The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 741

The Dreamer is lamenting his terrible loss, a loss which only one physician might heal. He lost his beloved lady, either through rejection or through death. In either case, the Dreamer is unable to sleep, fearful that death might come upon him. There seems to be no hope for him.

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He decides to pass a lonely night by reading in a collection of tales, and there he finds the story of King Ceyx and Queen Alcyone. When Ceyx sailed away, his wife waited patiently yet eagerly for his return, but she was unaware that his ship was caught in a storm and all hands were lost. As the days went by, Alcyone began to despair, and, like the Dreamer, she was unable to sleep and finally prayed to Juno for relief. Juno sent a messenger to the god Morpheus, who inhabited Ceyx’s drowned body and told Alcyone of his death. Alcyone died four days later of despair.

The Dreamer regrets Alcyone’s pain but responds to the story of the god of sleep, Morpheus, and he imagines what rich gifts he will give to that god if only he will confer sleep upon him. In fact, his head begins to nod and he falls asleep over his book. He is instantly transported to a dream landscape. It is May; the flowers bloom, rivaling the stars in the sky in number. The fairies make their abode in the forest, and the whole place resembles a landscaped garden.

The Dreamer finds himself in a beautiful chamber filled with paintings and glazed windows that tell stories of love and romance. Then suddenly he is outside, watching the Emperor Octavian in a royal hunt. The hounds find the scent, but the hart is clever and escapes the dogs. The hunt is recalled, but the Dreamer, stationed by a tree, finds one of the young, untrained dogs coming up to him. He follows the whelp, which takes him deeper into the woods. The forest is beautiful, orderly, and full of deer.

There the Dreamer finds the Black Knight, who lies beneath a huge oak singing a song of sorrow over the death of his lady. In fact, his sorrow is so deep that, as the Dreamer watches, the Black Knight seems to be dying, the blood draining from all his limbs and leaving him green and pale. The Dreamer greets him, and though the Knight seems unaware of the Dreamer’s presence at first, soon his courteous nature asserts itself and he greets the Dreamer gently. When the Dreamer offers to help bear his sorrow and asks the Knight to reveal its cause, the Knight is at first reluctant, but he then begins a diatribe against Fortune and its wiles. It is Fortune that has brought him low, he argues, by playing chess with him and stealing his lady.

The Dreamer does not seem to understand this image and encourages the Knight to stand firm against Fortune, arguing that no loss of a love should lead to this kind of woe. The Knight responds that the Dreamer does not understand how much he indeed lost, for, since his youth, he was wholly subject to love, and now that to which he devoted himself is destroyed.

The Black Knight tells how he first met his lady, dancing on a green with a company of ladies. She is by far the fairest, the most beautiful and courteous, the best in speech and manner, gentle, good, steadfast, and simple. She is faithful and temperate, unable to do wrong because she loves right so much. The Dreamer concludes that the Black Knight could not have bestowed his love on a better woman and asks to hear of their first words together. The Black Knight confesses that for a long time he did not tell her of his love; he simply composed songs about her. His woe increased, however, and finally he approached her and swore his love. At first, she rejected him, and for a year he lived in despair until, gathering his courage, he approached her again. This time he was accepted because of his virtue, and for years they lived happily.

Then, the Knight moans, death took her. At that word,...

(The entire section contains 1485 words.)

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