By Marie de France
Since I'm making lais, Bisclavret Is one
I don't want to forget. In Breton, "Bisclavret"'s the name; "Garwolf" in
Norman means the same. Long ago you heard the tale told-- And
it used to happen, in days of old-- Quite a few men became
garwolves, And set up housekeeping in the woods. A garwolf
is a savage beast, While the fury's on it, at least: Eats men,
wreaks evil, does no good, Living and roaming in the deep wood.
Now I'll leave this topic set. I want to tell you about Bisclavret.
In Brittany there dwelt a lord; Wondrous praise of him I've
heard: A handsome knight, an able man, He was, and acted like,
a noble man. His lord the King held him dear, And so did his
neighbors far and near.
He'd married a worthy woman, truly; Always she acted so beautifully.
He loved her, she him: they loved each
other. But one thing was a bother: Every week he was lost
to her For three whole days, she didn't know where, What
became of him, what might befall Him; his people knew nothing
at all. He came home to his house one day, So joyous he was,
happy and gay; She began to ask him and inquire: "My lord," she said, "my friend, my
dear, There's just one thing I might care To ask, if only I
might dare-- But I'm afraid that you'll get angry, And, more
than anything, that scares me." He hugged her when he heard
all this, Drew her close and gave her a kiss. "My lady," he
said, "Ask me now! Anything you want to know, If I can, I'll
tell you." "Sir, By my faith, you work my cure. My lord, I'm
in terror every day, Those days when you've gone away, My heart
is so full of fear, I'm so afraid I'll lose you, dear-- If
I don't get some help, some healing, I will die soon of what
I'm feeling! Where do you go? Now you must say What life you
live, where do you stay? You are in love--that's it, I know--
And you do wrong if this is so!" "My lady," he said, "Please,
God above! I'll suffer great harm if I tell you: I'll drive
you off, right out of love, And lose my own self if I do."
The lady heard how he refused. She was
not the least amused. She brought it up again, and often
She would flatter him and cozen Him to tell her his adventure--
Till, hiding nothing, he told her. "My lady, I turn bisclavret; I plunge into that
great forest. In thick woods I like it best. I live on what
prey I can get." When he'd told her all the story She asked,
inquired one thing more: he Undressed? Or what did he wear? "My
lady," he said, "I go all bare." "Where are your clothes? Tell,
for God's sake." "My lady, I won't say this, no; For if I lost
them by this mistake, From that moment on, I'd know I'd stay
a bisclavret forever; Nothing could help me, I'd never Change
back till I got them again. That's why I don't want it known." "My
lord," the lady replied, "It's true More than all the world
I love you. You should hide nothing from me, nor Ever doubt
I'm loyal in any affair. That would not seem like true friendship.
How have I ever sinned? What slip Makes me seem untrustworthy
to you? Do what's right! Now tell me, do!" She nagged him thus,
and thus harassed Him till he just had to tell, at last. "My
lady," he said, "near that wood, Where I come home, along that
road, Standing there is an old chapel, Which often serves me
well. The stone is there, hollow and wide, Beneath a bush,
dug out inside; I put my clothes there under the bush Until
I can come back to the house."
The lady heard this marvel, this wonder. In terror she blushed
all bright red, Filled with fear by this adventure. Often and
often passed through her head Plans to get right out, escape,
for She didn't want ever to share his bed.
A knight in that country there Who long had loved the lady
fair, Begging her so, praying hard, Giving generously to win
her regard (She had never loved him before this, Nor let him
think her love was his)-- She sent a messenger to bring Him
to her, and told him everything.
"My friend, my dear," she said, "be
glad! You've been tormented, driven, sad Wanting what I'll
give you today-- No-one will ever say you nay-- I grant you
my love and my body, too: Take me, make me your lover, you!"
He thanks her very gratefully. He takes her pledge made solemnly--
She swears an oath on the engagement. Then she told him how
her lord went Away, and what he turned into. The path he'd
always taken to Enter the forest--this she shows; She sent
him to get his clothes. Thus was Bisclavret betrayed And by
his own wife waylaid.
Having lost him so often, indeed, Everyone generally agreed
That he had finally left for good. He was looked for, inquiries
pursued, But they couldn't find a trace. Finally they closed
the case. The lady's marriage was celebrated To the fellow
who'd loved and waited.
So, a whole year, matters rest, Until
the King went hunting one day. He went straight to the forest
Where the bisclavret used to stay. When the hounds were loosed
and let Run, they found the bisclavret. They chased him always
that long day, The huntsmen and the coursing dogs, Till they
had him--almost--at bay And they would have torn him to rags,
But then he picked out the King And ran there for mercy.
To beg, He seizes the King's stirrup-ring, And kisses his
foot and leg. The King sees this, and feels great fear; He
calls all his companions over. "My lords," he says, "come,
come here! Behold this marvel, see this wonder. How this
beast bows down to me! Its sense is human. It begs for mercy.
Drive me those dogs away again, See that no-one strikes a
blow! This beast understands, feels like a man. Let's get
going! You're all too slow! To the beast my peace I'll grant.
Now, no more today will I hunt."
With that, the King turns and goes. The bisclavret follows
him close; It won't escape, it stays right near. Losing him
is its only fear. The King leads it back to his castle keep;
It pleases him, his delight is deep For he's never seen such
a creature. He's decided it's a marvel of nature, And treats
it as a great treasure. He tells his people it's his pleasure
For them to take the best of care Of it; let no-one harm it,
or dare To strike it, for love of the King. It must be fed
well and given drink. They're all glad to care for and keep
It; every day it goes to sleep Among the knights, close to
the King. Every man thinks it a precious thing, For it's so
gentle, well-bred, polite, It never would do what isn't right.
Wherever the King might go It didn't want to be separated,
so It went along with him constantly. That it loved him was
easy to see.
Now listen to what happened next. The King was holding court;
he'd asked That all his barons attend him, Those who owed their
land to him, To help him hold his high feast-day, And see him
served in a royal way. That very knight came to the feast,
Well equipped and richly dressed, Who had married Bisclavret's
wife. He never thought nor reckoned To find him so close in
his life. He came to the palace; the second That Bisclavret
saw him standing around, He made for him with a single bound,
Bit into him and dragged him off. He would have treated him
very rough If the King hadn't called him back And threatened
him with a stick. He tried to bite him twice before night.
Many folks were amazed at the sight; For never had he acted
this way To any man he'd seen, until this day. All those of
the household insist There must be a reason he's doing this.
He's hurt him, gave him some offense-- For he'd be glad to
take vengeance. This time he lets it drop Until the feast has
broken up And the lords take leave; each baron Returns to his
home, one by one. The knight has left, I happen to know, Among
the very first to go, He whom Bisclavret attacked; He hates
him--not a surprising fact.
Some time later (not very long, I think,
unless I heard it wrong), The King went riding in the wood,
That courteous King, so wise and good, That wood where they'd
found Bisclavret, And he came along with him. At Night, time
to retire for the day, In a country lodging he lay. Bisclavret's
wife knew it; she dressed Herself in her attractive best,
Next day, to go speak to the King-- Sent him a gift, some
costly thing. When Bisclavret saw her entrance, No man could
have held him back; He ran like mad to the attack-- Listen
now to his fine vengeance: He tore her nose right off her
face. Could anything be worse than this is? Now they surround
him in that place, They're ready to cut him in pieces, When
a wise fellow tells the King, "My
Lord," he says, "Hear what I say: It's with you this beast's
been living And every one of us here today Has watched him
a long time; beside Him we've travelled far and wide. He's
never before hurt anyone, Or shown a criminal disposition,
Except to this lady you see here. By the faith I owe you, it's
clear He holds some grudge or other Against her and her lord
together. This is the wife of that knight who Used to be so
dear to you, Who was lost such a long time ago; What happened
to him, we don't know. Now try this lady with some torture,
And see if she doesn't have more to Tell you why the beast
hates her! If she knows, make her say it! Many strange things
we see occur In Brittany, early and late."
With this advice the King agrees. On
the one hand, the knight they seize; The lady's taken, on
the other, And seriously made to suffer. From pain just as
much as from fear, She told him her lord's whole affair:
How she'd betrayed him, she said, And taken away the clothes
that he shed, The adventure he'd told, so she'd know, What
he became and where he'd go. Since she'd stolen all his linen,
In his lands he'd not been seen; But she believed--her mind
was set-- The beast was indeed Bisclavret. The King wants
the clothes on the spot; Whether the lady wants to or not
She has them brought back out And given to the Bisclavret.
They set them down in front of his nose, But Bisclavret ignores
the clothes. That wise fellow speaks to the King, Who'd given
the other advice, too: "Sire, you're doing the wrong thing.
He will never make the least Move to get dressed in front of
you And change from the form of a beast. This is terrible--you
don't know-- Something he's far too ashamed to show. Have him
taken to your own room, And his lost clothes brought with him;
A good long time, leave him alone; Then we'll see if he becomes
The King himself took Bisclavret Inside, and closed all the
doors tight; He returned when the time was done. He brought
along two barons, not one. They entered the chamber, all three.
On the king's royal bed, they see Lying fast asleep, the knight.
The king ran to hug him tight; He kissed him a hundred times
that day. When he catches his breath, he hands Him back all
his fiefs and lands, And more presents than I will say.
The lady, now, they expell From that realm, from that time
forward. He goes with her, as well, For whom she betrayed her
lord. She had plenty of children; grown, They were, all of
them, quite well-known, By their looks, their facial assembly:
More than one woman of that family Was born without a nose
to blow, And lived denosed. It's true! It's so!
The adventure you have heard Is true--don't doubt a single
word. Of Bisclavret they made the lay, To remember, forever
and a day.