Canterbury Tales: The Promise of Dorigen

This is the tale told by the franklin, which is more of a social class rather than a profession; you can find out more about medieval franklins at Wikipedia. Unlike the previous stories which involved surprises and tricks, this is instead a romance based on truth and goodness. The story is set in Brittany, which is in modern-day France.

As the franklin tells his story, he will invoke the classical myth of Echo and Narcissus, which you might remember if you read the Ovid unit earlier this semester.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Canterbury Tales unit. Story source: The Chaucer Story Book by Eva March Tappan (1908).

The Franklin's Tale:
The Promise of Dorigen

THERE was once in the land of Brittany a knight named Arviragus who was doing his best to win the love of a noble lady, the fairest under the sun. He carried on many a bold enterprise and undertook many a perilous adventure all for her sake that she might perchance look with the more favor upon his suit. She came of such high lineage that he hardly dared to tell her of his devotion, but when he did confess it, he found that he had already won his bride, for he was so sincere and humble and in every way worthy that she could not help loving him, and she promised to take him for her husband and her lord. He, too, made a promise and vowed to her most solemnly that, come what would, he would never force her obedience against her wish, nor would he show jealousy of her, but would obey her and follow her will in everything, as a true lover should ever do to his lady. "And I give you here my troth," said Dorigen, for that was her name, "that until my last day I will be your faithful, humble wife."

The couple dwelt in happiness for a year and more. Then they were separated, for the knight went to England for a year or two to seek for glory in arms. Dorigen could hardly endure his absence. She wept and she sighed, she moaned and wailed and so longed for Arviragus that the whole wide world seemed nothing to her without him. Her castle stood near the sea, and she used often to go to the edge of the cliff and watch the ships and barges, but this gave her small comfort, for she said to herself, "Alas, there are so many ships sailing freely wherever they will, and not one of them brings my dear lord home to me. If he would only come, my heart would be eased of this bitter pain."

Sometimes she would not watch the ships, but would only sit on the cliff and muse and think of her husband. Then if it happened that her glance fell upon the black, jagged rocks below her, she would tremble so that she could not stand upon her feet, for she would fancy that each one was threatening to destroy the vessel that was to bring him home when the happy day of his return should arrive.

Her friends tried in every way they knew to comfort her. They often visited her, they told her that Arviragus would surely return and that she was destroying herself for nothing, and then they would beg her to come out with them. At first they walked by the ocean, but they soon saw that the sight of the water dashing against the black ledges only made her the more wretched. "I wish to God that all those fearful black rocks were sunk into hell for the sweet sake of my lord. They make my very heart quake with fear," she exclaimed.

The friends did not ask her again to walk with them by the shore. Instead of that, they persuaded her to go by springs and along the river bank and to other beautiful places. They prevailed upon her to play at chess and tables and to dance. One bright morning in May, they induced her to go with them to a beautiful garden where they meant to spend the entire day.

This garden was a charming place. The gentle showers of May had filled it full of leaves and blossoms, and the hand of man had given it such wise and skillful care that save, it may be, for Paradise, there was never so lovely a place. The sweetness of the flowers and the sight of their freshness and beauty would make the heart of any one light, unless it was burdened with so deep woe that nothing could give it cheer.

These friends of Dorigen had brought dainty viands with them that they might remain the whole of the day, and after they had dined, they began to sing and to dance on the soft green turf. Even the sight of the dancing made Dorigen grieve because her husband was not among the merry revelers. Nevertheless, she would not be so rude as to break away from her kind friends, so she waited sad and lonely in her heart.

As she sat, gazing listlessly at the dancers, there was a certain young squire who was gazing at her, but by no means listlessly. He was fresher and more gayly clad than the month of May itself. He sang more sweetly and he danced more gracefully than any one else, and he certainly was one of the handsomest young men in the world. He was young and strong and rich, highly esteemed, and a favorite wherever he went — and, to make a long story short, for two years this young squire Aurelius had loved Dorigen better than all the world beside. He had never dared to tell her his love, but he composed many songs, rounds, and virelays about the agonies of one who adores and is not loved in return.

In his songs he said that, like Echo, who died for the love of Narcissus, so he should die for her who was so dear to him, and she would never know why he had come to an early death. Writing these songs was his greatest pleasure, but Dorigen never guessed that he was writing them of her, and when in the dances of the young folk he had gazed piteously into her face like one beseeching some great favor, she had not understood that he was silently begging her to receive his devotion.

As they had long been acquaintances, it was natural that they should meet and talk together for a while. "Madam," said he, "if it would please you, I could find it in my heart to wish that on the day when your Arviragus crossed the sea, I, too, had gone somewhere never to return, for I know well that my devotion to you will have for its reward only the breaking of my heart. Pity me, Madam, pity me, for I am so unhappy that I would I lay in a grave at your feet. Have mercy upon me, or you will be my death, for to think that you will never be mine is more than I can bear."

(1100 words)

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