Wednesday 15 June 2011

And, Goldeboru, I gave it thee

Here's a bit more from Havelok the Dane, because I was thinking about it today, and it's just so lovely. Basically the story is that Havelok is the heir to the kingdom of Denmark but his throne has been usurped by his guardian; the usurper ordered Havelok's death but the man who was supposed to kill him smuggled him away to England and brought him up there. So far, so fairy-tale; after his Snow White moment of being saved from death, Havelok has his Cinderella moment working in the kitchen of an aristocratic household in Lincoln. The wonderful thing about Havelok, which makes it so much more endearing to me than your standard chivalric knight-in-disguise story, is that the hero is not really in disguise at all: he doesn't play at being a kitchen-boy, he really is a kitchen-boy, though he knows all along that he's a king's son. He embraces poverty and labour as his real life, whole-heartedly and because he believes that a man ought to work for his living; and so cheerfully, uncomplaining, he accepts the position in which he finds himself, works with all his might, and makes everyone love him because he's gentle, humble, kind and merry - "lauhwinde ay and blithe of speke; evere he was glad and blithe".

Anyway, to cut a long story short, his unusual strength and height comes to the attention of the regent of England, another usurper who has deprived the proper heir, the late king's young daughter Goldburu, of her rights. This usurper promised the dying king he would marry Goldburu to the 'highest man in England' - i.e. of the highest status - but when he sees that Havelok is so very tall he sees a way to make mock of his promise by marrying Goldburu to the tallest man in England instead.

(You may like to think of this classic Viking joke attributed to Cnut, a similar 'highest' pun)

So he bullies poor Havelok into agreeing to the marriage (although Havelok's first reaction to the question "Master, wilt thou a wife?" is "What should I do with a wife?" because he has no means of supporting her) and Goldburu too, who believes she's marrying a rough peasant, but resigns herself to it as a woman's lot ("She thought, it was God's will:/ God, that makes to grow the corn, /Formed her woman to be born"). So they're married and Havelok, not knowing what else to do, takes her back to his foster family in Grimsby, who welcome her very warmly.

And at night, she sees the signs of Havelok's true identity - his cross-shaped birthmark, and the stream of light which pours from his mouth as he sleeps - and he has an absolutely beautiful dream of his own destiny. This is where we pick up the story... I'm going to post this extract in mostly-modern spelling but you can read it in Middle English here.

In the night as Goldeboru lay,
Sorry and sorrowful was she ay,
For she wende she were biswike, [thought she had been betrayed]
That she were yeven unkyndelike. [in that she was unequally yoked in marriage]
In night saw she therein a light,
A swithe fair, a swithe bright - [swithe = very]
All so bright, all so shir [shining]
As it were a blaze of fire.
She looked north and ek south,
And saw it came out of his mouth
That lay by her in the bed.
No ferlike though she were adred! [no wonder that she was afraid! - well, indeed]
Thought she, "What may this mean?
He beth heyman yet, as I ween: [he will be a nobleman, I believe]
He beth heyman ere he be dead!"
On his shoulder, of gold red
She saw a swithe noble cross;
Of an angel she heard a voice:

"Goldeboru, let thy sorrow be!
For Havelok, that haveth spoused thee,
He, king's son and king's heir,
That bikenneth that cross so fair. [the cross so fair betokens this]
It bikenneth more - that he shall
Denmark have and England all.
He shall be king strong and stark,
Of England and Denmark -
That shalt thou with thine eyen see,
And thou shalt queen and lady be!"

When she had heard the stevene [voice]
Of the angel out of heaven,
She was so fele sithes blith [so very happy]
That she ne might her joy mythe, [conceal]
But Havelok soon anon she kissed,
And he slept and nothing wiste
What that angel had said.

From his sleep anon he brayd, [woke]
And said, "Lemman, sleepest thou?
A selkuth dream dreamed me now - [a marvellous dream]
Hearken now what me haveth met.
Me thought I was in Denmark set,
But on on the most hill [highest hill]
That ever yet came I til.
It was so high that I well might
All the world see, as me thought.
As I sat upon that lowe [hill]
I began Denmark for to awe, [possess]
The boroughs and the castles strong;
And mine arms were so long
That I fathomed all at once
Denmark with mine long bones;
And then I would mine arms draw
To me, and them for to have
All that ever in Denmark liveden [lived]
On mine arms fast clyveden; [clasped]
And the strong castles all
On knees began for to fall -
The keys fell at mine feet.

Another dream dreamed me ek:
That I flew over the salt sea
To England, and all with me
That ever was in Denmark lyves [ever lived in Denmark]
But bondemen and their wives;
And that I came to England -
All closed it within mine hand,
And, Goldeboru, I gave it thee.
Deus! lemman, what may this be?"

So wonderful! His puzzlement makes the whole tender dream all the lovelier, to me: what a beautiful image, the king embracing his land and people in his arms, and then presenting them, all enclosed in his hand, to his queen; and then asking, "darling, what does it mean?"

It all ends well: in due time they both get their kingdoms back, have fifteen children, and live happily ever after. Just so you know.

1 comment:

Theodric the Obscure said...

Thanks for reminding me about Havelock! I forgot that I both owned and had read this little gem.