The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer

Edited by Jack Lynch

I’m emphatically not an authority on textual criticism of Middle English texts. The text itself is cobbled together from a number of public domain sources and minimally edited. I’ve regularized the use of uppercase letters a bit to aid comprehension, and have added quotation marks where appropriate.

The annotations come in two flavors. Simple glosses — explanations of single words or very short phrases — appear opposite the line of text. They come with no links or symbols; it should be easy enough to glance at the righthand column to fill in words likely to be unfamiliar to modern readers. (To make it easier to read across the screen, hover the mouse over a line of text and the whole thing, including the glosses, will be highlighted.) These glosses are usually rough approximations of meaning, not carefully constructed definitions; for that, check out the Middle English Compendium and the Oxford English Dictionary. The purpose of the glosses isn’t to provide smooth translations, but to help beginners read the Middle English, and if sometimes that requires close-enough-for-government-work definitions, so be it. In general I gloss single words rather than explaining the syntax of phrases, but occasionally I break that rule when something is unusually complicated.

Things that can’t be explained in a word or two get fuller treatment in the ‘Notes’ section at the bottom of the text.

The Wife of Bath’s Prologue

Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynogh for me good enough
To speke of wo that is in mariage;
For, lordynges, sith I twelve yeer was of age, gentlemen — since
Thonked be God that is eterne on lyve, [5] eternally alive
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve, —
If I so ofte myghte have ywedded bee, — been
And alle were worthy men in hir degree. their own way
But me was toold, certeyn, nat longe agoon is,
That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but onis [10] since
To weddyng, in the Cane of Galilee,
That by the same ensample taughte he me example
That I ne sholde wedded be but ones. should be married only once
Herkne eek, lo, which a sharp word for the nones, listen also — on this occasion
Biside a welle, Jhesus, God and man, [15]
Spak in repreeve of the Samaritan: reproof
“Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes,” quod he,
“And that ilke man that now hath thee same
Is noght thyn housbonde,” thus seyde he certeyn.
What that he mente therby, I kan nat seyn; [20] by that
But that I axe, why that the fifthe man ask
Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
How manye myghte she have in mariage?
Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age
Upon this nombre diffinicioun. [25] a clear determination
Men may devyne and glosen, up and doun, conjecture — interpret
But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye, know — clearly
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye; ordered — increase
That gentil text kan I wel understonde.
Eek wel I woot, he seyde myn housbonde [30] also — know
Sholde lete fader and mooder, and take to me. leave
But of no nombre mencion made he,
Of bigamye, or of octogamye;
Why sholde men thanne speke of it vileynye?
Lo, heere the wise kyng, Daun Salomon; [35]
I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon. believe — more — one
As wolde God it were leveful unto me permitted
To be refresshed half so ofte as he!
Which yifte of God hadde he for alle his wyvys! gift
No man hath swich that in this world alyve is. [40] No man alive had such
God woot, this noble kyng, as to my wit, knows — judgment
The firste nyght had many a myrie fit
With ech of hem, so wel was hym on lyve. alive
Yblessed be God that I have wedded fyve!
Welcome the sixte, whan that evere he shal. [45]
For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chaast in al. truly — chaste
Whan myn housbonde is fro the world ygon,
Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon, soon
For thanne, th’ apostle seith that I am free
To wedde, a Goddes half, where it liketh me. [50] by God’s side
He seith that to be wedded is no synne;
Bet is to be wedded than to brynne beter — burn
What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileynye what do I care
Of shrewed Lameth and his bigamye?
I woot wel Abraham was an hooly man, know
And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I kan; too
And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two,
And many another holy man also.
Wher can ye seye, in any manere age,
That hye God defended mariage [60]
By expres word? I pray yow, telleth me. explicit
Or where comanded he virginitee?
I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede, know — doubt
Th’ apostel, whan he speketh of maydenhede, virginity
He seyde that precept therof hadde he noon. [65] he had no rule about it
Men may conseille a womman to been oon, advise
But conseillyng is no comandement.
He putte it in oure owene juggement;
For hadde God comanded maydenhede, virginity
Thanne hadde he dampned weddyng with the dede. [70] damned
And certes, if ther were no seed ysowe, certainly — sown
Virginitee, thanne wherof sholde it growe?
Poul dorste nat comanden, atte leeste,
A thyng of which his maister yaf noon heeste. gave no command
The dart is set up for virginitee: [75]
Cacche whoso may, who renneth best lat see. runs
But this word is nat taken of every wight, does not apply to — person
But ther as God lust gyve it of his myght. desires
I woot wel that th’ apostel was a mayde; know — virgin
But nathelees, thogh that he wroot and sayde [80] wrote
He wolde that every wight were swich as he, person — like him
Al nys but conseil to virginitee. it is only
And for to been a wyf he yaf me leve gave me permission to be a wife
Of indulgence; so nys it no repreve by permission — reproof
To wedde me, if that my make dye, [85] mate
Withouten excepcion of bigamye. objection on the grounds of
Al were it good no womman for to touche, — although
He mente as in his bed or in his couche;
For peril is bothe fyr and tow t’ assemble: flax
Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble. [90] example
This is al and som, he heeld virginitee the whole matter
Moore parfit than weddyng in freletee. perfect — because of weakness
Freletee clepe I, but if that he and she weakness I say — unless
Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.
I graunte it wel, I have noon envie, [95]
Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye. virginity
It liketh hem to be clene, body and goost; soul
Of myn estaat I nyl nat make no boost. condition — will not
For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,
He nath nat every vessel al of gold; [100] has not
Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse. [10] wood
God clepeth folk to hym in sondry wyse, [10] calls — various ways
And everich hath of God a propre yifte, [10] every one — from — gift
Som this, som that, as hym liketh shifte. [10]
Virginitee is greet perfeccion, [105]
And continence eek with devocion, also
But Crist, that of perfeccion is welle,
Bad nat every wight he sholde go selle ordered — person
Al that he hadde, and gyve it to the poore
And in swich wise folwe hym and his foore. [110] this — follow — footsteps
He spak to hem that wolde lyve parfitly; perfectly
And lordynges, by youre leve, that am nat I. gentelmen
I wol bistowe the flour of al myn age flower
In the actes and in fruyt of mariage.
Telle me also, to what conclusion [115] purpose
Were membres maad of generacion, were the genitals made
And of so parfit wys a wight ywroght? perfect — manner — person made
Trusteth right wel, they were nat maad for noght.
Glose whoso wole, and seye bothe up and doun, interpret
That they were maked for purgacioun [120]
Of uryne, and oure bothe thynges smale
Were eek to knowe a femele from a male, also
And for noon oother cause, — say ye no?
The experience woot wel it is noght so. knows
So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe, [125] angree
I sey this, that they maked ben for bothe, made
This is to seye, for office, and for ese use — pleasure
Of engendrure, ther we nat God displese. procreation
Why sholde men elles in hir bookes sette
That man shal yelde to his wyf hire dette? [130] pay his marriage debt
Now wherwith sholde he make his paiement,
If he ne used his sely instrument? innocent tool
Thanne were they maad upon a creature
To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure. also — having children
But I seye noght that every wight is holde, [135] person — obliged
That hath swich harneys as I to yow tolde, such genitals
To goon and usen hem in engendrure. go and use them in procreation
Thanne sholde men take of chastitee no cure.
Crist was a mayde, and shapen as a man, virgin
And many a seint, sith that the world bigan; [140] since
Yet lyved they evere in parfit chastitee. perfect
I nyl envye no virginitee. will not
Lat hem be breed of pured whete-seed, refined
And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed; be called — bread
And yet with barly-breed, mark telle kan, [145]
Oure lord Jhesu refresshed many a man.
In swich estaat as God hath cleped us such a state — called
I wol persevere; I nam nat precius. fastidious
In wyfhod I wol use myn instrument
As frely as my makere hath it sent. [150]
If I be daungerous, God yeve me sorwe! [15] grudging — give me sorrow
Myn housbonde shal it have bothe eve and morwe, [15] morning
Whan that hym list come forth and paye his dette. [15] wants
An housbonde I wol have, I wol nat lette, [15] stop
Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral, [155] servant
And have his tribulacion withal too
Upon his flessh, whil that I am his wyf.
I have the power durynge al my lyf
Upon his propre body, and noght he.
Right thus the apostel tolde it unto me; [160]
And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
Al this sentence me liketh every deel — wisdom — entirely
Up stirte the pardoner, and that anon: immediately
“Now, dame,” quod he, “by God and by seint John!
Ye been a noble prechour in this cas. [165]
I was aboute to wedde a wyf; allas!
What sholde I bye it on my flessh so deere? pay for it with
Yet hadde I levere wedde no wyf to-yeere!” I would rather — this year
“Abyde!” quod she, “my tale is nat bigonne. wait!
Nay, thou shalt drynken of another tonne, [170] barrel
Er that I go, shal savoure wors than ale. before — taste
And whan that I have toold thee forth my tale
Of tribulacion in mariage,
Of which I am expert in al myn age,
This is to seyn, myself have been the whippe, — [175]
Than maystow chese wheither thou wolt sippe you may choose
Of thilke tonne that I shal abroche. the same barrel — tap
Be war of it, er thou to ny approche; before — too near
For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten. examples
‘Whoso that nyl be war by othere men, [180] will not
By hym shul othere men corrected be.’
The same wordes writeth Ptholomee;
Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.”
“Dame, I wolde praye yow, if youre wyl it were,”
Seyde this pardoner, “as ye bigan, [185]
Telle forth youre tale, spareth for no man,
And teche us yonge men of youre praktike.” practice
“Gladly,” quod she, “sith it may yow like; said — since — please
But that I praye to al this compaignye,
If that I speke after my fantasye, [190] imagination
As taketh not agrief of that I seye; don’t be offended by
For myn entente is nat but for to pleye.
Now, sire, now wol I telle forth my tale. —
As evere moote I drynken wyn or ale,
I shal seye sooth, tho housbondes that I hadde, [195] the truth
As thre of hem were goode, and two were badde.
The thre were goode men, and riche, and olde;
Unnethe myghte they the statut holde hardly — law
In which that they were bounden unto me.
Ye woot wel what I meene of this, pardee! [200] know — by God!
As help me God, I laughe whan I thynke [20]
How pitously a-nyght I made hem swynke! [20] work
And, by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor. [20] faith — treated it as unimportant
They had me yeven hir lond and hir tresoor; [20] given their land and their treasure
Me neded nat do lenger diligence [205]
To wynne hir love, or doon hem reverence.
They loved me so wel, by God above,
That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love! did not take seriously
A wys womman wol bisye hire evere in oon be constantly busy
To gete hire love, ye, ther as she hath noon. [210]
But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond, since — entirely
And sith they hadde me yeven al hir lond, since — given
What sholde I taken keep hem for to plese, take care
But it were for my profit and myn ese? unless
I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey, [215] made them work so hard — faith
That many a nyght they songen ‘weilawey!’ alas!
The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe, fetched — believe
That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
I governed hem so wel, after my lawe, according to
That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe [220] eager
To brynge me gaye thynges fro the fayre.
They were ful glad whan I spak to hem faire;
For, God it woot, I chidde hem spitously. knows — scolded them harshly
Now herkneth hou I baar me proprely, .isten
Ye wise wyves, that kan understonde. [225]
Thus shulde ye speke and bere hem wrong on honde; accuse them falsely
For half so boldely kan ther no man
Swere and lyen, as a womman kan.
I sey nat this by wyves that been wyse,
But if it be whan they hem mysavyse. [230]
A wys wyf shal, it that she kan hir good, knows what’s good for her
Bere hym on honde that the cow is wood, deceive him by saying — insane
And take witnesse of hir owene mayde
Of hir assent; but herkneth how I sayde: — agreement — listen
‘Sire olde kaynard, is this thyn array? [235] dotard
Why is my neighbores wyf so gay?
She is honoured over al ther she gooth;
I sitte at hoom I have no thrifty clooth. good clothes
What dostow at my neighebores hous?
Is she so fair? artow so amorous? [240]
What rowne ye with oure mayde? benedicite! whisper
Sire olde lecchour, lat thy japes be!’ dirty old man — jokes
And if I have a gossib or a freend, companion
Withouten gilt, thou chidest as a feend, scold like
If that I walke or pleye unto his hous! [245]
Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,
And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef! a bad outcome
Thou seist to me it is a greet meschief
To wedde a povre womman, for costage; poor — expenses
And if that she be riche, of heigh parage, [250] noble birth
Thanne seistow that it is a tormentrie torment
To soffre hire pride and hire malencolie. put up with — bad temper
And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,
Thou seyst that every holour wol hire have; lecher
She may no while in chastitee abyde, [255] remain
That is assailled upon ech a syde.
Thou seyst som folk desiren us for richesse,
Somme for oure shap, and somme for oure fairnesse, shape
And som for she kan outher synge or daunce, either
And som for gentillesse and daliaunce; [260] graciousness — conversation
Som for hir handes and hir armes smale: slim
Thus goth al to the devel, by thy tale.
Thou seyst men may nat kepe a castel wal,
It may so longe assailled been over al.
And if that she be foul, thou seist that she [265]
Coveiteth every man that she may se, desires
For as a spaynel she wol on hym lepe,
Til that she fynde som man hire to chepe. buy
Ne noon so grey goos gooth ther in the lake
As, seistow, wol been withoute make. [270] a mate
And seyst it is an hard thyng for to welde control
A thyng that no man wole, his thankes, helde. willingly hold
Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde; you rogue
And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,
Ne no man that entendeth unto hevene. [275] hopes to go
With wilde thonder-dynt and firy levene thunderclap — lightning
Moote thy welked nekke be tobroke! withered — broken
Thow seyst that droppyng houses, and eek smoke, dripping — also
And chidyng wyves maken men to flee scolding
Out of his owene hous; a! benedicitee! [280]
What eyleth swich an old man for to chide? ails — such
Thow seyst we wyves wol oure vices hide
Til we be fast, and thanne we wol hem shewe, — secure (in marriage) — show
Wel may that be a proverbe of a shrewe! scoundrel
Thou seist that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes, [285]
They been assayed at diverse stoundes; tried — different times
Bacyns, lavours, er that men hem bye, basins — washing bowls — before — buy
Spoones and stooles, and al swich housbondrye, such household goods
And so been pottes, clothes, and array;
But folk of wyves maken noon assay, [290] test
Til they be wedded; olde dotard shrewe! senile old scoundrel
And thanne, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.
Thou seist also that it displeseth me
But if that thou wolt preyse my beautee,
And but thou poure alwey upon my face, [295] stare
And clepe me ‘faire dame’ in every place. call
And but thou make a feeste on thilke day the same
That I was born, and make me fressh and gay;
And but thou do to my norice honour, nurse
And to my chamberere withinne my bour, [300]
And to my fadres folk and his allyes, — [30] kinsmen
Thus seistow, olde barel-ful of lyes! [30]
And yet of oure apprentice Janekyn, [30]
For his crispe heer, shynynge as gold so fyn, [30]
And for he squiereth me bothe up and doun, [305] accompanies
Yet hastow caught a fals suspecioun.
I wol hym noght, thogh thou were deed tomorwe! dead/td>
But tel me this: why hydestow, with sorwe,
They keyes of thy cheste awey fro me?
It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee! [310] by God
What, wenestow make an ydiot of oure dame? do you want
Now by that lord that called is Seint Jame,
Thou shalt nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood, insane
Be maister of my body and of my good;
That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thyne yen. [315] despite — eyes
What helpith it of me to enquere or spyen? look into
I trowe thou woldest loke me in thy chiste? believe — lock — strongbox
Thou sholdest seye, ‘wyf, go wher thee liste; wherever you want
Taak youre disport, I wol nat leve no talys. entertainment — believe any reports
I knowe yow for a trewe wyf, dame Alys.’ [320]
We love no man that taketh kep or charge
Wher that we goon; we wol ben at oure large. free to do what we want
Of alle men yblessed moot he be, must
The wise astrologien, Daun Ptholome,
That seith this proverbe in his Almageste: [325]
‘Of alle men his wysdom is the hyeste
That rekketh nevere who hath the world in honde.’ cares — under control
By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,
Have thou ynogh, what thar thee recche or care if you have enough, what do you care
How myrily that othere folkes fare? [330]
For, certeyn, olde dotard, by youre leve, senile man
Ye shul have queynte right ynogh at eve. sex
He is to greet a nygard that wolde werne too stingy — refuse
A man to light a candle at his lanterne;
He shal have never the lasse light, pardee. [335] by God
Have thou ynogh, thee thar nat pleyne thee. enough — you shouldn’t complain
Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay
With clothyng, and with precious array, outfit
That it is peril of oure chastitee; a threat to
And yet, with sorwe! thou most enforce thee, [340] must make an effort
And seye thise wordes in the Apostles name:
‘In habit maad with chastitee and shame clothes
Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,’ quod he, dress
And noght in tressed heer and gay perree, styled hair — jewels
As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche. [345]
After thy text, ne after thy rubriche,
I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat. work — much
Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;
For whoso wolde senge a cattes skyn, singe
Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in; [350] remain in his house
And if the cattes skyn be slyk and gay, [35]
She wol nat dwelle in house half a day, [35]
But forth she wole, er any day be dawed, [35] before
To shewe hir skyn, and goon a-caterwawed. [35] caterwauling
This is to seye, if I be gay, sire shrewe, [355]
I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe. cheap clothes — show
Sire olde fool, what helpeth thee to spyen? what good does it do you
Thogh thou preye Argus with his hundred yen
To be my warde-cors, as he kan best, bodyguard
In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest; [360] guard — unless I want it
Yet koude I make his berd, so moot I thee! deceive him
Thou seydest eek that ther been thynges thre, also
The whiche thynges troublen al this erthe,
And that no wight may endure the ferthe. person — fourth
O leeve sire shrewe, Jhesu shorte thy lyf! [365] shorten
Yet prechestow and seyst and hateful wyf
Yrekened is for oon of thise meschances. is considered — misfortunes
Been ther none othere maner resemblances no other kind of
That ye may likne youre parables to, compare
But if a sely wyf be oon of tho? [370] simple — one of those
Thou liknest eek wommenes love to helle, You also compare
To bareyne lond, ther water may nat dwelle.
Thou liknest it also to wilde fyr;
The moore it brenneth, the moore it hath desir burns
To consume every thyng that brent wole be. [375] burnt
Thou seyest, right as wormes shende a tree, destroy
Right so a wyf destroyeth hire housbonde;
This knowe they that been to wyves bonde. —
Lordynges, right thus, as ye have understonde, gentlemen
Baar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde [380] I firmly swore
That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse;
And al was fals, but that I took witnesse
On Janekyn, and on my nece also. kinswoman
O lord! the peyne I dide hem and the wo,
Ful giltelees, by Goddes sweete pyne! [385] pain
For as an hors I koude byte and whyne. whinny
I koude pleyne, and yit was in the gilt, complain — in the wrong
Or elles often tyme hadde I been spilt. else — ruined
Whose that first to mille comth, first grynt; comes to the mill — grinds
I pleyned first, so was oure werre ystynt. [390] complained — war stopped
They were ful glade to excuse hem blyve quickly
Of thyng of which they nevere agilte hir lyve. guilty
Of wenches wolde I beren hem on honde, accuse them
Whan that for syk unnethes myghte they stonde. illness — hardly
Yet tikled I his herte, for that he [395]
Wende that I hadde of hym so greet chiertee! knew — fondness
I swoor that al my walkynge out by nyghte
Was for t’ espye wenches that he dighte; had sex with
Under that colour hadde I many a myrthe. pretense — laugh
For al swich wit is yeven us in oure byrthe; [400] all such — given
Deceite, wepyng, spynnyng God hath yive given
To wommen kyndely, whil that they may lyve. by their nature
And thus of o thyng I avaunte me, brag
Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree, every respect
By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thyng, [405] trick
As by continueel murmur or grucchyng. complaining
Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce: in bed — bad luck
Ther wolde I chide, and do hem no plesaunce; scold
I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde, remain
If that I felte his arm over my syde, [410]
Til he had maad his raunson unto me; paid me
Thanne wolde I suffre hym do his necetee. allow — foolishness
And therfore every man this tale I telle,
Wynne whoso may, for al is for to selle; whoever
With empty hand men may none haukes lure. [415] hawks
For wynnyng wolde I al his lust endure, the sake of winning
And make me feyned appetit; pretended
And yet in bacon hadde I nevere delit;
That made me that evere I wolde hem chide. scold
For thogh the pope hadde seten hem biside, [420]
I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord; table
For, by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word. honor — matched
As helpe me verray God omnipotent, true
Though I right now sholde make my testament, will
I ne owe hem nat a word that it nys quit. [425] isn’t repaid
I broghte it so aboute by my wit
That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste, must give
Or elles hadde we nevere been in reste.
For thogh he looked as a wood leon, crazy lion
Yet sholde he faille of his conclusion. [430] to accomplish what he wanted
Thanne wolde I seye, ‘goode lief, taak keep my dear — care
How mekely looketh Wilkyn, oure sheep!
Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke! kiss
Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,
And han a sweete spiced conscience, [435] scrupulous
Sith ye so preche of Jobes pacience. since
Suffreth alwey, syn ye so wel kan preche;
And but ye do, certein we shal yow teche unless
That it is fair to have a wyf in pees. at peace
Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees; [440] bend
And sith a man is moore resonable since
Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable. tolerate suffering
What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone? ails — complain
Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone? because — “pleasing thing”
Wy, taak it al! lo, have it every deel! [445] every bit of it
Peter! I shrewe yow, but ye love it weel; by Saint Peter! — curse — unless
For if I wolde selle my bele chose, “pretty thing”
I koude walke as fressh as is a rose;
But I wol kepe it for youre owene tooth. pleasure
Ye be to blame, by god! I sey yow sooth.’ [450] tell you the truth
Swiche manere wordes hadde we on honde. [45] such
Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde. [45]
My fourthe housbonde was a revelour; [45] pleasure-seeker
This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour; [45] lover
And I was yong and ful of ragerye, [455] wantonnesse
Stibourn and strong, and joly as a pye. stubborn — magpie
How koude I daunce to an harpe smale,
And synge, ywis, as any nyghtyngale, surely
Whan I had dronke a draughte of sweete wyn!
Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn, [460] scoundrel
That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf, took his wife’s life
For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf, because
He sholde nat han daunted me from drynke! frightened
And after wyn on Venus moste I thynke,
For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl, [465] certain — brings about
A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl. gluttonous mouth — lecherous tail
In wommen vinolent is no defence, — drunken
This knowen lecchours by experience.
But, Lord Crist! whan that it remembreth me I remember
Upon my yowthe, and on my jolitee, [470]
It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote. pleases
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote good
That I have had my world as in my tyme.
But age, allas! that al wole envenyme, poison
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith. [475] taken away — vigor
Lat go, farewel! the devel go therwith!
The flour is goon, ther is namoore to telle; no more
The bren, as I best kan, now moste I selle; bran
But yet to be right myrie wol I fonde. try
Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde. [480]
I seye, I hadde in herte greet despit resentment
That he of any oother had delit.
But he was quit, by God and by Seint Joce!
I made hym of the same wode a croce; wood — cross
Nat of my body, in no foul manere, [485]
But certeinly, I made folk swich cheere so much cheer
That in his owene grece I made hym frye grease
For angre, and for verray jalousye. true
By God! in erthe I was his Purgatorie,
For which I hope his soule be in glorie. [490]
For, God it woot, he sat ful ofte and song, Good knows
Whan that his shoo ful bitterly hym wrong. pinched him
Ther was no wight, save God and he, that wiste, person — except — knew
In many wise, how soore I hym twiste. tortured
He deyde whan I cam fro Jerusalem, [495] died
And lith ygrave under the roode beem, buried — supporting beam
Al is his tombe noght so curyus although
As was the sepulcre of hym Daryus,
Which that Appeles wroghte subtilly; crafted
It nys but wast to burye hym preciously. [500] is nothing but a waste
Lat hym fare wel, God yeve his soul reste! [50] give
He is now in his grave and in his cheste. [50] coffin
Now of my fifthe housbonde wol I telle. [50]
God lete his soule nevere come in helle! [50]
And yet was he to me the mooste shrewe; [505] villainous
That feele I on my ribbes al by rewe, in a row
And evere shal unto myn endyng day.
But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay,
And therwithal so wel koude he me glose, moroever — please
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose, [510] “pretty thing”
That thogh he hadde me bete on every bon,
He koude wynne agayn my love anon. immediately
I trowe I loved hym best, for that he believe — because
Was of his love daungerous to me. hard to please
We wommen han if that I shal nat lye, [515]
In this matere a queynte fantasye; curious imagination
Wayte what thyng we may nat lightly have, not that — easily
Therafter wol we crie al day and crave.
Forbede us thyng, and that desiren we;
Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we fle. [520] fly
With daunger oute we al oure chaffare; [5] faced with stinginess we spread out all our wares
Greet prees at market maketh deere ware, crowd — expensive
And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys: too great a bargain
This knoweth every womman that is wys.
My fifthe housbonde, God his soule blesse! [525]
Which that I took for love, and no richesse,
He som tyme was a clerk of Oxenford,
And hadde left scole, and wente at hom to bord
With my gossib, dwellynge in oure toun; close friend
God have hir soule! hir name was Alisoun. [530]
She knew myn herte, and eek my privetee, [5] also — secrets
Bet than oure parisshe preest, so moot I thee! [5]
To hire biwreyed I my conseil al. revealed — plans
For hadde myn housbonde pissed on a wal,
Or doon a thyng that sholde han cost his lyf, [535]
To hire, and to another worthy wyf,
And to my nece, which that I loved weel, kinswoman
I wolde han toold his conseil every deel.
And so I dide ful often, God it woot, knows
That made his face often reed and hoot [540] red and hot
For verray shame, and blamed hymself for he [5]
Had toold to me so greet a pryvetee. [5] secret
And so bifel that ones in a Lente — [5] it happened
So often tymes I to my gossyb wente, friend
For evere yet I loved to be gay, [545]
And for to walke in March, Averill, and May,
Fro hous to hous, to heere sondry talys — different tales
That Jankyn clerk, and my gossyb dame Alys, good friend
And I myself, into the feeldes wente.
Myn housbonde was at Londoun al that Lente; [550]
I hadde the bettre leyser for to pleye, [55] leisure
And for to se, and eek for to be seye [55] also — be seen
Of lusty folk. What wiste I wher my grace [55] lively — know
Was shapen for to be, or in what place? [55] destined
Therfore I made my visitaciouns [555]
To vigilies and to processiouns, gatherings before religious holidays — parades
To prechyng eek, and to thise pilgrimages, also
To pleyes of myracles, and to mariages,
And wered upon my gaye scarlet gytes. wore — robes
Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes, [560] moths
Upon my peril, frete hem never a deel; devoured — not at all
And wostow why? for they were used weel. do you know
Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.
I seye that in the feeldes walked we,
Til trewely we hadde swich daliance, [565] such flirting
This clerk and I, that of my purveiance foresight
I spak to hym and seyde hym how that he,
If I were wydwe, sholde wedde me. a widow
For certeinly, I sey for no bobance, boast
Yet was I nevere withouten purveiance [570] foresight
Of mariage, n’ of othere thynges eek. either
I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek
That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,
And if that faille, thanne is al ydo. done
I bar hym on honde he hadde enchanted me, — [575] convinced
My dame taughte me that soutiltee. mother — trick
And eek I seyde I mette of hym al nyght, also — dreamed
He wolde han slayn me as I lay upright,
And al my bed was ful of verray blood;
But yet I hope that he shal do me good, [580]
For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught. is a sign of
And al was fals; I dremed of it right naught, not at all
But as I folwed ay my dames loore, mother’s advice
As wel of this as of othere thynges moore.
But now, sire, lat me se, what I shal seyn? [585]
A ha! by god, I have my tale ageyn.
Whan that my fourthe housbonde was on beere, bier (support for a coffin)
I weep algate, and made sory cheere, constantly
As wyves mooten, for it is usage, must — custom
And with my coverchief covered my visage, [590] handkerchief — face
But for that I was purveyed of a make, prepared
I wepte but smal, and that I undertake. little — declare
To chirche was myn housbonde born a-morwe carried in the morning
With neighebores, that for hym maden sorwe;
And Jankyn, oure clerk, was oon of tho. [595]
As help me God! whan that I saugh hym go
After the beere, me thoughte he hadde a paire bier — it seemed to me
Of legges and of feet so clene and faire
That al myn herte I yaf unto his hoold. gave — control
He was, I trowe, a twenty wynter oold, [600] believe
And I was fourty, if I shal seye sooth; [60] truly
But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth. [60] young desires
Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel; [60] gap-toothed — suited
I hadde the prente of Seinte Venus seel. [60] print — a birthmark
As help me god! I was a lusty oon, [605] lively one
And faire, and riche, and yong, and wel bigon; in a good situation
And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,
I hadde the beste quoniam myghte be. “whatchamacallit”
For certes, I am al Venerien certainly — controlled by Venus
In feelynge, and myn herte is Marcien. [610] controlled by Mars
Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse, gave me — desire — sexual desire
And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardynesse; gave
Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars therinne. Taurus
Allas! allas! that evere love was synne!
I folwed ay myn inclinacioun [615]
By vertu of my constellacioun; power — horoscope
That made me I koude noght withdrawe hold back
My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.
Yet have I Martes mark upon my face, red birthmark
And also in another privee place. [620] secret
For God so wys be my savacioun,
I ne loved nevere by no discrecioun,
But evere folwede myn appetit,
Al were he short, or long, or blak, or whit; whether he was
I took no kep, so that he liked me, [625]
How poore he was, ne eek of what degree. also — social rank
What sholde I seye? but, at the monthes ende,
This joly clerk, Jankyn, that was so hende, courtly
Hath wedded me with greet solempnytee; ceremony
And to hym yaf I al the lond and fee [630] gave
That evere was me yeven therbifoore. given to me before that
But afterward repented me ful soore;
He nolde suffre nothyng of my list. would not — tolerate — wishes
By god! he smoot me ones on the lyst, hit — ear
For that I rente out of his book a leef, [635] because — tore — page
That of the strook myn ere wax al deef. became
Stibourn I was as is a leonesse, stubborn
And of my tonge verray jangleresse, a true chatterbox
And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,
From hous to hous, although he had it sworn; [640]
For which he often tymes wolde preche,
And me of olde Romayn geestes teche; tales
How he Symplicius Gallus lefte his wyf,
And hire forsook for terme of al his lyf, left her
Noght but for open-heveded he hir say [645] bare-headed — saw
Lookynge out at his dore upon a day.
Another Romayn tolde he me by name,
That, for his wyf was at a someres game
Withouten his wityng, he forsook hire eke. knowing — too
And thanne wolde he upon his Bible seke [650]
That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste [65] same
Where he comandeth, and forbedeth faste, [65] strictly
Man shal nat suffre his wyf go roule aboute. [65] allow — roam
Thanne wolde he seye right thus, withouten doute: [65]
“Whoso that buyldeth his hous al of salwes, [655] willow branches
And priketh his blynde hors over the falwes, rides — fields
And suffreth his wyf to go seken halwes, allows — shrines
Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes!”
But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe I didn’t care at all
Of his proverbes n’ of his olde sawe, [660]
Ne I wolde nat of hym corrected be.
I hate hym that my vices telleth me,
And so doo mo, God woot, of us than I. do more — knows
This made hym with me wood al outrely; crazy — completely
I nolde noght forbere hym in no cas. [665] would not tolerate
Now wol I seye yow sooth, by Seint Thomas, tell you the truth
Why that I rente out of his book a leef, tore
For which he smoot me so that I was deef.
He hadde a book that gladly, nyght and day,
For his desport he wolde rede alway; [670] entertainment
He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste, called
At which book he lough alwey ful faste. laughed
And eek ther was somtyme a clerk at Rome, also
A cardinal, that highte Seint Jerome,
That made a book agayn Jovinian; [675]
In which book eek ther was Tertulan, also
Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,
That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys;
And eek the parables of Salomon, also
Ovides Art, and bookes many on, [680]
And alle thise were bounden in o volume. one
And every nyght and day was his custume,
Whan he hadde leyser and vacacioun free time
From oother worldly occupacioun,
To reden on this book of wikked wyves. [685]
He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves
Than been of goode wyves in the Bible.
For trusteth wel, it is an impossible
That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,
But if it be of hooly seintes lyves, [690]
Ne of noon oother womman never the mo.
Who peyntede the leon, tel me who?
By god! if wommen hadde writen stories,
As clerkes han withinne hire oratories, chapels
They wolde han writen of men moore wikkednesse [695]
Than al the mark of Adam may redresse.
The children of Mercurie and of Venus
Been in hir wirkyng ful contrarius; tendency — contrary
Mercurie loveth wysdam and science,
And Venus loveth ryot and dispence. [700] partying — big spending
And, for hire diverse disposicioun, [70]
Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun. [70]
And thus, God woot, Mercurie is desolat [70] knows
In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat; [70]
And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed. [705]
Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.
The clerk, whan he is oold, and may noght do
Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,
Thanne sit he doun, and writ in his dotage old age
That wommen kan nat kepe hir mariage! [710]
But now to purpos, why I tolde thee
That I was beten for a book, pardee! by God
Upon a nyght Jankyn, that was oure sire, master
Redde on his book, as he sat by the fire,
Of Eva first, that for hir wikkednesse [715] Eve
Was al mankynde broght to wrecchednesse,
For which that Jhesu Crist hymself was slayn,
That boghte us with his herte blood agayn.
Lo, heere expres of womman may ye fynde,
That womman was the los of al mankynde. [720]
The redde he me how Sampson loste his heres:
Slepynge, his lemman kitte it with hir sheres; beloved — cut — scissors
Thurgh which treson loste he bothe his yen. betrayal — eyes
Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,
Of Hercules and of his Dianyre, [725]
That caused hym to sette hymself afyre.
No thyng forgat he the care and the wo
That Socrates hadde with his wyves two;
How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed. dumped piss
This sely man sat stille as he were deed; [730] simple — dead
He wiped his heed, namoore dorste he seyn, no more — dared — say
But “er that thonder stynte, comth a reyn!” before — thunderclap
Of Phasipha, that was the queen of Crete,
For shrewednesse, hym thoughte the tale swete; depravity — it seemed to him
Fy! spek namoore — it is a grisly thyng — [735] no more
Of hire horrible lust and hir likyng. desire
Of Clitermystra, for hire lecherye,
That falsly made hire housbonde for to dye,
He redde it with ful good devocioun.
He tolde me eek for what occasioun [740] also
Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf.
Myn housbonde hadde a legende of his wyf,
Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold broach
Hath prively unto the Grekes told
Wher that hir housbonde hidde hym in a place, [745]
For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace. bad fortune
Of Lyvia tolde he me, and of Lucye:
They bothe made hir housbondes for to dye;
That oon for love, that oother was for hate.
Lyvia hir housbonde, on an even late, [750]
Empoysoned hath, for that she was his fo; [75]
Lucia, likerous, loved hire housbonde so [75] lecherous
That, for he sholde alwey upon hire thynke, [75]
She yaf hym swich a manere love-drynke [75] gave — such — kind of
That he was deed er it were by the morwe; [755] dead before — morning
And thus algates housbondes han sorwe. always
Thanne tolde he me how oon Latumyus
Compleyned unto his felawe Arrius friend
That in his gardyn growed swich a tree such
On which he seyde how that his wyves thre [760]
Hanged hemself for herte despitus. hateful
“O leeve brother,” quod this Arrius, dear
“Yif me a plante of thilke blissed tree, give — the same
And in my gardyn planted shal it bee.”
Of latter date, of wyves hath he red [765]
That somme han slayn hir housbondes in hir bed,
And lete hir lecchour dighte hire al the nyght, have sex
Whan that the corps lay in the floor upright.
And somme han dryve nayles in hir brayn,
Whil that they slepte, and thus they had hem slayn. [770]
Somme han hem yeve poysoun in hire drynke. have given them
He spak moore harm than herte may bithynke; imagine
And therwithal he knew of mo proverbes moreover
Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes.
“Bet is,” quod he, “thyn habitacioun [775] it’s better
Be with a leon or foul dragoun, lion
Than with a womman usynge for to chyde.” used to scolding
“Bet is,” quod he, “hye in the roof abyde, it’s better — said — wait
Than with an angry wyf doun in the hous;
They been so wikked and contrarious, [780]
They haten that hir housbondes loven ay.” — always
He seyde, “a womman cast hir shame away,
Whan she cast of hir smok”; and forthermo, underwear
“A fair womman, but she be chaast also, chaste
Is lyk a gold ryng in a sowes nose.” [785] pig’s
Who wolde wene, or who wolde suppose, know
The wo that in myn herte was, and pyne? pain
And whan I saugh he wolde nevere fyne stop
To reden on this cursed book al nyght,
Al sodeynly thre leves have I plyght [790] plucked
Out of his book, right as he radde, and eke also
I with my fest so took hym on the cheke fist
That in oure fyr he fil bakward adoun.
And he up stirte as dooth a wood leoun, mad lion
And with his fest he smoot me on the heed, [795] fist — hit
That in the floor I lay as I were deed. as if I were dead
And whan he saugh how stille that I lay,
He was agast, and wolde han fled his way,
Til atte laste out of my swogh I breyde. fainting — woke
“O! hastow slayn me, false theef?” I seyde, [800]
“And for my land thus hastow mordred me? [80]
Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee.” [80] before I’m dead — will
And neer he cam and kneled faire adoun, [80]
And seyde, “deere suster Alisoun, [80]
As help me god! I shal thee nevere smyte. [805]
That I have doon, it is thyself to wyte. to accuse
Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke!” forgive me for it — beseech (beg)
And yet eftsoones I hitte hym on the cheke, at once
And seyde, “theef, thus muchel am I wreke; much — avenged
Now wol I dye, I may no lenger speke.” [810]
But atte laste, with muchel care and wo, much
We fille acorded by us selven two.
He yaf me al the bridel in myn hond, gave
To han the governance of hous and lond, control
And of his tonge, and of his hond also; [815]
And made hym brenne his book anon right tho. burn — right away
And whan that I hadde geten unto me,
By maistrie, al the soveraynette, control
And that he seyde, “myn owene trewe wyf,
Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf; [820] you desire
Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat” — also
After that day we hadden never debaat.
God helpe me so, I was to hym as kynde
As any wyf from Denmark unto Ynde, India
And also trewe, and so was he to me. [825]
I prey to God, that sit in magestee,
So blesse his soule for his mercy deere.
Now wol I seye my tale, if ye wol heere.”
The Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this; Friar laughed
“Now dame,” quod he, “so have I joye or blis, [830] said
This is a long preable of a tale!” introduction
And whan the Somonour herde the Frere gale, shout
“Lo,” quod the Somonour, “Goddes armes two!”
A frere wol entremette hym everemo. friar — intervene
“Lo, goode men, a flye and eek a frere [835] also — friar
Wol falle in every dyssh and eek mateere. also
What spwkestow of preambulacioun? do you speak
What! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun!
Thou lettest oure disport in this manere.” interfere with — entertainment
“Ye, woltow so, sire Somonour?” quod the Frere; [840] Yes, will you do so
“Now, by my feith, I shal, er that I go, before
Telle of a Somonour swich a tale or two, such
That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.
Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,” curse
Quod this Somonour, “and I bishrewe me, [845]
But if I telle tales two or thre
Of freres, er I come to Sidyngborne, friars
That I shal make thyn herte for to morne,
For wel I woot thy pacience is gon.” know
Oure Hooste cride “pees! and that anon!” [850] quiet! — right now!
And seyde, “lat the womman telle hire tale. [85]
Ye fare as folk that dronken ben of ale. [85]
Do, dame, telle forth youre tale, and that is best.” [85]
“Al redy, sire,” quod she, “right as yow lest, [85] like
If I have licence of this worthy frere.” [855] permission
“Yis, dame,” quod he, “tel forth, and I wol heere.”

The Wife of Bath’s Tale

In th’ olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye, [860]
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede. meadow
This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
But now kan no man se none elves mo, more
For now the grete charitee and prayers [865]
Of lymytours and othere hooly freres, mendicant friars — friars
That serchen every lond and every streem,
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures, bedchambers
Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures, [870] boroughs
Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes — villages — barns — stables
This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes.
For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself mendicant friar
In undermeles and in morwenynges, [875] late mornings — mornings
And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges morning prayers
As he gooth in his lymytacioun. territory
Wommen may go now saufly up and doun.
In every bussh or under every tree
Ther is noon oother incubus but he, [880] evil spirit
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
And so bifel it that this Kyng Arthour happened
Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler, lively
That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver; hawking
And happed that, allone as he was born, [885] it happened
He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn, in front of
Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed, at once — against her will
By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed; took — virginity
For which oppressioun was swich clamour so much
And swich pursute unto the Kyng Arthour, [890] such demand for justice
That dampned was this knyght for to be deed, condemned — dead
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed — should have lost
Paraventure swich was the statut tho — by chance — such — law — then
But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
So longe preyeden the kyng of grace, [895]
Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille, gave
To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille. choose — kill
The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
And after this thus spak she to the knyght, [900]
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day: [90]
“Thou standest yet,” quod she, “in swich array [90] such condition
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee. [90] security
I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me [90]
What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren. [905]
Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren! careful — iron (axe)
And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon, right away
Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon give — permission
A twelf-month and a day, to seche and leere learn
An answere suffisant in this mateere; [910] sufficient
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace, pledge — before — go
Thy body for to yelden in this place.” surrender
Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh; sighs
But what! he may nat do al as hym liketh. as pleases him
And at the laste he chees hym for to wende, [915] chose — go
And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye; such — provide
And taketh his leve, and wendeth froth his weye. goes out
He seketh every hous and and every place searches
Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace, [920]
To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost;
But he ne koude arryven in no coost coast
Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere
Two creatures accordynge in-feere. agreeing with each other
Somme seyde wommen loven best richesse, [925]
Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse,
Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde, sexual desire
And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde.
Somme seyde that oure hertes been moost esed
Whan that we ben yflatered and yplesed. [930]
He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye. very near the truth
A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
And with attendance, and with bisynesse, attention
Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse. captured
And somme seyen that we loven best [935]
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
And that no man repreve us of oure vice, reproach
But seye that we be wise, and no thyng nyce. not at all ignorant
For trewely ther is noon of us alle,
If any wight wol clawe us on the galle, [940] person — scratch us on a sore spot
That we nel kike, for he seith us sooth. will not kick back — tells us the truth
Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth; Try
For, be we never so vicious withinne,
We wol been holden wise and clene of synne. considered
And somme seyn that greet delit han we [945]
For to been holden stable, and eek secree, considered steadfast — also discreet
And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle. betray
But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele.
Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele; [950] by God — keep secret
Witnesse on Myda, — wol ye heere the tale? Midas
Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
Seyde Myda hadde, under his longe heres, Midas — hairs
Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte, [955]
Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo. except for — knew — no one else
He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
He preyede hire that to no creature begged her
She sholde tellen of his disfigure. [960]
She swoor him, nay, for al this world to wynne,
She nolde do that vileynye or synne, would not
To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame. would not
But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde, [965] died
That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde; secret
Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte it seemed to her — swelled
That nedely som word hire moste asterte; necessarily — escape
And sith she dorste telle it to no man, since — dares
Doun to a mareys faste by she ran [970] marsh
Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre —
And as a bitore bombleth in the myre, bittern (a bird) blooms
She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
“Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,” don’t give away my secret — sound
Quod she; “to thee I telle it and namo; [975] no more
Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.” could
Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde, wait
Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde. [980] must (go) — secret
The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere. learn
This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
Than that he saugh he myghte nat come therby,
This is to seye, what wommen love moost, [985]
Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost. spirit
But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne;
The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
In al this care, under a forest syde, [990]
Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo; even more
Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne, eagerly
In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
But certeinly, er he cam fully there, [995]
Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where. knew not
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf — except
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse. uglier person — imagine
Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse, [1000] toward — began
And seyde, “Sire Knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey! faith
Paraventure it may the bettre be; maybe
Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng,” quod she.[100] know many things, said she
“My leeve mooder,” quod this knyght, certeyn [1005] dear mother — said — surely
I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn [1] dead
What thyng it is that wommen moost desire. [1]
Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire.” [1] inform — reward — effort
“Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand,” quod she, [1] pledge — honor
“The nexte thyng that I requere thee, [1010]
Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght, power
And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght.”
“Have heer my trouthe,” quod the Knyght, “I grante.” pledge
“Thanne,” quod she, “I dar me wel avante boast
Thy lyf is sauf; for I wol stonde therby, [1015]
Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I.
Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle,
That wereth on a coverchief or a calle, hairnet
That dar seye nay of that I shal thee teche. dares
Lat us go forth, withouten lenger speche.” [1020] longer
Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere, [10] then — whispered — message
And bad hym to be glad, and have no fere. told
Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight, stuck to — promised
And redy was his answere, as he sayde. [1025]
Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
And many a wydwe, for that they been wise,
The queene hirself sittynge as a justise, judge
Assembled been, his answere for to heere;
And afterward this knyght was bode appeere. [1030]
To every wight comanded was silence, [10] person
And that the knyght sholde telle in audience [10]
What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
But to his questioun anon answerde [1035] immediately
With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
“My lige lady, generally,” quod he, said
“Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee domination
As wel over his housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistrie hym above. [1040]
This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille.” like
In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
Ne wydwe, that contraried that he sayde, contradicted
But seyden he was worthy han his lyf. [1045]
And with that word up stirte the olde wyf, started
Which that the knyght saugh sittynge on the grene:
“Mercy,” quod she, “my sovereyn lady queene!
Er that youre court departe, do me right. before
I taughte this answere unto the knyght; [1050]
For which he plighte me his trouthe there, pledged — honor
The firste thyng that I wolde hym requere,
He wolde it do, if it lay in his myghte. ability
Bifore the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght,”
Quod she, “that thou me take unto thy wyf; [1055]
For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf. know — saved
If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey!” faith
This knyght answerde, “allas! and weylawey! woe!
I woot right wel that swich was my biheste. know very well — that — promise
For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste! [1060] choose
Taak al my good, and lat my body go.” belongings
“Nay, thanne,” quod she, “I shrewe us bothe two! curse
For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore, ugly
I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore, would not
That under erthe is grave, or lith above, [1065] buried — lies
But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.” also
“My love?” quod he, “nay, my dampnacioun! damnation
Allas! that any of my nacioun family
Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!”
But al for noght; the ende is this, that he [1070]
Constreyned was, he nedes moste hire wedde; must
And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.
Now wolden som men seye, paraventure, maybe
That for my necligence I do no cure
To tellen yow the joye and al th’ array [1075] mangificence
That at the feeste was that ilke day. same
To which thyng shortly answeren I shal:
I seye ther nas no joye ne feeste at al; was not
Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe. was nothing but
For prively he wedded hire on the morwe, [1080] secretly — in the morning
And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght,
Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght; brought to bed
He walweth and he turneth to and fro. [1085] rolls
His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo,
And seyde, “o deere housbonde, benedicitee!
Fareth every knyght thys with his wyf as ye? behaves
Is this the lawe of Kyng Arthures hous?
Is every knyght of his so dangerous? [1090] difficult
I am youre owene love and eek youre wyf; also
I am she which that saved hath youre lyf,
And, certes, yet ne dide I yow nevere unright; surely — never did you wrong
Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght? act
Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit. [1095] behave — mind
What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it,
And it shal been amende, if I may.” fixed
“Amended?” quod this knyght, “allas! nay, nay! fixed
It wol nat been amended nevere mo. fixed
Thou art so loothly, and so oold also, [1100] loathsome
And therto comen of so lough a kynde, [110] such a bad family
That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde. [110] roll over — twist
So wolde God myn herte wolde breste!” [110] burst
“Is this,” quod she, “the cause of youre unreste?” [110]
“Ye, certeinly,” quod he, “no wonder is.” [1105] said
“Now, sire,” quod she, “I koude amende al this, said — fix
If that me liste, er it were dayes thre, pleases me — before
So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me. behave well
But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse because — so much nobility
As is descended out of old richesse, [1110]
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men, noble
Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen. so much
Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay whether alone or together — tries
To do the gentil dedes that he kan; [1115] noble
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse, from him — nobility
Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse. ancestors
For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage, give — all their
For which we clayme to been of heigh parage, [1120] high birth
Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng,
To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
That made hem gentil men ycalled be, noble
And bad us folwen hem in swich degree. ordered us to follow them — such
Wel kan the wise poete of Florence, [1125]
That highte Dant, speken in this sentence. is called Dante
Lo, in swich maner rym is Dantes tale: Dante’s tale is in this kind of poetry
‘Ful selde up riseth by his brances smale very rarely — small branches
Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse, nobility
Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse; — [1130] wants — nobility
For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme ancestors
But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme. worldly — injure
Eek every wight woot this as wel as I, also — person — knows
If gentillesse were planted natureelly nobility
Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne, [1135] lineage
Pryvee and apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne whether together or separately — cease
To doon of gentillesse the faire office; nobility — duties
They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
Bitwix this and the mount of Kaukasous, [1140] Caucasus
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne; shut — from there
Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne blaze and burn
As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
His office natureel ay wol it holde, function — still
Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye. [1145]
Heere may ye se wel how that genterye nobility
Is nat annexed to possessioun, joined
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun since — behave
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde. according to its nature
For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde [1150] knows
A lordes sone do shame and vileynye; [115]
And he that wole han pris of his gentrye, [115] be praised for his noble birth
For he was boren of a gentil hous, [115] =noble
And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous, [115] ancestors
And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis, [1155] will not — deeds
Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is, nor follow — dead
He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl; duke or earl
For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl. scoundrel
For gentillesse nys but renomee nobility — reputation
Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee, [1160] goodness
Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone. nobility
Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace; nobility
It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
Thenketh how noble, as seith Valerius, [1165]
Was thilke Tullius Hostillius, the same
That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse. poverty — rose — nobility
Reedeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece;
Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is no doubt
That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis. [1170] deeds
And therfore, leeve housbonde, thus conclude: dear
Al were it that myne auncestres were rude, although — not noble
Yet may the hye God, and so hope I,
Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne [1175] noble
To lyven vertuously and weyve synne. abandon
And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve, therefore — scold
The hye God, on whom that we bileeve,
In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf. choose
And certes every man, mayden, or wyf, [1180] certainly
May understonde that Jhesus, hevene kyng,
Ne wolde nat chese a vicious lyvyng. choose — immoral
Glad poverte is an honest thyng, certeyn;
This wole Senec and othere clerkes seyn.
Whoso that halt hym payd of his poverte, [1185] considers himself satisfied
I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte. consider — even if he had — shirt
He that coveiteth is a povre wight, covets — poor person
For he wolde han that is nat in his myght; power
But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have,
Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave. [1190] consider — peasant
Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely; true
Juvenal seith of poverte myrily:
‘The povre man, whan he goth by the weye, poor
Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye.’
Poverte is hateful good and, as I gesse, [1195]
A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse;
A greet amendere eek of sapience improver — also — wisdom
To hym that taketh it in pacience.
Poverte is this, although it seme alenge, awful
Possessioun that no wight wol chalenge. [1200] person
Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe. also
Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me, it seems to mr
Thurgh which he may his verray freendes see. real
And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve, [1205] since — harm you
Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve. reproach
No, sire, of elde ye repreve me; reproach
And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee surely — no
Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
Seyn that men sholde an oold wight doon favour, [1210] person
And clepe hym fader, for youre gentillesse; call — nobility
And auctours shal I fynde, as I gesse.
Now ther ye seye that I am foul and old, ugly
Than drede you noght to been a cokewold; don’t worry about being a cuckold
For filthe and eelde, also moot I thee, [1215] old age — as I may prosper
Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee. guardians — virginity
But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit,
I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit.
Chese now,” quod she, “oon of thise thynges tweye: choose — said — two
To han me foul and old til that I deye, [1220]
And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf,
And nevere yow displese in al my lyf;
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
And take youre aventure of the repair chances — crowd
That shal be to youre hous by cause of me, [1225] because
Or in som oother place, may wel be.
Now chese yourselven, wheither that yow liketh.” choose — whichever you please
This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh, thinks about it — signs
But atte laste he seyde in this manere:
“My lady and my love, and wyf so deere, [1230]
I put me in youre wise governance;
Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance, choose
And moost honour to yow and me also.
I do no fors the wheither of the two; don’t care
For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.” [1235]
“Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie,” quod she,
“Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?” choose — as I like
“Ye, certes, wyf,” quod he, “I holde it best.” certainly
“Kys me,” quod she, “we be no lenger wrothe; angry
For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe, [1240]
This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.
I prey to God that I moote sterven wood, might die insane
But I to yow be also good and trewe unless
As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe. since
And but I be to-morn as fair to seene [1245] in the morning
As any lady, emperice, or queene,
That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest. as you please
Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is.”
And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this, [1250] truly
That she so fair was, and so yong therto, beautiful
For joye he hente hire in his armes two, took
His herte bathed in a bath of blisse.
A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hire kisse, in a row — began to kiss her
And she obeyed hym in every thyng [1255]
That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng.
And thys they lyve unto hir lyves ende thus
In parfit joye; and Jhesu Crist us sende perfect
Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
And grace t’ overbyde hem that we wedde; [1260] outlive
And eek I praye Jhesu shorte hir lyves also — shorten
That wol nat be governed by hir wyves;
And olde and angry nygardes of dispence, misers — spending
God sende hem soone verray pestilence! true plague

Notes