In Armorica, the country we now call Brittany, there lived a knight who served the lady of his love as truly and humbly as any knight could. He dared not tell her of his love, however, for she was not only fair but of the highest rank in the land. At last the lady herself took pity on him and agreed to take him for her husband. Solemnly they plighted their troth. The knight swore that never, on his honour as a knight, would he assert his lordship over her. He would keep it in name only to save his dignity. The lady in her turn thanked him humbly, and promised to be his true and faithful wife all her life long, and never to stir up strife between them. Thus they made agreement together. And, sirs, of this one thing I am sure, that if love is to abide between two persons both must be free; for love which is forced and constrained soon dies, yet by patience and humility we can achieve what force never could attain. So these two accorded well together, each serving the other in all love and humility. Two years they dwelt thus together, till the knight, whose name was Averagus, took ship and sailed to England to win fame in adventures there. Meanwhile his wife Dorigen made doleful lament, weeping and wailing, as noble wives do when their husbands leave them. Her friends gathered about her and tried—now by this means, now by that—to cheer her. By degrees they won her so far that she consented to walk with them by the seaside. But, as soon as she saw all the black rocks which lined the shore, grief descended on her anew. “Eternal God,” she cried, “who didst make all the world and create each thing for some good, madest Thou these rocks only to destroy man, the creature made in Thine own image? How many goodly seamen have perished on these crags! Could but these rocks be driven down to Hell then might my heart rest, and I need fear nought for my husband when he sails home again.” In this way she lamented till her friends, seeing that her grief grew no less but rather greater by the seaside, led her inland to fair gardens and pleasant places.
It happened that on the 6th of May they were all gathered in a garden. Every leaf and flower shone in the sunlight, washed freshly by gentle showers. It seemed a veritable paradise for its beauty and sweet-scented flowers. No one, unless sickness or great sorrow weighed him down, could be sad on such a day. Dorigen alone did not join in the merrymaking. Among the others danced a Squire Aurelius, as gay and fresh as is the month of May; nor were his virtue and wealth less than his beauty and the good estimation in which he was held. Yet, unhappily, for these two years he had loved Dorigen with all his might, but had not dared to tell her of his love. To allay his grief he had written verses in which he lamented his lady’s hard heart and his own sad plight in that he dared not speak but must die, even as Echo of her love for Narcissus.