William Morris Archive

A time there was in days long past away

Fragment pub. CW, XXI, xx-xxi. Draft in Fitz. MS 1.
Another Froissartian poem. May Morris describes this as a "labored love-tale in verse" and prints only two stanzas out of eighty-three.

Remained unpublished in Morris's lifetime

CW, XXI, xx-xxi.

[xx] I say no wonder if he scarce could see
    For giddy pleasure what fair things were writ
Upon the vellum—flower and bird and tree
    Danced in the merry sun because of it

I say no wonder if he found it sweet
    After some foil in field or tournament
Kissing together to sit feet to feet
    And ever round him her two long arms went...

      ·       ·       ·       ·       ·       ·

 [xxi]                              with what surprise

Her kindred over sea would hear of it—
    And would they arm for vengeance or just take
Some pounds of gold and after that would sit
    In some gilt chantry silent for her sake

Wishing the mass well over...

Draft in Fitz. MS 1.

A time there was in days long past away
Whereof the romance telleth when all laws
Were kept far better than they are today
That time no man escaped without due cause

That time as Gods knowing both good and ill
With unsealed eyes upon the judgement seat
Sat dukes and kings and wrought out all their will
And those were glad who sat beneath their feet

Yet verily as all the wise men say
Man may know much the high God knoweth all
Yea such a man a man [sic] was righteous yesterday
Today he sinneth let[?] the sword fall

So say they not being merciful like God
Who lets him live the next day and do well
So comes it many bones beneath the sod
Lie buried quietly whom the hangman fell

Had dealt with but that God the pitiful
At some bad times when they were full of fear
And all seemed failing made their judges dull [?]
Lo such a tale as this is written here

A knight there was and he was young enow
But battered in the wars of many lands
And likewise in estate was fallen so low
Nothing he had but what his sword and hands

Might win from year to year nevertheless
The maid at court of noble house and state
Gave him her love and in all recklessness
A desperate man he quite forgot his fate

And cherished it and warmed himself thereat
To mind today tomorrow God may mind
Look you it was high treat for one who sat
Not so high up above the salt to find

The silkwound vellum fall before his feet
While red as fire yet with what Count Guy
Had just now said or while his heart y beat
With smothered rage at Earl John's stations [?] high.

I say no wonder if he scarce could see
For giddy pleasure what fair words were writ
Upon the vellum flower and bird and tree
Danced in the merry sun because of it

I say no wonder if he found it sweet
After some foil in field or tournament
Kissing together to sit feet to feet
And ever round him her two long arms went
And ever surely twas a great content

Shortly no wonder and not too much blame
If he forgot how hard the times were then
If he forgot the wretchedness and shame
His love would surely win among all men

Yea he forgot that law so pitiless
Whereby as saith the romance what Lady
Of that court fell in sinful love no less
Than burnt she was without more remedy

And though no doubt a many times he thought
All this and more yet nonetheless because
While love and honour so hard in him fought
By no process of thinking might he pause

To leave the brawl and jungle of the hall
For quiet hours in the distant place
She and her ladies dwelt in and hear fall
The conduit in its basin: face to face

Meanwhile they sat and sang and stories old
Made them but mindful of their own delight
Forgetful of their troubles and so bold
And tender did his face seem in her sight

That all seemed won already and such love
From her compassionate eyes shone down on him
Twixt falling of the blossoms from above
That thought and memory both began to swim

In giddy dream and if he could have thought
Better is love than honour he had said
For unto another world love had them brought
And there they made their own laws by my head

Upon a day there came a time at last
When both to him and her was no return
Hands off with honour love had got him fast
For weal and woe in this flame him doth [?] burn

Alas she with him
Take notice though that being as they
Fair of good estate, right many men
Loved her in one way or another way
And often was she hard put to it when

They sought her love upon the bended knee
By due answer to hold her secret fast
In spite of all out would it certainly
Swathe a Snake up in wool, at last

Out comes the head with the black forked tongue
Quivering before it all was but in vain
And openly the bitter secret thing
In spite of all the watchfulness and pain

There was Sir Aloyse in that court [a] Knight
Of name and wealth a man of cruel heart
Cold you had said[,] who nonetheless took light
And burnt with love towards her for his part

But no wise might he win her cold and proud
She was to most, although for bitter care
She trembled at such praises loud
The more through heavy thoughts her beauty [?] where

Stood Sir Aloyse with roses in his hand
And fierce love at his heart: Kiss them he said
And give them back to me. Spring was on the land
And the may blossoms rained upon her head

The warm wind blew the medlar leaves apart
And shook the starred white flowers she looked round
At him first then about for help her heart
Almost stopped beating at the grating sound

And dainty seemed right dangerous and hard
And he who held him wise loved not with her
And evilly her would beloveds fared

Of those few words because indeed they meant
More than they said, his eager eye
His flushed face smiling proud and confident
Nought in the way now meant they certainly.

She stood a moment quivering with great fear
Then turned to run he caught her by the hand
With a great spring then said nay stop and hear
A story that I know sit while I stand

She sat upon the grass and over her
Feeling his cutlace edge stood Sir Aloyse
The sound of his slow speaking reached her ear
Dreadful and dreamlike as the constant noise

Of falling waters. So, he said time goes.
I knew you as a merry child one tide
And that is past great love for you arose
Within my heart since then set that aside

I thought I had a chance once let that go
But think Margaret how in the many fights
We men of war have been in that we know
Things women do not think of and see sights

Whereof they do not dream I saw one day
Upon a battle field [a] young knight dead
There with clenched hands throat cut wide he lay
And it was I who killed him by my head

Who was it but my brother times change much
Who would have thought that he of all other men
Should thwart and thwart me till I changed too such
Close friends we were once yet I killed him then

I was not sorry I had killed him though
But sorry we had quarrelled all alas
But as go other things so goes sorrow
I grieve. Alas you will not love me now time was

I would have served you well; but for Richard
I hold it pity that you should give up
Your life for him. [T]o die so young is hard
But who so casts aside a golden cup

Let him go drink grey waters from the brook
And foul his hosen with the mud thereof
I must away I fear much I must look
To hear strange tidings while my broken love

Makes me sit brooding in my hall alone
I judge that it might happen any day
Those dreadful laws may be fulfilled to the bone
And marrow I am sorry I must say

You seem to hate me why do you look so pale
I fear it is not that you pity me
Your own grief doubtless roused up by this tale
This string of words that minglingly [?]

I have been pouring out is it farewell
Will you live Margaret years and years and years
To help you help
With love and honor--now [?] you have a bell
With Richards arms upon it yes Cicel

I think her name is your own pretty maid
Gave it to me--ah not discreet enow Tis pretty
Cicely picked it up she said
In your own bower is it farewell now

Do you reach your hand to say good bye
No let me keep the bell and give me leave
To say be careful of the sweet Cicely
For keeping secrets she is like a sief

For holding water--well I must away
Alls ended [?] the end is just begun
Margaret farewell. She was as pale as clay
While he was speaking as when he was done.

And gone away she sat and held her knees
And for awhile in rocking to and fro
Now vaguely thought she of departed peace
And now half pondered what thing she might do

To save her body and her love from death
Whether he lied or not Sir Richard's bell
That went for nothing Cicely though her breath
Went when she thought of what she knew full well [?]

Hard was it to die young and hard to face
The bitter world with lies and lies and lies
And then she thought how well she knew the place
Where she was to be burnt with what surprise

Her kindred over sea would hear of it
And would they arm for vengeance or just take
Some pounds of gold and after that would sit
In some gilt chantrey silent for her sake

Wishing the mass well over giddily
She rose at last and in her bower she lay
Wishing that that spring day were all gone by
And night were come nought recked she of the day

That in the merry wind beat up and down
Nought recked she of the ousels how they sung
The short sweet laughter of the thrushes brown
There she lay quiet--but her hands she wrung

And softly lest that anyone should hear
And yet above her breath, she called on God
And sometimes half risen up she shook for fear
If any footstep in the passage trod

About sunset the minstrels in the hall
Blew up sweet tunes while lords and knights drank wine
And heavily then on sleep she gan to fall
And sleeping wept upon her fingers fine

But in the night she woke full of[t] and wept
For very pity that she found the tears
Still wet upon her cheeks and when she slept
She dreamt of all things happening bitter fear.

But hope with it and outlet due at last
The next day and the next she lay abed
Sick as her maids told those who asked for her
For Sir Aloyse went not as he had said
And till he had gone Margaret for pure fear

Durst not to send for Richard the third day
She heard the trumpets blow up merrily
Outside her heart beat quick as there she lay
She rose and crossed the room that she might see

The base court from the other window thence
Into a corner huddled stealthily

And God shall try it in the fenced lists
Twixt him and me and trust me to the word
Shall never leave my lips that have been kist
By yours Margaret she said one day I heard

Two knights who spoke of this thing and they said
They never yet of anyone who herein
Lived and came safe therefrom--by my head
God is a mighty Lord and he will win

Ah sweet I say whatever happeneth
The little word never shall be said by me
No doubt this is the worst--for you my death
Nought to fear afterwards Margaret for see:

The Commons love us let your squires sing
Your name aloud proved innocent by then
Think well the rough-joyed puisance [?] and goose wing*
May help you well among these cruel men.

That is the worst; but why should the worst come
Think of the best Sir Aloyse gibbeted
And we at peace among our folks at home
To love together till we both are dead

But in himself he thought yet she may die
Before her trial comes she is changed much
These last days Aloys[e] wrought us this misery
I wonder in God's name why he made such

As Aloyse and I are she started up and cried
Help me Richard so faint I feel and sick
Therewith she put her hand unto her side
And sank down swooning as a dog might lick

The face of his dead master, on his knees
Over and over kissed he her sweet face
Fixed and dead pale and art nowise at peace
For the brows frowned the half opened mouth showed trace

Of pain and struggling when she woke again
And now once more could speak she touched his wrist
And languidly beheld him as if fain
To say a thing but noting as he kissed

Her lips and eyes what look his own eyes had
She held her peace and silent there sat there
Lamenting in their thoughts these changes sad
Bitterly thinking of the times that where [sic]

Brooding they sat there in such kind of dream
As I have heard that dying men have oft
When pain is gone and life and sorrow seem
A tale well told. Sweet and soft

They heard the sobbing whistle of the thrush
They heard the kestrels cry from tower to tower
They heard outside the pink flowers may bough brush
Against the painted window of the bower

Over the yellow crowns of kings who sit
White robed betwixt the sun and yellow moon
Betwixt the flowers did the finches flit
And gently through the locks did the wind croon

And in their thoughts they wandered to and fro
Sometimes it seemed an easy thing to bear
Sometimes their hearts nigh broke for bitter woe
Unbearable, but there came hope and fear

At last and woke them up to their real pain
Then with slow sigh rose Sir Richard up
And said behold you Margaret we are fain
To put aside from us this bitter cup

That love holds out to us ah yet I knew
That sweet and bitter mingled bitterer is
Than any other surely unto you
My love has been a bitter Judas kiss.

And now I cannot die but you must die
I cannot give my life for you my sweet
How shall I pray your pardon and mercy
I can scarce speak it -- then said Margaret

My head whirls neither can I think at all
How much we may have sinned but if God gives
That we come safe out of our bitter fall
For his sake we will live such holy lives

As never men lived

* goose wing - arrow

Notes by Peter Wright:

st. 8 above the salt: When dining in the Middle Ages the rank of the diners was indicated by whether they were seated above or below the great salt on the table.
st. 9 station: station = rank; poss. stations
st. 14 burnt: In medieval romance aristocratic women condemned for adultery or other treasons were typically punished by burning at the stake. Queen Guenevere was three times in danger of suffering execution in this way: Malory Bk. 18, chap. 4ff.; Bk. 19, chap. 7; Bk. 20, chap. 8. Cf. Poem 37, sts. 7-8.
st. 11 vengeance. . . some pounds of gold: Alluding to the early medieval (and Icelandic) practice of accepting payment for the slaying of someone of one's kindred, called in Anglo-Saxon times "wergild," instead of pursuing a feud to the death against the slayer and his kin.
st. 59 the Commons. . . the goose wing: presumably the lovers expected goodwill from the common people whose typical weapon was the long bow.
st. 59 puisance=puissance [PW