JOHN BARBOUR (1316? – 1395)
THE EATEN HEART
“Make it sweet and delicate to eat;
Serve it to my lady bright,
Should she suspect this meat
Her heart would not be light,”
And soon the Lord sat down to dine,
His lady at his side,
The heart was served in red, red wine,
But there was grief inside.
“Madame, eat of this,” he said,
“It is both dainty and pleasant,”
The lady ate and was not dismayed,
For of spice there was no want.
When she had feasted well
Her lord said to her there,
“Let the heart that you have eaten knell
For him who toyed with your yellow hair.
“As you can see, your knight is dead;
I tell you, lady, do not cry.
It was his heart on which you fed;
Madame, at last we all must die.”
Up she rose with heart full woe
And straight into her chamber went;
And there confessed devoutly so
That shortly she received the sacrament.
And mourning lay in her last bed;
God knows right worful was her moan,
“Alas, my own dear love,” she said,
“Since you are dead my joy is gone.
“With me thy eaten heart shall die;
I have received the sacrament;
All earthly food I shall deny,
With woe and pain my life is spent.”
From The Knight of Curtesy
The Legend of The Eaten Heart has many folklore versions; its origins are lost in ancient sacrifices and family taboos. It attained particular significance in an age of dark chance and cruel customs, for it is one of the darkest and cruelest of tales. Stripped of its embellishments, the story concerns an unfaithful wife, a slain lover, and a vengeful husband who tricks his wife into eating her lover’s heart.
The barbaric tale is known in many countries and in almost all literatures. It occurs in the ancient Indian tale of Raja Rasalu, in a Provencal version that Boccaccio used twice in THE DECAMERON, and in a South American legend in which the lover is a captured slave. The Middle English poem, however, was borrowed from the French and consisted of more than five hundred lines. The part of it which is above was rendered into modern English by Pearl London.
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