The Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
F.N. Robinson

The Wife of Bath's Tale

In th' olde dayes of the kyng arthour,
     857
Of which that britons speken greet honour,
     858
Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
     859
The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
     860
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
     861
This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
     862
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
     863
But now kan no man se none elves mo,
     864
For now the grete charitee and prayers
     865
Of lymytours and othere hooly freres,
     866
That serchen every lond and every streem,
     867
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
     868
Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
     869
Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
     870
Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes --
     871
This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes.
     872
For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
     873
Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself
     874
In undermeles and in morwenynges,
     875
And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges
     876
As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
     877
Wommen may go now saufly up and doun.
     878
In every bussh or under every tree
     879
Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
     880
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
     881
And so bifel it that this kyng arthour
     882
Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,
     883
That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver; Page  85
     884
And happed that, allone as he was born,
     885
He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
     886
Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
     887
By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;
     888
For which oppressioun was swich clamour
     889
And swich pursute unto the kyng arthour,
     890
That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
     891
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed --
     892
Paraventure swich was the statut tho --
     893
But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
     894
So longe preyeden the kyng of grace,
     895
Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
     896
And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille,
     897
To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
     898
The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
     899
And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
     900
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day:
     901
Thou standest yet, quod she, in swich array
     902
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
     903
I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
     904
What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren.
     905
Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren!
     906
And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon,
     907
Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
     908
A twelf-month and a day, to seche and leere
     909
An answere suffisant in this mateere;
     910
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
     911
Thy body for to yelden in this place.
     912
Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
     913
But what! he may nat do al as hym liketh.
     914
And at the laste he chees hym for to wende,
     915
And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
     916
With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye;
     917
And taketh his leve, and wendeth froth his weye.
     918
He seketh every hous and and every place
     919
Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace,
     920
To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost;
     921
But he ne koude arryven in no coost
     922
Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere
     923
Two creatures accordynge in-feere.
     924
Somme seyde wommen loven best richesse,
     925
Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse,
     926
Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde,
     927
And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde.
     928
Somme seyde that oure hertes been moost esed
     929
Whan that we ben yflatered and yplesed.
     930
He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye.
     931
A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
     932
And with attendance, and with bisynesse,
     933
Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
     934
And somme seyen that we loven best
     935
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
     936
And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
     937
But seye that we be wise, and no thyng nyce.
     938
For trewely ther is noon of us alle,
     939
If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
     940
That we nel kike, for he seith us sooth.
     941
Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth;
     942
For, be we never so vicious withinne,
     943
We wol been holden wise and clene of synne.
     944
And somme seyn that greet delit han we
     945
For to been holden stable, and eek secree,
     946
And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
     947
And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle.
     948
But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele.
     949
Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele;
     950
Witnesse on myda, -- wol ye heere the tale?
     951
Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
     952
Seyde myda hadde, under his longe heres,
     953
Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
     954
The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte,
     955
Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
     956
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
     957
He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
     958
He preyede hire that to no creature
     959
She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
     960
She swoor him, nay, for al this world to wynne,
     961
She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
     962
To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
     963
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
     964
But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,
     965
That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
     966
Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
     967
That nedely som word hire moste asterte;
     968
And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
     969
Doun to a mareys faste by she ran
     970
Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre --
     971
And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
     972
She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
     973
Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,
     974
Quod she; -- to thee I telle it and namo;
     975
Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
     976
Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
     977
I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.
     978
Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
     979
Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.
     980
The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
     981
Redeth ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
     982
This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
     983
Than that he saugh he myghte nat come therby, Page  86
     984
This is to seye, what wommen love moost,
     985
Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
     986
But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne;
     987
The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
     988
And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
     989
In al this care, under a forest syde,
     990
Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
     991
Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
     992
Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
     993
In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
     994
But certeinly, er he cam fully there,
     995
Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
     996
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
     997
Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf --
     998
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
     999
Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
     1000
And seyde, sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
     1001
Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey!
     1002
Paraventure it may the bettre be;
     1003
Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng, quod she.
     1004
My leeve mooder, quod this knyght, certeyn
     1005
I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn
     1006
What thyng it is that wommen moost desire.
     1007
Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire.
     1008
Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand, quod she,
     1009
The nexte thyng that I requere thee,
     1010
Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght,
     1011
And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght.
     1012
Have heer my trouthe, quod the knyght, I grante.
     1013
Thanne, quod she, I dar me wel avante
     1014
Thy lyf is sauf; for I wol stonde therby,
     1015
Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I.
     1016
Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle,
     1017
That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,
     1018
That day seye nay of that I shal thee teche.
     1019
Lat us go forth, withouten lenger speche.
     1020
Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
     1021
And bad hym to be glad, and have no fere.
     1022
Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
     1023
Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,
     1024
And redy was his answere, as he sayde.
     1025
Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
     1026
And many a wydwe, for that they been wise,
     1027
The queene hirself sittynge as a justise,
     1028
Assembled been, his answere for to heere;
     1029
And afterward this knyght was bode appeere.
     1030
To every wight comanded was silence,
     1031
And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
     1032
What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
     1033
This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
     1034
But to his questioun anon answerde
     1035
With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
     1036
My lige lady, generally, quod he,
     1037
Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
     1038
As wel over his housbond as hir love,
     1039
And for to been in maistrie hym above.
     1040
This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
     1041
Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille.
     1042
In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
     1043
Ne wydwe, that contraried that he sayde,
     1044
But seyden he was worthy han his lyf.
     1045
And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,
     1046
Which that the knyght saugh sittynge on the grene:
     1047
Mercy, quod she, my sovereyn lady queene!
     1048
Er that youre court departe, do me right.
     1049
I taughte this answere unto the knyght;
     1050
For which he plighte me his trouthe there,
     1051
The firste thyng that I wolde hym requere,
     1052
He wolde it do, if it lay in his myghte.
     1053
Bifore the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght,
     1054
Quod she, that thou me take unto thy wyf;
     1055
For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf.
     1056
If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey!
     1057
This knyght answerde, allas! and weylawey!
     1058
I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.
     1059
For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste!
     1060
Taak al my good, and lat my body go.
     1061
Nay, thanne, quod she, I shrewe us bothe two!
     1062
For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore,
     1063
I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore,
     1064
That under erthe is grave, or lith above,
     1065
But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.
     1066
My love? quod he, nay, my dampnacioun!
     1067
Allas! that any of my nacioun
     1068
Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!
     1069
But al for noght; the ende is this, that he
     1070
Constreyned was, he nedes moste hire wedde;
     1071
And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.
     1072
Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,
     1073
That for my necligence I do no cure
     1074
To tellen yow the joye and al th' array
     1075
That at the feeste was that ilke day.
     1076
To which thyng shortly answeren I shal:
     1077
I seye ther nas no joye ne feeste at al;
     1078
Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe. Page  87
     1079
For prively he wedded hire on the morwe,
     1080
And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
     1081
So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
     1082
Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght,
     1083
Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght;
     1084
He walweth and he turneth to and fro.
     1085
His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo,
     1086
And seyde, o deere housbonde, benedicitee!
     1087
Fareth every knyght thys with his wyf as ye?
     1088
Is this the lawe of kyng arthures hous?
     1089
Is every knyght of his so dangerous?
     1090
I am youre owene love and eek youre wyf;
     1091
I am she which that saved hath youre lyf,
     1092
And, certes, yet ne dide I yow nevere unright;
     1093
Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght?
     1094
Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit.
     1095
What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it,
     1096
And it shal been amende, if I may.
     1097
Amended? quod this knyght, allas! nay, nay!
     1098
It wol nat been amended nevere mo.
     1099
Thou art so loothly, and so oold also,
     1100
And therto comen of so lough a kynde,
     1101
That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde.
     1102
So wolde God myn herte wolde breste!
     1103
Is this, quod she, the cause of youre unreste?
     1104
Ye, certeinly, quod he, no wonder is.
     1105
Now, sire, quod she, I koude amende al this,
     1106
If that me liste, er it were dayes thre,
     1107
So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me.
     1108
But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse
     1109
As is descended out of old richesse,
     1110
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
     1111
Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
     1112
Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
     1113
Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
     1114
To do the gentil dedes that he kan;
     1115
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
     1116
Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
     1117
Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
     1118
For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
     1119
For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
     1120
Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng,
     1121
To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
     1122
That made hem gentil men ycalled be,
     1123
And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.
     1124
Wel kan the wise poete of florence,
     1125
That highte dant, speken in this sentence.
     1126
Lo, in swich maner rym is dantes tale:
     1127
-- Ful selde up riseth by his brances smale
     1128
Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse,
     1129
Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse; --
     1130
For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
     1131
But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
     1132
Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
     1133
If gentillesse were planted natureelly
     1134
Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
     1135
Pryvee and apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne
     1136
To doon of gentillesse the faire office;
     1137
They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
     1138
Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
     1139
Bitwix this and the mount of kaukasous,
     1140
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
     1141
Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
     1142
As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
     1143
His office natureel ay wol it holde,
     1144
Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
     1145
Heere may ye se wel how that genterye
     1146
Is nat annexed to possessioun,
     1147
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
     1148
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
     1149
For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde
     1150
A lordes sone do shame and vileynye;
     1151
And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
     1152
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
     1153
And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous,
     1154
And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis,
     1155
Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
     1156
He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl;
     1157
For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
     1158
For gentillesse nys but renomee
     1159
Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee,
     1160
Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
     1161
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
     1162
Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace;
     1163
It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
     1164
Thenketh how noble, as seith valerius,
     1165
Was thilke tullius hostillius,
     1166
That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
     1167
Reedeth senek, and redeth eek boece;
     1168
Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is
     1169
That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
     1170
And therfore, leeve housbonde, thus conclude:
     1171
Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,
     1172
Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,
     1173
Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
     1174
Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne
     1175
To lyven vertuously and weyve synne.
     1176
And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve,
     1177
The hye god, on whom that we bileeve,
     1178
In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf. Page  88
     1179
And certes every man, mayden, or wyf,
     1180
May understonde that jhesus, hevene kyng,
     1181
Ne wolde nat chese a vicious lyvyng.
     1182
Glad poverte is an honest thyng, certeyn;
     1183
This wole senec and othere clerkes seyn.
     1184
Whoso that halt hym payd of his poverte,
     1185
I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.
     1186
He that coveiteth is a povre wight,
     1187
For he wolde han that is nat in his myght;
     1188
But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have,
     1189
Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave.
     1190
Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely;
     1191
Juvenal seith of poverte myrily:
     1192
-- The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,
     1193
Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye.
     1194
Poverte is hateful good and, as I gesse,
     1195
A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse;
     1196
A greet amendere eek of sapience
     1197
To hym that taketh it in pacience.
     1198
Poverte is this, although it seme alenge,
     1199
Possessioun that no wight wol chalenge.
     1200
Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
     1201
Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe.
     1202
Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me,
     1203
Thurgh which he may his verray freendes see.
     1204
And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve,
     1205
Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve.
     1206
No, sire, of elde ye repreve me;
     1207
And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee
     1208
Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
     1209
Seyn that men sholde an oold wight doon favour,
     1210
And clepe hym fader, for youre gentillesse;
     1211
And auctours shal I fynde, as I gesse.
     1212
Now ther ye seye that I am foul and old,
     1213
Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;
     1214
For filthe and eelde, also moot I thee,
     1215
Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee.
     1216
But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit,
     1217
I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit.
     1218
Chese now, quod she, oon of thise thynges tweye:
     1219
To han me foul and old til that I deye,
     1220
And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf,
     1221
And nevere yow displese in al my lyf;
     1222
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
     1223
And take youre aventure of the repair
     1224
That shal be to youre hous by cause of me,
     1225
Or in som oother place, may wel be.
     1226
Now chese yourselven, wheither that yow liketh.
     1227
This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh,
     1228
But atte laste he seyde in this manere:
     1229
My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
     1230
I put me in youre wise governance;
     1231
Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance,
     1232
And moost honour to yow and me also.
     1233
I do no fors the wheither of the two;
     1234
For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.
     1235
Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie, quod she,
     1236
Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?
     1237
Ye, certes, wyf, quod he, I holde it best.
     1238
Kys me, quod she, we be no lenger wrothe;
     1239
For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe,
     1240
This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.
     1241
I prey to God that I moote sterven wood,
     1242
But I to yow be also good and trewe
     1243
As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe.
     1244
And but I be to-morn as fair to seene
     1245
As any lady, emperice, or queene,
     1246
That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
     1247
Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest.
     1248
Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is.
     1249
And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this,
     1250
That she so fair was, and so yong therto,
     1251
For joye he hente hire in his armes two,
     1252
His herte bathed in a bath of blisse.
     1253
A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hire kisse,
     1254
And she obeyed hym in every thyng
     1255
That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng.
     1256
And thys they lyve unto hir lyves ende
     1257
In parfit joye; and jhesu crist us sende
     1258
Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
     1259
And grace t' overbyde hem that we wedde;
     1260
And eek I praye jhesu shorte hir lyves
     1261
That wol nat be governed by hir wyves;
     1262
And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,
     1263
God sende hem soone verray pestilence!
     1264