Yvain

by Chrétien de Troyes

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The story of Yvain beings because of an encounter Yvain's cousin Calogrenant once had at a magic spring. The water of the spring creates storms when it's poured onto the ground. Calogrenant says,

The storm was so fierce and terrible that a hundred times I thought I should be killed by the bolts which fell about me and by the trees which were rent apart.

This quote emphasizes the power of the storm created by the magic water, which comes up several times in the story.

When Yvain asks his new wife, Lady Laudine, if he can go with King Arthur and his group to participate in the tournament, she says,

I grant you leave until a certain date; but be sure that my love will change to hate if you stay beyond the term that I shall fix. Remember that I shall keep my word; if you break your word I will keep mine. If you wish to possess my love, and if you have any regard for me, remember to come back again at the latest a year from the present date a week after St. John's day; for today is the eighth day since that feast. You will be checkmated of my love if you are not restored to me on that day.

This is important because it sets up the rest of the story. Yvain forgets to return to Lady Laudine, which causes him great heartache later in the story.

When Lady Laudine's envoy arrives, she says,

But Yvain has caused my lady's death, for she supposed that he would guard her heart for her, and would bring it back again before the year elapsed. Yvain, thou wast of short memory when thou couldst not remember to return to thy mistress within a year. She gave thee thy liberty until St. John's day, and thou settest so little store by her that never since has a thought of her crossed thy mind. My lady had marked every day in her chamber, as the seasons passed: for when one is in love, one is ill at ease and cannot get any restful sleep, but all night long must needs count and reckon up the days as they come and go. Dost thou know how lovers spend their time? They keep count of the time and the season. Her complaint is not presented prematurely or without cause, and I am not accusing him in any way, but I simply say that we have been betrayed by him who married my lady. Yvain, my mistress has no further care for thee, but sends thee word by me never to come back to her, and no longer to keep her ring. She bids thee send it back to her by me, whom thou seest present here. Surrender it now, as thou art bound to do.

The envoy accuses Yvain of being a treacherous liar instead of a noble and honest knight; nobility and honesty are qualities prized by King Arthur's court. The accusations demolish him so that he's incapable of speech and runs away to live in the woods. He stays there until a noblewoman saves him—and he embarks on a series of quests to regain his honor.

When Yvain saves a lion from a poisonous, fire-breathing serpent, he expects the lion to attack him. It doesn't; instead, it shows gratitude. De Troyes writes,

And the lion walks close by his side, unwilling henceforth to part from him: he will always in future accompany him, eager to serve and protect him.

If Yvain had not stopped to free the lion,...

(This entire section contains 779 words.)

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he would have fallen in the fight with the sons of evil later in the story. He also takes the lion as part of his image, telling people to refer to him as "the Knight with the Lion."

Yvain shows he's learned from his mistakes when he says to Lady Laudine at the end,

Lady, one ought to have mercy on a sinner. I have had to pay, and dearly to pay, for my mad act. It was madness that made me stay away, and I now admit my guilt and sin. I have been bold, indeed, in daring to present myself to you; but if you will deign to keep me now, I never again shall do you any wrong.

Yvain doesn't claim that Laudine was unfair or bring up any issues with her. He doesn't brag about his good deeds or insist that she take him back. Instead, he stands before her and admits what he's done wrong. He promises that he will never do wrong to her again—and now she's able to believe him.

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Yvain, the Knight of the Lion by French poet Chrétien de Troyes is an Arthurian romance. It includes stories within stories all to some degree discussing love, honor, and respect. Chrétien de Troyes’s narrator remarks that great deeds of love and honor no longer occur.

Love has turned into silly / Stories, told by liars / Who feel nothing, know nothing, all talk / And empty boasts, dishonesty / And vanity and windy noise.

Chrétien de Troyes presents us with Calgrenant's story, which the Knight swears is true.

So anyone who truly hears me, / Give me your ears and your minds, / For my tale has nothing to do / With dreams, or fables, or lies, / Like so many others have offered, / But only what I saw myself.

Calgrenant tells the story of his greatest shame while he sought adventure as a younger man.

It was almost seven years / Ago, I was lonely as a peasant / And hunting after adventure, / Fully armed, exactly / As a knight ought to be, and I came / To a road on my right-hand side, / In the middle of a deserted forest. / It was a treacherous path, full / Of brambles, choked with thorns. / For all its obstacles, despite / The effort, I followed that road.

Chrétien de Troyes shows love at first sight within Calgrenant's story. The reader is given the traditional tale of a brave knight that seeks to win the heart of a woman through brave deeds. Calgrenant's tale is a warning though.

Away. And I saw coming toward me / A young and beautiful girl. / I watched with great interest: she was tall / And slim and held herself well. / And quickly, deftly she helped me / Out of my armor, and draped / Around me a short cloak, / Peacock blue, fur-trimmed, / And the rest of them left and left us / Alone together, not a soul / In sight, which pleased me: there was nothing / Else I'd rather have seen. / Then she led me to the loveliest lawn / In the world, fenced all around / With a wall, and sat me down. / I found her wonderfully well-bred, / Her words so well-chosen, and well-taught, / And she so charming, so delightful, / That I felt myself filled with pleasure / And hoped I might never again / Need to move.

Calgrenant's failure comes in the form of a lack of humility and wisdom. He causes a great storm that will later be the cause for being challenged to combat and in turn losing.

I wanted to see the miracle / Of Storm and wind and rain. / It was hardly wise, I admit it, / And as soon as I'd done it I would / Have taken it back, if I could, / But I took water from the bowl / And sprinkled the stone, and more / Than likely I poured too much, / For I saw the sky ripped open, / And lightning flashes from fourteen / Directions blinded my eyes, / And the clouds let loose sheets / Of snow and rain and hail. / The storm was so foul, so strong, / That a hundred times I thought / I'd be killed by bolts falling / At my feet, and by falling trees.

Calgrenant is defeated by a more powerful knight and loses his horse. He drops his arms as well and returns to the castle of the woman who captured his heart. He feels defeated and ashamed even though the girl and her father treat him with the same respect.

Calgrenant's story was intended to bring honesty to the tales being told but only served to inspire Arthur to seek out the more interesting points of Calgrenant's story. Arthur’s plan disturbs the young knight Yvain, who sought to defeat the powerful knight of Calgrenant's story.

But in spite of their joy and their pleasure / My lord Yvain was miserable, / For he'd meant to go alone, / And so he was sad and upset / At the king for planning his visit. / And what bothered him most of all / Was knowing that the right of combat / Would surely fall to Sir Kay / Rather than himself.

Yvain takes it upon himself to leave before his king and claim the honor of combat first.

And feeling no need their Company / He decided not to wait, / But to go alone, if he could, / No matter for joy or sorrow / so lord Yvain stole off, / Making sure that he met no one, / And went to his lodgings, alone. / His servants and attendants were there, / And he ordered his saddle put on / And spoke to his favorite squire, / One from whom he hid nothing.

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