I HAVE in thought and purpose too,
Of Ywenec to tellon you--
Of whom he born was, his sire's fame,
How first he to his mother came.
He who did beget Ywenec
Y-clepod was Eudemarec.
There formerly lived in Britain a man who was rich and old. He was Avoez or governor of Caerwent on the Doglas, and lord of the surrounding country. Desirous of having an heir to his estates, he espoused a maiden "courteous and sage, and passing fair." She was given to him because he was rich, and loved by him for her beauty. Why should I say more, but that her match was not to be found between Lincoln and Ireland? "Great sin did they who gave her him," adds the poet.
On account of her rare beauty, the jealous husband now turned all his thoughts to keeping her safe. To this end he shut her up in his tower, in a large room, to which no one had access but himself and his sister, an old widow, without whose permission the young wife was forbidden to speak to any even of her female attendants. In this tower the suspicious husband immured his lovely bride for seven years, during which time they had no children, nor did she ever leave her confinement on any account. She had neither chamberlain nor huissier to light the tapers in her chamber when she would retire, and the poor lady passed her time weeping, sighing, and lamenting; and from grief and neglect of herself losing all her beauty.
The month of April was entering,
When every bird begins to sing;
Her lord arose at early day,
And to the wood he takes his way.
Before he set out he called up the old dame to fasten the door after him. This done, she took her psalter and retired to another room to chant it. The imprisoned lady awoke in tears, seeing the brightness of the sun, and thus began her moan:
Alas! said she, why born was l?
Right grievous is my destiny:
In this towére imprisoned,
I ne'er shall leave it till I'm dead.
She marvels at the unreasonable jealousy of her old husband, curses her parents, and all concerned in giving her to a man not only so unamiable, but who was of so tough a constitution that the chance of his dying seemed infinitely remote.
When baptised he was to be,
In hell's rivere deep dipt was he;
Hard are his sinews, hard each vein,
And lively blood they all contain.
Oft have I heard the people tell,
That in this country there befell
Adventures in the days of yore,
That did to joy grieved hearts restore;
Knights met with damsels, fair and gent,
In all things unto their talent;
And dames met lovers courteous,
Handsome, and brave, and generous;
So that they never blamed were,
For save themselves none saw them e'er. [a]
If this may be, or ever was,
Or any it befallen has,
May God, who hath all might and power,
My wish perform for me this hour.
Scarcely had she uttered this pious wish, when she perceived the shadow of a large bird at a narrow window. The bird now flew into the room. He had jesses on his legs, and appeared to be a goss-hawk. [b] He placed himself before the lady, and in a few minutes after became a handsome gentle knight. The lady was terrified at the sight, and covered her head; but the knight was courteous, and addressed her,
Lady, said he, be not thus stirred;
A goss-hawk is a gentle bird.
If my secréte should be obscure,
Attend, and I will you assure;
Maketh now of me your lovére,
For that it is I am come here.
Long have I loved you and admired,
And in my heart have much desired;
I ne'er have loved save you alone,
And save you never shall love none;
But I could never come to you,
Nor from own countrie issue,
If you had not required me:
Your lover now I may well be.
The lady was now re-assured: she uncovered her head, and told the knight she would accept him as her Dru, if she were satisfied that he believed in God. On this head, he assures her,
I in the Créator believe,
Who did from misery us relieve,
In which us Adam our sire put,
By eating of that bitter fruit:
He is, and was, and ever he
To sinners life and light will be.
And to put the matter out of all doubt, he directs her to feign sickness, and send for the chaplain, when he undertakes to assume her form, and receive the holy Sacrament. The dame does accordingly; and the old woman, after many objections, at length sends for the chaplain.
And he with all due speed did hie,
And brought the Corpus Domini.
The knight received the holy sign,
And from the chalice drank the wine [c]
The chaplain then his way is gone--
The old dame shut the doors anon.
The scruples of the lady being now entirely removed, she grants le don d'amoureuse merci, and the bliss of the lovers is complete. At length the knight takes his leave, and in reply to the lady's question, of when she should see him again, he tells her that she has only to wish for him, and the wish will be fulfilled by his appearance; [d] but he warns her to beware of the old woman, who will closely watch her, assuring her at the same time that a discovery will be his certain death.
The lady now bids adieu to all sadness and melancholy, and gradually regains all her former beauty. She desires no longer to leave her tower; for, night or day, she has only to express a wish, and her knight is with her. The old lord marvels greatly at this sudden change, and begins to distrust the fidelity of his sister. On revealing his suspicions, her replies fully satisfy him on that head, and they concert between them how to watch the young wife, and to discover her secret. After an interval of three days, the old lord tells his wife that the king has sent for him, and that he must attend him, but will soon return. He sets out, and the old woman having closed the door as usual after him, gets behind a curtain to watch. The lady now wishes for her lover, and instantly he is with her, and they continue together till it is time to rise. He then departs, leaving the spy, who had seen how he came and went, terrified at the strange metamorphosis.
When the husband, who was at no great distance, came home, his spy informed him of the strange affair. Greatly grieved and incensed at this, he began to meditate the destruction of his rival. He accordingly got four pikes made, with steel-heads so sharp that
No razor under heaven's sheen
Was ever yet so sharp and keen.
These he set at the window through which the knight was used to enter. Next day he feigns to go to the chase, the old woman returns to her bed to sleep, and the lady anxiously expects "him whom she loveth loyally,"
And says that he may come safely,
And with her at all leisure be.
So said, so done: the bird was at the window; but alas! too eager for caution, he overlooked the pikes, and, flying against them, was mortally wounded. Still he entered the chamber and threw himself on the bed, which his blood soon filled, and thus addressed his distracted mistress:
He said unto her-- " My sweet friend,
For you my life comes to an end;
I often told you 't would be so,
That your fair cheer would work us woe."
When she heard this she swooned away,
And long time there for dead she lay;
Her gently to herself he brought,
And said, that grief availeth nought;
That she by him a son would bear,
Valiant and wise, and debonair;
He would dispel her sorrows all.
Ywenec she should him call.
He wouldè vengeance for their sake
Upon their trait'rous enemy take. [e]
Exhausted with loss of blood, he can stay no longer. He departs; and the lady, uttering loud cries of woe, leaps after him, unapparelled as she is, out of the window, which was twenty feet from the ground, and pursues him by the traces of his blood.
Along his path strayed the dame,
Until unto a hill she came. [f]
Into this hill one entrance led;
It with the blood was all sprinkled.
Before her she can nothing see;
Whereat she thinketh full surely
Her lover thither is gone in.
She entereth with mickle teen;
Within it light ne found she none;
Thorow it still she goeth on,
Until she from the hill issued
In a fair meadow, rich and good.
With blood she stained found the grass,
At which she much dismayed was;
The trace lay of it on the ground.
Quite near she there a city found;
With walls it was enclosed all--
There was not house, nor tower, nor hall,
That did not seem of silver fair:
The Mandevent [g] right wealthy are.
Before the town lay marshes rude,
The forest, and wild solitude.
On the other side, toward the donjón,
The water all around did run;
And here the shippès did enter,
More thannè three hundréd they were.
The lower gate wide open lay;
Therein the lady took her way,
Stil following the blood, that fell
The townè thorow to the castél.
Unto her spake there no one,
Ne man nor woman found she none.
She to the palace came; with blood
The steps she found were all embrued;
She entered then a low chambére;
A knight she found fast sleeping there;
She knew him not--she passed on--
To a larger chamber came anon;
A bed, and nothing more, there found,
A knight was on it sleeping sound.
Still farther passed on the dame;
Unto the third chambére she came,
Where she gan find her lover's bed.
The posts were gold enamelled;
I could not price the clothes aright:
The chandeliers and tapers bright,
Which night and day burned constantly,
Were worth the gold of a citee.
She finds her lover at the point of death.
At seeing his wretched state the unhappy lady swoons again. The expiring knight endeavours to console her; and, foretelling his own death on that day, directs her to depart, lest his people in their grief should ill treat her as the cause of his death. She, however, protests that she will stay and die with him, as, if she returns, her husband will put her to death. The knight repeats his consolations, and gives her a ring, which, while she wears, her husband will retain no remembrance of what relates to her. At the same time he gives her his sword, which she is to keep safely and to give to her son when grown up and become a valiant knight. He says, she then
Unto a festival will go;
Her lord will thither wend also;
Unto an abbey they will come,
Where they will see a stately tomb,
Will learn the story of the dead,
And how he was there buried.
There thou the sword shalt to him reach,
And all the adventure then teach,
How he was born, who was his sire;
His deeds enough will then admire.
He then gave her a dress of fine silk, and insisted on her departure. She is with difficulty induced to leave him, and is hardly half a league from the place when she hears the bells tolling, and the cries of grief of the people for the death of their lord. She faints four times, but at length recovering retraces her steps, and returns to her tower. Her husband makes no inquiry, and gives her no farther uneasiness. She bare a son, as Eudemarec had foretold, and named him Ywenec. As he grew up, there was not his peer in the kingdom for beauty, valour, and generosity.
After Ywenec had been dubbed a knight, his supposed father was summoned to attend the feast of St. Aaron at Carlion. He went, accompanied by his wife and Ywenec. On their way, they stopped at a rich abbey, where they were received with the utmost hospitality. Next day, when they asked to depart, the abbot entreated them to stay a little longer till he should show them the rest of the abbey. They consented, and after dinner,
On entering the chapter-room,
They found a large and stately tomb,
Covered with rich tapestry,
Bordered with gold embroidery.
At head and feet and sides there were
Twenty tapers burning clear;
Of fine gold were the chandeliers;
Of amethyst were the censéres,
With which they incensed alwáy,
For great honour, this tomb each day.
The curiosity of the visitors was excited by the sight of this magnificent tomb, and they learned, on inquiry, that therein lay one of the noblest and most valiant knights that had ever lived. He had been king of that country, and had been slain at Caerwent for the love of a lady, leaving a vacancy in the throne which had never been since filled, it being reserved, according to his last commands, for his son by that lady.
When the Dame heard this, she called aloud to her son,
"Fair son, you now have heard," she said,
"That God hath us to this place led.
It is your father here doth lie,
Whom this old man slew wrongfully."
She then gave him the sword she had kept so long, relating the whole story to him. At the conclusion she fainted on the tomb, and expired. Filled with rage and grief, Ywenec at one blow struck off the head of the old man, and avenged both his father and mother. The lady was buried in the coffin with him whom she had loved, and the people joyfully acknowledged Ywenec as king of the country.
Long time after maden they,
Who heard this adventure, a Lay
Of the grief and the dolour
That for love these did endure.
There are still to be seen in Brittany the rock, the cavern, the fountain, the hole, the valley, etc., of the Fées.
The forest of Brezeliande, near Quintin, was, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, regarded as the chief seat of Breton wonders. It contained the tomb of Merlin. Robert de Ware, hearing of the wonders of this forest, visited it; but, by his own account, to little purpose.
La allai je merveilles querre (chercher),
Vis lit forêt et via la terre;
Merveilles quis (cherchai) main ne troval,
Fol m'en revins, fol y allai;
Fol y allai, fol men revins,
Folie quis, por fol me tins. [h]
There were also the Fountain of Berenton and the Perron (block, or steps) Merveilleux.
En Bretagne ce treuve-on
Une Fontaine et un Perron;
Quant on gette l'iaue (eau) dessus
Si vente et tonne et repluit jus (à bas).
Huon do Méry was more fortunate than Ware. He sprinkled the Perron from the golden basin which hung from the oak that shaded it, and beheld all the marvels. [i]
Such is the result of our inquiries respecting the Fairy system of the "oldè gentil Bretons." Owing to the praiseworthy labours of a Breton gentleman of the present day, [j] we are enabled to give the following account of it as it actually prevails in Brittany.
Our author divides the Breton fairies into two classes,--the Fays (Fées) and the Dwarfs (Nains); of which the Breton name seems to be Korrig or Korrigan, and Korr or Korred. [k] The former he identifies, as we have seen, very plausibly, with the Gallicenae of Mela; for he says that the ancient Welsh bards declare that they reverenced a being of the female sex named Korid-gwen, i. e. Korid-woman, to whom they assigned nine virgins as attendants. To this being Taliesin gives a magic vase, the edges of which are adorned with pearl, and it contains the wondrous water of bardic genius and of universal knowledge.
The Korrigan, our authority further states, can predict the future, assume any form they please, move from place to place with the rapidity of thought, cure maladies by the aid of charms which they communicate to their favourites. Their size is said not to exceed two feet, but their proportions are most exact; and they have long flowing hair, which they comb out with great care. Their only dress is a long white veil, which they wind round their body. Seen at night, or in the dusk of the evening, their beauty is great; but in the daylight their eyes appear red, their hair white, and their faces wrinkled; hence they rarely let themselves be seen by day. They are fond of music, and have fine voices, but are not much given to dancing. Their favourite haunts are the springs, by which they sit and comb their hair. They are said to celebrate there every returning spring a great nocturnal festival. On the sod at its brink is spread a table-cloth white as the driven snow, covered with the most delicious viands. In the centre is a crystal cup, which emits such light that there is no need of lamps. At the end of the banquet a cup goes round filled with a liquor, one drop of which would make one as wise as God himself. At the approach of a mortal the whole vanishes.
Like fairies in general the Korrigan steal children, against which the remedy usually employed is, to place the child under the protection of the Virgin, by putting a rosary or a scapulary about its neck. They are also fond of uniting themselves with handsome young men to regenerate, as the peasants say, their accursed race. The general belief respecting them is, that they were great princesses who, having refused. to embrace Christianity when it was preached in Armorica by the Apostles, were struck by the curse of God. Hence it is that they are said to be animated by a violent hatred of religion and the clergy. The sight of a soutane, or the sound of a bell, puts them to flight; but the object of greatest abhorrence to them is the Holy Virgin. The last trait to be noticed. of these beings is, that, like simiilar beings in other countries, their breath is deadly.
The reader must have observed. the strong resemblance which the Korrigan bear to the Elle-maids of Scandinavia. In like manner the Korred are very similar to the Trolls. [l] These are usually represented as short and stumpy with shaggy hair, dark wrinkled faces, little deep-set eyes, but bright as carbuncles. Their voice is cracked and hollow:
their hands have claws like a cat's; their feet are horny like those of a goat. They are expert smiths and coiners; the are said to have great treasures in the dolmen [m] in which they dwell, and of which they are regarded as the builders. They dance around them by night, and wo to the belated peasant who, passing by, is forced to join in their roundel; he usually dies of exhaustion. Wednesday is their holiday; the first Wednesday in May their annual festival, which they celebrate with dancing, singing, and music. They have the same aversion to holy things as the Korrigan; like them, too, they can fortell events to come. The Korrid is always furnished with a large leathern purse, which is said to be full of gold; but if any one succeeds in getting it from him, he finds nothing in it but hair and a pair of scissors.
The Bretons also believe in Mermaids; they name them Morgan (sea-women) and Morverc'h (sea-daughters), and say that they draw down to their palaces of gold and crystal at the bottom of the sea or of ponds, those who venture imprudently too neat the edge of the water. Like the mermaids they sing and comb their golden hair. In one of the ballads we read, "Fisher, hast thou seen the mermaid combing her hair, yellow as gold, by the noontide sun, at the edge of the water?" "I have seen the fair mermaid. I have also heard her singing; her, songs were plaintive as the waves." [n]
In M. Villemarqué's collection there are three ballads relating to the Korrigan and Korred. The following is a faithful translation of the first of them in the exact measure of the original. All the Breton poetry is rimed, very frequently in triads or tercets.
[a] This manifestly alludes to Laval or Graeleat, or similar stories.
[b] It follows, in M. de Roquefort's edition,
"Deci ne muez fu ou déeis"
Of which we can make no sense, and the French translation gives no aid. In the Harleian MS. it is
"De cinc muez fu ou de sis,"
which is more intelligible.
[c] This tends to prove that this is a translation from the Breton; for Innocent III., in whose pontificate the cup was first refused to the laity, died in 1216, when Henry III., to whom Marie is supposed to have dedicated her Lais, was a child.
[d] The same was the case with the Wünschelweib (Wish-woman) of German romance.
Swenne du einêst wünachest nach mir,
So bin ich endelichen bi dir,
says the lady to the Staufenberger. She adds,
War ich wil da bin ich,
Den Wunsch hat mir Got gegeben.
He finds it to be true,
Er wünschte nach der frouwen sin,
Bi im so war diu schiune sin.
GRIMM, Deut. Mythol, p. 391.
[e] In the Shah-nameh, Siyawush, when he foresees his own death by the treachery of Afrasiab, tells his wife Ferengis, the daughter of that monarch, that she will bear a son whom she is to name Ky Khosroo, and who will avenge the death of his father: see Görres, Heldenbuch von Iran, ii. 32.
[f] Desi k'a une hoge vint:
En cele hoge ot une entree.
M. de Roquefort, in his Glossaire de Ia Langue Romaine, correctly renders hoge by colline. In his translation of this Lai he renders it by cabane, not, perhaps, understanding how a hill could be pervious. The story, however, of Prince Ahmed, and the romance of Orfeo and Heurodis, are good authority on this point.
[g] In the Harleian MS. Mandement. M. Ce Roquefort confesses his total ignorance of this people; we follow his example. May it not, however, be connected with manant, and merely signify people, inhabitants?
[h] Roman de Roux, v. ii. 234.
[i] See Roquefort, Supplément au Glossaire de la Langue Romaine s. v. Perron.
[j] Barzan-Breiz, Chants Populaires de la Bretagne, recueilles et publiés par Th. Hersart de la Villemarqué. Paris, 1846. This is a most valuable work and deserving to take its place with the Ballads of Scotland, Scandinavia, and Servia, to none of which is it inferior. To the credit of France the edition which we use is the fourth. How different would the fate of such a work be in this country!
[k] We make this distinction, because in the ballads in which the personage is a Fay, the word used is Korrigan or Korrig, while in that in which the Dwarfs are actors, the words are Korr and Korred. But the truth is, they are all but different forms of Korr. They are all the same, singular and plural. The Breton changes its first consonant like the Irish. We also meet with Crion, Goric, Couril, as names of these beings, but they are only forms of those given above.
[l] Hence we may infer that they came originally from Scandinavia, communicated most probably by the Normans.
[m] Stone-tables. They are called by the same name in Devon and Cornwall; is Irish their appellation is Cromleach.
[n] Barzan-Breiz., l. xlix. 69.