William Morris Archive

The Sleeve of Gold

Draft in Morris' hand in Fitz. MS 3, 14/1917, ff. 12ff. untitled, on blue paper.
Another copy in B. L. Add. MS 45,298A, ff. 42-67, in C. F. Murray's hand, titled "The Sleeve of Gold," and containing several variants and an initial twenty-two stanzas not in Morris' draft. In his letter thanking Murray for sending poems (see comments on 1), Morris refers to this as "Catherine." The Murray copy further includes a six-stanza Catherine lyric, also on the theme of conflict between the love of father and husband; it is sufficiently different so that it may be a separate fragment. The Fitzwilliam version seems to run on into what I have labeled "Sir Richard" no. 46, but although the protagonists of both are "Sir Richard," there is no mention of Catherine in the latter. Yale University MS 1595 contains a draft of the first 35 stanzas in Emma Morris' hand, followed by Morris' rough version of the last six stanzas, "Fair Catherine made as if she rowed."

The first twenty-two and final six stanzas are from the B. L. Add. Ms. 45,298A, ff. 47-67, Murray draft, the rest from the Fitzwilliam Morris autograph version.

It was when the thrushes sing their best
In the pleasant month of May
Fair Catherine looked from her window
With a weary thing to say.

Ye sing so sweet oh thrushes she said
But little to my liking
Are the blossoms sweet to smell
She said a bitter thing

She said; but if God loved me still
I should pray here to Him
That some cold winter wind might blow
And pierce me limb by limb

Unless God had forgotten me
I should kneel down and pray
That I might go quite cold and stiff
Ere the dawning of the day.

I pray that God may strike me dead
Ere July comes, said she
That my small bones may all be white
Ere apples are red on the tree

For two sorrows in one day
Made a grief great and sore
This child that will be born one time
And my love I see no more

At Christmas when the frost was here
But and the cold wan snow
In my bower he lay anight
This makes me bitter woe

When the moon set he rode away
Small noise his horse-hoofs made
I sat and wept on my fair-wrought bed
By myself I was afraid

But or ever he went he said to me:
My sweet child and fair may,
Pray you be as glad when I come back
As you weep now I go away.

Before three months are wholly gone
Fair may I shall come back
And instead of the green coat of Fierne [?]
I shall wear the grey steel jack

And instead of grey heron's feather
The salade on my head [salade, var. of sallet, helmet]
And instead of the serving-man's brass badge
My shield of white and red

I shall carry my shield of white and red
And the three hawks thereon
And whoever else shall have that same
It shall not be lightly won

And at my back shall men well see
Whether it be bright or mirk
The spears of my good men and true
As thick as these woods of birk

Now yonder lyeth on your fair bed
Your goodly gown of green
Thereto the sleeves of fine red gold
Are right richly beseen.

I pray you give me one of them
That I may bear it in every place
Between the hawks on my great helm
For simple joy of your sweet face

So that no man among the press
Whosoever he may be
But by great pain and much labour
May lightly win of me

So that no man be so hardy
But if he be right great of might
To meet me body to body
In clean armour for the fight.

It was mirk in the winter morning,
Small noise his lone hoofs made;
I sat and shivered till the light.
I was right bitterly afraid.

Among the ladies in the hall
I went that day in mortal dread
And whiles for fear my lips were white
And whiles for shame my cheeks were red.

They said; there goeth the sleeveless
She hath given away her sleeve,
To some leman we make no doubt,
Thereof shall she grieve

When he comes not back again,
Nor her fine sleeve of gold
Before a year is well passed over
She'll wish to be under the mould.

Yea so, my arm was bare and cold
All the wan winter long
And in the sweet May gardens
When the minstrels are at their song

[FW version] The hot sun burns it bitterly
And my shame draws on apace
My feet feel weak on the daisies
The south wind chills my face

Fair Catherine bided at her window
Till the yellow moon shone fair
And she looked like Gods dear mother
For her fingers and her hair

But as it grew to the midnight
She heard one who went below
She deemed it was but the carle archer
At his watch walking slow.

Sleep you or wake you may Catherine
Have here your golden sleeve
Mount up behind may Catherine
And ask no mans leave

O Knight Richard my love Richard
How can I come to thee
There are thick walls and many things
Betwixt you and mee

Withouten a ladder shall I climb
Adown my fathers wall
Shall I swim the moat in my kirtle
Though I am proper and tall

Will the silk across my white breast
Serve for a jack of steel
To keep the steel bolt from my heart
That no leech then can heal

For every hour of the night
Six archers strong and tall
With winded arblasts and steel bolts [arbalest or arblast, field bow, used to fire stone]
Go round the castle wall

O May Catherine O may Catherine
When shall I come back
And bring with me my true men
With spear and sword and jack

Knight Richard in o week from this,
Hay harvest will begin
Come to the wet croft with your true men
For I shall be therein

There all day long we maidens fair
Weave wreaths both fresh and sweet
Of Lady smock and the white daisies
That men clepe Marguerite

And all our men both carle and Lord
To the upland meads shall be gone
With the long scythe and the tedding fork
We dames shall be alone

Go hooly my knight I hear the watch
Cry out along the wall
Knight Richard swam the outer dyke
He was both strong and tall

Knight Richard loup the outer pale [loup, Morris's construction; M.E. "loupen," to leap]
Where the grass grew long
And he loup up to his bonny grey steed
That was both fair and strong

He weareth no arms but an old salade
Thereby I could not see his face

It was merry times [tunes?] in the good house
In that sweet month from day to day
Always was there fair sport
Deeds of arms or minstrels play

Knights and ladies deem'd that tide
The time went merry and fast enow
Fair Catherine thought by my fay
That the time never went so slow

Fair dames looked this way and that
At minstrel singing or clean armed knight
May Catherine on her part
Turned neither to the left or right

Those fair dames for play and joy
Held their faces red as rose
Fair Catherines face was grown as white
As any lily that blows

But when it came to hay harvest
To the wet croft they went to play
And all the men folk both Lord and carle
To the upland fields were away

And there they wove them fresh garlands
Of the Ladysmock so sweet
And of the little white daisies
That men clepe Margueruite [sic]

Fair Catherine drank the wan water
Many a time that day
For doubt her heart could scarce beat
While she seemed well to play

Catherine drank the wan water
She sickened from hour to hour
As she stooped over her golden shoes
To pull the bonny flower

The sun was down behind the birks
When Knight Richard came
My fair child and bonny May
I am here to bring you hame.

The sone was down behind the hils
Ere Knight Richard rode away
With the tall spears of his good men
About the bonny may.

My fair friends and good ladies
My sleeve is back ye see
And the stout arm of a good knight
Is a leal staff for me.

Say farewell to my father dear
And my mother the good dame
I shall soon be clean forgotten
For she has many more at home [hame?]

In the gloaming with horns blowing
So blithely they rode away
But or ever the yellow moon was up
They were met among the hay

Are our hands so light that we should flee
Said then the Knight Richard
Fair knight our hands are heavy enow
To give strokes full hard

Give back what you have stolen Sir Knight
And I will let you free
She shall go freely said Sir Richard
She shall choose twixt thee and me

I hold two things in my hand father
The one was given to me
The other I chose by mine own self
And mine shall it ever be

I rede you father go home again
And take Alice on your knee
Let my mother comb her yellow hair
But say farewell to me

Let all my sisters pray for me
Arow in the chapel fair
Go back without me father
With one lock of my gold hair

By God quoth he alive or dead
Spears for Lord Lawrence spare no soul
Verily then you might have seen
Many a man in the swathies [?] roll.

[swath - a measure of grass land, originally determined by the sweep of a scyth; swathy - a rare usage for swaths]

By Saint Mary the spear points
Rent her kirtle here and there
By God I swear that some mans sword
Cleft the coif above her hair

Strange husbandry they held by moonlight
In the uplands by my fay
And instead of the crutched tedding forks [crutched, crossed]

With strong spears they turned the hay

To have seen Sir Richard fight
A man would have had great joy
For he was more wood than Launcelot
Or Sir Hector of Troy.

This and that he ranged the field
He smote down many a man
And great wrath had the Lord Sir Lawrence
When that he saw nothing wan

But those that fight against maidens
May well feel faint of heart
They gat away right hastely [sic]
Who were of his part

Lo here is a hole in my coat of fenice
Some hammer hath made I wis
Thrust thy sword through Sir Richard I pray
And make a good end of this

So that my daughter Catherine
May dance with her fair feet
Over my bones at her wedding
Than to live this will be more sweet

My Lord to pray for her pardon
My May in sooth durst not come here
Though she thinks right nought but good
That you are crazed she hath great fear

Wherefore I kneel and pray for grace
This must be the good Lords will
That we should come together at last
Good Sir I pray our joy fulfill

My Lord I say by the Soldan
I was bound with an iron chain
Not for that I broke prison
I came to my may again.

And great rocks by Illyrica
I was wrecked in the salt sea
With many dangers of robbers
I came through Pruce and Bohemie

I think God took me out of the sea
I think also God broke my chain
It was Gods will no doubt
I should come to my may again.

You were an hundred to fourscore
And yet lo Sir your men are fled
If it had not been but by Gods help
I think we should have been but dead

Yea this is ever the way with maids
Under foot may she be trod
I trow they do right what they list
Then say this thing is of God

Lo Sir and is it the Lords will
I should curse her and thee
By God whosever will it is
I do it now right heartily.

Nathless they wed the morrow morn
Though she was but a cursed child
Sir Richard had a sorrowful weeping bride
Twas little that they smiled

But or ever the priest did on his cape
Lord Laurence came in there
Like a wood man he ran apace
Up to the altar fair

He spread out his arms wide
And took Catherine up therein
He put back her yellow hair
And kissed her cheek and chin

He yode to the Knight Richard
And kissed him on the mouth
Thereat came the priest forth
From the sacristy on the south

Shut up your book awhile Sir Priest
I have a thing to tell
That will be a right good sermon
In church it will go right well

As I lay abed last night
For pure rage I fell asleep
My lady wife lay there by me
And she did little but weep

Then as I slept I dreamed a dream
I was in church right fair
But by St. Mary good orange trees
And fair roses grew up there

And the altar was of red gold
And likewise the great pix thereon
That held Gods body seemed right well
To be cut out of a goodly stone

And there was music sung therein
More goodly than I ever heard
By the saints it was so over sweet
That I grew faint and sore afeard

And yet none sung this most sweet song
But red birds in the orange trees
I thought if the very thrushes of heaven
Sing such wonderful songs as these

How do the angels sing right so
They sung no more and I saw then
A man and a maid stand aright
As folks are married among men

A priest also I saw well
Who gave a ring in that mans hand
That he that marry that fair may
[By] The Saints I had no will to stand

[B. L. 45,298A Murray trans. starts here] Fair Catherine made as if she rowed
Upon the grass so green
Why do you sit as if you rowed and row Catherine
When no ship can be seen.

I sit and row me to my love
Though no boat can be seen
For summer is a-coming on
And all the grass is green.

We heard to-day and yesterday
Your father lyeth on bier
May God have mercy on his soul
Still have I got my dear
My true love draweth near.

We heard today and yesterday
That your true love is dead
Now will I lie down on the earth
And throw dust on my head

Rise up rise up fair Catherine
Here comes your father dear
Why should I stand upon my feet
Then may the good God keep him
While my love lies on his bier

Rise up rise up May Catherine
Your true [love] cometh near
Now shall I sit upon the grass
And get [?] kisses from my dear.

Notes by Peter Wright:

The Sleeve of Gold: It was the custom for knights in tournaments to attach to their helmet or armour some part of the clothing of their beloved, such as a sleeve, as a pledge of loyalty and incitement to valour. So Lancelot wore at one tournament, to conceal his identiy, the sleeve of the maiden of Astolat: Malory, Bk. 18, chap. 9.
st. 10 coat of ferne: coat of defence, probably a form of body armour
st. 11 salade: the relatively rounded type of helmet worn in the later 15th century; cf. Morris's "Old Love," st. 2.
st. 15 the hawks: presumably the crest above his helmet, matching the arms, three hawks, on his shield (st. 12).
The second part of this poem recalls a traditional motif of ballad narrative in which an eloping maiden and her lover are pursued by her father and/or her brothers, who are unwilling to accept their marriage. Morris perhaps knew in the 1850's the (rewritten) version, "The Child of Elle," in Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (vol. 1, bk. 1, no. 11), in which the father eventually approves the match. In more tradiitional versions, e. g., "Earl Brand" (F. J. Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, no. 7) the outcome for the lovers is usually tragic.
st. 30 arblasts: here arblasts probably means a crossbow, fired after winding up mechanically
st. 65 the Soldan: Richard has presumably been on a crusade
st. 66 Illyrica: the northeastern coast of the Adriatic sea, once called Dalmatia, in ancient times part of the Roman province of Illyricum, possibly recalling Richard I's shipwreck there, on his return from the Third Crusade
Pruce: the Prussian dominions of the Teutonic Knights on the southeast coast of the Baltic, where throught the 14th century they crusaded against the still pagan Lithuanians
st. 78 the great pix: a pyx is the box-shaped vessel, often of precious metal, used to contain the reserved Sacrament. Here, however, Morris seems to envisage something larger and more architectural, like the tabernacle in which the Sacrament is placed on the altar on modern Catholic churches. [PW]