William Morris Archive

Once my Fell Foe (Once my fell foe worsted me; / All my honour and degree )

Pub. CW, XXIV, 52-57.
Draft in Fitz. MS 1, in Morris' hand.

Pub. CW, XXIV, 52-57.

ONCE my fell foe worsted me;
All my honour and degree
Were as nothing on that tide.
From the field with woundes wide
Thwart a horse was I conveyed
And in his strong prison laid.
There I lay in prison strong
Many weary months and long,
And no one said good word to me.
There was a window small to see
That let in dear light to me,
With two bars was it made full fast
All unglazed: and the throstles passed
Thereby; singing in the spring
I saw many a fair brown wing
Go thereby: and the weather
How it changed: in what manner
The winds wrought within the tree!
There went the west wind fair and free,
The north wind and the south wind
And the fell east all unkind:
All these things I could espie
If I listed, and notes high
Of fifes heard I many a time,
And of harps the merry rime,
Also I saw the great gate,
And who went by early and late
If I list could I espie.
So somehow the time went by,
Till it chanced on a morn of May
In strong prison as I lay,
I heard many brass horns bray,
And wide the gates were opened.
Then to that I thrust my head
That I might see what thing there came:

[53] Sooth to say I had no shame
If folk might see me staring there,
There was not room for all my hair,
My mouth and nose and eyes scantly
If one came close he might chance to see.
I say the gates were opened,
With horns and shouts there entered
A Lady with a great meinie
Apparelled all most royally.
So when I saw them going there
I waxed ashamed and for my state
I mourned, for there was cloth of gold
And many a guisarme; stiff and bold
In good white armour many a knight
With fair tabard duly dight,
All such things as 'longed once to me—
Yea also and so merrily
Their horns blew, I was constrained
To weep so hard as if it rained
Upon the sill.
        But then with these
Between the bright sun and the trees
Came there riding that sweet thing:
At her rein did the bells ring,
Over her saddle of ivory
Fell her fair green gown so free.
Then when I saw her how she rode
A heat struck through my poor cold blood
And I forgot my poor estate,
And well thought I early and late
Will I be her knight perfay.
Thus said I, nor where I lay
Did I remember. What my foe
Would do with me I did not know
As at that time, or if I should win,
God being heavy on my sin.
But for joy of her sweet face
[54]This despair I clean forgot,
Fell Foe Nought thought I of this or that
Till she had gone upon her way,
Then half awake longtime I lay—
And if I might again see her.

Within a while I heard a stir,
Round in the lock went the key,
Then came the jailor in to me;
Then spake he loud and merrily:
"Up up, Sir Knight, and leave this place.
My lord hath given you all free grace
That be knights and of good blood
Of those that lie 'twixt stone and wood
In his strong prisons."
         Nought did I say
And to and fro did my heart play
Betwixt my doubt and joy that day.
"But what, my lord," said he then,
"Shall I shut this door again?
Love you this place so heartily
You list not leave it?" " Sir," said I,
"I shall sing by and by
And dance for joy, I have no doubt,
That from my prison I am out:
But now my heart misgiveth me
This is a dream." "Drink wine and see,"
Then quoth the carle with high glee;
"I trow strong wine shall make ye see,
For on this day it rains of wine:
Come eat and drink, old prisoner mine!"

Up to the great hall went I then
And there saw I right many men
Wretched and lean with garments rent,
By this great lord they had been shent:
Knights were they once as I had been
[55]But now was their good day gone clean;
Yet that they saw the sun again
And were free now after such pain,
Their lean cheeks waxed red
And with joy their eyes sparkled.
At the dais sat that lord,
Well with cloths was dight the board,
And there was goodly wine and meat,
Thereby had many a lady seat.
And then a herald 'gan to call
With high voice throughout the hall
The style and manner and high degree
Those knights once had that stood with me,
One by one in order fair.
At last heard I as I stood there,
"Ho now for the good knight
That beareth barry black and white,
Sir Robert du Leon well he hight."

Up to the dais went I then
Dizzily walking among men
Who gazed at me curiously.
In some gold dish I did espy
What a wretch I was to see,
My hair unkempt and all dirty,
My visage yellow as honey;
Bare at shoulder and at knee,
An old rent tabard at my back
Where all grey was gone white and black.
Slowly I walked as if with age,
Gaunt and grive of my visage,
I boiled to see how as I went
Over tables the ladies leant
For fear of fouling of their dress.
Such was my grief and my distress
When I knelt before that lord
Mine eyes always I cast down:

[56]"Sir," quoth he," once my fair town
You burned with fire, and did to me
Many a foul wrong and injury:
All which I now forgive to thee
In joy that God upon this day
Has given me the fairest may
In all this world to be my wife.
God give you joy now of your life!
Go you and bathe and put on you
Weed of scarlet and of blue,
Then come and eat in this my hall,
The next day go. Take what shall fall
From God, and I shall give to you
Beside this gown of red and blue
Twenty pounds of silver bright
And all that 'longeth to a knight,
Both horse and arms." While thus he said
The blood rose up into my head
And made me dizzy. I thought this:
I am twice beaten; he may kiss
My may upon the lips and take
Her first sweet look when she doth wake
In the merry morning, while I lie
Alone in all my poverty.
Then my heart swelled that nigh I wept,
But yet again my full heart leapt
Up to my mouth with this new thought:
Behold this morning I am brought
An idle show before my may;
It may hap on another day
That I may show her somewhat too.
So thought I and with courage new
Lift up mine eyen and beheld
That may who sat beneath the shield
Of red and blue. So steadily
I thanked him for his clemency
And went away.
[57]         When morning came
Out went I with my heart aflame
To do high deeds. The first was I
To ride of all that company;
Out rode I through the flowering trees,
And when I felt between my knees
The plated saddle once again
And heard my horse tread, I was fain
To sing old songs about my may.

You know, Sir Rafe, how day by day
The rumour of me goes: perfay
I shall be rich and great soon—well,
Tomorrow comes and many a selle
Shall empty be of Sienese,
Yet put I not much faith in these
French knights with their glittering—
John Hawkwood hath a bettering.

For PDF, see Once my Fell Foe