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Item 5, Sir Isumbras


1 Lines 109–11: Since we cannot succeed at all, / Therefore I, exhausted, think / To go begging

2 Lines 314–15: Men could scarcely calm her on account of her sorrow, / [Sorrow such] that she would kill herself


Title Rate has written the title Isombras in a slightly larger script, spelling the name as he does throughout the poem. Modern editions use the title Sir Isumbras, Sir Ysumbras, or simply Isumbras.

6 Ye schall have heven to mede. This promise seems more in keeping with a saint's life or other edifying material, but other pious romances use similar formulas.

20 rych robys of paule. See line 585 for the return of this formulaic description later in the narrative.

31 Bot inne hys herte a pride was browght. The phrasing seems deliberately ambiguous here; though Isumbras has undoubtedly fallen into the sin of pride, his agency in committing this sin is left unspecified.

38 for to pleye. As in the opening scene of Saint Eustace (item 1), Isumbras's ride into the forest for his delight can be read as his exercise of worldly pleasure and the failure to direct his will towards spiritual ends.

44 Thou haste forgette what thou was. The bird's connection between memory and identity becomes one of the narrative's recurring themes. Later in the story, remembrance will enable the reclamation of Isumbras's identity.

50 On his kneys he felle. Just as Placidas immediately accepts Christian truth and becomes Eustace, Isumbras accepts his guilt without hesitation or dispute.

87 With a drery chere. Some lines are missing here, in which the herdsmen lament that they have lost their livelihood in the disasters that have beset Isumbras. Isumbras's response as given in this text seems odd in any case; in other manuscripts, his response is simply stoic. Compare the reading in London, British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii (lines 91–103 in Mills' edition):
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 y-levedde,
     Nowghte on stede to thy plowe."
They wepte and yaf hem yll;
The knyghte badde they schold be styll:   
     "I wyte nowght yow this wo.
For God bothe yeveth and taketh
And at His wyll ryches maketh,
     And pore men also."

property; stolen
Not one horse

do not blame you for
gives; takes away

110 myselve I thinke, yrke. Rate's text is defective to the point of being nearly unintelligible here. In other manuscripts, Isumbras fears that the family's destitution will soon make their neighbors "yrke" ("disgusted, tired"), and thus suggests that they leave the region.

114 some gode we may do. Isumbras, even in his destitution, still recognizes humbly the value of good works.

119 And cutte it and clothyd his chylder thre. Isumbras's compassionate gesture recalls Saint Martin, a soldier-saint who cut his cloak to clothe a beggar.

126 lyves fode. The Middle English phrase suggests both physical and spiritual nourishment, perhaps even the bread and wine of Holy Communion.

127 A crosse he cutte. Both this action and confessing sins to a priest were customary preparations for pilgrimage, crusade, or, more generally, acts of repentance.

200 the grete see. Other manuscripts specify the "Greke See" or Mediterranean.

208 With toppe-castels. Medieval naval vessels featured fortified structures on their decks; naval combat partially resembled land combat in its tactics.

211 The Soudan of Pers. Other manuscripts do not specify the origin of the heathen sultan. Though at the time of the text's composition the Mameluk sultans ruled from Egypt, sultans of Persia or Babylon appear frequently in other Middle English texts.

241 Sayrezins. In Middle English romances, "Saracen" can refer to an Arab, a Turk, a Muslim, a pagan, or a heathen, with little distinction between the possible senses.

250 both large and hyghe. The reference to Isumbras's impressive appearance recalls the opening stanzas of the poem, and his original state. Romances make frequent use of the idea that heroic virtue was manifested in the hero's body, a virtue recognizable in the most dire of circumstances.

281 For Jhesu love. Rather than seeing Isumbras's insistence on asking Muslims for charity in the name of Jesus as a recognition that both religions venerated Jesus as a prophet, or as merely an obtuse ignorance of the differences between his faith and the Sultan's, medieval readers may have seen this as admirable courage in the face of nonbelievers.

345 And sche gaffe hym a rynge. Rings are a traditional means of recognition between separated lovers in romance. In some of the other manuscripts, after giving him the ring, Isumbras's wife instructs him to search her out and kill the Sultan.

377 An angelle. Other versions feature a griffin or an eagle, more likely culprits. Rate seems to have been uncertain or inattentive here; this line has been corrected from its original reading, "bore his chyld awey."

398 Smythmen. Though years of ignoble labor are not uncommon for suffering heroes (see Saint Eustace, item 1), working in a smithy is unusual, and Trounce suggested that the author of the poem came from the area around Norfolk, a center for that industry ("English Tail-Rhyme Romances," p. 37).

413 mans hyre. Isumbras, having served as an apprentice and having learned to make a hot, long-lasting fire (crucial for metalwork), now earns a journeyman's wages.

501 hethyn houndys. The phrase is a common epithet for "Saracens."

524 unto hethyn lond. Some manuscripts specify Acre, a port city northwest of Jerusalem, as Isumbras's entry point into the Holy Land. The city was lost to the Crusaders in the decades immediately before the likely composition of the poem.

544 Bedlem. In other manuscripts, Isumbras receives this vision outside the walls of Jerusalem, not Bethlehem. Jerusalem's allegorical connection to the heavenly city of God might make this a preferable reading, though Bethlehem, as the site of the Incarnation of Christ, may serve equally well.

549 brought him bred and wyne. Instances of angels sustaining holy men and women with food and drink are common in medieval saints' lives. The tradition may derive from 3 Kings 19:5–8, where an angel gives the prophet Elijah bread and water.

571 Though other manuscripts vary in their readings, several lines are missing here. Rate's lines preserve the basic sense, that the lady gives away alms to the poor at her gate, but omits the detail (revealed in line 574) that these alms consist of gold florins, a very generous gift. Compare the reading of Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College MS 175 (lines 538–43 in Hudson's edition):
Ilke day sche gaff at her gate
To pore men of every state
     Florynys ryche and goode.
"Weel wer me myghte I on gete,
Therewith I myghte bye my mete     
     And come to lyvys fode."
buy my food

625 to pute the ston. As in modern shot put, a test of strength. Isumbras's strength with this stone recalls his earlier labors removing heavy stones from the slough as a smith's apprentice (line 407). For a similar episode of a hero-in-disguise's success at the shot put, see lines 1018–65 of Havelok the Dane, in Herzman, Drake, and Salisbury, Four Romances of England.

654 His sorow began to mende. Other texts read "His sorrow he had in mind," a reading which makes more sense, given the following stanza's description of his renewed grief.

677 This gold owyth Syr Isombras. The ring given to Isumbras by his wife has now been conflated with the gold given to him at their parting. The confusion is not Rate's, as other manuscripts treat these details similarly.

748 Saryzyns. I.e., the subjects and retainers of his wife, who retract their allegiance to their newly crowned king.

823a AMEN QUOD RATE. A drawing of a fish separates this text from the next item on fol. 16v.


1 Hende. MS: ende. Space left for initial H unfilled.

49 syghyng. MS: syghyn.

64 When. MS: Whe.

96 Fled oute of. MS: Fled of. Space left for omitted word.

103 They. MS: Thy.

110 Therfor. MS: Wherefor.

113 some. MS: soune.

131 syghed. MS: syghted.

136 Sore. MS: For.

167 styll. MS: styld.

188 world is. MS: wordys is.

206 thei saw ther. MS: there saw thei.

210 Thei. MS: The.

214 thought. MS: though.

223 knyght. MS: knght.

248 Sertys. MS: Sertyt.

249 Yone. MS: Yene.

253 long. MS: lond.

325 When the. MS: Whylthe.

335 it with hys. MS: it hys.

338 Sche. MS: Shle.

348 yenge. MS: yene.

360 it be. MS: to me it be (to me is marked for deletion).

373 hyll. MS: wyde.

377 gold awey. MS: gold is added above a scratched out chyld.

382 unycorne. MS: umycorne.

401 labor. MS: labo.

410 Till. MS: Thill.

415 smythes. MS: smyghes.

430 alkyns. MS: akyns.

450 was. MS: with.

458 When. MS: Whe.

460 on. MS: un.

494 covers. MS: coverd.

508 scrype. MS: sorype.

514 than toke. MS: a now illegible word was begun and then marked for deletion before toke.

521 knyght. MS: kynght.

536 nyght. MS: nygh.

556 knyght. MS: knygh.

574 floryn. MS: flory.

598 coshyne. MS: chosyne.

603 wyllfull weye. MS: wyllfull lond weye (lond is marked for deletion).

626 fote. MS: fo.

640–41 MS: lines transposed.

655 gold. MS: god. The l is inserted above the rest of line.

662 yode. MS: yere.

678 That. MS: That that.

684 longeth. MS: longhet.

694 her. MS: herd.

701 seyd. MS: sey.

722 them. MS: the.

744 kyngys. MS: knyghtys.

755 Sertys, dame, have gode dey. MS: Setys dame have godey.

787 knyght. MS: knght.

810 Batell. MS: Balell.

819 myrthe. MS: mythe.

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Hende in halle and ye schall here
Of elders that beforn us were,
    Ther lyves how thei dyde lede.
I schall yow telle a wonder case.
Frendys, herkyns how it was:
    Ye schall have heven to mede.

I wyll you telle of a knyght
That was both herdy and wyght,
    A dughty mone he was;
Syr Isombras was his name,
A nobull knyght of ryall fame
    And stronge in every cas.

He was a feyre man and strong
With schulderes brod and armes longe
    That sembly was to se.
He was large man and hyghe,
All hym loved that hym seyghe,
    So hend a man was he.

Mynstrels lovyd he welle in halle,
And gafe theme rych robys of paule
    And gyftys of glytering gold.
Of curtassye that knyght was kynge
And of his mete not sparynge;
    Ther goth none syche on molde

He had the feyreste ladye
That any man myght se with ee,
    Under Oure Lady of heven,
And thei hade fayre sones thre;
They were all feyre as thei myght be,
    With tonge as I you neven.

Bot inne hys herte a pride was browght:
Of Godys werkys he goffe ryght noght.
    Hys mersye he sette nott byghe.
So longe he lyffed inne that pride
That God wold no lenger byde,
    Bot sente hym sorow inne hyghe.

For it befelle upon a deye
The knyght wente forth for to pleye
    Hys feyre foreste to see.
As he lokyd hym besyde on hye,
He herd a byrd synge hym nye
    Hyghe upon a tre.

And seyd, “Abyd, Syr Isombras.
Thou haste forgette what thou was
    For pride of gold and gode.
The Kynge of Heven gretys thee soo;
Yonge other olde thou schalt have woo:
    Chese thee inne thi mode.”

With carfull herte and syghyng sore,
On his kneys he felle doune thore
    And both his handys uphelde.
“Werldys welthe I wyll forsake
And to Godys mersye I wylle me take;
    To hym my selve I yelde.
In youth I may both ryde and goo;
When I ame olde I canne not so,
    My bones wyll wex unwelde.
Bot, Jhesu, if thi wylle it be,
In youthe poverté thou sende me,
    And welthe in myn elde.”

Than the byrde toke hys flyght;
Alon he left that drery knyght
    And so fro hym he wente.
When he of that bryd hade no syght,
Hys sted that was so strong and wyght
    Dede under hym was bentte.

Hys haukys and hys hondys bothe
Wente to the wode as thei were wrothe,
    Iche onne dyverse weye.
What wonder was if he were wo?
On fote hymselve he muste go;
    To peyn turned hys pley.

As he came by a lytell schawe,
A lytelle chyld anon he sawe
    Came rydinge hym agene.
Welle wers tydingys he hym tolde,
That brynte was all his bygingys bolde,
    Hys bestys were all slayn.

“Lord, ther is nowght lefte on lyve
Bot thy chylder and thy wyffe,
    The soth I wylle thee seye.”
“Whyle that I may on lyffe se
My wyffe and my chylder thre,
    Full glad I ame this deye.”

As he went by hymselve alone,
He mette hys herdmen everychon
    With a drery chere.
“God that sent me all this wo
Hath sente me joy and blys also,
    And yet joy mey I here.”

A dolefull syght it was to se
His wyffe and hys chylder thre
    That fro the fyre were flede.
Al so naked as thei were borne,
He fownd them sytyng under a thorn
    Fled oute of ther bede.

Nothyng yit sory yit was he
Bot when he saw them nakyd be
    That he lefte sembly clade.
Than the lady bade them be blythe,
“For yonder I se your fader onne lyve;
    For nothinge be ye drade.”

They had wepyd all ther fylle;
The knyght bad thei schuld be styll
    And wepe nought so sore.
“For all the care that we be inne,
It is for oure wyked synne,
    For we are worthy myche more.

“And we canne nothinge wyrke,
Therfor myselve I thinke, yrke,
    Of begyng for to go.1
Bot we schall thorow Godys grace
Com into some gode place
    Where some gode we may do.”

He toke hys ryche cyrcute of paule,
Over his wyfe he lete it falle
    With a full drery mode.
Hys ryche mantell than toke he
And cutte it and clothyd his chylder thre
    That nakyd befor hym stode.

“Now schall ye do all at my rede:
Go seke ther God was quyke and dede
    And sprede was on the rode tre.
For Jhesu Cryst, he is so gode,
They that hym seke with mylde mode
    Ther lyves fode send wylle he.”
A crosse he cutte upon hys breste
And schryved them both unto the preste,
    In story as we sey.
They that were ther frendys ther
Thei wepyd fast and syghed sore;
    Ther songe was “Welle-a-wey!”

The knyght and the lady hende
Toke ther leve at ther frende
    And made a sorowfulle mone.
Sore wepyd both olde and yenge;
Ther was a carefull partyng
    When thei ther wey dyd gone.

With them thei bore bot lytelle gode
To helpe them to ther lyves fode,
    Nether gold ne fee.
Bot inne the lond thei begged ther mete
Where thei myght any gete
    For Seynte Charyté.

It was grete dole to se that syght,
That lady and that gentyll knyght,
    How thei dyde sofer wo.
They that were wounte to duell with wyne,
In grete poverté thei were inne,
    And myche sorow also.

In a forest thei had gon wylle,
No towne myght thei come untylle,
    Ne no towne coude thei kepe.
When thre deys were come and gone,
Mete ne drynke had thei none;
    For hunger sor thei wepe.

Ne thing thei saw that come of corne,
Bot fowlys wyld that satte on thorn;
    Ne mete ther gete myght he.
Than came thei to a water kene;
The bankys were fulle wyde betwen —
    That grymly was to se.

Hys eldyst son he toke up ther
And over the water he hym bere,
    And sette hym on the londe.
“Loke,” he seyd, “that thou be styll
To I fette thy broder thee tylle,
    And play thee with this wand.”

The knyght that was hend and gode
Over the water than he wode,
    And toke hys mydell sone,
And bore hym over the water wyld.
A lyon toke that other chyld
    Or he to lond myght com.

With carfull herte and sygheng sore,
Hys mydellyst son than lefte he thore;
    Wepand he wente awaye.
With sory chere and drery mode
Agen over the water he yode;
    To pyne turned all hys pleye.

A lyberd com and toke the tother
And bare hym to the wodde to his broder;
    Wyldly awaye he wente.
The lady wepyd all her fylle;
For sorow herselve sche wold spylle,
    Sych sorow to hyr was lente.

They seyd alas that they were borne,
“Herd world is us beforne
    That are was wyld and cranke!”
The knyght bade sche schuld be stylle
And blythly sofer Godys wylle:
     “We behove hym all to thanke.”

Lytell wonder thofe thei had care,
For both ther childer leste thei ther
    Of the eldyste two.
Hys wyffe he uptoke ther
And over the water he her bare,
    His yongyste sone also.
Thorow a forest thei went deys thre
Tyll thei come to the grete see.
    Grete stormes saw thei blaw
Upon the lond ther thei stode.
Ther come seylond onne the flode
    A thousand schyppes onne rowe.
They lokyd doune them besyde:
Many schyppes thei saw ther ryde
    Bot a lytell them fro.
With toppe-castels sette onne lofte,
They semed all one gold wroght,
    Thei glytered and schyned soo.

The Soudan of Pers was therinne.
Crystindom he come to wyne,
    Ther wakyd wo full wyde.
The knyght thought that he wold lende
A lytell by that foreste hend;
    The schyppes wold ther abyde.

Men come to lond, withouten lesse.
Ther com in botys grete presse,
    Mo than I canne telle,
What ther were be the sonde,
Of gold all glyterande
    With many an hygh toppe-castelle.

The knyght spake to the ladye fre,
“What frely folke may thes be
    That drawys so faste to londe?
They seme men of grete asstate.
I rede some almus we aske them atte;
    For hungour we be nyghe fonde.

“In this forest we have gon,
Mete ne drinke ete we non
    More than deys seven.
Aske we thes folke some mete,
And loke if we may any gete,
    For Godys love of heven.”

To the galys thei went with wynne
That the Soudan hymselff was inne,
    That rychely was wroght.
Thei askede ther som lyffes fode,
For his love that dyeghed onne rode
    And made this werld of nowght.
The Sayrezins seyd he was a spye,
When thei herd hym so crye,
    And ther schyppes had sought.
The Souden bade, “Do hym aweye,
For we leve not on his leye.
    Loke ye gyffe hym nowght.”

A knight seyd unto the kynge,
“Sertys, it is a wonder thyng
    Yone pore man to see,
For he is both large and hyghe,
The feyrest man that ever Y se;
    A gentyll man is he.
With armes long and schuldres grete,
Wythe browys brante and eyen stepe,
    A knyght semys to be.
Hys wyffe whyte as whalys bone,
Hyr lyre as the see fome,
    And bryght as lylé of blee.”

The Sowdan grete reuth thought,
Bade he schuld be befor hym brought;
    He wold hym se with syght.
When he them se, he rewyd sore,
So sembly as thei bothe wore,
    The lady and the knyght.
He seyde, “Syr, both gold and fee
Thow schall have, and duelle with me
    And helpe me for to fyght.
If thou be doughty man of dede,
Thou schall be horsyd on a stede;
    Myselve schall dubbe thee knyght.”

Styll stode Syr Isombras,
And saw that he a Sarysene was.
     “Syr,” he seyd, “naye,
That schalle I never more
Agens Crystendom to warre
    And lyffe upon thi leye.
Syr, in the foreste we have gone,
Mete ne drynke have we none;
    Thys is the seven deye.
We aske ye some lyves fode,
For Jhesu love that dyghed on rode,
    And late us wend our waye.”

The Soudan beheld that lady there:
Hym thought sche an angell were,
    Comyn oute of heven.
He seyd, “Thou schall have gold and fee,
Thy wyffe if thou wyll sell to me,
    More than thou canne nevyn.
Sche schall be quene of all my lond
All schall bow unto her honde —
    Therof she may be feyne.”
Syr Isombras seyd, “Naye,
My wyffe I wyll not do awaye,
    Bot I be for hyr slayne.

“I weddyd hyr at Godys ley
To hold hyr to myn ending dey
    Bothe in wele and woo.”
The Soudeyn swore by hys thryft
The lady schuld with hym be lyffte
    For ought that he couthe doo.
The gold on his mantyll thei told;
Thoff he were never so stronge and bold,
    His wyff thei toke hym froo.
And sethyn to the lond thei gan hym caste,
And bette hym to hys rybbys braste
    And made his flesche full bloo.
Than was this knyght in sorow and care,
And cursyd the whyle that he come ther;
    His wyffe was fro hym goo.
The lytell chyld on the lond thei sette
And saw how the Sarysyns hys fader bette,
    And wepyd and was full woo.

The lady wepyd and thought hyr ylle.
Unneth for sorow men myght her stylle
    That sche herselve wold sclo.2
Sche brayd her armes and faste gane crye,
And calyd fast on our dere Ladye,
     “Schall we now parte in twoo?
Alas, blythe schall I never be
And I my lord no more schall se;
    My joy is gon me froo.
Out, alas, that I was borne;
My welth this dey fro me is lorne.”
    Thus wakyd all her woo.

When the knyght myght uppe stonde,
He toke the chylde by the honde;
    Aweywerd than went he.
A ryche schype ordend was ther;
The Souden seyd a knight schuld fare
    With that lady fre.
The Souden with his awne hond
Crounde hir quene of all hys lond
    And sente hyr home to hys contré.
A ryche charter, I understond,
He selyd it with hys owne hond
    That sche schuld quene be.

Bot when the schypes were made redy,
Sche wepyd and was full sory,
    And knelyd downe befor the kynge,
And seyd, “Syr, I praye thee
One bone thou wold grante me
    Of one privye thinge.”
The Souden grantyd and sche was feyne.
The knyght was brought to hyr ageyne
    And sche gaffe hym a rynge.
Mete and drinke thei dyde hym gyffe,
That he myght with a seven nyght lyffe,
    And the lytell chyld yenge.

The lady was curtasse and mylde:
Sche kyssed hire lord and sethen hyr chyld,
    And sowned twyse dyd sche.
They drew uppe seyle of ryche hew;
The wynd of the haven blew
    With that lady free.
The wondyd knyght doune hym sette,
And for his lady sore he grette
    Whyle he the seyle myght se.
“God that made both dey and nyght,
Have mersye upon me, a sympulle wyght.
    Thy sond welcom it be.”

When the knyght myght uppe stond,
He toke the chyld by the hond.
    Awey gon he feyre,
And sette hym downe under a tree.
Unethe hy myght with eyne se,
    So had he wepyd sore.
Mete and drynke he forth drewe
And goffe the lytell chyld inowe,
    And ever he was inne care.
In his mantyll of scarlet rede
Amonge hys gold he dyde his brede,
    And with hym he it bare.

Tyll he come to a hyll hye
Ther he behovyd a nyght to lye;
    Ne ferther myght he streche.
In the mournyng as he lye,
An angelle bore his gold awey,
    Fro the rede mantyll he dyd it seche.

The sory knyght uppe sterte hee
And folowyd hym unto the see:
    Ther over gane he flye.
That same tyme an unycorne
His yonge sone awey had borne;
    Syche sorow ganne he drye.

Ofte he was in wele and woo,
Bot never halfe as he was thoo.
    He sette hym onne a stone;
With carfulle herte and drery stevyn,
He callyd on the kyng of heven;
    To hym he made hys mone.
“Lord,” he seyd, “full wo is me!
So feyre as I hade childer thre,
    And now have I none.
God that berys of heven the croune
Wyse me this dey to some toune,
    For now I ame alone.”

And as he went in that thrawe,
Smythmen herd he blawe
    And fyer saw he glowe.
Than askyd he mete for charyté.
Thei bade hym labor, “For so do we —
    We have non other plowe.”
The knyght spake to them ageyn,
“For mete I wolde traveyll feyn,
    Blow and do inow.”
Than of mete thei gaffe hym wone;
They made hym to bere a stone
    Oute of a depe slow.

Thus he bore irene and stone
Till two yere were comen and gon;
    He wroght thus with myche wo.
Be than couth he make a fyre;
They gaffe hym than mans hyre;
    He wroght more than other two.
A smythes man he was ther
Longe seven yere and more,
    And dyde the belos blow.
Be than wele couth he dyght
All maner of armour for a knyght
    To warre when he schuld goo.

All that tyme, I understond,
The Sowdan werred on Crysten lond
    And struyd it full wyde.
The Crysten kynge flede so longe,
And he gedered folke full stronge
    The Sarysens to abyde.
Dey of batell ther was sette;
Bothe heythen and Crysten mette
    A lytell ther besyde.
Of alkyns armour he wantyd nouht;
Upon a sted he was brought,
    To batell gon he ryde.

He rode uppe to an hylle hyghe;
Hethen and Crysten ther he seyghe
    That the knyghtys hade brought.
Forthe he rode that thrawe;
Trompys sone herd he blawe,
    And wepyns faste thei brought.
He sette hym doune upon hys kne;
To Jhesu Cryste prayd he
    And fast he hym besought:
“Lord, thou leve me in this feld
That I may the Soudene yelde
    The wo that he me wroght.”

The knyghtys herte was full gode,
And forthe he rode with herdy mode;
    To fyght he was fulle feyne.
For no wepyn wold he stynte;
Ther lyved non that bore his dynte,
    Tyll his hors was sleyne.
Than the kynge to the grownd sought.
A Crysten erle out of the batell hym brought
    Untyll a mownteyn.
Ther he changed all his wede
And horsed hym one a gode stede,
    And sone he wente ageyn.

He prykyd forth as sperke on glede
When he was horsyd one a stede
    With a grymbly gare.
Som he hytte on the hede
Unto the gyrdell that it wode,
    Them to mych care.
It was wele sene ther he stode
And also were that he yode,
    Hors and man doune he bare.
He rode upp to a mounteyn;
Ther the Souden was islayn
    And all that with hym ware.

Thre deys and thre nyghtys
Syr Isombras held his fyghtys;
    Ther wane he the gree.
Than the Crystynd were full feyn
When the Saryzens were sleyne;
    They made game and glee.
They askyd, “Were is that knyght
That was so doughty and wyght?
    Well feyn we wold hym se.
He is a man of mych myght,
And doughty bare hym in the fyght;
    We knew non sych as he.”
Erlys, barons, thei hym sought,
Befor the kyng thei hym brought;
    Sore wondyd was he.
The kyng hys name freyned than;
He seyd, “I ame a smythes man.
    What is thi wyll with me?”

The kyng ansuerd hym than,
“Wonder it is, if a smythes man
    In bateyll were so wyght.”
He bad gyff hym mette and drynke,
And all that he wold aske or thynke,
    Tyll he were helyd ryght.
And be the crowne the kyng sware,
“If he covers of hys care,
    I schall dubbe hym a knyght.”
He was levyd ther in that stede
To hele the wondys in hys hede
    That he hade inne that fyght.

The Crysten men were full feyn
That the Sarysens were slayn
    And all the hethyn houndys.
Of his peynes sore dyd thei rewe;
Iche dey thei made salvys newe
    To ley onne his woundys.

They gafe hym mete and drynk also,
And helyd his woundys that were bloo
    Withinne a lytell stounde.
The knyght ordeyned hym scrype and pyke,
And made all palmer lyke,
    And made hym redy to fownde.
His leve he toke, withouten lesse,
And thankyd them both more and lesse
    That helpyd to hele hys wounde.
The redy way than toke hee
Even to the grete see
    That was depe to the grownde.

A shype redy ther he founde
That was tyed to the londe,
    As Godys wyll it was.
The schype was redy for to wend,
And in went the knyght hend,
    Owte of the haven to passe.

And over the see, I understond,
The schype wente unto hethyn lond
    And passed over that flode.
And when he was in hethynes lente,
Forth his weys faste he wente
    And seldom styll he stode.
Sevyn wynter was he ther
With hungor, thyrst and mykell care;
    He wantyd lyves fode.
In woddys that were grete and hye,
He went forth full drerye
    As man that couth no gode.

Full wery he went on the deye,
On the nyght in his clothys leye,
    That was so pore a wede;
Goddys werkys for to wyrke.
Of penans was he never yrke
    For his grete mysded.

All a thyrste he was gone;
Mete and drynke gate he none,
    Ne hous to herbour men.
Withoute the towne of Bedlem,
He ley done be a well strem,
    Sore wepand for pyne.
And as he leye aboute mydnyght,
Ther come an angell fro heven bryght
    And brought hym bred and wyne.
“Palmer,” he seyd, “welcom thou be;
The Kyng of Heven wele gretys thee.
    Forgyven are synnes thyn.

“Wele thee gretys heven kynge,
And hath gyven thee his blyssyng,
    And bydys thee turne ageyn.”
The knyght fell doune on hys kne,
Jhesu Cryst than thankyd he;
    He wepyd, he was so feyn.
Bot he wyste never whether to go:
No other wernyng hede he tho,
    Bot aye to walke in peyn.
He walkyd forth dey and nyght;
God hym sent wey full ryght,
    The soth if I schall seyn.

Many londys he dyd go thorow,
Tyll he came to a ryche borow;
    Therine a castell stod.
Ther herd he telle ther wonnes a quen
That was a lady feyre and schene.
    The word of hyr wyd yode,
That iche dey gaff at hyr gate,
For Godys love, who wold it take.

Many folke fonde he ther,
A floryn had iche one, that is not to leyne.
Syr Isombras was never so feyn,
    He hungered never so sore.
Of the pore that myght ivell gone,
They toke men sexty and moo
    Of tho that sekyst were,
And inne thei toke Syr Isombras.
At grete myscheffe thei saw he was;
    Of hym thei rewyd sore.

The ryche quene in halle was sette,
And men servyd hyr at mete
    In riche robys of paule,
And in the florth a cloth was leyd.
“The pore palmer,” the steward seyd,
     “Schall sytt above them all.”
Mete and drynke was forth browght;
The palmer sate and ete nought,
    Bot lokyd onne the haule.
So myche he saw of game and gle,
And thought what he was wonte to be;
    Teres he lete doune falle.

So longe he sate and ete nought,
The quen beheld and wonder thought,
    And to a knyght gan sey,
“Feche me a cheyr and a coshyne,
And sette the palmer therinne
    To tell me that he mey,
What tydyngys that he hath herd and sene
In hethenes were he hath bene,
    In many a wyllfull weye.”
A ryche chayre ther was fette,
Befor the quen ther he was sette
    And told hyr of hys leye.

So noblye he hyr told,
That sche myght frayn as sche wolld,
    And lenger lyst sche sytte.
“For my lord sake I schall thee gyffe,
Als long as ever thou may lyve,
    Clothe, drynke, and mete,
And a man to serve thee ryght
In chambyr both be dey and nyght
    Withinne my castell gate.”
He thankyd mykyll the lady fre,
And inne hyr courte duellyd he;
    His chere was the bete.

So longe the palmer duellyd thare,
That he was bothe hole and feyr,
    And served inne the halle.
He was a mych man and hye;
All had wonder that hym seye
    So strong he was withalle.
When knyghtys went to pute the ston,
Twelve fote before them everychon,
    He putte it as a balle.
Therfor envye at hym thei hade:
They justyd at hym with strokys sadde,
    And he overcom them alle.

Syre Isombras upon the feld,
Was non so herdy under scheld
    Durste mete hys crowkyd stede,
Bot he gaffe hym syche a knoke
That thei tomblyd tayle over toppe,
    And many he made to bled.
And some of them so dyd he qwake
He brast in two both neke and bake,
    And many fled for dred.
The quen her selve lowde lowghe,
“The pore man is strong inoughe —
    I hold hym worthy to fede!”

Then befell it on a dey
The palmer went hym for to pley,
    As it was are hys kynde.
A foulys neste he saw on hyghe,
A red clothe therin he sye
    Wawynd with the wynde.
Unto the neste gane he wyne;
His awne gold he saw therine,
    All olde he gane it fynde.
And when he saw that gold
That his wyffe was for solde,
    His sorow began to mende.

The gold to his chambyr he bare,
Under hys bedde he hydd it there;
    Wepand he wente awey.
When he with eyghe that gold dyd se,
He wepyd for his wyffe and his childer thre;
    To pyne turnede hym his pley.
And he were never so glad of mode,
And he ons to his chambyr yode,
    He wepyd after all dey.
So long the palmer led his lyffe
Among the knyghtys that was full ryfe,
    The soth I wyll you sey.

Tyll it befell upon a dey
To the wode he wente to pley,
    His olde sorow to new ryn.
A knyght braste up the chamber dore;
The gold he found in the flore,
    And schewyd it to the quen.
Sone when sche it sawe with syght,
In swonyng the lady fell doune ryght,
    For sche it are hade sene.
Sche kyste it ofte and seyd, “Alas,
This gold owyth Syr Isombras,
    That my lord was wonte to be.”

And sche it to that knyght tolde,
How sche was for that gold solde
    Many a dey before.
“When ye may that palmer se,
Byde hym come speke with me;
    After hym me longeth sore.”
The palmer was brought into the halle.
The quen to counsyll dyd hym calle
    And askyd hym, for Godys ore,
If he were ever gentyll man,
And how he that gold wanne.
    His mournyng was the more.

With sorowfull hert and syghyng sore,
He gaff hyr an ansuere
    And on his kneys hym sette.
The fyrste tale that he her told,
How sche was for that gold sold,
    And how that he was bete,
And how his chylder fro hym was born,
And how his gold fro hym was lorne,
    And how that he was threte.
Than sche kyssyd his face,
And seyd, “Welcom, Syr Isombrace!”
    For joy thei were wepand.

Joy it was to se them mete.
With clypyng and with kyssing suete
    In armes when thei gon folde.
Ather were of other so feyn,
Ther joy myght no man seyn,
    The sothe if it were tolde.
A ryche feste dyd thei byd,
Riche and pore therto yede;
    Durste non agen them hold.
Crowned he was that iche nyght,
And made kyng that are was knyght
    Of the barons bold.

When he was kynge and bore the croune,
He sente hys sond fro towne to towne,
    Tyll iche a grete cyté.
He made crye in borowys bold,
Riche and pore, yong and olde,
    That thei schuld crystend be.
And thei that wold not do so,
Ther schall nothing for them go,
    Nother gold ne fee.
A ryche kyng was Syr Isombras,
In more welthe than ever he was,
    Of hethen londys was hee.

Crystindom he kepyd that tyde:
Sondys he sente full wyde
    To them that hethen were.
Bot thei turnyd to his assentte,
He seyd iche one thei schuld be brente
    With sorow and myche care.
They seyd if thei myght hym hente,
He schuld come to a parlament,
    With them schuld he fayre.
One of them seyd, verament,
That he schuld be drawyn and brynte
    And all that with hym were.

Dey of batell ther was sette.
Many hethen ther were mette
    Syr Isombras to sloo.
Many Sarysins gedered that tyde;
They came theder ferr and wyde
    With hethen kyngys twoo.
Syr Isombras was full of care;
He had no man with hym to fare.
    All his myrthe was goo.
The Saryzyns falyd hym at nede:
When he was horsyd on a stede,
    All thei flede hym fro.

Syr Isombras was full of care.
He kyssed his wyffe with myld fare,
    With sorowfull herte and sore.
A dolfull word dyd he seye:
“Sertys, dame, have gode dey,
    For now and ever more.”
“Lord,” sche seyd, “if I were dyght
In hernes as I were a knyght,
    With thee wold I fare.
And bothe same late us wend,
Sen God this grace hath us send;
    I byde to lyve no more.”

Sone than was the lady dyght
In hernes as sche were a knyght,
    And had spere and scheld.
Ageyn thirti thousand and mo,
Com ther none bot thei two
    When thei mette in the feld.
And as thei schuld takyn be,
Ther com rydand knyghtys thre
    Upon thre bestys wylde.
One onne a lyberd, another onne an unycorn,
One onne a lyon — he come beforn —
    That was ther oldyste chyld.

In angellys wed thei were clade,
And an angell them to batell lede
    That sembly was to see.
They slew the hethyn kynges two
And many of the Sarysins also,
    Thirti thousand and thre.
Syr Isombras prayd the knyghtys kinde
Home with hym that they wold weynde
    And become his men so fre.
Thei ansuerd as the angell them kende,
“For thee we were to batell sende —
    Thin awne sones are we.”

Than was the knyght both glad and blythe,
And thankyd God many a sythe
    And on hys kneys he hym sette.
“O Lord,” he seyd, “heven kyng,
Blyssed be Thou over all thing,
    My sones that I have mette.”
Isumbras and hys lady fre
Blysse then ther chylder thre;
    For joy all thei grette.
It was comforth for to sene
The gret joys was them betwen
    With clyppyng and with kyssing suete.

A ryall borow was ther besyde:
Syr Isumbras gan theder ryde,
    His wyffe and his sones all same.
And when he to the borow was com,
Ther were thei rychely welcom
    With myrthe, gle and game.
With gret honour thei dyd them welcom,
With trumpys, pype, and with schalmewon,
    As nobull knyghtys of meyn.

Isumbras and his childer thre
In hethenes made them redé
    Batell onne them to bede.
Sone thre londys gon thei wyn
And stablyd Crysten men therinne,
    In romanse as we rede.
Than was the knyght, Syr Isumbras,
More better than ever he was
    And coverde of all his care.
Iche of his sonnes he gaffe a lond
And crouned them kyng with hond,
    To lyve in myrthe ever more.
They lyved and dyghed with god intent,
And to heven ther saules wente
    When thei dede were.
(see note)
Nobles; if you will hear; (t-note)

wonderful matter
as reward; (see note)

brave; stalwart

excellent reputation


fine cloth; (see note)

goes [now] none like him on the earth

Except for

as I tell you

(see note)
(cared) nothing
His (God’s); did not consider

great sorrow

(see note)

near him

have forgotten; (see note)
Either in youth or in old age
Choose; mind (heart)

anxious; sighing; (t-note)
there; (see note)


become feeble

old age

dreary (sorrowful)

Dead; destroyed

Each in various directions


worse news
burnt; buildings



every one of them
(see note)



in dread


(see note); (t-note)

(see note)


(see note)

at my advice (as I command)
travel to where God was live and dead
spread; cross

sustenance; (see note)
(see note)
confessed; priest




nor money



sore (sorely)

grew of grain (i.e., was edible)



Until; to you




the second


once was carefree and cheerful

are obliged


(see note)


upper decks; high; (see note)
made of gold

Sultan of Persia; (see note)
stirred up woe
stop; (t-note)

without a lie (certainly)
in boats a great crowd
by the bay


alms; from them
completely tested

ships; joy
[To the one] that


Saracens (see note)

do not believe in his religion

tall; (see note)
I ever saw

arched; eyes bright

face; sea foam
lily; countenance

[And] requested


if you dwell

believe in your religion

cross; (see note)

can name


in God’s law

by his fortune


ribs broke

threw up




potent document
sealed; (t-note)
[So] that


boon (favor)
personal favor

(see note)

young; (t-note)


out of the harbor


command; (t-note)

Scarcely; eyes

gave; enough




(see note); (t-note)




sad voice


Blacksmiths vigorously work their bellows; (see note)


work gladly
Blow [the bellows]

muddy hole


a man’s wages; (see note)


By; he could make

made war

meet in battle

all kinds of; (t-note)

at that time


steadfast spirit
No one lived who felt his blows

Unto (up to) a mountain

spark in fire
fearsome weapon
so that it drove down to the belt
[Putting] them in great pain
where he stood
whereever he went




grievously wounded

commanded him to be given


recovers; (t-note)

left; place

hounds; (see note)

bag and stick; (t-note)
dressed like a palmer (pilgrim)
without a lie (truly)


(earth’s) foundation

noble; (t-note)

(see note)
landed in a heathen country

life’s sustenance


slept; (t-note)

weary (unwilling)

Bethlehem; (see note)


(see note)




If I will (can) say the truth


widely went
gave [alms] (see note)

florin (coin); to lie; (t-note)

suffer evils (misery)



fine cloth
on the floor

cushion; (t-note)

heathen lands
wild (difficult); (t-note)
exquisite; fetched


inquire as she wished
desired to sit


cheer (mood) was the better [for it]


large man and tall

throw; (see note)

jousted; fierce

[When] in the field

Who dared meet his decrepit horse


laughed; (t-note)

formerly his habit

he began to go

(see note)


[Even] if he were never so happy
If he went once to his chamber; (t-note)

that [habit] was well known

newly consider
broke down

seen it formerly

belongs to; (see note)
used to be; (t-note)






began to embrace
Each was so glad of the other

No one dared resist them

To every

nothing will help them; (t-note)


Unless they converted to his intention




gathered at that time

failed him in his need; (see note)

i.e., farewell; (t-note)

arrayed (dressed)

together; go
wait (expect)






many times


[that] were between them

royal town (belonging to the crown)
to there

trumpets; shawms (oboes)

In heathen lands prepared themselves
War against them to wage; (t-note)

established (settled)


good faith

(see note)
Go To Item 6, The Ten Commandments, introduction
Go To Item 6, The Ten Commandments, text