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Geoffrey Chaucer, d.1400:
Canterbury Tales: Prologue to Wife of Bath's Tale [Parallel Texts]

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 were leveful 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!

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 birginitee:
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 wight 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: This 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 that 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 is nat 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 shal, it that she kan hir good,
232: Bere hym on honde that the cow is wood,
233: And take witnesse of hir owene mayde
234: Of hir assemt; but herkneth how I sayde:
235: Sire olde kaynard, is this thyn array?
236: Why is my neighbores wyf so gay?
237: She is honoured over al 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 over al.
265: And if that she be foul, thou seist that she
266: Coveiteth every man that she may se,
267: For as a spaynel 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 his owene hous; 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: They 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 light 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 and 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: Whose 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 necetee.
413: And therfore every man this tale I telle,
414: Wynne whose 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 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 from 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 appeles wroghte subtilly;
500: It nys but wast to burye hym preciously.
501: Lat hym fare wel, God yeve his soul 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 he 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, a 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 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: The 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 queen 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 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 soveraynette,
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 spwkestow 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.
Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,
To speak of woe that is in all marriage;
For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,
Thanks be to God Who is for aye alive,
Of husbands at church door have I had five;
For men so many times have wedded me;
And all were worthy men in their degree.
But someone told me not so long ago
That since Our Lord, save once, would never go
To wedding (that at Cana in Galilee),
Thus, by this same example, showed He me
I never should have married more than once.
Lo and behold! What sharp words, for the nonce,
Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,
'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,
But what He meant thereby I cannot say;
And I would ask now why that same fifth man
Was not husband to the Samaritan?
How many might she have, then, in marriage?
For I have never heard, in all my age,
Clear exposition of this number shown,
Though men may guess and argue up and down.
But well I know and say, and do not lie,
God bade us to increase and multiply;
That worthy text can I well understand.
And well I know He said, too, my husband
Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;
But no specific number mentioned He,
Whether of bigamy or octogamy;
Why should men speak of it reproachfully?
Lo, there's the wise old king Dan Solomon;
I understand he had more wives than one;
And now would God it were permitted me
To be refreshed one half as oft as he!
Which gift of God he had for all his wives!
No man has such that in this world now lives.
God knows, this noble king, it strikes my wit,
The first night he had many a merry fit
With each of them, so much he was alive!
Praise be to God that I have wedded five!
Of whom I did pick out and choose the best
Both for their nether purse and for their chest
Different schools make divers perfect clerks,
Different methods learned in sundry works
Make the good workman perfect, certainly.
Of full five husbands tutoring am I.
Welcome the sixth whenever come he shall.
Forsooth, I'll not keep chaste for good and all;
When my good husband from the world is gone,
Some Christian man shall marry me anon;
For then, the apostle says that I am free
To wed, in God's name, where it pleases me.
He says that to be wedded is no sin;
Better to marry than to burn within.
What care I though folk speak reproachfully
Of wicked Lamech and his bigamy?
I know well Abraham was holy man,
And Jacob, too, as far as know I can;
And each of them had spouses more than two;
And many another holy man also.
Or can you say that you have ever heard
That God has ever by His express word
Marriage forbidden? Pray you, now, tell me.
Or where commanded He virginity?
I read as well as you no doubt have read
The apostle when he speaks of maidenhead;
He said, commandment of the Lord he'd none.
Men may advise a woman to be one,
But such advice is not commandment, no;
He left the thing to our own judgment so.
For had Lord God commanded maidenhood,
He'd have condemned all marriage as not good;
And certainly, if there were no seed sown,
Virginity- where then should it be grown?
Paul dared not to forbid us, at the least,
A thing whereof his Master'd no behest.
The dart is set up for virginity;
Catch it who can; who runs best let us see.
"But this word is not meant for every wight,
But where God wills to give it, of His might.
I know well that the apostle was a maid;
Nevertheless, and though he wrote and said
He would that everyone were such as he,
All is not counsel to virginity;
And so to be a wife he gave me leave
Out of permission; there's no shame should grieve
In marrying me, if that my mate should die,
Without exception, too, of bigamy.
And though 'twere good no woman flesh to touch,
He meant, in his own bed or on his couch;
For peril 'tis fire and tow to assemble;
You know what this example may resemble.
This is the sum: he held virginity
Nearer perfection than marriage for frailty.
And frailty's all, I say, save he and she
Would lead their lives throughout in chastity.
"I grant this well, I have no great envy
Though maidenhood's preferred to bigamy;
Let those who will be clean, body and ghost,
Of my condition I will make no boast.
For well you know, a lord in his household,
He has not every vessel all of gold;
Some are of wood and serve well all their days.
God calls folk unto Him in sundry ways,
And each one has from God a proper gift,
Some this, some that, as pleases Him to shift.
"Virginity is great perfection known,
And continence e'en with devotion shown.
But Christ, Who of perfection is the well,
Bade not each separate man he should go sell
All that he had and give it to the poor
And follow Him in such wise going before.
He spoke to those that would live perfectly;
And, masters, by your leave, such am not I.
I will devote the flower of all my age
To all the acts and harvests of marriage.
"Tell me also, to what purpose or end
The genitals were made, that I defend,
And for what benefit was man first wrought?
Trust you right well, they were not made for naught.
Explain who will and argue up and down
That they were made for passing out, as known,
Of urine, and our two belongings small
Were just to tell a female from a male,
And for no other cause- ah, say you no?
Experience knows well it is not so;
And, so the clerics be not with me wroth,
I say now that they have been made for both,
That is to say, for duty and for ease
In getting, when we do not God displease.
Why should men otherwise in their books set
That man shall pay unto his wife his debt?
Now wherewith should he ever make payment,
Except he used his blessed instrument?
Then on a creature were devised these things
For urination and engenderings.
"But I say not that every one is bound,
Who's fitted out and furnished as I've found,
To go and use it to beget an heir;
Then men would have for chastity no care.
Christ was a maid, and yet shaped like a man,
And many a saint, since this old world began,
Yet has lived ever in perfect chastity.
I bear no malice to virginity;
Let such be bread of purest white wheat-seed,
And let us wives be called but barley bread;
And yet with barley bread (if Mark you scan)
Jesus Our Lord refreshed full many a man.
In such condition as God places us
I'll persevere, I'm not fastidious.
In wifehood I will use my instrument
As freely as my Maker has it sent.
If I be niggardly, God give me sorrow!
My husband he shall have it, eve and morrow,
When he's pleased to come forth and pay his debt.
I'll not delay, a husband I will get
Who shall be both my debtor and my thrall
And have his tribulations therewithal
Upon his flesh, the while I am his wife.
I have the power during all my life
Over his own good body, and not he.
For thus the apostle told it unto me;
And bade our husbands that they love us well.
And all this pleases me whereof I tell."
Up rose the pardoner, and that anon.
"Now dame," said he, "by God and by Saint John,
You are a noble preacher in this case!
I was about to wed a wife, alas!
Why should I buy this on my flesh so dear?
No, I would rather wed no wife this year."
"But wait," said she, "my tale is not begun;
Nay, you shall drink from out another tun
Before I cease, and savour worse than ale.
And when I shall have told you all my tale
Of tribulation that is in marriage,
Whereof I've been an expert all my age,
That is to say, myself have been the whip,
Then may you choose whether you will go sip
Out of that very tun which I shall broach.
Beware of it ere you too near approach;
For I shall give examples more than ten.
Whoso will not be warned by other men
By him shall other men corrected be,
The self-same words has written Ptolemy;
Read in his Almagest and find it there."
"Lady, I pray you, if your will it were,"
Spoke up this pardoner, "as you began,
Tell forth your tale, nor spare for any man,
And teach us younger men of your technique."
"Gladly," said she, "since it may please, not pique.
But yet I pray of all this company
That if I speak from my own phantasy,
They will not take amiss the things I say;
For my intention's only but to play.
"Now, sirs, now will I tell you forth my tale.
And as I may drink ever wine and ale,
I will tell truth of husbands that I've had,
For three of them were good and two were bad.
The three were good men and were rich and old.
Not easily could they the promise hold
Whereby they had been bound to cherish me.
You know well what I mean by that, pardie!
So help me God, I laugh now when I think
How pitifully by night I made them swink;
And by my faith I set by it no store.
They'd given me their gold, and treasure more;
I needed not do longer diligence
To win their love, or show them reverence.
They all loved me so well, by God above,
I never did set value on their love!
A woman wise will strive continually
To get herself loved, when she's not, you see.
But since I had them wholly in my hand,
And since to me they'd given all their land,
Why should I take heed, then, that I should please,
Save it were for my profit or my ease?
I set them so to work, that, by my fay,
Full many a night they sighed out 'Welaway!'
The bacon was not brought them home, I trow,
That some men have in Essex at Dunmowe.
I governed them so well, by my own law,
That each of them was happy as a daw,
And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.
And they were right glad when I spoke them fair;
For God knows that I nagged them mercilessly.
"Now hearken how I bore me properly,
All you wise wives that well can understand.
"Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;
For half so brazenfacedly can no man
Swear to his lying as a woman can.
I say not this to wives who may be wise,
Except when they themselves do misadvise.
A wise wife, if she knows what's for her good,
Will swear the crow is mad, and in this mood
Call up for witness to it her own maid;
But hear me now, for this is what I said.
"'Sir Dotard, is it thus you stand today?
Why is my neighbour's wife so fine and gay?
She's honoured over all where'er she goes;
I sit at home, I have no decent clo'es.
What do you do there at my neighbour's house?
Is she so fair? Are you so amorous?
Why whisper to our maid? Benedicite!
Sir Lecher old, let your seductions be!
And if I have a gossip or a friend,
Innocently, you blame me like a fiend
If I but walk, for company, to his house!
You come home here as drunken as a mouse,
And preach there on your bench, a curse on you!
You tell me it's a great misfortune, too,
To wed a girl who costs more than she's worth;
And if she's rich and of a higher birth,
You say it's torment to abide her folly
And put up with her pride and melancholy.
And if she be right fair, you utter knave,
You say that every lecher will her have;
She may no while in chastity abide
That is assailed by all and on each side.
"'You say, some men desire us for our gold,
Some for our shape and some for fairness told:
And some, that she can either sing or dance,
And some, for courtesy and dalliance;
Some for her hands and for her arms so small;
Thus all goes to the devil in your tale.
You say men cannot keep a castle wall
That's long assailed on all sides, and by all.
"'And if that she be foul, you say that she
Hankers for every man that she may see;
For like a spaniel will she leap on him
Until she finds a man to be victim;
And not a grey goose swims there in the lake
But finds a gander willing her to take.
You say, it is a hard thing to enfold
Her whom no man will in his own arms hold.
This say you, worthless, when you go to bed;
And that no wise man needs thus to be wed,
No, nor a man that hearkens unto Heaven.
With furious thunder-claps and fiery levin
May your thin, withered, wrinkled neck be broke:
"'You say that dripping eaves, and also smoke,
And wives contentious, will make men to flee
Out of their houses; ah, benedicite!
What ails such an old fellow so to chide?
"'You say that all we wives our vices hide
Till we are married, then we show them well;
That is a scoundrel's proverb, let me tell!
"'You say that oxen, asses, horses, hounds
Are tried out variously, and on good grounds;
Basins and bowls, before men will them buy,
And spoons and stools and all such goods you try.
And so with pots and clothes and all array;
But of their wives men get no trial, you say,
Till they are married, base old dotard you!
And then we show what evil we can do.
"'You say also that it displeases me
Unless you praise and flatter my beauty,
And save you gaze always upon my face
And call me "lovely lady" every place;
And save you make a feast upon that day
When I was born, and give me garments gay;
And save due honour to my nurse is paid
As well as to my faithful chambermaid,
And to my father's folk and his allies-
Thus you go on, old barrel full of lies!
"'And yet of our apprentice, young Jenkin,
For his crisp hair, showing like gold so fine,
Because he squires me walking up and down,
A false suspicion in your mind is sown;
I'd give him naught, though you were dead tomorrow.
"'But tell me this, why do you hide, with sorrow,
The keys to your strong-box away from me?
It is my gold as well as yours, pardie.
Why would you make an idiot of your dame?
Now by Saint James, but you shall miss your aim,
You shall not be, although like mad you scold,
Master of both my body and my gold;
One you'll forgo in spite of both your eyes;
Why need you seek me out or set on spies?
I think you'd like to lock me in your chest!
You should say: "Dear wife, go where you like best,
Amuse yourself, I will believe no tales;
You're my wife Alis true, and truth prevails."
We love no man that guards us or gives charge
Of where we go, for we will be at large.
"'Of all men the most blessed may he be,
That wise astrologer, Dan Ptolemy,
Who says this proverb in his Almagest:
"Of all men he's in wisdom the highest
That nothing cares who has the world in hand."
And by this proverb shall you understand:
Since you've enough, why do you reck or care
How merrily all other folks may fare?
For certainly, old dotard, by your leave,
You shall have cunt all right enough at eve.
He is too much a niggard who's so tight
That from his lantern he'll give none a light.
For he'll have never the less light, by gad;
Since you've enough, you need not be so sad.
"'You say, also, that if we make us gay
With clothing, all in costliest array,
That it's a danger to our chastity;
And you must back the saying up, pardie!
Repeating these words in the apostle's name:
"In habits meet for chastity, not shame,
Your women shall be garmented," said he,
"And not with broidered hair, or jewellery,
Or pearls, or gold, or costly gowns and chic;"
After your text and after your rubric
I will not follow more than would a gnat.
You said this, too, that I was like a cat;
For if one care to singe a cat's furred skin,
Then would the cat remain the house within;
And if the cat's coat be all sleek and gay,
She will not keep in house a half a day,
But out she'll go, ere dawn of any day,
To show her skin and caterwaul and play.
This is to say, if I'm a little gay,
To show my rags I'll gad about all day.
"'Sir Ancient Fool, what ails you with your spies?
Though you pray Argus, with his hundred eyes,
To be my body-guard and do his best,
Faith, he sha'n't hold me, save I am modest;
I could delude him easily- trust me!
"'You said, also, that there are three things- three-
The which things are a trouble on this earth,
And that no man may ever endure the fourth:
O dear Sir Rogue, may Christ cut short your life!
Yet do you preach and say a hateful wife
Is to be reckoned one of these mischances.
Are there no other kinds of resemblances
That you may liken thus your parables to,
But must a hapless wife be made to do?
"'You liken woman's love to very Hell,
To desert land where waters do not well.
You liken it, also, unto wildfire;
The more it burns, the more it has desire
To consume everything that burned may be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree,
Just so a wife destroys her own husband;
Men know this who are bound in marriage band.'
"Masters, like this, as you must understand,
Did I my old men charge and censure, and
Claim that they said these things in drunkenness;
And all was false, but yet I took witness
Of Jenkin and of my dear niece also.
O Lord, the pain I gave them and the woe,
All guiltless, too, by God's grief exquisite!
For like a stallion could I neigh and bite.
I could complain, though mine was all the guilt,
Or else, full many a time, I'd lost the tilt.
Whoso comes first to mill first gets meal ground;
I whimpered first and so did them confound.
They were right glad to hasten to excuse
Things they had never done, save in my ruse.
"With wenches would I charge him, by this hand,
When, for some illness, he could hardly stand.
Yet tickled this the heart of him, for he
Deemed it was love produced such jealousy.
I swore that all my walking out at night
Was but to spy on girls he kept outright;
And under cover of that I had much mirth.
For all such wit is given us at birth;
Deceit, weeping, and spinning, does God give
To women, naturally, the while they live.
And thus of one thing I speak boastfully,
I got the best of each one, finally,
By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing,
As by continual growls or murmuring;
Especially in bed had they mischance,
There would I chide and give them no pleasance;
I would no longer in the bed abide
If I but felt his arm across my side,
Till he had paid his ransom unto me;
Then would I let him do his nicety.
And therefore to all men this tale I tell,
Let gain who may, for everything's to sell.
With empty hand men may no falcons lure;
For profit would I all his lust endure,
And make for him a well-feigned appetite;
Yet I in bacon never had delight;
And that is why I used so much to chide.
For if the pope were seated there beside
I'd not have spared them, no, at their own board.
For by my truth, I paid them, word for word.
So help me the True God Omnipotent,
Though I right now should make my testament,
I owe them not a word that was not quit.
I brought it so about, and by my wit,
That they must give it up, as for the best,
Or otherwise we'd never have had rest.
For though he glared and scowled like lion mad,
Yet failed he of the end he wished he had.
"Then would I say: 'Good dearie, see you keep
In mind how meek is Wilkin, our old sheep;
Come near, my spouse, come let me kiss your cheek!
You should be always patient, aye, and meek,
And have a sweetly scrupulous tenderness,
Since you so preach of old Job's patience, yes.
Suffer always, since you so well can preach;
And, save you do, be sure that we will teach
That it is well to leave a wife in peace.
One of us two must bow, to be at ease;
And since a man's more reasonable, they say,
Than woman is, you must have patience aye.
What ails you that you grumble thus and groan?
Is it because you'd have my cunt alone?
Why take it all, lo, have it every bit;
Peter! Beshrew you but you're fond of it!
For if I would go peddle my belle chose,
I could walk out as fresh as is a rose;
But I will keep it for your own sweet tooth.
You are to blame, by God I tell the truth.'
"Such were the words I had at my command.
Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.
"My fourth husband, he was a reveller,
That is to say, he kept a paramour;
And young and full of passion then was I,
Stubborn and strong and jolly as a pie.
Well could I dance to tune of harp, nor fail
To sing as well as any nightingale
When I had drunk a good draught of sweet wine.
Metellius, the foul churl and the swine,
Did with a staff deprive his wife of life
Because she drank wine; had I been his wife
He never should have frightened me from drink;
For after wine, of Venus must I think:
For just as surely as cold produces hail,
A liquorish mouth must have a lickerish tail.
In women wine's no bar of impotence,
This know all lechers by experience.
"But Lord Christ! When I do remember me
Upon my youth and on my jollity,
It tickles me about my heart's deep root.
To this day does my heart sing in salute
That I have had my world in my own time.
But age, alas! that poisons every prime,
Has taken away my beauty and my pith;
Let go, farewell, the devil go therewith!
The flour is gone, there is no more to tell,
The bran, as best I may, must I now sell;
But yet to be right merry I'll try, and
Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.
"I say that in my heart I'd great despite
When he of any other had delight.
But he was quit by God and by Saint Joce!
I made, of the same wood, a staff most gross;
Not with my body and in manner foul,
But certainly I showed so gay a soul
That in his own thick grease I made him fry
For anger and for utter jealousy.
By God, on earth I was his purgatory,
For which I hope his soul lives now in glory.
For God knows, many a time he sat and sung
When the shoe bitterly his foot had wrung.
There was no one, save God and he, that knew
How, in so many ways, I'd twist the screw.
He died when I came from Jerusalem,
And lies entombed beneath the great rood-beam,
Although his tomb is not so glorious
As was the sepulchre of Darius,
The which Apelles wrought full cleverly;
'Twas waste to bury him expensively.
Let him fare well. God give his soul good rest,
He now is in the grave and in his chest.
"And now of my fifth husband will I tell.
God grant his soul may never get to Hell!
And yet he was to me most brutal, too;
My ribs yet feel as they were black and blue,
And ever shall, until my dying day.
But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,
And therewithal he could so well impose,
What time he wanted use of my belle chose,
That though he'd beaten me on every bone,
He could re-win my love, and that full soon.
I guess I loved him best of all, for he
Gave of his love most sparingly to me.
We women have, if I am not to lie,
In this love matter, a quaint fantasy;
Look out a thing we may not lightly have,
And after that we'll cry all day and crave.
Forbid a thing, and that thing covet we;
Press hard upon us, then we turn and flee.
Sparingly offer we our goods, when fair;
Great crowds at market for dearer ware,
And what's too common brings but little price;
All this knows every woman who is wise.
"My fifth husband, may God his spirit bless!
Whom I took all for love, and not riches,
Had been sometime a student at Oxford,
And had left school and had come home to board
With my best gossip, dwelling in our town,
God save her soul! Her name was Alison.
She knew my heart and all my privity
Better than did our parish priest, s'help me!
To her confided I my secrets all.
For had my husband pissed against a wall,
Or done a thing that might have cost his life,
To her and to another worthy wife,
And to my niece whom I loved always well,
I would have told it- every bit I'd tell,
And did so, many and many a time, God wot,
Which made his face full often red and hot
For utter shame; he blamed himself that he
Had told me of so deep a privity.
"So it befell that on a time, in Lent
(For oftentimes I to my gossip went,
Since I loved always to be glad and gay
And to walk out, in March, April, and May,
From house to house, to hear the latest malice),
Jenkin the clerk, and my gossip Dame Alis,
And I myself into the meadows went.
My husband was in London all that Lent;
I had the greater leisure, then, to play,
And to observe, and to be seen, I say,
By pleasant folk; what knew I where my face
Was destined to be loved, or in what place?
Therefore I made my visits round about
To vigils and processions of devout,
To preaching too, and shrines of pilgrimage,
To miracle plays, and always to each marriage,
And wore my scarlet skirt before all wights.
These worms and all these moths and all these mites,
I say it at my peril, never ate;
And know you why? I wore it early and late.
"Now will I tell you what befell to me.
I say that in the meadows walked we three
Till, truly, we had come to such dalliance,
This clerk and I, that, of my vigilance,
I spoke to him and told him how that he,
Were I a widow, might well marry me.
For certainly I say it not to brag,
But I was never quite without a bag
Full of the needs of marriage that I seek.
I hold a mouse's heart not worth a leek
That has but one hole into which to run,
And if it fail of that, then all is done.
"I made him think he had enchanted me;
My mother taught me all that subtlety.
And then I said I'd dreamed of him all night,
He would have slain me as I lay upright,
And all my bed was full of very blood;
But yet I hoped that he would do me good,
For blood betokens gold, as I was taught.
And all was false, I dreamed of him just- naught,
Save as I acted on my mother's lore,
As well in this thing as in many more.
"But now, let's see, what was I going to say?
Aha, by God, I know! It goes this way.
"When my fourth husband lay upon his bier,
I wept enough and made but sorry cheer,
As wives must always, for it's custom's grace,
And with my kerchief covered up my face;
But since I was provided with a mate,
I really wept but little, I may state.
"To church my man was borne upon the morrow
By neighbours, who for him made signs of sorrow;
And Jenkin, our good clerk, was one of them.
So help me God, when rang the requiem
After the bier, I thought he had a pair
Of legs and feet so clean-cut and so fair
That all my heart I gave to him to hold.
He was, I think, but twenty winters old,
And I was forty, if I tell the truth;
But then I always had a young colt's tooth.
Gap-toothed I was, and that became me well;
I had the print of holy Venus' seal.
So help me God, I was a healthy one,
And fair and rich and young and full of fun;
And truly, as my husbands all told me,
I had the silkiest quoniam that could be.
For truly, I am all Venusian
In feeling, and my brain is Martian.
Venus gave me my lust, my lickerishness,
And Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness.
Taurus was my ascendant, with Mars therein.
Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!
I followed always my own inclination
By virtue of my natal constellation;
Which wrought me so I never could withdraw
My Venus-chamber from a good fellow.
Yet have I Mars's mark upon my face,
And also in another private place.
For God so truly my salvation be
As I have never loved for policy,
But ever followed my own appetite,
Though he were short or tall, or black or white;
I took no heed, so that he cared for me,
How poor he was, nor even of what degree.
"What should I say now, save, at the month's end,
This jolly, gentle, Jenkin clerk, my friend,
Had wedded me full ceremoniously,
And to him gave I all the land in fee
That ever had been given me before;
But, later I repented me full sore.
He never suffered me to have my way.
By God, he smote me on the ear, one day,
Because I tore out of his book a leaf,
So that from this my ear is grown quite deaf.
Stubborn I was as is a lioness,
And with my tongue a very jay, I guess,
And walk I would, as I had done before,
From house to house, though I should not, he swore.
For which he oftentimes would sit and preach
And read old Roman tales to me and teach
How one Sulpicius Gallus left his wife
And her forsook for term of all his life
Because he saw her with bared head, I say,
Looking out from his door, upon a day.
"Another Roman told he of by name
Who, since his wife was at a summer-game
Without his knowing, he forsook her eke.
And then would he within his Bible seek
That proverb of the old Ecclesiast
Where he commands so freely and so fast
That man forbid his wife to gad about;
Then would he thus repeat, with never doubt:
'Whoso would build his whole house out of sallows,
And spur his blind horse to run over fallows,
And let his wife alone go seeking hallows,
Is worthy to be hanged upon the gallows.'
But all for naught, I didn't care a haw
For all his proverbs, nor for his old saw,
Nor yet would I by him corrected be.
I hate one that my vices tells to me,
And so do more of us- God knows!- than I.
This made him mad with me, and furiously,
That I'd not yield to him in any case.
"Now will I tell you truth, by Saint Thomas,
Of why I tore from out his book a leaf,
For which he struck me so it made me deaf.
"He had a book that gladly, night and day,
For his amusement he would read alway.
He called it 'Theophrastus' and 'Valerius',
At which book would he laugh, uproarious.
And, too, there sometime was a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal, that men called Saint Jerome,
Who made a book against Jovinian;
In which book, too, there was Tertullian,
Chrysippus, Trotula, and Heloise
Who was abbess near Paris' diocese;
And too, the Proverbs of King Solomon,
And Ovid's Art, and books full many a one.
And all of these were bound in one volume.
And every night and day 'twas his custom,
When he had leisure and took some vacation
From all his other worldly occupation,
To read, within this book, of wicked wives.
He knew of them more legends and more lives
Than are of good wives written in the Bible.
For trust me, it's impossible, no libel,
That any cleric shall speak well of wives,
Unless it be of saints and holy lives,
But naught for other women will they do.
Who painted first the lion, tell me who?
By God, if women had but written stories,
As have these clerks within their oratories,
They would have written of men more wickedness
Than all the race of Adam could redress.
The children of Mercury and of Venus
Are in their lives antagonistic thus;
For Mercury loves wisdom and science,
And Venus loves but pleasure and expense.
Because they different dispositions own,
Each falls when other's in ascendant shown.
And God knows Mercury is desolate
In Pisces, wherein Venus rules in state;
And Venus falls when Mercury is raised;
Therefore no woman by a clerk is praised.
A clerk, when he is old and can naught do
Of Venus' labours worth his worn-out shoe,
Then sits he down and writes, in his dotage,
That women cannot keep vow of marriage!
"But now to tell you, as I started to,
Why I was beaten for a book, pardieu.
Upon a night Jenkin, who was our sire,
Read in his book, as he sat by the fire,
Of Mother Eve who, by her wickedness,
First brought mankind to all his wretchedness,
For which Lord Jesus Christ Himself was slain,
Who, with His heart's blood, saved us thus again.
Lo here, expressly of woman, may you find
That woman was the ruin of mankind.
"Then read he out how Samson lost his hairs,
Sleeping, his leman cut them with her shears;
And through this treason lost he either eye.
"Then read he out, if I am not to lie,
Of Hercules, and Deianira's desire
That caused him to go set himself on fire.
"Nothing escaped him of the pain and woe
That Socrates had with his spouses two;
How Xantippe threw piss upon his head;
This hapless man sat still, as he were dead;
He wiped his head, no more durst he complain
Than 'Ere the thunder ceases comes the rain.'
"Then of Pasiphae, the queen of Crete,
For cursedness he thought the story sweet;
Fie! Say no more- it is an awful thing-
Of her so horrible lust and love-liking.
"Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery,
Who caused her husband's death by treachery,
He read all this with greatest zest, I vow.
"He told me, too, just when it was and how
Amphiaraus at Thebes lost his life;
My husband had a legend of his wife
Eriphyle who, for a brooch of gold,
In secrecy to hostile Greeks had told
Whereat her husband had his hiding place,
For which he found at Thebes but sorry grace.
"Of Livia and Lucia told he me,
For both of them their husbands killed, you see,
The one for love, the other killed for hate;
Livia her husband, on an evening late,
Made drink some poison, for she was his foe.
Lucia, lecherous, loved her husband so
That, to the end he'd always of her think,
She gave him such a, philtre, for love-drink,
That he was dead or ever it was morrow;
And husbands thus, by same means, came to sorrow.
"Then did he tell how one Latumius
Complained unto his comrade Arrius
That in his garden grew a baleful tree
Whereon, he said, his wives, and they were three,
Had hanged themselves for wretchedness and woe.
'O brother,' Arrius said, 'and did they so?
Give me a graft of that same blessed tree
And in my garden planted it shall be!'
"Of wives of later date he also read,
How some had slain their husbands in their bed
And let their lovers shag them all the night
While corpses lay upon the floor upright.
And some had driven nails into the brain
While husbands slept and in such wise were slain.
And some had given them poison in their drink.
He told more evil than the mind can think.
And therewithal he knew of more proverbs
Than in this world there grows of grass or herbs.
'Better,' he said, 'your habitation be
With lion wild or dragon foul,' said he,
'Than with a woman who will nag and chide.'
'Better,' he said, 'on the housetop abide
Than with a brawling wife down in the house;
Such are so wicked and contrarious
They hate the thing their husband loves, for aye.'
He said, 'a woman throws her shame away
When she throws off her smock,' and further, too:
'A woman fair, save she be chaste also,
Is like a ring of gold in a sow's nose.'
Who would imagine or who would suppose
What grief and pain were in this heart of mine?
"And when I saw he'd never cease, in fine,
His reading in this cursed book at night,
Three leaves of it I snatched and tore outright
Out of his book, as he read on; and eke
I with my fist so took him on the cheek
That in our fire he reeled and fell right down.
Then he got up as does a wild lion,
And with his fist he struck me on the head,
And on the floor I lay as I were dead.
And when he saw how limp and still I lay,
He was afraid and would have run away,
Until at last, out of my swoon I made:
'Oh, have you slain me, you false thief?' I said,
'And for my land have you thus murdered me?
Kiss me before I die, and let me be.'
"He came to me and near me he knelt down,
And said: 'O my dear sister Alison,
So help me God, I'll never strike you more;
What I have done, you are to blame therefor.
But all the same forgiveness now I seek!'
And thereupon I hit him on the cheek,
And said: 'Thief, so much vengeance do I wreak!
Now will I die; I can no longer speak!'
But at the last, and with much care and woe,
We made it up between ourselves. And so
He put the bridle reins within my hand
To have the governing of house and land;
And of his tongue and of his hand, also;
And made him burn his book, right then, oho!
And when I had thus gathered unto me
Masterfully, the entire sovereignty,
And he had said: 'My own true wedded wife,
Do as you please the term of all your life,
Guard your own honour and keep fair my state'-
After that day we never had debate.
God help me now, I was to him as kind
As any wife from Denmark unto Ind,
And also true, and so was he to me.
I pray to God, Who sits in majesty,
To bless his soul, out of His mercy dear!
Now will I tell my tale, if you will hear."
The friar laughed when he had heard all this.
"Now dame," said he, "so have I joy or bliss
This is a long preamble to a tale!"
And when the summoner heard this friar's hail,
"Lo," said the summoner, "by God's arms two!
A friar will always interfere, mark you.
Behold, good men, a housefly and a friar
Will fall in every dish and matters higher.
Why speak of preambling; you in your gown?
What! Amble, trot, hold peace, or go sit down;
You hinder our diversion thus to inquire."
"Aye, say you so, sir summoner?" said the friar,
"Now by my faith I will, before I go,
Tell of a summoner such a tale, or so,
That all the folk shall laugh who're in this place'
"Otherwise, friar, I beshrew your face,"
Replied this summoner, "and beshrew me
If I do not tell tales here, two or three,
Of friars ere I come to Sittingbourne,
That certainly will give you cause to mourn,
For well I know your patience will be gone."
Our host cried out, "Now peace, and that anon!"
And said he: "Let the woman tell her tale.
You act like people who are drunk with ale.
Do, lady, tell your tale, and that is best."
"All ready, sir," said she, "as you request,
If I have license of this worthy friar."
"Yes, dame," said he, "to hear you's my desire."


Middle English: Virginia Etexts Project

Modern English: gopher://

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.
(c)Paul Halsall August 1996


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