“Sir Oxford Student,” said our Host, “you ride
As still and quiet as a brand-new bride
Who’s sitting at the table. I have heard
Throughout this day from your tongue not a word.
Some sophism, I think, you’re pondering; 5
But Solomon said, ‘A time for everything.’
“For God’s sake, can’t you be of better cheer?
Now’s not the time to do your studies here.
Tell us a story, by your faith, that’s merry!
When one joins in a game, he mustn’t vary 10
From that game’s rules, to which he gave assent.
But don’t preach like the friars during Lent
Who over our old sins would make us weep,
Nor tell a tale that puts us all to sleep.
“Tell of adventures, have a merry say; 15
Your colors, terms, and figures store away
Until you need them for composing things
In lofty style, as when men write to kings.
For now use only your plain words, we pray,
That we may understand all that you say.” 20
This worthy Student answered courteously:
“I am under your rule, Sir Host,” said he,
“You have us all under your governance,
And therefore I will show obedience,
Within the bounds of reason, certainly. 25
I’ll tell a story that was taught to me
By a scholar of Padua rightly known
As worthy, as his words and works have shown.
He’s dead now, nailed inside his coffin. May
The Lord grant that his soul’s at rest, I pray! 30
“Named Francis Petrarch, poet laureate,
This scholar’s sweetest rhetoric has set
All Italy alight by poetry,
As did Legnano with philosophy
And law and certain other arts as well. 35
But death, that won’t allow us here to dwell
For longer than the twinkling of an eye,
Has slain them both, and all of us must die.
“But telling further of this worthy man
Who taught to me this tale, as I began: 40
He first composed in high style, I should note,
Before the body of his tale he wrote,
An introduction in which Petrarch speaks
Of Piedmont, of Saluzzo, and those peaks
The Appenines, which so majestically 45
Comprise the border of West Lombardy;
Especially he speaks of Mount Viso,
The place at which the river known as Po
Originates, a little spring its source,
And keeps on going on its eastward course: 50
Emilia, Ferrera, Venice too–
It would take too long to describe to you.
And truthfully to speak, I do not sense
That it’s a matter that’s of relevance
Save that he had to preface things somehow. 55
But here’s his tale and you may hear it now.”
The Student’s Tale
There’s found along the west of Italy,
Below Mount Viso with its summit cold,
A pleasant plain of great fertility
With many towns and towers to behold 60
That forebears founded in the days of old,
And other sights as grand to see are legion.
Saluzzo it is called, this noble region.
A marquis once was lord of all the land
As all his worthy forebears were before; 65
Obedient to all that he’d command
Were all his subjects, both the rich and poor.
So he lived well, much happiness in store,
Both loved and feared by lord and commoner
Through all the favor Fortune may confer. 70
As for the lineage from which he sprung,
It was the noblest in all Lombardy.
He was a handsome fellow, strong and young,
One full of honor and of courtesy
And quite discreet as such a lord should be, 75
Save for some things for which he was to blame;
And Walter was this youthful ruler’s name.
I blame him in that he would give no thought
To what the future held, what may betide;
His pleasure was in what the present brought, 80
Like hawking and the hunt, on every side.
He’d tend to let all other matters slide;
And he refused–and this was worst of all–
To take a wife, whatever may befall.
That one thing caused his people such despair 85
That one day as a flock to him they went,
And one of them, the one most learned there–
Or else who best could gain this lord’s consent
To speak for all, conveying their intent,
Or else who best could make such matters clear– 90
Spoke to the marquis as you’re now to hear:
“O noble marquis, your benignity
Assures us, it allows our forwardness,
As often as it’s of necessity,
To come to you to tell you our distress. 95
Now grant, lord, through your gentle nobleness,
That we with piteous heart tell our dismay.
Let not your ears disdain what we’ve to say.
“I am not more involved in this affair
Than any other person in the place; 100
But seeing, my dear lord, how you’ve been fair
With me before and favored me with grace,
I’ve dared to ask that I might have this space
Of audience, to tell you our request;
Then you, my lord, do what you think is best. 105
“For certainly, my lord, you please us now–
You and your works–and always have, till we
Cannot in any way imagine how
We might could live in more felicity,
Except, my lord, that you might will to be 110
A wedded man. If marriage might you please,
Then would your people’s hearts be set at ease.
“So bow your neck beneath this yoke of bliss,
Of sovereignty (not servitude), that’s known
As marriage or wedlock. Consider this, 115
My lord, in your wise thoughts: our days pass on,
In many ways we spend them and they’re gone;
For though we sleep or wake or walk or ride,
Time’s fleeting, for no man it will abide.
“And though you’re young, still in life’s greenest flower, 120
Age stilly as a stone creeps day to day;
Death threatens every age and wields its power
In each estate and no one gets away;
And just as we are certain when we say
That we must die, uncertain are we all 125
About the day when death will come to call.
“Accept, then, what we say with true intent
Who never have refused what you command,
And we will, lord, if you will give assent,
Choose you a wife, she’ll quickly be at hand, 130
Born of the noblest family in the land,
That it may be, as we would so apprize,
An honor both to you and in God’s eyes.
“From all this fear now save us one and all
And take yourself a wife, for heaven’s sake! 135
For, God forbid, if it should so befall
That through your death–your lineage at stake–
A stranger should succeed you, free to take
Your heritage, woe to us left alive!
Therefore we pray that quickly you will wive.” 140
Their meek prayer and the sadness in each look
Filled the marquis’s heart with sympathy.
He said, “Dear people, that of which I took
No thought at all you now require of me.
I always have enjoyed my liberty; 145
That’s hard to find once marriage shall intrude.
Where I was free I’ll be in servitude.
“Yet I see how sincere is your intent,
And will as always trust in what you say;
Of my free will I therefore will assent 150
To take a wife as quickly as I may.
But though you’ve made the offer here today
To choose her for me, I’ll not hold you to it
And ask that you no further will pursue it.
“For God knows, children often aren’t the same 155
As all their worthy forebears were before;
Good comes from God, not from the family name,
Not from whatever lineage that bore.
My trust is in God’s goodness, and therefore
My marriage and my office and my ease 160
I leave to him; may he do as he please.
“So let me be the one to choose my wife,
That burden I will shoulder. But I pray
And give to you this charge upon your life:
Assure me, when I’ve chosen as I may, 165
In word and deed until her dying day,
Both here and everywhere you’ll honor her
As if the daughter of an emperor.
“And furthermore, this you will swear to me:
Against my choice you’ll not complain or strive; 170
For since I’m to forgo my liberty
At your request, if ever I may thrive,
How my heart may be set is how I’ll wive;
And if you don’t agree it’s to be so,
I pray you speak no further, let it go.” 175
With hardy will they swore, gave their assent
To all of this, not one of them said “Nay”;
They asked the marquis then, before they went,
If in his grace he’d set a certain day
To marry, one as early as he may; 180
For still the people were somewhat in dread,
Still fearing that the marquis wouldn’t wed.
He set a day–one suiting him the best–
When he would marry, gave them surety,
And said that this was all at their request. 185
With humbleness they all obediently
Then knelt before him, and respectfully
They thanked him. In pursuing their intent
They had what they desired, and home they went.
And thereupon he calls his officers, 190
Gives orders how the feast they’re to purvey;
He with each squire and trusty knight confers,
Such charges as he will on them to lay;
And all that he commands them they obey,
Each one intent to do all that he can 195
To see the feast so forth with proper plan.
Not very far from that fine palace where
This marquis was arranging how he’d wed,
A village stood, the region truly fair;
There villagers, as humble lives they led, 200
Had homes and beasts, and all these folks were fed
By their own labor spent upon the land,
Work that the earth repaid with open hand.
Among the poor folks there did dwell a man
Who was considered poorest of them all; 205
But God will often send, as well he can,
His grace into an ox’s little stall.
Janicula’s the name that folks would call
Him by. He had a daughter, fair the same,
Griselda was this youthful maiden’s name. 210
To speak of virtuous beauty, clearly she
Was of the fairest underneath the sun;
For she had been brought up in poverty,
No ill desire in her heart’s blood would run.
She drank more from the well than from the tun; 215
And inasmuch as virtue was her pleasure,
She knew about hard work, not idle leisure.
For though this maiden was so young and pure,
Inside her virgin breast was found to be
A heart that was both sober and mature. 220
She cared, with great respect and charity,
For her poor aged father, and while she
Was spinning, their few sheep in field she kept;
She never quit her labor till she slept.
When she came home she’d often bring along 225
Some roots or herbs, which shredded with a knife
She boiled to make their meal. She labored long,
Hard was the bed she made. But through her strife
She ever would preserve her father’s life,
With all the diligent obedience 230
That any child can give in reverence.
Upon this poor Griselda frequently
The marquis would in passing cast his eye
As he was riding to his venery;
And when this maiden he would so espy, 235
No wanton look of folly he thereby
Would give her, but a look of grave respect;
On her behavior often he’d reflect,
Commending in his heart her womanhood
And virtue, like no other one possessed 240
So young, in thought and deed so full of good.
Though virtue is not readily assessed
By common people, he was so impressed
By her that he decided that he would
Wed only her, if wed he ever should. 245
The wedding day arrived, yet none could say
Which of the district’s women it would be;
This started many wondering that day,
And saying, when they were in privacy,
“Will our lord yet not quit his vanity? 250
Will he not wed? Alas, if it be thus!
Why should he so deceive himself and us?”
This marquis, though, had had his craftsmen make
Of gems, in gold and azure set, a treasure
Of rings and brooches for Griselda’s sake; 255
To fit her for new clothes, he had them measure
A maiden of like build; they had no leisure,
That his bride be adorned in such a way
As would befit so grand a wedding day.
By nine upon that morn anticipated, 260
The day on which the wedding would take place,
The palace had been finely decorated,
Each hall or room according to its space,
The kitchen storerooms stuffed in every case
With luscious food, as much as one might see 265
Throughout the length and breadth of Italy.
This marquis–royally dressed, with every lord
And every lady in his company
Whom he had asked to come and share the board,
And with his retinue, his chivalry, 270
While music played, such sounds of melody–
Toward the village that I’ve told about
Now takes the nearest way with all the rout.
Griselda–who had no idea, God knows,
That for her sake was meant all this array– 275
Out to a well to fetch some water goes,
Then hurries home as quickly as she may;
For she had heard that on that very day
The marquis would be wed, and if she might
She’d love to catch a glimpse of such a sight. 280
She thought, “With other maidens I will stand,
Who are my friends, and from the door I’ll see
The marchioness. So I’ll go take in hand
The work at home as soon as it may be,
The labor always waiting there for me; 285
Then I’ll be free to watch if she today
Toward her castle passes by this way.”
And as she was about to step inside,
The marquis came. Her name she heard him call;
Her water pot at once she set aside 290
(Beside the threshold in an ox’s stall),
And down upon her knees was quick to fall;
There soberly she knelt, completely still,
Till she had heard her lord express his will.
This thoughtful marquis spoke then quietly, 295
Addressing her as gently as he may:
“Griselda, where’s your father?” Reverently,
With humble mien, the girl was quick to say,
“My lord, he’s here right now.” Without delay
Griselda went inside the house and sought 300
Her father, whom she to the marquis brought.
Then by the hand he took this aged man,
And said, when he had taken him aside,
“Janicula, I neither may nor can
For any longer my heart’s pleasure hide. 305
If you consent, whatever may betide,
Your daughter I will take to be my wife
Before I go, and she’ll be so for life.
“You love me, that I surely know, and you
Were born my faithful liege. And furthermore, 310
What pleases me–I daresay that it’s true–
Is that which pleases you. Tell me therefore
Upon this special matter raised before,
If from you your agreement I may draw,
If you will take me as your son-in-law.” 315
This was so sudden and astonishing
The man stood shaking, turned completely red,
Abashed till he could scarcely say a thing
Except for this: “My lord, my will,” he said,
“Is as you will, and I’d will naught instead 320
Against your liking; so, my lord so dear,
As you may please, rule in this matter here.”
To this the marquis gently said, “Yet I
Desire that in your dwelling you and she
And I should meet and talk. Do you know why? 325
I want to ask her if her will it be
To be my wife, obedient to me.
And in your presence all this shall be done,
No words out of your hearing, not a one.”
While in the dwelling they negotiated 330
To such an end as after you will hear,
Outside the house the people congregated,
Amazed by her virtue, for it was clear
How well she cared there for her father dear.
And she should be amazed if any might, 335
For never had she witnessed such a sight.
No wonder she was so surprised to see
So great a guest come in that humble place;
She wasn’t used to such grand company,
And, watching, she became quite pale of face. 340
But to the matter’s heart let’s go apace;
These are the words the marquis chose to speak
To this kind maiden, faithful, true, and meek:
“Griselda, you can surely understand
The wish now that your father shares with me 345
That we should wed, and also may it stand,
As I suppose, that it’s your will it be.
But I must ask some questions first,” said he.
“Since with the utmost haste it should be wrought,
Do you assent, or wish some time for thought? 350
“Would you agree to all by me desired,
And that, when I think best, I freely may
Cause pain or pleasure as may be required
And you would not begrudge it night or day?
When I say ‘yea,’ you will not answer ‘nay’ 355
By word or frown? Swear this, and you’ve my oath
That we shall be allied, here I’ll betroth.”
Marveling at his words and trembling so
From fear, she said, “My lord, I shouldn’t be
Held worthy of this honor you’d bestow, 360
But that which you may will is right with me.
And here I swear that never willingly,
In thought or action, you I shall defy,
On pain of death, though I were loath to die.”
“That’s good enough, Griselda,” answered he. 365
At once he went outside with sober cheer,
And out the door behind him followed she,
And to the gathered folks he made it clear:
“This is my wife,” said he, “who’s standing here.
So honor her, give her your love, I pray, 370
All those with love for me; no more to say.”
That none of the old clothes she had to wear
Be brought into his house, the marquis had
Some women come to strip her then and there.
These ladies, be it said, were less than glad 375
To touch the garments in which she was clad,
But nonetheless they clothed from head to toes
This maiden of bright hue in brand-new clothes.
They combed her hair that, worn without a braid,
Had been unkempt; with dainty hands they set 380
A garland on her head; she was arrayed
With jewels of every size. Why should I let
Her clothing grow into a tale? And yet
The people hardly knew who she might be,
So fairly changed in such rich finery. 385
The marquis married her then with a ring
That he had brought, then placed her on that day
Upon an ambling, snow-white horse, to bring
Her to his palace–no more he’d delay–
With joyful people out to lead the way. 390
That’s how the day in revelry was spent
Until the sun was low in its descent.
To chase this tale and move it forth apace,
I’ll say that to this brand-new marchioness
God granted so much favor, by his grace, 395
That by appearance one would never guess
That she’d been born and bred with so much less
(Indeed inside a cote or ox’s stall)
Rather than nurtured in an emperor’s hall.
To everyone she grew to be so dear 400
And reverenced that folks who’d known her for
The length of her whole life, from year to year,
Could scarcely now believe–if any swore–
That of Janicula (of whom before
I spoke) she was indeed the daughter, seeing 405
How she appeared to be another being.
Though virtuous she’d been for all her days,
She showed such increase in her excellence
Of mind and habits, held in highest praise,
Was so discreet, so fair in eloquence, 410
So kind and deserving of reverence,
And won the people’s hearts with so much grace,
That she was loved by all who saw her face.
Not only in Saluzzo could be found
The highest public praise for her good name, 415
But also in the regions all around;
If one spoke well, another said the same.
Of her high excellence so spread the fame
That men and women, young as well as old,
Went to that town, this lady to behold. 420
Thus Walter humbly–royally, I should say–
Was wed with fortunate honor, and he
In God’s peace lived then in an easy way
At home, he seemed as blest as one could be.
And as he saw that under low degree 425
Is virtue often hidden, folks opined
He was a prudent man of rarest kind.
Not only did Griselda through her wit
Know how to do the things a housewife should,
But when the situation called for it 430
She could as well tend to the common good.
No angry strife or disagreement stood
In all that land that she could not resolve,
Restoring peace to those it might involve.
Though her husband be absent, rapidly 435
When nobles or when others in the land
Were feuding, she would bring them to agree.
Such eloquence she had at her command
And rendered judgment with such even hand,
She was heaven-sent in the people’s sight, 440
To save them and to turn each wrong to right.
Now not too long after Griselda wed,
The day arrived when she a daughter bore.
Although they would have liked a son instead,
Glad were the marquis and the people, for 445
Although a little girl had come before,
Griselda wasn’t barren, so she could
Still bear a manchild in all likelihood.
It happened, as so often will transpire,
That while this child still sucked the mother’s breast, 450
The marquis in his heart had the desire
To put his wife’s steadfastness to the test.
Out of his heart this marquis couldn’t wrest
This urge to see how constant she would be;
God knows, he thought to scare her needlessly. 455
He’d put her to the test enough before
And always found her true; what was the need
To test her now, to do so more and more,
Though some men praise it as a clever deed?
As for myself, I say it’s cruel indeed 460
To test a wife when there’s no reason clear,
To put her through such anguish and such fear.
The marquis now proceeded in this wise:
He came alone at night to where she lay,
And with stern eye, with very troubled guise, 465
Said this to her: “Griselda, on that day
When from your poor life I took you away
For this high, noble state to which you rose–
You haven’t now forgotten, I suppose?
“I say, Griselda, this new dignity 470
In which I’ve put you has (I trust it’s so)
Not left you now forgetting the degree
In which I found you, poverty so low,
For all the comfort you have come to know.
Now listen to each word I say to you; 475
There is no one to hear it but we two.
“You know full well yourself how you came here
Into this house not very long ago;
And though to me you are belov’d and dear,
To all my gentlefolk you are not so. 480
They say that it’s to their great shame and woe
To have to serve you, to be subject to
One from a little village as are you.
“Especially since you your daughter bore
There is no doubt about their grumbling. 485
Now I desire as I have done before
To live in peace with those I’m governing.
I can’t be careless in this sort of thing;
I must do with your daughter what is best,
Not as I will but as they may request. 490
“God knows, this is a loathsome thing to me,
And yet without your knowledge and consent
It won’t be done. But it’s my will,” said he,
“That in this case you give me your assent.
Now show your patience, act with the intent 495
That on that day you pledged and so have sworn,
When in that village wed where you were born.”
When she had heard all this, no change it brought
In her in either word or look; thereby
It seemed that she was not at all distraught. 500
She said, “Lord, in your pleasure’s where we lie.
Truly obedient, my child and I
Are yours to save or to destroy, each one
Belongs to you; and so your will be done.
“There’s not a thing, as God my soul may save, 505
That pleases you that would displeasure me.
There’s nothing in this whole world that I crave,
Or fear to lose, but you. This will shall be
Here in my heart, as now, eternally;
Nor death nor length of time shall it deface 510
Or turn my heart toward another place.”
Glad was the marquis, hearing her reply,
Yet he pretended that he wasn’t so;
A sad and dreary look was in his eye
As he then from the chamber turned to go. 515
Soon after this, he let a fellow know
In privacy about his whole intent,
Then to his wife this man the marquis sent.
This fellow was a kind of sergeant, one
His lord would often trust and send to do 520
Important things; such people, too, get done
Things that are shady, and without ado.
The marquis knew he loved and feared him too;
And when this sergeant knew his master’s need,
He crept into the bedroom to proceed. 525
“Madam,” he said, “you must forgive me though
I now do something that I can’t evade.
As you’re so very wise, you surely know
That lords’ commands cannot be disobeyed;
They well may be bewailed, and plaint be made, 530
But that which lords desire must men obey,
And so shall I; there is no more to say.
“That child I am commanded now to take”–
He spoke no more, as if with worst intent
He grabbed the child, such gestures then to make 535
As though he’d slay it there before he went.
Griselda had to suffer this, consent;
Just like a lamb she sat there meek and still
And let this cruel sergeant do his will.
Of evil reputation was this man, 540
Suspicious, too, in look, in what he’d say,
And in that it was night when he began.
The child she loved–alas and wellaway!–
She thought he’d slay right there without delay.
But nonetheless she neither sighed nor wept, 545
Consenting that her lord’s command be kept.
But then to speak she finally began:
She meekly asked, appealing to his pride,
As he was such a worthy gentleman,
If she might kiss her child before it died. 550
This little child Griselda laid beside
Her breast; with sorrow in her face she blest it,
And then gave it a kiss as she caressed it.
Here’s what she uttered in her voice benign:
“Farewell, my child, whom nevermore I’ll see! 555
Since of his cross I’ve marked you with the sign,
That of the Father who–blest may he be!–
Died for us on a cross made from a tree,
Your soul to him, my child, I now commit;
Tonight you die, and I’m the cause of it.” 560
I think that any nurse, such come to pass,
Would find it hard, a painful thing to see;
Then well might any mother cry “Alas!”
But nonetheless Griselda quietly,
With steadfastness, endured adversity, 565
And told the sergeant, meekly as before,
“Here, you may have your little girl once more.
“Go now,” she said, “and do my lord’s behest;
There’s just one thing I pray: that in your grace,
Unless my lord forbid, you’ll lay to rest 570
My little daughter’s body in some place
Where beasts or birds can’t tear it or deface.”
But not a word in that regard he’d say,
He took the child and went upon his way.
This sergeant came then to his lord again, 575
And of her words and how she did appear
He told him point by point, short and plain,
Presenting him then with his daughter dear.
The marquis seemed a little rueful here,
But nonetheless held to his purpose still, 580
As such lords do when they would have their will.
He told the sergeant then to go in stealth
And wind the child in nursery clothes with care,
To carry it, while mindful of its health,
Inside a chest or wrap; and to beware, 585
If from the block his head he wished to spare,
That his intent not one man come to know,
Not whence he came nor whither he may go.
To his dear sister in Bologna, who
Was Countess of Panik, he was to take 590
The child, and give her all the details too,
And ask that she herself might undertake
To raise the child, and nobly, for his sake;
And also that whose child it was she hide
From everyone, no matter what betide. 595
The sergeant did his duty. Let’s return
Now to this marquis, as he busily
Involved himself in what he wished to learn:
If by Griselda’s manner he might see,
Or by her words determine, whether she 600
Had changed at all; and yet he’d ever find
That she was still the same, steadfast and kind.
As glad, as meek, as anxious to display
Her love and service as she’d shown to be,
So was she now, he saw, in every way; 605
Not one word of her daughter uttered she.
No sign of change or of adversity
Was ever seen in her; her daughter’s name
She never spoke in earnest or in game.
Now in this way four years had passed before 610
She was again with child; God willed it, though,
That now a manchild she by Walter bore,
One fair and gracious to behold. And so,
When people came to let the father know,
Not only he but all the land rejoiced, 615
They thanked God for the child, his praises voiced.
When it was two years old and was removed
Then from its nurse’s breast, there came a day
When by another urge this lord was moved
To test his wife again if that he may. 620
How needless he should test her anyway!
But married men like this one know no bound
When such a patient creature they have found.
“Wife,” said the marquis, “you have heard before,
My people bear it ill that we were married; 625
Especially now that my son you bore,
It’s grown much worse than ever. It’s so carried,
The murmur wounds my heart, my soul is harried;
The voice assails my ears with such a smart
That it’s well nigh destroyed me in heart. 630
“For they’re now saying this: ‘When Walter’s gone,
The blood of Janicula will succeed
And be our lord, we’ve none but him alone.’
Such words my people utter, and indeed
A murmur such as this I ought to heed; 635
For surely such opinion I am fearing,
Though they don’t plainly speak within my hearing.
“I want to live in peace if that I might,
And therefore I’ve decided what’s to be:
Just as I with his sister dealt by night, 640
So with him now I’ll deal in secrecy.
I warn you so you won’t be suddenly
Beside yourself, for that you shouldn’t do;
Be patient, that is what I ask of you.”
“I’ve said this and I ever shall again,” 645
She answered, “I wish nothing, in no way,
But what you will. It causes me no pain,
Although my son and daughter they may slay–
If it’s at your commandment, that’s to say.
For from the two all that I’ve come to know 650
Was illness first, and after, pain and woe.
“You are my lord; with that which you possess
Do as you will, ask no advice of me.
For as I left at home my former dress
When I first came to you, just so,” said she, 655
“I left my will and all my liberty
And took your clothing. Therefore now I pray,
Do as you please, your wish I shall obey.
“And certainly if I had prescience,
Your will to know before you’ve ever told, 660
I’d go and do it without negligence;
But now I know your wish, what shall unfold,
And firmly to your pleasure I will hold.
If I knew that my death would bring you ease,
Then gladly I would die, my lord to please. 665
“With your love there’s no way death can compare.”
And when this lord had heard what she’d to say
And of her constancy was made aware,
He dropped his eyes and wondered how she may
In patience suffer such. He went away 670
With dreary-looking face, although his heart
With pleasure was about to burst apart.
This ugly sergeant, in that very wise
In which he’d grabbed her daughter formerly
(Or worse, if any worse men could devise), 675
Now grabbed her son, this child so fair to see.
Such patience still Griselda had that she
Showed no sign of the burden of distress,
But kissed her son and then began to bless;
Save only this: she prayed that, if he could, 680
He’d see that her small son be so interred
That his slender, delicate body should
Be safe from ravage by some beast or bird;
He gave her for his answer not a word.
He left as if not caring for one limb, 685
But to Bologna gently carried him.
The marquis could but wonder all the more
About her patience, thinking that if he
Had not had certain knowledge long before
That she her children loved so perfectly, 690
He would have thought it was some subtlety,
Some malice or cruel heartedness deep down,
By which she suffered this without a frown.
But well he knew that, next to him, no doubt
She loved her children best in every way. 695
From women now I’d like to find this out:
Are not these tests enough for an assay?
What more could one hard man bring into play
To test his wife’s wifehood, her steadfastness,
As he persists with his hard-heartedness? 700
But there are folks who are of such a bent
That once a certain cause they undertake,
From that intention they cannot relent;
They’re bound to it as if it were a stake,
From that first purpose they will never slake. 705
Just so this marquis fully now proposed
To test his wife as he was first disposed.
He waits to see if, by her countenance
Or words, toward him changed she now appears;
But never may he find a variance. 710
Her heart and looks were one, for all his fears;
The further that she grew along in years,
The truer–if such things one ever sees–
Her love would grow, more pains she took to please.
It was as though from two you might could tell 715
One will; as Walter wished, the lord’s behest,
So it appeared her pleasure was as well.
And, God be thanked, all happened for the best.
She showed well that a wife, for all unrest
Or worry, should will nothing but in fact 720
That which her husband would himself enact.
Now far and wide the Walter scandal spread,
How with a cruel heart he wickedly–
Because such a poor woman he had wed–
Had murdered both his children secretly. 725
Such murmuring was now heard commonly.
No wonder, since out to the common ear
Came not a word, so murdered they’d appear.
Because of this, where all the folks before
Had loved him well, his scandalous ill fame 730
Was something they began to hate him for.
A “murderer” bears quite a hated name;
But still in earnest, surely not for game,
From his cruel purpose he would not relent;
To test his wife remained his whole intent. 735
Now when his daughter fair was twelve years old,
He sent a legate to the court of Rome
(Which of his will already had been told)
Commanding them such bulls to send him home
As would befit his cause; read like a tome, 740
They’d say the pope, so that the land be stilled,
Bade him to wed another if he willed.
I say, he bade them counterfeit, of course,
These papal bulls, therein the declaration
That he might leave his first wife by divorce 745
As if it were by papal dispensation,
To still the rancor and the disputation
Between him and his people. That’s the bull
That then was published everywhere in full.
No wonder that the ignorant in their way 750
Believed just what it said, that it was so;
But when Griselda heard the news, I’d say
The tidings surely filled her heart with woe.
But being ever steadfast as we know,
This humble creature thereby was disposed 755
To take what hardship Fortune had imposed,
Abiding ever by what he desired,
The one to whom she’d given all her heart
As to that which her very life required.
But briefly if this tale I’m to impart, 760
This marquis wrote a letter that from start
To finish covered all of his intent,
And slyly to Bologna had it sent.
The Earl of Panik (who was married then
To his dear sister) he asked specially 765
To bring home his two children–bring them in
A way befitting nobles, openly.
But this one thing he prayed most stringently:
The earl, though men should ask, must not infer
Their lineage, of whom these children were, 770
But only say the girl was to be wed
To the Marquis of Saluzzo right away.
And as beseeched, this earl then went ahead:
He started on his way at break of day
Toward Saluzzo, lords in rich array 775
Along in company, this girl to guide,
Her younger brother riding by her side.
This lovely girl, arrayed to set the stage
For marriage, had on many a sparkling gem.
Her brother, who was seven years of age, 780
Was dressed, too, in a way befitting him.
And so this great nobility, abrim
With cheer, toward Saluzzo made their way,
Riding upon their trip from day to day.
Now during all of this, the marquis who 785
(As was his wicked wont) would test some more
Her constancy, for all he’d put her through,
That he might have full knowledge, might explore
If she was still as steadfast as before–
Upon a certain day, for all to hear, 790
The marquis made this statement loud and clear:
“Griselda, it has pleased me certainly
To have you as my wife, for worthiness,
For your obedience and honesty,
Not for your name or wealth. But nonetheless 795
I now have come to see in truthfulness
That with great lordship, if I well appraise,
Great obligation comes in many ways.
“I may not do as every plowman might.
My people are constraining me to take 800
Another wife, they cry it day and night;
The pope himself, the people’s wrath to slake,
Consents to it, and so I undertake.
And truly this much to you I will say:
My new wife is already on her way. 805
“Be strong of heart and vacate now her place;
As for the dowry that you brought to me,
Now take it back, I grant it by my grace.
Now to your father’s house return,” said he.
“No one may always have prosperity, 810
So I advise that you with even heart
Accept whatever Fortune may impart.”
And once again she answered patiently:
“My lord, I’ve known through each and every day
That no one could compare my poverty 815
With your magnificence; no need to say
It can’t be done, for no man ever may.
I never felt that I was of the grade
To be your wife, nor yet your chambermaid.
“And in this house, as lady, as your wife– 820
God be my witness, and as well may he
Gladden my soul with his eternal life–
I held myself no lady, I could be
But humble servant to your majesty,
And such I’ll be as long as I’m alive, 825
To you above all creatures who may thrive.
“Since you so long a time, through kindliness,
Held me in honor, in a noble way,
When I did not possess the worthiness,
I thank both you and God, to whom I pray 830
That he’ll requite you; there’s no more to say.
Now to my father gladly I will wend
And with him dwell until my life should end.
“There I was fostered as a child and small,
And there I’ll lead my life until I’m dead, 835
A widow pure in body, heart and all.
For as I gave to you my maidenhead
And am your faithful wife (it’s safely said),
May God forbid that such a lord’s wife may
Again espouse, or mate some other way. 840
“And as for your new wife, God in his grace
Grant joy to you and, too, prosperity!
For I will gladly yield to her my place
In which so blissful I was wont to be.
For since it pleases you, my lord,” said she, 845
“In whom my heart awhile enjoyed its rest,
That I should go, I’ll go when you request.
“As for the dowry that you’d offer me
Such as I brought, it clearly comes to mind
It was my wretched clothes, no finery, 850
And which would now be hard for me to find.
O gracious God! how gentle and how kind
You seemed to be in speech and in your look
When on that day our marriage vows we took!
“It’s truly said–I find, at least, it’s true, 855
For in effect it’s proven here to me–
Love’s not the same when old as when it’s new.
But truly, lord, by no adversity,
On pain of death itself, could it so be
That in one word or deed I might repent 860
For giving you my heart with whole intent.
“My lord, you know that in my father’s place
You had them strip me of my ragged dress
And clad me in rich clothing by your grace.
But surely all I brought you more or less 865
Were maidenhead and faith and nakedness;
And here again your clothing I restore,
Also your wedding ring, forevermore.
“Your other jewels you can now reclaim
Inside your bedroom as I’m sure you’ll see. 870
Naked out of my father’s house I came,
And naked I must now return,” said she.
“I’ll gladly do all you may ask of me;
I hope that it’s not your intention, though,
That I be smockless when from here I go. 875
“A thing so shameful you would never do,
That this same body that your children bore,
Since I must walk out in the people’s view,
Be seen all bare; and therefore I implore,
Don’t make me go out like a worm, no more. 880
Remember, my own lord and dearest sir,
I was your wife, though I unworthy were.
“So in return for my virginity,
Which I brought here and can’t now with me bear,
As my reward grant there be given me 885
A smock such as the kind I used to wear,
My body to be covered when they stare
Upon your former wife. I take my leave
Of you, my lord, before I may aggrieve.”
“The smock that you have on your back,” said he, 890
“May be retained and taken home with you.”
The lord could scarcely speak; immediately
He turned and left in pity and in rue.
She stripped herself then in the people’s view
Down to her smock; in bare feet, with head bared, 895
Toward her father’s house Griselda fared.
The people followed, weeping as they went,
And there was many a curse of Fortune heard.
Griselda’s eyes showed not one teary glint,
And during this she didn’t speak a word. 900
Her father, learning soon what had occurred,
Then curst the day and time when Nature’s plan
Had molded him into a living man.
This poor old man had doubted from the start,
Suspecting that the two were ill allied; 905
For from the first he felt within his heart
That when his lord’s desire was satisfied,
He’d then believe it was undignified
For his estate so lowly to descend,
He’d quickly bring their marriage to an end. 910
To meet his daughter now he went with haste,
The people’s cries had told him she was near.
With her old coat, now all but gone to waste,
He covered her, with many a piteous tear.
He couldn’t wrap it round her, so severe 915
Had time been on the cloth, much older now
Than on the day she’d made her marriage vow.
So for a time in her old father’s place
This flower of wifely patience came to dwell,
And neither by her words nor by her face, 920
In public or in private, one could tell
That she’d been treated any way but well;
And of her high estate no memory
She seemed to have, as far as one could see.
No wonder, for when in her high estate 925
Her spirit was filled with humility;
No tender mouth, delicate heart, no great
And pompous show, no air of royalty,
But full of patience and benignity,
Discreet, always with honor, without pride, 930
And meek and steadfast at her husband’s side.
Men speak of Job and praise his humbleness;
So scholars, when they wish, can well indite,
Especially of men; in truthfulness,
Though scholars’ praise of women is so light, 935
There’s no man who in humbleness can quite
Compare to woman, or be half as true
As woman can, unless it’s something new.
Bologna’s Earl of Panik has come,
The news of which went spreading, and no less 940
There soon had reached the people, all and some,
The tidings, too, that a new marchioness
He’d brought, and in such pomp and regalness
That none in West Lombardy till that day
Had laid eyes on so noble an array. 945
The marquis, who’d arranged this from the start,
Before the earl came, a fellow sent
For poor Griselda; she with humble heart
And cheerful countenance, without a hint
Of any wound in mind or spirit, went 950
At his behest and knelt upon their meeting,
And reverently, politely gave him greeting.
He said, “Griselda, my firm will today
Is that this maiden who’s to marry me
Be met tomorrow with such grand array 955
As in my house there possibly could be;
And also that according to degree
Each shall be served and seated at the table
And entertained, as best as I am able.
“I do not have sufficient women for 960
Arranging all the rooms as would befit
My liking; it is my desire therefore
That you should be in charge of all of it.
You know from old my pleasure every bit.
Although your clothing is a ragged sight, 965
Perform your duty still as best you might.”
“Not only, lord, will I be glad,” said she,
“To do your will, but I desire also
To serve you and to please in my degree
Forevermore; I’ll never tire or slow, 970
Not ever, whether in good health or woe,
Nor shall my spirit ever take a rest
From my heart’s true intent: to love you best.”
With that, she worked to get the house prepared,
Set tables, made the beds, such pains to take 975
That she did all she could, no effort spared,
While begging all the chambermaids to make
More haste, to sweep and clean, for heaven’s sake;
And she, the hardest working of them all,
Had every bedroom ready and the hall. 980
The next day the earl around nine o’clock
Arrived, these noble children at his side;
And all the people ran there in a flock,
And when such rich array they had espied,
Among themselves they quickly would decide 985
That Walter was no fool to have expressed
The will to change his wives, for it was best.
For she was fairer, so thought one and all,
Than was Griselda, and much younger too,
And from between them fairer fruit would fall 990
(More pleasing too), from noble tree she grew.
Her brother also was so fair to view
That when the people saw him they took pleasure,
Commending now their lord, his every measure.
“O stormy people! fickle, never true! 995
As changeable as is a weather vane!
In rumors you delight, whatever’s new,
Just like the moon you ever wax and wane!
You’re full of chatter, never worth a jane!
Your judgment’s false, your constancy will cool, 1000
Whoever trusts you is an utter fool.”
Thus said more sober-minded folks, to see
All of the people gaping up and down,
So very glad just for the novelty
Of having a new lady for their town. 1005
I’ll speak no more right now of her renown,
But to Griselda I’ll return, the one
So constant, with her duties to be done.
Griselda was still hard at work at all
That to the feast was to be pertinent; 1010
Nor did her clothes abash her, though withal
They certainly were crude and rather rent;
Out to the gate with cheerfulness she went
With other folks to greet the marchioness,
And after that, back to her busyness. 1015
So cheerfully her lord’s guests she received,
And wisely, each according to degree,
That not one fault in her the guests perceived,
But all kept wondering who she might be;
For though she wore such ragged clothing, she 1020
Was so refined and worthy that in fact
They praised her, as deserved, for all her tact.
In all this time Griselda never ceased
This maiden and her brother to commend
With all her heart, so well that at the feast 1025
No one had cause her praises to amend.
At last, when all the lords there to attend
Were set to eat, the marquis chose to call
Griselda, who was busy in the hall.
“Griselda, what do you think of my wife 1030
And her good looks?” he asked her jokingly.
And she replied, “My lord, upon my life,
I’ve never seen one who’s as fair as she.
I pray that God gives her prosperity;
To you I also hope that he will send 1035
All happiness till your life’s very end.
“One thing I beg and warn you of as well:
That you’ll not torment this young girl the way
That you have done to others; I can tell
That she was nurtured, reared from day to day 1040
More tenderly, and I would dare to say
She could not well endure adversity
As could a creature raised in poverty.”
When Walter saw her patience still so strong,
Her cheerfulness, no malice shown at all, 1045
And even though he’d often done her wrong
She ever was as constant as a wall,
Continuing so blameless overall,
This marquis in his heart felt the distress
Of pity for her wifely steadfastness. 1050
“This is enough, Griselda mine,” said he,
“Now be no more displeased, no more afraid.
For of your faith and your benignity,
In high estate and low, the test I’ve made,
As ever any woman’s been assayed. 1055
I know, dear wife, your steadfastness.” With this,
He took her in his arms and gave a kiss.
In wonderment, she didn’t hear a word,
Of what he said no heed she seemed to take,
Until from her amazement, as if stirred 1060
Out of a sleep, she was once more awake.
He said, “By God who perished for our sake,
You are and you’ll remain my only wife,
As God may grant me the eternal life!
“This is your daughter, whom you thought so fair 1065
To be my wife; the other truthfully,
As always I have planned, shall be my heir;
It’s you who gave him birth, that’s certainty.
Bologna’s where I kept them secretly;
Now take them back, for now you see your son 1070
And daughter, you have lost them neither one.
“And folks that otherwise have said of me
I now warn well that I did what I did
Not out of malice nor for cruelty
But to assay and of all doubt be rid, 1075
And not to slay my children–God forbid!–
But to preserve them secretly until
I knew your every purpose, all your will.”
When she had heard all this, she fainted then
For piteous joy, then, rising, to her side 1080
She called her son and daughter, took them in
Her loving arms while piteously she cried,
Embracing them with kisses and the pride
Of any mother, salty tears she shed
Bathing each face, the hair on each’s head. 1085
O what a piteous thing it was to see
Her fainting, and her humble voice to hear!
“O thank you, lord, and God reward,” said she,
“That you have saved my children young and dear!
I wouldn’t care were I to die right here; 1090
As I stand in your love and grace, believe,
Death matters not, nor when my soul may leave.
“O dear, young, tender children, how in woe
Your mother always thought undoubtedly
Cruel hounds or some foul vermin long ago 1095
Had eaten you! But God so mercifully
And your kind, loving father tenderly
Have kept you safe”–that very moment found
Her swooning of a sudden to the ground.
And in her swoon so tightly she held on 1100
To her two children, still in her embrace,
It took more than a little force alone
To pry the children loose. And in the place
Were many tears on many a piteous face,
As folks stood by where she lay on the ground; 1105
Some couldn’t even bear to be around.
But Walter cheered her, made her sorrow slake;
Then she arose, embarrassed, from her trance,
And cheerful comments all began to make,
And she regained her former countenance. 1110
Her pleasure Walter tried so to enhance
That it was truly a delight to view
The happiness restored between the two.
The ladies, when the proper time they chose,
Then took her, to the bedroom they were gone; 1115
They stripped her of her torn and tattered clothes,
And in a cloth of gold that brightly shone,
And with a crown of many a richest stone
Upon her head, they brought her to the hall,
Where she was honored rightfully by all. 1120
This piteous day thus had a blissful end,
As men and women both did all they might
This day in mirth and revelry to spend
Till in the sky there shone the starry light.
Indeed the feast in every fellow’s sight 1125
Was far more splendorous in every way
Than was the feast upon their wedding day.
For many years in high prosperity
He and Griselda lived, at peace and blest;
He had his daughter married regally 1130
To a fine lord, one of the worthiest
In Italy; and, too, in peace and rest
His wife’s old father in his court he kept
Until his soul out of his body crept.
His son succeeded to his heritage 1135
In rest and peace after his father’s day,
And fortunate as well he was in marriage,
Although his wife not greatly to assay.
This world is not so tough, it’s safe to say,
As it was known to be in days of yore; 1140
Pay heed to what this author says therefore:
This story’s told not so that women should
Be like Griselda in humility–
It couldn’t be endured although they would;
It’s so that everyone in his degree 1145
Should be steadfast when in adversity
As was Griselda; therefore Petrarch writes
This story, which in high style he endites.
So patient was a woman to the end
Toward a mortal man, the more we ought 1150
To take without complaint what God may send;
It’s reasonable that he test what he wrought,
Though he will tempt no man his blood has bought,
As Saint James says if you will read him out.
He tests folks every day, there’s not a doubt, 1155
And so that discipline in us arise
He with sharp scourges of adversity
Lets us be often whipped in sundry wise;
It’s not to know our will, for surely he
Before our birth knew all our frailty. 1160
For our own good is all his governance,
So let us live in worthy sufferance.
One word, my lords, now hear before I’m through:
It would be hard to locate nowadays
In any town Griseldas three or two; 1165
For if they all were put to such assays,
Their gold is so diluted by their ways
With brass that though the coin look good, my friend,
It’s likely it will break instead of bend.
Now for the Wife of Bath and in her name– 1170
Her life and all her sex may God preserve
In mastery, or it would be a shame–
With young and lusty heart I now will serve
You with a song to gladden you, with verve,
And let’s leave off this heavy stuff I chose. 1175
Now listen to my song, here’s how it goes: