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7. THE WIFE OF BATH’S TALE

Prologue

1 “Experience, though noon auctoritee
2 Were in this world, is right ynogh for me
3 To speke of wo that is in mariage;
4 For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age,
5 Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve,
6 Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve —
7 If I so ofte myghte have ywedded bee —
8 And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
9 But me was toold, certeyn, nat longe agoon is,
10 That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but onis
11 To weddyng, in the Cane of Galilee,
12 That by the same ensample taughte he me
13 That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.
14 Herkne eek, lo, which a sharp word for the nones,
15 Biside a welle, Jhesus, God and man,
16 Spak in repreeve of the Samaritan:
17 ‘Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes,’ quod he,
18 ‘ And that ilke man that now hath thee
19 Is noght thyn housbonde,’ thus seyde he certeyn.
20 What that he mente therby, I kan nat seyn;
21 But that I axe, why that the fifthe man
22 Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
23 How manye myghte she have in mariage?
24 Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age
25 Upon this nombre diffinicioun.
26 Men may devyne and glosen, up and doun,
27 But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,
28 God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;
29 That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
30 Eek wel I woot, he seyde myn housbonde
31 Sholde lete fader and mooder and take to me.
32 But of no nombre mencion made he,
33 Of bigamye, or of octogamye;
34 Why sholde men thanne speke of it vileynye?
35 Lo, heere the wise kyng, daun Salomon;
36 I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon.
37 As wolde God it leveful were unto me
38 To be refresshed half so ofte as he!
39 Which yifte of God hadde he for alle his wyvys!
40 No man hath swich that in this world alyve is.
41 God woot, this noble kyng, as to my wit,
42 The firste nyght had many a myrie fit
43 With ech of hem, so wel was hym on lyve.
44 Yblessed be God that I have wedded fyve!
44a [Of whiche I have pyked out the beste,
44b Bothe of here nether purs and of here cheste.
44c Diverse scoles maken parfyt clerkes,
44d And diverse practyk in many sondry werkes
44e Maketh the werkman parfyt sekirly;
44f Of fyve husbondes scoleiyng am I.]
45 Welcome the sixte, whan that evere he shal.
46 For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chaast in al.
47 Whan myn housbonde is fro the world ygon,
48 Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon,
49 For thanne th’ apostle seith that I am free
50 To wedde, a Goddes half, where it liketh me.
51 He seith that to be wedded is no synne;
52 Bet is to be wedded than to brynne.
53 What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileynye
54 Of shrewed Lameth and his bigamye?
55 I woot wel Abraham was an hooly man,
56 And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I kan;
57 And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two,
58 And many another holy man also.
59 Wher can ye seye, in any manere age,
60 That hye God defended mariage
61 By expres word? I pray yow, telleth me.
62 Or where comanded he virginitee?
63 I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
64 Th’ apostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede,
65 He seyde that precept therof hadde he noon.
66 Men may conseille a womman to been oon,
67 But conseillyng is no comandement.
68 He putte it in oure owene juggement;
69 For hadde God comanded maydenhede,
70 Thanne hadde he dampned weddyng with the dede.
71 And certes, if ther were no seed ysowe,
72 Virginitee, thanne wherof sholde it growe?
73 Poul dorste nat comanden, atte leeste,
74 A thyng of which his maister yaf noon heeste.
75 The dart is set up for virginitee;
76 Cacche whoso may, who renneth best lat see.
77 But this word is nat taken of every wight,
78 But ther as God lust gyve it of his myght.
79 I woot wel that th’ apostel was a mayde;
80 But nathelees, thogh that he wroot and sayde
81 He wolde that every wight were swich as he,
82 Al nys but conseil to virginitee.
83 And for to been a wyf he yaf me leve
84 Of indulgence; so nys it no repreve
85 To wedde me, if that my make dye,
86 Withouten excepcion of bigamye.
87 Al were it good no womman for to touche —
88 He mente as in his bed or in his couche,
89 For peril is bothe fyr and tow t’ assemble;
90 Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble.
91 This is al and som: he heeld virginitee
92 Moore parfit than weddyng in freletee.
93 Freletee clepe I, but if that he and she
94 Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.
95 I graunte it wel; I have noon envie,
96 Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye.
97 It liketh hem to be clene, body and goost;
98 Of myn estaat I nyl nat make no boost,
99 For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,
100 He nath nat every vessel al of gold;
101 Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse.
102 God clepeth folk to hym in sondry wyse,
103 And everich hath of God a propre yifte —
104 Som this, som that, as hym liketh shifte.
105 Virginitee is greet perfeccion,
106 And continence eek with devocion,
107 But Crist, that of perfeccion is welle,
108 Bad nat every wight he sholde go selle
109 Al that he hadde, and gyve it to the poore,
110 And in swich wise folwe hym and his foore.
111 He spak to hem that wolde lyve parfitly;
112 And lordynges, by youre leve, that am nat I.
113 I wol bistowe the flour of al myn age
114 In the actes and in fruyt of mariage.
115 Telle me also, to what conclusion
116 Were membres maad of generacion,
117 And of so parfit wys a [wright] ywroght?
118 Trusteth right wel, they were nat maad for noght.
119 Glose whoso wole, and seye bothe up and doun
120 That they were maked for purgacioun
121 Of uryne, and oure bothe thynges smale
122 Were eek to knowe a femele from a male,
123 And for noon oother cause — say ye no?
124 The experience woot wel it is noght so.
125 So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,
126 I sey this: that they maked ben for bothe;
127 That is to seye, for office and for ese
128 Of engendrure, ther we nat God displese.
129 Why sholde men elles in hir bookes sette
130 That man shal yelde to his wyf hire dette?
131 Now wherwith sholde he make his paiement,
132 If he ne used his sely instrument?
133 Thanne were they maad upon a creature
134 To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure.
135 But I seye noght that every wight is holde,
136 That hath swich harneys as I to yow tolde,
137 To goon and usen hem in engendrure.
138 Thanne sholde men take of chastitee no cure.
139 Crist was a mayde and shapen as a man,
140 And many a seint, sith that the world bigan;
141 Yet lyved they evere in parfit chastitee.
142 I nyl envye no virginitee.
143 Lat hem be breed of pured whete-seed,
144 And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed;
145 And yet with barly-breed, Mark telle kan,
146 Oure Lord Jhesu refresshed many a man.
147 In swich estaat as God hath cleped us
148 I wol persevere; I nam nat precius.
149 In wyfhod I wol use myn instrument
150 As frely as my Makere hath it sent.
151 If I be daungerous, God yeve me sorwe!
152 Myn housbonde shal it have bothe eve and morwe,
153 Whan that hym list come forth and paye his dette.
154 An housbonde I wol have — I wol nat lette —
155 Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,
156 And have his tribulacion withal
157 Upon his flessh, whil that I am his wyf.
158 I have the power durynge al my lyf
159 Upon his propre body, and noght he.
160 Right thus the Apostel tolde it unto me,
161 And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
162 Al this sentence me liketh every deel” —
163 Up stirte the Pardoner, and that anon;
164 “Now, dame,” quod he, “by God and by Seint John!
165 Ye been a noble prechour in this cas.
166 I was aboute to wedde a wyf; allas!
167 What sholde I bye it on my flessh so deere?
168 Yet hadde I levere wedde no wyf to-yeere!”
169 ” Abyde!” quod she, “my tale is nat bigonne.
170 Nay, thou shalt drynken of another tonne,
171 Er that I go, shal savoure wors than ale.
172 And whan that I have toold thee forth my tale
173 Of tribulacion in mariage,
174 Of which I am expert in al myn age —
175 This is to seyn, myself have been the whippe —
176 Than maystow chese wheither thou wolt sippe
177 Of thilke tonne that I shal abroche.
178 Be war of it, er thou to ny approche;
179 For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten.
180 ‘Whoso that nyl be war by othere men,
181 By hym shul othere men corrected be.’
182 The same wordes writeth Ptholomee;
183 Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.”
184 “Dame, I wolde praye yow, if youre wyl it were,”
185 Seyde this Pardoner, “as ye bigan,
186 Telle forth youre tale, spareth for no man,
187 And teche us yonge men of youre praktike.”
188 “Gladly,” quod she, “sith it may yow like;
189 But yet I praye to al this compaignye,
190 If that I speke after my fantasye,
191 As taketh not agrief of that I seye,
192 For myn entente nys but for to pleye.
193 Now, sire, now wol I telle forth my tale.
194 As evere moote I drynken wyn or ale,
195 I shal seye sooth; tho housbondes that I hadde,
196 As thre of hem were goode, and two were badde.
197 The thre were goode men, and riche, and olde;
198 Unnethe myghte they the statut holde
199 In which that they were bounden unto me.
200 Ye woot wel what I meene of this, pardee!
201 As help me God, I laughe whan I thynke
202 How pitously a-nyght I made hem swynke!
203 And, by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor.
204 They had me yeven hir lond and hir tresoor;
205 Me neded nat do lenger diligence
206 To wynne hir love, or doon hem reverence.
207 They loved me so wel, by God above,
208 That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love!
209 A wys womman wol bisye hire evere in oon
210 To gete hire love, ye, ther as she hath noon.
211 But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond,
212 And sith they hadde me yeven al hir lond,
213 What sholde I taken keep hem for to plese,
214 But it were for my profit and myn ese?
215 I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,
216 That many a nyght they songen ‘Weilawey!’
217 The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
218 That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
219 I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
220 That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
221 To brynge me gaye thynges fro the fayre.
222 They were ful glad whan I spak to hem faire,
223 For, God it woot, I chidde hem spitously.
224 Now herkneth hou I baar me proprely,
225 Ye wise wyves, that kan understonde.
226 Thus shulde ye speke and bere hem wrong on honde,
227 For half so boldely kan ther no man
228 Swere and lyen, as a womman kan.
229 I sey nat this by wyves that been wyse,
230 But if it be whan they hem mysavyse.
231 A wys wyf, if that she kan hir good,
232 Shal beren hym on honde the cow is wood,
233 And take witnesse of hir owene mayde
234 Of hir assent. But herkneth how I sayde:
235 ‘Sire olde kaynard, is this thyn array?
236 Why is my neighebores wyf so gay?
237 She is honoured overal ther she gooth;
238 I sitte at hoom; I have no thrifty clooth.
239 What dostow at my neighebores hous?
240 Is she so fair? Artow so amorous?
241 What rowne ye with oure mayde? Benedicite!
242 Sire olde lecchour, lat thy japes be!
243 And if I have a gossib or a freend,
244 Withouten gilt, thou chidest as a feend,
245 If that I walke or pleye unto his hous!
246 Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,
247 And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef!
248 Thou seist to me it is a greet meschief
249 To wedde a povre womman, for costage;
250 And if that she be riche, of heigh parage,
251 Thanne seistow that it is a tormentrie
252 To soffre hire pride and hire malencolie.
253 And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,
254 Thou seyst that every holour wol hire have;
255 She may no while in chastitee abyde,
256 That is assailled upon ech a syde.
257 Thou seyst som folk desiren us for richesse,
258 Somme for oure shap, and somme for oure fairnesse,
259 And som for she kan outher synge or daunce,
260 And som for gentillesse and daliaunce;
261 Som for hir handes and hir armes smale;
262 Thus goth al to the devel, by thy tale.
263 Thou seyst men may nat kepe a castel wal,
264 It may so longe assailled been overal.
265 And if that she be foul, thou seist that she
266 Coveiteth every man that she may se,
267 For as a spanyel she wol on hym lepe,
268 Til that she fynde som man hire to chepe.
269 Ne noon so grey goos gooth ther in the lake
270 As, seistow, wol been withoute make.
271 And seyst it is an hard thyng for to welde
272 A thyng that no man wole, his thankes, helde.
273 Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde,
274 And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,
275 Ne no man that entendeth unto hevene.
276 With wilde thonder-dynt and firy levene
277 Moote thy welked nekke be tobroke!
278 Thow seyst that droppyng houses, and eek smoke,
279 And chidyng wyves maken men to flee
280 Out of hir owene houses; a, benedicitee!
281 What eyleth swich an old man for to chide?
282 Thow seyst we wyves wol oure vices hide
283 Til we be fast, and thanne we wol hem shewe —
284 Wel may that be a proverbe of a shrewe!
285 Thou seist that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes,
286 They been assayed at diverse stoundes;
287 Bacyns, lavours, er that men hem bye,
288 Spoones and stooles, and al swich housbondrye,
289 And so been pottes, clothes, and array;
290 But folk of wyves maken noon assay,
291 Til they be wedded — olde dotard shrewe! —
292 And thanne, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.
293 Thou seist also that it displeseth me
294 But if that thou wolt preyse my beautee,
295 And but thou poure alwey upon my face,
296 And clepe me “faire dame” in every place.
297 And but thou make a feeste on thilke day
298 That I was born, and make me fressh and gay;
299 And but thou do to my norice honour,
300 And to my chamberere withinne my bour,
301 And to my fadres folk and his allyes —
302 Thus seistow, olde barel-ful of lyes!
303 And yet of oure apprentice Janekyn,
304 For his crispe heer, shynynge as gold so fyn,
305 And for he squiereth me bothe up and doun,
306 Yet hastow caught a fals suspecioun.
307 I wol hym noght, thogh thou were deed tomorwe!
308 But tel me this: why hydestow, with sorwe,
309 The keyes of thy cheste awey fro me?
310 It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee!
311 What, wenestow make an ydiot of oure dame?
312 Now by that lord that called is Seint Jame,
313 Thou shalt nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood,
314 Be maister of my body and of my good;
315 That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thyne yen.
316 What helpith it of me to enquere or spyen?
317 I trowe thou woldest loke me in thy chiste!
318 Thou sholdest seye, “Wyf, go wher thee liste;
319 Taak youre disport; I wol nat leve no talys.
320 I knowe yow for a trewe wyf, dame Alys.”
321 We love no man that taketh kep or charge
322 Wher that we goon; we wol ben at oure large.
323 Of alle men yblessed moot he be,
324 The wise astrologien, Daun Ptholome,
325 That seith this proverbe in his Almageste:
326 “Of alle men his wysdom is the hyeste
327 That rekketh nevere who hath the world in honde.”
328 By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,
329 Have thou ynogh, what thar thee recche or care
330 How myrily that othere folkes fare?
331 For, certeyn, olde dotard, by youre leve,
332 Ye shul have queynte right ynogh at eve.
333 He is to greet a nygard that wolde werne
334 A man to lighte a candle at his lanterne;
335 He shal have never the lasse light, pardee.
336 Have thou ynogh, thee thar nat pleyne thee.
337 Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay
338 With clothyng, and with precious array,
339 That it is peril of oure chastitee;
340 And yet — with sorwe! — thou most enforce thee,
341 And seye thise wordes in the Apostles name:
342 “In habit maad with chastitee and shame
343 Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,” quod he,
344 ” And noght in tressed heer and gay perree,
345 As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche.”
346 After thy text, ne after thy rubriche,
347 I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat.
348 Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;
349 For whoso wolde senge a cattes skyn,
350 Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;
351 And if the cattes skyn be slyk and gay,
352 She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,
353 But forth she wole, er any day be dawed,
354 To shewe hir skyn and goon a-caterwawed.
355 This is to seye, if I be gay, sire shrewe,
356 I wol renne out my borel for to shewe.
357 Sire olde fool, what helpeth thee to spyen?
358 Thogh thou preye Argus with his hundred yen
359 To be my warde-cors, as he kan best,
360 In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest;
361 Yet koude I make his berd, so moot I thee!
362 Thou seydest eek that ther been thynges thre,
363 The whiche thynges troublen al this erthe,
364 And that no wight may endure the ferthe.
365 O leeve sire shrewe, Jhesu shorte thy lyf!
366 Yet prechestow and seyst an hateful wyf
367 Yrekened is for oon of thise meschances.
368 Been ther none othere maner resemblances
369 That ye may likne youre parables to,
370 But if a sely wyf be oon of tho?
371 Thou liknest eek wommenes love to helle,
372 To bareyne lond, ther water may nat dwelle.
373 Thou liknest it also to wilde fyr;
374 The moore it brenneth, the moore it hath desir
375 To consume every thyng that brent wole be.
376 Thou seyest, right as wormes shende a tree,
377 Right so a wyf destroyeth hire housbonde;
378 This knowe they that been to wyves bonde.’
379 Lordynges, right thus, as ye have understonde,
380 Baar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde
381 That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse;
382 And al was fals, but that I took witnesse
383 On Janekyn, and on my nece also.
384 O Lord! The peyne I dide hem and the wo,
385 Ful giltelees, by Goddes sweete pyne!
386 For as an hors I koude byte and whyne.
387 I koude pleyne, and yit was in the gilt,
388 Or elles often tyme hadde I been spilt.
389 Whoso that first to mille comth, first grynt;
390 I pleyned first, so was oure werre ystynt.
391 They were ful glade to excuse hem blyve
392 Of thyng of which they nevere agilte hir lyve.
393 Of wenches wolde I beren hem on honde,
394 Whan that for syk unnethes myghte they stonde.
395 Yet tikled I his herte, for that he
396 Wende that I hadde of hym so greet chiertee!
397 I swoor that al my walkynge out by nyghte
398 Was for t’ espye wenches that he dighte;
399 Under that colour hadde I many a myrthe.
400 For al swich wit is yeven us in oure byrthe;
401 Deceite, wepyng, spynnyng God hath yive
402 To wommen kyndely, whil that they may lyve.
403 And thus of o thyng I avaunte me:
404 Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,
405 By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thyng,
406 As by continueel murmur or grucchyng.
407 Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce:
408 Ther wolde I chide and do hem no plesaunce;
409 I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,
410 If that I felte his arm over my syde,
411 Til he had maad his raunson unto me;
412 Thanne wolde I suffre hym do his nycetee.
413 And therfore every man this tale I telle,
414 Wynne whoso may, for al is for to selle;
415 With empty hand men may none haukes lure.
416 For wynnyng wolde I al his lust endure,
417 And make me a feyned appetit;
418 And yet in bacon hadde I nevere delit.
419 That made me that evere I wolde hem chide,
420 For thogh the pope hadde seten hem biside,
421 I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord,
422 For, by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.
423 As helpe me verray God omnipotent,
424 Though I right now sholde make my testament,
425 I ne owe hem nat a word that it nys quit.
426 I broghte it so aboute by my wit
427 That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste,
428 Or elles hadde we nevere been in reste;
429 For thogh he looked as a wood leon,
430 Yet sholde he faille of his conclusion.
431 Thanne wolde I seye, ‘Goode lief, taak keep
432 How mekely looketh Wilkyn, oure sheep!
433 Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke!
434 Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,
435 And han a sweete spiced conscience,
436 Sith ye so preche of Jobes pacience.
437 Suffreth alwey, syn ye so wel kan preche;
438 And but ye do, certein we shal yow teche
439 That it is fair to have a wyf in pees.
440 Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees,
441 And sith a man is moore resonable
442 Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable.
443 What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
444 Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?
445 Wy, taak it al! Lo, have it every deel!
446 Peter! I shrewe yow, but ye love it weel;
447 For if I wolde selle my bele chose,
448 I koude walke as fressh as is a rose;
449 But I wol kepe it for youre owene tooth.
450 Ye be to blame, by God! I sey yow sooth.’
451 Swiche manere wordes hadde we on honde.
452 Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde.
453 My fourthe housbonde was a revelour —
454 This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour —
455 And I was yong and ful of ragerye,
456 Stibourn and strong, and joly as a pye.
457 How koude I daunce to an harpe smale,
458 And synge, ywis, as any nyghtyngale,
459 Whan I had dronke a draughte of sweete wyn!
460 Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn,
461 That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf,
462 For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf,
463 He sholde nat han daunted me fro drynke!
464 And after wyn on Venus moste I thynke,
465 For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl,
466 A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl.
467 In wommen vinolent is no defence —
468 This knowen lecchours by experience.
469 But — Lord Crist! — whan that it remembreth me
470 Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
471 It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote.
472 Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
473 That I have had my world as in my tyme.
474 But age, allas, that al wole envenyme,
475 Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith.
476 Lat go. Farewel! The devel go therwith!
477 The flour is goon; ther is namoore to telle;
478 The bren, as I best kan, now moste I selle;
479 But yet to be right myrie wol I fonde.
480 Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.
481 I seye, I hadde in herte greet despit
482 That he of any oother had delit.
483 But he was quit, by God and by Seint Joce!
484 I made hym of the same wode a croce;
485 Nat of my body, in no foul manere,
486 But certeinly, I made folk swich cheere
487 That in his owene grece I made hym frye
488 For angre, and for verray jalousye.
489 By God, in erthe I was his purgatorie,
490 For which I hope his soule be in glorie.
491 For, God it woot, he sat ful ofte and song,
492 Whan that his shoo ful bitterly hym wrong.
493 Ther was no wight, save God and he, that wiste,
494 In many wise, how soore I hym twiste.
495 He deyde whan I cam fro Jerusalem,
496 And lith ygrave under the roode beem,
497 Al is his tombe noght so curyus
498 As was the sepulcre of hym Daryus,
499 Which that Appelles wroghte subtilly;
500 It nys but wast to burye hym preciously.
501 Lat hym fare wel; God yeve his soule reste!
502 He is now in his grave and in his cheste.
503 Now of my fifthe housbonde wol I telle.
504 God lete his soule nevere come in helle!
505 And yet was he to me the mooste shrewe;
506 That feele I on my ribbes al by rewe,
507 And evere shal unto myn endyng day.
508 But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay,
509 And therwithal so wel koude he me glose,
510 Whan that he wolde han my bele chose;
511 That thogh he hadde me bete on every bon,
512 He koude wynne agayn my love anon.
513 I trowe I loved hym best, for that he
514 Was of his love daungerous to me.
515 We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,
516 In this matere a queynte fantasye:
517 Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have,
518 Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.
519 Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;
520 Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we fle.
521 With daunger oute we al oure chaffare;
522 Greet prees at market maketh deere ware,
523 And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys:
524 This knoweth every womman that is wys.
525 My fifthe housbonde — God his soule blesse! —
526 Which that I took for love, and no richesse,
527 He som tyme was a clerk of Oxenford,
528 And hadde left scole, and wente at hom to bord
529 With my gossib, dwellynge in oure toun;
530 God have hir soule! Hir name was Alisoun.
531 She knew myn herte, and eek my privetee,
532 Bet than oure parisshe preest, so moot I thee!
533 To hire biwreyed I my conseil al.
534 For hadde myn housbonde pissed on a wal,
535 Or doon a thyng that sholde han cost his lyf,
536 To hire, and to another worthy wyf,
537 And to my nece, which that I loved weel,
538 I wolde han toold his conseil every deel.
539 And so I dide ful often, God it woot,
540 That made his face often reed and hoot
541 For verray shame, and blamed hymself for he
542 Had toold to me so greet a pryvetee.
543 And so bifel that ones in a Lente —
544 So often tymes I to my gossyb wente,
545 For evere yet I loved to be gay,
546 And for to walke in March, Averill, and May,
547 Fro hous to hous, to heere sondry talys —
548 That Jankyn clerk, and my gossyb dame Alys,
549 And I myself, into the feeldes wente.
550 Myn housbonde was at Londoun al that Lente;
551 I hadde the bettre leyser for to pleye,
552 And for to se, and eek for to be seye
553 Of lusty folk. What wiste I wher my grace
554 Was shapen for to be, or in what place?
555 Therfore I made my visitaciouns
556 To vigilies and to processiouns,
557 To prechyng eek, and to thise pilgrimages,
558 To pleyes of myracles, and to mariages,
559 And wered upon my gaye scarlet gytes.
560 Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes,
561 Upon my peril, frete hem never a deel;
562 And wostow why? For they were used weel.
563 Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.
564 I seye that in the feeldes walked we,
565 Til trewely we hadde swich daliance,
566 This clerk and I, that of my purveiance
567 I spak to hym and seyde hym how that he,
568 If I were wydwe, sholde wedde me.
569 For certeinly — I sey for no bobance —
570 Yet was I nevere withouten purveiance
571 Of mariage, n’ of othere thynges eek.
572 I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek
573 That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,
574 And if that faille, thanne is al ydo.
575 I bar hym on honde he hadde enchanted me —
576 My dame taughte me that soutiltee —
577 And eek I seyde I mette of hym al nyght,
578 He wolde han slayn me as I lay upright,
579 And al my bed was ful of verray blood;
580 ‘But yet I hope that ye shal do me good,
581 For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught.’
582 And al was fals; I dremed of it right naught,
583 But as I folwed ay my dames loore,
584 As wel of this as of othere thynges moore.
585 But now, sire, lat me se what I shal seyn.
586 A ha! By God, I have my tale ageyn.
587 Whan that my fourthe housbonde was on beere,
588 I weep algate, and made sory cheere,
589 As wyves mooten, for it is usage,
590 And with my coverchief covered my visage,
591 But for that I was purveyed of a make,
592 I wepte but smal, and that I undertake.
593 To chirche was myn housbonde born a-morwe
594 With neighebores, that for hym maden sorwe;
595 And Jankyn, oure clerk, was oon of tho.
596 As help me God, whan that I saugh hym go
597 After the beere, me thoughte he hadde a paire
598 Of legges and of feet so clene and faire
599 That al myn herte I yaf unto his hoold.
600 He was, I trowe, twenty wynter oold,
601 And I was fourty, if I shal seye sooth;
602 But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth.
603 Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel;
604 I hadde the prente of seinte Venus seel.
605 As help me God, I was a lusty oon,
606 And faire, and riche, and yong, and wel bigon,
607 And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,
608 I hadde the beste quoniam myghte be.
609 For certes, I am al Venerien
610 In feelynge, and myn herte is Marcien.
611 Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,
612 And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardynesse;
613 Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars therinne.
614 Allas, allas! That evere love was synne!
615 I folwed ay myn inclinacioun
616 By vertu of my constellacioun;
617 That made me I koude noght withdrawe
618 My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.
619 Yet have I Martes mark upon my face,
620 And also in another privee place.
621 For God so wys be my savacioun,
622 I ne loved nevere by no discrecioun,
623 But evere folwede myn appetit,
624 Al were he short, or long, or blak, or whit;
625 I took no kep, so that he liked me,
626 How poore he was, ne eek of what degree.
627 What sholde I seye but, at the monthes ende,
628 This joly clerk, Jankyn, that was so hende,
629 Hath wedded me with greet solempnytee,
630 And to hym yaf I al the lond and fee
631 That evere was me yeven therbifoore.
632 But afterward repented me ful soore;
633 He nolde suffre nothyng of my list.
634 By God, he smoot me ones on the lyst,
635 For that I rente out of his book a leef,
636 That of the strook myn ere wax al deef.
637 Stibourn I was as is a leonesse,
638 And of my tonge a verray jangleresse,
639 And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,
640 From hous to hous, although he had it sworn;
641 For which he often tymes wolde preche,
642 And me of olde Romayn geestes teche;
643 How he Symplicius Gallus lefte his wyf,
644 And hire forsook for terme of al his lyf,
645 Noght but for open-heveded he hir say
646 Lookynge out at his dore upon a day.
647 Another Romayn tolde he me by name,
648 That, for his wyf was at a someres game
649 Withouten his wityng, he forsook hire eke.
650 And thanne wolde he upon his Bible seke
651 That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste
652 Where he comandeth and forbedeth faste
653 Man shal nat suffre his wyf go roule aboute.
654 Thanne wolde he seye right thus, withouten doute:
655 ‘Whoso that buyldeth his hous al of salwes,
656 And priketh his blynde hors over the falwes,
657 And suffreth his wyf to go seken halwes,
658 Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes!’
659 But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe
660 Of his proverbes n’ of his olde sawe,
661 Ne I wolde nat of hym corrected be.
662 I hate hym that my vices telleth me,
663 And so doo mo, God woot, of us than I.
664 This made hym with me wood al outrely;
665 I nolde noght forbere hym in no cas.
666 Now wol I seye yow sooth, by Seint Thomas,
667 Why that I rente out of his book a leef,
668 For which he smoot me so that I was deef.
669 He hadde a book that gladly, nyght and day,
670 For his desport he wolde rede alway;
671 He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,
672 At which book he lough alwey ful faste.
673 And eek ther was somtyme a clerk at Rome,
674 A cardinal, that highte Seint Jerome,
675 That made a book agayn Jovinian;
676 In which book eek ther was Tertulan,
677 Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,
678 That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys,
679 And eek the Parables of Salomon,
680 Ovides Art, and bookes many on,
681 And alle thise were bounden in o volume.
682 And every nyght and day was his custume,
683 Whan he hadde leyser and vacacioun
684 From oother worldly occupacioun,
685 To reden on this book of wikked wyves.
686 He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves
687 Than been of goode wyves in the Bible.
688 For trusteth wel, it is an impossible
689 That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,
690 But if it be of hooly seintes lyves,
691 Ne of noon oother womman never the mo.
692 Who peyntede the leon, tel me who?
693 By God, if wommen hadde writen stories,
694 As clerkes han withinne hire oratories,
695 They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse
696 Than al the mark of Adam may redresse.
697 The children of Mercurie and of Venus
698 Been in hir wirkyng ful contrarius;
699 Mercurie loveth wysdam and science,
700 And Venus loveth ryot and dispence.
701 And, for hire diverse disposicioun,
702 Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun.
703 And thus, God woot, Mercurie is desolat
704 In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat,
705 And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed.
706 Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.
707 The clerk, whan he is oold, and may noght do
708 Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,
709 Thanne sit he doun, and writ in his dotage
710 That wommen kan nat kepe hir mariage!
711 But now to purpos, why I tolde thee
712 That I was beten for a book, pardee!
713 Upon a nyght Jankyn, that was oure sire,
714 Redde on his book, as he sat by the fire,
715 Of Eva first, that for hir wikkednesse
716 Was al mankynde broght to wrecchednesse,
717 For which that Jhesu Crist hymself was slayn,
718 That boghte us with his herte blood agayn.
719 Lo, heere expres of womman may ye fynde
720 That womman was the los of al mankynde.
721 Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres:
722 Slepynge, his lemman kitte it with hir sheres;
723 Thurgh which treson loste he bothe his yen.
724 Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,
725 Of Hercules and of his Dianyre,
726 That caused hym to sette hymself afyre.
727 No thyng forgat he the care and the wo
728 That Socrates hadde with his wyves two,
729 How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed.
730 This sely man sat stille as he were deed;
731 He wiped his heed, namoore dorste he seyn,
732 But ‘Er that thonder stynte, comth a reyn!’
733 Of Phasipha, that was the queene of Crete,
734 For shrewednesse, hym thoughte the tale swete;
735 Fy! Spek namoore — it is a grisly thyng —
736 Of hire horrible lust and hir likyng.
737 Of Clitermystra, for hire lecherye,
738 That falsly made hire housbonde for to dye,
739 He redde it with ful good devocioun.
740 He tolde me eek for what occasioun
741 Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf.
742 Myn housbonde hadde a legende of his wyf,
743 Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold
744 Hath prively unto the Grekes told
745 Wher that hir housbonde hidde hym in a place,
746 For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace.
747 Of Lyvia tolde he me, and of Lucye:
748 They bothe made hir housbondes for to dye,
749 That oon for love, that oother was for hate.
750 Lyvia hir housbonde, on an even late,
751 Empoysoned hath, for that she was his fo;
752 Lucia, likerous, loved hire housbonde so
753 That, for he sholde alwey upon hire thynke,
754 She yaf hym swich a manere love-drynke
755 That he was deed er it were by the morwe;
756 And thus algates housbondes han sorwe.
757 Thanne tolde he me how oon Latumyus
758 Compleyned unto his felawe Arrius
759 That in his gardyn growed swich a tree
760 On which he seyde how that his wyves thre
761 Hanged hemself for herte despitus.
762 ‘O leeve brother,’ quod this Arrius,
763 ‘Yif me a plante of thilke blissed tree,
764 And in my gardyn planted shal it bee.’
765 Of latter date, of wyves hath he red
766 That somme han slayn hir housbondes in hir bed,
767 And lete hir lecchour dighte hire al the nyght,
768 Whan that the corps lay in the floor upright.
769 And somme han dryve nayles in hir brayn,
770 Whil that they slepte, and thus they had hem slayn.
771 Somme han hem yeve poysoun in hire drynke.
772 He spak moore harm than herte may bithynke,
773 And therwithal he knew of mo proverbes
774 Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes.
775 ‘Bet is,’ quod he, ‘thyn habitacioun
776 Be with a leon or a foul dragoun,
777 Than with a womman usynge for to chyde.
778 Bet is,’ quod he, ‘hye in the roof abyde,
779 Than with an angry wyf doun in the hous;
780 They been so wikked and contrarious,
781 They haten that hir housbondes loven ay.’
782 He seyde, ‘ A womman cast hir shame away,
783 Whan she cast of hir smok’; and forthermo,
784 ‘ A fair womman, but she be chaast also,
785 Is lyk a gold ryng in a sowes nose.’
786 Who wolde wene, or who wolde suppose,
787 The wo that in myn herte was, and pyne?
788 And whan I saugh he wolde nevere fyne
789 To reden on this cursed book al nyght,
790 Al sodeynly thre leves have I plyght
791 Out of his book, right as he radde, and eke
792 I with my fest so took hym on the cheke
793 That in oure fyr he fil bakward adoun.
794 And he up stirte as dooth a wood leoun,
795 And with his fest he smoot me on the heed
796 That in the floor I lay as I were deed.
797 And whan he saugh how stille that I lay,
798 He was agast and wolde han fled his way,
799 Til atte laste out of my swogh I breyde.
800 ‘O! hastow slayn me, false theef?’ I seyde,
801 ‘ And for my land thus hastow mordred me?
802 Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee.’
803 And neer he cam, and kneled faire adoun,
804 And seyde, ‘Deere suster Alisoun,
805 As help me God, I shal thee nevere smyte!
806 That I have doon, it is thyself to wyte.
807 Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke!’
808 And yet eftsoones I hitte hym on the cheke,
809 And seyde, ‘Theef, thus muchel am I wreke;
810 Now wol I dye, I may no lenger speke.’
811 But atte laste, with muchel care and wo,
812 We fille acorded by us selven two.
813 He yaf me al the bridel in myn hond,
814 To han the governance of hous and lond,
815 And of his tonge, and of his hond also;
816 And made hym brenne his book anon right tho.
817 And whan that I hadde geten unto me,
818 By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,
819 And that he seyde, ‘Myn owene trewe wyf,
820 Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf;
821 Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat’ —
822 After that day we hadden never debaat.
823 God helpe me so, I was to hym as kynde
824 As any wyf from Denmark unto Ynde,
825 And also trewe, and so was he to me.
826 I prey to God, that sit in magestee,
827 So blesse his soule for his mercy deere.
828 Now wol I seye my tale, if ye wol heere.”
829 The Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this;
830 “Now dame,” quod he, “so have I joye or blis,
831 This is a long preamble of a tale!”
832 And whan the Somonour herde the Frere gale,
833 “Lo,” quod the Somonour, “Goddes armes two!
834 A frere wol entremette hym everemo.
835 Lo, goode men, a flye and eek a frere
836 Wol falle in every dyssh and eek mateere.
837 What spekestow of preambulacioun?
838 What! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun!
839 Thou lettest oure disport in this manere.”
840 “Ye, woltow so, sire Somonour?” quod the Frere;
841 “Now, by my feith I shal, er that I go,
842 Telle of a somonour swich a tale or two
843 That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.”
844 “Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,”
845 Quod this Somonour, “and I bishrewe me,
846 But if I telle tales two or thre
847 Of freres er I come to Sidyngborne
848 That I shal make thyn herte for to morne,
849 For wel I woot thy pacience is gon.”
850 Oure Hooste cride “Pees! And that anon!”
851 And seyde, “Lat the womman telle hire tale.
852 Ye fare as folk that dronken ben of ale.
853 Do, dame, telle forth youre tale, and that is best.”
854 ” Al redy, sire,” quod she, “right as yow lest,
855 If I have licence of this worthy Frere.”
856 “Yis, dame,” quod he, “tel forth, and I wol heere.”

The Tale

857 In th’ olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour,
858 Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
859 Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
860 The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
861 Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
862 This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
863 I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
864 But now kan no man se none elves mo,
865 For now the grete charitee and prayeres
866 Of lymytours and othere hooly freres,
867 That serchen every lond and every streem,
868 As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
869 Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
870 Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
871 Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes —
872 This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes.
873 For ther as wont to walken was an elf
874 Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself
875 In undermeles and in morwenynges,
876 And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges
877 As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
878 Wommen may go saufly up and doun.
879 In every bussh or under every tree
880 Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
881 And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
882 And so bifel that this kyng Arthour
883 Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,
884 That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver,
885 And happed that, allone as he was born,
886 He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
887 Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
888 By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;
889 For which oppressioun was swich clamour
890 And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour
891 That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
892 By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed —
893 Paraventure swich was the statut tho —
894 But that the queene and other ladyes mo
895 So longe preyeden the kyng of grace
896 Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
897 And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille,
898 To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
899 The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
900 And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
901 Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day:
902 “Thou standest yet,” quod she, “in swich array
903 That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
904 I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
905 What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren.
906 Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren!
907 And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon,
908 Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
909 A twelf-month and a day, to seche and leere
910 An answere suffisant in this mateere;
911 And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
912 Thy body for to yelden in this place.”
913 Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
914 But what! He may nat do al as hym liketh.
915 And at the laste he chees hym for to wende
916 And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
917 With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye;
918 And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.
919 He seketh every hous and every place
920 Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace
921 To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost,
922 But he ne koude arryven in no coost
923 Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere
924 Two creatures accordynge in-feere.
925 Somme seyde wommen loven best richesse,
926 Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse,
927 Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde,
928 And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde.
929 Somme seyde that oure hertes been moost esed
930 Whan that we been yflatered and yplesed.
931 He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye.
932 A man shal wynne us best with flaterye,
933 And with attendance and with bisynesse
934 Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
935 And somme seyen that we loven best
936 For to be free and do right as us lest,
937 And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
938 But seye that we be wise and no thyng nyce.
939 For trewely ther is noon of us alle,
940 If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
941 That we nel kike, for he seith us sooth.
942 Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth;
943 For, be we never so vicious withinne,
944 We wol been holden wise and clene of synne.
945 And somme seyn that greet delit han we
946 For to been holden stable, and eek secree,
947 And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
948 And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle.
949 But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele.
950 Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele;
951 Witnesse on Myda — wol ye heere the tale?
952 Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
953 Seyde Myda hadde, under his longe heres,
954 Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
955 The whiche vice he hydde as he best myghte
956 Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
957 That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
958 He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
959 He preyede hire that to no creature
960 She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
961 She swoor him, “Nay”; for al this world to wynne,
962 She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
963 To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
964 She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
965 But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde
966 That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
967 Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
968 That nedely som word hire moste asterte;
969 And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
970 Doun to a mareys faste by she ran —
971 Til she cam there hir herte was afyre —
972 And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
973 She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
974 “Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,”
975 Quod she; “to thee I telle it and namo;
976 Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
977 Now is myn herte al hool; now is it oute.
978 I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.”
979 Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
980 Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.
981 The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
982 Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
983 This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
984 Whan that he saugh he myghte nat come therby —
985 This is to seye, what wommen love moost —
986 Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
987 But hoom he gooth; he myghte nat sojourne;
988 The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
989 And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
990 In al this care, under a forest syde,
991 Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
992 Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
993 Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
994 In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
995 But certeinly, er he cam fully there,
996 Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
997 No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
998 Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf —
999 A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
1000 Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
1001 And seyde, “Sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
1002 Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey!
1003 Paraventure it may the bettre be;
1004 Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng,” quod she.
1005 “My leeve mooder,” quod this knyght, “certeyn
1006 I nam but deed but if that I kan seyn
1007 What thyng it is that wommen moost desire.
1008 Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire.”
1009 “Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand,” quod she,
1010 “The nexte thyng that I requere thee,
1011 Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght,
1012 And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght.”
1013 “Have heer my trouthe,” quod the knyght, “I grante.”
1014 “Thanne,” quod she, “I dar me wel avante
1015 Thy lyf is sauf, for I wol stonde therby;
1016 Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I.
1017 Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle
1018 That wereth on a coverchief or a calle
1019 That dar seye nay of that I shal thee teche.
1020 Lat us go forth withouten lenger speche.”
1021 Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
1022 And bad hym to be glad and have no fere.
1023 Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
1024 Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,
1025 And redy was his answere, as he sayde.
1026 Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
1027 And many a wydwe, for that they been wise,
1028 The queene hirself sittynge as a justise,
1029 Assembled been, his answere for to heere;
1030 And afterward this knyght was bode appeere.
1031 To every wight comanded was silence,
1032 And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
1033 What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
1034 This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
1035 But to his questioun anon answerde
1036 With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
1037 “My lige lady, generally,” quod he,
1038 “Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
1039 As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
1040 And for to been in maistrie hym above.
1041 This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
1042 Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille.”
1043 In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
1044 Ne wydwe that contraried that he sayde,
1045 But seyden he was worthy han his lyf.
1046 And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,
1047 Which that the knyght saugh sittynge on the grene:
1048 “Mercy,” quod she, “my sovereyn lady queene!
1049 Er that youre court departe, do me right.
1050 I taughte this answere unto the knyght;
1051 For which he plighte me his trouthe there,
1052 The firste thyng that I wolde hym requere
1053 He wolde it do, if it lay in his myghte.
1054 Bifore the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght,”
1055 Quod she, “that thou me take unto thy wyf,
1056 For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf.
1057 If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey!”
1058 This knyght answerde, ” Allas and weylawey!
1059 I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.
1060 For Goddes love, as chees a newe requeste!
1061 Taak al my good and lat my body go.”
1062 “Nay, thanne,” quod she, “I shrewe us bothe two!
1063 For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore
1064 I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore
1065 That under erthe is grave or lith above,
1066 But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.”
1067 “My love?” quod he, “nay, my dampnacioun!
1068 Allas, that any of my nacioun
1069 Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!”
1070 But al for noght; the ende is this, that he
1071 Constreyned was; he nedes moste hire wedde,
1072 And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.
1073 Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,
1074 That for my necligence I do no cure
1075 To tellen yow the joye and al th’ array
1076 That at the feeste was that ilke day.
1077 To which thyng shortly answeren I shal:
1078 I seye ther nas no joye ne feeste at al;
1079 Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe.
1080 For prively he wedded hire on morwe,
1081 And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
1082 So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
1083 Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght,
1084 Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght;
1085 He walweth and he turneth to and fro.
1086 His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo,
1087 And seyde, “O deere housbonde, benedicitee!
1088 Fareth every knyght thus with his wyf as ye?
1089 Is this the lawe of kyng Arthures hous?
1090 Is every knyght of his so dangerous?
1091 I am youre owene love and youre wyf;
1092 I am she which that saved hath youre lyf,
1093 And, certes, yet ne dide I yow nevere unright;
1094 Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght?
1095 Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit.
1096 What is my gilt? For Goddes love, tel it,
1097 And it shal been amended, if I may.”
1098 ” Amended?” quod this knyght, ” Allas, nay, nay!
1099 It wol nat been amended nevere mo.
1100 Thou art so loothly, and so oold also,
1101 And therto comen of so lough a kynde,
1102 That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde.
1103 So wolde God myn herte wolde breste!”
1104 “Is this,” quod she, “the cause of youre unreste?”
1105 “Ye, certeinly,” quod he, “no wonder is.”
1106 “Now, sire,” quod she, “I koude amende al this,
1107 If that me liste, er it were dayes thre,
1108 So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me.
1109 “But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse
1110 As is descended out of old richesse,
1111 That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
1112 Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
1113 Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
1114 Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
1115 To do the gentil dedes that he kan;
1116 Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
1117 Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
1118 Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
1119 For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
1120 For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
1121 Yet may they nat biquethe for no thyng
1122 To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
1123 That made hem gentil men ycalled be,
1124 And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.
1125 “Wel kan the wise poete of Florence,
1126 That highte Dant, speken in this sentence.
1127 Lo, in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:
1128 ‘Ful selde up riseth by his branches smale
1129 Prowesse of man, for God, of his goodnesse,
1130 Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse’;
1131 For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
1132 But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
1133 “Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
1134 If gentillesse were planted natureelly
1135 Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
1136 Pryvee and apert thanne wolde they nevere fyne
1137 To doon of gentillesse the faire office;
1138 They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
1139 “Taak fyr and ber it in the derkeste hous
1140 Bitwix this and the mount of Kaukasous,
1141 And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
1142 Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
1143 As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
1144 His office natureel ay wol it holde,
1145 Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
1146 “Heere may ye se wel how that genterye
1147 Is nat annexed to possessioun,
1148 Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
1149 Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
1150 For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde
1151 A lordes sone do shame and vileynye;
1152 And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
1153 For he was boren of a gentil hous
1154 And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous,
1155 And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis
1156 Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
1157 He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl,
1158 For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
1159 For gentillesse nys but renomee
1160 Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee,
1161 Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
1162 Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
1163 Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace;
1164 It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
1165 “Thenketh hou noble, as seith Valerius,
1166 Was thilke Tullius Hostillius,
1167 That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
1168 Reedeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece;
1169 Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is
1170 That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
1171 And therfore, leeve housbonde, I thus conclude:
1172 Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,
1173 Yet may the hye God, and so hope I,
1174 Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
1175 Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne
1176 To lyven vertuously and weyve synne.
1177 ” And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve,
1178 The hye God, on whom that we bileeve,
1179 In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf.
1180 And certes every man, mayden, or wyf
1181 May understonde that Jhesus, hevene kyng,
1182 Ne wolde nat chese a vicious lyvyng.
1183 Glad poverte is an honest thyng, certeyn;
1184 This wole Senec and othere clerkes seyn.
1185 Whoso that halt hym payd of his poverte,
1186 I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.
1187 He that coveiteth is a povre wight,
1188 For he wolde han that is nat in his myght;
1189 But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have,
1190 Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave.
1191 Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely;
1192 Juvenal seith of poverte myrily:
1193 ‘The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,
1194 Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye.’
1195 Poverte is hateful good and, as I gesse,
1196 A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse;
1197 A greet amendere eek of sapience
1198 To hym that taketh it in pacience.
1199 Poverte is this, although it seme alenge:
1200 Possessioun that no wight wol chalenge.
1201 Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
1202 Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe.
1203 Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me,
1204 Thurgh which he may his verray freendes see.
1205 And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve,
1206 Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve.
1207 “Now, sire, of elde ye repreve me;
1208 And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee
1209 Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
1210 Seyn that men sholde an oold wight doon favour
1211 And clepe hym fader, for youre gentillesse;
1212 And auctours shal I fynden, as I gesse.
1213 “Now ther ye seye that I am foul and old,
1214 Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;
1215 For filthe and eelde, also moot I thee,
1216 Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee.
1217 But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit,
1218 I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit.
1219 “Chese now,” quod she, “oon of thise thynges tweye:
1220 To han me foul and old til that I deye,
1221 And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf,
1222 And nevere yow displese in al my lyf,
1223 Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
1224 And take youre aventure of the repair
1225 That shal be to youre hous by cause of me,
1226 Or in som oother place, may wel be.
1227 Now chese yourselven, wheither that yow liketh.”
1228 This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh,
1229 But atte laste he seyde in this manere:
1230 “My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
1231 I put me in youre wise governance;
1232 Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance
1233 And moost honour to yow and me also.
1234 I do no fors the wheither of the two,
1235 For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.”
1236 “Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie,” quod she,
1237 “Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?”
1238 “Ye, certes, wyf,” quod he, “I holde it best.”
1239 “Kys me,” quod she, “we be no lenger wrothe,
1240 For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe —
1241 This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.
1242 I prey to God that I moote sterven wood,
1243 But I to yow be also good and trewe
1244 As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe.
1245 And but I be to-morn as fair to seene
1246 As any lady, emperice, or queene,
1247 That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
1248 Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest.
1249 Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is.”
1250 And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this,
1251 That she so fair was, and so yong therto,
1252 For joye he hente hire in his armes two.
1253 His herte bathed in a bath of blisse.
1254 A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hire kisse,
1255 And she obeyed hym in every thyng
1256 That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng.
1257 And thus they lyve unto hir lyves ende
1258 In parfit joye; and Jhesu Crist us sende
1259 Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
1260 And grace t’ overbyde hem that we wedde;
1261 And eek I praye Jhesu shorte hir lyves
1262 That noght wol be governed by hir wyves;
1263 And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,
1264 God sende hem soone verray pestilence!

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7. THE WIFE OF BATH’S TALE - GEOFFREY CHAUCER