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Arthurian Audio Files


Chrétien de Troyes
from Le Chevalier de la Charrette
(Lancelot, or The Knight of the Cart)

Read by William Kibler, University of Texas at Austin

For an MP3 file of the reading, click here.

Chrétien de Troyes: Lancelot
edited and translated by William Kibler
edition published by Garland Press, 1981;
republished with translation by J-C Aubailly, Garnier-Flammarion, 1991

ll. 4533-4684, "Night of Love"

Chrétien de Troyes flourished in the 1170s and 1180s and is usually considered the earliest writer of Arthurian romances. He wrote most of his works for Marie de Champagne, daughter of King Louis VII and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. He seems to be the first poet to make the Knights of the Round Table, rather than King Arthur himself, the center of his tales, and his works include the earliest stories of the Grail and of the Lancelot-Guenevere affair. This passage describes Lancelot's first tryst with Guenevere.


Lanceloz ist fors de la chanbre,
si liez que il ne li remanbre
de nul de trestoz ses enuiz.
Mes trop li demore la nuiz;
et li jorz li a plus duré,
a ce qu'il i a enduré,
que cent autre ou c'uns anz entiers.
Au parlemant molt volentiers
s'an alast s'il fust anuitié.
Tant a au jor vaintre luitié
que la nuiz molt noire et oscure
l'ot mis desoz sa coverture
et desoz sa chape afublé.
Quant il vit le jor enublé,
si se fet las et traveillié
et dit que molt avoit veillié,
s'avoit mestier de reposer.
Bien poez antendre et gloser
(vos qui avez fet autretel)
que por la gent de son ostel
se fet las et se fet couchier;
mes n'ot mie son lit tant chier,
que por rien il n'i reposast--
n'il ne poïst ne il n'osast
ne il ne volsist pas avoir
le hardemant ne le pooir.
Molt tost e soëf s'an leva;
ne ce mie ne li greva
qu'il ne luisoit lune n'estoile
n'an la meison n'avoit chandoile
ne lanpe ne lanterne ardant.
Ensi s'an ala regardant
c'onques nus garde ne s'an prist,
einz cuidoient qu'il se dormist
an son lit trestote la nuit.
Sanz conpaignie et sanz conduit
molt tost vers le vergier s'an va
que conpaignie n'i trova.
Et de ce li est bien cheü
c'une piece del mur cheü
ot el vergier novelemant.
Par cele fraite isnelemant
s'an passe et vet tant que il vient
a la fenestre; et la se tient
si coiz qu'il n'i tost n'esternue,
tant que la reïne est venue
en une molt blanche chemise;
n'ot sus bliaut ne cote mise,
mes un cort mantel ot desus
d'escarlate et de cisemus.
Quant Lanceloz voit la reïne
qui a la fenestre s'acline,
qui de gros fers estoit ferree,
d'un dolz salu l'a saluee.
Et ele un autre tost li rant,
que molt estoient desirrant
il de li et ele de lui.
De vilenie ne d'enui
ne tienent parlemant ne plet.
Li uns pres de l'autre se tret
et andui main a main se tienent.
De ce que ansanble ne vienent
lor poise molt a desmesure,
qu'il an blasment la ferreüre.
Mes de ce Lanceloz se vante
que, s'a la reïne atalante,
avoec li leanz anterra--
ja por les fers ne remanra.
Et la reïne li respont:
"Ne veez vos con cist fer sont
roide a ploier et fort a fraindre?
Ja tant ne les porroiz destraindre
ne tirer a vos ne sachier
que les poïssiez arachier."
"Dame," fet il, "or ne vos chaille!
Ja ne cuit que fers rien i vaille--
rien fors vos ne me puet tenir
que bien ne puisse a vos venir.
Se vostre congiez le m'otroie,
tote m'est delivre la voie;
mes se il bien ne vos agree,
donc m'est ele si anconbree
que n'i passeroie por rien."
"Certes," fet ele, "jel voel bien;
mes voloir pas ne vos detient.
Mes tant atandre vos covient
que an mon lit soie couchiee,
que de noise ne vos meschiee;
qu'il n'i avroit geu ne deport
se li seneschax qui ci dort
s'esveilloit ja por nostre noise.
Por c'est bien droiz que je m'an voise,
qu'il n'i porroit nul bien noter
se il me veoit ci ester."
"Dame," fet il, "or alez donques,
mes de ce ne dotez vos onques
que je i doie noise faire.
Si soëf an cuit les fers traire
que ja ne m'an traveillerai
ne nelui n'an esveillerai."
Atant la reïne s'an torne,
et cil s'aparoille et atorne
de la fenestre desconfire.
As fers se prant et sache et tire,
si que trestoz ploier les fet
et que fors de lor leus les tret.
Mes si estoit tranchanz li fers
que del doi mame jusqu'as ners
la premiere once s'an creva,
et de l'autre doi se trancha
la premerainne jointe tote;
et del sanc qui jus en degote
ne des plaies nule ne sant
cil qui a autre chose antant.
La fenestre n'est mie basse,
neporquant Lanceloz i passe
molt tost et molt delivremant.
An son lit trueve Kex dormant.
Et puis vint au lit la reïne,
si l'aore et se li ancline,
car an nul cors saint ne croit tant.
Et la reïne li estant
ses braz ancontre, si l'anbrace;
estroit pres de son piz le lace,
si l'a lez li an son lit tret;
et le plus bel sanblant li fet
que ele onques feire li puet,
que d'Amors et del cuer li muet.
D'Amors vient qu'ele le conjot;
et s'ele a lui grant amor ot
et il cent mile tanz a li,
car a toz autres cuers failli
Amors avers qu'au suen ne fist.
Mes an son cuer tote reprist
Amors et fu si anterine
qu'an toz autres cuers fu frarine.
Or a Lanceloz quanqu'il vialt,
qant la reïne an gré requialt
sa conpaignie et son solaz,
qant il la tient antre ses braz
et ele lui antre les suens.
Tant li est ses jeus dolz et buens,
et del beisier et del santir,
que il lor avint sanz mantir
une joie et une mervoille
tel c'onques ancor sa paroille
ne fu oïe ne seüe.
Mes toz jorz iert par moi teüe,
qu'an conte ne doit estre dite:
des joies fu la plus eslite
et la plus delitable cele
que li contes nos test et cele.
On leaving the room, Lancelot was
So full of bliss that he did not remember
A single one of his many cares.
But night was slow in coming;
And this day seemed longer to him,
For all that he had to put up with,
Than a hundred others or even a whole year.
He ached to be at the tryst,
If night would only come.
At last dark and somber night
Conquered day's light,
Wrapped it in her covering
And hid it beneath her cloak.
When Lancelot saw the day darkened,
He feigned fatigue and weariness,
Saying that he had been awake
A long while and needed repose
You will be able to understand and interpret
(You who have done likewise)
That he feigned weariness and went to bed
Because there were others in the house;
For he did not hold his bed so dear,
Because for nothing would he rest there--
Nor could he, nor did he dare,
Nor did he wish to have
Such daring or such courage.
He crept out of bed as soon as possible;
And it bothered him not at all
That there was no moon or star shining outside,
Nor any candle, lamp,
Or lantern burning in the house.
He moved about slowly,
Careful that no one should notice him;
Rather, they all thought him to be asleep
In his bed for the whole night.
Alone, with no companion to accompany him,
He went straight to the orchard
Without encountering anyone.
He had the good fortune to find
That a part of the wall
To the orchard had recently fallen.
Through this breach he quickly passed
And continued until he reached
The window, where he stood
Absolutely silent, careful not to cough or sneeze,
Until the queen came up
In a spotless white gown;
She had no tunic or coat over it,
Only a short mantle
Of rich cloth and marmot fur.
When Lancelot saw the queen
Leaning toward him behind the window
With its thick iron bars,
He greeted her softly.
She returned his greeting at once,
Since great was his desire
For her, and hers for him.
They did not converse or speak
About base or tiresome matters.
They drew near to one another
And held each other's hand.
They were immeasurably hurt
That they were unable to be together,
And cursed the iron bars.
But Lancelot boasted that,
If the queen wished it,
He could come in with her--
The bars would never keep him out.
The queen responded:
"Can't you see that this iron is
Stiff to bend and hard to break?
You could never twist
Nor pull nor tear
One of them enough to loosen it."
"My lady," he said, "don't worry!
I don't believe that iron will ever stop me--
Nothing but you yourself could keep me
From coming in to you.
If you grant me your permission,
The way will soon be free;
But if you are not willing,
Then there are so many obstacles
That I shall never be able to pass."
"Of course I want you with me," she replied.
"My wishes will never restrain you.
But you must wait until
I am lying in my bed,
So that you would not be endangered by any noise,
For it would be a serious matter
If the seneschal sleeping here
Were to be awakened by us.
So I must go now,
For he would find no good in it
Were he to see me standing here."
"My lady," said Lancelot, "go then,
But don't worry
About my making any sound.
I plan to separate the bars
So smoothly and effortlessly
That no one will be awakened."
Thereupon the queen turned away
And Lancelot prepared and readied himself
To loosen the window.
He grasped the bars, strained, and pulled,
Until he bent them all
And was able to free them from their fittings.
But the iron was so sharp
That he cut the end
Of his little finger to the quick
And severed the whole
First joint of the next finger;
Yet his mind was so intent on other things
That he felt neither the wounds
Nor the blood flowing from them.
Although the window was quite high up,
Lancelot passed
Quickly and easily through it.
He found Kay asleep in his bed.
He came next to that of the queen;
Lancelot bowed and worshiped before her,
For he did not have this much faith in any saint.
The queen stretched out
Her arms toward him, embraced him,
Hugged him to her breast
And drew him into the bed beside her,
Gazing as gently at him
As she knew how to gaze,
For her love and her heart were his.
She welcomed him out of love;
But if she had strong love for him,
He felt a hundred thousand times more for her.
For love in other hearts was as nothing
Compared to the love he felt in his.
Love took root in his heart,
And was so entirely there
That little was left for other hearts.
Now Lancelot had his every wish:
The queen willingly
Sought his company and comfort,
As he held her in his arms,
And she held him in hers.
Her love-play seemed so gentle and good to him,
Both her kisses and caresses,
That in truth the two of them felt
A joy and wonder,
The equal of which had never
Yet been heard or known.
But I shall ever keep it secret,
Since it should not be written of:
The most delightful
And choicest pleasure is that
Which is hinted, but never told.

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