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Introduction and Prologue

1 Oure Hooste saugh wel that the brighte sonne
2 The ark of his artificial day hath ronne
3 The ferthe part, and half an houre and moore,
4 And though he were not depe ystert in loore,
5 He wiste it was the eightetethe day
6 Of Aprill, that is messager to May;
7 And saugh wel that the shadwe of every tree
8 Was in lengthe the same quantitee
9 That was the body erect that caused it.
10 And therefore by the shadwe he took his wit
11 That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,
12 Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte,
13 And for that day, as in that latitude,
14 It was ten of the clokke, he gan conclude,
15 And sodeynly he plighte his horse aboute.
16 “Lordynges,” quod he, “I warne yow, al this route,
17 The fourthe party of this day is gon.
18 Now for the love of God and of Seint John,
19 Leseth no tyme, as ferforth as ye may.
20 Lordynges, the tyme wasteth nyght and day,
21 And steleth from us, what pryvely slepynge,
22 And what thurgh necligence in oure wakynge,
23 As dooth the streem that turneth nevere agayn,
24 Descendynge from the mountaigne into playn.
25 Wel kan Senec and many a philosophre
26 Biwaillen tyme moore than gold in cofre;
27 For ‘Los of catel may recovered be,
28 But los of tyme shendeth us,’ quod he.
29 It wol nat come agayn, withouten drede,
30 Nomoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede,
31 Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse.
32 Lat us nat mowlen thus in ydelnesse.
33 “Sire Man of Lawe,” quod he, “so have ye blis,
34 Telle us a tale anon, as forward is.
35 Ye been submytted, thurgh youre free assent,
36 To stonden in this cas at my juggement.
37 Acquiteth yow now of youre biheeste;
38 Thanne have ye do youre devoir atte leeste.”
39 “Hooste,” quod he, “depardieux, ich assente;
40 To breke forward is nat myn entente.
41 Biheste is dette, and I wole holde fayn
42 Al my biheste, I kan no bettre sayn.
43 For swich lawe as a man yeveth another wight,
44 He sholde hymselven usen it, by right;
45 Thus wole oure text. But nathelees, certeyn,
46 I kan right now no thrifty tale seyn
47 That Chaucer, thogh he kan but lewedly
48 On metres and on rymyng craftily,
49 Hath seyd hem in swich Englissh as he kan
50 Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man;
51 And if he have noght seyd hem, leve brother,
52 In o book, he hath seyd hem in another.
53 For he hath toold of loveris up and doun
54 Mo than Ovide made of mencioun
55 In his Episteles, that been ful olde.
56 What sholde I tellen hem, syn they been tolde?
57 “In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcione,
58 And sitthen hath he spoken of everichone,
59 Thise noble wyves and thise loveris eke.
60 Whoso that wole his large volume seke,
61 Cleped the Seintes Legende of Cupide,
62 Ther may he seen the large woundes wyde
63 Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tesbee;
64 The swerd of Dido for the false Enee;
65 The tree of Phillis for hire Demophon;
66 The pleinte of Dianire and of Hermyon,
67 Of Adriane, and of Isiphilee —
68 The bareyne yle stondynge in the see —
69 The dreynte Leandre for his Erro;
70 The teeris of Eleyne, and eek the wo
71 Of Brixseyde, and of the, Ladomya;
72 The crueltee of the, queene Medea,
73 Thy litel children hangynge by the hals,
74 For thy Jason, that was of love so fals!
75 O Ypermystra, Penelopee, Alceste,
76 Youre wifhod he comendeth with the beste!
77 “But certeinly no word ne writeth he
78 Of thilke wikke ensample of Canacee,
79 That loved hir owene brother synfully —
80 Of swiche cursed stories I sey fy! —
81 Or ellis of Tyro Appollonius,
82 How that the cursed kyng Antiochus
83 Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede,
84 That is so horrible a tale for to rede,
85 Whan he hir threw upon the pavement.
86 And therfore he, of ful avysement,
87 Nolde nevere write in none of his sermons
88 Of swiche unkynde abhomynacions,
89 Ne I wol noon reherce, if that I may.
90 “But of my tale how shal I doon this day?
91 Me were looth be likned, doutelees,
92 To Muses that men clepe Pierides —
93 Methamorphosios woot what I mene;
94 But nathelees, I recche noght a bene
95 Though I come after hym with hawebake.
96 I speke in prose, and lat him rymes make.”
97 And with that word he, with a sobre cheere,
98 Bigan his tale, as ye shal after heere.
99 O hateful harm, condicion of poverte!
100 With thurst, with coold, with hunger so confoundid!
101 To asken help thee shameth in thyn herte;
102 If thou noon aske, with nede artow so woundid
103 That verray nede unwrappeth al thy wounde hid!
104 Maugree thyn heed, thou most for indigence
105 Or stele, or begge, or borwe thy despence!
106 Thow blamest Crist and seist ful bitterly
107 He mysdeparteth richesse temporal;
108 Thy neighebor thou wytest synfully,
109 And seist thou hast to lite and he hath al.
110 “Parfay,” seistow, “somtyme he rekene shal,
111 Whan that his tayl shal brennen in the gleede,
112 For he noght helpeth needfulle in hir neede.”
113 Herkne what is the sentence of the wise:
114 “Bet is to dyen than have indigence”;
115 “Thy selve neighebor wol thee despise.”
116 If thou be povre, farwel thy reverence!
117 Yet of the wise man take this sentence:
118 ” Alle the dayes of povre men been wikke.”
119 Be war, therfore, er thou come to that prikke!
120 If thou be povre, thy brother hateth thee,
121 And alle thy freendes fleen from thee, allas!
122 O riche marchauntz, ful of wele been yee,
123 O noble, o prudent folk, as in this cas!
124 Youre bagges been nat fild with ambes as,
125 But with sys cynk, that renneth for youre chaunce;
126 At Cristemasse myrie may ye daunce!
127 Ye seken lond and see for yowre wynnynges;
128 As wise folk ye knowen al th’ estaat
129 Of regnes; ye been fadres of tidynges
130 And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat.
131 I were right now of tales desolaat,
132 Nere that a marchant, goon is many a yeere,
133 Me taughte a tale, which that ye shal heere.

The Tale

134 In Surrye whilom dwelte a compaignye
135 Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
136 That wyde-where senten hir spicerye,
137 Clothes of gold, and satyns riche of hewe.
138 Hir chaffare was so thrifty and so newe
139 That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
140 With hem, and eek to sellen hem hire ware.
141 Now fil it that the maistres of that sort
142 Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
143 Were it for chapmanhod or for disport,
144 Noon oother message wolde they thider sende,
145 But comen hemself to Rome; this is the ende.
146 And in swich place as thoughte hem avantage
147 For hire entente, they take hir herbergage.
148 Sojourned han thise merchantz in that toun
149 A certein tyme, as fil to hire plesance.
150 And so bifel that th’ excellent renoun
151 Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance,
152 Reported was, with every circumstance,
153 Unto thise Surryen marchantz in swich wyse,
154 Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.
155 This was the commune voys of every man:
156 “Oure Emperour of Rome — God hym see! —
157 A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
158 To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
159 Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
160 I prey to God in honour hire susteene,
161 And wolde she were of al Europe the queene.
162 “In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
163 Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye;
164 To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;
165 Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye.
166 She is mirour of alle curteisye;
167 Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
168 Hir hand, ministre of fredam for almesse.”
169 And al this voys was sooth, as God is trewe.
170 But now to purpos lat us turne agayn.
171 Thise marchantz han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
172 And whan they han this blisful mayden sayn,
173 Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,
174 And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore,
175 And lyven in wele; I kan sey yow namoore.
176 Now fil it that thise marchantz stode in grace
177 Of hym that was the Sowdan of Surrye;
178 For whan they cam from any strange place,
179 He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
180 Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye
181 Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere
182 The wondres that they myghte seen or heere.
183 Amonges othere thynges, specially,
184 Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance
185 So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
186 That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance
187 To han hir figure in his remembrance,
188 That al his lust and al his bisy cure
189 Was for to love hire while his lyf may dure.
190 Paraventure in thilke large book
191 Which that men clepe the hevene ywriten was
192 With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
193 That he for love sholde han his deeth, allas!
194 For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
195 Is writen, God woot, whoso koude it rede,
196 The deeth of every man, withouten drede.
197 In sterres, many a wynter therbiforn,
198 Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
199 Of Pompei, Julius, er they were born;
200 The strif of Thebes; and of Ercules,
201 Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
202 The deeth; but mennes wittes ben so dulle
203 That no wight kan wel rede it atte fulle.
204 This Sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
205 And, shortly of this matiere for to pace,
206 He hath to hem declared his entente,
207 And seyde hem, certein, but he myghte have grace
208 To han Custance withinne a litel space,
209 He nas but deed; and charged hem in hye
210 To shapen for his lyf som remedye.
211 Diverse men diverse thynges seyden;
212 They argumenten, casten up and doun;
213 Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden;
214 They speken of magyk and abusioun.
215 But finally, as in conclusioun,
216 They kan nat seen in that noon avantage,
217 Ne in noon oother wey, save mariage.
218 Thanne sawe they therinne swich difficultee
219 By wey of reson, for to speke al playn,
220 By cause that ther was swich diversitee
221 Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
222 They trowe that no “Cristen prince wolde fayn
223 Wedden his child under oure lawe sweete
224 That us was taught by Mahoun, oure prophete.”
225 And he answerde, “Rather than I lese
226 Custance, I wol be cristned, doutelees.
227 I moot been hires; I may noon oother chese.
228 I prey yow hoold youre argumentz in pees;
229 Saveth my lyf, and beth noght recchelees
230 To geten hire that hath my lyf in cure,
231 For in this wo I may nat longe endure.”
232 What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
233 I seye, by tretys and embassadrie,
234 And by the popes mediacioun,
235 And al the chirche, and al the chivalrie,
236 That in destruccioun of mawmettrie,
237 And in encrees of Cristes lawe deere,
238 They been acorded, so as ye shal heere:
239 How that the Sowdan and his baronage
240 And alle his liges sholde ycristned be,
241 And he shal han Custance in mariage,
242 And certein gold, I noot what quantitee;
243 And heer-to founden sufficient suretee.
244 This same accord was sworn on eyther syde;
245 Now, faire Custance, almyghty God thee gyde!
246 Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
247 That I sholde tellen al the purveiance
248 That th’ Emperour, of his grete noblesse,
249 Hath shapen for his doghter, dame Custance.
250 Wel may men knowen that so greet ordinance
251 May no man tellen in a litel clause
252 As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.
253 Bisshopes been shapen with hire for to wende,
254 Lordes, ladies, knyghtes of renoun,
255 And oother folk ynowe; this is th’ ende;
256 And notified is thurghout the toun
257 That every wight, with greet devocioun,
258 Sholde preyen Crist that he this mariage
259 Receyve in gree and spede this viage.
260 The day is comen of hir departynge;
261 I seye, the woful day fatal is come,
262 That ther may be no lenger tariynge,
263 But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some.
264 Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
265 Ful pale arist, and dresseth hire to wende;
266 For wel she seeth ther is noon oother ende.
267 Allas, what wonder is it thogh she wepte,
268 That shal be sent to strange nacioun
269 Fro freendes that so tendrely hire kepte,
270 And to be bounden under subjeccioun
271 Of oon, she knoweth nat his condicioun?
272 Housbondes been alle goode, and han ben yoore;
273 That knowen wyves; I dar sey yow na moore.
274 “Fader,” she seyde, “thy wrecched child Custance,
275 Thy yonge doghter fostred up so softe,
276 And ye, my mooder, my soverayn plesance
277 Over alle thyng, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
278 Custance youre child hire recomandeth ofte
279 Unto youre grace, for I shal to Surrye,
280 Ne shal I nevere seen yow moore with ye.
281 ” Allas, unto the Barbre nacioun
282 I moste anoon, syn that it is youre wille;
283 But Crist, that starf for our redempcioun
284 So yeve me grace his heestes to fulfille!
285 I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille!
286 Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
287 And to been under mannes governance.”
288 I trowe at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal
289 Or Ilion brende, at Thebes the citee,
290 N’ at Rome, for the harm thurgh Hanybal
291 That Romayns hath venquysshed tymes thre,
292 Nas herd swich tendre wepyng for pitee
293 As in the chambre was for hire departynge;
294 But forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or synge.
295 O firste moevyng! Crueel firmament,
296 With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
297 And hurlest al from est til occident
298 That naturelly wolde holde another way,
299 Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
300 At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
301 That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.
302 Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
303 Of which the lord is helplees falle, allas,
304 Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!
305 O Mars, o atazir, as in this cas!
306 O fieble moone, unhappy been thy paas!
307 Thou knyttest thee ther thou art nat receyved;
308 Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.
309 Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
310 Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
311 Is no tyme bet than oother in swich cas?
312 Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
313 Namely to folk of heigh condicioun?
314 Noght whan a roote is of a burthe yknowe?
315 Allas, we been to lewed or to slowe!
316 To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde
317 Solempnely, with every circumstance.
318 “Now Jhesu Crist be with yow alle!” she sayde;
319 Ther nys namoore, but “Farewel, faire Custance!”
320 She peyneth hire to make good contenance;
321 And forth I lete hire saille in this manere,
322 And turne I wole agayn to my matere.
323 The mooder of the Sowdan, welle of vices,
324 Espied hath hir sones pleyn entente,
325 How he wol lete his olde sacrifices;
326 And right anon she for hir conseil sente,
327 And they been come to knowe what she mente.
328 And whan assembled was this folk in-feere,
329 She sette hire doun, and seyde as ye shal heere.
330 “Lordes,” quod she, “ye knowen everichon,
331 How that my sone in point is for to lete
332 The hooly lawes of our Alkaron,
333 Yeven by Goddes message Makomete.
334 But oon avow to grete God I heete,
335 The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte
336 Or Makometes lawe out of myn herte!
337 “What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe
338 But thraldom to oure bodies and penance,
339 And afterward in helle to be drawe,
340 For we reneyed Mahoun oure creance?
341 But, lordes, wol ye maken assurance,
342 As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,
343 And I shal make us sauf for everemoore?”
344 They sworen and assenten, every man,
345 To lyve with hire and dye, and by hire stonde,
346 And everich, in the beste wise he kan,
347 To strengthen hire shal alle his frendes fonde;
348 And she hath this emprise ytake on honde,
349 Which ye shal heren that I shal devyse,
350 And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse:
351 “We shul first feyne us cristendom to take —
352 Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite! —
353 And I shal swich a feeste and revel make
354 That, as I trowe, I shal the Sowdan quite.
355 For thogh his wyf be cristned never so white,
356 She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
357 Thogh she a font-ful water with hire lede.”
358 O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
359 Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde!
360 O serpent under femynynytee,
361 Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
362 O feyned womman, al that may confounde
363 Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malice,
364 Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!
365 O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
366 That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
367 Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
368 Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage;
369 Thou wolt fordoon this Cristen mariage.
370 Thyn instrument so — weylawey the while! —
371 Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt bigile.
372 This Sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warye,
373 Leet prively hire conseil goon hire way.
374 What sholde I in this tale lenger tarye?
375 She rydeth to the Sowdan on a day,
376 And seyde hym that she wolde reneye hir lay,
377 And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
378 Repentynge hire she hethen was so longe,
379 Bisechynge hym to doon hire that honour,
380 That she moste han the Cristen folk to feeste —
381 “To plesen hem I wol do my labour.”
382 The Sowdan seith, “I wol doon at youre heeste,”
383 And knelynge thanketh hire of that requeste.
384 So glad he was, he nyste what to seye.
385 She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.
386 Arryved been this Cristen folk to londe
387 In Surrye, with a greet solempne route,
388 And hastifliche this Sowdan sente his sonde
389 First to his mooder, and al the regne aboute,
390 And seyde his wyf was comen, out of doute,
391 And preyde hire for to ryde agayn the queene,
392 The honour of his regne to susteene.
393 Greet was the prees, and riche was th’ array
394 Of Surryens and Romayns met yfeere;
395 The mooder of the Sowdan, riche and gay,
396 Receyveth hire with also glad a cheere
397 As any mooder myghte hir doghter deere,
398 And to the nexte citee ther bisyde
399 A softe paas solempnely they ryde.
400 Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,
401 Of which that Lucan maketh swich a boost,
402 Was roialler ne moore curius
403 Than was th’ assemblee of this blisful hoost.
404 But this scorpioun, this wikked goost,
405 The Sowdanesse, for al hire flaterynge,
406 Caste under this ful mortally to stynge.
407 The Sowdan comth hymself soone after this
408 So roially that wonder is to telle,
409 And welcometh hire with alle joye and blis.
410 And thus in murthe and joye I lete hem dwelle;
411 The fruyt of this matiere is that I telle.
412 Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste
413 That revel stynte, and men goon to hir reste.
414 The tyme cam, this olde Sowdanesse
415 Ordeyned hath this feeste of which I tolde,
416 And to the feeste Cristen folk hem dresse
417 In general, ye, bothe yonge and olde.
418 Heere may men feeste and roialtee biholde,
419 And deyntees mo than I kan yow devyse;
420 But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse.
421 O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
422 To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse,
423 The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
424 Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse.
425 Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse:
426 Upon thy glade day have in thy mynde
427 The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.
428 For shortly for to tellen, at o word,
429 The Sowdan and the Cristen everichone
430 Been al tohewe and stiked at the bord,
431 But it were oonly dame Custance allone.
432 This olde Sowdanesse, cursed krone,
433 Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede,
434 For she hirself wolde al the contree lede.
435 Ne ther was Surryen noon that was converted,
436 That of the conseil of the Sowdan woot,
437 That he nas al tohewe er he asterted.
438 And Custance han they take anon, foot-hoot,
439 And in a ship al steerelees, God woot,
440 They han hir set, and bidde hire lerne saille
441 Out of Surrye agaynward to Ytaille.
442 A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
443 And, sooth to seyn, vitaille greet plentee
444 They han hire yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
445 And forth she sailleth in the salte see.
446 O my Custance, ful of benignytee,
447 O Emperoures yonge doghter deere,
448 He that is lord of Fortune be thy steere!
449 She blesseth hire, and with ful pitous voys
450 Unto the croys of Crist thus seyde she:
451 “O cleere, o welful auter, hooly croys,
452 Reed of the Lambes blood ful of pitee,
453 That wessh the world fro the olde iniquitee,
454 Me fro the feend and fro his clawes kepe,
455 That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
456 “Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
457 That oonly worthy were for to bere
458 The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
459 The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spere,
460 Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
461 On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,
462 Me kepe, and yif me myght my lyf t’ amenden.”
463 Yeres and dayes fleet this creature
464 Thurghout the See of Grece unto the Strayte
465 Of Marrok, as it was hire aventure.
466 On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
467 After hir deeth ful often may she wayte,
468 Er that the wilde wawes wol hire dryve
469 Unto the place ther she shal arryve.
470 Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn
471 Eek at the feeste? Who myghte hir body save?
472 And I answere to that demande agayn,
473 Who saved Danyel in the horrible cave
474 Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
475 Was with the leon frete er he asterte?
476 No wight but God that he bar in his herte.
477 God liste to shewe his wonderful myracle
478 In hire, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis;
479 Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
480 By certeine meenes ofte, as knowen clerkis,
481 Dooth thyng for certein ende that ful derk is
482 To mannes wit, that for oure ignorance
483 Ne konne noght knowe his prudent purveiance.
484 Now sith she was nat at the feeste yslawe,
485 Who kepte hire fro the drenchyng in the see?
486 Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
487 Til he was spouted up at Nynyvee?
488 Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he
489 That kepte peple Ebrayk from hir drenchynge,
490 With drye feet thurghout the see passynge.
491 Who bad the foure spirites of tempest
492 That power han t’ anoyen lond and see,
493 Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
494 ” Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree”?
495 Soothly, the comandour of that was he
496 That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte
497 As wel whan she wook as whan she slepte.
498 Where myghte this womman mete and drynke have
499 Thre yeer and moore? How lasteth hire vitaille?
500 Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,
501 Or in desert? No wight but Crist, sanz faille.
502 Fyve thousand folk it was as greet mervaille
503 With loves fyve and fisshes two to feede.
504 God sente his foyson at hir grete neede.
505 She dryveth forth into oure occian
506 Thurghout oure wilde see, til atte laste
507 Under an hoold that nempnen I ne kan,
508 Fer in Northhumberlond the wawe hire caste,
509 And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste
510 That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde;
511 The wyl of Crist was that she sholde abyde.
512 The constable of the castel doun is fare
513 To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
514 And foond this wery womman ful of care;
515 He foond also the tresor that she broghte.
516 In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
517 The lyf out of hir body for to twynne,
518 Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne.
519 A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche,
520 But algates therby was she understonde.
521 The constable, whan hym lyst no longer seche,
522 This woful womman broghte he to the londe.
523 She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde;
524 But what she was she wolde no man seye,
525 For foul ne fair, thogh that she sholde deye.
526 She seyde she was so mazed in the see
527 That she forgat hir mynde, by hir trouthe.
528 The constable hath of hire so greet pitee,
529 And eek his wyf, that they wepen for routhe.
530 She was so diligent, withouten slouthe,
531 To serve and plesen everich in that place
532 That alle hir loven that looken in hir face.
533 This constable and dame Hermengyld, his wyf,
534 Were payens, and that contree everywhere;
535 But Hermengyld loved hire right as hir lyf,
536 And Custance hath so longe sojourned there,
537 In orisons, with many a bitter teere,
538 Til Jhesu hath converted thurgh his grace
539 Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place.
540 In al that lond no Cristen dorste route;
541 Alle Cristen folk been fled fro that contree
542 Thurgh payens, that conquereden al aboute
543 The plages of the north, by land and see.
544 To Walys fledde the Cristyanytee
545 Of olde Britons dwellynge in this ile;
546 Ther was hir refut for the meene while.
547 But yet nere Cristene Britons so exiled
548 That ther nere somme that in hir privetee
549 Honoured Crist and hethen folk bigiled,
550 And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three.
551 That oon of hem was blynd and myghte nat see,
552 But it were with thilke eyen of his mynde
553 With whiche men seen, after that they ben blynde.
554 Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
555 For which the constable and his wyf also
556 And Custance han ytake the righte way
557 Toward the see a furlong wey or two,
558 To pleyen and to romen to and fro,
559 And in hir walk this blynde man they mette,
560 Croked and oold, with eyen faste yshette.
561 “In name of Crist,” cride this blinde Britoun,
562 “Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn!”
563 This lady weex affrayed of the soun,
564 Lest that hir housbonde, shortly for to sayn,
565 Wolde hire for Jhesu Cristes love han slayn,
566 Til Custance made hire boold, and bad hire wirche
567 The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
568 The constable weex abasshed of that sight,
569 And seyde, “What amounteth al this fare?”
570 Custance answerde, “Sire, it is Cristes myght,
571 That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.”
572 And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare
573 That she the constable, er that it was eve
574 Converteth, and on Crist made hym bileve.
575 This constable was nothyng lord of this place
576 Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond,
577 But kepte it strongly many a wyntres space
578 Under Alla, kyng of al Northhumbrelond,
579 That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond
580 Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel heere;
581 But turne I wole agayn to my mateere.
582 Sathan, that evere us waiteth to bigile,
583 Saugh of Custance al hire perfeccioun,
584 And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while,
585 And made a yong knyght that dwelte in that toun
586 Love hire so hoote, of foul affeccioun,
587 That verraily hym thoughte he sholde spille,
588 But he of hire myghte ones have his wille.
589 He woweth hire, but it availleth noght;
590 She wolde do no synne, by no weye.
591 And for despit he compassed in his thoght
592 To maken hire on shameful deeth to deye.
593 He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,
594 And pryvely upon a nyght he crepte
595 In Hermengyldes chambre, whil she slepte.
596 Wery, forwaked in hire orisouns,
597 Slepeth Custance, and Hermengyld also.
598 This knyght, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,
599 Al softely is to the bed ygo,
600 And kitte the throte of Hermengyld atwo,
601 And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
602 And wente his wey, ther God yeve hym meschance!
603 Soone after cometh this constable hoom agayn,
604 And eek Alla, that kyng was of that lond,
605 And saugh his wyf despitously yslayn,
606 For which ful ofte he weep and wroong his hond,
607 And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
608 By Dame Custance. Allas, what myghte she seye?
609 For verray wo hir wit was al aweye.
610 To kyng Alla was toold al this meschance,
611 And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wise
612 That in a ship was founden this Custance,
613 As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.
614 The kynges herte of pitee gan agryse,
615 Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
616 Falle in disese and in mysaventure.
617 For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
618 So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.
619 This false knyght, that hath this tresoun wroght,
620 Berth hire on hond that she hath doon thys thyng.
621 But nathelees, ther was greet moornyng
622 Among the peple, and seyn they kan nat gesse
623 That she had doon so greet a wikkednesse,
624 For they han seyn hire evere so vertuous,
625 And lovynge Hermengyld right as hir lyf.
626 Of this baar witnesse everich in that hous,
627 Save he that Hermengyld slow with his knyf.
628 This gentil kyng hath caught a greet motyf
629 Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
630 Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
631 Allas! Custance, thou hast no champioun,
632 Ne fighte kanstow noght, so weylaway!
633 But he that starf for our redempcioun,
634 And boond Sathan (and yet lith ther he lay),
635 So be thy stronge champion this day!
636 For, but if Crist open myracle kithe,
637 Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swithe.
638 She sette hire doun on knees, and thus she sayde:
639 “Immortal God, that savedest Susanne
640 Fro false blame, and thou, merciful mayde,
641 Marie I meene, doghter to Seint Anne,
642 Bifore whos child angeles synge Osanne,
643 If I be giltlees of this felonye,
644 My socour be, for ellis shal I dye!”
645 Have ye nat seyn somtyme a pale face,
646 Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
647 Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
648 And swich a colour in his face hath had
649 Men myghte knowe his face that was bistad
650 Amonges alle the faces in that route?
651 So stant Custance, and looketh hire aboute.
652 O queenes, lyvynge in prosperitee,
653 Duchesses, and ye ladyes everichone,
654 Haveth som routhe on hire adversitee!
655 An Emperoures doghter stant allone;
656 She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
657 O blood roial, that stondest in this drede,
658 Fer been thy freendes at thy grete nede!
659 This Alla kyng hath swich compassioun,
660 As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
661 That from his eyen ran the water doun.
662 “Now hastily do fecche a book,” quod he,
663 ” And if this knyght wol sweren how that she
664 This womman slow, yet wol we us avyse
665 Whom that we wole that shal been oure justise.”
666 A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,
667 Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
668 She gilty was, and in the meene whiles
669 An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-boon,
670 That doun he fil atones as a stoon,
671 And bothe his eyen broste out of his face
672 In sighte of every body in that place.
673 A voys was herd in general audience,
674 And seyde, “Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees,
675 The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence;
676 Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees!”
677 Of this mervaille agast was al the prees;
678 As mazed folk they stoden everichone,
679 For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
680 Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
681 Of hem that hadden wrong suspecioun
682 Upon this sely innocent, Custance;
683 And for this miracle, in conclusioun,
684 And by Custances mediacioun,
685 The kyng — and many another in that place —
686 Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace!
687 This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe
688 By juggement of Alla hastifly;
689 And yet Custance hadde of his deeth greet routhe.
690 And after this Jhesus, of his mercy,
691 Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
692 This hooly mayden, that is so bright and sheene;
693 And thus hath Crist ymaad Custance a queene.
694 But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
695 Of this weddyng but Donegild, and namo,
696 The kynges mooder, ful of tirannye?
697 Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast atwo.
698 She wolde noght hir sone had do so;
699 Hir thoughte a despit that he sholde take
700 So strange a creature unto his make.
701 Me list nat of the chaf, ne of the stree,
702 Maken so long a tale as of the corn.
703 What sholde I tellen of the roialtee
704 At mariage, or which cours goth biforn;
705 Who bloweth in a trumpe or in an horn?
706 The fruyt of every tale is for to seye:
707 They ete, and drynke, and daunce, and synge, and pleye.
708 They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right;
709 For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,
710 They moste take in pacience at nyght
711 Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges
712 To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,
713 And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside,
714 As for the tyme — it may no bet bitide.
715 On hire he gat a knave child anon,
716 And to a bisshop, and his constable eke,
717 He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon
718 To Scotlond-ward, his foomen for to seke.
719 Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
720 So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
721 She halt hire chambre, abidyng Cristes wille.
722 The tyme is come a knave child she beer;
723 Mauricius at the fontstoon they hym calle.
724 This constable dooth forth come a messageer,
725 And wroot unto his kyng, that cleped was Alle,
726 How that this blisful tidyng is bifalle,
727 And othere tidynges spedeful for to seye.
728 He taketh the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.
729 This messager, to doon his avantage,
730 Unto the kynges mooder rideth swithe,
731 And salueth hire ful faire in his langage:
732 “Madame,” quod he, “ye may be glad and blithe,
733 And thanketh God an hundred thousand sithe!
734 My lady queene hath child, withouten doute,
735 To joye and blisse to al this regne aboute.
736 “Lo, heere the lettres seled of this thyng,
737 That I moot bere with al the haste I may.
738 If ye wol aught unto youre sone the kyng,
739 I am youre servant, bothe nyght and day.”
740 Donegild answerde, ” As now at this tyme, nay;
741 But heere al nyght I wol thou take thy reste.
742 To-morwe wol I seye thee what me leste.”
743 This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,
744 And stolen were his lettres pryvely
745 Out of his box, whil he sleep as a swyn;
746 And countrefeted was ful subtilly
747 Another lettre, wroght ful synfully,
748 Unto the kyng direct of this mateere
749 Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.
750 The lettre spak the queene delivered was
751 Of so horrible a feendly creature
752 That in the castel noon so hardy was
753 That any while dorste ther endure.
754 The mooder was an elf, by aventure
755 Ycomen, by charmes or by sorcerie,
756 And every wight hateth hir compaignye.
757 Wo was this kyng whan he this lettre had sayn,
758 But to no wight he tolde his sorwes soore,
759 But of his owene hand he wroot agayn,
760 “Welcome the sonde of Crist for everemoore
761 To me that am now lerned in his loore!
762 Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce;
763 My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.
764 “Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feir,
765 And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge.
766 Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
767 Moore agreable than this to my likynge.”
768 This lettre he seleth, pryvely wepynge,
769 Which to the messager was take soone,
770 And forth he gooth; ther is na moore to doone.
771 O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
772 Strong is thy breeth, thy lymes faltren ay,
773 And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.
774 Thy mynde is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,
775 Thy face is turned in a newe array.
776 Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
777 Ther is no conseil hyd, withouten doute.
778 O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne
779 Unto thy malice and thy tirannye!
780 And therfore to the feend I thee resigne;
781 Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie!
782 Fy, mannysh, fy! — o nay, by God, I lye —
783 Fy, feendlych spirit, for I dar wel telle,
784 Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle!
785 This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,
786 And at the kynges moodres court he lighte,
787 And she was of this messager ful fayn,
788 And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
789 He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte;
790 He slepeth, and he fnorteth in his gyse
791 Al nyght, til the sonne gan aryse.
792 Eft were his lettres stolen everychon,
793 And countrefeted lettres in this wyse:
794 “The king comandeth his constable anon,
795 Up peyne of hangyng, and on heigh juyse,
796 That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
797 Custance in-with his reawme for t’ abyde
798 Thre dayes and o quarter of a tyde;
799 “But in the same ship as he hire fond,
800 Hire, and hir yonge sone, and al hir geere,
801 He sholde putte, and croude hire fro the lond,
802 And charge hire that she never eft coome theere.”
803 O my Custance, wel may thy goost have feere,
804 And, slepynge, in thy dreem been in penance,
805 Whan Donegild cast al this ordinance.
806 This messager on morwe, whan he wook,
807 Unto the castel halt the nexte way,
808 And to the constable he the lettre took;
809 And whan that he this pitous lettre say,
810 Ful ofte he seyde, ” Allas and weylaway!”
811 “Lord Crist,” quod he, “how may this world endure,
812 So ful of synne is many a creature?
813 “O myghty God, if that it be thy wille,
814 Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be
815 That thou wolt suffren innocentz to spille,
816 And wikked folk regne in prosperitee?
817 O goode Custance, allas, so wo is me
818 That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye
819 On shames deeth; ther is noon oother weye.”
820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place
821 Whan that the kyng this cursed lettre sente,
822 And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
823 The ferthe day toward hir ship she wente.
824 But nathelees she taketh in good entente
825 The wyl of Crist, and knelynge on the stronde,
826 She seyde, “Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde!
827 “He that me kepte fro the false blame
828 While I was on the lond amonges yow,
829 He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame
830 In salte see, althogh I se noght how.
831 As strong as evere he was, he is yet now.
832 In hym triste I, and in his mooder deere,
833 That is to me my seyl and eek my steere.”
834 Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
835 And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
836 “Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm.”
837 With that hir coverchief of hir heed she breyde,
838 And over his litel eyen she it leyde,
839 And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
840 And into hevene hire eyen up she caste.
841 “Mooder,” quod she, “and mayde bright, Marie,
842 Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
843 Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye,
844 For which thy child was on a croys yrent.
845 Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
846 Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
847 Thy wo and any wo man may sustene.
848 “Thow sawe thy child yslayn bifore thyne yen,
849 And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay!
850 Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
851 Thow glorie of wommanhede, thow faire may,
852 Thow haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
853 Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse
854 Rewest on every reweful in distresse.
855 “O litel child, allas! What is thy gilt,
856 That nevere wroghtest synne as yet, pardee?
857 Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
858 O mercy, deere constable,” quod she,
859 ” As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
860 And if thou darst nat saven hym, for blame,
861 So kys hym ones in his fadres name!”
862 Therwith she looked bakward to the londe,
863 And seyde, “Farewel, housbonde routhelees!”
864 And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde
865 Toward the ship — hir folweth al the prees —
866 And evere she preyeth hire child to holde his pees;
867 And taketh hir leve, and with an hooly entente
868 She blisseth hire, and into ship she wente.
869 Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
870 Habundantly for hire ful longe space,
871 And othere necessaries that sholde nede
872 She hadde ynogh — heryed be Goddes grace!
873 For wynd and weder almyghty God purchace,
874 And brynge hire hoom! I kan no bettre seye,
875 But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.
876 Alla the kyng comth hoom soone after this
877 Unto his castel, of the which I tolde,
878 And asketh where his wyf and his child is.
879 The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
880 And pleynly al the manere he hym tolde
881 As ye han herd — I kan telle it no bettre —
882 And sheweth the kyng his seel and eek his lettre,
883 And seyde, “Lord, as ye comanded me
884 Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein.”
885 This messager tormented was til he
886 Moste biknowe and tellen, plat and pleyn,
887 Fro nyght to nyght, in what place he had leyn;
888 And thus, by wit and sotil enquerynge,
889 Ymagined was by whom this harm gan sprynge.
890 The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
891 And al the venym of this cursed dede,
892 But in what wise, certeinly, I noot.
893 Th’ effect is this: that Alla, out of drede,
894 His mooder slow — that may men pleynly rede —
895 For that she traitour was to hire ligeance.
896 Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschance!
897 The sorwe that this Alla nyght and day
898 Maketh for his wyf, and for his child also,
899 Ther is no tonge that it telle may.
900 But now wol I unto Custance go,
901 That fleteth in the see, in peyne and wo,
902 Fyve yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde,
903 Er that hir ship approched unto londe.
904 Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
905 Of which the name in my text noght I fynde,
906 Custance, and eek hir child, the see up caste.
907 Almyghty God, that saveth al mankynde,
908 Have on Custance and on hir child som mynde,
909 That fallen is in hethen hand eft soone,
910 In point to spille, as I shal telle yow soone.
911 Doun fro the castel comth ther many a wight
912 To gauren on this ship and on Custance.
913 But shortly, from the castel, on a nyght,
914 The lordes styward — God yeve hym meschance! —
915 A theef, that hadde reneyed oure creance,
916 Cam into ship allone, and seyde he sholde
917 Hir lemman be, wher-so she wolde or nolde.
918 Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon;
919 Hir child cride, and she cride pitously.
920 But blisful Marie heelp hire right anon;
921 For with hir struglyng wel and myghtily
922 The theef fil over bord al sodeynly,
923 And in the see he dreynte for vengeance;
924 And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
925 O foule lust of luxurie, lo, thyn ende!
926 Nat oonly that thou feyntest mannes mynde,
927 But verraily thou wolt his body shende.
928 Th’ ende of thy werk, or of thy lustes blynde,
929 Is compleynyng. Hou many oon may men fynde
930 That noght for werk somtyme, but for th’ entente
931 To doon this synne, been outher slayn or shente!
932 How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
933 Hire to defende agayn this renegat?
934 O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
935 Hou myghte David make thee so maat,
936 So yong and of armure so desolaat?
937 Hou dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?
938 Wel may men seen, it nas but Goddes grace.
939 Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
940 To sleen hym Olofernus in his tente,
941 And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
942 The peple of God? I seye, for this entente,
943 That right as God spirit of vigour sente
944 To hem and saved hem out of meschance,
945 So sente he myght and vigour to Custance.
946 Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe mouth
947 Of Jubaltare and Septe, dryvynge ay
948 Somtyme west, and somtyme north and south,
949 And somtyme est, ful many a wery day,
950 Til Cristes mooder — blessed be she ay! —
951 Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
952 To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.
953 Now lat us stynte of Custance but a throwe,
954 And speke we of the Romayn Emperour,
955 That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe
956 The slaughtre of cristen folk, and dishonour
957 Doon to his doghter by a fals traytour,
958 I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse
959 That at the feeste leet sleen bothe moore and lesse.
960 For which this Emperour hath sent anon
961 His senatour, with roial ordinance,
962 And othere lordes, God woot, many oon,
963 On Surryens to taken heigh vengeance.
964 They brennen, sleen, and brynge hem to meschance
965 Ful many a day; but shortly — this is th’ ende —
966 Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
967 This senatour repaireth with victorie
968 To Rome-ward, saillynge ful roially,
969 And mette the ship dryvynge, as seith the storie,
970 In which Custance sit ful pitously.
971 Nothyng ne knew he what she was, ne why
972 She was in swich array, ne she nyl seye
973 Of hire estaat, althogh she sholde deye.
974 He bryngeth hire to Rome, and to his wyf
975 He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also;
976 And with the senatour she ladde hir lyf.
977 Thus kan Oure Lady bryngen out of wo
978 Woful Custance, and many another mo.
979 And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
980 In hooly werkes evere, as was hir grace.
981 The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
982 But for al that she knew hire never the moore.
983 I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,
984 But to kyng Alla, which I spak of yoore,
985 That for his wyf wepeth and siketh soore,
986 I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
987 Under the senatoures governance.
988 Kyng Alla, which that hadde his mooder slayn,
989 Upon a day fil in swich repentance
990 That, if I shortly tellen shal and playn,
991 To Rome he comth to receyven his penance;
992 And putte hym in the Popes ordinance
993 In heigh and logh, and Jhesu Crist bisoghte
994 Foryeve his wikked werkes that he wroghte.
995 The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born,
996 How Alla kyng shal comen in pilgrymage,
997 By herbergeours that wenten hym biforn;
998 For which the senatour, as was usage,
999 Rood hym agayns, and many of his lynage,
1000 As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
1001 As to doon any kyng a reverence.
1002 Greet cheere dooth this noble senatour
1003 To kyng Alla, and he to hym also;
1004 Everich of hem dooth oother greet honour.
1005 And so bifel that in a day or two
1006 This senatour is to kyng Alla go
1007 To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
1008 Custances sone wente in his compaignye.
1009 Som men wolde seyn at requeste of Custance
1010 This senatour hath lad this child to feeste;
1011 I may nat tellen every circumstance —
1012 Be as be may, ther was he at the leeste.
1013 But sooth is this, that at his moodres heeste
1014 Biforn Alla, durynge the metes space,
1015 The child stood, lookynge in the kynges face.
1016 This Alla kyng hath of this child greet wonder,
1017 And to the senatour he seyde anon,
1018 “Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?”
1019 “I noot,” quod he, “by God, and by Seint John!
1020 A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon
1021 That I of woot” — and shortly, in a stounde,
1022 He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.
1023 “But God woot,” quod this senatour also,
1024 “So vertuous a lyvere in my lyf
1025 Ne saugh I nevere as she, ne herde of mo,
1026 Of worldly wommen, mayde, ne of wyf.
1027 I dar wel seyn hir hadde levere a knyf
1028 Thurghout hir brest, than ben a womman wikke;
1029 There is no man koude brynge hire to that prikke.”
1030 Now was this child as lyk unto Custance
1031 As possible is a creature to be.
1032 This Alla hath the face in remembrance
1033 Of dame Custance, and ther on mused he
1034 If that the childes mooder were aught she
1035 That is his wyf, and pryvely he sighte,
1036 And spedde hym fro the table that he myghte.
1037 “Parfay,” thoghte he, “fantome is in myn heed!
1038 I oghte deme, of skilful juggement,
1039 That in the salte see my wyf is deed.”
1040 And afterward he made his argument:
1041 “What woot I if that Crist have hyder ysent
1042 My wyf by see, as wel as he hire sente
1043 To my contree fro thennes that she wente?”
1044 And after noon, hoom with the senatour
1045 Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
1046 This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
1047 And hastifly he sente after Custaunce.
1048 But trusteth weel, hire liste nat to daunce
1049 Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;
1050 Unnethe upon hir feet she myghte stonde.
1051 Whan Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hire grette,
1052 And weep that it was routhe for to see;
1053 For at the firste look he on hire sette
1054 He knew wel verraily that it was she.
1055 And she, for sorwe, as doumb stant as a tree,
1056 So was hir herte shet in hir distresse,
1057 Whan she remembred his unkyndenesse.
1058 Twyes she swowned in his owene sighte;
1059 He weep, and hym excuseth pitously.
1060 “Now God,” quod he, “and his halwes brighte
1061 So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
1062 That of youre harm as giltelees am I
1063 As is Maurice my sone, so lyk youre face;
1064 Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!”
1065 Long was the sobbyng and the bitter peyne,
1066 Er that hir woful hertes myghte cesse;
1067 Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleyne,
1068 Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.
1069 I pray yow alle my labour to relesse;
1070 I may nat telle hir wo until to-morwe,
1071 I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
1072 But finally, whan that the sothe is wist
1073 That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,
1074 I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
1075 And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two
1076 That, save the joye that lasteth everemo,
1077 Ther is noon lyk that any creature
1078 Hath seyn or shal, whil that the world may dure.
1079 Tho preyde she hir housbonde mekely,
1080 In relief of hir longe, pitous pyne,
1081 That he wolde preye hir fader specially
1082 That of his magestee he wolde enclyne
1083 To vouche sauf som day with hym to dyne.
1084 She preyde hym eek he sholde by no weye
1085 Unto hir fader no word of hire seye.
1086 Som men wolde seyn how that the child Maurice
1087 Dooth this message unto this Emperour;
1088 But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce
1089 To hym that was of so sovereyn honour
1090 As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,
1091 Sente any child, but it is bet to deeme
1092 He wente hymself, and so it may wel seeme.
1093 This Emperour hath graunted gentilly
1094 To come to dyner, as he hym bisoughte;
1095 And wel rede I he looked bisily
1096 Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte.
1097 Alla goth to his in, and as hym oghte,
1098 Arrayed for this feste in every wise
1099 As ferforth as his konnyng may suffise.
1100 The morwe cam, and Alla gan hym dresse,
1101 And eek his wyf, this Emperour to meete;
1102 And forth they ryde in joye and in gladnesse.
1103 And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,
1104 She lighte doun, and falleth hym to feete.
1105 “Fader,” quod she, “youre yonge child Custance
1106 Is now ful clene out of youre remembrance.
1107 “I am youre doghter Custance,” quod she,
1108 “That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
1109 It am I, fader, that in the salte see
1110 Was put allone and dampned for to dye.
1111 Now, goode fader, mercy I yow crye!
1112 Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,
1113 But thonketh my lord heere of his kyndenesse.”
1114 Who kan the pitous joye tellen al
1115 Bitwixe hem thre, syn they been thus ymette?
1116 But of my tale make an ende I shal;
1117 The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
1118 This glade folk to dyner they hem sette;
1119 In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle
1120 A thousand foold wel moore than I kan telle.
1121 This child Maurice was sithen Emperour
1122 Maad by the Pope, and lyved cristenly;
1123 To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour.
1124 But I lete al his storie passen by;
1125 Of Custance is my tale specially.
1126 In the olde Romayn geestes may men fynde
1127 Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in mynde.
1128 This kyng Alla, whan he his tyme say,
1129 With his Custance, his hooly wyf so sweete,
1130 To Engelond been they come the righte way,
1131 Wher as they lyve in joye and in quiete.
1132 But litel while it lasteth, I yow heete,
1133 Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;
1134 Fro day to nyght it changeth as the tyde.
1135 Who lyved euere in swich delit o day
1136 That hym ne moeved outher conscience,
1137 Or ire, or talent, or som kynnes affray,
1138 Envye, or pride, or passion, or offence?
1139 I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
1140 That litel while in joye or in plesance
1141 Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
1142 For Deeth, that taketh of heigh and logh his rente,
1143 Whan passed was a yeer, evene as I gesse,
1144 Out of this world this kyng Alla he hente,
1145 For whom Custance hath ful greet hevynesse.
1146 Now lat us prayen God his soule blesse!
1147 And dame Custance, finally to seye,
1148 Toward the toun of Rome goth hir weye.
1149 To Rome is come this hooly creature,
1150 And fyndeth hire freendes hoole and sounde;
1151 Now is she scaped al hire aventure.
1152 And whan that she hir fader hath yfounde,
1153 Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde;
1154 Wepynge for tendrenesse in herte blithe,
1155 She heryeth God an hundred thousand sithe.
1156 In vertu and in hooly almus-dede
1157 They lyven alle, and nevere asonder wende;
1158 Til deeth departeth hem, this lyf they lede.
1159 And fareth now weel! my tale is at an ende.
1160 Now Jhesu Crist, that of his myght may sende
1161 Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,
1162 And kepe us alle that been in this place! Amen

The Epilogue

1163 [Owre Hoost upon his stiropes stood anon,
1164 And seyde, “Goode men, herkeneth everych on!
1165 This was a thrifty tale for the nones!
1166 Sir Parisshe Prest,” quod he, “for Goddes bones,
1167 Telle us a tale, as was thi forward yore.
1168 I se wel that ye lerned men in lore
1169 Can moche good, by Goddes dignitee!”
1170 The Parson him answerde, “Benedicite!
1171 What eyleth the man, so synfully to swere?”
1172 Oure Host answerde, “O Jankin, be ye there?
1173 I smelle a Lollere in the wynd,” quod he.
1174 “Now! goode men,” quod oure Hoste, “herkeneth me;
1175 Abydeth, for Goddes digne passioun,
1176 For we schal han a predicacioun;
1177 This Lollere heer wil prechen us somwhat.”
1178 “Nay, by my fader soule, that schal he nat!”
1179 Seyde the Shipman, “Heer schal he nat preche;
1180 He schal no gospel glosen here ne teche.
1181 We leven alle in the grete God,” quod he;
1182 “He wolde sowen som difficulte,
1183 Or springen cokkel in our clene corn.
1184 And therfore, Hoost, I warne thee biforn,
1185 My joly body schal a tale telle,
1186 And I schal clynken you so mery a belle,
1187 That I schal waken al this compaignie.
1188 But it schal not ben of philosophie,
1189 Ne phislyas, ne termes queinte of lawe.
1190 Ther is but litel Latyn in my mawe!”]

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