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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Boy Perceval

By The Legend of the Holy Grail

From the ‘Parzival’ of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translation of George McLean Harper

WHEN doubt a human conscience gnaws,

Peace from that breast her light withdraws.

Beauty and ugliness we find

Even in the bravest heart combined,

If taint be in him, great or slight,

As in the magpie black and white.

Yet ofttimes may he savèd be,

For both share in his destiny—

High heaven and the abyss of hell.

But when the man is infidel,

Of midnight blackness is his soul,

His course is towards yon pitchy hole;

While he of steady mind pursues

The shining road the righteous choose.

A knight-at-arms am I by birth;

In me sleep warlike strength and worth;

She who might love me for my song

Would show a judgment sadly wrong.

For if I seek a lady’s grace,

And may not go before her face

With honors won by shield and sword,

I will not woo her, by my word!

No other game can have my praise

When Love’s the stake and Knighthood plays.

I find the usage much to blame

Which makes no difference in the name

Of women false and women true.

Clear-voiced are all, but not a few

Quickly to evil courses run,

While others every folly shun.

So goes the world; but still ’tis shame

The bad ones share that honored name.

Loyal and fair is womanhood,

When once the name is understood.

Many there are who cannot see

Anything good in poverty.

But he who bears its trials well

May save his faithful soul from hell!

These trials once a woman bore

And gained thereby of grace a store.

Not many in their youth resign

Riches in life for wealth divine.

I know not one in all the earth,

Whate’er the sex or age or birth;

For mortals all in this agree.

But Herzeloide the rich ladie

From her three lands afar did go—

She bore such heavy weight of woe.

In her was no unfaithfulness,

As every witness did confess.

All dark to her was now the sun;

The world’s delights she fain would shun.

Alike to her were night and day,

For sorrow followed her alway.

Now went the mourning lady good

Forth from her realm into a wood

In Soltanè the wilderness;

Not for flowers, as you might guess;

Her heart with sorrow was so full

She had no mind sweet flowers to pull,

Red though they were and bright, or pale.

She brought with her to that safe vale

Great Gahmuret’s her lord’s young child.

Her servants, with them there exiled,

Tilled the scant glebe with hoe and plow.

To run with them she’d oft allow

Her son. And e’er his mind awoke

She summoned all this vassal folk,

And on them singly, woman and man,

She laid this strange and solemn ban:

Never of knights to utter word,—

“For if of them my darling heard,

And knightly life and knightly fare,

’Twould be a grief to me, and care.

Now guard your speech and hark to me,

And tell him naught of chivalrie.”

With troubled mien they all withdrew;

And so concealed, the young boy grew

Soltanè’s greenwood far within.

No royal sports he might begin

Save one,—to draw the bow

And bring the birds above him low

With arrows cut by his own hand,

All in that forest land.

But when one day a singing bird

He shot, and now no longer heard

Its thrilling note, he wept aloud,

This boy so innocent yet proud,

And beat his breast and tore his hair,

This boy so wild yet wondrous fair.

At the spring in the glade

He every day his toilet made.

Free had he been from sorrow

Till now, when he must borrow

Sweet pain from birds.

Into his heart their music pressed

And swelled it with a strange unrest.

Straight to the queen he then did run;

She said, “Who hurt thee, pretty son?”

But naught could he in answer say—

’Tis so with children in our day.

Long mused the queen what this might be,

Till once beneath a greenwood tree

She saw him gazing and sighing still.

Then knew ’twas a bird’s song did fill

Her darling’s breast with yearning pain

And haunting mystery.

Queen Herzeloide’s anger burned

Against the birds, she knew not why;

Her serving-folk she on them turned

And bade to quench their hated cry,

And chase and beat and kill

In every brake, on every hill.

Few were the birds that flew away

And saved their lives in that fierce fray;

Yet some escaped to live and sing

Joyous, and make the forest ring.

Unto the queen then spoke the boy,

“Why do you rob them of their joy?”

Such intercession then he made,

His mother kissed him while she said,

“Why should I break God’s law, and rob

The birds of innocent delight?”

Then to his mother spoke the boy,

“O mother, what is God?”

“My son, in solemn truth I say

He is far brighter than the day,

Though once his countenance did change

Into the face of man.

O son of mine, give wisely heed,

And call on him in time of need,

Whose faithfulness has never failed

Since first the world began.

And one there is, the lord of hell,

Black and unfaithful, as I tell:

Bear thou towards him a courage stout,

And wander not in paths of doubt.”

His mother taught him to discern

Darkness and light; he quick did learn.

The lesson done, away he’d spring

To practice with the dart and sling.

Full many an antlered stag he shot

And home to his lady mother brought;

Through snow or floods, it was the same,

Still harried he the game.

Now hear the tale of wonder:

When he had brought a great stag low,

Burden a mule might stagger under,

He’d shoulder it and homeward go!

Now it fell out upon a day

He wandered down a long wood-way,

And plucked a leaf and whistled shrill,

Near by a road that crossed a hill.

And thence he heard sharp hoof-strokes ring,

And quick his javelin did swing;

Then cried: “Now what is this I hear?

What if the Devil now appear,

With anger hot, and grim?

But certain I will not flee him!

Such fearful things my mother told—

I ween her heart is none too bold.”

All ready thus for strife he stood,

When lo! there galloped through the wood

Three riders, shining in the light,

From head to foot in armor dight.

The boy all innocently thought

Each one a god, as he was taught.

No longer upright then stood he,

But in the path he bent his knee.

Aloud he called, and clear and brave,

“Save, God, for thou alone canst save!”

The foremost rider spoke in wrath

Because the boy lay in the path:

“This clumsy Welsh boy

Hinders our rapid course.”

A name we Bavarians wear

Must the Welsh also bear:

They are clumsier even than we,

But good fighters too, you’ll agree.

A graceful man within the round

Of these two lands is rarely found.

That moment came a knight

In battle-gear bedight,

Galloping hard and grim

Over the mountain’s rim.

The rest had ridden on before,

Pursuing two false knights, who bore

A lady from his land.

That touched him near at hand;

The maid he pitied sore,

Who sadly rode before.

After his men he held his course,

Upon a fine Castilian horse.

His shield bore marks of many a lance;

His name—Karnacharnanz,

Le comte Ulterlec.

Quoth he, “Who dares to block our way?”

And forth he strode to see the youth,

Who thought him now a god in sooth,

For that he was a shining one:

His dewy armor caught the sun,

And with small golden bells were hung

The stirrup straps, that blithely swung

Before his greavèd thighs

And from his feet likewise.

Bells on his right arm tinkled soft

Did he but raise his hand aloft.

Bright gleamed that arm from many a stroke,

Warded since first to fame he woke.

Thus rode the princely knight,

In wondrous armor dight.

That flower of manly grace and joy,

Karnacharnanz, now asked the boy:

“My lad, hast seen pass by this way

Two knights that grossly disobey

The rules of all knight-errantry?

For with a helpless maid they flee,

Whom all unwilling they have stolen,

To honor lost, with mischief swollen.”

The boy still thought, despite his speech,

That this was God; for so did teach

His mother Herzeloide, the queen—

To know him by his dazzling sheen.

He cried in all humility,

“Help, God, for all help comes from thee!”

And fell in louder suppliance yet

Le fils du roi Gahmuret.

“I am not God,” the prince replied,

“Though in his law I would abide.

Four knights we are, couldst thou but see

What things before thine eyen be.”

At this the boy his words did stay:

“Thou namest knights, but what are they?

And if thou hast not power divine,

Tell me, who gives, then, knighthood’s sign?”

“King Arthur, lad, it is;

And goest thou to him, I wis

That if he gives thee knighthood’s name

Thou’lt have in that no cause for shame.

Thou hast indeed a knightly mien.”

The chevalier had quickly seen

How God’s good favor on him lay.

The legend telleth what I say,

And further doth confirm the boast

That he in beauty was the first

Of men since Adam’s time: this praise

Was his from womankind always.

Then asked he in his innocence,

Whereon they laughed at his expense:

“Ay, good sir knight, what mayst thou be,

That hast these many rings I see

Upon thy body closely bound

And reaching downward to the ground?”

With that he touched the rings of steel

Which clothed the knight from head to heel,

And viewed his harness curiously.

“My mother’s maids,” commented he,

“Wear rings, but have them strung on cords,

And not so many as my lord’s.”

Again he asked, so bold his heart:

“And what’s the use of every part?

What good do all these iron things?

I cannot break these little rings.”

The prince then showed his battle blade:

“Now look ye, with this good sword’s aid,

I can defend my life from danger

If overfallen by a stranger,

And for his thrust and for his blow

I wrap myself in harness, so.”

Quick spoke the boy his hidden thought:

“’Tis well the forest stags bear not

Such coats of mail, for then my spear

Would never slay so many deer.”

By this the other knights were vexed

Their lord should talk with a fool perplexed.

The prince ended: “God guard thee well,

And would that I had thy beauty’s spell!

And hadst thou wit, then were thy dower

The richest one in heaven’s power.

May God’s grace ever with thee stay.”

Whereat they all four rode away,

Until they came to a field

In the dark forest concealed.

There found the prince some peasant-folk

Of Herzeloide with plow and yoke.

Their lot had never been so hard,

Driving the oxen yard by yard,

For they must toil to reap the fruit

Which first was seed and then was root.

The prince bade them good-day,

And asked if there had passed that way

A maiden in distressful plight.

They could not help but answer right,

And this is what the peasants said:

“Two horsemen and a maid

We saw pass by this morning;

The lady, full of scorning,

Rode near a knight who spurred her horse

With iron heel and language coarse.”

That was Meliakanz;

After him rode Karnacharnanz.

By force he wrested the maid from him;

She trembled with joy in every limb.

Her name, Imaine

Of Bellefontaine.

The peasant folk were sore afraid

Because this quest the heroes made;

They cried: “What evil day for us!

For has young master seen them thus

In iron clad from top to toe,

The fault is ours, ours too the woe!

And the queen’s anger sure will fall

With perfect justice on us all,

Because the boy, while she was sleeping,

Came out this morning in our keeping.”

The boy, untroubled by such fear,

Was shooting wild stags far and near;

Home to his mother he ran at length

And told his story; and all strength

Fled from her limbs, and down she sank,

And the world to her senses was a blank.

When now the queen

Opened her eyelids’ screen,

Though great had been her dread,

She asked: “Son, tell me who has fed

Thy fancy with these stories

Of knighthood’s empty glories?”

“Mother, I saw four men so bright

That God himself gives not more light;

Of courtly life they spoke to me,

And told how Arthur’s chivalry

Doth teach all knighthood’s office

To every willing novice.”

Again the queen’s heart ’gan to beat.

His wayward purpose to defeat,

She thought her of a plan

To keep at home the little man.

The noble boy, in simplest course,

Begged his mother for a horse.

Her secret woe broke out anew;

She said, “Albeit I shall rue

This gift, I can deny him naught.

Yet there are men,” she sudden thought,

“Whose laughter is right hard to bear;

And if fool’s dress my son should wear

On his beautiful shining limbs,

Their scorn will scatter all these whims,

And he’ll return without delay.”

This trick she used, alack the day!

A piece of coarse sackcloth she chose

And cut thereout doublet and hose,

From his neck to his white knees,

And all from one great piece,

With a cap to cover head and ears;

For such was a fool’s dress in those years.

Then instead of stockings she bound

Two calfskin strips his legs around.

None would have said he was the same,

And all who saw him wept for shame.

The queen, with pity, bade him stay

Until the dawn of a new day;

“Thou must not leave me yet,” beseeching,

“Till I have given thee all my teaching:

On unknown roads thou must not try

To ford a stream if it be high.

But if it’s shallow and clear,

Pass over without fear.

Be careful every one to greet

Whom on thy travels thou mayst meet;

And if any gray-bearded man

Will teach thee manners, as such men can,

Be sure to follow him, word and deed;

Despise him not, as I thee reed.

One special counsel, son, is mine:

Wherever thou, for favor’s sign,

Canst win a good woman’s ring or smile,

Take them, thy sorrows to beguile.

Canst kiss her too, by any art,

And hold her beauty to thy heart,

’Twill bring thee luck and lofty mood,

If she chaste is, and good.

Lacheleim, the proud and bold,

Won from thy princes of old—

I’d have thee know, O son of mine—

Two lands that should be fiefs of thine,

Waleis and Norgals.

One of thy princes, Turkentals,

Received his death from this foe’s hands;

And on thy people he threw bands.”

“Mother, for that I’ll vengeance wreak:

My javelin his heart shall seek.”

Next morning at first break of day

The proud young warrior rode away.

The thought of Arthur filled his mind.

Herzeloide kissed him and ran behind.

The world’s worst woe did then befall.

When no more she saw young Parzival

(He rode away. Whom bettered be?)

The queen from every falseness free

Fell to the earth, where anguish soon

Gave her Death’s bitter boon.

Her loyal death

Saves her from hell’s hot breath.

’Twas well she had known motherhood!

Thus sailed this root of every good,

Whose flower was humility,

Across that rich-rewarding sea.

Alas for us, that of her race

Till the twelfth age she left no trace!

Hence see we so much falsehood thrive.

Yet every loyal woman alive

For this boy’s life and peace should pray,

As he leaves his mother and rides away.