The Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
F.N. Robinson

The Wife of Bath's Prologue

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