For two long years in the city of Thebes
Arcite remained, weeping piteously,
Until he was finally ready to leave.
And he looked in a mirror, and in it he could see
That his face had been altered so hideously
From grief that it seemed he had a deadly disease.
He was so different to see that he wasn’t turned away
When Arcite at last returned to stay
In Athens, and was fast to learn the ways
Of breaking his back for a servant’s wage,
Making him act like an earnest page,
And gradually he earned the praise
Of everyone concerned, and made
Sure his plans were firmly laid;
For Emilye he yearned and prayed,
But never said a word, afraid.
Now, for seven long years, I aim to tell,
How Palamon stayed, chained in his cell;
This wretched prisoner remained to dwell
In darkness, and felt the flames of hell,
Tortured and stretched, in pain, until
One fortunate night he came to fill
His jailer’s drink with these strange pills
So the guard became ill, since the dope was made
From local opiates, and so he escaped.
He was sorely afraid, but slowly he made
His lonely way to a grove where he stayed
Unexposed in the shade and laid low for a day.
Arcite that morning made no delay,
And rode out from court so he could pay
Respect to the sport and frequent play
That people seek in May,
And he came by chance
To aim his lance into those same high stands of trees,
And began to complain on his hands and knees.
“I can’t believe I came from royalty,
And my family’s name will be destroyed in me!
Emilye’s to blame for spoiling me!
She’s tempting me to shamefully toil and be
My enemy’s page, and change my loyalty!”
Palamon’s blood nearly boiled as he
Crouched and listened joylessly
To this pointless speech; so annoyed was he,
That he jumped up and uncoiled to speak:
“I hate to spoil the deceit you’ve created in court,
And interrupt the life you betrayed me for,
But this is what I have been waiting for:
Waging war to decide who loves the lady more!”
Arcite bared the blade of his sword,
And gravely gave his brave retort:
“Has love so clouded your perception,
That without any sort of weapon
You would dare come forth and step in
To this place to make war and threaten?”
But Arcite was bound by his high honour,
To go back in to town, and provide armour
For his opponent, who would choose the best,
With clothes and food at his request,
And then rest for the night, since those were his dues
In the case of a feud, and his right,
And Arcite well knew he could never refuse
On the truth of his oath as a knight.
Both awoke at first light and, the greetings refuted,
They helped one another to stand and get suited,
Like brothers and, swords distributed,
They fought, ‘til their guts were entangled
In knots, getting ruptured and mangled,
‘Til it got where they stood up to their ankles
In pools of their blood,
And they ought to’ve been thankful
That Theseus, hunting as he was accustomed,
Entered the grove and there came across them,
With all of his women arranged in procession;
Ypolita and Emilye were in his possession,
And seeing them, bravely he pulled out his weapon,
And rode safely forth on his horse to arrest them:
“Drop your swords, on pain of death!
You both will now be slain, unless
I find out who’s to blame for this mess;
Now give me the two of your names and confess!”
Palamon, with what remained of his breath,
Did his best to be plain and explain his distress:
“I am Palamon, seeking your prison to flee,
And this is my brother, my sworn enemy,
Arcite, concealing his identity,
Who swears he’s in love with the fair Emilye,
Who I love as well, so there’s no remedy,
As she tenderly watches your sword rending me;
Since we both deserve condemned to be,
Kill him first, and turn your sword then to me!”
With wisdom, compassion, and great sympathy,
Theseus answered: “This makes sense to me,
And by your confession you must die instantly!”
But the women began to cry and weep,
As blood in front of their eyes did seep
From the brothers’ wounds both wide and deep;
They fell to pray beside his feet.
“Have mercy, lord, upon us all!”
The ladies whispered quietly,
And when he heard their pious pleas,
Duke Theseus felt his pride appeased,
And forgave the knights their rivalry.
So wise was he that he thus decreed
They must be freed, which was agreed
By all to be a just deed.
Plus, the brothers’ lust to please,
Theseus generously accorded
That one of them would be awarded
Emilye, once they had sorted
Out the victor of this sordid
Conflict, at the time afforded.
The duel was set for one year hence,
And each would bring for his defense
A hundred knights to guard against
His brother’s vengeance and dispense
With justice, then home they went,
And each, received with welcome, spent
The year in Thebes, both well content.