I was reading The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle aloud earlier in the week to my two youngest, and I felt a catch in my throat as I read the ballad below in our chapter for the day. I thought about this ugly woman and the anguish she must have felt from being shunned and unwanted and of the noble actions of a young man who was willing to look past her outward appearance to reach out and relieve her pain.
I love good books and I\’m often surprised at how they speak into my soul at unexpected times, such as when I\’m reading aloud.
I finish the ballad with Will Scarlet\’s comments from the book which display an interesting interpretation of the song.
The Wooing of Sir Keith
King Arthur sat in his royal hall,
And about on either hand
Was many a noble lordling tall,
The greatest in the land.
Sat Lancelot with raven locks,
Gawaine with golden hair,
Sir Tristram, Kay who kept the locks,
And many another there.
And through the stained windows bright,
From o’er the red-tiled eaves,
The sunlight blazed with colored light
On golden helms and greaves.
But suddenly a silence came
About the Table Round,
For up the hall there walked a dame
Bent nigh unto the ground.
Her nose was hooked, her eyes were bleared,
Her locks were lank and white;
Upon her chin there grew a beard;
She was a gruesome sight.
And so with crawling step she came
And kneeled at Arthur’s feet;
Quoth Kay, \”She is the foulest dame
That e’er my sight did greet.\”
\”O mighty King! of thee I crave
A boon on bended knee\”;
Twas thus she spoke. \”What wouldst thou have.\”
Quoth Arthur, King, \”of me?\”
Quoth she, \”I have a foul disease
Doth gnaw my very heart,
And but one thing can bring me ease
Or cure my bitter smart.
\”There is no rest, no ease for me
North, east, or west, or south,
Till Christian knight will willingly
Thrice kiss me on the mouth.
\”Nor wedded may this childe have been
That giveth ease to me;
Nor may he be constrained, I ween,
But kiss me willingly.
\”So is there here one Christian knight
Of such a noble strain
That he will give a tortured wight
Sweet ease of mortal pain?\”
\”A wedded man,\” quoth Arthur, King,
\”A wedded man I be
Else would I deem it noble thing
To kiss thee willingly.
\”Now, Lancelot, in all men’s sight
Thou art the head and chief
Of chivalry. Come, noble knight,
And give her quick relief.\”
But Lancelot he turned aside
And looked upon the ground,
For it did sting his haughty pride
To hear them laugh around.
\”Come thou, Sir Tristram,\” quoth the King.
Quoth he, \”It cannot be,
For ne’er can I my stomach bring
To do it willingly.\”
\”Wilt thou, Sir Kay, thou scornful wight?\”
Quoth Kay, \”Nay, by my troth!
What noble dame would kiss a knight
That kissed so foul a mouth?\”
\”Wilt thou, Gawaine?\” \”I cannot, King.\”
\”Sir Geraint?\” \”Nay, not I;
My kisses no relief could bring,
For sooner would I die.\”
Then up and spake the youngest man
Of all about the board,
\”Now such relief as Christian can
I’ll give to her, my lord.\”
It was Sir Keith, a youthful knight,
Yet strong of limb and bold,
With beard upon his chin as light
As finest threads of gold.
Quoth Kay, \”He hath no mistress yet
That he may call his own,
But here is one that’s quick to get,
As she herself has shown.\”
He kissed her once, he kissed her twice,
He kissed her three times o’er,
A wondrous change came in a trice,
And she was foul no more.
Her cheeks grew red as any rose,
Her brow as white as lawn,
Her bosom like the winter snows,
Her eyes like those of fawn.
Her breath grew sweet as summer breeze
That blows the meadows o’er;
Her voice grew soft as rustling trees,
And cracked and harsh no more.
Her hair grew glittering, like the gold,
Her hands as white as milk;
Her filthy rags, so foul and old,
Were changed to robes of silk.
In great amaze the knights did stare.
Quoth Kay, \”I make my vow
If it will please thee, lady fair,
I’ll gladly kiss thee now.\”
But young Sir Keith kneeled on one knee
And kissed her robes so fair.
\”O let me be thy slave,\” said he,
\”For none to thee compare.\”
She bent her down, she kissed his brow,
She kissed his lips and eyes.
Quoth she, \”Thou art my master now,
My lord, my love, arise!
\”And all the wealth that is mine own,
My lands, I give to thee,
For never knight hath lady shown
Such noble courtesy.
\”Bewitched was I, in bitter pain,
But thou hast set me free,
So now I am myself again,
I give myself to thee.\”
\”Yea, truly,\” quoth Robin Hood, when the Tanner had made an end of singing, \”it is as I remember it, a fair ditty, and a ballad with a pleasing tune of a song.”
“It hath oftentimes seemed to me,” said Will Scarlet, “that it hath a certain motive in it, e’en such as this: That a duty which seemeth to us sometimes ugly and harsh, when we do kiss it fairly upon the mouth, so to speak, is no such foul thing after all.”