The Canterbury tales

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The Canterbury tales
Chaucer, Geoffrey, d. 1400
Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin

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This text has been made available through the Oxford Text Archive for personal scholarly use only. OTA number: U-1678-C

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"The Canterbury tales." In the digital collection Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed May 24, 2024.


The Wife of Bath's Tale

In th' olde dayes of the kyng arthour, Line 857 Of which that britons speken greet honour, Line 858 Al was this land fulfild of fayerye. Line 859 The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye, Line 860 Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede. Line 861 This was the olde opinion, as I rede; Line 862 I speke of manye hundred yeres ago. Line 863 But now kan no man se none elves mo, Line 864 For now the grete charitee and prayers Line 865 Of lymytours and othere hooly freres, Line 866 That serchen every lond and every streem, Line 867 As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem, Line 868 Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures, Line 869 Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures, Line 870 Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes -- Line 871 This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes. Line 872 For ther as wont to walken was an elf, Line 873 Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself Line 874 In undermeles and in morwenynges, Line 875 And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges Line 876 As he gooth in his lymytacioun. Line 877 Wommen may go now saufly up and doun. Line 878 In every bussh or under every tree Line 879 Ther is noon oother incubus but he, Line 880 And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour. Line 881 And so bifel it that this kyng arthour Line 882 Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler, Line 883 That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver; Line 884

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Line 884 And happed that, allone as he was born, Line 885 He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn, Line 886 Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed, Line 887 By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed; Line 888 For which oppressioun was swich clamour Line 889 And swich pursute unto the kyng arthour, Line 890 That dampned was this knyght for to be deed, Line 891 By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed -- Line 892 Paraventure swich was the statut tho -- Line 893 But that the queene and othere ladyes mo Line 894 So longe preyeden the kyng of grace, Line 895 Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place, Line 896 And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille, Line 897 To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille. Line 898 The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght, Line 899 And after this thus spak she to the knyght, Line 900 Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day: Line 901 Thou standest yet, quod she, in swich array Line 902 That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee. Line 903 I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me Line 904 What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren. Line 905 Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren! Line 906 And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon, Line 907 Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon Line 908 A twelf-month and a day, to seche and leere Line 909 An answere suffisant in this mateere; Line 910 And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace, Line 911 Thy body for to yelden in this place. Line 912 Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh; Line 913 But what! he may nat do al as hym liketh. Line 914 And at the laste he chees hym for to wende, Line 915 And come agayn, right at the yeres ende, Line 916 With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye; Line 917 And taketh his leve, and wendeth froth his weye. Line 918 He seketh every hous and and every place Line 919 Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace, Line 920 To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost; Line 921 But he ne koude arryven in no coost Line 922 Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere Line 923 Two creatures accordynge in-feere. Line 924 Somme seyde wommen loven best richesse, Line 925 Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse, Line 926 Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde, Line 927 And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde. Line 928 Somme seyde that oure hertes been moost esed Line 929 Whan that we ben yflatered and yplesed. Line 930 He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye. Line 931 A man shal wynne us best with flaterye; Line 932 And with attendance, and with bisynesse, Line 933 Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse. Line 934 And somme seyen that we loven best Line 935 For to be free, and do right as us lest, Line 936 And that no man repreve us of oure vice, Line 937 But seye that we be wise, and no thyng nyce. Line 938 For trewely ther is noon of us alle, Line 939 If any wight wol clawe us on the galle, Line 940 That we nel kike, for he seith us sooth. Line 941 Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth; Line 942 For, be we never so vicious withinne, Line 943 We wol been holden wise and clene of synne. Line 944 And somme seyn that greet delit han we Line 945 For to been holden stable, and eek secree, Line 946 And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle, Line 947 And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle. Line 948 But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele. Line 949 Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele; Line 950 Witnesse on myda, -- wol ye heere the tale? Line 951 Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale, Line 952 Seyde myda hadde, under his longe heres, Line 953 Growynge upon his heed two asses eres, Line 954 The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte, Line 955 Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte, Line 956 That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo. Line 957 He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also; Line 958 He preyede hire that to no creature Line 959 She sholde tellen of his disfigure. Line 960 She swoor him, nay, for al this world to wynne, Line 961 She nolde do that vileynye or synne, Line 962 To make hir housbonde han so foul a name. Line 963 She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame. Line 964 But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde, Line 965 That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde; Line 966 Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte Line 967 That nedely som word hire moste asterte; Line 968 And sith she dorste telle it to no man, Line 969 Doun to a mareys faste by she ran Line 970 Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre -- Line 971 And as a bitore bombleth in the myre, Line 972 She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun: Line 973 Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun, Line 974 Quod she; -- to thee I telle it and namo; Line 975 Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two! Line 976 Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute. Line 977 I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute. Line 978 Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde, Line 979 Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde. Line 980 The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere, Line 981 Redeth ovyde, and ther ye may it leere. Line 982 This knyght, of which my tale is specially, Line 983 Than that he saugh he myghte nat come therby, Line 984

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Line 984 This is to seye, what wommen love moost, Line 985 Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost. Line 986 But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne; Line 987 The day was come that homward moste he tourne. Line 988 And in his wey it happed hym to ryde, Line 989 In al this care, under a forest syde, Line 990 Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go Line 991 Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo; Line 992 Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne, Line 993 In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne. Line 994 But certeinly, er he cam fully there, Line 995 Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where. Line 996 No creature saugh he that bar lyf, Line 997 Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf -- Line 998 A fouler wight ther may no man devyse. Line 999 Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse, Line 1000 And seyde, sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey. Line 1001 Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey! Line 1002 Paraventure it may the bettre be; Line 1003 Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng, quod she. Line 1004 My leeve mooder, quod this knyght, certeyn Line 1005 I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn Line 1006 What thyng it is that wommen moost desire. Line 1007 Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire. Line 1008 Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand, quod she, Line 1009 The nexte thyng that I requere thee, Line 1010 Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght, Line 1011 And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght. Line 1012 Have heer my trouthe, quod the knyght, I grante. Line 1013 Thanne, quod she, I dar me wel avante Line 1014 Thy lyf is sauf; for I wol stonde therby, Line 1015 Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I. Line 1016 Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle, Line 1017 That wereth on a coverchief or a calle, Line 1018 That day seye nay of that I shal thee teche. Line 1019 Lat us go forth, withouten lenger speche. Line 1020 Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere, Line 1021 And bad hym to be glad, and have no fere. Line 1022 Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght Line 1023 Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight, Line 1024 And redy was his answere, as he sayde. Line 1025 Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde, Line 1026 And many a wydwe, for that they been wise, Line 1027 The queene hirself sittynge as a justise, Line 1028 Assembled been, his answere for to heere; Line 1029 And afterward this knyght was bode appeere. Line 1030 To every wight comanded was silence, Line 1031 And that the knyght sholde telle in audience Line 1032 What thyng that worldly wommen loven best. Line 1033 This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best, Line 1034 But to his questioun anon answerde Line 1035 With manly voys, that al the court it herde: Line 1036 My lige lady, generally, quod he, Line 1037 Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee Line 1038 As wel over his housbond as hir love, Line 1039 And for to been in maistrie hym above. Line 1040 This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille. Line 1041 Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille. Line 1042 In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde, Line 1043 Ne wydwe, that contraried that he sayde, Line 1044 But seyden he was worthy han his lyf. Line 1045 And with that word up stirte the olde wyf, Line 1046 Which that the knyght saugh sittynge on the grene: Line 1047 Mercy, quod she, my sovereyn lady queene! Line 1048 Er that youre court departe, do me right. Line 1049 I taughte this answere unto the knyght; Line 1050 For which he plighte me his trouthe there, Line 1051 The firste thyng that I wolde hym requere, Line 1052 He wolde it do, if it lay in his myghte. Line 1053 Bifore the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght, Line 1054 Quod she, that thou me take unto thy wyf; Line 1055 For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf. Line 1056 If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey! Line 1057 This knyght answerde, allas! and weylawey! Line 1058 I woot right wel that swich was my biheste. Line 1059 For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste! Line 1060 Taak al my good, and lat my body go. Line 1061 Nay, thanne, quod she, I shrewe us bothe two! Line 1062 For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore, Line 1063 I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore, Line 1064 That under erthe is grave, or lith above, Line 1065 But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love. Line 1066 My love? quod he, nay, my dampnacioun! Line 1067 Allas! that any of my nacioun Line 1068 Sholde evere so foule disparaged be! Line 1069 But al for noght; the ende is this, that he Line 1070 Constreyned was, he nedes moste hire wedde; Line 1071 And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde. Line 1072 Now wolden som men seye, paraventure, Line 1073 That for my necligence I do no cure Line 1074 To tellen yow the joye and al th' array Line 1075 That at the feeste was that ilke day. Line 1076 To which thyng shortly answeren I shal: Line 1077 I seye ther nas no joye ne feeste at al; Line 1078 Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe. Line 1079

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Line 1079 For prively he wedded hire on the morwe, Line 1080 And al day after hidde hym as an owle, Line 1081 So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule. Line 1082 Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght, Line 1083 Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght; Line 1084 He walweth and he turneth to and fro. Line 1085 His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo, Line 1086 And seyde, o deere housbonde, benedicitee! Line 1087 Fareth every knyght thys with his wyf as ye? Line 1088 Is this the lawe of kyng arthures hous? Line 1089 Is every knyght of his so dangerous? Line 1090 I am youre owene love and eek youre wyf; Line 1091 I am she which that saved hath youre lyf, Line 1092 And, certes, yet ne dide I yow nevere unright; Line 1093 Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght? Line 1094 Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit. Line 1095 What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it, Line 1096 And it shal been amende, if I may. Line 1097 Amended? quod this knyght, allas! nay, nay! Line 1098 It wol nat been amended nevere mo. Line 1099 Thou art so loothly, and so oold also, Line 1100 And therto comen of so lough a kynde, Line 1101 That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde. Line 1102 So wolde God myn herte wolde breste! Line 1103 Is this, quod she, the cause of youre unreste? Line 1104 Ye, certeinly, quod he, no wonder is. Line 1105 Now, sire, quod she, I koude amende al this, Line 1106 If that me liste, er it were dayes thre, Line 1107 So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me. Line 1108 But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse Line 1109 As is descended out of old richesse, Line 1110 That therfore sholden ye be gentil men, Line 1111 Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen. Line 1112 Looke who that is moost vertuous alway, Line 1113 Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay Line 1114 To do the gentil dedes that he kan; Line 1115 Taak hym for the grettest gentil man. Line 1116 Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse, Line 1117 Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse. Line 1118 For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage, Line 1119 For which we clayme to been of heigh parage, Line 1120 Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng, Line 1121 To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng, Line 1122 That made hem gentil men ycalled be, Line 1123 And bad us folwen hem in swich degree. Line 1124 Wel kan the wise poete of florence, Line 1125 That highte dant, speken in this sentence. Line 1126 Lo, in swich maner rym is dantes tale: Line 1127 -- Ful selde up riseth by his brances smale Line 1128 Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse, Line 1129 Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse; -- Line 1130 For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme Line 1131 But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme. Line 1132 Eek every wight woot this as wel as I, Line 1133 If gentillesse were planted natureelly Line 1134 Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne, Line 1135 Pryvee and apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne Line 1136 To doon of gentillesse the faire office; Line 1137 They myghte do no vileynye or vice. Line 1138 Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous Line 1139 Bitwix this and the mount of kaukasous, Line 1140 And lat men shette the dores and go thenne; Line 1141 Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne Line 1142 As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde; Line 1143 His office natureel ay wol it holde, Line 1144 Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye. Line 1145 Heere may ye se wel how that genterye Line 1146 Is nat annexed to possessioun, Line 1147 Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun Line 1148 Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde. Line 1149 For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde Line 1150 A lordes sone do shame and vileynye; Line 1151 And he that wole han pris of his gentrye, Line 1152 For he was boren of a gentil hous, Line 1153 And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous, Line 1154 And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis, Line 1155 Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is, Line 1156 He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl; Line 1157 For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl. Line 1158 For gentillesse nys but renomee Line 1159 Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee, Line 1160 Which is a strange thyng to thy persone. Line 1161 Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone. Line 1162 Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace; Line 1163 It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place. Line 1164 Thenketh how noble, as seith valerius, Line 1165 Was thilke tullius hostillius, Line 1166 That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse. Line 1167 Reedeth senek, and redeth eek boece; Line 1168 Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is Line 1169 That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis. Line 1170 And therfore, leeve housbonde, thus conclude: Line 1171 Al were it that myne auncestres were rude, Line 1172 Yet may the hye god, and so hope I, Line 1173 Grante me grace to lyven vertuously. Line 1174 Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne Line 1175 To lyven vertuously and weyve synne. Line 1176 And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve, Line 1177 The hye god, on whom that we bileeve, Line 1178 In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf. Line 1179

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Line 1179 And certes every man, mayden, or wyf, Line 1180 May understonde that jhesus, hevene kyng, Line 1181 Ne wolde nat chese a vicious lyvyng. Line 1182 Glad poverte is an honest thyng, certeyn; Line 1183 This wole senec and othere clerkes seyn. Line 1184 Whoso that halt hym payd of his poverte, Line 1185 I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte. Line 1186 He that coveiteth is a povre wight, Line 1187 For he wolde han that is nat in his myght; Line 1188 But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have, Line 1189 Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave. Line 1190 Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely; Line 1191 Juvenal seith of poverte myrily: Line 1192 -- The povre man, whan he goth by the weye, Line 1193 Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye. Line 1194 Poverte is hateful good and, as I gesse, Line 1195 A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse; Line 1196 A greet amendere eek of sapience Line 1197 To hym that taketh it in pacience. Line 1198 Poverte is this, although it seme alenge, Line 1199 Possessioun that no wight wol chalenge. Line 1200 Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe, Line 1201 Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe. Line 1202 Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me, Line 1203 Thurgh which he may his verray freendes see. Line 1204 And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve, Line 1205 Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve. Line 1206 No, sire, of elde ye repreve me; Line 1207 And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee Line 1208 Were in no book, ye gentils of honour Line 1209 Seyn that men sholde an oold wight doon favour, Line 1210 And clepe hym fader, for youre gentillesse; Line 1211 And auctours shal I fynde, as I gesse. Line 1212 Now ther ye seye that I am foul and old, Line 1213 Than drede you noght to been a cokewold; Line 1214 For filthe and eelde, also moot I thee, Line 1215 Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee. Line 1216 But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit, Line 1217 I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit. Line 1218 Chese now, quod she, oon of thise thynges tweye: Line 1219 To han me foul and old til that I deye, Line 1220 And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf, Line 1221 And nevere yow displese in al my lyf; Line 1222 Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair, Line 1223 And take youre aventure of the repair Line 1224 That shal be to youre hous by cause of me, Line 1225 Or in som oother place, may wel be. Line 1226 Now chese yourselven, wheither that yow liketh. Line 1227 This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh, Line 1228 But atte laste he seyde in this manere: Line 1229 My lady and my love, and wyf so deere, Line 1230 I put me in youre wise governance; Line 1231 Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance, Line 1232 And moost honour to yow and me also. Line 1233 I do no fors the wheither of the two; Line 1234 For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me. Line 1235 Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie, quod she, Line 1236 Syn I may chese and governe as me lest? Line 1237 Ye, certes, wyf, quod he, I holde it best. Line 1238 Kys me, quod she, we be no lenger wrothe; Line 1239 For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe, Line 1240 This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good. Line 1241 I prey to God that I moote sterven wood, Line 1242 But I to yow be also good and trewe Line 1243 As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe. Line 1244 And but I be to-morn as fair to seene Line 1245 As any lady, emperice, or queene, Line 1246 That is bitwixe the est and eke the west, Line 1247 Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest. Line 1248 Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is. Line 1249 And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this, Line 1250 That she so fair was, and so yong therto, Line 1251 For joye he hente hire in his armes two, Line 1252 His herte bathed in a bath of blisse. Line 1253 A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hire kisse, Line 1254 And she obeyed hym in every thyng Line 1255 That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng. Line 1256 And thys they lyve unto hir lyves ende Line 1257 In parfit joye; and jhesu crist us sende Line 1258 Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde, Line 1259 And grace t' overbyde hem that we wedde; Line 1260 And eek I praye jhesu shorte hir lyves Line 1261 That wol nat be governed by hir wyves; Line 1262 And olde and angry nygardes of dispence, Line 1263 God sende hem soone verray pestilence! Line 1264
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