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1.17: Geoffrey Chaucer

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    (ca. 1340-1400)

    Geoffrey Chaucer’s influence on later British literature is difficult to overstate. The most important English writer before Shakespeare (who re-wrote Chaucer’s version of the Troilus and Criseyde story), Chaucer introduced new words into English (such as “cosmos”), and his stories draw on a wealth of previous authors, especially Ovid and Boccaccio. Part of his importance to English literature is that Chaucer chose to write in English, despite his understanding of French, Italian, and Latin; his friend and contemporary poet John Gower chose to write in French, Latin, and English, specifically because he was not sure which language would preserve his writing the best. Chaucer is part of a line of poets who chose to write in their own country’s vernacular. In the ancient world, Virgil had written in Latin, rather than in Greek, despite Greek’s prestige at the time, and in doing so had elevated Latin to a prestigious literary language. Dante had followed the same pattern with Italian. After Chaucer, Cervantes would write in his Don Quixote that the poet’s goal should be to make the literature of his own language competitive with that of any other country, citing poets such as Virgil. Chaucer lays the foundation for the English writers who followed him.

    Chaucer was a product of what we would now call the middle class, although that term did not exist in Chaucer’s time. Medieval England followed the three estates model, recognizing only aristocracy, clergy, and the workers. As certain groups became more prosperous, the usual goal was to work for and marry into the lower levels of the aristocracy, which is the route that Chaucer takes. Chaucer received an excellent education, and he had the opportunity to serve as a page in the household of the Countess of Ulster. Chaucer married Philippa de Roet, a lady- in-waiting, whose sister Katherine was first the mistress and then the third wife of John of Gaunt (one of the sons of Edward III and Chaucer’s patron). Chaucer served as a soldier when younger, and he held a variety of jobs over the years: diplomat, customs official, justice of the peace, and member of parliament (MP) for Kent, among others, all while writing. Although Chaucer received royal annuities from both Edward III and Richard II, his most important patron remained John of Gaunt, whose son became Henry IV after deposing Richard II in 1399 (and granted Chaucer an annuity shortly thereafter).

    For individuals who were not as highly educated as Chaucer, it was a more difficult prospect to advance. The British class system was not based on money, but on bloodlines; a dirt-poor aristocrat was still an aristocrat, while a rich peasant was still a peasant. Chaucer’s Miller in The Canterbury Tales is keenly aware of this distinction. The Miller objects to the idea that a “better man” (line 22) than he is—namely, the Monk—should tell the next tale, claiming to have a story every bit as good as the tale just finished by the Knight. If he is insulted by being forced to yield to the Monk, the Miller threatens to leave the pilgrimage. Several of the middle class characters show a similar reluctance to accept a lower place in the social hierarchy.

    Social class plays a role in Chaucer’s Parlement of Fowles (sometimes called The Parliament of Birds in modern translations), which is an example of one of Chaucer’s dream visions. Dream visions were popular with medieval writers because anything can happen in a dream; the narrator can talk to anyone from the past, or find himself in any location, and the writer can present the action metaphorically, rather than literally. As in all of his poems, a version of Chaucer appears as the narrator of the story: a socially-awkward book lover who portrays himself as a romantic failure. The poem begins with the narrator reading Cicero’s Dream of Scipio (Somnium Scipionis), after which he falls asleep. In his dream, Scipio Africanus the Elder leads him to a garden gate with inscriptions on it (a parallel to Virgil guiding Dante to the gate of Hell in Inferno). Inside, the narrator first encounters the temple of Venus, and then a gathering of birds presided over by Nature. The birds represent various groups in society, with the birds of prey as the nobility. Three male eagles use the language of courtly love poetry to attempt to win the same formel (female) eagle; when there is no immediate choice made, all the birds of lower class levels begin to offer their comic opinions. Courtly love poetry often focuses on the male perspective exclusively; the female is the object to be obtained, and she usually is not given a voice (or, ultimately, a choice) in the matter. The Parliament of Fowles gives the female a voice, if not necessarily a choice, about whether she wants any of them.


    The Canterbury Tales is Chaucer’s masterpiece of social satire. The story was incomplete at his death (although scholars have debated whether the story is, in some ways, thematically complete). Unlike previous versions of frame tales, such as Boccaccio’s Decameron, Chaucer’s frame is every bit as important as the stories. The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales may be about group on a pilgrimage to Canterbury, but the travelers do nothing that identifies them as pilgrims; they eat too much instead of fasting, get drunk, wear fancy clothes, ride instead of walk, and tell stories instead of saying prayers (plus it begins and will end in a tavern). The narrator offers no overt judgment of the pilgrims, while providing enough information in the General Prologue for the audience to judge for themselves. Among the many topics satirized in Chaucer’s work is, once again, courtly love. The Miller’s Tale is a mocking revision of the genre by the Miller, who is responding to the story of courtly love that had just been told by the Knight. The Wife of Bath’s Tale and The Franklin’s Tale both offer fascinating alternatives to the regular courtly love scenario, while the Pardoner’s Tale takes aim at every vice imaginable. Chaucer may follow standard medieval procedure by offering a Retraction at the end of The Canterbury Tales (asking forgiveness for anything he wrote that tended towards sin), but it is worth noting that the reader has finished his collection of stories before reaching it.

    1.13.1 Bibliography

    Sections taken from my introduction to Chaucer in The Compact Anthology of World Literature and World Literature I: Beginnings to 1650

    1.13.2 The Parliament of Birds

    (ca. 1381-1382)

    The life so short, the craft so long to learn,

    Th’assay so hard, so sharp the conquering,

    The dreadful joy, alway that flits so yern;

    All this mean I by Love, that my feeling

    Astoneth with his wonderful working,

    So sore, y-wis, that, when I on him think,

    Naught wit I well whether I fleet or sink,

    For all be that I know not Love indeed, albeit,

    Nor wot how that he quiteth folk their hire,

    Yet happeth me full oft in books to read their service

    Of his miracles, and of his cruel ire;

    There read I well, he will be lord and sire;

    I dare not saye, that his strokes be sore;

    But God save such a lord! I can no more.

    Of usage, what for lust and what for lore,

    On bookes read I oft, as I you told.

    But wherefore speak I alle this? Not yore

    Agone, it happed me for to behold

    Upon a book written with letters old;

    And thereupon, a certain thing to learn,

    The longe day full fast I read and yern.

    For out of the old fieldes, as men saith,

    Cometh all this new corn, from year to year;

    And out of olde bookes, in good faith,

    Cometh all this new science that men lear.

    But now to purpose as of this mattere:

    To reade forth it gan me so delight,

    That all the day me thought it but a lite.

    This book, of which I make mention,

    Entitled was right thus, as I shall tell;

    “Tullius, of the Dream of Scipion:”

    Chapters seven it had, of heav’n, and hell,

    And earth, and soules that therein do dwell;

    Of which, as shortly as I can it treat,

    Of his sentence I will you say the great.

    First telleth it, when Scipio was come

    To Africa, how he met Massinisse,

    That him for joy in armes hath y-nome.

    Then telleth he their speech, and all the bliss

    That was between them till the day gan miss.

    And how his ancestor Africane so dear

    Gan in his sleep that night to him appear.

    Then telleth it, that from a starry place

    How Africane hath him Carthage y-shew’d,

    And warned him before of all his grace

    And said him, what man, learned either lewd,

    That loveth common profit, well y-thew’d,

    He should unto a blissful place wend,

    Where as the joy is without any end.

    Then asked he, if folk that here be dead

    Have life, and dwelling, in another place?

    And Africane said, “Yea, withoute dread;”

    And how our present worldly lives’ space

    Meant but a manner death, what way we trace;

    And rightful folk should go, after they die,

    To Heav’n; and showed him the galaxy.

    Then show’d he him the little earth that here is,

    To regard the heaven’s quantity;

    And after show’d he him the nine spheres;

    And after that the melody heard he,

    That cometh of those spheres thrice three,

    That wells of music be and melody

    In this world here, and cause of harmony.

    Then said he him, since earthe was so lite,

    And full of torment and of harde grace,

    That he should not him in this world delight.

    Then told he him, in certain yeares’ space,

    That ev’ry star should come into his place,

    Where it was first; and all should out of mind,

    That in this world is done of all mankind.

    Then pray’d him Scipio, to tell him all

    The way to come into that Heaven’s bliss;

    And he said: “First know thyself immortal,

    And look aye busily that thou work and wiss

    To common profit, and thou shalt not miss

    To come swiftly unto that place dear,

    That full of bliss is, and of soules clear.

    “And breakers of the law, the sooth to sayn,

    And likerous folk, after that they be dead,

    Shall whirl about the world always in pain,

    Till many a world be passed, out of dread;

    And then, forgiven all their wicked deed,

    They shalle come unto that blissful place,

    To which to come God thee sende grace!”

    The day gan failen, and the darke night,

    That reaveth beastes from their business,

    Berefte me my book for lack of light,

    And to my bed I gan me for to dress,

    Full fill’d of thought and busy heaviness;

    For both I hadde thing which that I n’old,

    And eke I had not that thing that I wo’ld.

    But, finally, my spirit at the last,

    Forweary of my labour all that day,

    Took rest, that made me to sleepe fast;

    And in my sleep I mette, as that I say,

    How Africane, right in the self array

    That Scipio him saw before that tide,

    Was come, and stood right at my bedde’s side.

    The weary hunter, sleeping in his bed,

    To wood again his mind goeth anon;

    The judge dreameth how his pleas be sped;

    The carter dreameth how his cartes go’n;

    The rich of gold, the knight fights with his fone;

    The sicke mette he drinketh of the tun;

    The lover mette he hath his lady won.

    I cannot say, if that the cause were,

    For I had read of Africane beforn,

    That made me to mette that he stood there;

    But thus said he; “Thou hast thee so well borne

    In looking of mine old book all to-torn,

    Of which Macrobius raught not a lite,

    That somedeal of thy labour would I quite.”

    Cytherea, thou blissful Lady sweet!

    That with thy firebrand dauntest when thee lest,

    That madest me this sweven for to mette,

    Be thou my help in this, for thou may’st best!

    As wisly as I saw the north-north-west,

    When I began my sweven for to write,

    So give me might to rhyme it and endite.

    This foresaid Africane me hent anon,

    And forth with him unto a gate brought

    Right of a park, walled with greene stone;

    And o’er the gate, with letters large y-wrought,

    There were verses written, as me thought,

    On either half, of full great difference,

    Of which I shall you say the plain sentence.

    “Through me men go into the blissful place

    Of hearte’s heal and deadly woundes’ cure;

    Through me men go unto the well of grace;

    Where green and lusty May shall ever dure;

    This is the way to all good adventure;

    Be glad, thou reader, and thy sorrow off cast;

    All open am I; pass in and speed thee fast.”

    “Through me men go,” thus spake the other side,

    “Unto the mortal strokes of the spear,

    Of which disdain and danger is the guide;

    There never tree shall fruit nor leaves bear;

    This stream you leadeth to the sorrowful weir,

    Where as the fish in prison is all dry;

    Th’eschewing is the only remedy.”

    These verses of gold and azure written were,

    On which I gan astonish’d to behold;

    For with that one increased all my fear,

    And with that other gan my heart to bold;

    That one me het, that other did me cold;

    No wit had I, for error, for to choose

    To enter or fly, or me to save or lose.

    Right as betwixten adamantes two

    Of even weight, a piece of iron set,

    Ne hath no might to move to nor fro;

    For what the one may hale, the other let;

    So far’d I, that n’ist whether me was bet

    T’ enter or leave, till Africane, my guide, better for me

    Me hent and shov’d in at the gates wide.

    And said, “It standeth written in thy face,

    Thine error, though thou tell it not to me;

    But dread thou not to come into this place;

    For this writing is nothing meant by thee,

    Nor by none, but he Love’s servant be; unless

    For thou of Love hast lost thy taste, I guess,

    As sick man hath of sweet and bitterness.

    “But natheless, although that thou be dull,

    That thou canst not do, yet thou mayest see;

    For many a man that may not stand a pull,

    Yet likes it him at wrestling for to be,

    And deeme whether he doth bet, or he;

    And, if thou haddest cunning to endite,

    I shall thee showe matter of to write.”

    With that my hand in his he took anon,

    Of which I comfort caught, and went in fast.

    But, Lord! so I was glad and well-begone!

    For over all, where I my eyen cast,

    Were trees y-clad with leaves that ay shall last,

    Each in his kind, with colour fresh and green

    As emerald, that joy it was to see’n.

    The builder oak; and eke the hardy ash;

    The pillar elm, the coffer unto carrain;

    The box, pipe tree; the holm, to whippe’s lash

    The sailing fir; the cypress death to plain;

    The shooter yew; the aspe for shaftes plain;

    Th’olive of peace, and eke the drunken vine;

    The victor palm; the laurel, too, divine.

    A garden saw I, full of blossom’d boughes,

    Upon a river, in a greene mead,

    Where as sweetness evermore enow is,

    With flowers white, blue, yellow, and red,

    And colde welle streames, nothing dead,

    That swamme full of smalle fishes light,

    With finnes red, and scales silver bright.

    On ev’ry bough the birdes heard I sing,

    With voice of angels in their harmony,

    That busied them their birdes forth to bring;

    The pretty conies to their play gan hie;

    And further all about I gan espy

    The dreadful roe, the buck, the hart, and hind,

    Squirrels, and beastes small, of gentle kind.

    Of instruments of stringes in accord

    Heard I so play a ravishing sweetness,

    That God, that Maker is of all and Lord,

    Ne hearde never better, as I guess:

    Therewith a wind, unneth it might be less,

    Made in the leaves green a noise soft,

    Accordant the fowles’ song on loft.

    Th’air of the place so attemper was,

    That ne’er was there grievance of hot nor cold;

    There was eke ev’ry wholesome spice and grass,

    Nor no man may there waxe sick nor old:

    Yet was there more joy a thousand fold

    Than I can tell, or ever could or might;

    There ever is clear day, and never night.

    Under a tree, beside a well, I sey

    Cupid our lord his arrows forge and file;

    And at his feet his bow all ready lay;

    And well his daughter temper’d, all the while,

    The heades in the well; and with her wile

    She couch’d them after, as they shoulde serve

    Some for to slay, and some to wound and kerve.

    Then was I ware of Pleasance anon right,

    And of Array, and Lust, and Courtesy,

    And of the Craft, that can and hath the might

    To do by force a wight to do folly;

    Disfigured was she, I will not lie;

    And by himself, under an oak, I guess,

    Saw I Delight, that stood with Gentleness.

    Then saw I Beauty, with a nice attire,

    And Youthe, full of game and jollity,

    Foolhardiness, Flattery, and Desire,

    Messagerie, and Meed, and other three;

    Their names shall not here be told for me:

    And upon pillars great of jasper long

    I saw a temple of brass y-founded strong.

    And [all] about the temple danc’d alway

    Women enough, of whiche some there were

    Fair of themselves, and some of them were gay

    In kirtles all dishevell’d went they there;

    That was their office ever, from year to year;

    And on the temple saw I, white and fair,

    Of doves sitting many a thousand pair.

    Before the temple door, full soberly,

    Dame Peace sat, a curtain in her hand;

    And her beside, wonder discreetely,

    Dame Patience sitting there I fand,

    With face pale, upon a hill of sand;

    And althernext, within and eke without,

    Behest, and Art, and of their folk a rout.

    Within the temple, of sighes hot as fire

    I heard a swough, that gan aboute ren,

    Which sighes were engender’d with desire,

    That made every hearte for to bren

    Of newe flame; and well espied I then,

    That all the cause of sorrows that they dree

    Came of the bitter goddess Jealousy.

    The God Priapus saw I, as I went

    Within the temple, in sov’reign place stand,

    In such array, as when the ass him shent

    With cry by night, and with sceptre in hand:

    Full busily men gan assay and fand

    Upon his head to set, of sundry hue,

    Garlandes full of freshe flowers new.

    And in a privy corner, in disport,

    Found I Venus and her porter Richess,

    That was full noble and hautain of her port;

    Dark was that place, but afterward lightness

    I saw a little, unneth it might be less;

    And on a bed of gold she lay to rest,

    Till that the hote sun began to west.

    Her gilded haires with a golden thread

    Y-bounden were, untressed, as she lay;

    And naked from the breast unto the head

    Men might her see; and, soothly for to say,

    The remnant cover’d, welle to my pay,

    Right with a little kerchief of Valence;

    There was no thicker clothe of defence.

    The place gave a thousand savours swoot;

    And Bacchus, god of wine, sat her beside;

    And Ceres next, that doth of hunger boot;

    And, as I said, amiddes lay Cypride,

    To whom on knees the younge folke cried

    To be their help: but thus I let her lie,

    And farther in the temple gan espy,

    That, in despite of Diana the chaste,

    Full many a bowe broke hung on the wall,

    Of maidens, such as go their time to waste

    In her service: and painted over all

    Of many a story, of which I touche shall

    A few, as of Calist’, and Atalant’,

    And many a maid, of which the name I want.

    Semiramis, Canace, and Hercules,

    Biblis, Dido, Thisbe and Pyramus,

    Tristram, Isoude, Paris, and Achilles,

    Helena, Cleopatra, Troilus,

    Scylla, and eke the mother of Romulus;

    All these were painted on the other side,

    And all their love, and in what plight they died.

    When I was come again into the place

    That I of spake, that was so sweet and green,

    Forth walk’d I then, myselfe to solace:

    Then was I ware where there sat a queen,

    That, as of light the summer Sunne sheen

    Passeth the star, right so over measure

    She fairer was than any creature.

    And in a lawn, upon a hill of flowers,

    Was set this noble goddess of Nature;

    Of branches were her halles and her bowers

    Y-wrought, after her craft and her measure;

    Nor was there fowl that comes of engendrure

    That there ne were prest, in her presence,

    To take her doom, and give her audience.

    For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day,

    When ev’ry fowl cometh to choose her make,

    Of every kind that men thinken may;

    And then so huge a noise gan they make,

    That earth, and sea, and tree, and ev’ry lake,

    So full was, that unnethes there was space

    For me to stand, so full was all the place.

    And right as Alain, in his Plaint of Kind,

    Deviseth Nature of such array and face;

    In such array men mighte her there find.

    This noble Emperess, full of all grace,

    Bade ev’ry fowle take her owen place,

    As they were wont alway, from year to year,

    On Saint Valentine’s Day to stande there.

    That is to say, the fowles of ravine

    Were highest set, and then the fowles smale,

    That eaten as them Nature would incline;

    As worme-fowl, of which I tell no tale;

    But waterfowl sat lowest in the dale,

    And fowls that live by seed sat on the green,

    And that so many, that wonder was to see’n.

    There mighte men the royal eagle find,

    That with his sharpe look pierceth the Sun;

    And other eagles of a lower kind,

    Of which that clerkes well devise con;

    There was the tyrant with his feathers dun can describe

    And green, I mean the goshawk, that doth pine

    To birds, for his outrageous ravine.

    The gentle falcon, that with his feet distraineth

    The kinge’s hand; the hardy sperhawk eke,

    The quaile’s foe; the merlion that paineth

    Himself full oft the larke for to seek;

    There was the dove, with her eyen meek;

    The jealous swan, against his death that singeth;

    The owl eke, that of death the bode bringeth

    The crane, the giant, with his trumpet soun’;

    The thief the chough; and eke the chatt’ring pie;

    The scorning jay; the eel’s foe the heroun;

    The false lapwing, full of treachery;

    The starling, that the counsel can betray;

    The tame ruddock, and the coward kite;

    The cock, that horologe is of thorpes lite.

    The sparrow, Venus’ son; the nightingale,

    That calleth forth the freshe leaves new;

    The swallow, murd’rer of the bees smale,

    That honey make of flowers fresh of hue;

    The wedded turtle, with his hearte true;

    The peacock, with his angel feathers bright;

    The pheasant, scorner of the cock by night;

    The waker goose; the cuckoo ever unkind;

    The popinjay, full of delicacy;

    The drake, destroyer of his owen kind;

    The stork, the wreaker of adultery;

    The hot cormorant, full of gluttony;

    The raven and the crow, with voice of care;

    The throstle old; and the frosty fieldfare.

    What should I say? Of fowls of ev’ry kind

    That in this world have feathers and stature,

    Men mighten in that place assembled find,

    Before that noble goddess of Nature;

    And each of them did all his busy cure

    Benignely to choose, or for to take,

    By her accord, his formel or his make.

    But to the point. Nature held on her hand

    A formel eagle, of shape the gentilest

    That ever she among her workes fand,

    The most benign, and eke the goodliest;

    In her was ev’ry virtue at its rest,

    So farforth that Nature herself had bliss

    To look on her, and oft her beak to kiss.

    Nature, the vicar of th’Almighty Lord, —

    That hot, cold, heavy, light, and moist, and dry,

    Hath knit, by even number of accord, —

    In easy voice began to speak, and say:

    “Fowles, take heed of my sentence,” I pray;

    And for your ease, in furth’ring of your need,

    As far as I may speak, I will me speed.

    “Ye know well how, on Saint Valentine’s Day,

    By my statute, and through my governance,

    Ye choose your mates, and after fly away

    With them, as I you pricke with pleasance;

    But natheless, as by rightful ordinance,

    May I not let, for all this world to win,

    But he that most is worthy shall begin.

    “The tercel eagle, as ye know full weel,

    The fowl royal, above you all in degree,

    The wise and worthy, secret, true as steel,

    The which I formed have, as ye may see,

    In ev’ry part, as it best liketh me, —

    It needeth not his shape you to devise, —

    He shall first choose, and speaken in his guise.

    “And, after him, by order shall ye choose,

    After your kind, evereach as you liketh;

    And as your hap is, shall ye win or lose;

    But which of you that love most entriketh,

    God send him her that sorest for him siketh.”

    And therewithal the tercel gan she call,

    And said, “My son, the choice is to thee fall.

    “But natheless, in this condition

    Must be the choice of ev’reach that is here,

    That she agree to his election,

    Whoso he be, that shoulde be her fere;

    This is our usage ay, from year to year;

    And whoso may at this time have this grace,

    In blissful time he came into this place.”

    With head inclin’d, and with full humble cheer,

    This royal tercel spake, and tarried not:

    “Unto my sov’reign lady, and not my fere,

    I chose and choose, with will, and heart, and thought,

    The formel on your hand, so well y-wrought,

    Whose I am all, and ever will her serve,

    Do what her list, to do me live or sterve.

    “Beseeching her of mercy and of grace,

    As she that is my lady sovereign,

    Or let me die here present in this place,

    For certes long may I not live in pain;

    For in my heart is carven ev’ry vein:

    Having regard only unto my truth, wounded with love

    My deare heart, have on my woe some ruth.

    “And if that I be found to her untrue,

    Disobeisant, or wilful negligent,

    Avaunter, or in process love a new,

    I pray to you, this be my judgement, of time

    That with these fowles I be all to-rent,

    That ilke day that she me ever find

    To her untrue, or in my guilt unkind.

    “And since none loveth her so well as I,

    Although she never of love me behet,

    Then ought she to be mine, through her mercy;

    For other bond can I none on her knit;

    For weal or for woe, never shall I let

    To serve her, how far so that she wend;

    Say what you list, my tale is at an end.”

    Right as the freshe redde rose new

    Against the summer Sunne colour’d is,

    Right so, for shame, all waxen gan the hue

    Of this formel, when she had heard all this;

    Neither she answer’d well, nor said amiss,

    So sore abashed was she, till Nature either well or ill

    Said, “Daughter, dread you not, I you assure.”

    Another tercel eagle spake anon,

    Of lower kind, and said that should not be;

    “I love her better than ye do, by Saint John!

    Or at the least I love her as well as ye,

    And longer have her serv’d in my degree;

    And if she should have lov’d for long loving,

    To me alone had been the guerdoning.

    “I dare eke say, if she me finde false,

    Unkind, janglere, rebel in any wise,

    Or jealous, do me hange by the halse;

    And but I beare me in her service

    As well ay as my wit can me suffice,

    From point to point, her honour for to save,

    Take she my life and all the good I have.”

    A thirde tercel eagle answer’d tho:

    “Now, Sirs, ye see the little leisure here;

    For ev’ry fowl cries out to be ago

    Forth with his mate, or with his lady dear;

    And eke Nature herselfe will not hear,

    For tarrying her, not half that I would say;

    And but I speak, I must for sorrow dey.

    Of long service avaunt I me no thing,

    But as possible is me to die to-day,

    For woe, as he that hath been languishing

    This twenty winter; and well happen may

    A man may serve better, and more to pay,

    In half a year, although it were no more.

    Than some man doth that served hath full yore.

    “I say not this by me for that I can

    Do no service that may my lady please;

    But I dare say, I am her truest man

    As to my doom, and fainest would her please;

    At shorte words, until that death me seize,

    I will be hers, whether I wake or wink.

    And true in all that hearte may bethink.”

    Of all my life, since that day I was born,

    So gentle plea, in love or other thing,

    Ye hearde never no man me beforn;

    Whoso that hadde leisure and cunning

    For to rehearse their cheer and their speaking:

    And from the morrow gan these speeches last,

    Till downward went the Sunne wonder fast.

    The noise of fowles for to be deliver’d

    So loude rang, “Have done and let us wend,”

    That well ween’d I the wood had all to-shiver’d:

    “Come off!” they cried; “alas! ye will us shend!

    When will your cursed pleading have an end?

    How should a judge either party believe,

    For yea or nay, withouten any preve?”

    The goose, the duck, and the cuckoo also,

    So cried “keke, keke,” “cuckoo,” “queke queke,” high,

    That through mine ears the noise wente tho.

    The goose said then, “All this n’is worth a fly!

    But I can shape hereof a remedy;

    And I will say my verdict, fair and swith,

    For water-fowl, whoso be wroth or blith.”

    “And I for worm-fowl,” said the fool cuckow;

    For I will, of mine own authority,

    For common speed, take on me the charge now;

    For to deliver us is great charity.”

    “Ye may abide a while yet, pardie,”

    Quoth then the turtle; “if it be your will

    A wight may speak, it were as good be still.

    “I am a seed-fowl, one th’unworthiest,

    That know I well, and the least of cunning;

    But better is, that a wight’s tongue rest,

    Than entremette him of such doing meddle with

    Of which he neither rede can nor sing; counsel

    And who it doth, full foul himself accloyeth,

    For office uncommanded oft annoyeth.”

    Nature, which that alway had an ear

    To murmur of the lewedness behind,

    With facond voice said, “Hold your tongues there,

    And I shall soon, I hope, a counsel find,

    You to deliver, and from this noise unbind;

    I charge of ev’ry flock ye shall one call,

    To say the verdict of you fowles all.”

    The tercelet said then in this mannere;

    “Full hard it were to prove it by reason,

    Who loveth best this gentle formel here;

    For ev’reach hath such replication,

    That by skilles may none be brought adown;

    I cannot see that arguments avail;

    Then seemeth it that there must be battaile.”

    “All ready!” quoth those eagle tercels tho;

    “Nay, Sirs!” quoth he; “if that I durst it say,

    Ye do me wrong, my tale is not y-do,done

    For, Sirs, — and take it not agrief, I pray, —

    It may not be as ye would, in this way:

    Ours is the voice that have the charge in hand,

    And to the judges’ doom ye muste stand.

    “And therefore ‘Peace!’ I say; as to my wit,

    Me woulde think, how that the

    worthiest Of knighthood, and had

    longest used it, Most of estate, of blood

    the gentilest, Were fitting most for her,

    if that her lest

    And, of these three she knows herself, I trow,

    Which that he be; for it is light to know.” easy

    The water-fowles have their heades laid

    Together, and of short advisement, after brief deliberation

    When evereach his verdict had y-said

    They saide soothly all by one assent,

    How that “The goose with the facond gent,

    That so desired to pronounce our need,

    Shall tell our tale;” and prayed God her speed.

    And for those water-fowles then began

    The goose to speak. and in her cackeling

    She saide, “Peace, now! take keep ev’ry man,

    And hearken what reason I shall forth bring;

    My wit is sharp, I love no tarrying;

    I say I rede him, though he were my brother,

    But she will love him, let him love another!”

    “Lo! here a perfect reason of a goose!”

    Quoth the sperhawke. “Never may she the!

    Lo such a thing ’tis t’have a tongue loose!

    Now, pardie: fool, yet were it bet for thee

    Have held thy peace, than show’d thy nicety;

    It lies not in his wit, nor in his will,

    But sooth is said, a fool cannot be still.”

    The laughter rose of gentle fowles all;

    And right anon the seed-fowls chosen had

    The turtle true, and gan her to them call,

    And prayed her to say the soothe sad

    Of this mattere, and asked what she rad;

    And she answer’d, that plainly her intent

    She woulde show, and soothly what she meant.

    “Nay! God forbid a lover shoulde change!”

    The turtle said, and wax’d for shame all red:

    “Though that his lady evermore be strange,

    Yet let him serve her ay, till he be dead;

    For, sooth, I praise not the goose’s rede

    For, though she died, I would none other make;

    I will be hers till that the death me take.”

    “Well bourded!” quoth the ducke, “by my hat!

    That men should loven alway causeless,

    Who can a reason find, or wit, in that?

    Danceth he merry, that is mirtheless?

    Who shoulde reck of that is reckeless?

    Yea! queke yet,” quoth the duck, “full well and fair! no care for him

    There be more starres, God wot, than a pair!”

    “Now fy, churl!” quoth the gentle tercelet,

    “Out of the dunghill came that word aright;

    Thou canst not see which thing is well beset;

    Thou far’st by love, as owles do by light,—

    The day them blinds, full well they see by night;

    Thy kind is of so low a wretchedness,

    That what love is, thou caust not see nor guess.”

    Then gan the cuckoo put him forth in press,

    For fowl that eateth worm, and said belive:

    “So I,” quoth he, “may have my mate in peace,

    I recke not how longe that they strive.

    Let each of them be solain all their life;

    This is my rede, since they may not accord;

    This shorte lesson needeth not record.”

    “Yea, have the glutton fill’d enough his paunch,

    Then are we well!” saide the emerlon;

    “Thou murd’rer of the heggsugg, on the branch

    That brought thee forth, thou most rueful glutton,

    Live thou solain, worme’s corruption!

    For no force is to lack of thy nature;

    Go! lewed be thou, while the world may dare!”

    “Now peace,” quoth Nature, “I commande here;

    For I have heard all your opinion,

    And in effect yet be we ne’er the nere.

    But, finally, this is my conclusion, —

    That she herself shall have her election

    Of whom her list, whoso be wroth or blith;

    Him that she chooseth, he shall her have as swith.

    “For since it may not here discussed be

    Who loves her best, as said the tercelet,

    Then will I do this favour t’ her, that she

    Shall have right him on whom her heart is set,

    And he her, that his heart hath on her knit:

    This judge I, Nature, for I may not lie

    To none estate; I have none other eye.

    “But as for counsel for to choose a make,

    If I were Reason, [certes] then would I

    Counsaile you the royal tercel take,

    As saith the tercelet full skillfully,

    As for the gentilest, and most worthy,

    Which I have wrought so well to my pleasance,

    That to you it ought be a suffisance.”

    With dreadful voice the formel her answer’d:

    “My rightful lady, goddess of Nature,

    Sooth is, that I am ever under your yerd,

    As is every other creature,

    And must be yours, while that my life may dure;

    And therefore grante me my firste boon,

    And mine intent you will I say right soon.”

    “I grant it you,” said she; and right anon

    This formel eagle spake in this degree:

    “Almighty queen, until this year be done

    I aske respite to advise me;

    And after that to have my choice all free;

    This is all and some that I would speak and say;

    Ye get no more, although ye do me dey.

    “I will not serve Venus, nor Cupide,

    For sooth as yet, by no manner [of] way.”

    “Now since it may none other ways betide,”

    Quoth Dame Nature, “there is no more to say;

    Then would I that these fowles were away,

    Each with his mate, for longer tarrying here.”

    And said them thus, as ye shall after hear.

    “To you speak I, ye tercels,” quoth Nature;

    “Be of good heart, and serve her alle three;

    A year is not so longe to endure;

    And each of you pain him in his degree

    For to do well, for, God wot, quit is she

    From you this year, what after so befall;

    This entremess is dressed for you all.”

    And when this work y-brought was to an end,

    To ev’ry fowle Nature gave his make,

    By even accord, and on their way they wend:

    And, Lord! the bliss and joye that they make!

    For each of them gan other in his wings take,

    And with their neckes each gan other wind,

    Thanking alway the noble goddess of Kind.

    But first were chosen fowles for to sing,—

    As year by year was alway their usance, —

    To sing a roundel at their departing,

    To do to Nature honour and pleasance;

    The note, I trowe, maked was in France;

    The wordes were such as ye may here find

    The nexte verse, as I have now in mind:

    Qui bien aime, tard oublie.

    “Now welcome summer, with thy sunnes soft,

    That hast these winter weathers overshake

    Saint Valentine, thou art full high on loft,

    Which driv’st away the longe nightes blake;

    Thus singe smalle fowles for thy sake:

    Well have they cause for to gladden oft,

    Since each of them recover’d hath his make;

    Full blissful may they sing when they awake.”

    And with the shouting, when their song was do,

    That the fowls maden at their flight away,

    I woke, and other bookes took me to,

    To read upon; and yet I read alway.

    I hope, y-wis, to reade so some day,

    That I shall meete something for to fare

    The bet; and thus to read I will not spare.

    1.13.3 Selections from The Canterbury Tales

    General Prologue

    WHEN that Aprilis, with his showers swoot,

    The drought of March hath pierced to the root,

    And bathed every vein in such licour,

    Of which virtue engender’d is the flower;

    When Zephyrus eke with his swoote breath

    Inspired hath in every holt and heath

    The tender croppes and the younge sun

    Hath in the Ram his halfe course y-run,

    And smalle fowles make melody,

    That sleepen all the night with open eye,

    (So pricketh them nature in their corage);

    Then longe folk to go on pilgrimages,

    And palmers for to seeke strange strands,

    To ferne hallows couth in sundry lands;

    And specially, from every shire’s end

    Of Engleland, to Canterbury they wend,

    The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,

    That them hath holpen, when that they were sick.

    Befell that, in that season on a day,

    In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay,

    Ready to wenden on my pilgrimage

    To Canterbury with devout corage,

    At night was come into that hostelry

    Well nine and twenty in a company

    Of sundry folk, by aventure y-fall

    In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,

    That toward Canterbury woulde ride.

    The chamber, and the stables were wide,

    And well we weren eased at the best.

    And shortly, when the sunne was to rest,

    So had I spoken with them every one,

    That I was of their fellowship anon,

    And made forword early for to rise,

    To take our way there as I you devise.

    But natheless, while I have time and space,

    Ere that I farther in this tale pace,

    Me thinketh it accordant to reason,

    To tell you alle the condition

    Of each of them, so as it seemed me,

    And which they weren, and of what degree;

    And eke in what array that they were in:

    And at a Knight then will I first begin.

    A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy man,

    That from the time that he first began

    To riden out, he loved chivalry,

    Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.

    Full worthy was he in his Lorde’s war,

    And thereto had he ridden, no man farre,

    As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,

    And ever honour’d for his worthiness

    At Alisandre he was when it was won.

    Full often time he had the board begun

    Above alle nations in Prusse.

    In Lettowe had he reysed, and in Russe,

    No Christian man so oft of his degree.

    In Grenade at the siege eke had he be

    Of Algesir, and ridden in Belmarie.

    At Leyes was he, and at Satalie,

    When they were won; and in the Greate Sea

    At many a noble army had he be.

    At mortal battles had he been fifteen,

    And foughten for our faith at Tramissene.

    In listes thries, and aye slain his foe.

    This ilke worthy knight had been also

    Some time with the lord of Palatie,

    Against another heathen in Turkie:

    And evermore he had a sovereign price.

    And though that he was worthy he was wise,

    And of his port as meek as is a maid.

    He never yet no villainy ne said

    In all his life, unto no manner wight.

    He was a very perfect gentle knight.

    But for to telle you of his array,

    His horse was good, but yet he was not gay.

    Of fustian he weared a gipon,

    Alle besmotter’d with his habergeon,

    For he was late y-come from his voyage,

    And wente for to do his pilgrimage.

    With him there was his son, a younge SQUIRE,

    A lover, and a lusty bacheler,

    With lockes crulle as they were laid in press.

    Of twenty year of age he was I guess.

    Of his stature he was of even length,

    And wonderly deliver, and great of strength.

    And he had been some time in chevachie,

    In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardie,

    And borne him well, as of so little space,

    In hope to standen in his lady’s grace.

    Embroider’d was he, as it were a mead

    All full of freshe flowers, white and red.

    Singing he was, or fluting all the day;

    He was as fresh as is the month of May.

    Short was his gown, with sleeves long and wide.

    Well could he sit on horse, and faire ride.

    He coulde songes make, and well indite,

    Joust, and eke dance, and well pourtray and write.

    So hot he loved, that by nightertale

    He slept no more than doth the nightingale.

    Courteous he was, lowly, and serviceable,

    And carv’d before his father at the table.

    A YEOMAN had he, and servants no mo’

    At that time, for him list ride so

    And he was clad in coat and hood of green.

    A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen

    Under his belt he bare full thriftily.

    Well could he dress his tackle yeomanly:

    His arrows drooped not with feathers low;

    And in his hand he bare a mighty bow.

    A nut-head had he, with a brown visiage:

    Of wood-craft coud he well all the usage:

    Upon his arm he bare a gay bracer,

    And by his side a sword and a buckler,

    And on that other side a gay daggere,

    Harnessed well, and sharp as point of spear:

    A Christopher on his breast of silver sheen.

    An horn he bare, the baldric was of green:

    A forester was he soothly as I guess.

    There was also a Nun, a PRIORESS,

    That of her smiling was full simple and coy;

    Her greatest oathe was but by Saint Loy;

    And she was cleped Madame Eglentine.

    Full well she sang the service divine,

    Entuned in her nose full seemly;

    And French she spake full fair and fetisly

    After the school of Stratford atte Bow,

    For French of Paris was to her unknow.

    At meate was she well y-taught withal;

    She let no morsel from her lippes fall,

    Nor wet her fingers in her sauce deep.

    Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,

    That no droppe ne fell upon her breast.

    In courtesy was set full much her lest.

    Her over-lippe wiped she so clean,

    That in her cup there was no farthing seen

    Of grease, when she drunken had her draught;

    Full seemely after her meat she raught:

    And sickerly she was of great disport,

    And full pleasant, and amiable of port,

    And pained her to counterfeite cheer

    Of court, and be estately of mannere,

    And to be holden digne of reverence.

    But for to speaken of her conscience,

    She was so charitable and so pitous,

    She woulde weep if that she saw a mouse

    Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled.

    Of smalle houndes had she, that she fed

    With roasted flesh, and milk, and wastel bread.

    But sore she wept if one of them were dead,

    Or if men smote it with a yarde smart:

    And all was conscience and tender heart.

    Full seemly her wimple y-pinched was;

    Her nose tretis; her eyen gray as glass;

    Her mouth full small, and thereto soft and red;

    But sickerly she had a fair forehead.

    It was almost a spanne broad I trow;

    For hardily she was not undergrow.

    Full fetis was her cloak, as I was ware.

    Of small coral about her arm she bare

    A pair of beades, gauded all with green;

    And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,

    On which was first y-written a crown’d A,

    And after, Amor vincit omnia.

    Another Nun also with her had she,

    That was her chapelleine, and PRIESTES three.

    A MONK there was, a fair for the mast’ry

    An out-rider, that loved venery;

    A manly man, to be an abbot able.

    Full many a dainty horse had he in stable:

    And when he rode, men might his bridle hear

    Jingeling in a whistling wind as clear,

    And eke as loud, as doth the chapel bell,

    There as this lord was keeper of the cell.

    The rule of Saint Maur and of Saint Benet,

    Because that it was old and somedeal strait

    This ilke monk let olde thinges pace,

    And held after the newe world the trace.

    He gave not of the text a pulled hen,

    That saith, that hunters be not holy men:

    Ne that a monk, when he is cloisterless;

    Is like to a fish that is waterless;

    This is to say, a monk out of his cloister.

    This ilke text held he not worth an oyster;

    And I say his opinion was good.

    Why should he study, and make himselfe wood

    Upon a book in cloister always pore,

    Or swinken with his handes, and labour,

    As Austin bid? how shall the world be served?

    Let Austin have his swink to him reserved.

    Therefore he was a prickasour aright:

    Greyhounds he had as swift as fowl of flight;

    Of pricking and of hunting for the hare

    Was all his lust, for no cost would he spare.

    I saw his sleeves purfil’d at the hand

    With gris, and that the finest of the land.

    And for to fasten his hood under his chin,

    He had of gold y-wrought a curious pin;

    A love-knot in the greater end there was.

    His head was bald, and shone as any glass,

    And eke his face, as it had been anoint;

    He was a lord full fat and in good point;

    His eyen steep, and rolling in his head,

    That steamed as a furnace of a lead.

    His bootes supple, his horse in great estate,

    Now certainly he was a fair prelate;

    He was not pale as a forpined gost:

    A fat swan lov’d he best of any roast.

    His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

    A FRIAR there was, a wanton and a merry,

    A limitour a full solemne man.

    In all the orders four is none that can

    So much of dalliance and fair language.

    He had y-made full many a marriage

    Of younge women, at his owen cost.

    Unto his order he was a noble post;

    Full well belov’d, and familiar was he

    With franklins over all in his country,

    And eke with worthy women of the town:

    For he had power of confession,

    As said himselfe, more than a curate,

    For of his order he was licentiate.

    Full sweetely heard he confession,

    And pleasant was his absolution.

    He was an easy man to give penance,

    There as he wist to have a good pittance:

    For unto a poor order for to give

    Is signe that a man is well y-shrive.

    For if he gave, he durste make avant,

    He wiste that the man was repentant.

    For many a man so hard is of his heart,

    He may not weep although him sore smart.

    Therefore instead of weeping and prayeres,

    Men must give silver to the poore freres.

    His tippet was aye farsed full of knives

    And pinnes, for to give to faire wives;

    And certainly he had a merry note:

    Well could he sing and playen on a rote;

    Of yeddings he bare utterly the prize.

    His neck was white as is the fleur-de-lis.

    Thereto he strong was as a champion,

    And knew well the taverns in every town.

    And every hosteler and gay tapstere,

    Better than a lazar or a beggere,

    For unto such a worthy man as he

    Accordeth not, as by his faculty,

    To have with such lazars acquaintance.

    It is not honest, it may not advance,

    As for to deale with no such pouraille

    But all with rich, and sellers of vitaille.

    And ov’r all there as profit should arise,

    Courteous he was, and lowly of service;

    There n’as no man nowhere so virtuous.

    He was the beste beggar in all his house:

    And gave a certain farme for the grant,

    None of his bretheren came in his haunt.

    For though a widow hadde but one shoe,

    So pleasant was his In Principio

    Yet would he have a farthing ere he went;

    His purchase was well better than his rent.

    And rage he could and play as any whelp,

    In lovedays there could he muchel help.

    For there was he not like a cloisterer,

    With threadbare cope as is a poor scholer;

    But he was like a master or a pope.

    Of double worsted was his semicope,

    That rounded was as a bell out of press.

    Somewhat he lisped for his wantonness,

    To make his English sweet upon his tongue;

    And in his harping, when that he had sung,

    His eyen twinkled in his head aright,

    As do the starres in a frosty night.

    This worthy limitour was call’d Huberd.

    A MERCHANT was there with a forked beard,

    In motley, and high on his horse he sat,

    Upon his head a Flandrish beaver hat.

    His bootes clasped fair and fetisly.

    His reasons aye spake he full solemnly,

    Sounding alway th’ increase of his winning.

    He would the sea were kept for any thing

    Betwixte Middleburg and Orewell

    Well could he in exchange shieldes sell

    This worthy man full well his wit beset;

    There wiste no wight that he was in debt,

    So estately was he of governance

    With his bargains, and with his chevisance.

    For sooth he was a worthy man withal,

    But sooth to say, I n’ot how men him call.

    A CLERK there was of Oxenford also,

    That unto logic hadde long y-go.

    As leane was his horse as is a rake,

    And he was not right fat, I undertake;

    But looked hollow, and thereto soberly.

    Full threadbare was his overest courtepy,

    For he had gotten him yet no benefice,

    Ne was not worldly, to have an office.

    For him was lever have at his bed’s head

    Twenty bookes, clothed in black or red,

    Of Aristotle, and his philosophy,

    Than robes rich, or fiddle, or psalt’ry.

    But all be that he was a philosopher,

    Yet hadde he but little gold in coffer,

    But all that he might of his friendes hent,

    On bookes and on learning he it spent,

    And busily gan for the soules pray

    Of them that gave him wherewith to scholay

    Of study took he moste care and heed.

    Not one word spake he more than was need;

    And that was said in form and reverence,

    And short and quick, and full of high sentence.

    Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,

    And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.

    A SERGEANT OF THE LAW, wary and wise,

    That often had y-been at the Parvis,

    There was also, full rich of excellence.

    Discreet he was, and of great reverence:

    He seemed such, his wordes were so wise,

    Justice he was full often in assize,

    By patent, and by plein commission;

    For his science, and for his high renown,

    Of fees and robes had he many one.

    So great a purchaser was nowhere none.

    All was fee simple to him, in effect

    His purchasing might not be in suspect

    Nowhere so busy a man as he there was

    And yet he seemed busier than he was

    In termes had he case’ and doomes all

    That from the time of King William were fall.

    Thereto he could indite, and make a thing

    There coulde no wight pinch at his writing.

    And every statute coud he plain by rote

    He rode but homely in a medley coat,

    Girt with a seint of silk, with barres small;

    Of his array tell I no longer tale.

    A FRANKELIN was in this company;

    White was his beard, as is the daisy.

    Of his complexion he was sanguine.

    Well lov’d he in the morn a sop in wine.

    To liven in delight was ever his won,

    For he was Epicurus’ owen son,

    That held opinion, that plein delight Was verily felicity perfite.

    An householder, and that a great, was he; Saint Julian he was in his country.

    His bread, his ale, was alway after one;

    A better envined man was nowhere none;

    Withoute bake-meat never was his house,

    Of fish and flesh, and that so plenteous,

    It snowed in his house of meat and drink,

    Of alle dainties that men coulde think.

    After the sundry seasons of the year,

    So changed he his meat and his soupere.

    Full many a fat partridge had he in mew,

    And many a bream, and many a luce in stew

    Woe was his cook, but if his sauce were

    Poignant and sharp, and ready all his gear.

    His table dormant in his hall alway

    Stood ready cover’d all the longe day.

    At sessions there was he lord and sire.

    Full often time he was knight of the shire

    An anlace, and a gipciere all of silk,

    Hung at his girdle, white as morning milk.

    A sheriff had he been, and a countour

    Was nowhere such a worthy vavasour


    A WEBBE, a DYER, and a TAPISER,

    Were with us eke, cloth’d in one livery,

    Of a solemn and great fraternity.

    Full fresh and new their gear y-picked was.

    Their knives were y-chaped not with brass,

    But all with silver wrought full clean and well,

    Their girdles and their pouches every deal.

    Well seemed each of them a fair burgess,

    To sitten in a guild-hall, on the dais.

    Evereach, for the wisdom that he can,

    Was shapely for to be an alderman.

    For chattels hadde they enough and rent,

    And eke their wives would it well assent:

    And elles certain they had been to blame.

    It is full fair to be y-clep’d madame,

    And for to go to vigils all before,

    And have a mantle royally y-bore.

    A COOK they hadde with them for the nones,

    To boil the chickens and the marrow bones,

    And powder merchant tart and galingale.

    Well could he know a draught of London ale.

    He could roast, and stew, and broil, and fry,

    Make mortrewes, and well bake a pie.

    But great harm was it, as it thoughte me,

    That, on his shin a mormal hadde he.

    For blanc manger, that made he with the best

    A SHIPMAN was there, wonned far by West:

    For ought I wot, be was of Dartemouth.

    He rode upon a rouncy, as he couth,

    All in a gown of falding to the knee.

    A dagger hanging by a lace had he

    About his neck under his arm adown;

    The hot summer had made his hue all brown;

    And certainly he was a good fellaw.

    Full many a draught of wine he had y-draw

    From Bourdeaux-ward, while that the chapmen sleep;

    Of nice conscience took he no keep.

    If that he fought, and had the higher hand,

    By water he sent them home to every land.

    But of his craft to reckon well his tides,

    His streames and his strandes him besides,

    His herberow, his moon, and lodemanage,

    There was none such, from Hull unto Carthage

    Hardy he was, and wise, I undertake:

    With many a tempest had his beard been shake.

    He knew well all the havens, as they were,

    From Scotland to the Cape of Finisterre,

    And every creek in Bretagne and in Spain:

    His barge y-cleped was the Magdelain.

    With us there was a DOCTOR OF PHYSIC;

    In all this worlde was there none him like

    To speak of physic, and of surgery:

    For he was grounded in astronomy.

    He kept his patient a full great deal

    In houres by his magic natural.

    Well could he fortune the ascendent

    Of his images for his patient.

    He knew the cause of every malady,

    Were it of cold, or hot, or moist, or dry,

    And where engender’d, and of what humour.

    He was a very perfect practisour

    The cause y-know, and of his harm the root,

    Anon he gave to the sick man his boot

    Full ready had he his apothecaries,

    To send his drugges and his lectuaries

    For each of them made other for to win

    Their friendship was not newe to begin

    Well knew he the old Esculapius,

    And Dioscorides, and eke Rufus;

    Old Hippocras, Hali, and Gallien;

    Serapion, Rasis, and Avicen;

    Averrois, Damascene, and Constantin;

    Bernard, and Gatisden, and Gilbertin.

    Of his diet measurable was he,

    For it was of no superfluity,

    But of great nourishing, and digestible.

    His study was but little on the Bible.

    In sanguine and in perse he clad was all

    Lined with taffeta, and with sendall.

    And yet he was but easy of dispense:

    He kept that he won in the pestilence.

    For gold in physic is a cordial;

    Therefore he loved gold in special.

    A good WIFE was there OF beside BATH,

    But she was somedeal deaf, and that was scath.

    Of cloth-making she hadde such an haunt,

    She passed them of Ypres, and of Gaunt.

    In all the parish wife was there none,

    That to the off’ring before her should gon,

    And if there did, certain so wroth was she,

    That she was out of alle charity

    Her coverchiefs were full fine of ground

    I durste swear, they weighede ten pound

    That on the Sunday were upon her head.

    Her hosen weren of fine scarlet red,

    Full strait y-tied, and shoes full moist and new

    Bold was her face, and fair and red of hue.

    She was a worthy woman all her live,

    Husbands at the church door had she had five,

    Withouten other company in youth;

    But thereof needeth not to speak as nouth.

    And thrice had she been at Jerusalem;

    She hadde passed many a strange stream

    At Rome she had been, and at Bologne,

    In Galice at Saint James, and at Cologne;

    She coude much of wand’rng by the Way.

    Gat-toothed was she, soothly for to say.

    Upon an ambler easily she sat,

    Y-wimpled well, and on her head an hat

    As broad as is a buckler or a targe.

    A foot-mantle about her hippes large,

    And on her feet a pair of spurres sharp.

    In fellowship well could she laugh and carp

    Of remedies of love she knew perchance

    For of that art she coud the olde dance.

    A good man there was of religion,

    That was a poore PARSON of a town:

    But rich he was of holy thought and werk.

    He was also a learned man, a clerk,

    That Christe’s gospel truly woulde preach.

    His parishens devoutly would he teach.

    Benign he was, and wonder diligent,

    And in adversity full patient:

    And such he was y-proved often sithes.

    Full loth were him to curse for his tithes,

    But rather would he given out of doubt,

    Unto his poore parishens about,

    Of his off’ring, and eke of his substance.

    He could in little thing have suffisance.

    Wide was his parish, and houses far asunder,

    But he ne left not, for no rain nor thunder,

    In sickness and in mischief to visit

    The farthest in his parish, much and lit,

    Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff.

    This noble ensample to his sheep he gaf,

    That first he wrought, and afterward he taught.

    Out of the gospel he the wordes caught,

    And this figure he added yet thereto,

    That if gold ruste, what should iron do?

    For if a priest be foul, on whom we trust,

    No wonder is a lewed man to rust:

    And shame it is, if that a priest take keep

    , To see a shitten shepherd and clean sheep:

    Well ought a priest ensample for to give,

    By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live.

    He sette not his benefice to hire,

    And left his sheep eucumber’d in the mire,

    And ran unto London, unto Saint Paul’s,

    To seeke him a chantery for souls,

    Or with a brotherhood to be withold:

    But dwelt at home, and kepte well his fold,

    So that the wolf ne made it not miscarry.

    He was a shepherd, and no mercenary.

    And though he holy were, and virtuous,

    He was to sinful men not dispitous

    Nor of his speeche dangerous nor dign

    But in his teaching discreet and benign.

    To drawen folk to heaven, with fairness,

    By good ensample, was his business:

    But it were any person obstinate,

    What so he were of high or low estate,

    Him would he snibbe sharply for the nones.

    A better priest I trow that nowhere none is.

    He waited after no pomp nor reverence,

    Nor maked him a spiced conscience,

    But Christe’s lore, and his apostles’ twelve,

    He taught, and first he follow’d it himselve.

    With him there was a PLOUGHMAN, was his brother,

    That had y-laid of dung full many a fother.

    A true swinker and a good was he,

    Living in peace and perfect charity.

    God loved he beste with all his heart

    At alle times, were it gain or smart,

    And then his neighebour right as himselve.

    He woulde thresh, and thereto dike, and delve,

    For Christe’s sake, for every poore wight,

    Withouten hire, if it lay in his might.

    His tithes payed he full fair and well,

    Both of his proper swink, and his chattel

    In a tabard he rode upon a mare.

    There was also a Reeve, and a Millere,

    A Sompnour, and a Pardoner also,

    A Manciple, and myself, there were no mo’.

    The MILLER was a stout carle for the nones,

    Full big he was of brawn, and eke of bones;

    That proved well, for ov’r all where he came,

    At wrestling he would bear away the ram.

    He was short-shouldered, broad, a thicke gnarr,

    There was no door, that he n’old heave off bar,

    Or break it at a running with his head.

    His beard as any sow or fox was red,

    And thereto broad, as though it were a spade.

    Upon the cop right of his nose he had head

    A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs

    Red as the bristles of a sowe’s ears.

    His nose-thirles blacke were and wide.

    A sword and buckler bare he by his side.

    His mouth as wide was as a furnace.

    He was a jangler, and a goliardais,

    And that was most of sin and harlotries.

    Well could he steale corn, and tolle thrice

    And yet he had a thumb of gold, pardie.

    A white coat and a blue hood weared he

    A baggepipe well could he blow and soun’,

    And therewithal he brought us out of town.

    A gentle MANCIPLE was there of a temple,

    Of which achatours mighte take ensample

    For to be wise in buying of vitaille.

    For whether that he paid, or took by taile

    , Algate he waited so in his achate,

    That he was aye before in good estate.

    Now is not that of God a full fair grace

    That such a lewed mannes wit shall pace

    The wisdom of an heap of learned men?

    Of masters had he more than thries ten,

    That were of law expert and curious:

    Of which there was a dozen in that house,

    Worthy to be stewards of rent and land

    Of any lord that is in Engleland,

    To make him live by his proper good,

    In honour debtless, but if he were wood,

    Or live as scarcely as him list desire;

    And able for to helpen all a shire

    In any case that mighte fall or hap;

    And yet this Manciple set their aller cap

    The REEVE was a slender choleric man

    His beard was shav’d as nigh as ever he can.

    His hair was by his eares round y-shorn;

    His top was docked like a priest beforn

    Full longe were his legges, and full lean

    Y-like a staff, there was no calf y-seen

    Well could he keep a garner and a bin

    There was no auditor could on him win

    Well wist he by the drought, and by the rain,

    The yielding of his seed and of his grain

    His lorde’s sheep, his neat, and his dairy

    His swine, his horse, his store, and his poultry,

    Were wholly in this Reeve’s governing,

    And by his cov’nant gave he reckoning,

    Since that his lord was twenty year of age;

    There could no man bring him in arrearage

    There was no bailiff, herd, nor other hine

    That he ne knew his sleight and his covine

    They were adrad of him, as of the death

    His wonnin was full fair upon an heath

    With greene trees y-shadow’d was his place.

    He coulde better than his lord purchase

    Full rich he was y-stored privily

    His lord well could he please subtilly,

    To give and lend him of his owen good,

    And have a thank, and yet a coat and hood.

    In youth he learned had a good mistere

    He was a well good wright, a carpentere

    This Reeve sate upon a right good stot,

    That was all pomel gray, and highte Scot.

    A long surcoat of perse upon he had,

    And by his side he bare a rusty blade.

    Of Norfolk was this Reeve, of which I tell,

    Beside a town men clepen Baldeswell,

    Tucked he was, as is a friar, about,

    And ever rode the hinderest of the rout.

    A SOMPNOUR was there with us in that place,

    That had a fire-red cherubinnes face,

    For sausefleme he was, with eyen narrow.

    As hot he was and lecherous as a sparrow,

    With scalled browes black, and pilled beard:

    Of his visage children were sore afeard.

    There n’as quicksilver, litharge, nor brimstone,

    Boras, ceruse, nor oil of tartar none,

    Nor ointement that woulde cleanse or bite,

    That him might helpen of his whelkes white,

    Nor of the knobbes sitting on his cheeks.

    Well lov’d he garlic, onions, and leeks,

    And for to drink strong wine as red as blood.

    Then would he speak, and cry as he were wood;

    And when that he well drunken had the wine,

    Then would he speake no word but Latin.

    A fewe termes knew he, two or three,

    That he had learned out of some decree;

    No wonder is, he heard it all the day.

    And eke ye knowen well, how that a jay

    Can clepen “Wat,” as well as can the Pope.

    But whoso would in other thing him grope

    Then had he spent all his philosophy,

    Aye, Questio quid juris, would he cry.

    He was a gentle harlot and a kind;

    A better fellow should a man not find.

    He woulde suffer, for a quart of wine,

    A good fellow to have his concubine

    A twelvemonth, and excuse him at the full.

    Full privily a finch eke could he pull.

    And if he found owhere a good fellaw,

    He woulde teache him to have none awe

    In such a case of the archdeacon’s curse;

    But if a manne’s soul were in his purse;

    For in his purse he should y-punished be.

    “Purse is the archedeacon’s hell,” said he.

    But well I wot, he lied right indeed:

    Of cursing ought each guilty man to dread,

    For curse will slay right as assoiling saveth;

    And also ’ware him of a significavit.

    In danger had he at his owen guise

    The younge girles of the diocese,

    And knew their counsel, and was of their rede.

    A garland had he set upon his head,

    As great as it were for an alestake:

    A buckler had he made him of a cake.

    With him there rode a gentle PARDONERE

    Of Ronceval, his friend and his compere,

    That straight was comen from the court of Rome.

    Full loud he sang, “Come hither, love, to me”

    This Sompnour bare to him a stiff burdoun,

    Was never trump of half so great a soun.

    This Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,

    But smooth it hung, as doth a strike of flax:

    By ounces hung his lockes that he had,

    And therewith he his shoulders oversprad.

    Full thin it lay, by culpons one and one,

    But hood for jollity, he weared none,

    For it was trussed up in his wallet.

    Him thought he rode all of the newe get,

    Dishevel, save his cap, he rode all bare.

    Such glaring eyen had he, as an hare.

    A vernicle had he sew’d upon his cap.

    His wallet lay before him in his lap,

    Bretful of pardon come from Rome all hot.

    A voice he had as small as hath a goat.

    No beard had he, nor ever one should have.

    As smooth it was as it were new y-shave;

    I trow he were a gelding or a mare.

    But of his craft, from Berwick unto Ware,

    Ne was there such another pardonere.

    For in his mail he had a pillowbere,

    Which, as he saide, was our Lady’s veil:

    He said, he had a gobbet of the sail

    That Sainte Peter had, when that he went

    Upon the sea, till Jesus Christ him hent.

    He had a cross of latoun full of stones,

    And in a glass he hadde pigge’s bones.

    But with these relics, whenne that he fond

    A poore parson dwelling upon lond,

    Upon a day he got him more money

    Than that the parson got in moneths tway;

    And thus with feigned flattering and japes,

    He made the parson and the people his apes.

    But truely to tellen at the last,

    He was in church a noble ecclesiast.

    Well could he read a lesson or a story,

    But alderbest he sang an offertory:

    For well he wiste, when that song was sung,

    He muste preach, and well afile his tongue,

    To winne silver, as he right well could:

    Therefore he sang full merrily and loud.

    Now have I told you shortly in a clause

    Th’ estate, th’ array, the number, and eke the cause

    Why that assembled was this company

    In Southwark at this gentle hostelry,

    That highte the Tabard, fast by the Bell.

    But now is time to you for to tell

    How that we baren us that ilke night,

    When we were in that hostelry alight.

    And after will I tell of our voyage,

    And all the remnant of our pilgrimage.

    But first I pray you of your courtesy,

    That ye arette it not my villainy,

    Though that I plainly speak in this mattere.

    To tellen you their wordes and their cheer;

    Not though I speak their wordes properly.

    For this ye knowen all so well as I,

    Whoso shall tell a tale after a man,

    He must rehearse, as nigh as ever he can,

    Every word, if it be in his charge,

    All speak he ne’er so rudely and so large;

    Or elles he must tell his tale untrue,

    Or feigne things, or finde wordes new.

    He may not spare, although he were his brother;

    He must as well say one word as another.

    Christ spake Himself full broad in Holy Writ,

    And well ye wot no villainy is it.

    Eke Plato saith, whoso that can him read,

    The wordes must be cousin to the deed.

    Also I pray you to forgive it me,

    All have I not set folk in their degree,

    Here in this tale, as that they shoulden stand:

    My wit is short, ye may well understand.

    Great cheere made our Host us every one,

    And to the supper set he us anon:

    And served us with victual of the best.

    Strong was the wine, and well to drink us lest.

    A seemly man Our Hoste was withal

    For to have been a marshal in an hall.

    A large man he was with eyen steep,

    A fairer burgess is there none in Cheap:

    Bold of his speech, and wise and well y-taught,

    And of manhoode lacked him right naught.

    Eke thereto was he right a merry man,

    And after supper playen he began,

    And spake of mirth amonges other things,

    When that we hadde made our reckonings;

    And saide thus; “Now, lordinges, truly

    Ye be to me welcome right heartily:

    For by my troth, if that I shall not lie,

    I saw not this year such a company

    At once in this herberow, am is now.

    Fain would I do you mirth, an I wist how.

    And of a mirth I am right now bethought.

    To do you ease, and it shall coste nought.

    Ye go to Canterbury; God you speed,

    The blissful Martyr quite you your meed;

    And well I wot, as ye go by the way,

    Ye shapen you to talken and to play:

    For truely comfort nor mirth is none

    To ride by the way as dumb as stone:

    And therefore would I make you disport,

    As I said erst, and do you some comfort.

    And if you liketh all by one assent

    Now for to standen at my judgement,

    And for to worken as I shall you say

    To-morrow, when ye riden on the way,

    Now by my father’s soule that is dead,

    But ye be merry, smiteth off mine head.

    Hold up your hands withoute more speech.”

    Our counsel was not longe for to seech:

    Us thought it was not worth to make it wise,

    And granted him withoute more avise,

    And bade him say his verdict, as him lest.

    “Lordings (quoth he), now hearken for the best;

    But take it not, I pray you, in disdain;

    This is the point, to speak it plat and plain.

    That each of you, to shorten with your way

    In this voyage, shall tellen tales tway,

    To Canterbury-ward, I mean it so,

    And homeward he shall tellen other two,

    Of aventures that whilom have befall.

    And which of you that bear’th him best of all,

    That is to say, that telleth in this case

    Tales of best sentence and most solace,

    Shall have a supper at your aller cost

    Here in this place, sitting by this post,

    When that ye come again from Canterbury.

    And for to make you the more merry,

    I will myselfe gladly with you ride,

    Right at mine owen cost, and be your guide.

    And whoso will my judgement withsay,

    Shall pay for all we spenden by the way.

    And if ye vouchesafe that it be so,

    Tell me anon withoute wordes mo’,

    And I will early shape me therefore.”

    This thing was granted, and our oath we swore

    With full glad heart, and prayed him also,

    That he would vouchesafe for to do so,

    And that he woulde be our governour,

    And of our tales judge and reportour,

    And set a supper at a certain price;

    And we will ruled be at his device,

    In high and low: and thus by one assent,

    We be accorded to his judgement.

    And thereupon the wine was fet anon.

    We drunken, and to reste went each one,

    Withouten any longer tarrying

    A-morrow, when the day began to spring,

    Up rose our host, and was our aller cock,

    And gather’d us together in a flock,

    And forth we ridden all a little space,

    Unto the watering of Saint Thomas:

    And there our host began his horse arrest,

    And saide; “Lordes, hearken if you lest.

    Ye weet your forword, and I it record.

    If even-song and morning-song accord,

    Let see now who shall telle the first tale.

    As ever may I drinke wine or ale,

    Whoso is rebel to my judgement,

    Shall pay for all that by the way is spent.

    Now draw ye cuts ere that ye farther twin.

    He which that hath the shortest shall begin.”

    “Sir Knight (quoth he), my master and my lord,

    Now draw the cut, for that is mine accord.

    Come near (quoth he), my Lady Prioress,

    And ye, Sir Clerk, let be your shamefastness,

    Nor study not: lay hand to, every man.”

    Anon to drawen every wight began,

    And shortly for to tellen as it was,

    Were it by a venture, or sort, or cas,

    The sooth is this, the cut fell to the Knight,

    Of which full blithe and glad was every wight;

    And tell he must his tale as was reason,

    By forword, and by composition,

    As ye have heard; what needeth wordes mo’?

    And when this good man saw that it was so,

    As he that wise was and obedient

    To keep his forword by his free assent,

    He said; “Sithen I shall begin this game,

    Why, welcome be the cut in Godde’s name.

    Now let us ride, and hearken what I say.”

    And with that word we ridden forth our way;

    And he began with right a merry cheer

    His tale anon, and said as ye shall hear.

    The Miller’s Tale


    When that the Knight had thus his tale told

    In all the rout was neither young nor old,

    That he not said it was a noble story,

    And worthy to be drawen to memory;

    And namely the gentles every one.

    Our Host then laugh’d and swore, “So may I gon,

    This goes aright; unbuckled is the mail;

    Let see now who shall tell another tale:

    For truely this game is well begun.

    Now telleth ye, Sir Monk, if that ye conne,

    Somewhat, to quiten with the Knighte’s tale.”

    The Miller that fordrunken was all pale,

    So that unnethes upon his horse he sat,

    He would avalen neither hood nor hat,

    Nor abide no man for his courtesy,

    But in Pilate’s voice he gan to cry,

    And swore by armes, and by blood, and bones,

    “I can a noble tale for the nones,

    With which I will now quite the Knighte’s tale.”

    Our Host saw well how drunk he was of ale,

    And said; “Robin, abide, my leve brother,

    Some better man shall tell us first another:

    Abide, and let us worke thriftily.”

    By Godde’s soul,” quoth he, “that will not I,

    For I will speak, or elles go my way!”

    Our Host answer’d; “Tell on a devil way;

    Thou art a fool; thy wit is overcome.”

    “Now hearken,” quoth the Miller, “all and some:

    But first I make a protestatioun.

    That I am drunk, I know it by my soun’:

    And therefore if that I misspeak or say,

    Wite it the ale of Southwark, I you pray:

    For I will tell a legend and a life

    Both of a carpenter and of his wife,

    How that a clerk hath set the wrighte’s cap.”

    The Reeve answer’d and saide, “Stint thy clap,

    Let be thy lewed drunken harlotry.

    It is a sin, and eke a great folly

    To apeiren any man, or him defame,

    And eke to bringe wives in evil name.

    Thou may’st enough of other thinges sayn.”

    This drunken Miller spake full soon again,

    And saide, “Leve brother Osewold,

    Who hath no wife, he is no cuckold.

    But I say not therefore that thou art one;

    There be full goode wives many one.

    Why art thou angry with my tale now?

    I have a wife, pardie, as well as thou,

    Yet n’old I, for the oxen in my plough,

    Taken upon me more than enough,

    To deemen of myself that I am one;

    I will believe well that I am none.

    An husband should not be inquisitive

    Of Godde’s privity, nor of his wife.

    So he may finde Godde’s foison there,

    Of the remnant needeth not to enquere.”

    What should I more say, but that this Millere

    He would his wordes for no man forbear,

    But told his churlish tale in his mannere;

    Me thinketh, that I shall rehearse it here.

    And therefore every gentle wight I pray,

    For Godde’s love to deem not that I say

    Of evil intent, but that I must rehearse

    Their tales all, be they better or worse,

    Or elles falsen some of my mattere.

    And therefore whoso list it not to hear,

    Turn o’er the leaf, and choose another tale;

    For he shall find enough, both great and smale,

    Of storial thing that toucheth gentiless,

    And eke morality and holiness.

    Blame not me, if that ye choose amiss.

    The Miller is a churl, ye know well this,

    So was the Reeve, with many other mo’,

    And harlotry they tolde bothe two.

    Avise you now, and put me out of blame;

    And eke men should not make earnest of game.


    Whilom there was dwelling in Oxenford

    A riche gnof, that guestes held to board,

    And of his craft he was a carpenter.

    With him there was dwelling a poor scholer,

    Had learned art, but all his fantasy

    Was turned for to learn astrology.

    He coude a certain of conclusions

    To deeme by interrogations,

    If that men asked him in certain hours,

    When that men should have drought or elles show’rs:

    Or if men asked him what shoulde fall

    Of everything, I may not reckon all.

    This clerk was called Hendy Nicholas;

    Of derne love he knew and of solace;

    And therewith he was sly and full privy,

    And like a maiden meek for to see.

    A chamber had he in that hostelry

    Alone, withouten any company,

    Full fetisly y-dight with herbes swoot,

    And he himself was sweet as is the root

    Of liquorice, or any setewall.

    His Almagest, and bookes great and small,

    His astrolabe, belonging to his art,

    His augrim stones, layed fair apart

    On shelves couched at his bedde’s head,

    His press y-cover’d with a falding red.

    And all above there lay a gay psalt’ry

    On which he made at nightes melody,

    So sweetely, that all the chamber rang:

    And Angelus ad virginem he sang.

    And after that he sung the kinge’s note;

    Full often blessed was his merry throat.

    And thus this sweete clerk his time spent

    After his friendes finding and his rent.

    This carpenter had wedded new a wife,

    Which that he loved more than his life:

    Of eighteen year, I guess, she was of age.

    Jealous he was, and held her narr’w in cage,

    For she was wild and young, and he was old,

    And deemed himself belike a cuckold.

    He knew not Cato, for his wit was rude,

    That bade a man wed his similitude.

    Men shoulde wedden after their estate,

    For youth and eld are often at debate.

    But since that he was fallen in the snare,

    He must endure (as other folk) his care.

    Fair was this younge wife, and therewithal

    As any weasel her body gent and small.

    A seint she weared, barred all of silk,

    A barm-cloth eke as white as morning milk

    Upon her lendes, full of many a gore.

    White was her smock, and broider’d all before,

    And eke behind, on her collar about

    Of coal-black silk, within and eke without.

    The tapes of her white volupere

    Were of the same suit of her collere;

    Her fillet broad of silk, and set full high:

    And sickerly she had a likerous eye.

    Full small y-pulled were her browes two,

    And they were bent, and black as any sloe.

    She was well more blissful on to see

    Than is the newe perjenete tree;

    And softer than the wool is of a wether.

    And by her girdle hung a purse of leather,

    Tassel’d with silk, and pearled with latoun.

    In all this world to seeken up and down

    There is no man so wise, that coude thenche

    So gay a popelot, or such a wench.

    Full brighter was the shining of her hue,

    Than in the Tower the noble forged new.

    But of her song, it was as loud and yern,

    As any swallow chittering on a bern.

    Thereto she coulde skip, and make a game

    As any kid or calf following his dame.

    Her mouth was sweet as braket, or as methe

    Or hoard of apples, laid in hay or heath.

    Wincing she was as is a jolly colt,

    Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.

    A brooch she bare upon her low collere,

    As broad as is the boss of a bucklere.

    Her shoon were laced on her legges high;

    She was a primerole, a piggesnie,

    For any lord t’ have ligging in his bed,

    Or yet for any good yeoman to wed.

    Now, sir, and eft sir, so befell the case,

    That on a day this Hendy Nicholas

    Fell with this younge wife to rage and play,

    While that her husband was at Oseney,

    As clerkes be full subtle and full quaint.

    And privily he caught her by the queint,

    And said; “Y-wis, but if I have my will,

    For derne love of thee, leman, I spill.”

    And helde her fast by the haunche bones,

    And saide “Leman, love me well at once,

    Or I will dien, all so God me save.”

    And she sprang as a colt doth in the trave

    And with her head she writhed fast away,

    And said; “I will not kiss thee, by my fay.

    Why let be,” quoth she, “let be, Nicholas,

    Or I will cry out harow and alas!

    Do away your handes, for your courtesy.”

    This Nicholas gan mercy for to cry,

    And spake so fair, and proffer’d him so fast,

    That she her love him granted at the last,

    And swore her oath by Saint Thomas of Kent,

    That she would be at his commandement,

    When that she may her leisure well espy.

    “My husband is so full of jealousy,

    That but ye waite well, and be privy,

    I wot right well I am but dead,” quoth she.

    “Ye muste be full derne as in this case.”

    “Nay, thereof care thee nought,” quoth Nicholas:

    “A clerk had litherly beset his while,

    But if he could a carpenter beguile.”

    And thus they were accorded and y-sworn

    To wait a time, as I have said beforn.

    When Nicholas had done thus every deal,

    And thwacked her about the lendes well,

    He kiss’d her sweet, and taketh his psalt’ry

    And playeth fast, and maketh melody.

    Then fell it thus, that to the parish church,

    Of Christe’s owen workes for to wirch,

    This good wife went upon a holy day;

    Her forehead shone as bright as any day,

    So was it washen, when she left her werk.

    Now was there of that church a parish clerk,

    The which that was y-cleped Absolon.

    Curl’d was his hair, and as the gold it shone,

    And strutted as a fanne large and broad;

    Full straight and even lay his jolly shode.

    His rode was red, his eyen grey as goose,

    With Paule’s windows carven on his shoes

    In hosen red he went full fetisly.

    Y-clad he was full small and properly,

    All in a kirtle of a light waget;

    Full fair and thicke be the pointes set,

    And thereupon he had a gay surplice,

    As white as is the blossom on the rise.

    A merry child he was, so God me save;

    Well could he letten blood, and clip, and shave,

    And make a charter of land, and a quittance.

    In twenty manners could he trip and dance,

    After the school of Oxenforde tho,

    And with his legges caste to and fro;

    And playen songes on a small ribible;

    Thereto he sung sometimes a loud quinible

    And as well could he play on a gitern.

    In all the town was brewhouse nor tavern,

    That he not visited with his solas,

    There as that any garnard tapstere was.

    But sooth to say he was somedeal squaimous

    Of farting, and of speeche dangerous.

    This Absolon, that jolly was and gay,

    Went with a censer on the holy day,

    Censing the wives of the parish fast;

    And many a lovely look he on them cast,

    And namely on this carpenter’s wife:

    To look on her him thought a merry life.

    She was so proper, and sweet, and likerous.

    I dare well say, if she had been a mouse,

    And he a cat, he would her hent anon.

    This parish clerk, this jolly Absolon,

    Hath in his hearte such a love-longing!

    That of no wife took he none offering;

    For courtesy he said he woulde none.

    The moon at night full clear and brighte shone,

    And Absolon his gitern hath y-taken,

    For paramours he thoughte for to waken,

    And forth he went, jolif and amorous,

    Till he came to the carpentere’s house,

    A little after the cock had y-crow,

    And dressed him under a shot window,

    That was upon the carpentere’s wall.

    He singeth in his voice gentle and small;

    “Now, dear lady, if thy will be,

    I pray that ye will rue on me;”

    Full well accordant to his giterning.

    This carpenter awoke, and heard him sing,

    And spake unto his wife, and said anon,

    What Alison, hear’st thou not Absolon,

    That chanteth thus under our bower wall?”

    And she answer’d her husband therewithal;

    “Yes, God wot, John, I hear him every deal.”

    This passeth forth; what will ye bet than well?

    From day to day this jolly Absolon

    So wooeth her, that him is woebegone.

    He waketh all the night, and all the day,

    To comb his lockes broad, and make him gay.

    He wooeth her by means and by brocage,

    And swore he woulde be her owen page.

    He singeth brokking as a nightingale.

    He sent her piment mead, and spiced ale,

    And wafers piping hot out of the glede:

    And, for she was of town, he proffer’d meed.

    For some folk will be wonnen for richess,

    And some for strokes, and some with gentiless.

    Sometimes, to show his lightness and mast’ry,

    He playeth Herod on a scaffold high.

    But what availeth him as in this case?

    So loveth she the Hendy Nicholas,

    That Absolon may blow the bucke’s horn:

    He had for all his labour but a scorn.

    And thus she maketh Absolon her ape,

    And all his earnest turneth to a jape.

    Full sooth is this proverb, it is no lie;

    Men say right thus alway; the nighe sly

    Maketh oft time the far lief to be loth.

    For though that Absolon be wood or wroth

    Because that he far was from her sight,

    This nigh Nicholas stood still in his light.

    Now bear thee well, thou Hendy Nicholas,

    For Absolon may wail and sing “Alas!”

    And so befell, that on a Saturday

    This carpenter was gone to Oseney,

    And Hendy Nicholas and Alison

    Accorded were to this conclusion,

    That Nicholas shall shape him a wile

    The silly jealous husband to beguile;

    And if so were the game went aright,

    She shoulde sleepen in his arms all night;

    For this was her desire and his also.

    And right anon, withoute wordes mo’,

    This Nicholas no longer would he tarry,

    But doth full soft unto his chamber carry

    Both meat and drinke for a day or tway.

    And to her husband bade her for to say,

    If that he asked after Nicholas,

    She shoulde say, “She wist not where he was;

    Of all the day she saw him not with eye;

    She trowed he was in some malady,

    For no cry that her maiden could him call

    He would answer, for nought that might befall.”

    Thus passed forth all thilke Saturday,

    That Nicholas still in his chamber lay,

    And ate, and slept, and didde what him list

    Till Sunday, that the sunne went to rest.

    This silly carpenter had great marvaill

    Of Nicholas, or what thing might him ail,

    And said; “I am adrad, by Saint Thomas!

    It standeth not aright with Nicholas:

    God shielde that he died suddenly.

    This world is now full fickle sickerly.

    I saw to-day a corpse y-borne to chirch,

    That now on Monday last I saw him wirch.

    “Go up,” quod he unto his knave, “anon;

    Clepe at his door, or knocke with a stone:

    Look how it is, and tell me boldely.”

    This knave went him up full sturdily,

    And, at the chamber door while that he stood,

    He cried and knocked as that he were wood:

    “What how? what do ye, Master Nicholay?

    How may ye sleepen all the longe day?”

    But all for nought, he hearde not a word.

    An hole he found full low upon the board,

    Where as the cat was wont in for to creep,

    And at that hole he looked in full deep,

    And at the last he had of him a sight.

    This Nicholas sat ever gaping upright,

    As he had kyked on the newe moon.

    Adown he went, and told his master soon,

    In what array he saw this ilke man.

    This carpenter to blissen him began,

    And said: “Now help us, Sainte Frideswide.

    A man wot little what shall him betide.

    This man is fall’n with his astronomy

    Into some woodness or some agony.

    I thought aye well how that it shoulde be.

    Men should know nought of Godde’s privity.

    Yea, blessed be alway a lewed man,

    That nought but only his believe can.

    So far’d another clerk with astronomy:

    He walked in the fieldes for to pry

    Upon the starres, what there should befall,

    Till he was in a marle pit y-fall.

    He saw not that. But yet, by Saint Thomas!

    Me rueth sore of Hendy Nicholas:

    He shall be rated of his studying,

    If that I may, by Jesus, heaven’s king!

    Get me a staff, that I may underspore

    While that thou, Robin, heavest off the door:

    He shall out of his studying, as I guess.”

    And to the chamber door he gan him dress

    His knave was a strong carl for the nonce,

    And by the hasp he heav’d it off at once;

    Into the floor the door fell down anon.

    This Nicholas sat aye as still as stone,

    And ever he gap’d upward into the air.

    The carpenter ween’d he were in despair,

    And hent him by the shoulders mightily,

    And shook him hard, and cried spitously;

    “What, Nicholas? what how, man? look adown:

    Awake, and think on Christe’s passioun.

    I crouche thee from elves, and from wights.

    Therewith the night-spell said he anon rights,

    On the four halves of the house about,

    And on the threshold of the door without.

    “Lord Jesus Christ, and Sainte Benedight,

    Blesse this house from every wicked wight,

    From the night mare, the white Pater-noster;

    Where wonnest thou now, Sainte Peter’s sister?”

    And at the last this Hendy Nicholas

    Gan for to sigh full sore, and said; “Alas!

    Shall all time world be lost eftsoones now?”

    This carpenter answer’d; “What sayest thou?

    What? think on God, as we do, men that swink.”

    This Nicholas answer’d; “Fetch me a drink;

    And after will I speak in privity

    Of certain thing that toucheth thee and me:

    I will tell it no other man certain.”

    This carpenter went down, and came again,

    And brought of mighty ale a large quart;

    And when that each of them had drunk his part,

    This Nicholas his chamber door fast shet,

    And down the carpenter by him he set,

    And saide; “John, mine host full lief and dear,

    Thou shalt upon thy truthe swear me here,

    That to no wight thou shalt my counsel wray:

    For it is Christes counsel that I say,

    And if thou tell it man, thou art forlore:

    For this vengeance thou shalt have therefor,

    That if thou wraye me, thou shalt be wood.”

    “Nay, Christ forbid it for his holy blood!”

    Quoth then this silly man; “I am no blab,

    Nor, though I say it, am I lief to gab.

    Say what thou wilt, I shall it never tell

    To child or wife, by him that harried Hell.”

    “Now, John,” quoth Nicholas, “I will not lie,

    I have y-found in my astrology,

    As I have looked in the moone bright,

    That now on Monday next, at quarter night,

    Shall fall a rain, and that so wild and wood, mad

    That never half so great was Noe’s flood.

    This world,” he said, “in less than half an hour

    Shall all be dreint, so hideous is the shower:

    Thus shall mankinde drench, and lose their life.”

    This carpenter answer’d; “Alas, my wife!

    And shall she drench? alas, mine Alisoun!”

    For sorrow of this he fell almost adown,

    And said; “Is there no remedy in this case?”

    “Why, yes, for God,” quoth Hendy Nicholas;

    “If thou wilt worken after lore and rede;

    Thou may’st not worken after thine own head.

    For thus saith Solomon, that was full true:

    Work all by counsel, and thou shalt not rue.

    And if thou worke wilt by good counseil,

    I undertake, withoute mast or sail,

    Yet shall I save her, and thee, and me.

    Hast thou not heard how saved was Noe,

    When that our Lord had warned him beforn,

    That all the world with water should be lorn?”

    “Yes,” quoth this carpenter,” full yore ago.”

    “Hast thou not heard,” quoth Nicholas, “also

    The sorrow of Noe, with his fellowship,

    That he had ere he got his wife to ship?

    Him had been lever, I dare well undertake,

    At thilke time, than all his wethers black,

    That she had had a ship herself alone.

    And therefore know’st thou what is best to be done?

    This asketh haste, and of an hasty thing

    Men may not preach or make tarrying.

    Anon go get us fast into this inn

    A kneading trough, or else a kemelin,

    For each of us; but look that they be large,

    In whiche we may swim as in a barge:

    And have therein vitaille suffisant

    But for one day; fie on the remenant;

    The water shall aslake and go away

    Aboute prime upon the nexte day.

    But Robin may not know of this, thy knave,

    Nor eke thy maiden Gill I may not save:

    Ask me not why: for though thou aske me

    I will not telle Godde’s privity.

    Sufficeth thee, but if thy wit be mad,

    To have as great a grace as Noe had;

    Thy wife shall I well saven out of doubt.

    Go now thy way, and speed thee hereabout.

    But when thou hast for her, and thee, and me,

    Y-gotten us these kneading tubbes three,

    Then shalt thou hang them in the roof full high,

    So that no man our purveyance espy:

    And when thou hast done thus as I have said,

    And hast our vitaille fair in them y-laid,

    And eke an axe to smite the cord in two

    When that the water comes, that we may go,

    And break an hole on high upon the gable

    Into the garden-ward, over the stable,

    That we may freely passe forth our way,

    When that the greate shower is gone away.

    Then shalt thou swim as merry, I undertake,

    As doth the white duck after her drake:

    Then will I clepe, ‘How, Alison? How, John?

    Be merry: for the flood will pass anon.’

    And thou wilt say, ‘Hail, Master Nicholay,

    Good-morrow, I see thee well, for it is day.’

    And then shall we be lordes all our life

    Of all the world, as Noe and his wife.

    But of one thing I warne thee full right,

    Be well advised, on that ilke night,

    When we be enter’d into shippe’s board,

    That none of us not speak a single word,

    Nor clepe nor cry, but be in his prayere,

    For that is Godde’s owen heste dear.

    Thy wife and thou must hangen far atween,

    For that betwixte you shall be no sin,

    No more in looking than there shall in deed.

    This ordinance is said: go, God thee speed

    To-morrow night, when men be all asleep,

    Into our kneading tubbes will we creep,

    And sitte there, abiding Godde’s grace.

    Go now thy way, I have no longer space

    To make of this no longer sermoning:

    Men say thus: Send the wise, and say nothing:

    Thou art so wise, it needeth thee nought teach.

    Go, save our lives, and that I thee beseech.”

    This silly carpenter went forth his way,

    Full oft he said, “Alas! and Well-a-day!’

    And to his wife he told his privity,

    And she was ware, and better knew than he

    What all this quainte cast was for to say.

    But natheless she fear’d as she would dey,

    And said: “Alas! go forth thy way anon.

    Help us to scape, or we be dead each one.

    I am thy true and very wedded wife;

    Go, deare spouse, and help to save our life.”

    Lo, what a great thing is affection!

    Men may die of imagination,

    So deeply may impression be take.

    This silly carpenter begins to quake:

    He thinketh verily that he may see

    This newe flood come weltering as the sea

    To drenchen Alison, his honey dear.

    He weepeth, waileth, maketh sorry cheer;

    He sigheth, with full many a sorry sough.

    He go’th, and getteth him a kneading trough,

    And after that a tub, and a kemelin,

    And privily he sent them to his inn:

    And hung them in the roof full privily.

    With his own hand then made he ladders three,

    To climbe by the ranges and the stalks

    Unto the tubbes hanging in the balks;

    And victualed them, kemelin, trough, and tub,

    With bread and cheese, and good ale in a jub,

    Sufficing right enough as for a day.

    But ere that he had made all this array,

    He sent his knave, and eke his wench also,

    Upon his need to London for to go.

    And on the Monday, when it drew to night,

    He shut his door withoute candle light,

    And dressed every thing as it should be.

    And shortly up they climbed all the three.

    They satte stille well a furlong way.

    “Now, Pater noster, clum,” said Nicholay,

    And “clum,” quoth John; and “clum,” said Alison:

    This carpenter said his devotion,

    And still he sat and bidded his prayere,

    Awaking on the rain, if he it hear.

    The deade sleep, for weary business,

    Fell on this carpenter, right as I guess,

    About the curfew-time, or little more,

    For travail of his ghost he groaned sore,

    And eft he routed, for his head mislay.

    Adown the ladder stalked Nicholay;

    And Alison full soft adown she sped.

    Withoute wordes more they went to bed,

    There as the carpenter was wont to lie:

    There was the revel, and the melody.

    And thus lay Alison and Nicholas,

    In business of mirth and in solace,

    Until the bell of laudes gan to ring,

    And friars in the chancel went to sing.

    This parish clerk, this amorous Absolon,

    That is for love alway so woebegone,

    Upon the Monday was at Oseney

    With company, him to disport and play;

    And asked upon cas a cloisterer

    Full privily after John the carpenter;

    And he drew him apart out of the church,

    And said, “I n’ot; I saw him not here wirch

    Since Saturday; I trow that he be went

    For timber, where our abbot hath him sent.

    And dwellen at the Grange a day or two:

    For he is wont for timber for to go,

    Or else he is at his own house certain.

    Where that he be, I cannot soothly sayn.”

    This Absolon full jolly was and light,

    And thought, “Now is the time to wake all night,

    For sickerly I saw him not stirring

    About his door, since day began to spring.

    So may I thrive, but I shall at cock crow

    Full privily go knock at his window,

    That stands full low upon his bower wall:

    To Alison then will I tellen all

    My love-longing; for I shall not miss

    That at the leaste way I shall her kiss.

    Some manner comfort shall I have, parfay,

    My mouth hath itched all this livelong day:

    That is a sign of kissing at the least.

    All night I mette eke I was at a feast.

    Therefore I will go sleep an hour or tway,

    And all the night then will I wake and play.”

    When that the first cock crowed had, anon

    Up rose this jolly lover Absolon,

    And him arrayed gay, at point devise.

    But first he chewed grains and liquorice,

    To smelle sweet, ere he had combed his hair.

    Under his tongue a true love he bare,

    For thereby thought he to be gracious.

    Then came he to the carpentere’s house,

    And still he stood under the shot window;

    Unto his breast it raught, it was so low;

    And soft he coughed with a semisoun’.

    “What do ye, honeycomb, sweet Alisoun?

    My faire bird, my sweet cinamome,

    Awaken, leman mine, and speak to me.

    Full little thinke ye upon my woe,

    That for your love I sweat there as I go.

    No wonder is that I do swelt and sweat.

    I mourn as doth a lamb after the teat

    Y-wis, leman, I have such love-longing,

    That like a turtle true is my mourning.

    I may not eat, no more than a maid.”

    “Go from the window, thou jack fool,” she said:

    “As help me God, it will not be, ‘come ba me.’

    I love another, else I were to blame”,

    Well better than thee, by Jesus, Absolon.

    Go forth thy way, or I will cast a stone;

    And let me sleep; a twenty devil way.

    “Alas!” quoth Absolon, “and well away!

    That true love ever was so ill beset:

    Then kiss me, since that it may be no bet,

    For Jesus’ love, and for the love of me.”

    “Wilt thou then go thy way therewith?” quoth she.

    “Yea, certes, leman,” quoth this Absolon.

    “Then make thee ready,” quoth she, “I come anon.”

    [And unto Nicholas she said full still:

    “Now peace, and thou shalt laugh anon thy fill.”]

    This Absolon down set him on his knees,

    And said; “I am a lord at all degrees:

    For after this I hope there cometh more;

    Leman, thy grace, and, sweete bird, thine ore.”

    The window she undid, and that in haste.

    “Have done,” quoth she, “come off, and speed thee fast,

    Lest that our neighebours should thee espy.”

    Then Absolon gan wipe his mouth full dry.

    Dark was the night as pitch or as the coal,

    And at the window she put out her hole,

    And Absolon him fell ne bet ne werse,

    But with his mouth he kiss’d her naked erse

    Full savourly. When he was ware of this,

    Aback he start, and thought it was amiss;

    For well he wist a woman hath no beard.

    He felt a thing all rough, and long y-hair’d,

    And saide; “Fy, alas! what have I do?”

    “Te he!” quoth she, and clapt the window to;

    And Absolon went forth at sorry pace.

    “A beard, a beard,” said Hendy Nicholas;

    “By God’s corpus, this game went fair and well.”

    This silly Absolon heard every deal,

    And on his lip he gan for anger bite;

    And to himself he said, “I shall thee quite.

    Who rubbeth now, who frotteth now his lips

    With dust, with sand, with straw, with cloth, with chips,

    But Absolon? that saith full oft, “Alas!

    My soul betake I unto Sathanas,

    But me were lever than all this town,” quoth he

    I this despite awroken for to be.

    Alas! alas! that I have been y-blent.”

    His hote love is cold, and all y-quent.

    For from that time that he had kiss’d her erse,

    Of paramours he sette not a kers,

    For he was healed of his malady;

    Full often paramours he gan defy,

    And weep as doth a child that hath been beat.

    A softe pace he went over the street

    Unto a smith, men callen Dan Gerveis,

    That in his forge smithed plough-harness;

    He sharped share and culter busily.

    This Absolon knocked all easily,

    And said; “Undo, Gerveis, and that anon.”

    “What, who art thou?” “It is I, Absolon.”

    “What? Absolon, what? Christe’s sweete tree,

    Why rise so rath? hey! Benedicite,

    What aileth you? some gay girl, God it wote,

    Hath brought you thus upon the viretote:

    By Saint Neot, ye wot well what I mean.”

    This Absolon he raughte not a bean

    Of all his play; no word again he gaf,

    For he had more tow on his distaff

    Than Gerveis knew, and saide; “Friend so dear,

    That hote culter in the chimney here

    Lend it to me, I have therewith to don:

    I will it bring again to thee full soon.”

    Gerveis answered; “Certes, were it gold,

    Or in a poke nobles all untold,

    Thou shouldst it have, as I am a true smith.

    Hey! Christe’s foot, what will ye do therewith?”

    “Thereof,” quoth Absolon, “be as be may;

    I shall well tell it thee another day:”

    And caught the culter by the colde stele.

    Full soft out at the door he gan to steal,

    And went unto the carpentere’s wall

    He coughed first, and knocked therewithal

    Upon the window, light as he did ere.

    This Alison answered; “Who is there

    That knocketh so? I warrant him a thief.”

    “Nay, nay,” quoth he, “God wot, my sweete lefe,

    I am thine Absolon, my own darling.

    Of gold,” quoth he, “I have thee brought a ring,

    My mother gave it me, so God me save!

    Full fine it is, and thereto well y-grave:

    This will I give to thee, if thou me kiss.”

    Now Nicholas was risen up to piss,

    And thought he would amenden all the jape;

    He shoulde kiss his erse ere that he scape:

    And up the window did he hastily,

    And out his erse he put full privily

    Over the buttock, to the haunche bone.

    And therewith spake this clerk, this Absolon,

    “Speak, sweete bird, I know not where thou art.”

    This Nicholas anon let fly a fart,

    As great as it had been a thunder dent;

    That with the stroke he was well nigh y-blent;

    But he was ready with his iron hot,

    And Nicholas amid the erse he smote.

    Off went the skin an handbreadth all about.

    The hote culter burned so his tout,

    That for the smart he weened he would die;

    As he were wood, for woe he gan to cry,

    “Help! water, water, help for Godde’s heart!”

    This carpenter out of his slumber start,

    And heard one cry “Water,” as he were wood,

    And thought, “Alas! now cometh Noe’s flood.”

    He sat him up withoute wordes mo’

    And with his axe he smote the cord in two;

    And down went all; he found neither to sell

    Nor bread nor ale, till he came to the sell,

    Upon the floor, and there in swoon he lay.

    Up started Alison and Nicholay,

    And cried out an “harow!” in the street.

    The neighbours alle, bothe small and great

    In ranne, for to gauren on this man,

    That yet in swoone lay, both pale and wan:

    For with the fall he broken had his arm.

    But stand he must unto his owen harm,

    For when he spake, he was anon borne down

    With Hendy Nicholas and Alisoun.

    They told to every man that he was wood;

    He was aghaste so of Noe’s flood,

    Through phantasy, that of his vanity

    He had y-bought him kneading-tubbes three,

    And had them hanged in the roof above;

    And that he prayed them for Godde’s love

    To sitten in the roof for company.

    The folk gan laughen at his phantasy.

    Into the roof they kyken and they gape,

    And turned all his harm into a jape.

    For whatsoe’er this carpenter answer’d,

    It was for nought, no man his reason heard.

    With oathes great he was so sworn adown,

    That he was holden wood in all the town.

    For every clerk anon right held with other;

    They said, “The man was wood, my leve brother;”

    And every wight gan laughen at his strife.

    Thus swived was the carpentere’s wife,

    For all his keeping and his jealousy;

    And Absolon hath kiss’d her nether eye;

    And Nicholas is scalded in the tout.

    This tale is done, and God save all the rout.

    The Wife of Bath’s Tale


    Experience, though none authority

    Were in this world, is right enough for me

    To speak of woe that is in marriage:

    For, lordings, since I twelve year was of age,

    (Thanked be God that is etern on live),

    Husbands at the church door have I had five,

    For I so often have y-wedded be,

    And all were worthy men in their degree.

    But me was told, not longe time gone is

    That sithen Christe went never but ones since

    To wedding, in the Cane of Galilee,

    That by that ilk example taught he me, That I not wedded shoulde be but once.

    Lo, hearken eke a sharp word for the nonce, Beside a welle Jesus, God and man,

    Spake in reproof of the Samaritan:

    “Thou hast y-had five husbandes,” said he;

    “And thilke man, that now hath wedded thee,

    Is not thine husband:” thus said he certain;

    What that he meant thereby, I cannot sayn.

    But that I aske, why the fifthe man

    Was not husband to the Samaritan?

    How many might she have in marriage?

    Yet heard I never tellen in mine age in my life

    Upon this number definitioun.

    Men may divine, and glosen up and down;

    But well I wot, express without a lie,

    God bade us for to wax and multiply;

    That gentle text can I well understand.

    Eke well I wot, he said, that mine husband

    Should leave father and mother, and take to me;

    But of no number mention made he,

    Of bigamy or of octogamy;

    Why then should men speak of it villainy?

    Lo here, the wise king Dan Solomon,

    I trow that he had wives more than one;

    As would to God it lawful were to me

    To be refreshed half so oft as he!

    What gift of God had he for all his wives?

    No man hath such, that in this world alive is.

    God wot, this noble king, as to my wit,

    The first night had many a merry fit

    With each of them, so well was him on live.

    Blessed be God that I have wedded five!

    Welcome the sixth whenever that he shall.

    For since I will not keep me chaste in all,

    When mine husband is from the world y-gone,

    Some Christian man shall wedde me anon.

    For then th’ apostle saith that I am free

    To wed, a’ God’s half, where it liketh me.

    He saith, that to be wedded is no sin;

    Better is to be wedded than to brin. burn

    What recketh me though folk say villainy

    Of shrewed Lamech, and his bigamy?

    I wot well Abraham was a holy man,

    And Jacob eke, as far as ev’r I can.

    And each of them had wives more than two;

    And many another holy man also.

    Where can ye see, in any manner age,

    That highe God defended marriage

    By word express? I pray you tell it me;

    Or where commanded he virginity?

    I wot as well as you, it is no dread,

    Th’ apostle, when he spake of maidenhead,

    He said, that precept thereof had he none:

    Men may counsel a woman to be one,

    But counseling is no commandement;

    He put it in our owen judgement.

    For, hadde God commanded maidenhead,

    Then had he damned wedding out of dread;

    And certes, if there were no seed y-sow,

    Virginity then whereof should it grow?

    Paul durste not commanden, at the least,

    A thing of which his Master gave no hest.

    The dart is set up for virginity;

    Catch whoso may, who runneth best let see.

    But this word is not ta’en of every wight,

    But there as God will give it of his might.

    I wot well that th’ apostle was a maid,

    But natheless, although he wrote and said,

    He would that every wight were such as he,

    All is but counsel to virginity.

    And, since to be a wife he gave me leave

    Of indulgence, so is it no repreve

    To wedde me, if that my make should die,

    Without exception of bigamy;

    All were it good no woman for to touch

    (He meant as in his bed or in his couch),

    For peril is both fire and tow t’assemble

    Ye know what this example may resemble.

    This is all and some, he held virginity

    More profit than wedding in frailty:

    (Frailty clepe I, but if that he and she frailty,

    Would lead their lives all in chastity),

    I grant it well, I have of none envy

    Who maidenhead prefer to bigamy;

    It liketh them t’ be clean in body and ghost;

    Of mine estate I will not make a boast.

    For, well ye know, a lord in his household

    Hath not every vessel all of gold;

    Some are of tree, and do their lord service.

    God calleth folk to him in sundry wise,

    And each one hath of God a proper gift,

    Some this, some that, as liketh him to shift.

    Virginity is great perfection,

    And continence eke with devotion:

    But Christ, that of perfection is the well,

    Bade not every wight he should go sell

    All that he had, and give it to the poor,

    And in such wise follow him and his lore:

    He spake to them that would live perfectly, —

    And, lordings, by your leave, that am not I;

    I will bestow the flower of mine age

    In th’ acts and in the fruits of marriage.

    Tell me also, to what conclusion

    Were members made of generation,

    And of so perfect wise a wight y-wrought?

    Trust me right well, they were not made for nought.

    Glose whoso will, and say both up and down,

    That they were made for the purgatioun

    Of urine, and of other thinges smale,

    And eke to know a female from a male:

    And for none other cause? say ye no?

    Experience wot well it is not so.

    So that the clerkes be not with me wroth,

    I say this, that they were made for both,

    That is to say, for office, and for ease

    Of engendrure, there we God not displease.

    Why should men elles in their bookes set,

    That man shall yield unto his wife her debt?

    Now wherewith should he make his payement,

    If he us’d not his silly instrument?

    Then were they made upon a creature

    To purge urine, and eke for engendrure.

    But I say not that every wight is hold,

    That hath such harness as I to you told,

    To go and use them in engendrure;

    Then should men take of chastity no cure.

    Christ was a maid, and shapen as a man,

    And many a saint, since that this world began,

    Yet ever liv’d in perfect chastity.

    I will not vie with no virginity.

    Let them with bread of pured wheat be fed,

    And let us wives eat our barley bread.

    And yet with barley bread, Mark tell us can,

    Our Lord Jesus refreshed many a man.

    In such estate as God hath cleped us,

    I’ll persevere, I am not precious,

    In wifehood I will use mine instrument

    As freely as my Maker hath it sent.

    If I be dangerous God give me sorrow;

    Mine husband shall it have, both eve and morrow,

    When that him list come forth and pay his debt.

    A husband will I have, I will no let,

    Which shall be both my debtor and my thrall,

    And have his tribulation withal

    Upon his flesh, while that I am his wife.

    I have the power during all my life

    Upon his proper body, and not he;

    Right thus th’ apostle told it unto me,

    And bade our husbands for to love us well;

    All this sentence me liketh every deal.

    Up start the Pardoner, and that anon;

    “Now, Dame,” quoth he, “by God and by Saint John,

    Ye are a noble preacher in this case.

    I was about to wed a wife, alas!

    What? should I bie it on my flesh so dear?

    Yet had I lever wed no wife this year.”

    “Abide,” quoth she; “my tale is not begun

    Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tun

    Ere that I go, shall savour worse than ale.

    And when that I have told thee forth my tale

    Of tribulation in marriage,

    Of which I am expert in all mine age,

    (This is to say, myself hath been the whip),

    Then mayest thou choose whether thou wilt sip

    Of thilke tunne, that I now shall broach.

    Beware of it, ere thou too nigh approach,

    For I shall tell examples more than ten:

    Whoso will not beware by other men,

    By him shall other men corrected be:

    These same wordes writeth Ptolemy;

    Read in his Almagest, and take it there.”

    “Dame, I would pray you, if your will it were,”

    Saide this Pardoner, “as ye began,

    Tell forth your tale, and spare for no man,

    And teach us younge men of your practique.”

    “Gladly,” quoth she, “since that it may you like.

    But that I pray to all this company,

    If that I speak after my fantasy,

    To take nought agrief what I may say;

    For mine intent is only for to play.

    Now, Sirs, then will I tell you forth my tale.

    As ever may I drinke wine or ale

    I shall say sooth; the husbands that I had

    Three of them were good, and two were bad

    The three were goode men, and rich, and old

    Unnethes mighte they the statute hold

    In which that they were bounden unto me.

    Yet wot well what I mean of this, pardie.

    As God me help, I laugh when that I think

    How piteously at night I made them swink,

    But, by my fay, I told of it no store:

    They had me giv’n their land and their treasor,

    Me needed not do longer diligence

    To win their love, or do them reverence.

    They loved me so well, by God above,

    That I tolde no dainty of their love.

    A wise woman will busy her ever-in-one

    To get their love, where that she hath none.

    But, since I had them wholly in my hand,

    And that they had me given all their land,

    Why should I take keep them for to please,

    But it were for my profit, or mine ease?

    I set them so a-worke, by my fay,

    That many a night they sange, well-away!

    The bacon was not fetched for them, I trow,

    That some men have in Essex at Dunmow.

    I govern’d them so well after my law,

    That each of them full blissful was and fawe

    To bringe me gay thinges from the fair.

    They were full glad when that I spake them fair,

    For, God it wot, I chid them spiteously.

    Now hearken how I bare me properly.

    Ye wise wives, that can understand,

    Thus should ye speak, and bear them wrong on hand,

    For half so boldely can there no man

    Swearen and lien as a woman can.

    (I say not this by wives that be wise,

    But if it be when they them misadvise.)

    A wise wife, if that she can her good,

    Shall beare them on hand the cow is wood,

    And take witness of her owen maid

    Of their assent: but hearken how I said.

    “Sir olde kaynard, is this thine array?

    Why is my neigheboure’s wife so gay?

    She is honour’d over all where she go’th,

    I sit at home, I have no thrifty cloth.

    What dost thou at my neigheboure’s house?

    Is she so fair? art thou so amorous?

    What rown’st thou with our maid? benedicite,

    Sir olde lechour, let thy japes be.

    And if I have a gossip, or a friend

    (Withoute guilt), thou chidest as a fiend,

    If that I walk or play unto his house.

    Thou comest home as drunken as a mouse,

    And preachest on thy bench, with evil prefe:

    Thou say’st to me, it is a great mischief

    To wed a poore woman, for costage:

    And if that she be rich, of high parage;

    Then say’st thou, that it is a tormentry

    To suffer her pride and melancholy.

    And if that she be fair, thou very knave,

    Thou say’st that every holour will her have;

    She may no while in chastity abide,

    That is assailed upon every side.

    Thou say’st some folk desire us for richess,

    Some for our shape, and some for our fairness,

    And some, for she can either sing or dance,

    And some for gentiless and dalliance,

    Some for her handes and her armes smale:

    Thus goes all to the devil, by thy tale;

    Thou say’st, men may not keep a castle wall

    That may be so assailed over all.

    And if that she be foul, thou say’st that she

    Coveteth every man that she may see;

    For as a spaniel she will on him leap,

    Till she may finde some man her to cheap;

    And none so grey goose goes there in the lake,

    (So say’st thou) that will be without a make.

    And say’st, it is a hard thing for to weld wield,

    A thing that no man will, his thankes, held.

    Thus say’st thou, lorel, when thou go’st to bed,

    And that no wise man needeth for to wed,

    Nor no man that intendeth unto heaven.

    With wilde thunder dint and fiery leven

    Mote thy wicked necke be to-broke.

    Thou say’st, that dropping houses, and eke smoke,

    And chiding wives, make men to flee

    Out of their owne house; ah! ben’dicite,

    What aileth such an old man for to chide?

    Thou say’st, we wives will our vices hide,

    Till we be fast, and then we will them shew.

    Well may that be a proverb of a shrew.

    Thou say’st, that oxen, asses, horses, hounds,

    They be assayed at diverse stounds,

    Basons and lavers, ere that men them buy,

    Spoones, stooles, and all such husbandry,

    And so be pots, and clothes, and array,

    But folk of wives make none assay,

    Till they be wedded, — olde dotard shrew! —

    And then, say’st thou, we will our vices shew.

    Thou say’st also, that it displeaseth me,

    But if that thou wilt praise my beauty,

    And but thou pore alway upon my face,

    And call me faire dame in every place;

    And but thou make a feast on thilke day

    That I was born, and make me fresh and gay;

    And but thou do to my norice honour,

    And to my chamberere within my bow’r,

    And to my father’s folk, and mine allies;

    Thus sayest thou, old barrel full of lies.

    And yet also of our prentice Jenkin,

    For his crisp hair, shining as gold so fine,

    And for he squireth me both up and down,

    Yet hast thou caught a false suspicioun:

    I will him not, though thou wert dead to-morrow.

    But tell me this, why hidest thou, with sorrow,

    The keyes of thy chest away from me?

    It is my good as well as thine, pardie.

    What, think’st to make an idiot of our dame?

    Now, by that lord that called is Saint Jame,

    Thou shalt not both, although that thou wert wood,

    Be master of my body, and my good,

    The one thou shalt forego, maugre thine eyen.

    What helpeth it of me t’inquire and spyen?

    I trow thou wouldest lock me in thy chest.

    Thou shouldest say, ‘Fair wife, go where thee lest;

    Take your disport; I will believe no tales;

    I know you for a true wife, Dame Ales.’ Alice

    We love no man, that taketh keep or charge care

    Where that we go; we will be at our large.

    Of alle men most blessed may he be,

    The wise astrologer Dan Ptolemy,

    That saith this proverb in his Almagest:

    ‘Of alle men his wisdom is highest,

    That recketh not who hath the world in hand.

    By this proverb thou shalt well understand,

    Have thou enough, what thar thee reck or care

    How merrily that other folkes fare?

    For certes, olde dotard, by your leave,

    Ye shall have [pleasure] right enough at eve.

    He is too great a niggard that will werne

    A man to light a candle at his lantern;

    He shall have never the less light, pardie.

    Have thou enough, thee thar not plaine thee

    Thou say’st also, if that we make us gay

    With clothing and with precious array,

    That it is peril of our chastity.

    And yet, — with sorrow! — thou enforcest thee,

    And say’st these words in the apostle’s name:

    ‘In habit made with chastity and shame

    Ye women shall apparel you,’ quoth he

    ‘And not in tressed hair and gay perrie,

    As pearles, nor with gold, nor clothes rich.’

    After thy text nor after thy rubrich

    I will not work as muchel as a gnat.

    Thou say’st also, I walk out like a cat;

    For whoso woulde singe the catte’s skin

    Then will the catte well dwell in her inn;

    And if the catte’s skin be sleek and gay,

    She will not dwell in house half a day,

    But forth she will, ere any day be daw’d,

    To shew her skin, and go a caterwaw’d.

    This is to say, if I be gay, sir shrew,

    I will run out, my borel for to shew.

    Sir olde fool, what helpeth thee to spyen?

    Though thou pray Argus with his hundred eyen

    To be my wardecorps, as he can best

    In faith he shall not keep me, but me lest:

    Yet could I make his beard, so may I the.

    “Thou sayest eke, that there be thinges three,

    Which thinges greatly trouble all this earth,

    And that no wighte may endure the ferth:

    O lefe sir shrew, may Jesus short thy life.

    Yet preachest thou, and say’st, a hateful wife

    Y-reckon’d is for one of these mischances.

    Be there none other manner resemblances

    That ye may liken your parables unto,

    But if a silly wife be one of tho?

    Thou likenest a woman’s love to hell;

    To barren land where water may not dwell.

    Thou likenest it also to wild fire;

    The more it burns, the more it hath desire

    To consume every thing that burnt will be.

    Thou sayest, right as wormes shend a tree,

    Right so a wife destroyeth her husbond;

    This know they well that be to wives bond.”

    Lordings, right thus, as ye have understand,

    Bare I stiffly mine old husbands on hand,

    That thus they saiden in their drunkenness;

    And all was false, but that I took witness

    On Jenkin, and upon my niece also.

    O Lord! the pain I did them, and the woe,

    ‘Full guilteless, by Godde’s sweete pine;

    For as a horse I coulde bite and whine;

    I coulde plain, an’ I was in the guilt,

    Or elles oftentime I had been spilt

    Whoso first cometh to the nilll, first grint;

    I plained first, so was our war y-stint.

    They were full glad to excuse them full blive

    Of things that they never aguilt their live.

    Of wenches would I beare them on hand,

    When that for sickness scarcely might they stand,

    Yet tickled I his hearte for that he

    Ween’d that I had of him so great cherte:

    I swore that all my walking out by night

    Was for to espy wenches that he dight:

    Under that colour had I many a mirth.

    For all such wit is given us at birth;

    Deceit, weeping, and spinning, God doth give

    To women kindly, while that they may live.

    And thus of one thing I may vaunte me,

    At th’ end I had the better in each degree,

    By sleight, or force, or by some manner thing,

    As by continual murmur or grudging, complaining

    Namely a-bed, there hadde they mischance,

    There would I chide, and do them no pleasance:

    I would no longer in the bed abide,

    If that I felt his arm over my side,

    Till he had made his ransom unto me,

    Then would I suffer him do his nicety.

    And therefore every man this tale I tell,

    Win whoso may, for all is for to sell;

    With empty hand men may no hawkes lure;

    For winning would I all his will endure,

    And make me a feigned appetite,

    And yet in bacon had I never delight:

    That made me that I ever would them chide.

    For, though the Pope had sitten them beside,

    I would not spare them at their owen board,

    For, by my troth, I quit them word for word

    As help me very God omnipotent,

    Though I right now should make my testament

    I owe them not a word, that is not quit

    I brought it so aboute by my wit,

    That they must give it up, as for the best

    Or elles had we never been in rest.

    For, though he looked as a wood lion,

    Yet should he fail of his conclusion.

    Then would I say, “Now, goode lefe tak keep

    How meekly looketh Wilken oure sheep!

    Come near, my spouse, and let me ba thy cheek

    Ye shoulde be all patient and meek,

    And have a sweet y-spiced conscience,

    Since ye so preach of Jobe’s patience.

    Suffer alway, since ye so well can preach,

    And but ye do, certain we shall you teach

    That it is fair to have a wife in peace.

    One of us two must bowe doubteless:

    And since a man is more reasonable

    Than woman is, ye must be suff’rable.

    What aileth you to grudge thus and groan?

    Is it for ye would have my [love] alone?

    Why, take it all: lo, have it every deal, whit

    Peter! shrew you but ye love it

    For if I woulde sell my belle chose,

    I coulde walk as fresh as is a rose,

    But I will keep it for your owen tooth.

    Ye be to blame, by God, I say you sooth.”

    Such manner wordes hadde we on hand.

    Now will I speaken of my fourth husband.

    My fourthe husband was a revellour;

    This is to say, he had a paramour,

    And I was young and full of ragerie,

    Stubborn and strong, and jolly as a pie.

    Then could I dance to a harpe smale,

    And sing, y-wis, as any nightingale,

    When I had drunk a draught of sweete wine.

    Metellius, the foule churl, the swine,

    That with a staff bereft his wife of life

    For she drank wine, though I had been his wife,

    Never should he have daunted me from drink:

    And, after wine, of Venus most I think.

    For all so sure as cold engenders hail,

    A liquorish mouth must have a liquorish tail.

    In woman vinolent is no defence,

    This knowe lechours by experience.

    But, lord Christ, when that it rememb’reth me

    Upon my youth, and on my jollity,

    It tickleth me about mine hearte-root;

    Unto this day it doth mine hearte boot,

    That I have had my world as in my time.

    But age, alas! that all will envenime,

    Hath me bereft my beauty and my pith:

    Let go; farewell; the devil go therewith.

    The flour is gon, there is no more to tell,

    The bran, as I best may, now must I sell.

    But yet to be right merry will I fand.

    Now forth to tell you of my fourth husband,

    I say, I in my heart had great despite,

    That he of any other had delight;

    But he was quit, by God and by Saint Joce:

    I made for him of the same wood a cross;

    Not of my body in no foul mannere,

    But certainly I made folk such cheer,

    That in his owen grease I made him fry

    For anger, and for very jealousy.

    By God, in earth I was his purgatory,

    For which I hope his soul may be in glory.

    For, God it wot, he sat full oft and sung,

    When that his shoe full bitterly him wrung.

    There was no wight, save God and he, that wist

    In many wise how sore I did him twist.

    He died when I came from Jerusalem,

    And lies in grave under the roode beam:

    Although his tomb is not so curious

    As was the sepulchre of Darius,

    Which that Apelles wrought so subtlely.

    It is but waste to bury them preciously.

    Let him fare well, God give his soule rest,

    He is now in his grave and in his chest.

    Now of my fifthe husband will I tell:

    God let his soul never come into hell.

    And yet was he to me the moste shrew;

    That feel I on my ribbes all by rew,

    And ever shall, until mine ending day.

    But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,

    And therewithal so well he could me glose,

    When that he woulde have my belle chose,

    Though he had beaten me on every bone,

    Yet could he win again my love anon.

    I trow, I lov’d him better, for that he

    Was of his love so dangerous to me.

    We women have, if that I shall not lie,

    In this matter a quainte fantasy.

    Whatever thing we may not lightly have,

    Thereafter will we cry all day and crave.

    Forbid us thing, and that desire we;

    Press on us fast, and thenne will we flee.

    With danger utter we all our chaffare;

    Great press at market maketh deare ware,

    And too great cheap is held at little price;

    This knoweth every woman that is wise.

    My fifthe husband, God his soule bless,

    Which that I took for love and no richess,

    He some time was a clerk of Oxenford,

    And had left school, and went at home to board

    With my gossip, dwelling in oure town:

    God have her soul, her name was Alisoun.

    She knew my heart, and all my privity,

    Bet than our parish priest, so may I the.

    To her betrayed I my counsel all;

    For had my husband pissed on a wall,

    Or done a thing that should have cost his life,

    To her, and to another worthy wife,

    And to my niece, which that I loved well,

    I would have told his counsel every deal.

    And so I did full often, God it wot,

    That made his face full often red and hot

    For very shame, and blam’d himself, for he

    Had told to me so great a privity.

    And so befell that ones in a Lent

    (So oftentimes I to my gossip went,

    For ever yet I loved to be gay,

    And for to walk in March, April, and May

    From house to house, to heare sundry tales),

    That Jenkin clerk, and my gossip, Dame Ales,

    And I myself, into the fieldes went.

    Mine husband was at London all that Lent;

    I had the better leisure for to play,

    And for to see, and eke for to be sey

    Of lusty folk; what wist I where my grace

    Was shapen for to be, or in what place?

    Therefore made I my visitations

    To vigilies, and to processions,

    To preachings eke, and to these pilgrimages,

    To plays of miracles, and marriages,

    And weared upon me gay scarlet gites.

    These wormes, nor these mothes, nor these mites

    On my apparel frett them never a deal

    And know’st thou why? for they were used well.

    Now will I telle forth what happen’d me:

    I say, that in the fieldes walked we,

    Till truely we had such dalliance,

    This clerk and I, that of my purveyance

    I spake to him, and told him how that he,

    If I were widow, shoulde wedde me.

    For certainly, I say for no bobance,

    Yet was I never without purveyance

    Of marriage, nor of other thinges eke:

    I hold a mouse’s wit not worth a leek,

    That hath but one hole for to starte to,

    And if that faile, then is all y-do.

    [I bare him on hand he had enchanted me

    (My dame taughte me that subtilty);

    And eke I said, I mette 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 hop’d that he should do me good;

    For blood betoken’d gold, as me was taught.

    And all was false, I dream’d of him right naught,

    But as I follow’d aye my dame’s lore,

    As well of that as of other things more.]

    But now, sir, let me see, what shall I sayn?

    Aha! by God, I have my tale again.

    When that my fourthe husband was on bier,

    I wept algate and made a sorry cheer,

    As wives must, for it is the usage;

    And with my kerchief covered my visage;

    But, for I was provided with a make,

    I wept but little, that I undertake

    To churche was mine husband borne a-morrow

    With neighebours that for him made sorrow,

    And Jenkin, oure clerk, was one of tho:

    As help me God, when that I saw him go

    After the bier, methought he had a pair

    Of legges and of feet so clean and fair,

    That all my heart I gave unto his hold.

    He was, I trow, a twenty winter old,

    And I was forty, if I shall say sooth,

    But yet I had always a colte’s tooth.

    Gat-toothed I was, and that became me well,

    I had the print of Sainte Venus’ seal.

    [As help me God, I was a lusty one,

    And fair, and rich, and young, and well begone:

    For certes I am all venerian

    In feeling, and my heart is martian;

    Venus me gave my lust and liquorishness,

    And Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness

    Mine ascendant was Taure, and Mars therein:

    Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!

    I follow’d aye mine inclination

    By virtue of my constellation:

    That made me that I coulde not withdraw

    My chamber of Venus from a good fellaw.

    [Yet have I Marte’s mark upon my face,

    And also in another privy place.

    For God so wisly be my salvation,

    I loved never by discretion,

    But ever follow’d mine own appetite,

    All were he short, or long, or black, or white,

    I took no keep, so that he liked me,

    How poor he was, neither of what degree.]

    What should I say? but that at the month’s end

    This jolly clerk Jenkin, that was so hend,

    Had wedded me with great solemnity,

    And to him gave I all the land and fee

    That ever was me given therebefore:

    But afterward repented me full sore.

    He woulde suffer nothing of my list.

    By God, he smote me ones with his fist,

    For that I rent out of his book a leaf,

    That of the stroke mine eare wax’d all deaf.

    Stubborn I was, as is a lioness,

    And of my tongue a very jangleress,

    And walk I would, as I had done beforn,

    From house to house, although he had it sworn:

    For which he oftentimes woulde preach

    And me of olde Roman gestes teach

    How that Sulpitius Gallus left his wife

    And her forsook for term of all his lif

    For nought but open-headed he her say

    Looking out at his door upon a day.

    Another Roman told he me by name,

    That, for his wife was at a summer game

    Without his knowing, he forsook her eke.

    And then would he upon his Bible seek

    That ilke proverb of Ecclesiast,

    Where he commandeth, and forbiddeth fast,

    Man shall not suffer his wife go roll about.

    Then would he say right thus withoute doubt:

    “Whoso that buildeth his house all of sallows,

    And pricketh his blind horse over the fallows,

    And suff’reth his wife to go seeke hallows,

    Is worthy to be hanged on the gallows.”

    But all for nought; I sette not a haw

    Of his proverbs, nor of his olde saw;

    Nor would I not of him corrected be.

    I hate them that my vices telle me,

    And so do more of us (God wot) than I.

    This made him wood with me all utterly;

    I woulde not forbear him in no case.

    Now will I say you sooth, by Saint Thomas,

    Why that I rent out of his book a leaf,

    For which he smote me, so that I was deaf.

    He had a book, that gladly night and day

    For his disport he would it read alway;

    He call’d it Valerie, and Theophrast,

    And with that book he laugh’d alway full fast.

    And eke there was a clerk sometime at Rome,

    A cardinal, that highte Saint Jerome,

    That made a book against Jovinian,

    Which book was there; and eke Tertullian,

    Chrysippus, Trotula, and Heloise,

    That was an abbess not far from Paris;

    And eke the Parables of Solomon,

    Ovide’s Art, and bourdes many one;

    And alle these were bound in one volume.

    And every night and day was his custume

    (When he had leisure and vacation

    From other worldly occupation)

    To readen in this book of wicked wives.

    He knew of them more legends and more lives

    Than be of goodde wives in the Bible.

    For, trust me well, it is an impossible

    That any clerk will speake good of wives,

    (But if it be of holy saintes’ lives)

    Nor of none other woman never the mo’.

    Who painted the lion, tell it me, who?

    By God, if women haddde written stories,

    As clerkes have within their oratories,

    They would have writ of men more wickedness

    Than all the mark of Adam may redress

    The children of Mercury and of Venus,

    Be in their working full contrarious.

    Mercury loveth wisdom and science,

    And Venus loveth riot and dispence.

    And for their diverse disposition,

    Each falls in other’s exaltation.

    As thus, God wot, Mercury is desolate

    In Pisces, where Venus is exaltate,

    And Venus falls where Mercury is raised.

    Therefore no woman by no clerk is praised.

    The clerk, when he is old, and may not do

    Of Venus’ works not worth his olde shoe,

    Then sits he down, and writes in his dotage,

    That women cannot keep their marriage.

    But now to purpose, why I tolde thee

    That I was beaten for a book, pardie.

    Upon a night Jenkin, that was our sire,

    Read on his book, as he sat by the fire,

    Of Eva first, that for her wickedness

    Was all mankind brought into wretchedness,

    For which that Jesus Christ himself was slain,

    That bought us with his hearte-blood again.

    Lo here express of women may ye find

    That woman was the loss of all mankind.

    Then read he me how Samson lost his hairs

    Sleeping, his leman cut them with her shears,

    Through whiche treason lost he both his eyen.

    Then read he me, if that I shall not lien,

    Of Hercules, and of his Dejanire,

    That caused him to set himself on fire.

    Nothing forgot he of the care and woe

    That Socrates had with his wives two;

    How Xantippe cast piss upon his head.

    This silly man sat still, as he were dead,

    He wip’d his head, and no more durst he sayn,

    But, “Ere the thunder stint there cometh rain.”

    Of Phasiphae, that was queen of Crete,

    For shrewedness he thought the tale sweet.

    Fy, speak no more, it is a grisly thing,

    Of her horrible lust and her liking.

    Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery

    That falsely made her husband for to die,

    He read it with full good devotion.

    He told me eke, for what occasion

    Amphiorax at Thebes lost his life:

    My husband had a legend of his wife

    Eryphile, that for an ouche of gold

    Had privily unto the Greekes told,

    Where that her husband hid him in a place,

    For which he had at Thebes sorry grace.

    Of Luna told he me, and of Lucie;

    They bothe made their husbands for to die,

    That one for love, that other was for hate.

    Luna her husband on an ev’ning late

    Empoison’d had, for that she was his foe:

    Lucia liquorish lov’d her husband so,

    That, for he should always upon her think,

    She gave him such a manner love-drink,

    That he was dead before it were the morrow:

    And thus algates husbands hadde sorrow.

    Then told he me how one Latumeus

    Complained to his fellow Arius

    That in his garden growed such a tree,

    On which he said how that his wives three

    Hanged themselves for heart dispiteous.

    “O leve brother,” quoth this Arius,

    “Give me a plant of thilke blessed tree,

    And in my garden planted shall it be.”

    Of later date of wives hath he read,

    That some have slain their husbands in their bed,

    And let their lechour dight them all the night,

    While that the corpse lay on the floor upright:

    And some have driven nails into their brain,

    While that they slept, and thus they have them slain:

    Some have them given poison in their drink:

    He spake more harm than hearte may bethink.

    And therewithal he knew of more proverbs,

    Than in this world there groweth grass or herbs.

    “Better (quoth he) thine habitation

    Be with a lion, or a foul dragon,

    Than with a woman using for to chide.

    Better (quoth he) high in the roof abide,

    Than with an angry woman in the house,

    They be so wicked and contrarious:

    They hate that their husbands loven aye.”

    He said, “A woman cast her shame away

    When she cast off her smock;” and farthermo’,

    “A fair woman, but she be chaste also,

    Is like a gold ring in a sowe’s nose.

    Who coulde ween, or who coulde suppose

    The woe that in mine heart was, and the pine?

    And when I saw that he would never fine

    To readen on this cursed book all night,

    All suddenly three leaves have I plight

    Out of his book, right as he read, and eke

    I with my fist so took him on the cheek,

    That in our fire he backward fell adown.

    And he up start, as doth a wood lion,

    And with his fist he smote me on the head,

    That on the floor I lay as I were dead.

    And when he saw how still that there I lay,

    He was aghast, and would have fled away,

    Till at the last out of my swoon I braid,

    “Oh, hast thou slain me, thou false thief?” I said

    “And for my land thus hast thou murder’d me?

    Ere I be dead, yet will I kisse thee.”

    And near he came, and kneeled fair adown,

    And saide”, “Deare sister Alisoun,

    As help me God, I shall thee never smite:

    That I have done it is thyself to wite,

    Forgive it me, and that I thee beseek.”

    And yet eftsoons I hit him on the cheek,

    And saidde, “Thief, thus much am I awreak.

    Now will I die, I may no longer speak.”

    But at the last, with muche care and woe

    We fell accorded by ourselves two:

    He gave me all the bridle in mine hand

    To have the governance of house and land,

    And of his tongue, and of his hand also.

    I made him burn his book anon right tho.

    And when that I had gotten unto me

    By mast’ry all the sovereignety,

    And that he said, “Mine owen true wife,

    Do as thee list, the term of all thy life,

    Keep thine honour, and eke keep mine estate;

    After that day we never had debate.

    God help me so, 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 that sits in majesty

    So bless his soule, for his mercy dear.

    Now will I say my tale, if ye will hear. —

    The Friar laugh’d when he had heard all this:

    “Now, Dame,” quoth he, “so have I joy and bliss,

    This is a long preamble of a tale.”

    And when the Sompnour heard the Friar gale,

    “Lo,” quoth this Sompnour, “Godde’s armes two,

    A friar will intermete him evermo’:

    Lo, goode men, a fly and eke a frere

    Will fall in ev’ry dish and eke mattere.

    What speak’st thou of perambulation?

    What? amble or trot; or peace, or go sit down:

    Thou lettest our disport in this mattere.”

    “Yea, wilt thou so, Sir Sompnour?” quoth the Frere;

    “Now by my faith I shall, ere that I go,

    Tell of a Sompnour such a tale or two,

    That all the folk shall laughen in this place.”

    “Now do, else, Friar, I beshrew thy face,”

    Quoth this Sompnour; “and I beshrewe me,

    But if I telle tales two or three

    Of friars, ere I come to Sittingbourne,

    That I shall make thine hearte for to mourn:

    For well I wot thy patience is gone.”

    Our Hoste cried, “Peace, and that anon;”

    And saide, “Let the woman tell her tale.

    Ye fare as folk that drunken be of ale.

    Do, Dame, tell forth your tale, and that is best.”

    “All ready, sir,” quoth she, “right as you lest,

    If I have licence of this worthy Frere.”

    “Yes, Dame,” quoth he, “tell forth, and I will hear.”


    In olde dayes of the king Arthour,

    Of which that Britons speake great honour,

    All was this land full fill’d of faerie;

    The Elf-queen, with her jolly company,

    Danced full oft in many a green mead

    This was the old opinion, as I read;

    I speak of many hundred years ago;

    But now can no man see none elves mo’,

    For now the great charity and prayeres

    Of limitours, and other holy freres,

    That search every land and ev’ry stream

    As thick as motes in the sunne-beam,

    Blessing halls, chambers, kitchenes, and bowers,

    Cities and burghes, castles high and towers,

    Thorpes and barnes, shepens and dairies,

    This makes that there be now no faeries:

    For there as wont to walke was an elf,

    There walketh now the limitour himself,

    In undermeles and in morrowings,

    And saith his matins and his holy things,

    As he goes in his limitatioun.

    Women may now go safely up and down,

    In every bush, and under every tree;

    There is none other incubus but he;

    And he will do to them no dishonour.

    And so befell it, that this king Arthour

    Had in his house a lusty bacheler,

    That on a day came riding from river:

    And happen’d, that, alone as she was born

    He saw a maiden walking him beforn,

    Of which maiden anon, maugre her head,

    By very force he reft her maidenhead:

    For which oppression was such clamour,

    And such pursuit unto the king Arthour,

    That damned was this knight for to be dead

    By course of law, and should have lost his head;

    (Paraventure such was the statute tho),

    But that the queen and other ladies mo’

    So long they prayed the king of his grace,

    Till he his life him granted in the place,

    And gave him to the queen, all at her will

    To choose whether she would him save or spill

    The queen thanked the king with all her might;

    And, after this, thus spake she to the knight,

    When that she saw her time upon a day.

    “Thou standest yet,” quoth she, “in such array,

    That of thy life yet hast thou no surety;

    I grant thee life, if thou canst tell to me

    What thing is it that women most desiren:

    Beware, and keep thy neck-bone from the iron

    And if thou canst not tell it me anon,

    Yet will I give thee leave for to gon

    A twelvemonth and a day, to seek and lear

    An answer suffisant in this mattere.

    And surety will I have, ere that thou pace,

    Thy body for to yielden in this place.”

    Woe was the knight, and sorrowfully siked;

    But what? he might not do all as him liked.

    And at the last he chose him for to wend,

    And come again, right at the yeare’s end,

    With such answer as God would him purvey:

    And took his leave, and wended forth his way.

    He sought in ev’ry house and ev’ry place,

    Where as he hoped for to finde grace,

    To learne what thing women love the most:

    But he could not arrive in any coast,

    Where as he mighte find in this mattere

    Two creatures according in fere.

    Some said that women loved best richess,

    Some said honour, and some said jolliness,

    Some rich array, and some said lust a-bed,

    And oft time to be widow and be wed.

    Some said, that we are in our heart most eased

    When that we are y-flatter’d and y-praised.

    He went full nigh the sooth, I will not lie;

    A man shall win us best with flattery;

    And with attendance, and with business

    Be we y-limed, bothe more and less.

    And some men said that we do love the best

    For to be free, and do right as us lest,

    And that no man reprove us of our vice,

    But say that we are wise, and nothing nice,

    For truly there is none among us all,

    If any wight will claw us on the gall,

    That will not kick, for that he saith us sooth:

    Assay, and he shall find it, that so do’th.

    For be we never so vicious within,

    We will be held both wise and clean of sin.

    And some men said, that great delight have we

    For to be held stable and eke secre,

    And in one purpose steadfastly to dwell,

    And not bewray a thing that men us tell.

    But that tale is not worth a rake-stele.

    Pardie, we women canne nothing hele,

    Witness on Midas; will ye hear the tale?

    Ovid, amonges other thinges smale

    Saith, Midas had, under his longe hairs,

    Growing upon his head two ass’s ears;

    The whiche vice he hid, as best he might,

    Full subtlely from every man’s sight,

    That, save his wife, there knew of it no mo’;

    He lov’d her most, and trusted her also;

    He prayed her, that to no creature

    She woulde tellen of his disfigure.

    She swore him, nay, for all the world to win,

    She would not do that villainy or sin,

    To make her husband have so foul a name:

    She would not tell it for her owen shame.

    But natheless her thoughte that she died,

    That she so longe should a counsel hide;

    Her thought it swell’d so sore about her heart

    That needes must some word from her astart

    And, since she durst not tell it unto man

    Down to a marish fast thereby she ran,

    Till she came there, her heart was all afire:

    And, as a bittern bumbles in the mire,

    She laid her mouth unto the water down

    “Bewray me not, thou water, with thy soun’”

    Quoth she, “to thee I tell it, and no mo’,

    Mine husband hath long ass’s eares two!

    Now is mine heart all whole; now is it out;

    I might no longer keep it, out of doubt.”

    Here may ye see, though we a time abide,

    Yet out it must, we can no counsel hide.

    The remnant of the tale, if ye will hear,

    Read in Ovid, and there ye may it lear.

    This knight, of whom my tale is specially,

    When that he saw he might not come thereby,

    That is to say, what women love the most,

    Within his breast full sorrowful was his ghost.

    But home he went, for he might not sojourn,

    The day was come, that homeward he must turn.

    And in his way it happen’d him to ride,

    In all his care, under a forest side,

    Where as he saw upon a dance go

    Of ladies four-and-twenty, and yet mo’,

    Toward this ilke dance he drew full yern,

    The hope that he some wisdom there should learn;

    But certainly, ere he came fully there,

    Y-vanish’d was this dance, he knew not where;

    No creature saw he that bare life,

    Save on the green he sitting saw a wife,

    A fouler wight there may no man devise.

    Against this knight this old wife gan to rise,

    And said, “Sir Knight, hereforth lieth no way.

    Tell me what ye are seeking, by your fay.

    Paraventure it may the better be:

    These olde folk know muche thing,” quoth she.

    My leve mother,” quoth this knight, “certain,

    I am but dead, but if that I can sayn

    What thing it is that women most desire:

    Could ye me wiss, I would well quite your hire.”

    “Plight me thy troth here in mine hand,” quoth she,

    “The nexte thing that I require of thee

    Thou shalt it do, if it be in thy might,

    And I will tell it thee ere it be night.”

    “Have here my trothe,” quoth the knight; “I graunte.”

    “Thenne,” quoth she, “I dare me well avaunt,

    Thy life is safe, for I will stand thereby,

    Upon my life the queen will say as I:

    Let see, which is the proudest of them all,

    That wears either a kerchief or a caul,

    That dare say nay to that I shall you teach.

    Let us go forth withoute longer speech

    Then rowned she a pistel in his ear,

    And bade him to be glad, and have no fear.

    When they were come unto the court, this knight

    Said, he had held his day, as he had hight,

    And ready was his answer, as he said.

    Full many a noble wife, and many a maid,

    And many a widow, for that they be wise, —

    The queen herself sitting as a justice, —

    Assembled be, his answer for to hear,

    And afterward this knight was bid appear.

    To every wight commanded was silence,

    And that the knight should tell in audience,

    What thing that worldly women love the best.

    This knight he stood not still, as doth a beast,

    But to this question anon answer’d

    With manly voice, that all the court it heard,

    “My liege lady, generally,” quoth he,

    “Women desire to have the sovereignty

    As well over their husband as their love

    And for to be in mast’ry him above.

    This is your most desire, though ye me kill,

    Do as you list, I am here at your will.”

    In all the court there was no wife nor maid

    Nor widow, that contraried what he said,

    But said, he worthy was to have his life.

    And with that word up start that olde wife

    Which that the knight saw sitting on the green.

    “Mercy,” quoth she, “my sovereign lady queen,

    Ere that your court departe, do me right.

    I taughte this answer unto this knight,

    For which he plighted me his trothe there,

    The firste thing I would of him requere,

    He would it do, if it lay in his might.

    Before this court then pray I thee, Sir Knight,”

    Quoth she, “that thou me take unto thy wife,

    For well thou know’st that I have kept thy life.

    If I say false, say nay, upon thy fay.”

    This knight answer’d, “Alas, and well-away!

    I know right well that such was my behest.

    For Godde’s love choose a new request

    Take all my good, and let my body go.”

    “Nay, then,” quoth she, “I shrew us bothe two,

    For though that I be old, and foul, and poor,

    I n’ould for all the metal nor the ore,

    That under earth is grave, or lies above

    But if thy wife I were and eke thy love.”

    “My love?” quoth he, “nay, my damnation,

    Alas! that any of my nation

    Should ever so foul disparaged be.

    But all for nought; the end is this, that he

    Constrained was, that needs he muste wed,

    And take this olde wife, and go to bed.

    Now woulde some men say paraventure

    That for my negligence I do no cure

    To tell you all the joy and all th’ array

    That at the feast was made that ilke day.

    To which thing shortly answeren I shall:

    I say there was no joy nor feast at all,

    There was but heaviness and muche sorrow:

    For privily he wed her on the morrow;

    And all day after hid him as an owl,

    So woe was him, his wife look’d so foul

    Great was the woe the knight had in his thought

    When he was with his wife to bed y-brought;

    He wallow’d, and he turned to and fro.

    This olde wife lay smiling evermo’,

    And said, “Dear husband, benedicite,

    Fares every knight thus with his wife as ye?

    Is this the law of king Arthoures house?

    Is every knight of his thus dangerous?

    I am your owen love, and eke your wife

    I am she, which that saved hath your life

    And certes yet did I you ne’er unright.

    Why fare ye thus with me this firste night?

    Ye fare like a man had lost his wit.

    What is my guilt? for God’s love tell me it,

    And it shall be amended, if I may.”

    “Amended!” quoth this knight; “alas, nay, nay,

    It will not be amended, never mo’;

    Thou art so loathly, and so old also,

    And thereto comest of so low a kind,

    That little wonder though I wallow and wind;

    So woulde God, mine hearte woulde brest!”

    “Is this,” quoth she, “the cause of your unrest?”

    “Yea, certainly,” quoth he; “no wonder is.”

    “Now, Sir,” quoth she, “I could amend all this,

    If that me list, ere it were dayes three,

    So well ye mighte bear you unto me.

    But, for ye speaken of such gentleness

    As is descended out of old richess,

    That therefore shalle ye be gentlemen;

    Such arrogancy is not worth a hen.

    Look who that is most virtuous alway,

    Prive and apert, and most intendeth aye

    To do the gentle deedes that he can;

    And take him for the greatest gentleman.

    Christ will, we claim of him our gentleness,

    Not of our elders for their old richess.

    For though they gave us all their heritage,

    For which we claim to be of high parage,

    Yet may they not bequeathe, for no thing,

    To none of us, their virtuous living

    That made them gentlemen called to be,

    And bade us follow them in such degree.

    Well can the wise poet of Florence,

    That highte Dante, speak of this sentence:

    Lo, in such manner rhyme is Dante’s tale.

    ‘Full seld’ upriseth by his branches smale

    Prowess of man, for God of his goodness

    Wills that we claim of him our gentleness;’

    For of our elders may we nothing claim

    But temp’ral things that man may hurt and maim.

    Eke every wight knows this as well as I,

    If gentleness were planted naturally

    Unto a certain lineage down the line,

    Prive and apert, then would they never fine

    To do of gentleness the fair office

    Then might they do no villainy nor vice.

    Take fire, and bear it to the darkest house

    Betwixt this and the mount of Caucasus,

    And let men shut the doores, and go thenne,

    Yet will the fire as fair and lighte brenne

    As twenty thousand men might it behold;

    Its office natural aye will it hold,

    On peril of my life, till that it die. natural duty

    Here may ye see well how that gentery

    Is not annexed to possession,

    Since folk do not their operation

    Alway, as doth the fire, lo, in its kind

    For, God it wot, men may full often find

    A lorde’s son do shame and villainy.

    And he that will have price of his gent’ry,

    For he was boren of a gentle house,

    And had his elders noble and virtuous,

    And will himselfe do no gentle deedes,

    Nor follow his gentle ancestry, that dead is,

    He is not gentle, be he duke or earl;

    For villain sinful deedes make a churl.

    For gentleness is but the renomee

    Of thine ancestors, for their high bounte,

    Which is a strange thing to thy person:

    Thy gentleness cometh from God alone.

    Then comes our very gentleness of grace;

    It was no thing bequeath’d us with our place.

    Think how noble, as saith Valerius,

    Was thilke Tullius Hostilius,

    That out of povert’ rose to high

    Read in Senec, and read eke in Boece,

    There shall ye see express, that it no drede is,

    That he is gentle that doth gentle deedes.

    And therefore, leve husband, I conclude,

    Albeit that mine ancestors were rude,

    Yet may the highe God, — and so hope I, —

    Grant me His grace to live virtuously:

    Then am I gentle when that I begin

    To live virtuously, and waive sin.

    “And whereas ye of povert’ me repreve,

    The highe God, on whom that we believe,

    In wilful povert’ chose to lead his life:

    And certes, every man, maiden, or wife

    May understand that Jesus, heaven’s king,

    Ne would not choose a virtuous living.

    Glad povert’ is an honest thing, certain;

    This will Senec and other clerkes sayn

    Whoso that holds him paid of his povert’,

    I hold him rich though he hath not a shirt.

    He that coveteth is a poore wight

    For he would have what is not in his might

    But he that nought hath, nor coveteth to have,

    Is rich, although ye hold him but a knave.

    Very povert’ is sinne, properly.

    Juvenal saith of povert’ merrily:

    The poore man, when he goes by the way

    Before the thieves he may sing and play

    Povert’ is hateful good, and, as I guess,

    A full great bringer out of business;

    A great amender eke of sapience

    To him that taketh it in patience.

    Povert’ is this, although it seem elenge

    Possession that no wight will challenge

    Povert’ full often, when a man is low,

    Makes him his God and eke himself to know

    Povert’ a spectacle is, as thinketh me

    Through which he may his very friendes see.

    And, therefore, Sir, since that I you not grieve,

    Of my povert’ no more me repreve.

    “Now, Sir, of elde ye repreve me:

    And certes, Sir, though none authority

    Were in no book, ye gentles of honour

    Say, that men should an olde wight honour,

    And call him father, for your gentleness;

    And authors shall I finden, as I guess.

    Now there ye say that I am foul and old,

    Then dread ye not to be a cokewold.

    For filth, and elde, all so may I the,

    Be greate wardens upon chastity.

    But natheless, since I know your delight,

    I shall fulfil your wordly appetite.

    Choose now,” quoth she, “one of these thinges tway,

    To have me foul and old till that I dey,

    And be to you a true humble wife,

    And never you displease in all my life:

    Or elles will ye have me young and fair,

    And take your aventure of the repair

    That shall be to your house because of me, —

    Or in some other place, it may well be?

    Now choose yourselfe whether that you liketh.

    This knight adviseth him and sore he siketh,

    But at the last he said in this mannere;

    “My lady and my love, and wife so dear,

    I put me in your wise governance,

    Choose for yourself which may be most pleasance

    And most honour to you and me also;

    I do no force the whether of the two:

    For as you liketh, it sufficeth me.”

    “Then have I got the mastery,” quoth she,

    “Since I may choose and govern as me lest.”

    “Yea, certes wife,” quoth he, “I hold it best.”

    “Kiss me,” quoth she, “we are no longer wroth,

    For by my troth I will be to you both;

    This is to say, yea, bothe fair and good.

    I pray to God that I may sterve wood,

    But I to you be all so good and true,

    As ever was wife since the world was new;

    And but I be to-morrow as fair to seen,

    As any lady, emperess or queen,

    That is betwixt the East and eke the West

    Do with my life and death right as you lest.

    Cast up the curtain, and look how it is.”

    And when the knight saw verily all this,

    That she so fair was, and so young thereto,

    For joy he hent her in his armes two:

    His hearte bathed in a bath of bliss,

    A thousand times on row he gan her kiss:

    And she obeyed him in every thing

    That mighte do him pleasance or liking.

    And thus they live unto their lives’ end

    In perfect joy; and Jesus Christ us send

    Husbandes meek and young, and fresh in bed,

    And grace to overlive them that we wed.

    And eke I pray Jesus to short their lives,

    That will not be governed by their wives.

    And old and angry niggards of dispence,

    God send them soon a very pestilence! The Franklin’s Tale


    “IN faith, Squier, thou hast thee well acquit,

    And gentilly; I praise well thy wit,”

    Quoth the Franklin; “considering thy youthe

    So feelingly thou speak’st, Sir, I aloue thee,

    As to my doom, there is none that is here

    Of eloquence that shall be thy peer,

    If that thou live; God give thee goode chance,

    And in virtue send thee continuance,

    For of thy speaking I have great dainty.

    I have a son, and, by the Trinity;

    It were me lever than twenty pound worth land,

    Though it right now were fallen in my hand,

    He were a man of such discretion

    As that ye be: fy on possession,

    But if a man be virtuous withal.

    I have my sone snibbed and yet shall,

    For he to virtue listeth not t’intend,

    But for to play at dice, and to dispend,

    And lose all that he hath, is his usage;

    And he had lever talke with a page,

    Than to commune with any gentle wight,

    There he might learen gentilless aright.”

    Straw for your gentillesse!” quoth our Host.

    “What? Frankelin, pardie, Sir, well thou wost

    That each of you must tellen at the least

    A tale or two, or breake his behest.”

    “That know I well, Sir,” quoth the Frankelin;

    “I pray you have me not in disdain,

    Though I to this man speak a word or two.”

    “Tell on thy tale, withoute wordes mo’.”

    “Gladly, Sir Host,” quoth he, “I will obey

    Unto your will; now hearken what I say;

    I will you not contrary in no wise,

    As far as that my wittes may suffice.

    I pray to God that it may please you,

    Then wot I well that it is good enow.

    “These olde gentle Bretons, in their days,

    Of divers aventures made lays,

    Rhymeden in their firste Breton tongue;

    Which layes with their instruments they sung,

    Or elles reade them for their pleasance;

    And one of them have I in remembrance,

    Which I shall say with good will as I can.

    But, Sirs, because I am a borel man,

    At my beginning first I you beseech

    Have me excused of my rude speech.

    I learned never rhetoric, certain;

    Thing that I speak, it must be bare and plain.

    I slept never on the mount of Parnasso,

    Nor learned Marcus Tullius Cicero.

    Coloures know I none, withoute dread,

    But such colours as growen in the mead,

    Or elles such as men dye with or paint;

    Colours of rhetoric be to me quaint;

    My spirit feeleth not of such mattere.

    But, if you list, my tale shall ye hear.”


    In Armoric’, that called is Bretagne,

    There was a knight, that lov’d and did his pain,

    To serve a lady in his beste wise;

    And many a labour, many a great emprise,

    He for his lady wrought, ere she were won:

    For she was one the fairest under sun,

    And eke thereto come of so high kindred,

    That well unnethes durst this knight for dread,

    Tell her his woe, his pain, and his distress

    But, at the last, she for his worthiness,

    And namely for his meek obeisance,

    Hath such a pity caught of his penance,

    That privily she fell of his accord

    To take him for her husband and her lord

    (Of such lordship as men have o’er their wives);

    And, for to lead the more in bliss their lives,

    Of his free will he swore her as a knight,

    That never in all his life he day nor night

    Should take upon himself no mastery

    Against her will, nor kithe her jealousy,

    But her obey, and follow her will in all,

    As any lover to his lady shall;

    Save that the name of sovereignety

    That would he have, for shame of his degree.

    She thanked him, and with full great humbless

    She saide; “Sir, since of your gentleness

    Ye proffer me to have so large a reign,

    Ne woulde God never betwixt us twain,

    As in my guilt, were either war or strife:

    Sir, I will be your humble true wife,

    Have here my troth, till that my hearte brest.”

    Thus be they both in quiet and in rest.

    For one thing, Sires, safely dare I say,

    That friends ever each other must obey,

    If they will longe hold in company.

    Love will not be constrain’d by mastery.

    When mast’ry comes, the god of love anon

    Beateth his wings, and, farewell, he is gone.

    Love is a thing as any spirit free.

    Women of kind desire liberty,

    And not to be constrained as a thrall,

    And so do men, if soothly I say shall.

    Look who that is most patient in love,

    He is at his advantage all above.

    Patience is a high virtue certain,

    For it vanquisheth, as these clerkes sayn,

    Thinges that rigour never should attain.

    For every word men may not chide or plain.

    Learne to suffer, or, so may I go,

    Ye shall it learn whether ye will or no.

    For in this world certain no wight there is,

    That he not doth or saith sometimes amiss.

    Ire, or sickness, or constellation,

    Wine, woe, or changing of complexion,

    Causeth full oft to do amiss or speaken:

    On every wrong a man may not be wreaken.

    After the time must be temperance

    To every wight that can of governance.

    And therefore hath this worthy wise knight

    (To live in ease) sufferance her behight;

    And she to him full wisly gan to swear

    That never should there be default in her.

    Here may men see a humble wife accord;

    Thus hath she ta’en her servant and her lord,

    Servant in love, and lord in marriage.

    Then was he both in lordship and servage?

    Servage? nay, but in lordship all above,

    Since he had both his lady and his love:

    His lady certes, and his wife also,

    The which that law of love accordeth to.

    And when he was in this prosperrity,

    Home with his wife he went to his country,

    Not far from Penmark, where his dwelling was,

    And there he liv’d in bliss and in solace.

    Who coulde tell, but he had wedded be,

    The joy, the ease, and the prosperity,

    That is betwixt a husband and his wife?

    A year and more lasted this blissful life,

    Till that this knight, of whom I spake thus,

    That of Cairrud was call’d Arviragus,

    Shope him to go and dwell a year or twain

    In Engleland, that call’d was eke Britain,

    To seek in armes worship and honour

    (For all his lust he set in such labour);

    And dwelled there two years; the book saith thus.

    Now will I stint of this Arviragus,

    And speak I will of Dorigen his wife,

    That lov’d her husband as her hearte’s life.

    For his absence weepeth she and siketh,

    As do these noble wives when them liketh;

    She mourneth, waketh, waileth, fasteth, plaineth;

    Desire of his presence her so distraineth,

    That all this wide world she set at nought.

    Her friendes, which that knew her heavy thought,

    Comforte her in all that ever they may;

    They preache her, they tell her night and day,

    That causeless she slays herself, alas!

    And every comfort possible in this case

    They do to her, with all their business,

    And all to make her leave her heaviness.

    By process, as ye knowen every one,

    Men may so longe graven in a stone,

    Till some figure therein imprinted be:

    So long have they comforted her, till she

    Received hath, by hope and by reason,

    Th’ imprinting of their consolation,

    Through which her greate sorrow gan assuage;

    She may not always duren in such rage.

    And eke Arviragus, in all this care,

    Hath sent his letters home of his welfare,

    And that he will come hastily again,

    Or elles had this sorrow her hearty-slain.

    Her friendes saw her sorrow gin to slake,

    And prayed her on knees for Godde’s sake

    To come and roamen in their company,

    Away to drive her darke fantasy;

    And finally she granted that request,

    For well she saw that it was for the best.

    Now stood her castle faste by the sea,

    And often with her friendes walked she,

    Her to disport upon the bank on high,

    There as many a ship and barge sigh,

    Sailing their courses, where them list to go.

    But then was that a parcel of her woe,

    For to herself full oft, “Alas!” said she,

    Is there no ship, of so many as I see,

    Will bringe home my lord? then were my heart

    All warish’d of this bitter paine’s smart.”

    Another time would she sit and think,

    And cast her eyen downward from the brink;

    But when she saw the grisly rockes blake,

    For very fear so would her hearte quake,

    That on her feet she might her not sustene

    Then would she sit adown upon the green,

    And piteously into the sea behold,

    And say right thus, with careful sikes cold:

    “Eternal God! that through thy purveyance

    Leadest this world by certain governance,

    In idle, as men say, ye nothing make;

    But, Lord, these grisly fiendly rockes blake,

    That seem rather a foul confusion

    Of work, than any fair creation

    Of such a perfect wise God and stable,

    Why have ye wrought this work unreasonable?

    For by this work, north, south, or west, or east,

    There is not foster’d man, nor bird, nor beast:

    It doth no good, to my wit, but annoyeth.

    See ye not, Lord, how mankind it destroyeth?

    A hundred thousand bodies of mankind

    Have rockes slain, all be they not in mind;

    Which mankind is so fair part of thy work,

    Thou madest it like to thine owen mark.

    Then seemed it ye had a great cherte

    Toward mankind; but how then may it be

    That ye such meanes make it to destroy?

    Which meanes do no good, but ever annoy.

    I wot well, clerkes will say as them lest,

    By arguments, that all is for the best,

    Although I can the causes not y-know;

    But thilke God that made the wind to blow,

    As keep my lord, this is my conclusion:

    To clerks leave I all disputation:

    But would to God that all these rockes blake

    Were sunken into helle for his sake

    These rockes slay mine hearte for the fear.”

    Thus would she say, with many a piteous tear.

    Her friendes saw that it was no disport

    To roame by the sea, but discomfort,

    And shope them for to playe somewhere else.

    They leade her by rivers and by wells,

    And eke in other places delectables;

    They dancen, and they play at chess and tables.

    So on a day, right in the morning-tide,

    Unto a garden that was there beside,

    In which that they had made their ordinance

    Of victual, and of other purveyance,

    They go and play them all the longe day:

    And this was on the sixth morrow of May,

    Which May had painted with his softe showers

    This garden full of leaves and of flowers:

    And craft of manne’s hand so curiously

    Arrayed had this garden truely,

    That never was there garden of such price,

    But if it were the very Paradise.

    Th’odour of flowers, and the freshe sight,

    Would have maked any hearte light

    That e’er was born, but if too great sickness

    Or too great sorrow held it in distress;

    So full it was of beauty and pleasance.

    And after dinner they began to dance

    And sing also, save Dorigen alone

    Who made alway her complaint and her moan,

    For she saw not him on the dance go

    That was her husband, and her love also;

    But natheless she must a time abide

    And with good hope let her sorrow slide.

    Upon this dance, amonge other men,

    Danced a squier before Dorigen

    That fresher was, and jollier of array

    As to my doom, than is the month of May.

    He sang and danced, passing any man,

    That is or was since that the world began;

    Therewith he was, if men should him descrive,

    One of the beste faring men alive,

    Young, strong, and virtuous, and rich, and wise,

    And well beloved, and holden in great price.

    And, shortly if the sooth I telle shall,

    Unweeting of this Dorigen at all,

    This lusty squier, servant to Venus,

    Which that y-called was Aurelius,

    Had lov’d her best of any creature

    Two year and more, as was his aventure;

    But never durst he tell her his grievance;

    Withoute cup he drank all his penance.

    He was despaired, nothing durst he say,

    Save in his songes somewhat would he wray

    His woe, as in a general complaining;

    He said, he lov’d, and was belov’d nothing.

    Of suche matter made he many lays,

    Songes, complaintes, roundels, virelays

    How that he durste not his sorrow tell,

    But languished, as doth a Fury in hell;

    And die he must, he said, as did Echo For

    Narcissus, that durst not tell her woe.

    In other manner than ye hear me say,

    He durste not to her his woe bewray,

    Save that paraventure sometimes at dances,

    Where younge folke keep their observances,

    It may well be he looked on her face

    In such a wise, as man that asketh grace,

    But nothing wiste she of his intent.

    Nath’less it happen’d, ere they thennes went,

    Because that he was her neighebour,

    And was a man of worship and honour,

    And she had knowen him of time yore,

    They fell in speech, and forth aye more and more

    Unto his purpose drew Aurelius;

    And when he saw his time, he saide thus:

    Madam,” quoth he, “by God that this world made,

    So that I wist it might your hearte glade,

    I would, that day that your Arviragus

    Went over sea, that I, Aurelius,

    Had gone where I should never come again;

    For well I wot my service is in vain.

    My guerdon is but bursting of mine heart.

    Madame, rue upon my paine’s smart,

    For with a word ye may me slay or save.

    Here at your feet God would that I were grave.

    I have now no leisure more to say:

    Have mercy, sweet, or you will do me dey.”

    She gan to look upon Aurelius;

    “Is this your will,” quoth she, “and say ye thus?

    Ne’er erst,” quoth she, “I wiste what ye meant:

    But now, Aurelius, I know your intent.

    By thilke God that gave me soul and life,

    Never shall I be an untrue wife

    In word nor work, as far as I have wit;

    I will be his to whom that I am knit;

    Take this for final answer as of me.”

    But after that in play thus saide she.

    “Aurelius,” quoth she, “by high God above,

    Yet will I grante you to be your love

    (Since I you see so piteously complain);

    Looke, what day that endelong Bretagne

    Ye remove all the rockes, stone by stone,

    That they not lette ship nor boat to gon,

    I say, when ye have made this coast so clean

    Of rockes, that there is no stone seen,

    Then will I love you best of any man;

    Have here my troth, in all that ever I can;

    For well I wot that it shall ne’er betide.

    Let such folly out of your hearte glide.

    What dainty should a man have in his life

    For to go love another manne’s wife,

    That hath her body when that ever him liketh?”

    Aurelius full often sore siketh; sigheth

    Is there none other grace in you?” quoth he,

    “No, by that Lord,” quoth she, “that maked me.

    Woe was Aurelius when that he this heard,

    And with a sorrowful heart he thus answer’d.

    “Madame, quoth he, “this were an impossible.

    Then must I die of sudden death horrible.”

    And with that word he turned him anon.

    Then came her other friends many a one,

    And in the alleys roamed up and down,

    And nothing wist of this conclusion,

    But suddenly began to revel new,

    Till that the brighte sun had lost his hue,

    For th’ horizon had reft the sun his light

    (This is as much to say as it was night);

    And home they go in mirth and in solace;

    Save only wretch’d Aurelius, alas

    He to his house is gone with sorrowful heart.

    He said, he may not from his death astart.

    Him seemed, that he felt his hearte cold.

    Up to the heav’n his handes gan he hold,

    And on his knees bare he set him down.

    And in his raving said his orisoun.

    For very woe out of his wit he braid;

    He wist not what he spake, but thus he said;

    With piteous heart his plaint hath he begun

    Unto the gods, and first unto the Sun.

    He said; “Apollo God and governour

    Of every plante, herbe, tree, and flower,

    That giv’st, after thy declination,

    To each of them his time and his season,

    As thine herberow changeth low and high;

    Lord Phoebus: cast thy merciable eye

    On wretched Aurelius, which that am but lorn.

    Lo, lord, my lady hath my death y-sworn,

    Withoute guilt, but thy benignity

    Upon my deadly heart have some pity.

    For well I wot, Lord Phoebus, if you lest,

    Ye may me helpe, save my lady, best.

    Now vouchsafe, that I may you devise

    How that I may be holp, and in what wise.

    Your blissful sister, Lucina the sheen,

    That of the sea is chief goddess and queen, —

    Though Neptunus have deity in the sea,

    Yet emperess above him is she; —

    Ye know well, lord, that, right as her desire

    Is to be quick’d and lighted of your fire,

    For which she followeth you full busily,

    Right so the sea desireth naturally

    To follow her, as she that is goddess

    Both in the sea and rivers more and less.

    Wherefore, Lord Phoebus, this is my request,

    Do this miracle, or do mine hearte brest;

    That flow, next at this opposition,

    Which in the sign shall be of the Lion,

    As praye her so great a flood to bring,

    That five fathom at least it overspring

    The highest rock in Armoric Bretagne,

    And let this flood endure yeares twain:

    Then certes to my lady may I say,

    “Holde your hest,” the rockes be away.

    Lord Phoebus, this miracle do for me,

    Pray her she go no faster course than ye;

    I say this, pray your sister that she go

    No faster course than ye these yeares two:

    Then shall she be even at full alway,

    And spring-flood laste bothe night and day.

    And but she vouchesafe in such mannere

    To grante me my sov’reign lady dear,

    Pray her to sink every rock adown

    Into her owen darke regioun

    Under the ground, where Pluto dwelleth in

    Or nevermore shall I my lady win.

    Thy temple in Delphos will I barefoot seek.

    Lord Phoebus! see the teares on my cheek

    And on my pain have some compassioun.”

    And with that word in sorrow he fell down,

    And longe time he lay forth in a trance.

    His brother, which that knew of his penance,

    Up caught him, and to bed he hath him brought,

    Despaired in this torment and this thought

    Let I this woeful creature lie;

    Choose he for me whe’er he will live or die.

    Arviragus with health and great honour

    (As he that was of chivalry the flow’r)

    Is come home, and other worthy men.

    Oh, blissful art thou now, thou Dorigen!

    Thou hast thy lusty husband in thine arms,

    The freshe knight, the worthy man of arms,

    That loveth thee as his own hearte’s life:

    Nothing list him to be imaginatif

    If any wight had spoke, while he was out,

    To her of love; he had of that no doubt;

    He not intended to no such mattere,

    But danced, jousted, and made merry cheer.

    And thus in joy and bliss I let them dwell,

    And of the sick Aurelius will I tell

    In languor and in torment furious

    Two year and more lay wretch’d Aurelius,

    Ere any foot on earth he mighte gon;

    Nor comfort in this time had he none,

    Save of his brother, which that was a clerk.

    He knew of all this woe and all this work;

    For to none other creature certain

    Of this matter he durst no worde sayn;

    Under his breast he bare it more secree

    Than e’er did Pamphilus for Galatee.

    His breast was whole withoute for to seen,

    But in his heart aye was the arrow keen,

    And well ye know that of a sursanure

    In surgery is perilous the cure,

    But men might touch the arrow or come thereby.

    His brother wept and wailed privily,

    Till at the last him fell in remembrance,

    That while he was at Orleans in France, —

    As younge clerkes, that be likerous —

    To readen artes that be curious,

    Seeken in every halk and every hern

    Particular sciences for to learn,—

    He him remember’d, that upon a day

    At Orleans in study a book he say saw

    Of magic natural, which his fellaw,

    That was that time a bachelor of law

    All were he there to learn another craft,

    Had privily upon his desk y-laft;

    Which book spake much of operations

    Touching the eight and-twenty mansions

    That longe to the Moon, and such folly

    As in our dayes is not worth a fly;

    For holy church’s faith, in our believe,

    Us suff’reth none illusion to grieve.

    And when this book was in his remembrance

    Anon for joy his heart began to dance,

    And to himself he saide privily;

    “My brother shall be warish’d hastily

    For I am sicker that there be sciences,

    By which men make divers apparences,

    Such as these subtle tregetoures play.

    For oft at feaste’s have I well heard say,

    That tregetours, within a halle large,

    Have made come in a water and a barge,

    And in the halle rowen up and down.

    Sometimes hath seemed come a grim lioun,

    And sometimes flowers spring as in a mead;

    Sometimes a vine, and grapes white and red;

    Sometimes a castle all of lime and stone;

    And, when them liked, voided it anon:

    Thus seemed it to every manne’s sight.

    Now then conclude I thus; if that I might

    At Orleans some olde fellow find,

    That hath these Moone’s mansions in mind,

    Or other magic natural above.

    He should well make my brother have his love.

    For with an appearance a clerk may make,

    To manne’s sight, that all the rockes blake

    Of Bretagne were voided every one,

    And shippes by the brinke come and gon,

    And in such form endure a day or two;

    Then were my brother warish’d of his woe,

    Then must she needes holde her behest,

    Or elles he shall shame her at the least.”

    Why should I make a longer tale of this?

    Unto his brother’s bed he comen is,

    And such comfort he gave him, for to gon

    To Orleans, that he upstart anon,

    And on his way forth-ward then is he fare,

    In hope for to be lissed of his care.

    When they were come almost to that city,

    But if it were a two furlong or three,

    A young clerk roaming by himself they met,

    Which that in Latin thriftily them gret.

    And after that he said a wondrous thing;

    I know,” quoth he, “the cause of your coming;”

    Aud ere they farther any foote went,

    He told them all that was in their intent.

    The Breton clerk him asked of fellaws

    The which he hadde known in olde daws,

    And he answer’d him that they deade were,

    For which he wept full often many a tear.

    Down off his horse Aurelius light anon,

    And forth with this magician is be gone

    Home to his house, and made him well at ease;

    Them lacked no vitail that might them please.

    So well-array’d a house as there was one,

    Aurelius in his life saw never none.

    He shewed him, ere they went to suppere,

    Forestes, parkes, full of wilde deer.

    There saw he hartes with their hornes high,

    The greatest that were ever seen with eye.

    He saw of them an hundred slain with hounds,

    And some with arrows bleed of bitter wounds.

    He saw, when voided were the wilde deer,

    These falconers upon a fair rivere,

    That with their hawkes have the heron slain.

    Then saw he knightes jousting in a plain.

    And after this he did him such pleasance,

    That he him shew’d his lady on a dance,

    In which himselfe danced, as him thought.

    And when this master, that this magic wrought,

    Saw it was time, he clapp’d his handes two,

    And farewell, all the revel is y-go.

    And yet remov’d they never out of the house,

    While they saw all the sightes marvellous;

    But in his study, where his bookes be,

    They satte still, and no wight but they three.

    To him this master called his squier,

    And said him thus, “May we go to supper?

    Almost an hour it is, I undertake,

    Since I you bade our supper for to make,

    When that these worthy men wente with me

    Into my study, where my bookes be.”

    “Sir,” quoth this squier, “when it liketh you.

    It is all ready, though ye will right now.”

    “Go we then sup,” quoth he, “as for the best;

    These amorous folk some time must have rest.”

    At after supper fell they in treaty

    What summe should this master’s guerdon be,

    To remove all the rockes of Bretagne,

    And eke from Gironde to the mouth of Seine.

    He made it strange, and swore, so God him save,

    Less than a thousand pound he would not have,

    Nor gladly for that sum he would not gon.

    Aurelius with blissful heart anon

    Answered thus; “Fie on a thousand pound!

    This wide world, which that men say is round,

    I would it give, if I were lord of it.

    This bargain is full-driv’n, for we be knit;

    Ye shall be payed truly by my troth.

    But looke, for no negligence or sloth,

    Ye tarry us here no longer than to-morrow.”

    “Nay,” quoth the clerk, “have here my faith to borrow.”

    To bed is gone Aurelius when him lest,

    And well-nigh all that night he had his rest,

    What for his labour, and his hope of bliss,

    His woeful heart of penance had a liss.

    Upon the morrow, when that it was day,

    Unto Bretagne they took the righte way,

    Aurelius and this magician beside,

    And be descended where they would abide:

    And this was, as the bookes me remember,

    The colde frosty season of December.

    Phoebus wax’d old, and hued like latoun,

    That in his hote declinatioun

    Shone as the burned gold, with streames bright;

    But now in Capricorn adown he light,

    Where as he shone full pale, I dare well sayn.

    The bitter frostes, with the sleet and rain,

    Destroyed have the green in every yard.

    Janus sits by the fire with double beard,

    And drinketh of his bugle horn the wine:

    Before him stands the brawn of tusked swine

    And “nowel” crieth every lusty man

    Aurelius, in all that ev’r he can,

    Did to his master cheer and reverence,

    And prayed him to do his diligence

    To bringe him out of his paines smart,

    Or with a sword that he would slit his heart.

    This subtle clerk such ruth had on this man,

    That night and day he sped him, that he can,

    To wait a time of his conclusion;

    This is to say, to make illusion,

    By such an appearance of jugglery

    (I know no termes of astrology),

    That she and every wight should ween and say,

    That of Bretagne the rockes were away,

    Or else they were sunken under ground.

    So at the last he hath a time found

    To make his japes and his wretchedness

    Of such a superstitious cursedness.

    His tables Toletanes forth he brought,

    Full well corrected, that there lacked nought,

    Neither his collect, nor his expanse years,

    Neither his rootes, nor his other gears,

    As be his centres, and his arguments,

    And his proportional convenients

    For his equations in everything.

    And by his eighte spheres in his working,

    He knew full well how far Alnath was shove

    From the head of that fix’d Aries above,

    That in the ninthe sphere consider’d is.

    Full subtilly he calcul’d all this.

    When he had found his firste mansion,

    He knew the remnant by proportion;

    And knew the rising of his moone well,

    And in whose face, and term, and every deal;

    And knew full well the moone’s mansion

    Accordant to his operation;

    And knew also his other observances,

    For such illusions and such meschances,

    As heathen folk used in thilke days.

    For which no longer made he delays;

    But through his magic, for a day or tway,

    It seemed all the rockes were away.

    Aurelius, which yet despaired is

    Whe’er he shall have his love, or fare amiss,

    Awaited night and day on this miracle:

    And when he knew that there was none obstacle,

    That voided were these rockes every one,

    Down at his master’s feet he fell anon,

    And said; “I, woeful wretch’d Aurelius,

    Thank you, my Lord, and lady mine Venus,

    That me have holpen from my cares cold.”

    And to the temple his way forth hath he hold,

    Where as he knew he should his lady see.

    And when he saw his time, anon right he

    With dreadful heart and with full humble cheer

    Saluteth hath his sovereign lady dear.

    “My rightful Lady,” quoth this woeful man,

    “Whom I most dread, and love as I best can,

    And lothest were of all this world displease,

    Were’t not that I for you have such disease,

    That I must die here at your foot anon,

    Nought would I tell how me is woebegone.

    But certes either must I die or plain;

    Ye slay me guilteless for very pain.

    But of my death though that ye have no ruth,

    Advise you, ere that ye break your truth:

    Repente you, for thilke God above,

    Ere ye me slay because that I you love.

    For, Madame, well ye wot what ye have hight;

    Not that I challenge anything of right

    Of you, my sovereign lady, but of grace:

    But in a garden yond’, in such a place,

    Ye wot right well what ye behighte me,

    And in mine hand your trothe plighted ye,

    To love me best; God wot ye saide so,

    Albeit that I unworthy am thereto;

    Madame, I speak it for th’ honour of you,

    More than to save my hearte’s life right now;

    I have done so as ye commanded me,

    And if ye vouchesafe, ye may go see.

    Do as you list, have your behest in mind,

    For, quick or dead, right there ye shall me find;

    In you hes all to do me live or dey;

    But well I wot the rockes be away.”

    He took his leave, and she astonish’d stood;

    In all her face was not one drop of blood:

    She never ween’d t’have come in such a trap.

    “Alas!” quoth she, “that ever this should hap!

    For ween’d I ne’er, by possibility,

    That such a monster or marvail might be;

    It is against the process of nature.”

    And home she went a sorrowful creature;

    For very fear unnethes may she go.

    She weeped, wailed, all a day or two,

    And swooned, that it ruthe was to see:

    But why it was, to no wight tolde she,

    For out of town was gone Arviragus.

    But to herself she spake, and saide thus,

    With face pale, and full sorrowful cheer,

    In her complaint, as ye shall after hear.

    “Alas!” quoth she, “on thee, Fortune, I plain,

    That unware hast me wrapped in thy chain,

    From which to scape, wot I no succour,

    Save only death, or elles dishonour;

    One of these two behoveth me to choose.

    But natheless, yet had I lever lose

    My life, than of my body have shame,

    Or know myselfe false, or lose my name;

    And with my death I may be quit y-wis.

    Hath there not many a noble wife, ere this,

    And many a maiden, slain herself, alas!

    Rather than with her body do trespass?

    Yes, certes; lo, these stories bear witness.

    When thirty tyrants full of cursedness

    Had slain Phidon in Athens at the feast,

    They commanded his daughters to arrest,

    And bringe them before them, in despite,

    All naked, to fulfil their foul delight;

    And in their father’s blood they made them dance

    Upon the pavement, — God give them mischance.

    For which these woeful maidens, full of dread,

    Rather than they would lose their maidenhead,

    They privily be start into a well,

    And drowned themselves, as the bookes tell.

    They of Messene let inquire and seek

    Of Lacedaemon fifty maidens eke,

    On which they woulde do their lechery:

    But there was none of all that company

    That was not slain, and with a glad intent

    Chose rather for to die, than to assent

    To be oppressed of her maidenhead.

    Why should I then to dien be in dread?

    Lo, eke the tyrant Aristoclides,

    That lov’d a maiden hight Stimphalides,

    When that her father slain was on a night,

    Unto Diana’s temple went she right,

    And hent the image in her handes two,

    From which image she woulde never go;

    No wight her handes might off it arace,

    Till she was slain right in the selfe place.

    Now since that maidens hadde such despite

    To be defouled with man’s foul delight,

    Well ought a wife rather herself to sle,

    Than be defouled, as it thinketh me.

    What shall I say of Hasdrubale’s wife,

    That at Carthage bereft herself of life?

    For, when she saw the Romans win the town,

    She took her children all, and skipt adown

    Into the fire, and rather chose to die,

    Than any Roman did her villainy.

    Hath not Lucretia slain herself, alas!

    At Rome, when that she oppressed was

    Of Tarquin? for her thought it was a shame

    To live, when she hadde lost her name.

    The seven maidens of Milesie also

    Have slain themselves for very dread and woe,

    Rather than folk of Gaul them should oppress.

    More than a thousand stories, as I guess,

    Could I now tell as touching this mattere.

    When Abradate was slain, his wife so dear

    Herselfe slew, and let her blood to glide

    In Abradate’s woundes, deep and wide,

    And said, ‘My body at the leaste way

    There shall no wight defoul, if that I may.’

    Why should I more examples hereof sayn?

    Since that so many have themselves slain,

    Well rather than they would defouled be,

    I will conclude that it is bet for me

    To slay myself, than be defouled thus.

    I will be true unto Arviragus,

    Or elles slay myself in some mannere,

    As did Demotione’s daughter dear,

    Because she woulde not defouled be.

    O Sedasus, it is full great pity

    To reade how thy daughters died, alas!

    That slew themselves for suche manner cas.

    As great a pity was it, or well more,

    The Theban maiden, that for Nicanor

    Herselfe slew, right for such manner woe.

    Another Theban maiden did right so;

    For one of Macedon had her oppress’d,

    She with her death her maidenhead redress’d.

    What shall I say of Niceratus’ wife,

    That for such case bereft herself her life?

    How true was eke to Alcibiades

    His love, that for to dien rather chese,

    Than for to suffer his body unburied be?

    Lo, what a wife was Alceste?” quoth she.

    “What saith Homer of good Penelope?

    All Greece knoweth of her chastity.

    Pardie, of Laedamia is written thus,

    That when at Troy was slain Protesilaus,

    No longer would she live after his day.

    The same of noble Porcia tell I may;

    Withoute Brutus coulde she not live,

    To whom she did all whole her hearte give.

    The perfect wifehood of Artemisie

    Honoured is throughout all Barbarie.

    O Teuta queen, thy wifely chastity

    To alle wives may a mirror be.”

    Thus plained Dorigen a day or tway,

    Purposing ever that she woulde dey; die

    But natheless upon the thirde night

    Home came Arviragus, the worthy knight,

    And asked her why that she wept so sore.

    And she gan weepen ever longer more.

    “Alas,” quoth she, “that ever I was born!

    Thus have I said,” quoth she; “thus have I sworn.”

    And told him all, as ye have heard before:

    It needeth not rehearse it you no more.

    This husband with glad cheer, in friendly wise,

    Answer’d and said, as I shall you devise.

    “Is there aught elles, Dorigen, but this?”

    “Nay, nay,” quoth she, “God help me so as wis,

    This is too much, an it were Godde’s will.”

    “Yea, wife,” quoth he, “let sleepe what is still,

    It may be well par’venture yet to-day.

    Ye shall your trothe holde, by my fay.

    For, God so wisly have mercy on me,

    I had well lever sticked for to be,

    For very love which I to you have,

    But if ye should your trothe keep and save.

    Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.”

    But with that word he burst anon to weep,

    And said; “I you forbid, on pain of death,

    That never, while you lasteth life or breath,

    To no wight tell ye this misaventure;

    As I may best, I will my woe endure,

    Nor make no countenance of heaviness,

    That folk of you may deeme harm, or guess.”

    And forth he call’d a squier and a maid.

    “Go forth anon with Dorigen,” he said,

    “And bringe her to such a place anon.”

    They take their leave, and on their way they gon:

    But they not wiste why she thither went;

    He would to no wight telle his intent.

    This squier, which that hight Aurelius,

    On Dorigen that was so amorous,

    Of aventure happen’d her to meet

    Amid the town, right in the quickest street,

    As she was bound to go the way forthright

    Toward the garden, there as she had hight.

    And he was to the garden-ward also;

    For well he spied when she woulde go

    Out of her house, to any manner place;

    But thus they met, of aventure or grace,

    And he saluted her with glad intent,

    And asked of her whitherward she went.

    And she answered, half as she were mad,

    “Unto the garden, as my husband bade,

    My trothe for to hold, alas! alas!”

    Aurelius gan to wonder on this case,

    And in his heart had great compassion

    Of her, and of her lamentation,

    And of Arviragus, the worthy knight,

    That bade her hold all that she hadde hight;

    So loth him was his wife should break her truth

    And in his heart he caught of it great ruth,

    Considering the best on every side,

    That from his lust yet were him lever abide,

    Than do so high a churlish wretchedness

    Against franchise, and alle gentleness;

    For which in fewe words he saide thus;

    “Madame, say to your lord Arviragus,

    That since I see the greate gentleness

    Of him, and eke I see well your distress,

    That him were lever have shame (and that were ruth)

    Than ye to me should breake thus your truth,

    I had well lever aye to suffer woe,

    Than to depart the love betwixt you two.

    I you release, Madame, into your hond,

    Quit ev’ry surement and ev’ry bond,

    That ye have made to me as herebeforn,

    Since thilke time that ye were born.

    Have here my truth, I shall you ne’er repreve

    Of no behest; and here I take my leave,

    As of the truest and the beste wife

    That ever yet I knew in all my life.

    But every wife beware of her behest;

    On Dorigen remember at the least.

    Thus can a squier do a gentle deed,

    As well as can a knight, withoute drede.”

    She thanked him upon her knees bare,

    And home unto her husband is she fare,

    And told him all, as ye have hearde said;

    And, truste me, he was so well apaid,

    That it were impossible me to write.

    Why should I longer of this case indite?

    Arviragus and Dorigen his wife

    In sov’reign blisse ledde forth their life;

    Ne’er after was there anger them between;

    He cherish’d her as though she were a queen,

    And she was to him true for evermore;

    Of these two folk ye get of me no more.

    Aurelius, that his cost had all forlorn,

    Cursed the time that ever he was born.

    “Alas!” quoth he, “alas that I behight

    Of pured gold a thousand pound of weight

    To this philosopher! how shall I do?

    I see no more, but that I am fordo.

    Mine heritage must I needes sell,

    And be a beggar; here I will not dwell,

    And shamen all my kindred in this place,

    But I of him may gette better grace.

    But natheless I will of him assay

    At certain dayes year by year to pay,

    And thank him of his greate courtesy.

    My trothe will I keep, I will not he.”

    With hearte sore he went unto his coffer,

    And broughte gold unto this philosopher,

    The value of five hundred pound, I guess,

    And him beseeched, of his gentleness,

    To grant him dayes of the remenant;

    And said; “Master, I dare well make avaunt,

    I failed never of my truth as yet.

    For sickerly my debte shall be quit

    Towardes you how so that e’er I fare

    To go a-begging in my kirtle bare:

    But would ye vouchesafe, upon surety,

    Two year, or three, for to respite me,

    Then were I well, for elles must I sell

    Mine heritage; there is no more to tell.”

    This philosopher soberly answer’d,

    And saide thus, when he these wordes heard;

    “Have I not holden covenant to thee?”

    “Yes, certes, well and truely,” quoth he.

    “Hast thou not had thy lady as thee liked?”

    “No, no,” quoth he, and sorrowfully siked.

    “What was the cause? tell me if thou can.”

    Aurelius his tale anon began,

    And told him all as ye have heard before,

    It needeth not to you rehearse it more.

    He said, “Arviragus of gentleness

    Had lever die in sorrow and distress,

    Than that his wife were of her trothe false.”

    The sorrow of Dorigen he told him als’,

    How loth her was to be a wicked wife,

    And that she lever had lost that day her life;

    And that her troth she swore through innocence;

    She ne’er erst had heard speak of apparence

    That made me have of her so great pity,

    And right as freely as he sent her to me,

    As freely sent I her to him again:

    This is all and some, there is no more to sayn.”

    The philosopher answer’d; “Leve brother,

    Evereach of you did gently to the other;

    Thou art a squier, and he is a knight,

    But God forbidde, for his blissful might,

    But if a clerk could do a gentle deed

    As well as any of you, it is no drede

    Sir, I release thee thy thousand pound,

    As thou right now were crept out of the ground,

    Nor ever ere now haddest knowen me.

    For, Sir, I will not take a penny of thee

    For all my craft, nor naught for my travail;

    Thou hast y-payed well for my vitaille;

    It is enough; and farewell, have good day.”

    And took his horse, and forth he went his way.

    Lordings, this question would I aske now,

    Which was the moste free, as thinketh you?

    Now telle me, ere that ye farther wend.

    I can no more, my tale is at an end.

    The Pardoner’s Tale


    OUR Hoste gan to swear as he were wood;

    “Harow!” quoth he, “by nailes and by blood,

    This was a cursed thief, a false justice.

    As shameful death as hearte can devise

    Come to these judges and their advoca’s.

    Algate this sely maid is slain, alas!

    Alas! too deare bought she her beauty.

    Wherefore I say, that all day man may see

    That giftes of fortune and of nature

    Be cause of death to many a creature.

    Her beauty was her death, I dare well sayn;

    Alas! so piteously as she was slain.

    Of bothe giftes, that I speak of now

    Men have full often more harm than prow,

    But truely, mine owen master dear,

    This was a piteous tale for to hear;

    But natheless, pass over; ’tis no force.

    I pray to God to save thy gentle corse,

    And eke thine urinals, and thy jordans,

    Thine Hippocras, and eke thy Galliens,

    And every boist full of thy lectuary,

    God bless them, and our lady Sainte Mary.

    So may I the’, thou art a proper man,

    And like a prelate, by Saint Ronian;

    Said I not well? Can I not speak in term?

    But well I wot thou dost mine heart to erme,

    That I have almost caught a cardiacle:

    By corpus Domini , but I have triacle,

    Or else a draught of moist and corny ale,

    Or but I hear anon a merry tale,

    Mine heart is brost for pity of this maid.

    Thou bel ami, thou Pardoner,” he said,

    “Tell us some mirth of japes right anon.”

    “It shall be done,” quoth he, “by Saint Ronion.

    But first,” quoth he, “here at this ale-stake

    I will both drink, and biten on a cake.”

    But right anon the gentles gan to cry,

    “Nay, let him tell us of no ribaldry.

    Tell us some moral thing, that we may lear

    Some wit, and thenne will we gladly hear.”

    “I grant y-wis,” quoth he; “but I must think

    Upon some honest thing while that I drink.”


    Lordings (quoth he), in churche when I preach,

    I paine me to have an hautein speech,

    And ring it out, as round as doth a bell,

    For I know all by rote that I tell.

    My theme is always one, and ever was;

    Radix malorum est cupiditas.

    First I pronounce whence that I come,

    And then my bulles shew I all and some;

    Our liege lorde’s seal on my patent,

    That shew I first, my body to warrent,

    That no man be so hardy, priest nor clerk,

    Me to disturb of Christe’s holy werk.

    And after that then tell I forth my tales.

    Bulles of popes, and of cardinales,

    Of patriarchs, and of bishops I shew,

    And in Latin I speak a wordes few,

    To savour with my predication,

    And for to stir men to devotion

    Then show I forth my longe crystal stones,

    Y-crammed fall of cloutes and of bones;

    Relics they be, as weene they each one.

    Then have I in latoun a shoulder-bone

    Which that was of a holy Jewe’s sheep.

    “Good men,” say I, “take of my wordes keep;

    If that this bone be wash’d in any well,

    If cow, or calf, or sheep, or oxe swell,

    That any worm hath eat, or worm y-stung,

    Take water of that well, and wash his tongue,

    And it is whole anon; and farthermore

    Of pockes, and of scab, and every sore

    Shall every sheep be whole, that of this well

    Drinketh a draught; take keep of that I tell.

    “If that the goodman, that the beastes oweth,

    Will every week, ere that the cock him croweth,

    Fasting, y-drinken of this well a draught,

    As thilke holy Jew our elders taught,

    His beastes and his store shall multiply.

    And, Sirs, also it healeth jealousy;

    For though a man be fall’n in jealous rage,

    Let make with this water his pottage,

    And never shall he more his wife mistrist,

    Though he the sooth of her defaulte wist;

    All had she taken priestes two or three.

    Here is a mittain eke, that ye may see;

    He that his hand will put in this mittain,

    He shall have multiplying of his grain,

    When he hath sowen, be it wheat or oats,

    So that he offer pence, or elles groats.

    And, men and women, one thing warn I you;

    If any wight be in this churche now

    That hath done sin horrible, so that he

    Dare not for shame of it y-shriven be;

    Or any woman, be she young or old,

    That hath y-made her husband cokewold,

    Such folk shall have no power nor no grace

    To offer to my relics in this place.

    And whoso findeth him out of such blame,

    He will come up and offer in God’s name;

    And I assoil him by the authority

    Which that by bull y-granted was to me.”

    By this gaud have I wonne year by year

    A hundred marks, since I was pardonere.

    I stande like a clerk in my pulpit,

    And when the lewed people down is set,

    I preache so as ye have heard before,

    And telle them a hundred japes more.

    Then pain I me to stretche forth my neck,

    And east and west upon the people I beck,

    As doth a dove, sitting on a bern;

    My handes and my tongue go so yern,

    That it is joy to see my business.

    Of avarice and of such cursedness

    Is all my preaching, for to make them free

    To give their pence, and namely unto me.

    For mine intent is not but for to win,

    And nothing for correction of sin.

    I recke never, when that they be buried,

    Though that their soules go a blackburied.

    For certes many a predication

    Cometh oft-time of evil intention;

    Some for pleasance of folk, and flattery,

    To be advanced by hypocrisy;

    And some for vainglory, and some for hate.

    For, when I dare not otherwise debate,

    Then will I sting him with my tongue smart

    In preaching, so that he shall not astart

    To be defamed falsely, if that he

    Hath trespass’d to my brethren or to me.

    For, though I telle not his proper name,

    Men shall well knowe that it is the same

    By signes, and by other circumstances.

    Thus quite I folk that do us displeasances:

    Thus spit I out my venom, under hue

    Of holiness, to seem holy and true.

    But, shortly mine intent I will devise,

    I preach of nothing but of covetise.

    Therefore my theme is yet, and ever was, —

    Radix malorum est cupiditas.

    Thus can I preach against the same vice

    Which that I use, and that is avarice.

    But though myself be guilty in that sin,

    Yet can I maken other folk to twin

    From avarice, and sore them repent.

    But that is not my principal intent;

    I preache nothing but for covetise.

    Of this mattere it ought enough suffice.

    Then tell I them examples many a one,

    Of olde stories longe time gone;

    For lewed people love tales old;

    Such thinges can they well report and hold.

    What? trowe ye, that whiles I may preach

    And winne gold and silver for I teach,

    That I will live in povert’ wilfully?

    Nay, nay, I thought it never truely.

    For I will preach and beg in sundry lands;

    I will not do no labour with mine hands,

    Nor make baskets for to live thereby,

    Because I will not beggen idlely.

    I will none of the apostles counterfeit;

    I will have money, wool, and cheese, and wheat,

    All were it given of the poorest page,

    Or of the pooreste widow in a village:

    All should her children sterve for famine.

    Nay, I will drink the liquor of the vine,

    And have a jolly wench in every town.

    But hearken, lordings, in conclusioun;

    Your liking is, that I shall tell a tale

    Now I have drunk a draught of corny ale,

    By God, I hope I shall you tell a thing

    That shall by reason be to your liking;

    For though myself be a full vicious man,

    A moral tale yet I you telle can,

    Which I am wont to preache, for to win.

    Now hold your peace, my tale I will begin.

    In Flanders whilom was a company

    Of younge folkes, that haunted folly,

    As riot, hazard, stewes, and taverns;

    Where as with lutes, harpes, and giterns,

    They dance and play at dice both day and night,

    And eat also, and drink over their might;

    Through which they do the devil sacrifice

    Within the devil’s temple, in cursed wise,

    By superfluity abominable.

    Their oathes be so great and so damnable,

    That it is grisly for to hear them swear.

    Our blissful Lorde’s body they to-tear;

    Them thought the Jewes rent him not enough,

    And each of them at other’s sinne lough.

    And right anon in come tombesteres

    Fetis and small, and younge fruitesteres.

    Singers with harpes, baudes, waferers,

    Which be the very devil’s officers,

    To kindle and blow the fire of lechery,

    That is annexed unto gluttony.

    The Holy Writ take I to my witness,

    That luxury is in wine and drunkenness.

    Lo, how that drunken Lot unkindely

    Lay by his daughters two unwittingly,

    So drunk he was he knew not what he wrought.

    Herodes, who so well the stories sought,

    When he of wine replete was at his feast,

    Right at his owen table gave his hest

    To slay the Baptist John full guilteless.

    Seneca saith a good word, doubteless:

    He saith he can no difference find

    Betwixt a man that is out of his mind,

    And a man whiche that is drunkelew:

    But that woodness, y-fallen in a shrew,

    Persevereth longer than drunkenness.

    O gluttony, full of all cursedness;

    O cause first of our confusion,

    Original of our damnation,

    Till Christ had bought us with his blood again!

    Looke, how deare, shortly for to sayn,

    Abought was first this cursed villainy:

    Corrupt was all this world for gluttony.

    Adam our father, and his wife also,

    From Paradise, to labour and to woe,

    Were driven for that vice, it is no dread.

    For while that Adam fasted, as I read,

    He was in Paradise; and when that he

    Ate of the fruit defended of the tree,

    Anon he was cast out to woe and pain.

    O gluttony! well ought us on thee plain.

    Oh! wist a man how many maladies

    Follow of excess and of gluttonies,

    He woulde be the more measurable

    Of his diete, sitting at his table.

    Alas! the shorte throat, the tender mouth,

    Maketh that east and west, and north and south,

    In earth, in air, in water, men do swink

    To get a glutton dainty meat and drink.

    Of this mattere, O Paul! well canst thou treat

    Meat unto womb, and womb eke unto meat,

    Shall God destroye both, as Paulus saith.

    Alas! a foul thing is it, by my faith,

    To say this word, and fouler is the deed,

    When man so drinketh of the white and red,

    That of his throat he maketh his privy

    Through thilke cursed superfluity

    The apostle saith, weeping full piteously,

    There walk many, of which you told have I, —

    I say it now weeping with piteous voice, —

    That they be enemies of Christe’s crois;

    Of which the end is death; womb is their God.

    O womb, O belly, stinking is thy cod,

    Full fill’d of dung and of corruptioun;

    At either end of thee foul is the soun.

    How great labour and cost is thee to find!

    These cookes how they stamp, and strain, and grind,

    And turne substance into accident,

    To fulfill all thy likerous talent!

    Out of the harde bones knocke they

    The marrow, for they caste naught away

    That may go through the gullet soft and swoot

    Of spicery and leaves, of bark and root,

    Shall be his sauce y-maked by delight,

    To make him have a newer appetite.

    But, certes, he that haunteth such delices

    Is dead while that he liveth in those vices.

    A lecherous thing is wine, and drunkenness

    Is full of striving and of wretchedness.

    O drunken man! disfgur’d is thy face,

    Sour is thy breath, foul art thou to embrace:

    And through thy drunken nose sowneth the soun’,

    As though thous saidest aye, Samsoun! Samsoun!

    And yet, God wot, Samson drank never wine.

    Thou fallest as it were a sticked swine;

    Thy tongue is lost, and all thine honest cure;

    For drunkenness is very sepulture

    Of manne’s wit and his discretion.

    In whom that drink hath domination,

    He can no counsel keep, it is no dread.

    Now keep you from the white and from the red,

    And namely from the white wine of Lepe,

    That is to sell in Fish Street and in Cheap.

    This wine of Spaine creepeth subtilly —

    In other wines growing faste by,

    Of which there riseth such fumosity,

    That when a man hath drunken draughtes three,

    And weeneth that he be at home in Cheap,

    He is in Spain, right at the town of Lepe,

    Not at the Rochelle, nor at Bourdeaux town;

    And thenne will he say, Samsoun! Samsoun!

    But hearken, lordings, one word, I you pray,

    That all the sovreign actes, dare I say,

    Of victories in the Old Testament,

    Through very God that is omnipotent,

    Were done in abstinence and in prayere:

    Look in the Bible, and there ye may it lear.

    Look, Attila, the greate conqueror,

    Died in his sleep, with shame and dishonour,

    Bleeding aye at his nose in drunkenness:

    A captain should aye live in soberness

    And o’er all this, advise you right well

    What was commanded unto Lemuel;

    Not Samuel, but Lemuel, say I.

    Reade the Bible, and find it expressly

    Of wine giving to them that have justice.

    No more of this, for it may well suffice.

    And, now that I have spoke of gluttony,

    Now will I you defende hazardry.

    Hazard is very mother of leasings,

    And of deceit, and cursed forswearings:

    Blasphem’ of Christ, manslaughter, and waste also

    Of chattel and of time; and furthermo’

    It is repreve, and contrar’ of honour,

    For to be held a common hazardour.

    And ever the higher he is of estate,

    The more he is holden desolate.

    If that a prince use hazardry,

    In alle governance and policy

    He is, as by common opinion,

    Y-hold the less in reputation.

    Chilon, that was a wise ambassador,

    Was sent to Corinth with full great honor

    From Lacedemon, to make alliance;

    And when he came, it happen’d him, by chance,

    That all the greatest that were of that land,

    Y-playing atte hazard he them fand.

    For which, as soon as that it mighte be,

    He stole him home again to his country

    And saide there, “I will not lose my name,

    Nor will I take on me so great diffame,

    You to ally unto no hazardors.

    Sende some other wise ambassadors,

    For, by my troth, me were lever die,

    Than I should you to hazardors ally.

    For ye, that be so glorious in honours,

    Shall not ally you to no hazardours,

    As by my will, nor as by my treaty.”

    This wise philosopher thus said he.

    Look eke how to the King Demetrius

    The King of Parthes, as the book saith us,

    Sent him a pair of dice of gold in scorn,

    For he had used hazard therebeforn:

    For which he held his glory and renown

    At no value or reputatioun.

    Lordes may finden other manner play

    Honest enough to drive the day away.

    Now will I speak of oathes false and great

    A word or two, as olde bookes treat.

    Great swearing is a thing abominable,

    And false swearing is more reprovable.

    The highe God forbade swearing at all;

    Witness on Matthew: but in special

    Of swearing saith the holy Jeremie,

    Thou thalt swear sooth thine oathes, and not lie:

    And swear in doom and eke in righteousness;

    But idle swearing is a cursedness.

    Behold and see, there in the firste table

    Of highe Godde’s hestes honourable,

    How that the second best of him is this,

    Take not my name in idle or amiss.

    Lo, rather he forbiddeth such swearing,

    Than homicide, or many a cursed thing;

    I say that as by order thus it standeth;

    This knoweth he that his hests understandeth,

    How that the second hest of God is that.

    And farthermore, I will thee tell all plat,

    That vengeance shall not parte from his house,

    That of his oathes is outrageous.

    “By Godde’s precious heart, and by his nails,

    And by the blood of Christ, that is in Hailes,

    Seven is my chance, and thine is cinque and trey:

    By Godde’s armes, if thou falsely play,

    This dagger shall throughout thine hearte go.”

    This fruit comes of the bicched bones two,

    Forswearing, ire, falseness, and homicide.

    Now, for the love of Christ that for us died,

    Leave your oathes, bothe great and smale.

    But, Sirs, now will I ell you forth my tale.

    These riotoures three, of which I tell,

    Long erst than prime rang of any bell,

    Were set them in a tavern for to drink;

    And as they sat, they heard a belle clink

    Before a corpse, was carried to the grave.

    That one of them gan calle to his knave,

    “Go bet,” quoth he, “and aske readily

    What corpse is this, that passeth here forth by;

    And look that thou report his name well.”

    “Sir,” quoth the boy, “it needeth never a deal;

    It was me told ere ye came here two hours;

    He was, pardie, an old fellow of yours,

    And suddenly he was y-slain to-night;

    Fordrunk as he sat on his bench upright,

    There came a privy thief, men clepe Death,

    That in this country all the people slay’th,

    And with his spear he smote his heart in two,

    And went his way withoute wordes mo’.

    He hath a thousand slain this pestilence;

    And, master, ere you come in his presence,

    Me thinketh that it were full necessary

    For to beware of such an adversary;

    Be ready for to meet him evermore.

    Thus taughte me my dame; I say no more.”

    “By Sainte Mary,” said the tavernere,

    “The child saith sooth, for he hath slain this year,

    Hence ov’r a mile, within a great village,

    Both man and woman, child, and hind, and page;

    I trow his habitation be there;

    To be advised great wisdom it were,

    Ere that he did a man a dishonour.”

    “Yea, Godde’s armes,” quoth this riotour,

    “Is it such peril with him for to meet?

    I shall him seek, by stile and eke by street.

    I make a vow, by Godde’s digne bones.”

    Hearken, fellows, we three be alle ones:

    Let each of us hold up his hand to other,

    And each of us become the other’s brother,

    And we will slay this false traitor Death;

    He shall be slain, he that so many slay’th,

    By Godde’s dignity, ere it be night.”

    Together have these three their trothe plight

    To live and die each one of them for other

    As though he were his owen sworen brother.

    And up they start, all drunken, in this rage,

    And forth they go towardes that village

    Of which the taverner had spoke beforn,

    And many a grisly oathe have they sworn,

    And Christe’s blessed body they to-rent;

    “Death shall be dead, if that we may him hent.”

    When they had gone not fully half a mile,

    Right as they would have trodden o’er a stile,

    An old man and a poore with them met.

    This olde man full meekely them gret,

    And saide thus; “Now, lordes, God you see!”

    The proudest of these riotoures three

    Answer’d again; “What? churl, with sorry grace,

    Why art thou all forwrapped save thy face?

    Why livest thou so long in so great age?”

    This olde man gan look on his visage,

    And saide thus; “For that I cannot find

    A man, though that I walked unto Ind,

    Neither in city, nor in no village,

    That woulde change his youthe for mine age;

    And therefore must I have mine age still

    As longe time as it is Godde’s will.

    And Death, alas! he will not have my life.

    Thus walk I like a resteless caitife,

    And on the ground, which is my mother’s gate,

    I knocke with my staff, early and late,

    And say to her, ‘Leve mother, let me in.

    Lo, how I wane, flesh, and blood, and skin;

    Alas! when shall my bones be at rest?

    Mother, with you I woulde change my chest,

    That in my chamber longe time hath be,

    Yea, for an hairy clout to wrap in me.’

    But yet to me she will not do that grace,

    For which fall pale and welked is my face.

    But, Sirs, to you it is no courtesy

    To speak unto an old man villainy,

    But he trespass in word or else in deed.

    In Holy Writ ye may yourselves read;

    ‘Against an old man, hoar upon his head,

    Ye should arise:’ therefore I you rede,

    Ne do unto an old man no harm now,

    No more than ye would a man did you

    In age, if that ye may so long abide.

    And God be with you, whether ye go or ride

    I must go thither as I have to go.”

    “Nay, olde churl, by God thou shalt not so,”

    Saide this other hazardor anon;

    “Thou partest not so lightly, by Saint John.

    Thou spakest right now of that traitor Death,

    That in this country all our friendes slay’th;

    Have here my troth, as thou art his espy;

    Tell where he is, or thou shalt it abie,

    By God and by the holy sacrament;

    For soothly thou art one of his assent

    To slay us younge folk, thou false thief.”

    “Now, Sirs,” quoth he, “if it be you so lief

    To finde Death, turn up this crooked way,

    For in that grove I left him, by my fay,

    Under a tree, and there he will abide;

    Nor for your boast he will him nothing hide.

    See ye that oak? right there ye shall him find.

    God save you, that bought again mankind,

    And you amend!” Thus said this olde man;

    And evereach of these riotoures ran,

    Till they came to the tree, and there they found

    Of florins fine, of gold y-coined round,

    Well nigh a seven bushels, as them thought.

    No longer as then after Death they sought;

    But each of them so glad was of the sight,

    For that the florins were so fair and bright,

    That down they sat them by the precious hoard.

    The youngest of them spake the firste word:

    “Brethren,” quoth he, “take keep what I shall say;

    My wit is great, though that I bourde and play

    This treasure hath Fortune unto us given

    In mirth and jollity our life to liven;

    And lightly as it comes, so will we spend.

    Hey! Godde’s precious dignity! who wend

    Today that we should have so fair a grace?

    But might this gold he carried from this place

    Home to my house, or elles unto yours

    (For well I wot that all this gold is ours),

    Then were we in high felicity.

    But truely by day it may not be;

    Men woulde say that we were thieves strong,

    And for our owen treasure do us hong.

    This treasure muste carried be by night,

    As wisely and as slily as it might.

    Wherefore I rede, that cut among us all

    We draw, and let see where the cut will fall:

    And he that hath the cut, with hearte blithe

    Shall run unto the town, and that full swithe,

    And bring us bread and wine full privily:

    And two of us shall keepe subtilly

    This treasure well: and if he will not tarry,

    When it is night, we will this treasure carry,

    By one assent, where as us thinketh best.”

    Then one of them the cut brought in his fist,

    And bade them draw, and look where it would fall;

    And it fell on the youngest of them all;

    And forth toward the town he went anon.

    And all so soon as that he was y-gone,

    The one of them spake thus unto the other;

    “Thou knowest well that thou art my sworn brother,

    Thy profit will I tell thee right anon.

    Thou knowest well that our fellow is gone,

    And here is gold, and that full great plenty,

    That shall departed he among us three.

    But natheless, if I could shape it so

    That it departed were among us two,

    Had I not done a friende’s turn to thee?”

    Th’ other answer’d, “I n’ot how that may be;

    He knows well that the gold is with us tway.

    What shall we do? what shall we to him say?”

    “Shall it be counsel?” said the firste shrew;

    “And I shall tell to thee in wordes few

    What we shall do, and bring it well about.”

    “I grante,” quoth the other, “out of doubt,

    That by my truth I will thee not bewray.”

    “Now,” quoth the first, “thou know’st well we be tway,

    And two of us shall stronger be than one.

    Look; when that he is set, thou right anon

    Arise, as though thou wouldest with him play;

    And I shall rive him through the sides tway,

    While that thou strugglest with him as in game;

    And with thy dagger look thou do the same.

    And then shall all this gold departed be,

    My deare friend, betwixte thee and me:

    Then may we both our lustes all fulfil,

    And play at dice right at our owen will.”

    And thus accorded be these shrewes tway

    To slay the third, as ye have heard me say.

    The youngest, which that wente to the town,

    Full oft in heart he rolled up and down

    The beauty of these florins new and bright.

    “O Lord!” quoth he, “if so were that I might

    Have all this treasure to myself alone,

    There is no man that lives under the throne

    Of God, that shoulde have so merry as I.”

    And at the last the fiend our enemy

    Put in his thought, that he should poison buy,

    With which he mighte slay his fellows twy.

    For why, the fiend found him in such living,

    That he had leave to sorrow him to bring.

    For this was utterly his full intent

    To slay them both, and never to repent.

    And forth he went, no longer would he tarry,

    Into the town to an apothecary,

    And prayed him that he him woulde sell

    Some poison, that he might his rattes quell,

    And eke there was a polecat in his haw,

    That, as he said, his eapons had y-slaw:

    And fain he would him wreak, if that he might,

    Of vermin that destroyed him by night.

    Th’apothecary answer’d, “Thou shalt have

    A thing, as wisly God my soule save,

    In all this world there is no creature

    That eat or drank hath of this confecture,

    Not but the mountance of a corn of wheat,

    That he shall not his life anon forlete;

    Yea, sterve he shall, and that in lesse while

    Than thou wilt go apace nought but a mile:

    This poison is so strong and violent.”

    This cursed man hath in his hand y-hent

    This poison in a box, and swift he ran

    Into the nexte street, unto a man,

    And borrow’d of him large bottles three;

    And in the two the poison poured he;

    The third he kepte clean for his own drink,

    For all the night he shope him for to swink

    In carrying off the gold out of that place.

    And when this riotour, with sorry grace,

    Had fill’d with wine his greate bottles three,

    To his fellows again repaired he.

    What needeth it thereof to sermon more?

    For, right as they had cast his death before,

    Right so they have him slain, and that anon.

    And when that this was done, thus spake the one;

    “Now let us sit and drink, and make us merry,

    And afterward we will his body bury.”

    And with that word it happen’d him par cas

    To take the bottle where the poison was,

    And drank, and gave his fellow drink also,

    For which anon they sterved both the two.

    But certes I suppose that Avicen

    Wrote never in no canon, nor no fen,

    More wondrous signes of empoisoning,

    Than had these wretches two ere their ending.

    Thus ended be these homicides two,

    And eke the false empoisoner also.

    O cursed sin, full of all cursedness!

    O trait’rous homicide! O wickedness!

    O glutt’ny, luxury, and hazardry!

    Thou blasphemer of Christ with villany,

    And oathes great, of usage and of pride!

    Alas! mankinde, how may it betide,

    That to thy Creator, which that thee wrought,

    And with his precious hearte-blood thee bought,

    Thou art so false and so unkind, alas!

    Now, good men, God forgive you your trespass,

    And ware you from the sin of avarice.

    Mine holy pardon may you all warice,

    So that ye offer nobles or sterlings,

    Or elles silver brooches, spoons, or rings.

    Bowe your head under this holy bull.

    Come up, ye wives, and offer of your will;

    Your names I enter in my roll anon;

    Into the bliss of heaven shall ye gon;

    I you assoil by mine high powere,

    You that will offer, as clean and eke as clear

    As ye were born. Lo, Sires, thus I preach;

    And Jesus Christ, that is our soules’ leech,

    So grante you his pardon to receive;

    For that is best, I will not deceive.

    But, Sirs, one word forgot I in my tale;

    I have relics and pardon in my mail,

    As fair as any man in Engleland,

    Which were me given by the Pope’s hand.

    If any of you will of devotion

    Offer, and have mine absolution,

    Come forth anon, and kneele here adown

    And meekely receive my pardoun.

    Or elles take pardon, as ye wend,

    All new and fresh at every towne’s end,

    So that ye offer, always new and new,

    Nobles or pence which that be good and true.

    ’Tis an honour to evereach that is here,

    That ye have a suffisant pardonere

    T’assoile you in country as ye ride,

    For aventures which that may betide.

    Paraventure there may fall one or two

    Down of his horse, and break his neck in two.

    Look, what a surety is it to you all,

    That I am in your fellowship y-fall,

    That may assoil you bothe more and lass,

    When that the soul shall from the body pass.

    I rede that our Hoste shall begin,

    For he is most enveloped in sin.

    Come forth, Sir Host, and offer first anon,

    And thou shalt kiss; the relics every one,

    Yea, for a groat; unbuckle anon thy purse.

    “Nay, nay,” quoth he, “then have I Christe’s curse!

    Let be,” quoth he, “it shall not be, so the’ch.

    Thou wouldest make me kiss thine olde breech,

    And swear it were a relic of a saint,

    Though it were with thy fundament depaint’.

    But, by the cross which that Saint Helen fand,

    I would I had thy coilons in mine hand,

    Instead of relics, or of sanctuary.

    Let cut them off, I will thee help them carry;

    They shall be shrined in a hogge’s turd.”

    The Pardoner answered not one word;

    So wroth he was, no worde would he say.

    “Now,” quoth our Host, “I will no longer play

    With thee, nor with none other angry man.”

    But right anon the worthy Knight began

    (When that he saw that all the people lough),

    “No more of this, for it is right enough.

    Sir Pardoner, be merry and glad of cheer;

    And ye, Sir Host, that be to me so dear,

    I pray you that ye kiss the Pardoner;

    And, Pardoner, I pray thee draw thee ner,

    And as we didde, let us laugh and play.”

    Anon they kiss’d, and rode forth their way.

    Prayer of Chaucer

    Now pray I to you all that hear this little treatise or read it, that if there be anything in it that likes them, that thereof they thank our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom proceedeth all wit and all goodness; and if there be anything that displeaseth them, I pray them also that they arette [impute] it to the default of mine unconning [unskilfulness], and not to my will, that would fain have said better if I had had conning; for the book saith, all that is written for our doctrine is written. Wherefore I beseech you meekly for the mercy of God that ye pray for me, that God have mercy on me and forgive me my guilts, and namely [specially] my translations and of inditing in worldly vanities, which I revoke in my Retractions, as is the Book of Troilus, the Book also of Fame, the Book of Twenty-five Ladies, the Book of the Duchess, the Book of Saint Valentine’s Day and of the Parliament of Birds, the Tales of Canterbury, all those that sounen unto sin [are sinful, tend towards sin], the Book of the Lion, and many other books, if they were in my mind or remembrance, and many a song and many a lecherous lay, of the which Christ for his great mercy forgive me the sins. But of the translation of Boece de Consolatione, and other books of consolation and of legend of lives of saints, and homilies, and moralities, and devotion, that thank I our Lord Jesus Christ, and his mother, and all the saints in heaven, beseeching them that they from henceforth unto my life’s end send me grace to bewail my guilts, and to study to the salvation of my soul, and grant me grace and space of very repentance, penitence, confession, and satisfaction, to do in this present life, through the benign grace of Him that is King of kings and Priest of all priests, that bought us with his precious blood of his heart, so that I may be one of them at the day of doom that shall be saved: Qui cum Patre et Spiritu Sancto vivis et regnas Deus per omnia secula. Amen.

    1.13.4 Reading and Review Questions

    1. In Parlement of Fowles, how does Chaucer address courtly love? What do you think about the resolution of the story (in particular, Nature’s judgment)?

    2. In both Parlement of Fowles and the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, how does Chaucer present the various social classes? What kind of commentary does he appear to be offering about social class?

    3. In the Canterbury Tales, how does the frame (the General Prologue, the pilgrims’ self-descriptions and commentary between tales) affect the way that we read the individual tales?

    4. In the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the narrator withholds direct judgment of the other pilgrims, but gives the reader enough evidence to make their own judgments. How would you rank the pilgrims on a scale from Good to Evil? Be sure to use categories that allow for a range of answers (such as Ok, Neutral, or even Iffy—be inventive).

    5. Chaucer uses humor very deliberately: not just to entertain, but also as a form of commentary. What are some examples of humor being used to comment on an issue, a behavior, or a character?

    This page titled 1.17: Geoffrey Chaucer is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Bonnie J. Robinson & Laura Getty (University of North Georgia Press) .

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