Sir Orfeo (extract)


Note: The translations, which is Tolkien’s, occasionally rephrases the original or reorders the lines.

He might se him bisides,
Oft in hot undertides,
The king o fairy with his rout
Com to hunt him al about
With dim cri and bloweing,
And houndes also with him berking;
Ac no best thai no nome,
No never he nist whider they bicome.
And other while he might him se
As a gret ost bi him te,
Wele atourned, ten hundred knightes,
Ich y-armed to his rightes,
Of cuntenaunce stout and fers,
With mani desplaid baners,
And ich his swerd y-drawe hold -
Ac never he nist whider thai wold.
And otherwile he seighe other thing:
Knightes and levedis com daunceing
In queynt atire, gisely,
Queynt pas and softly;
Tabours and trunpes yede hem bi,
And al maner menstraci. (281-302)

His sclavain he dede on also spac
And henge his harp opon his bac,
And had wel gode wil to gon -
He no spard noither stub no ston.
In at a roche the levedis rideth,
And he after, and nought abideth.
When he was in the roche y-go,
Wele thre mile other mo,
He com into a fair cuntray
As bright so sonne on somers day. (342-351)

There often by him would he see
when noon was hot on leaf and tree,
the king of Faërie with his rout
came hunting in the woods about
with blowing far and crying dim,
and barking hounds that were with him;
yet never a beast they took nor slew,
and where they went he never knew.
At other times he would descry
a mighty host, it seemed, go by,
ten hundred knights all fair arrayed
with many a banner proud displayed.
Each face and mien was fierce and bold,
each knight a drawn sword there did hold,
and all were armed in harness fair
and marching on he knew not where.
Or a sight more strange would meet his eye:
knights and ladies came dancing by
in rich array and raiment meet,
softly stepping with skilful feet;
tabour and trumpet went along,
and marvellous minstrelsy and song.

His beggar’s cloak he on him flung,
his harp upon his back he hung;
with right good will his feet he sped,
for stock nor stone he stayed his tread.
Right into a rock the ladies rode,
and in behind he fearless strode.
He went into that rocky hill
a good three miles or more, until
he came into a country fair
as bright as sun in summer air.