Marie from France: Chaitivel

Here is the poem (the lays) of Marie de France concerning the myth Arthurian. Here is the storytelling version in modern French. The tenth lay is: Chaitivel.



I feel the desire to recite a Lai which I have already heard told. At the same time I will indicate the names of this Lai, that of the town where the adventure took place; many call it the Lai du Chaitivel, and many others the Lai of the four sorrows.

So you will know that in Nantes, in Brittany, he was a charming lady, as much educated as beautiful. Also any knight of the country who saw her only once, did not fail to send her his wishes and to ask her for love. She certainly couldn't love them all, but she also didn't want to despair of them; it would be better then for a man to pay court to all the women of the same country, than to see him unhappy by the sufferings of love. Our beauty was very agreeable to her adorers; and without wanting to listen to them, in rejecting their wishes, she put so much grace into her refusals that one could not help loving her more and trying to please her. The lady of whom I speak to you, by her beauty and by her different qualities, was required of love by a great number of suitors.

There were four knights in Brittany whose names I do not know. It will suffice to know that they were young, rich, valiant and endowed with great liberality. All four belonged to the first families of the country, all four equally amiable, they addressed their wishes to the beautiful lady, and made their glory consist in being distinguished by their prowess, in order to obtain a look from their beautiful mistress. Each one aspired to the happiness of being loved, and demanded from love the cruel; they sought to surpass each other, and there was not one of them who was not persuaded to do better than his companion. For her part, the lady, who saw in her suitors so much zeal and courage, wished to make a choice, but she did not dare. Often she even reflected and wondered which of the knights it would suit her to love.

They were likewise amiable, valiant, how could she be able to determine herself, since by taking a lover, she lost three. So she made everyone look good, received gifts and messages and gave them back others; she granted nothing and let each of them believe that he was the favorite. In all games the four rivals always wanted to be the first and win the prize. When the knights were assembled, all four held her as a friend and, as a sign of love, they carried a present which they held from her. One had his ring, the second a sleeve; this one a gonfanon (i), this one a scarf. Finally, all four had for cry of arms only the name of the beautiful lady.

At the Easter holidays a great tournament took place in the plain located in front of the city of Nantes, to play against the four suitors. People came there from several countries; because one noticed there Frenchmen, Normans, Flemings, Bretons, BoulûQois, Angevins, and braves from various other places. One still noticed there the inhabitants of the surroundings of Nantes who having gone there in crowd, stayed much longer than the others. We fought hard in this tournament. The suitors having armed themselves, left the city; they were followed by the other knights of their party. But the mortal blow was to fall on the four suitors whom foreigners easily recognized by their ensigns and their shields.

Four fully armed knights, two of whom were from Flanders and the two others from Haynaut, form the design of attacking them. Far from being discouraged, the suitors seeing the strangers arriving on them, each one chooses his man and prepares his spear to receive him well. The shock was so terrible that the strangers were thrown onto the sand. They abandoned the stirrups and no longer needed their horses. The companions of the vanquished ran to rescue them and protect them from the crowd. When the fighting resumed, the melee was terrible by the relentlessness of the two parties, and the force of the blows they struck.

The lady climbed a tower to better judge the skill of her lovers, whom she could distinguish perfectly. She saw them do so many wonders of value that she did not know which one to pay the price for. Encouraged by the looks of their beauty, they seek to outdo each other. The tournament had begun with the combat in which the whirlwinds separated into two troops, each ranged in a line, struck each other with the lance to overturn themselves. It ended with the crowd fighting, a sort of confused melee, in which one struck indiscriminately without knowing on whom. The four contenders who had not left the competition stood out so much that each awarded them the prize.

Unfortunately, at the waning of the day, when the last race was being made, the four warriors surrendered too much to the impetuosity of their courage, and having strayed too far from their men, three fell struck with a mortal blow; the fourth was dangerously wounded in the thigh and in various parts of his body which had been pierced with a lance. All four remained confused among the strangers lying on the arena, your victors had the crowns of these four champions thrown away to avenge the death of their friends, no doubt, and in this they behaved very badly.

I cannot express the sorrow of the inhabitants of Nantes, when they were informed of the loss of their brave compatriots. The mourning was general, and never one saw one like it. They all left the city to find their mortal remains. We noticed two thousand knights who had unlaced their helmets; in their pain they tear their hair and beard. After having sought and found the crowns of the four suitors, their bodies were placed thereon; they were carried to the city and presented to the lady.

As soon as she is informed of the death of her lovers, the lady falls unconscious and resumes the use of her senses only to vent her complaints and regrets. Unhappy that I am, she said, what will become of me? I will never have fun again. I lost the four knights who loved me sincerely; besides the extreme love they bore me, how beautiful, brave, valiant, and generous they were! I had all their tenderness and I don't want to lose three to keep just one. But which one should I pity the most? I cannot kid myself, three have lost their lives and the other is seriously injured. I am going to bury the first ones properly and advise by means of curing the other that I will put in the hands of the best surgeons.

The lady had the injured person transported to his house. By the great love which she bore to her lovers, she made them make a magnificent funeral which took place in a rich abbey to which the lady gave a lot of money. May God grant his mercy to the three knights. The lady had sent for the most skilful surgeons to take care of the wounded man whom she had had transported to her room, in order to look after his needs. Thanks to these precautions, the patient was soon cured. The lady saw him every day, exhorted him to be patient; however, she regretted the other three, and nothing could distract her from her grief.

One summer day after the meal, the lady seated near the knight reminded him of the sufferings she was feeling. Letting her head fall on her chest, she reflected on the extent of her misfortune. The knight who observed all the movements of his beauty, well suspecting the subject which occupied him, spoke to her in these terms: You have a sorrow, my lady, I see it; let me know, please forget your sorrows and seek, at least, to console yourself. My friend, I keep thinking of your companions; no woman of my birth, who will not be beautiful, virtuous and wise, will want to love four lovers at the same time only to lose them in one day, except you who were wounded and whose death we feared.

For those you loved so much and to remember my pain, I will make a lay of you four and I will call it the Lay of the Four Sorrows. As soon as the chevalier heard it, he hastened to answer: Ah! lady, in composing this new Lai, give it the name of Lai of the Unfortunate, and I will explain to you the reason why you must name it that way. My three friends have lost their lives, they no longer feel the pain they endured for your love. But I, who escaped, am the most unhappy.

I have the happiness to see at every moment of the day the woman I love the most in the world, I can speak to her in the morning and in the evening; but I cannot obtain the slightest favor, not a hug, a kiss; I have no other consolation left than to explain my feelings to him. The evils which I experience by your severity, make me desire death. This is the reason why you want your Lai to bear my name; it will be entitled the Lai of the Unfortunate; and who will call it the Lay of the Four Sorrows, will change its real name. You are right and I approve of you, replies the lady; from this moment we will say the Lai of the Unfortunate.

Here are the reasons which determined to make this Lai, and to give him the title which he carries. Many people want to call it the Lay of Four Sorrows. However, each of these names suits him perfectly, since they are born of the subject; but the custom is to say the Lai of the Unfortunate. I am ending here, because nothing more has been said to me, that I do not know more; therefore, I am forced to finish.