Gather round everyone, come near!
My story is for all to hear.
A song for you I now shall sing,
A song about Murry the King.
Murry was the King of the West
And ruled till he was laid to rest.
Godhild was his beautiful Queen
And none more fair than she has been.
He was blessed with a son named Horn
And none more fair than he was born.
More than all the rain from the sky,
More than the sun can shine from high,
His fairness was surpassed by none.
As bright as glass his fairness shone,
Though white he was as a flower,
With rose red of added color,
This boy was not just fair, but bold,
Even at fifteen winters old.
In all the Kingdoms far and wide
No lad like him was ever spied.
Twelve friends had Horn of which to boast,
And he was the leader of that host.
To men of wealth these friends were born
And to the side of Horn were sworn.
Of all his friends he liked to boast,
Though from the twelve, he loved two most:
Athulf was chivalrous and brave;
Fikenild was a jealous knave;
Athulf, in favor, was the first;
Fikenild, though loved, was the worst.
It was upon a summer’s day
As I will tell you if I may.
Good King Murry at his leisure
Went out hunting for his pleasure.
He happened down by the seaside,
Which was a place he liked to ride,
And with him rode two of his knights,
Though too few for the coming fights.
Riding along upon the sand
He saw that ships began to land.
Fifteen sailing ships full of men
And each one filled with Saracen.
The good King asked them what they sought
And if with them good things they brought.
A Pagan to the question asked—
Answered among the men amassed,
“The people of your land will cry,
And all who follow Christ will die.
For now’s the time your soul will fly;
Today’s the day you say goodbye.”
The king jumped off his trusty steed;
Bold bravery was in his breed.
His two god knights their swords they drew,
For fifteen hips they were too few.
He drew his sword and with his knights
Together they began to fight.
The King struck first, thrust under shield,
The first of many more to yield.
The King, his men, were all too few,
No matter how many they slew.
The Saracens could barely try
And still these three would surely die.
The Pagans once upon the land
Did take it all by force of hand.
All the people they planned to kill,
Raze the churches with practiced skill.
Not a living thing left alive,
No family nor friends would survive
Unless they chose to give up Christ
And lose their soul to save their life.
Of all the women left behind,
Life to Godhild was most unkind.
She wept for Murry, missed him sore,
But for Horn she wept all the more.
For both of them her heart was sore,
No women lived whose grief was more.
With her heartache she left the hall,
Left her maidens, she left them all.
Deep in the wild she found a cave,
A place in which her soul to save,
And there she chose to serve her God
Forbidden by those who served a fraud.
It was to Christ she gave her life
With no fear for the Pagan’s knife.
Ever she prayed for Horn her son,
Trust in Christ, that His will be done.
For Horn was caught in Pagan hands,
A fate he shared along with friends.
Much was made of Horn’s great beauty.
God, it seems, made others crudely.
Some Pagans wanted Horn to slay,
And others wanted him to flay.
He was so fair, his life it saved,
The death of friends was also waived.
Then loudly spoke up one Emir
And his words rang both bold and clear,
“Horn, your eagerness is keen,
More than I have ever seen.
Truly you are gifted with strength,
Your body fair, of even length…

 

Read a plot summary of the entire King Horn here.

 

Original Middle English

Alle beon he bliþe
þat to my song lyþe:
A sang ihc schal ȝou singe
Of Murry þe kinge.
King he was bidets
So longe so hit laste.
Godhild het his quen,
Faire ne miȝte non ben.
He hadde a sone þat het horn,
Fairer ne miste non beo born.
Ne no rein vpon birine,
Ne sunne vpon bischine:
Fairer nis non þane he was,
He was briȝt so þe glas,
He was whit so þe flur,
Rose red was his colur.
He was fayr and eke bold
And of fiftene winter hold
In none kinge riche
Nas non his iliche.
Twelf feren he hadde
Þat he alle wiþ him ladde;
Alle riche mannes sones
& alle hi were faire gomes,
Wiþ him for to pleie,
& mest he luuede tweie;
Þat on him het haþulf child,
& þat oþer ffikenild:
Aþulf was þe beste
& fikenylde þe werste.
Hit was vpon a someres day,
Also ihc ȝou telle may,
Murri þe gode king
Rod on his pleing
Bi þe se side,
Ase he was woned ride:
With him riden bote tvo
Al to fewe ware þo
He fond bi þe stronde
ariued on his londe
Schipes fiftene
wiþ sarazins kene.
He axede what isoȝte
Oþer to londe broȝte.
A Payn hit ofherde
& hym wel sone answarede:
‘Þi lond folk we schulle slon
And alle þat Crist luueþ vpon
Þe kyng aliȝte of his stede,
For þo he hauede nede,
And þe selue riȝt anon,
Ne schaltu todai henne gon.’
& his gode kniȝtes two;
Al to fewe he hadde þo.
Swerd hi gunne gripe
& togadere smite;
Hy smyten vnder schelde
Þat sume hit yfelde.
Þe king hadde al to fewe
Toȝenes so vele schrewe;
So fele miȝten yþe
Bringe hem þre to diþe.
¶ Þe pains come to londe
& neme hit in here honde:
Þat folc hi gunne quelle
& churchen for to felle.
Þer ne moste libbe
Þe fremde ne þe sibbe,
Bute hi here laȝe asoke
& to here toke.
Of alle wymmanne
Wurst was godhild þanne;
For Murri heo weop sore
& for horn ȝute more.
Goldild hauede so michel sore
Micte no wimman habbe more
He wenten vt of halle
Fram hire Maidenes alle;
Vnder a roche of stone,
Þer heo liuede alone,
Þer heo seruede gode
Aȝenes þe paynes forbode;
Þer he seruede criste
Þat no payn hit ne wiste:
Eure heo bad for horn child
Þat Jesu crist him beo myld.
Horn was in paynes honde
Wiþ his feren of þe londe.
Muchel was his fairhede,
for ihesu crist him makede
Payns him wolde slen
Oþer al quic flen,
Ȝef his fairnesse nere,
Þe children alle aslaȝe were.
Þanne spak on Admirad,
Of wordes he was bald,
‘Horn, þu art wel kene,
& þat is wel isene;
Þu art gret & strong,
fair & euene long;

 

 

Russell Spera is an English teacher (high school and college). He lives in Palm Harbor, Florida. He has had several poems published and for fun continues to trade daily haiku with his friend Tom in New Jersey. They have been doing this since December of 2013 (that’s almost 2,500 haiku each and still counting…).


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6 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    This is a blast from the past — I haven’t looked at “King Horn” since my graduate school days. Professor Raymo would read us passages from the original Middle English, which was earlier (and tougher) than Chaucer’s .

    Raymo pointed out that although “King Horn” was still very close to the Old English alliterative and strongly caesura-split line, it used rhyme, which was a borrowing from Anglo-Norman verse.

    This translation stays pretty faithful to the original text. Perhaps the translator should do the entire romance.

    Reply
  2. Yael

    Very interesting, thank you! First time I’ve ever come across King Horn. Without the translation I would have no idea what it is about. Middle English looks like a different language to me even though I can make out a few words here and there, but not enough to catch any of the meaning.

    Reply

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