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Item 39, Sir Orfeo


1 And men who had been taken with them ate [with them]


Abbreviations: Ak: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1 (the Auchinleck MS); H: London, British Library MS Harley 3810; MED: Middle English Dictionary;

Title Kyng Orfew. Written in Rate's usual script; the text begins one-quarter down the leaf of fol. 151r. Like the explicit in H ("Explicit Orpheo Regis"), Rate's title is entirely appropriate, and perhaps preferable to the usual title Sir Orfeo (which is not attested in the other two manuscripts, but is suggested in line 26). Rumble adopted the title for his edition, based on Ashmole 61's text. But most scholarship has consistently titled the poem Sir Orfeo since Zielke's 1880 edition.

1–26 The textual status of the opening to Sir Orfeo is complex and uncertain. Lines 1–6 appear as lines 259–64 of the Middle English romance Arthour and Merlin, a text which also appears in Ak. The borrowing has never been satisfactorily explained, though it may suggest that the two texts circulated together in other (lost) manuscripts besides Ak. As a formulaic description of springtime, the lines are neither particularly appropriate nor strikingly out of place at the head of this text, but they have little apparent connection to the lines that follow. H preserves a different opening that joins the Ashmole 61 text at line 11:
We redyn oft and fynde y-write
As clerkes don us to wyte,
The layes that ben of harpyng
Ben y-founde of frely thing:
Sum beth of wer and some of wo . . .

Lines 7–26 are a substantial revision of the corresponding lines 1–24 in H. The entire prologue is missing in Ak due to loss of a leaf. But H's prologue also appears as the prologue to the Lay le Freine, another Middle English Breton lay present in Ak; the relationship between Sir Orfeo and Lay le Freine is the subject of debate. Bliss suggested that the two were written by the same author, who may have intended the prologue to introduce both texts (Sir Orfeo, pp. xlv–xlviii); for an argument against this theory, see John B. Beston, "Case against the Common Authorship of Lay le Freine and Sir Orfeo." See also Bliss, "Sir Orfeo, Lines 1–46."

9 Som thei made of herpyngys. This description of the Breton lay is consistent with other prologues; see the Prologue and lines 24–26 of Guigemar in Marie de France's Lais. Scholars have made attempts to define the Breton lay more precisely and to articulate the relationship between the French lais and their Middle English adaptations. See Donovan, Breton Lay; Bullock-Davies, "Form of the Breton Lay"; and Finlayson, "Form of the Middle English Lay."

16 fary. The word here suggests both "the land of fairies," the fairies themselves, and the supernatural more generally. The word fary derives from fay (Old French fée) and ultimately from Latin fata, "Fates."

31 Hymselve he lernyd for to herpe. Other romance heroes are harpers (see lines 235–44 of King Horn, in Herzmann, Drake, and Salisbury, Four Romances of England, and lines 1882–92 of Sir Tristrem, in Lupack, Lancelot of the Laik and Sir Tristrem. The connection between kings and harpers partly derives from the medieval image of King David as harper.

39 A blyssedfull note of paradys. On the harp as a heavenly instrument, see F. Pickering, Literature and Art in the Middle Ages, pp. 285–301. See also Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages, pp. 80–84.

40 Suche melody therin is. Ak and H follow the description of Orfeo's harping with details of his godly lineage: "A stalworth man and hardi bo; / Large and curteys he was also. / His father was comen of King Pluto, / And his moder of King Juno" (Ak lines 41–44).

41 Tracyens. The classical setting of the Orpheus story is in Thrace, in northern Greece. In Ak, the narrator claims that "Traciens" is an old name for Winchester, thus providing an English setting for the poem.

44 Dame Meroudys. Rate seems to have misread the name of the heroine, spelled "Heurodis" in Ak and H, though there is a faint possibility that he has written "Iueroudys," since the three connected minim strokes of "m" can occasionally be read as "iu." But Rate usually uses a long descending stroke to write an initial "I," and so "Meroudys" seems more likely. For the associations of the name Heurodis / Eurydice, see Laskaya and Salisbury, Middle English Breton Lays, p. 45, n. 52.

49 the begynnyng of May. Encounters with the fairy world often take place in May; see Baldwin, "Fairy Lore and the Meaning of Sir Orfeo."

55 underontyde. The word does not designate a precise time of the day, and can mean "midmorning" or "midday." Friedman has made a strong case for understanding the sense here as "midday." Based on a verse of Psalm 91 (90) that mentions a "noon-day demon" or the "destruction at noon," Jewish and Christian exegetes established a theory that Satan customarily attacked men and women on hot days at noon (Friedman,"Eurydice, Heurodis, and the Noon-Day Demon"; see also Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages, pp. 187–90). The Fairy King also appears on a hot "undryntyde" in line 288.

58 hympe tre. The precise meaning of this term has provoked debate. The MED suggests either "grafted" or "orchard" tree; for the various attempts to explain the term and its significance in medieval theology and Celtic folklore, see Bullock-Davies, "'Ympe-tre' and 'Nemeton'"; Coolidge, "Grafted Tree in Sir Orfeo"; and Lasater, "Under the Ympe-Tre."

88 My leffe wyff, what ayles thee. Riddy compares Orfeo's lament for the body of Heurodys to the traditional meditations on the crucified body of Christ ("Uses of the Past in Sir Orfeo," pp. 9–10).

92 Thou arte becom wode and wyld. Orfeo identifies Heurodys's transformation as madness, a suggestion already made in line 70; the line prefigures Orfeo's own "wildness" after her abduction, in lines 239–70.

117 Were thou arte I wold be with thee. In their note to lines 129–30 of Sir Orfeo in The Middle English Breton Lays, Laskaya and Salisbury note the echo of Ruth 1:16: "For withersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell." The verse was commonly associated with matrimony; see Bergner, "Sir Orfeo and the Sacred Bonds of Matrimony," pp. 432–34.

131 When I gan myselve awake. As Longsworth points out, only in the Ashmole 61 text does Heurodys wake up before she sees the Fairy King, an oddity that goes unexplained ("Sir Orfeo, the Minstrel, and the Minstrel's Art," pp. 3–4). Rate has almost certainly engaged in his occasional habit of anticipating the plot (see Scribe in the General Introduction).

158 He schewyd me hys castellus and tourys. Lines 158–60 appear to be Rate's additions, and Blanchfield suggests they recall lines 809–10 of The Stations of Jerusalem (item 34) and the description of Satan's temptation of Christ ("Idiosyncratic Scribe," p. 75). The allusion, intentional or otherwise, certainly emphasizes the dangerous allure of the Fairy King.

191 Than thei gone batell to make. Neither Ak nor H suggest any battle taking place; the Queen simply disappears. The word batell can mean "warfare" or "a battalion or troop"; possibly we are to imagine the knights drawing up their ranks in this line (compare Ak, "Thai made scheltrom"), in case there should be a battle. Perhaps line 192 is meant to suggest an actual battle, in which case it is a rather clumsy attempt to explain Heurodys' mysterious disappearance.

207 my hyghe stuerd. Romances include many examples of both good and bad stewards. See p. 582. See also The Erle of Tolous (item 19), line 1191 and note, and Sir Cleges (item 24), line 536 and note.

278 They com aboute hys harpe to here. Lines 278–81 are not present in Ak or H, and may be scribal additions meant to emphasize the charming of the wild beasts, an episode more important to other accounts of the Orpheus legend; see Friedman, Orpheus in the Middle Ages, pp. 53–58.

305 Anon he lokyd. In Ak, this clearly marks a separate occasion from the previously described scene: "And on a day he seigh him biside . . . "

315 Every faucon hys pray slowgh. This day's hunt departs from the usual outcome, described in line 293, when the hunt ends without capturing any prey.

359 He beheld the werke full wele. Either a second line of this couplet is missing or (much more likely) this line is a scribal interpolation; it is not present in Ak or H.

369 full of presyos stonys. The description of the Fairy King's castle continues for twelve more lines in Ak (lines 367–78 in Bliss, Sir Orfeo):
The werst piler on to bihold
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 castle the leuedis alight:
He wold in after, yif he might.



the sun at noon
nor imagine

In every way it seems to him

ladies dismount (enter)

387 that were nomen wyth them ete. This line is a scribal addition, perhaps an attempt to clarify line 386; the sense is strained. Compare the following lines to those in Ak: "And sum were in water adreynt, / And sum with fire al forschreynt. / Wives ther lay on child-bedde, / Sum ded and sum awedde" (lines 397–400 in Bliss, Sir Orfeo).

438 Largely I wyll thee pay. This is an example of the "rash boon," a quickly repented gift common in many folktales and medieval texts; cf. Lybeaus Desconus (item 20), line 98 and note, and Sir Cleges (item 24), line 423. Richard Firth Green considers the legal ramifications of rash oaths, including the Fairy King's promise here, in his illuminating study, A Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England, pp. 306–35.

453 nowghe. "At present, just now." See MED, "nouthe" (adv.).

465 thourow Godys grace. Lines 464–65 are not in Ak or H. Though the attribution of the couple's escape to God's grace may suggest a religious interpretation of the story, the phrase is also a convenient rhyming tag and may not be particularly significant.

551 Yiff I were Orfeo the kyng. The text of this section is unsatisfactory, but it has not been emended. In Ak, Orfeo begins a long conditional statement, "Yif ich were Orfeo the king, / And hadde y-suffered ful yore / In wildernesse miche sore . . . And ich found thee thus trewe, / Thou no schust it never rewe" (i.e., never regret it). By the end of Orfeo's hypothetical statement, the steward and his knights have recognized Orfeo. H cuts this out entirely and has Orfeo bluntly declare his identity. Rate seems to have considered copying the long conditional statement of his copy-text, and then (perhaps not understanding it), abruptly changed course in lines 552–53 and had Orfeo fully reveal his identity.

596 Thus endys here "Orfeo the Kyng." Ashmole 61's final eight lines are the longest version of the poem's ending. Ak closes with only one couplet: "Thus com Sir Orfeo out of his care; / God graunt ous alle wele to fare! Amen" (in Bliss, Sir Orfeo, lines 603–04). H expands this: "Thus cam they out of care; / God yeve us grace wele to fare, / And all that have herde this talkynge / In heven-blys be his wonyng! / Amen, Amen, for charité! / Lord us graunt that it so be!"

603a Explicit Orfew. The text concludes at the bottom of fol. 156r; Rate has left the bottom margin beneath this explicit blank.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

3 flowrys. MS: flowys.

6 proudyth. MS: prevyth.

22 Bretonys. MS: Brotonys.

51 blossomys spryng. MS: blossom spryng.

67 hyr. MS: ther.

93 beforn. MS: befon.

98 Thei. MS: The.

111 seth we weddyd. MS: seth wededyd.

113 parte. MS: pare.

114 thi. MS: the.

131 When. MS: Whe.

160 Forestys. MS: Hys hyghe ha forestys (Hys hyghe ha is marked for deletion).

196 Thei. MS: The.

200 grete. MS: gre.

205–06 MS: These two lines are transposed, but marked for correction.

206 Lordingys. MS: Lodingys.

217 wyldernes. MS: wylderne.

268 That he. MS: The.

284 lenger. MS: leng.

303 another. MS: every.

315 faucon. MS: facon.

342 Folow. MS: Forow.

385 armyd. MS: armys.

391 He them saw. MS: He saw he them saw.

402 knyghtys. MS: knyghthtys.

409 now. MS: nod.

421 behovyth. MS: behovyh.

455 kyngys. MS: kyng.

468 long. MS: lo.

490 when he com. MS: when come.

492 maydines. MS: maydinse.

512 herpers. MS: hepers.

513 mynstrellus of. MS: mynstellus and.

521 stewerd. MS: stewe.

544 told. MS: told told.

568 had. MS: have.

583 Thei. MS: The.

584 Therfore. MS: For ther.










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Kyng Orfew
Mery tyme is in Aperelle,
That mekyll schewys of manys wylle.
In feldys and medewys flowrys spryng;
In grovys and wodys foules syng.
Than wex yong men jolyffe,
And than proudyth man and wyffe.

The Brytans, as the boke seys,
Of diverse thingys thei made ther leys:
Som thei made of herpyngys,
And som of other diverse thingys,
Som of werre and som of wo,
Som of myrthys and joy also,
Som of trechery and som of gyle,
Som of happys that felle som whyle,
And som be of rybawdry,
And many ther ben of fary.
Of all the venturys men here or se,
Most of luffe, for soth, thei be,
That in the leys ben iwrought,
Fyrst fond and forth brought.
Of aventours that fell som deys,
The Bretonys therof made ther leys
Of kyngys that before us were.
When thei myght any wondres here,
They lete them wryte as it were do,
And ther among is Syr Orfewo.
He was, for soth, a nobull kyng
That most luffyd gle and herpyng.
Wele sekyr was every gode herper
To have of mekyll honour.
Hymselve he lernyd for to herpe
And leyd theron hys wytte so scherpe.
He lernyd so wele, withouten les,
So gode herper never non was.
In all this werld was no man bore
That had Kyng Orfeo ben before,
And he myght hys herpe here,
Bot he wold wene that it were
A blyssedfull note of paradys,
Suche melody therin is.
The kyng jorneyd in Tracyens,
That is a cyté of grete defence,
And with hym hys quen of price
That was callyd Dame Meroudys.
A feyrer lady than sche was one
Was never made of flessch ne bone.
Sche was full of lufe and godnes,
Ne may no man telle hyr feyrnes.
It befelle in the begynnyng of May,
When foules syng on every sprey
And blossomys spryng on every boughe —
Overall wexyth mery inowhe —
Than the quen Dame Meroudys
Toke with hyr ladys of grete price
And went in a underontyde
To pley hyr in an horcherd syde.
Than the ladys all thre
Sett hem under an hympe tre.
Sche leyd hyr doune, that comly quen,
And fell on sclepe upon the gren.
The ladys durste hyr nought wake,
Bot lete hyr lyghe hyr rest to take.
Sche slepe welle fer after the non,
To the undryntyde were gon.
And when that ladys gan hyr wake,
Sche cryed and grete noys gan make,
And wrong hyr hondys with drery mode
And crachyd hyr vysage all on blode.
Hyr ryche robys sche all to-rytte
And was ravysed out of hyr wytte.
The ladys that stod hyr besyde
Fled and durste not long abyde,
Bot went unto the palys agene
And told both knyght and sueyn
How that the quen awey wold,
And bad them com hyr to behold.
Sexty knyghtys and yit mo,
And also fele ladys therto,
Hastely to the quen thei com.
And in ther armys thei hyr name,
And brought hyr to bed in haste
And kepyd hyr both feyr and faste.
And ever sche began to cryghe
As sche wold up and go hyr weye.
The kyng com to the chamer to the quen,
And before hym knyghtys tenne,
And wepte and seyd with grete pyté,
“My leffe wyff, what ayles thee?
Thou that hast be so stylle,
Why cryest thou wonder schylle?
And ever thou aft be meke and myld,
Thou arte becom wode and wyld.
Thy flessch that was so whyte beforn
With thi nayles thou hast torn.
Thy lyppes that were so bryght rede
Semys as wan as thou were dede.
And thi fyngyrs long and smale,
Thei be blody and all pale.
And thi luffsom eyn two
Loke on me as I were thi fo.
God leman, I cry thee mersye!
Thou late be all this reufull crye
And telle me lady, for thi prow,
What thing may thee helpe now?”
Sche ley styll at the last,
And began to sey full fast,
And thus sche seyd the Kyng unto:
“Alas, my lord, Syr Orfeo,
Ever I have lovyd thee all my lyfe.
Betwen us was never stryfe,
Never seth we weddyd ware;
Therfor I make full mekyll care.
Bot now we must parte atwo;
Do thou thi best, for I must go.”
“Alas,” seyd the Kyng, “lost I ame!
Whyder wyll thou go and to whom?
Were thou arte I wold be with thee,
And wher I ame thou schall be with me.”
“Do wey,” seyd the Quene, “that schall not be,
For I schall never thee more se.
I wyll thee tell how it is,
And, for soth, I wyll not mysse:
As I went this undyrntyde
To pley me be myn orcherd syde,
I fell on slepe all bedene
Under an ympe upon the gren.
My meydens durst me not wake,
Bot lete me lyghe and slepe take
Tyll that the tyme over passyd so
That the undryn was overgo.
When I gan myselve awake
Ruly chere I gan to make,
For I saw a sembly syght.
Towerd me com a gentyll knyght
Wele y-armyd at all ryght,
And bad I schuld upon hygheng
Com speke with hys lord the kyng.
I ansuerd hym with wordys bold:
I seyd I durst not, ne not I wold.
The knyght agen he rode full fast.
Than com ther kyng at the last
With an hundreth knyghtys also,
And an hundreth ladys and mo.
All thei ryden on whyte stedys;
Of mylke whyte was all ther wedys.
I saw never seth I was born
So feyre creatours her beforn.
The kyng had a croune on hys hede,
It was no sylver, ne gold rede:
It was all of presyous ston;
Als bryght as any son it schon.
Al so sone as he to me com,
Whether I wold or not, up he me nam
And made me with hym for to ryde
Upon a stede by hys syde.
He brought me to a feyre palas
Wele tyred and rychly in all case.
He schewyd me hys castellus and tourys,
And hys hey haules and boures,
Forestys, ryvers, frutys and floures,
Hys grete stedys schewyd me ichon.
And sethyn he made me agen to gon
Into the sted wher he me fette;
In that same sted ther he me sete,
And seyd, ‘Madam, loke that thou be
Tomorow here under this tre.
And than schall thou with us go
And lyve with us ever more so.
If that thou make us any lete,
Wherever thou be thou schall be fete
And to-torn thy lymys all;
Nothyng helpe thee ne schall.
And thoff thou be all to-torn,
Yit schall thou awey with us be born.’”
When Kyng Orfeo herd this case,
Than he seyd “Alas, alas!”
He askyd rede of many a man,
Bot no man helpe hym ne canne.
“Alas,” seyd the Kyng, “that I ame wo!
What may I best for my quen do?”

On the morow when the ondryn cam,
Kyng Orfeo hys armys nam.
Ten hundreth knyghtys he with hym toke,
Wele armyd talle men and stoute.
With hys quen than went he
To the orcherd, under the ympe tre,
And seyd he wold ther abyde
What aventour so betyde.
Lyve and dyghe thei wold ichon,
Or that the quen schuld fro them gon.
Than thei gon batell to make,
And sched blod for hys quenys sake.
Bot among them all ryght,
The quen was awey twyght
And with the feyry awey inome;
Thei ne wyst were sche was com.
Ther was cry, wepyng, and wo.
The kyng unto hys chamber yede tho,
And oft he knelyd onne the ston
And made grete sorow for sche was gon
That ne hys lyve was ispent.
Bot ther myght be non amendment.
He sent after hys barons,
Knyghtys, squyres of grete renownys.
When thei all com were,
He seyd, “Lordingys, befor you here
I wold orden my hyghe stuerd
To kepe my londys afterwerd;
And in my sted be he schalle
To kepe my landys over alle.
When that ye se my lyffe is spent,
Than make you a parlament;
Chese you than a new kyng
And do your best with all my thing.
For now I have my quen lorne,
The best woman that ever was born.
To wyldernes I wyll gon —
For I wyll never woman sene —
And lyve ther in holtys hore
With wyld bestys ever more.”
Ther was wepyng in the halle
And grete sorow among them alle;
Ther was nother olde ne yong
That myght speke a word with tong.
They felle on kneys all in fere,
Besought hym if hys wyll were
That he schuld not fro them go.
“Do wey,” he seyd, “it schall be so.
All this kyngdom I forsake.”
A staff to hym he gan take;
He had nether gowne ne hode,
Schert, ne non other gode,
Bot an harpe he toke algate.
Barefote he went furth at the gate.
Ther was wepying and grete crye,
Grete dole, for the maysterye,
When the kyng, withouten croune,
So porely went out of the toune.

He went thorow wode and hethe
And into wyldernes he gethe.
So fer he went, I sey iwys,
That he wyst not wher he was.
He that sate in boure and halle
And on hym were the purpull palle
Now in herd heth he lyghet,
With levys and gresse his body hydyth.
He that had knyghtys of prise
And before hym knelyd ladys,
He sey not that hys herte lykyth
Bot wyld bestys that by hym strykyth.
Also he had castellus and tourys,
Forestys, ryverse, frutys and flourys;
Now, thoff it be store as frese,
He may not make hys bed in es.
The kyng that had grete plenté
Of mete and drinke withouten le,
Long he may dyge and wrote
Or he have hys fyll of the rote.
In somour he lyvys be the frute
And berys that were full suete;
In wynter may he nothing fynd
Bot levys and grasse and of the rynd.
Hys body is awey dwyned
And for grete cold al to-schend.
Hys berd was both blake and rowghe
And to hys gyrdellsted it drewghe.
He can telle of grete care
That he suffyrd ten wynter and more;
In a tre that was holow,
Ther was hys haule, evyn and morow.
When the wether was feyre and bryght,
He toke hys herpe anon ryght.
In mydys the wodde he sett hym doune
And temperyd hys herpe with a mery soune,
And harpyd after hys awne wylle;
Over all aboute it was full schylle.
The wyld bestys that ther were,
They com aboute hys harpe to here.
The bestys of that forest wyld
Com aboute hym, meke and myld,
To here hys harpyng so fyne —
So mych melody was therine.
When he hys harpyng stynt wylle,
No lenger ther abyde thei wylle,
And all the foulys that ther were,
They com aboute hym by bussch and brere.
Than myght he se hym besyde
In an hote undryntyde
The King of Fary and all hys route
Com ryding hym all aboute
With dyne, cry, and with blowyng,
And with hundys berkyng,
Bot no dere ne best thei nom.
He wyst not were thei were becom.
Other thingys he myght se:
A grete hoste com hym bye,
An hundreth knyghtys and mo yit
Wele armyd at all ryght,
With contynans stoute and fers
And many spreding baners;
Every man a draw suerd had in hond.
Bot he wyst not whether thei wold wend.
Also he myght se another thing:
Knyghtys and ladys com daunsyng.
Anon he lokyd hym besyde,
And say syxty ladys on palferays ryde,
Gentyll and gay as bryd on ryse,
Not a man among them, iwyse.
Bot every lady a faukon bere
And ryden on huntyng be a ryver.
Of game thei found well god haunte:
Suannys, herons, and courmerante,
And the faucons forth fleyng
And the foulys fro the water rysing;
Every faucon hys pray slowgh.
Than sate the Kyng Orfeo and lewgh,
And seyd, “This is gode gam!
Thyder I wyll, be Godys name.
Sych game I was wont for to se.”
Up he rose and thether went he.
To a ladé he com tho;
He beheld hyr face and body also.
Hym thought that it was in all wyse
Hys awne quen Dame Meroudys.
He beheld hyr and sche hym eke,
And never a word to other thei speke.
For the poverté that sche on hym se,
That had ben so rych and hyghe,
The terys ran doune be hyr eyghe.
The ladys beheld and that they seyghe,
And made hyr awey to ryde;
No lenger myght sche ther abyde.
“Alas,” seyd Orfeo, “that me is wo!
Why wold not myn hert breke a-two?
Now I may not speke with my wyffe —
Al to long lastys my lyffe!
Sche dare not a word with me speke —
Alas, why wold not my herte breke?”
“Alas,” seyd the kyng, “that I ne myght
Dyghe after this same syght!
Into what lond this lady ryde,
Folow I wyll, what so betyde.
That same wey wyll I streche;
Of my lyve I do not reche.”
He toke a staff as he spake,
And threw an herpe at hys bake.
He sparyd nother stoke ne ston;
He had gode wyll for to gon.
In a roche of stone the ladys ryde;
Orpheo folowyd and not abyde.
When he had therin go
A myle or els two,
He com into a feyre cuntrey
Als bryght as son in somerys dey.
Hyll ne dale was ther non sen;
It was a welle feyre gren.
Orfeo full wele it seye,
A feyre castell, ryall and hyghe.
He beheld the werke full wele:
The overyst werke above the walle
Gan schyne as doth the crystalle.
A hundreth tyretys he saw full stout;
So godly thei were bateyled aboute.
The pylers that com oute of the dyche,
All thei were of gold full ryche.
The frontys, thei were amelyd all
With all maner dyverse amell.
Therin he saw wyde wonys,
And all were full of presyos stonys.
Kyng Orfeo knokyd at the gate;
The porter was redy therate,
Freyned what he wold do.
He seyd, “I ame a mynstrell, lo,
To glad thi lord with my gle,
And it hys suete wyll be.”
The porter undyd the gate anon
And as a mynstrell lete hym gon.
Than lokyd he aboute the walle,
And saw it stond over alle
With men that were thyder brought,
And semyd dede and were nought.
Som ther stod withoutyn hede,
And some armys non hade,
And som ther bodys had wounde
And som onne hors ther armyd sette,
And som were strangyld at ther mete
And men that were nomen wyth them ete;1
So he saw them stonding ther.
Than saw he men and women in fere
As thei slepyd ther undryntyde;
He them saw on every syde.
Among them he saw hys wyve
That he lovyd as hys lyve,
That ley ther under that tre full trew;
Be hyr clothys he hyr knew.
In that castell he saw yit/nobr>
A tabernakylle wele idyght,
And a ryall kyng therin sette,
And hys quen that was so swete.
Ther crownys and clothys schyn so bryght
That on them loke he ne myght.
A hundryth knyghtys in present
To do the kyngys commandment.
When he had sen all this thing,
On kneys he fell befor the kyng
And seyd, “Lord, and thi wyll were,
My mynstralsy thou woldyst here.”
Than seyd the kyng, “What arte thou
That hether arte icome now?
I, nor non that is with me,
Never yit sent after thee.
Never seth that my reyn began
Fond I never non so herdy man
That hyder durst to us wend
Bot if I wold after hym send.”
“Syr,” he seyd, “I trow wele,
I ame bot a pore mynstrelle,
And yit it ys the maner of us
For to seke to gret lordys hous.
And thoff we not welcom be,
Yit we behovyth to profer oure gle.”
Befor the kyng he sette hym done,
And toke hys herpe schyll of sown,
And temperd yt as he wele can.
A blyssedfull note he began.
The kyng sate wele styll
To here hys herpe with ryght god wyll.
Wele hym lykyd to here hys gle;
The ryche quen, so doyd sche.
Men that in the castell were
Com hys herpe for to here
And felle doune to hys fete,
They thought hys herpe was so suete.
And when he stynt of hys herpyng,
To hym than seyd the ryche kyng,
“Mynstrell, me lykys wele thi gle,
And what thou wyll aske of me,
Largely I wyll thee pay.
Speke now and thou may asey.”
“Now, lord, I pray thee
That thou wold giff to me
The feyr lady bryght off ble
That lyghet under this impe tre.”
“Nay,” he seyd, “that thought I never!
A foule coupull of you it wer,
For thou arte rowghe and blake,
And sche is withoutyn lake.
A foule thing it were forthey
To se hyr go in thi company.”
“Lord,” he seyd, “thou ryche kyng,
Yit it were a fouler thing
To here a lesyng of thy mouthe:
That thou me seyst nowghe
That I schuld have what I wold.
Bot nedys a kyngys word mot hold.”
The ryche kyng spake wordys than,
And seyd “Thou arte a trew man.
Therfor, I grante that it be so;
Thou take hyr be the hond and go.
I wyll that thou be of hyr blyth.”
He thankyd hym a hundreth sythe.
He toke hyr by the hond anon,
And fast went forth oute of that wone.
Fast thei hyed out of that palas
And went ther wey thourow Godys grace;
To wyldernes both forth thei geth,
And passyth over holtys and heth.
So long he hys wey ther nom,
To Trasyens thei were icom
That some tyme was his awne cyté —
Bot no man knew that it was he.
With a pore man he reste that nyght.
Ther he thought to byde a plyght,
Unto hym and to hys wyffe
As an herpere of pore lyffe,
And askyd tydingys of that lond,
Who that the kyngdom held in hond.
In that same tym, that old man,
He told hym all that he can,
And how the quen was twyght awey
Into the lond of fayrey,
And how the kyng exiled yede,
Bot no man wyst into what stede,
And how the stewerd the kyngdom hold,
And many other wonders hym told.
Amorow agen the nontyde,
He made hys quen therto abyde.
For soth, he toke hys herpe anon,
Into the syté he gan gon.
And when he com into the syté,
Many a man com hym to se.
Men and wyves and maydines bold,
Fast thei com hym to behold.
Also, thei seyd everychon
How the mosse grew hym upon:
"Hys berd is grewyn to the kne!
Hys body is clong as a tre!"
As the kyng went in the strete,
With hys stewerd he gan mete,
And fell on kneys with grete pyté
And seyd, “Lord, for charyté:
I ame an herper of hethynes.
Helpe me now, lord, yn this destres.”
The stewerd seyd, “Cum with me hom.
Of my gode thou schall have som;
For my lordys love, Syr Orfeo,
All herpers be welcum me to.”
The stewerd and the lordys alle,
Anon thei went into the halle.
The stewerd wessch and went to mete,
The lordys all began to sytte.
Ther were herpers and trumpers,
And mynstrellus of grete renounys;
Ther was grete myrth in the halle.
Kyng Orfew sate among them alle
And lystynd to thei were styll,
And toke hys herpe and temperde schyll.
The meryest note he made ther
That every man myght here with ere.
All thi lyked wele hys gle;
The rych stewerd, so dyd he.
The stewerd the harpe knew full suyth,
And seyd, “Mynstrell, so mote thou thryve,
Wher hadys thou this herpe and how?
Tell me now, for thi prow.”
“A, lord, in a mournyngtyde,
Thorow a wyld forest I yede.
A man with lyons was drawyn smale;
I fond hym lygheng in a dale.
Etyn he was with tethe so scherpe;
By hym I fond this ryall herpe,
Nyghe ten wyntyr ago.”
“Alas,” seyd the stewerd, “me is wo!
That was my lord Syr Orfeo.
Alas,” he seyd, “what schall I do?
And for my lord that happyd so,
Alas,” he seyd, “that me is wo!
That so evyll deth was merkyd,
And so herd grace hym behappyd.”
On swon he fell in the halle.
e lordys com befor hym alle
And toke hym up sone anon,
And comforth hym everychon,
And told hym how this werld geth:
Ther is no bote of manys deth.
The kyng beheld the stewerd than,
And seyd he was a trew man
And lovyd hym as he aughte to do,
And sterte up and seyd, “Lo,
Syr stuerd, lystyns now this thing:
Yiff I were Orfeo the kyng?
Therfor, stewerd, lystyns to me:
Now thou may the kynge her se.
I have wounyd ten wynter and more
In wyldernes with mekyll sore.
And have wone my quen awey,
Owte of the lond of fary,
And have brought that lady hend
Here unto the tounes ende,
And oure in was ther inome.
And myselve to the courte com,
Thus in beger wede full styll,
For to asey thi gode wyll.
And for I found thee thus trewe,
Therfor thou schall never it rewe.
For be my lyve, for lufe or aye,
Thou schall be kyng after my dey.
And if thou had of my deth blyth,
Thow schuld be hangyd al so swyth.”
All the lordys that ther sette,
That was ther kyng, thei underyete.
And with that word the stewerd hym knew,
And over the bord anon he threw
And fell anon doune to hys fete.
And so dyd all that ther sate,
And all thei seyd with a cryeng,
“Welcum, our Orfew the Kyng!”
Of hys comyng thei were blyth,
And brought hym to a chamber swyth,
And bathyd hym and schove hys berd,
And tyred hym as a kyng in wede.
And sethin with gret processyon
Thei brought the quen thorow the toune.
Therfor was myrth and melody
Of yche maner mynstralsy.
Ther he was crouned new, iwys,
So was the quen, Dame Meroudys,
And levyd long afterwerd,
And seth was kyng the trew stewerd.
Herpers of Bretayn herd anon
How this aventour was begon,
And made a ley of grete lykyng,
And callyd it after the kyng,
That Orfeo hyght, as men wele wote.
Gode is the ley, suete is the note.
Thus endys here “Orfeo the Kyng”;
God grante us all hys blyssing.
And all that this wyll here or rede,
God forgyff them ther mysded,
To the blysse of hevyn that thei may come
And ever more therin to woune.
And that it may so be,
Prey we all, for charyté.
Explicit Orfew
(see note)
[A] merry; April; (see note)
shows much to man’s liking
fields and meadows; bloom; (t-note)
In groves and woods birds sing
young men grow joyful
grow amorous; (t-note)

various subjects
harping; (see note)


events that happened in the past
fairy (see note)

invented (found)


wonders (marvelous deeds)
as it was done

loved joy

(see note)
without lie
never was there as good a harper

(see note)
(see note)
sojourned; Thrace; (see note)
defenses (walls)
great value
i.e., Eurydice (see note)

describe her beauty
(see note)
bloom; (t-note)
Everywhere grows merry enough

midday (see note)

grafted tree (see note)

green (grass)

Until the morningtime was past

anguished spirit; (t-note)
scratched her face [so that it] bled
robbed of her wits

would [run] away





dear; (see note)
have been so calm
strangely loudly
always before you have been
crazed; (see note)

lovely eyes


since; were wedded; (t-note)

atwain; (t-note)

(see note)

Give up

morning time


(see note); (t-note)

commanded; in haste

nor wished I


creatures here


As soon as

adorned; all ways
(see note)
bowers (chambers)
each one
to go back
place; fetched

any hindrance
torn apart; limbs

even if; torn apart


morning came

Whatever chance might fall
each one
to fight (to form a battalion; see note)

did not know; was gone; (t-note)

went then

made [such] great; (t-note)
his life was nearly spent
no remedy

ordain; steward; (see note)
To protect
in my place he shall be


gloomy woods

all together
begged him

Give up


in any event

sorrow; occasion


fine purple cloth
lies on hard heath
With leaves and grass; hides

He sees nothing that his heart enjoys

fierce as [to] freeze

dig and burrow


to his waist it extended (drew)


hall, night and day

own desire

(see note)

wished to stop
would [the animals] linger; (t-note)

on bushes and briars
near him
warm noontime

din; blowing [of horns]
hounds barking
knew; gone

countenance (manner)
knew not where they went

Soon; (see note)
saw; palfreys (riding horses)
bird on bough

good gathering of birds
Swans; cormorants

its prey killed; (see note); (t-note)
game (sport)
There I will [go]
accustomed to see

lady; then




in two

All too long


whatever may happen; (t-note)

stick nor stone (i.e., nothing)
strong desire to go
[did] not wait

green (meadow)

(see note)

turrets (towers)
fortified with battlements

façades; enameled
precious; (see note)


If it is his kind will

brought there
And [who] seemed dead

sat armed on horses there; (t-note)
(see note)

[in] their midday

pavilion well made

[There were] a hundred; (t-note)

if it were your desire

That has come here; (t-note)

dared come to us here
trust (promise)

resort to (visit) great lords’ houses
we must offer our entertainment; (t-note)

loud of sound




Generously; give; (see note)
try [my generosity]

fair of face
I never thought [of granting] that
match of you it would be

without flaw

just now; (see note)

a king’s word must hold [firm]; (t-note)


(see note)
woods and heath
took there; (t-note)
they came
once was

stay a while

who held the rule of the kingdom


left in exile
knew to what place

In the morning near noon
wait there



each one


heathen land
in this distress

trumpeters; (t-note)
renown; (t-note)

until they were quiet

quickly (immediately)
so may you prosper


torn in small pieces


came to that [fate]

was allotted
befell him
In [a] swoon

goes; (t-note)
remedy for

What if; (see note)


And [I] have won

our lodging was taken there

beggar’s clothes
try (make a trial of)

for love or fear

joy; (t-note)
as quickly


overturned the table

dressed; in [fitting] clothes



adventure (story) had gone
lay; delight

[was] named; know

(see note)

[So that] to heaven’s bliss they

(see note)
Go To Item 40, Vanity, introduction
Go To Item 40, Vanity, text