CW 24, 63-67.
THE ROMANCE OF THE THREE WOOERS
YEARS agone it did befall
By a mouldering brick wall
Three knights strong and lithe and tall
Met as they had sworn to do.
The first knight had a lady's shoe
The second had a silken fold
Shredden from a lady's dress;
But the third knight bore a tress
Just the colour of the corn,
From a lady's head 'twas shorn.
The first knight had about his head
A covering of russet red
That wrapped about his helm and crest,
And a red cloth on his breast,
So what his cognisance might be
The others could not lightly see.
The second knight had got no crest
Nor any bearing on his breast,
Plain linen, plain steel only, quite
Without device and only white.
The third knight wore upon his head
Two lilies, one was white, one red,
Likewise on his green surcoat he
Carried a purple-leaved lily.
That wall choked up with weeds and mould
Was the rampart of a castle old
Quite ruined now, but verily
Eld had not caused it so to be,
Indeed petraria-stones you saw
Had crashed through every window and door,
Besides through all the weedy court
 In his hand, a shoe of gold;
Were scattered bones of men that fought
In that grim battle long ago—
Yea man had caused it to be so.
The slope of grass the knights sat on
Covered the bones of those that won
In that grim fight; moreover you
Could see hard by cat-towers two
The victors left behind them there;
They rotted in the autumn air.
An aspen-wood did grow close by
In which the trees hung all awry
Half fallen, yet they could not die,
Though summers since this way they fell,
The other trees propped them so well.
I think you wish to know from me
Something of this strange company,
Then listen: three years ago these three,
Wandering from whose court know I not
Nor from what land, nor know I what
Their friends said to them when they went.
Now these three were at first content
To have adventures such as might
Befall to any errant knight,
Until one morning at the dawn
Each one awaking found a torn
And bloody parchment on his mouth
And all their faces turned round South.
These scrolls were writ in black and red
And the same legend each one said,
" By that which touches either cheek
Go Southward and the Gold Land seek."
—Truly red blood was on each cheek.
Then rose they up with heavy cheer
And bathed them in a fountain near;
 They could not wash that stain away,
It drove them onward day by day
Through many unknown lands till they
Heard rumours of a golden land,
And great men bowed at their command.
Joy grew within them when they found
That they would be so well renowned,
Arm linked in arm they would walk now
With straight drawn lips and unmoved brow,
They pitied those they chanced to see
Not being as they a mystery,
And going Southward nearer drew
To the Golden Land, as they well knew.
At last one morn of autumntide,
As thinking high things they did ride,
They came unto an aspen-wood
Where strange things nowise understood
Lay carved in stone their way beside.
A little further did they ride
That morning of late autumntide
And came out in a wide clear space
And there saw midways of that place
The Castle of the Golden Land.
Christ, it was hard to understand:
Each looked the other in the eyes,
Each saw no trace of wild surprise—
No sign of rage nor of distress,
Nothing but mere blank hopelessness.
They sat down on that slope of green
Where lay the dead men's bones between
The soft grass and the inner fire,
They seemed to have no one desire
Not e'en for death, till the eldest knight
Who was yet young—Sir John he hight—
He said, "The bones lie in the court,
 But did all die there where they fought,
Did none escape and freely rove?
—Knights, have ye ever been in love?"
They said not nay, they said not yea,
Then said he," Knights, I have a way
To try if God be wholly bad
To us and we to him—yea sad
It may be in the aftertime—
To us it must be sad—now climb
With me this battered rampart-wall,
Link hands and swear together all."
They stood together, said no word
For many minutes, then a bird
Whose head and legs were yellow, sat
Upon a tower; he looked fat
Because he puffed his feathers so
To screen him, for the wind did blow
Cold and full east—but he was thin:
They thought he looked like a great sin.
Sir John held up his hilt to kiss
Then said, "Now by Christ's cross swear this
That we three different ways will rove,
Search heartily for a true love,
But when three years have passed by
Come here again to live or die;
For whoso loveth happily
Those three years through, the same shall die,
Him and his love, yea verily
If so it happen to us all
Likeways we and our loves shall fall."
They swore with curled lips and straight brow,
The loathly bird that stood just now
Upon the tower-top did shrink
To his right size, croaked, gave one blink
 And then let fall his yellow head
On his yellow neck and he was dead.
Natheless his body hung up there
Till all the bones were white and bare.
So when three years had passed away
The knights came as they swore that day
Back to the dismal castle-wall,
And each one to tell his love and all
His victory or defeat and fall.