Middle English Breton Lais

The Tale of Emaré

14th century, Middle English: British Library.

Emaré was washed up on a beach in Wales and found by the king's steward. He asked her her name, but she changed it and said that she was called Egaré.

The lady floated all by herself, and cried complaints to God and to his mother. She was so dryven fro wawe [wave] to wawe, – She was thrown from wave to wave, the wind and the rain drove her onwards; storms gathered above the blue water and as I have heard the minstrels sing, she had no idea how far she was from land, nor if any land at all lay in the direction she was going. She was very frightened. Emaré hid her head in the boat, afraid even to look at the water.

She drifted like this for seven nights and more, tossed by the waves in sorrow and despair, wearing only her enchanted gown; she lay still at the bottom of the boat and endured a voyage known well to those in the mists of antiquity. Hunger and thirst drove her almost to madness.

She was dryven into a lond, – She found herself drifting towards land; it was a land called Wales, as I understand, a fair country. The king's steward there was called Sir Cadore, and he lived in a magnificent castle and was in the habit of taking exercise on horseback along the seashore. And on this particular day he had gone to take the air with two knights. The weather was lovely. They found a boat at the water's edge, and inside was a sparkling thing. It looked almost supernatural! Sir Cadore trotted his horse across the sand to the boat and saw the lady inside. She had been so long without food that Sir Cadore thought she was near to death. They asked her her name, she chaunged hyt ther anone, and sayde she hette [was called] Egaré. – and she changed it and said that her name was Egaré.

Story fragment retold in Modern English from: Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. The Middle English text of EMARÉ from British Library MS Cotton Caligula A.ii.

See for yourself

Emaré – TEAMS Medieval text, Middle English with an introduction.

Breton lai – Wikipedia

Emaré – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. TEAMS Middle English texts

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