. In a similar fashion, pilgrims wore badges distinctive of their destinations sewn to their sleeves. A cross indicated a journey to Jerusalem. That Isumbras carves the sign into his flesh demonstrates his extraordinary spiritual zeal, marking his identification as a penitent pilgrim, the first position in the “chain of social persons through which Isumbras moves in the course of the plot” (Fowler, “Romance Hypothetical,” p. 101).

135 In storye as clerkes seye. A romance formula often used to focus attention on the strange, mythic inevitabilities of romance narrative. Compare "in romaunse as men rede," line 759, a line that recurs frequently in Breton Lays found in these same MSS and in Octavian lines 15, 282, 631, 1182, and 1806. See also line 501 for a further variation on the formula; or Octavian, line 1039.

157-62 The Lincoln Thornton and Advocates' manuscripts include a full stanza here:
Yitt in a wode thay were gone wylle,
Towne ne myghte thay none wyne tille
    Als wery als thay were.
Bot whene thre dayes till ende was gane,
Mete ne drynke ne had thay nane.
    Thay weped for hungre sore.
No thynge sawe thay that come of corne
Bot the floures of the thorne
    Upone those holtes hore.
Thay entirde than to a water kene;
The bankes were full ferre bytene,
    And watirs breme als bare. (Lincoln)
157-62 Purdie points out several connections between Sir Isumbras and the Old French Guillaume D’Angleterre. She argues that because these correlative passages cannot be found in the legend of St. Eustace, Sir Isumbras and Guillaume have a more specific relationship than one defined simply by their association with the saint’s legend and, consequently, the “Man Tried by Fate” grouping. Regarding this particular passage, she links the starving of Isumbras’ family to a passage in Guillaume where “the royal couple [is] so hungry that . . . the wife threatens to eat one of their baby sons until Guillaume shocks her out of it by offering to cut out some of his own flesh for her” (“Generic Identity,” p. 121). See notes for line 315 and lines 356–57 for other passages similar to Guillaume as mentioned by Purdie.

168 pley the is an emendation based on the Lincoln Thornton reading (line 176), and suggested by Broh. The Cotton text reads pleyde, which is less coherent. Mills gives this as pley de with "thee" as a gloss.

182 In Lincoln Thornton and Advocates' texts, Isumbras, too, almost kills himself for grief.

194 Grykkysche see. The eastern Mediterranean, separating the Christian world from the Muslim world or the West from Jerusalem (see Octavian, lines 407 and 569; Sir Eglamour, lines 893 and 1063; Castle of Perseverance, line 173; and Richard the Lionhearted, line 1270) or separating Greece from Troy (see Lydgate’s Troy Book, line 8017, or the Harley MS Siege of Troy, lines 166–71).

199 Topcastles were platforms with battlements at the tops of ships' masts from which missiles could be fired.

203-09 Deterioration of the manuscript here obscures the lettering at the beginning of these lines. My reading follows Broh and Schleich. In line 204 wakkyn, Broh reads walle.

217 her. MS: hes. Broh's emendation.

230 not. MS: nt. Broh's emendation.
lay. Fowler highlights the “lexical polyvalence” of this word in Middle English, stating that its meanings included the following: law, principle, religion, faith, belief, system of government, system of law enforcement, justice, kingdom, practice, way of life, and custom (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 116).

231 The Sultan's puzzling expression is perhaps due to the combination of two separate lines. The Cotton text gives the second tag line of the stanza as And with His blode us bowghte (line 234), and the final tag line as Of hym [the Sultan] . . . they shulde have noghte (line 240). Lincoln Thornton reads And made this worlde of noghte (line 248) and Loke that ye gyffe hym noghte (line 254). However, there is a tradition, exemplified in the Charlemagne romances, of portraying Moslem worship in Christian forms. It is conceivable that, given this context, the scribe may have noticed nothing incongruous in a Saracen believing he had been "bought" (saved) by Mohammed; certainly the line is formulaic with a Christian referent. Broh points out that the use of "bought" here forms a parallel with the Sultan's attempts to buy Isumbras' services and his wife (lines 271ff.).

236 over may be a mistake for ever (see Broh), but this cannot be confirmed by reference to other manuscript readings, since all vary.

240-43 Here deterioration of the manuscript obscures the lines. My reading follows Broh's and Schleich's with minor variation in lines 240 and 241.

250–55 In effect, the Sultan offers him three new social positions (that of a Muslim, a legal subject of the Sultan, and a knight in the Sultan’s retinue) in return for Isumbras making an oath of fealty, one that directly conflicts with his initial vow in lines 52–54 (Fowler, “Romance Hypothetical,” p. 107).

272 Perhaps the plot toys loosely with a biblical analogue here, where Abram gives Pharoah Sarah for which they get safety but Pharoah gets plagues. See Genesis 12:10-20; also Genesis 20:1-8 and 26:1-11.

280-85 This reiteration of the wedding vow seeks to justify Isumbras’ eventual revenge and conquering of Saracen lands. As Fowler (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 111) states:
The vow contrasts a Christian ideal of consent with the heathen king’s wicked violation of that ideal in three spheres: the political (expressed by his plan to conquer unconsenting Christian territories), the religious (expressed by his attempt to force Isumbras to convert), and the sexual (expressed by the raptus).
288 The abduction by the Sultan of the queen has been linked by Fowler (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 108) with the topos of raptus:
a criminal act that, according to medieval lawyers, covers actions we would now describe as ranging from abduction to rape. Raptus is the mirror-opposite of lawful marriage, because, in canon law if not always in practice, marriage consisted of an exchange of vows that performs the consent of two qualified persons; raptus, of course, is defined as proceeding by force rather than by consent.
291 All the later manuscripts include a stanza:
The littill childe one lande was sett
And sawe how mene his fadir bett,
    He wepid and was full waa.
The lady grete and gafe hir ill,
Unnethes thay myght halde hir still
    That ne scho hirselve walde slaa.
Hir armes scho sprede and lowde gane crye
And ofte scho cryed one oure lady,
    "Sall we departe in two?
Allas, for sall I never blythe be,
My weddede lorde sall I never see.
    Now wakyns all my woo." (Lincoln)
307 par charyté. Schleich's emendation. The lettering of the Gonville-Caius manuscript is obscured. Broh reads perchaunce, which is less idiomatic.

315 Purdie connects this line to a passage from Guillaume D’Angleterre by pointing out that in the Old French tale a ring token also plays a prominent role: “Guillaume’s wife recognizes him years later by a ring, while Isumbras’ wife manages to give him a ring before she is abducted. In one version of the text, this ring reappears to identify him to her later on” (“Generic Identity,” p. 121).

353 thought makes better sense than the manuscript's reading, nought (perhaps a scribal error brought on by the proximity of nyght). Cotton (line 361) reads thowghte.

359 Grykkysche see. The eastern Mediterranean, separating the Christian world from the Muslim world or the West from Jerulsalem (see Octavian, lines 407 and 569; Sir Eglamour, lines 893 and 1063; The Castle of Perseverance, line 173; and Richard the Lionhearted, line 1270); or, separating Greece from Troy (see Lydgate's Troy Book, line 8017, or the Harley MS Siege of Troy, lines 166-71).

376-97 This reference to ironworking, and the author's fairly specific knowledge of the trade, have suggested to some that the poem was composed near Norfolk, a center for that industry. See Trounce, "The English Tail-Rhyme Romances," p. 37.

378 This line has been obliterated in the Gonville-Caius manuscript. It is here supplied from the Cotton text. Broh's emendation.

392 Isumbras is no longer an apprentice and hires himself out at journeyman wages. His ability to build and maintain a good fire would have been valued in a smithy.

395–99 According to Fowler, Isumbras’ position as a smith is a pivotal point in his journey back to noble status: “He forges armour as if he were reconstituting the social person of the knight he once was: he rebuilds his social body as he builds the armour” (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 102).

403 The plural kynges does not agree with the singular pronoun in the following line. The Thornton manuscript refers to kings throughout the passage, the Cotton refers to one.

417 The manuscript reads wepne, but the plural provides a smoother reading, and it occurs in the Cotton manuscript. Thornton refers to swerdes.

420-24 The Advocates' manuscript contains lines which make the prayer one for vengeance:
Ther he saw rydand in felde
Mony semely under schelde
    That knythts were hym thought.
"Lord, thou leve me myght in feld
The hethen sowden that I myth yelde
    This wo that he me wrogth.
For and I myght ons with hym mete
Syche a stroke I schuld hym reche,
    That ys dede chuldder be bogth.
436-47 The Advocates' manuscript includes a greatly expanded and more heroic account of the battle (33 lines), which lasts three days. Isumbras is not wounded, nor his horse slain; rather, he kills a heathen king and seizes his horse. More is made of the killing of the Sultan.

465 my is repeated in the manuscript.

469 Isumbras is healed by nuns, but other romance heroes in similar circumstances are usually healed by courtly ladies.

494 Acre, now in northwest Israel, was a major port and seat of a Crusader kingdom which fell in 1291.

571 lat see. This is a filler phrase (tag), usually having the sense "let us / me see," "I'll show you."

597-99 Ashmole, Advocates', and Lincoln Thornton manuscripts include the following details:
When knyghtis went to pute the stane
Twelve fo[t]e befor theym everychon
    He putte it as a balle;
Therefor envye at hym thei hade
They justyd at hym with strokis sadde,
    And he overcam them all. (Advocates')
The cause of the tournament, then, is the knights' jealousy because of their defeat. The Cotton manuscript says all envy him for his high status. The Ashmole text includes a longer description of the combat.

603 Sareyyn. Fowler draws on the expansive OED entry on ‘Saracen’ to point out that the word had a range of meanings in Middle English, one that included “Arab, Turk, Muslim, non-Christian, pagan, unbeliever, or infidel” and was “inherited by medieval Europe from the Roman Empire’s designation for the nomadic Arab peoples that troubled its Middle Eastern boundaries” (“Romance Hypothetical,” p. 98).

627 The manuscript reading sore is perhaps a misspelling of sorowe, which appears in the Cotton text (line 645) and to which I have emended the reading here.

639 In the Cotton text, the knights think Isumbras may be a thief:
This palmere hath done somme traytorere
Of your golde or your fee
    By nyghte or by daye.
652 Cotton includes the lines:
"Jhesu Criste, hevenne kynge,
Sende me somme tokenynge
    Of my trewe fere,
That I myghte wyte somme gladnes
Of my lorde Syr Isumbras
    In what londe that he were."
659 For has been emended following Broh. The letters or have been obliterated in the manuscript.

676 The Cotton manuscript includes a passage not found in other texts, which describes the reunion of the hero and his wife through the recognition of rings. This is a conventional motif in the reunion episode.
"Say me, palmere, or thou go,
Was ther any token betwene you two
    Whenne ye departed atwynne?"
The palmere answered thus:
"A rynge was broken betwyx us,
    That no man shulde it kenne."

The lady toke up a grete sykynge
And seyde, "Lette me se that rynge,
    If that thou trewe be."
"Loo, madame, have it here,
I have born it this fourtene yere,
    I shewde hit non but the."

She toke forth a purse so clene,
The halle shone therof bydene,
    So wele it was iwrowghte.
That othur party thereinne was
Nowe was this a wonthur kace,
    So mony londis as he hadde sowghte.

She layde togydur the partyes tweyne;
Hole it wax, the sothe to seyne,
    Ryghte amonge hem alle.
"Blessed be God of His swete grace,
Nowe have I my lord, syr Isumbras,
    Here all in myn halle."
The lady that was so fayre of face,
Swonedde thryse in that place,
    For fayne she hadde her lorde bolde.
The Thornton, Advocates', and Ashmole manuscripts present the whole reunion scene in three stanzas.

676–90 This recognition scene “embodies the triumph of unity of person and the long-waited final accession of Isumbras to lordship: he is at that moment simultaneously and suddenly a knight, a husband, and a king” (Fowler, “Romance Hypothetical,” p. 104).

692 The speech in Advocates' is harsher:
And cummandded that yche baron bolde
Ryche and pore, yong and olde,
    That thei Cryston schull be.
And all that wold not see
He badde that men schuld them sloo
That no thyng for them schuld goo
    Neder golde nor fee
698 The last three letters in schent have been obliterated, and are supplied following the Cotton text. Cambridge MS's more southerly dialect uses sch spellings. Cotton uses sh.

736 In the Advocates', Ashmole, and Lincoln Thornton texts, the sons appear in angelic garb, led by an angel:
In an angell wede were thei clade,
And an angell them to batell badde,
    That semely was to se. (Advocates')
741 Powell (“Models of Religious Peace,” pp. 122–23) spends considerable time examining the difference in the number of dead Muslims across the various versions of this tale:
In some of the manuscripts . . . Isumbras and his small band kill twenty thousand and three of the soldiers they are facing, about two-thirds of them, while in other manuscripts, they kill thirty thousand and three, all or essentially all of them.

The difference between 20,003 and 30,003 might be dismissed as evidence of a simple scribal error. . . . But rather than a meaningless variant, the discrepancy might instead be a sign of a genuine scribal disagreement, too, considering that the figure of 20,003 leaves ten thousand Muslims standing, alive and apparently unconverted, when the poem ends. At the least, even if all we hope to accomplish is the restoration of an original reading, the variant forces us to ask: for a medieval audience, does a happy ending require the annihilation of a religious enemy? In a poem that is pervasively aware of the permanence of religious conflict, such a question about heathen survival seems likely to have been of great ideological significance.
745 In most other manuscripts, an angel tells the sons what to say.

748 Ashmole, Advocates', and Lincoln Thornton manuscripts contain the following stanza emphasizing Isumbras' piety and the reunion of the family:
Ofte was Syr Ysambrace wele and woo
But never yitt als he was tho,
    One knees than he hym sett.
He grett and sayde with mylde stevene,                     wept
"Thankede be the heghte kyng of hevene
    My bale thane hase he bett."
Sir Ysambrace and that lady free
Kyssed all thare childir three,
    Ilkane for joye thay grett.
Mare joye myghte never no mane see
Thane men myghte one thame see
    In armes whene thay were mett. (Lincoln)
755 Dishes of wild game and domesticated animals were served, presumably at a banquet.

After 771 The lines Explicit Ser Ysumbras. Incipit Vita de Katerine virginis follow in the Gonville and Caius manuscript.




Hende in halle and ye wole her
Off eldres that before us wer
   That lyfede in are thede.
Jhesu Cryst, hevene kynge,
Geve hem alle hys blessyng
   And hevene unto oure mede.
I wold yow telle off a knyght
That was bothe hardy and wyght
   And doughty man of dede.
Hys name was callyd Sere Ysumbras;
So doughty a knyght as he was
There levyd non in lede.
He was mekil man and long
With armes grete and body strong
   And fair was to se.
He was long man and heygh,
The fayreste that evere man seygh;
   A gret lord was he.
Menstralles he lovyd wel in halle
And gaf hem ryche robes withalle,
   Bothe golde and fe.
Off curteysye he was kyng
And of his mete never nothyng
   In worlde was non so free.
A fayr lady hadde hee
As any man myghte see,
   With tungge as I yow nevene.
Bytwen hem they hadde chyldren thre,
The fayreste that myghte on lyve be
   Undyr God off hevene.
Swyche pryde in his herte was brought,
On Jhesu Cryst thoghte he nought
   Ne on His names sevene.
So longe he levede in that pryde
That Jhesu wolde no lenger abyde;
   To hym he sente a stevenne.
So hit byfell upon a day
The knyghte wente hym to play,
   His foreste for to se.
As he wente by a derne sty,
He herde a fowle synge hym by
   Hye upon a tre.
He seyde, "Welcome Syr Isumbras,
Thow haste forgete what thou was
   For pryde of golde and fee.
The kynge of hevenn the gretheth so:
In yowthe or elde thou schall be wo,
   Chese whedur hyt shall be."
With carefull herte and sykynge sore
He fell upon his knees thore,
   His hondes up he helde.
"Worldes welthe I woll forsake,
To Jhesu Criste I wyll me take,
   To Hym my sowle I yelde.
In yowthe I may ryde and go,
In elde I may noght do so,
   My lymes wyll wex unwelde.
   Lorde, yf it Thy wyll be,
In yowthe sende me poverté
   And welthe in myne elde."
Away that fowle toke hys flyghte
Alone he lette that drurye knyghte,
   Full sone he wente his wey;
And whenne he that fowle had lore,
His steede that was so lyghte byfore,
   Dede under hym ley.
His hawkes and his howndes bothe
Ronne to wode as they were wrothe
   And eche on taketh here weye.
What wonder was thowgh hym were wo?
On fote byhoveth hym to go,
   To peyne turned his pleye.
And as he by the wode wente
A lytyll knave was to hym sente,
   Come rennynge hym ageyne.
Worse tydynges he hym tolde,
"Syr, brent be thy byggynges bolde,
   Thy menne be manye sleyne.
Ther is noght lefte on lyve
But thy children and thy wyfe,
   Withouten any delayne."
He seyde, "If they on lyve be,
My wyfe and my children thre,
   Yet were I never so fayne."
Forth he wente hymself alone;
His herdemen he mette eche one,
   He seyde, "What eyleth yowe?"
"Owre fees ben fro us revedde,
There is nothynge ylevedde,
   Nowghte on stede to thy plowe."
The wepte and gaf hem yll,
The knyghte badde they schold be styll:
   "I wyte nowght yow this wo,
For God bothe geveth and taketh
And at His wyll ryches maketh
   And pore men also."
A dolfull syghte thenne ganne he se,
His wyfe and his chylderen thre
   Owte of the fyre were fledde.
As naked as they were borne
There they stode hym byforne,
   Were browghte out of here bedde.
Yette chaunged no thyng his ble
Tyll he sawe his wyfe and children thre
   That erste were comely cladde.
The lady badde her children be blythe;
"For yette I se your fader on lyve,
   For nothynge be ye dradde."
They wepte and gafe hem ylle,
Her fader badde they sholde be stylle
   And wepe nowghte so sore;
"All the sorow that we ben inne,
Hit is for owre wykked synne;
   Worthy we be well more.
And we full evell kan wyrke,
Owre frendes of us wyll yrke,
   Of londe I rede we fare.
Of myselfe have I no thowghte
But that I may geve my menn noghte,
   For hem is all my kare."
He toke his mantell of ryche pall
And over his wyfe he lette hit fall
   With a drewrye mode.
His ryche sirkote then toke he
To his pore chyldren thre
   That naked byfore hym stode;
"Do ye shull after my rede,
To seke God wher He was quykke and dede
   That for us shedde His blode.
For Jhesu Criste that is so fre
Hym to seche wher it be,
   He sende us our lyves fode."
With his knyfe he share
A crosse on hys sholder bare
   In storye as clerkes seye.
They that wer here frendes byfore,
They wepte and syked sore,
   Her songe was "wellawaye."
The knyghte and the lady hende
Toke here leve at her frende,
   And forth they wente her waye.
For hem wepte both olde and yynge
For that doolfull partynge,
   Forsothe as I you seye.
For they bare with hem nothynge
That longed to here spendynge,
   Nother golde nor fee,
But for to begge here mete
Where they myghte ony gete,
   For love of seynt charyté.
Thorow two kynges londes they gan pas
As Cristes owenn wyll was,
   They and here children thre.
Suche sorwe as they wer inne
That wer wonte for to wynne,
   Grette dole hit was to se.
Sex deyes were come and gone,
Mete ne drynke hadde they none
   For honger they wepte sore,
They kome by a water kene,
Ther over they wolde fayn have bene.
   Thenne was her kare the more.
His eldeste sone he toke there
And over the water he hym bere
   And sette hym by a brome.
He seyde, "Leve sone, sytte her styll
Whyle I fette thy broder the tyll
   And pley the with a blome."
The knyghte was both good and hende
And over the water he ganne wende;
   His othur sone he nome.
He bare hym over the water wylde;
A lyon took his othir chylde
   Are he to lond come.
The knyght was hende and good,
Therfore he made sory mod,
   Forsothe as I yow say.
A lybard com and took that othir
And bar hym evene to his brothir
   And sone wente away.
The lady cryde and grette ful ille
And thoughte hereselven for to spylle
   On londe ther sche lay.
The knyght bad the lady, "Be stylle
And thanke we God of His wille,"
   Thus thenne gan he say.
No wondyr though here hertes wer sore;
Bothe her chyldren loste they thore,
   Here eldere chyldren twoo.
Hys wyff was hym leeff and dere,
And ovyr the watyr he here bere,
   Hys yongeste sone alsoo.
Thorwgh forest they wente dayes three
Tyl they come to Grykkyssche see,
   They grette and wer full woo.
As they stood upon the lande
They sawe faste come saylande
   Three hundryd schyppys and moo.
With topcastelis sett on lofte
Rychely thenne were they wroughte
   With joye and mekyl pryde.
A hethene kyng was therinne
That Crystendome com to wynne,
   To wakkyn woo ful wyde.
The knyght thoughte he wolde lende
At the havene at the wodes ende,
   A lytyl ther bysyde.
The knyght thoghte he wolde abyde,
Men he sawgh bothe goo and ryde,
   Moo than he cowde nevene.
The knyght sayde to the lady free,
"What maner men, dame, may these bee?"
   With ful lowde a stevene.
"We have thorwgh this forest gon,
Mete ne drynk hadde we non,
   Now are gon dayes sevene.
Go we aske hem off her mete,
Yif that we may ony gete,
   For the Lord off hevene."
To that galey gan they wynne
That the Sawdon was inne,
   That rychely was wrought.
They askyd hym sum lyvys fode
For Goddes love that deyde on Rode,
   That they scholde werne hem nought.
Soone as he herde hem crye
He sayde they were come to aspye,
   "My schyp they han besought.
I comaunde yow, bete hym away!
They leve not upon my lay,
   Be Mahoun that the bought."
Thenne sayde a knyght to the kyng,
"Ser, this is a wondyr thyng,
   Yone pore man to see.
Hys lemes are longe, hys bones grete,
Hys eyen are graye and over stepe,
   A knyght hym semes to bee.
Hys wyff is whyt so whales bon,
A fayrere sawgh I nevere non,
   Bryght so blosme on tree.
He is a fayr man and hyghe,
A fayrere sawe I never with yye,
   A gentyl man is hee."

The Sawdon dool hym thoughte
And bad they scholde be forth ibroughte,
   "I wole hem see with syght."
Whenne he hem saw, hym rewyd sore,
So fayre as they bothe wore,
   That they ne were clothid a-ryght.
"Man, wylt thou leve on my lay
And doo alle thy goodes away
   And helpe me in my fyght?
Red gold schal be thy mede;
Yyf thou be doughty man of dede
   I schal the make a knyght."
Stylle stood Ser Ysumbras
And sawgh an hethene man he was;
   "Sere," he sayde, "nay!
God wolde that nevere more
That I gayn Crystyndome wore
   And forsake my lay.
We have thorwgh this forest gon,
Mete ne drynke ne gat we non,
   This is the sevynthe day.
We aske the sum lyvys fode,
For Hys love that deyde on Rode,
   And lat us gon oure way."
The Sawdon beheeld that lady thare,
Hym thoughte an aungyl that sche ware
   Come adoun from hevene.
"Man, I wold geve the gold and fee,
And thou that wymman wole selle me,
   More than thou can nevene.
I wole the geve an hundryd pound
Off penyys that be hool and round
   And ryche robes sevene.
Sche schal be qwene of my lond,
And alle men bowe unto her hond
   And non withstonde her stevene."
Ser Ysumbras sayde, "Nay!
My wyff I wole nought selle away,
   Though ye me for her sloo.
I weddyd her in Goddys lay
To holde here to myn endyng day,
   Bothe for wele or woo."
The gold upon hys mantal they told
And to himselff they gan it folde 1
   And took hys wyff hym froo.
And sithen on the land they hym casten
And beten hym tyl hys sydys brasten
   And maden hys flesch al bloo.
The Sawdon with hys owne hand
Corownyd here qwene of his land
   To sende here over the see.
A chartre in the maner he bonde
Yiff sche evere come to londe
   His qwene thenne scholde sche bee.
Whenne the woundyd man myghte stand
He took his sone be the hande
   And forth thenne wente hee.
Sith that the schyp was maad yare
With maryneres forth to fare
   With that lady free.
Whenne the schyp was redy to goo
The lady cryyd and was ful woo
   And fel before the kyng.
Sche sayde, "Sere, par charyté
A bone that thou woldyst graunte me
   Withouten ony dwellyng.
That myn hosebonde may speke with me
Ar I passe beyonde the see,
   Alone, a privy thyng."
Seththyn he callys hym agayn,
Theroff the lady was ful fayn,
   Here tokene was a ryng.
There was joye to sen hem mete
With clyppyng and with kyssyng swete
   Whenne he to the schyp scholde goo.
Sche sayde, "Lord, ful woo is me
That I ne were drownyd in the see,
   Schal we departe on twoo.
Into the land that I am inne,
Fonde thyselff for to wynne;
   The kyng schole we sloo. 2
Thenne schole ye be kyng off that lond
And alle men bowe unto youre hond
   And kevere yit al oure woo."
Mete and drynk sche dede hym geve,
A sevene nyght that he myghte leve,
   Hys lytyl sone and he.
The lady soffte and mylde
Kyste her lord and her chylde
   And swownyd sythis three.
They drowgh up sayl off ryche hewe;
The wynd was lowde and over hem blewe
   With that lady free.
The knyght on the land hym sette
And for hys wyffe sore he grette
   Whyl that he the sayl myghte see.
He took his sone be the hand
And wente up upon the land
   By holtes that were hore.
They sette hem doun undyr a tree,
Neyther off hem myghte other see
   So hadde they wept so sore.
Mete and drynk they forth drowgh;
Whenne the knyght hadde eete inowgh
   He wepyd ful yare.
In his mantel of scarlet red
Among the gold he putte his bred
   And forth with hym it bare.
Thenne come they to an hyl ful hy
And there they thought al nyght to ly,
   They myghte no lenger dree.
On the morwen whenne it was day,
An egle bar the gold away,
   The rede cloth whenne he see.
A sory man thenne walkes hee
And folewyd to the Grykkysche see;
   The fowl ovyr cam flye.
By that was comen an unicorne,
Hys yongeste sone awey was borne -
   Swyche sorwe gan he drye.
Offte was hym wele and woo,
But never so sory as he was thoo;
   He sette hym on a ston.
He sayde: "Lord, ful woo is me,
I have lost wyff and my children three.
   Now am I lefte alone.
Jesu that weredest in hevene coroun
Wysse me the way to sum toun,
   Al amis am I gone.
Lady of hevene, bryght and schene,
Flour of wymmen, of hevene qwene,
   To the I make my mone."
As he wente be a lowe,
Smethy-men herde he blowe,
   A grete fyre sawe he glowe.
He askyd hem mete par charyté,
They bad hym swynke for "so doo wee,
   We have non othir plowe."
Thenne answers the knyght agayn,
"For mete wolde I swynke fayn."
   Faste he bar and drowgh.
They goven hym mete and drynk anon
And taughten hym to bere ston;
   Thenne hadde he schame inough.
Thus they taughte hym to bere ston
Tyl the twelve monethis be comen and gon;
   They wroughten hym ful wowgh.
Be that he cowde make a fyre,
   Thenne took he mannys hyre
   And wroughte more than twoo.
Al the longe sevene yere
A smethis man was he there
   And yit monethis twoo.
By that he hadde hym armes dyght,
Al that fel for a knyght
   To batayle whenne he wolde goo.
Al the sevene yer long
The Sawdon werryd on Crystene lond
   And stroyede it ful wyde.
The Crystene kynges fleygh so long
Tyl he hadde purveyyd batayle strong,
   The Sarezynys to abyde.
A day of batayle thenne was sette,
Crystene and hethene scholde be mete
   A lytyl ther bysyde.
In hys armes that he hadde wrought
On hors that coles hadde ibrought
   To batayle faste he hyde.
Betwen twoo hyllys tho come hee,
Crystene and hethene ther he see,
   The twoo kynges hadde brought
Ayther batayle on a lowe;
Trumpys herde he lowd blowe
   And wepne he saw on lofte.
The knyght was hende and free
And sette hym doun upon his knee.
   To Jhesu he besoughte
To sende hym grace in the feelde,
The hethene houndes that he myghte yeld
   The woo they hadde hym wroughte.
The knyght was hende and good
And styrte up with egre mood
   And thryys he gan hym sayn.
He rod as scharp as a flynt,
Myghte non withstonde his dynt
   Tyl his sory horse were slayn.
Whenne he to the erthe soughte,
An eerl off the batayle hym broughte
   To an hygh mountayn.
There he chaunges al his wede
And horsyd was on a good stede
   And wente anon agayn.
Whenne he was armyd on that stede,
It is sene yit where hys hors yede
   And schal be evere more.
As sparkele glydes of the glede
In that stour he made many blede
   And wroughte hem woundes sore.
He rod up unto the mountayn,
The Sawdon soone hath he slayn
   And manye that with hym wore.
Al that day lastyd that fyght,
Ser Ysumbras that noble knyght
   Wan the batayle thore.
Whenne the hethene kyng was islayn,
The Crystene kyng was ful fayn,
   He gaff hym gold and fee.
"Where is now the noble knyght
That steryd hym so weel in fyght
   That I hym nought see?"
Knyghtes and squyers han hym sought
And before the kyng hym brought,
   Ful sore woundyd was he.
They askyd what was his name;
He sayde, "Sere, a smethis man.
   What wole ye doo with me?"
The Crystene kyng sayde than,
"I trowe nevere that smethis man
   In werre were halff so wyght."
"I bydde yow geve me mete and drynk
And what that I wold afftyr thynk
   Tyl I have keveryd my myght."
The kyng a gret oth he sware
As sone as he hool ware
   That he wolde dubbe hym knyght.
In a nunnerye they hym levyd
To hele the woundes in hys heuyd
   That he took in that fyght.
The nunnes of hym were ful fayn
For he hadde the Sawdon slayn
   And manye hethene houndes.
For hys sorwe they gunne sore rewe,
Every day they salvyd hym newe
   And stoppyd weel hys woundes.
They goven hym meetes and drynkes lythe
And heleden hys woundes also swythe
   In a lytyl stounde.
He bethoughte hym fol yore
That he wolde dwelle ther no more
   Thenne that he were sounde.
He took hys leve withouten les
And thankyd fayre the pryores
   And the nunnes hende.
He purveyyd hym bothe scryp and pyke
And made hym a palmer lyke
   Redy for to wende.
The ryghte wey thenne took he
Tyl he come to the Grykkyssche see
   As God Hymself hym sente.
A schyp fond he redy thare
On to Acres for to fare,
   And thedyr faste he wente.
Whenne he was in Acres lente,
With wery bones up he wente
   And in to the cyté yede.
Sevene yer was he palmer thore
In hungyr and in thurst ful sore
   In book as men rede.
As he yede upon the day,
Ryght so upon the nyght he lay
   In hys pore wede.
Off hys paynes thoughte hym nought ille,
Goddes hestes to fulfylle
   For hys ovyrdon dede.
Al the cyté he has thorwgh gon,
Mete ne drynk ne gat he non
   Ne hous to herberwe inne.
Besyde the burgh of Jerusalem
He sette hym by a welle-strem,
   Sore wepande for hys synne.
And as he sat, aboute mydnyght,
Ther come an aungyl fayr and bryght
   And broughte hym bred and wyn.
He sayde, "Palmer, weel thou bee,
The Kyng off hevene gretes wel the,
   Forgeven is synne thyn.
Reste the weel Sere Ysumbras,
Forgeven is thy trespas
   With tungge I say sertayn.
The gretes weel oure hevene Kyng
And geves the Hys blessyng
   And byddes the turne agayn."
The knyght was hende and free
And settes hym doun upon hys kne
   And wepte sore for fayne.
But he hadde no bete won,
He wyste nevere whedyr to gon,
   But evere to walken in payne.
Al a land he yede thorwgh
Tyl he come to a ryche burgh;
   A fayr castel ther stoode.
He herde telle ther dwellyd a qwene
That was bothe bryght and schene,
   And gret wurd off her yode.
Ilke day sche gaff at her gate
To pore men off every state
   Florynys ryche and goode.
"Weel wer me myghte I on gete,
Therwith I myghte bye my mete
   And come to lyvys fode."
Whenne he come to the castel gate,
Pore men gold to take
   Fond he many on thore.
Every man hadde a floreyn,
Sere Ysumbras was ful feyn
   For hym hungryd sore.
Pore men that myghte nought goo
Schee took in fyffty and moo,
   Whylke that febeleste wore.
In they tooken Ser Ysumbras
That a pore palmer was,
   For hym they rewen sore.
The ryche qwene in halle was set,
Knyghtes her servyd to hond and feet
   In ryche robys off palle.
In the floor a cloth was layde,
"The pore palmer," the styward sayde,
   "Schal sytte above yow alle."
Meete and drynk forth they brought,
He sat stylle and eet ryght nought
   But lokyd aboute the halle.
So mekyl he sawgh of game and gle,
Swyche merthes he was wunt to see,
   The teres he leet doun falle.
Stylle he sat and eet ryght nought,
The qwene wundryd in her thought,
   To a knyght gan sche say:
"Tak a chayer and a quysschene, lat see,
And lat the palmere sytte be me
   That he me telle may
Off manye aventures that he has sene
In dyverse landes there he has bene
   Be manye a wylde way."
Soone ther was a chayer sset
And the qwene therinne isett,
   He tolde the qwene off hys lay.
Goode tales the qwene he tolde,
The qwene askyd whethir he wold
   Have ony other mete.
Ryche meetes forth they broughte,
The qwene wonderyd in here thoughte
   Why he wolde nought eete.
"For my lordes soule I wole the geve -
Or for his love yiff that he leve - 3
   Riche cloth and meete,
A chaumbyr fayr and free
And a knave to serve thee
   Withinne the castel gete."
Now dwelles the palmere there
Tyl he were hool and fere
   And servede in the halle.
He was fayr man and hygh,
Alle lovede hym that hym sygh,
   Ful redy he was on to calle.
For hym they deden a turnement bede
And horseden hym on a sory stede
   And yit he conqueryd alle.
Sykyrly as I yow say,
Many a Sareyyn he slowgh that day
   Undyr the castel walle.
Whenne Sere Ysumbras was in feelde,
Was non so doughty undir scheelde
   That durste hym mete on stede.
Sum knyght he gaff swyche a clout
That bothe hys eyen styrten out
   And manye he made to blede.
He caste the Sareyynys in dyke and slak
And barst hem bothe nekke and bak,
   And manye fledde for drede.
The ryche qwene sat and lowgh
And sayde, "My palmere is good inowgh,
   He is wurthy to fede."
Thenne fel it upon a day
The knyght wente hym for to play
   As it was er hys kynde.
A fowles nest he fond on hygh,
A red cloth thereinne he sygh
   Wayvande with the wynde.
To the nest he gan wynne,
Hys owne mantyl he fond therinne,
   The gold there gan he fynde.
Whenne he sawgh the rede gold
That hys wyff was fore sold,
   Thenne hadde he sorowe in mynde.
The gold to hys chaumbyr he bar
And undyr hys bed he putte it thar
   And wente wepande away.
Whenne he on the gold gan see
He thoughte on hys wyff and on hys chyldren thre,
   Hys song was "weylaway!"
Wer he nevere so blythe off mood
Whenne he out off hys chaumbyr yood,
   He wepte siththen al day.
So longe levede he that lyf
Thorwgh the court it was ful ryff,
   To the qwene they gan it say.
Thenne it befel upon a day
The knyght wente hym to play,
   Hys sorewe for to mene.
Squyers brak up the chaumbyr dore
And seygh the gold in the flore,
   They schewyd it to the qwene.
Whenne sche seygh the gold with syght
Thenne swownyd that lady bryght,
   For sche it er hadde sene.
Sche kyssyd it and sayde, "Allas,
This was my lordys, Sere Ysumbras,
   My lord was wunt to bene.'
To the knyghtes sche it tolde
Hou sche for that monay was solde,
   "My lord was beten therfore.
Whenne ye may the palmer see
Byddes hym come and speke with me,
   Therto me longes sore."
The palmere come in to the halle,
For counsayl sche gan hym calle
   And askyd hym ryght thore,
"Where thou this gold wan?
Was thou evere gentyl man?"
   Hys care was more and more.
With careful herte and drery cher
He gaff the qwene an answere,
   On hys knees he hym sette.
The fyrste tale that he here tolde,
"Therefore, madame, my wyff was solde,
   Myselff bar manye buffette.
Three chyldryn I have lorn,
My mantyl was awey iborne
   And in a nest I it fette."
Thenne knelyd the lady fayr of face
And thankyd God of His grace
   That they togedere wer mette.
There was joye to sen hem mete
With laykyng and with kyssyng swete
   In armes for to folde.
Aythir off hem was ful fayn,
No lenger thenne cowde they layn:
   To knyghtes they it tolde.
A ryche brydale dede they bede,
Ryche and pore thedyr yede,
   Welcome who so wolde.
They corownyd Ser Ysumbras ryght
And made hym kyng, that noble knyght,
   For he was stout and bolde.
Then was he kyng, Ser Ysumbras,
Off more welthe thenne evere he was
   And keveryd out off care.
Hys Crystyndom he gan to kythe
And comaundyd crystenyd to be swythe 4
   Tho that hethene ware.
The hethene were at on asent,
Whoso to hys parlement went,
   To brenne and make hym bare:
"And yiff we may hymselven hent
To brenne hym or to make hym schent
   And alle tho off Crystys lare."
A day off batayle ther was sette
The Crystene and the hethene to be mette,
   Sere Ysumbras to slo.
Aftyr Sareyynys gunne they sende,
There they wente fer and hende;
   There come hethene kynges twoo.
Sere Ysumbras made hym yare
To the batayle for to fare,
   With hym wente no moo.
Whenne he was horsyd on a stede
Hys men fayleden hym at nede,
   Hys folk wenten hym froo.
Sere Ysumbras was bold and kene
And took hys leve at hys qwene
   And syghed wondyr sore.
He sayde, "Madame, have good day,
Sekyrly as I yow say
   For now and ever more."
"Helpe me, Sere, that I were dyght
In armes as it were a knyght,
   I wole with yow fare.
Yif God wolde us grace sende
That we myghte togedere ende
   Thenne don were al my care."
Soone was the lady dyght
In armes as it were a knyght,
   He gaff here spere and scheelde.
Agayne thirty thousand Sareynys and mo
Ther come no moo but they twoo
   Whenne they metten in feelde.
Ryght as they scholden have slayn bee,
Ther come rydynge knyghtes three
   On bestes that were wylde;
On a lyberd and an unycorn
And on a lyoun he rod beforn,
   That was her eldeste chylde.
The chyldryn ferden as they were wode,
They slowen al that beforn hem stode,
   Gret joye it was to see.
They slowen hethene kyngys twoo
And othere Sarayynys manye moo,
   Twenty thousand and three.
Sere Ysumbras prayde hem thare
That they wolden with hym fare
   Al nyght with hym to be.
They answerde hym with wurdes hende,
"The grace off God us hedyr sende.
   Thyn owne chyldren be we."
A noble burgh ther was besyde;
Sere Ysumbras thedyr gan ryde,
   Hys sones he gan thedyr lede.
In a chaumbyr fayr and bryght
Here clothyng was ful redy dyght,
   They chaungyd al here wede.
Off nothyng was hem wane
Neyther of wylde, neyther of tame,
   Those doughty men off dede.
Thenne three londes gunne they wynne
And crystenyd alle that was therinne,
   In romaunse as men rede.
Thenne was the kyng Ser Ysumbras
Off more welthe thenne evere he was,
   Thre londes hadde he thare.
Everylkon he gaf a land
And corownyd hem with hys owne hand,
   Whedyr so they wolden fare.
They levyd and deyde in good entente,
Unto hevene here soules wente
   Whenne that they dede ware.
Jhesu Cryst, hevene Kyng,
Geve us ay Hys blessyng
   And schylde us from care.
Gentlefolk; if you; hear; (see note)
earlier times; (see note)
able; (see note)
valiant; (see note)
(see note)
among those folk
powerful; lean
(see note)
lanky; tall
(see note)
gave them rich robes, moreover
property; (see note)
meat (hospitality)
(see note)
Nor; (see note)
(see note)
voice (summons)
secret; place
(see note)
greets you thus
age; afflicted
choose which
entrust myself
old age
limbs will become unsteady
left; dejected
bird; lost sight of; (see note)
Fled; forest as if crazy
one; their
foot obliged
Came running toward
burned; buildings
livestock; taken
one horse for
They; were upset
(see note)
were upset
We deserve even more suffering
will be annoyed with us
From [this]; advise we depart
dejected spirit
as I advise
seek; lived and died
cut; (see note)
(see note)
sighed bitterly
from their friends
Six days; (see note)
he (Isumbras) took
fetch; to you
flower; (see note)
had sad thoughts
kill; (see note)
beloved; precious
bore her
Greek; (see note)
(see note)
conquer; (see note)
stir up
short distance away
(see note)
the Cross
believe; religion; (see note)
Mahomet who redeemed you; (see note)
bright; (see note)
(see note)
thought it sad
believe in my faith; (see note)
put aside all your gods
against; was
ask from you sustenance
on the Cross
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
(see note)
He made a charter such that
made ready
for [Fr.]; (see note)
(see note)
see them meet
recover from
swooned three times
raised; color
forests; grey
eaten enough
hill; steep
(see note)
(see note)
came flying over
At that moment
himself; stone
who wears
by a hill; (see note)
Blacksmiths; work the bellows
(see note)
them for food
no other plow (way to get food)
work eagerly
carried; brought
made; mistake
(see note)
(see note)
ravaged it widely
fled; (see note)
assembled a great army
meet [in battle]
Each one's battalions; hill
weapons; lifted; (see note)
clever; noble
placed himself
(see note)
knightly; virtuous
angry manner
thrice; assay (charge)
went back right away
(see note)
battle; bleed
governed himself
whatever I think of later
regained my strength; (see note)
left; (see note)
applied salves to him
gave; soothing
bag; staff
(see note)
Sorely weeping
Unless; better fortune
radiant; splendid
her reputation spread
many a one there
Those who were most feeble
had great pity
fine cloth
ate nothing
cushion; (see note)
able to go
(see note)
(see note)
eyes burst
ditch; ravine
formerly; nature
he went
(see note)
well known
(see note)
took leisure time
forced open
(see note)
(see note)
dejected countenance
For that
(see note)
(see note)
loving behavior
Each; glad
remain silent
wedding feast; command
recovered from
make known
(see note)
in agreement
burn; destitute
disgraced; (see note)
prepared himself
(see note)
went about; crazy
(see note)
gracious words; (see note)
(see note)
domesticated (meats); (see note)
did they conquer
Each one
(see note)

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