BETA

Noménoë.

(Literally Rendered From the Breton.)

[Noménoë was the Alfred of the Bretons, their
deliverer from the Franks under Charles the Bald, in
the 9th century (A.D., 841). He is a strictly historical
personage. Under him the Bretons succeeded in driving
the immensely superior force of the Franks beyond the
rivers of l’Oust and Vilaine ; pushed their frontier as
far as Poitou, and rescued from the hands of the
invader the towns of Nantes and Rennes, which have
remained included in Brittany from the date of
their deliverance by Noménoë. This very spirited
ballad was obtained by M. de Villemarqué, from the
oral recitation of a peasant of Kergerez. As in my
other translations of Breton ballads, I have adhered
to the metre and couplets of the original, line for line.
Tom Taylor. ]

FYTTE I.

The herb of gold* is cut : a cloud1
Across the sky hath spread its shroud.2
To war !3
The storm-wreaths gather, grim and grey,”4
Quoth the great chief of Mount A.5
These three weeks past so thick they fall,6
Towards the marches of the Gaul7
So thick, that I no ways can see8
My son returning unto me.9
Good merchant, farer to and fro,10
Hast tidings of my son, Ka ?”11

* The “ herb of gold” is the mystic selage. According to
Breton superstition, iron cannot approach it without the
sky clouding, and disaster following.
Mayhap, old chieftain of A ;12
But what his kind and calling say.”13
He is a man of heart and brains,14
To Roazon† he drove the wains ;15
The wains to Roazon drove he,16
Horsed with good horses, three by three,—17
That drew fair-shared among them all,18
The Breton’s tribute to the Gaul,”19
If thy son’s wains the tribute bore,20
He will return to thee no more.21
When that the coin was brought to scale,22
Three pounds were lacking to the tale.23
Then outspake the Intendant straight :24
Vassal, thy head shal! make the weight !’25
With that his sword forth he abrade,26
And straight smote off the young man’s head ;27
And by the hair the head he swung,28
And in the scale, for makeweight, flung.29
The old chief at that cruel sound,30
Him seemed as he would fall in swound :31
Stark on the rocks he grovelled there32
His face hid with his hoary hair ;33
And, head on hand, made heavy moan :34
Karò, my son—my darling son !”35

FYTTE II.

Then forth he fares, that aged man,36
And after him his kith and clan ;37
The aged chieftain fareth straight38
Unto Noménoë’s castle-gate.39
Now, tell me, tell me, thou porter bold,40
If that thy master be in hold ?41
But, be he in, or be he out,42
God guard from harm that chieftain stout.”43
Or ever he had pray’d his prayer,44
Behold, Noménoë was there !45
His quarry from the chase he bore,46
His great hounds gambolling before :47
In his right hand his bow unbent ;48
A wild-boar on his back uphent.49
On his white hand, all fresh and red,50
The blood dripp’d from the wild-boar’s head.51
Fair fall you, honest mountain-clan,52
Thee first, as chief, thou white-hair’d man.53
Your news, your news, come tell to me :54
What would you of Noménoë ?”55
We come for right ; to know, in brief,56
Hath Heaven a God,—Bretayne a chief ? ”57
Heaven hath a God, I trow, old man ;58
Bretayne a chief, if ought I can.”59
He can that will, thereof no doubt,60
And he that can the Frank drives out61
Drives out the Frank, defends the land,62
To avenge, and still avenge, doth stand ;—63
To avenge the living and the dead,64
Me and my fair son foully sped ;65
My Karò, whose brave head did fall66
By hand of the accursèd Gaul.67
They flung his head the weights to square ;68
Like ripe wheat shone the golden hair.”69

† The Breton name of Rennes
Therewith the old man wept outright,70
That tears ran down his beard so white,71
Like dew-drops on a lily flower,72
That glitter at the sun-rise hour.73
A group of warriors standing in front of an arched doorway. Most men are dressed in armor and holding axes and spears. One man is holding his left hand in his right hand and holding it in the air; most of the other men are looking at his hand. One man positioned towards the front of the illustration is dressed in robes; this man is hunched over holding his head in his hands. There is a dog with a spiked collar. 3/4 page.
When of those tears the chief was ware,74
A stern and bloody oath he sware :75
I swear it, by this wild-boar’s head,76
And by the shaft that laid him dead,77
Till this plague’s wash’d from out the land,78
This blood I wash not off my hand !”79

FYTTE III.

Noménoë hath done, I trow,80
What never chieftain did till now ;81
Hath sought the sea-beach, sack in hand,82
To gather pebbles from the strand83
Pebbles as tribute-toll to bring84
The Intendant of the baldhead king.85
Noménoë hath done, I trow,86
What never chieftain did till now.87
Prince as he is, hath ta’en his way,88
The tribute-toll himself to pay.89

Fling wide the gates of Roazon,90
That I may enter in, anon.91
Noménoë comes within your gate,92
His wains all piled with silver freight.”93
Light down, my lord, into the hall,94
And leave your laden wains in stall.95
Leave your white horse to squire and groom,96
And come to sup in the dais-room :97
To sup, but first to wash, for lo !98
E’en now the washing-horn* they blow.”99
Fullsoon, fair sir, shall my washing be made,100
When that the tribute hath been weigh’d.”101
The first sack from the wains they pight102
(I trow ’twas corded fair and tight)—103
The first sack that they brought to scale,104
’Twas found full weight and honest tale :105
The second sack that they came to,106
The weight therein was just and true ;107
The third sack from the wains they pight108
How, now ! I trow this sack is light ?” ’109
The Intendant saw, and from his stand110
Unto the sack he raught his hand111
He raught his hand the cords unto,112
That so their knots he might undo.113
From off the sack thy hand refrain ;114
My sword shall cut the knot in twain !”115
The word had scantly passed his teeth,116
When flash’d his bright sword from the sheath117
Through the Frank’s neck the falchion went,118
Shear by his shoulders as he bent ;119
It cleft the flesh and bones in twain,120
And eke the links o’ one balance-chain :121
Into the scale the head plump’d straight,122
And there, I trow, was honest weight !123
Loud through the town the cry did go:124
Hands on the slayer !  Ho ! Ha !”125
He gallops forth out through the night ;126
Ho ! torches, torches—on his flight !”127
Light up, light up ! as best ye may,128
The night is black, and frore the way.129
But ere ye catch me, sore I fear,130
The shoes from off your feet you’ll wear131
The shoes of the gilded blue cordwain ;†132
For your scales—you’ll ne’er need them again.133
Your scales of gold you will need no more,134
To weigh the stones of the Breton shore !135
To war !”136

* This practice of sounding the horn for washing before
dinner (corner l’eau it is called in old French), is still kept
up at the Temple.
† “ Cordwain :” leather of Cordova— “ Cordovan.” Hence
our “ Cordwainer.”