The Man of Law’s Tale

From The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

MLT 134 In Surrye whilom dwelte a compaignye
MLT 135 Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
MLT 136 That wyde-where senten hir spicerye,
MLT 137 Clothes of gold, and satyns riche of hewe.
MLT 138 Hir chaffare was so thrifty and so newe
MLT 139 That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
MLT 140 With hem, and eek to sellen hem hire ware.
MLT 141 Now fil it that the maistres of that sort
MLT 142 Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
MLT 143 Were it for chapmanhod or for disport,
MLT 144 Noon oother message wolde they thider sende,
MLT 145 But comen hemself to Rome; this is the ende.
MLT 146 And in swich place as thoughte hem avantage
MLT 147 For hire entente, they take hir herbergage.
MLT 148 Sojourned han thise merchantz in that toun
MLT 149 A certein tyme, as fil to hire plesance.
MLT 150 And so bifel that th’ excellent renoun
MLT 151 Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance,
MLT 152 Reported was, with every circumstance,
MLT 153 Unto thise Surryen marchantz in swich wyse,
MLT 154 Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.
MLT 155 This was the commune voys of every man:
MLT 156 “Oure Emperour of Rome — God hym see! —
MLT 157 A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
MLT 158 To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
MLT 159 Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
MLT 160 I prey to God in honour hire susteene,
MLT 161 And wolde she were of al Europe the queene.
MLT 162 “In hire is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
MLT 163 Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye;
MLT 164 To alle hire werkes vertu is hir gyde;
MLT 165 Humblesse hath slayn in hire al tirannye.
MLT 166 She is mirour of alle curteisye;
MLT 167 Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
MLT 168 Hir hand, ministre of fredam for almesse.”
MLT 169 And al this voys was sooth, as God is trewe.
MLT 170 But now to purpos lat us turne agayn.
MLT 171 Thise marchantz han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
MLT 172 And whan they han this blisful mayden sayn,
MLT 173 Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,
MLT 174 And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore,
MLT 175 And lyven in wele; I kan sey yow namoore.
MLT 176 Now fil it that thise marchantz stode in grace
MLT 177 Of hym that was the Sowdan of Surrye;
MLT 178 For whan they cam from any strange place,
MLT 179 He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
MLT 180 Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye
MLT 181 Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere
MLT 182 The wondres that they myghte seen or heere.
MLT 183 Amonges othere thynges, specially,
MLT 184 Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance
MLT 185 So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
MLT 186 That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance
MLT 187 To han hir figure in his remembrance,
MLT 188 That al his lust and al his bisy cure
MLT 189 Was for to love hire while his lyf may dure.
MLT 190 Paraventure in thilke large book
MLT 191 Which that men clepe the hevene ywriten was
MLT 192 With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
MLT 193 That he for love sholde han his deeth, allas!
MLT 194 For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
MLT 195 Is writen, God woot, whoso koude it rede,
MLT 196 The deeth of every man, withouten drede.
MLT 197 In sterres, many a wynter therbiforn,
MLT 198 Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
MLT 199 Of Pompei, Julius, er they were born;
MLT 200 The strif of Thebes; and of Ercules,
MLT 201 Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
MLT 202 The deeth; but mennes wittes ben so dulle
MLT 203 That no wight kan wel rede it atte fulle.
MLT 204 This Sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
MLT 205 And, shortly of this matiere for to pace,
MLT 206 He hath to hem declared his entente,
MLT 207 And seyde hem, certein, but he myghte have grace
MLT 208 To han Custance withinne a litel space,
MLT 209 He nas but deed; and charged hem in hye
MLT 210 To shapen for his lyf som remedye.
MLT 211 Diverse men diverse thynges seyden;
MLT 212 They argumenten, casten up and doun;
MLT 213 Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden;
MLT 214 They speken of magyk and abusioun.
MLT 215 But finally, as in conclusioun,
MLT 216 They kan nat seen in that noon avantage,
MLT 217 Ne in noon oother wey, save mariage.
MLT 218 Thanne sawe they therinne swich difficultee
MLT 219 By wey of reson, for to speke al playn,
MLT 220 By cause that ther was swich diversitee
MLT 221 Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
MLT 222 They trowe that no “Cristen prince wolde fayn
MLT 223 Wedden his child under oure lawe sweete
MLT 224 That us was taught by Mahoun, oure prophete.”
MLT 225 And he answerde, “Rather than I lese
MLT 226 Custance, I wol be cristned, doutelees.
MLT 227 I moot been hires; I may noon oother chese.
MLT 228 I prey yow hoold youre argumentz in pees;
MLT 229 Saveth my lyf, and beth noght recchelees
MLT 230 To geten hire that hath my lyf in cure,
MLT 231 For in this wo I may nat longe endure.”
MLT 232 What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
MLT 233 I seye, by tretys and embassadrie,
MLT 234 And by the popes mediacioun,
MLT 235 And al the chirche, and al the chivalrie,
MLT 236 That in destruccioun of mawmettrie,
MLT 237 And in encrees of Cristes lawe deere,
MLT 238 They been acorded, so as ye shal heere:
MLT 239 How that the Sowdan and his baronage
MLT 240 And alle his liges sholde ycristned be,
MLT 241 And he shal han Custance in mariage,
MLT 242 And certein gold, I noot what quantitee;
MLT 243 And heer-to founden sufficient suretee.
MLT 244 This same accord was sworn on eyther syde;
MLT 245 Now, faire Custance, almyghty God thee gyde!
MLT 246 Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
MLT 247 That I sholde tellen al the purveiance
MLT 248 That th’ Emperour, of his grete noblesse,
MLT 249 Hath shapen for his doghter, dame Custance.
MLT 250 Wel may men knowen that so greet ordinance
MLT 251 May no man tellen in a litel clause
MLT 252 As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.
MLT 253 Bisshopes been shapen with hire for to wende,
MLT 254 Lordes, ladies, knyghtes of renoun,
MLT 255 And oother folk ynowe; this is th’ ende;
MLT 256 And notified is thurghout the toun
MLT 257 That every wight, with greet devocioun,
MLT 258 Sholde preyen Crist that he this mariage
MLT 259 Receyve in gree and spede this viage.
MLT 260 The day is comen of hir departynge;
MLT 261 I seye, the woful day fatal is come,
MLT 262 That ther may be no lenger tariynge,
MLT 263 But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some.
MLT 264 Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
MLT 265 Ful pale arist, and dresseth hire to wende;
MLT 266 For wel she seeth ther is noon oother ende.
MLT 267 Allas, what wonder is it thogh she wepte,
MLT 268 That shal be sent to strange nacioun
MLT 269 Fro freendes that so tendrely hire kepte,
MLT 270 And to be bounden under subjeccioun
MLT 271 Of oon, she knoweth nat his condicioun?
MLT 272 Housbondes been alle goode, and han ben yoore;
MLT 273 That knowen wyves; I dar sey yow na moore.
MLT 274 “Fader,” she seyde, “thy wrecched child Custance,
MLT 275 Thy yonge doghter fostred up so softe,
MLT 276 And ye, my mooder, my soverayn plesance
MLT 277 Over alle thyng, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
MLT 278 Custance youre child hire recomandeth ofte
MLT 279 Unto youre grace, for I shal to Surrye,
MLT 280 Ne shal I nevere seen yow moore with ye.
MLT 281 “Allas, unto the Barbre nacioun
MLT 282 I moste anoon, syn that it is youre wille;
MLT 283 But Crist, that starf for our redempcioun
MLT 284 So yeve me grace his heestes to fulfille!
MLT 285 I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille!
MLT 286 Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
MLT 287 And to been under mannes governance.”
MLT 288 I trowe at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal
MLT 289 Or Ilion brende, at Thebes the citee,
MLT 290 N’ at Rome, for the harm thurgh Hanybal
MLT 291 That Romayns hath venquysshed tymes thre,
MLT 292 Nas herd swich tendre wepyng for pitee
MLT 293 As in the chambre was for hire departynge;
MLT 294 But forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or synge.
MLT 295 O firste moevyng! Crueel firmament,
MLT 296 With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
MLT 297 And hurlest al from est til occident
MLT 298 That naturelly wolde holde another way,
MLT 299 Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
MLT 300 At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
MLT 301 That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.
MLT 302 Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
MLT 303 Of which the lord is helplees falle, allas,
MLT 304 Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!
MLT 305 O Mars, o atazir, as in this cas!
MLT 306 O fieble moone, unhappy been thy paas!
MLT 307 Thou knyttest thee ther thou art nat receyved;
MLT 308 Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.
MLT 309 Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
MLT 310 Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
MLT 311 Is no tyme bet than oother in swich cas?
MLT 312 Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
MLT 313 Namely to folk of heigh condicioun?
MLT 314 Noght whan a roote is of a burthe yknowe?
MLT 315 Allas, we been to lewed or to slowe!
MLT 316 To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde
MLT 317 Solempnely, with every circumstance.
MLT 318 “Now Jhesu Crist be with yow alle!” she sayde;
MLT 319 Ther nys namoore, but “Farewel, faire Custance!”
MLT 320 She peyneth hire to make good contenance;
MLT 321 And forth I lete hire saille in this manere,
MLT 322 And turne I wole agayn to my matere.
MLT 323 The mooder of the Sowdan, welle of vices,
MLT 324 Espied hath hir sones pleyn entente,
MLT 325 How he wol lete his olde sacrifices;
MLT 326 And right anon she for hir conseil sente,
MLT 327 And they been come to knowe what she mente.
MLT 328 And whan assembled was this folk in-feere,
MLT 329 She sette hire doun, and seyde as ye shal heere.
MLT 330 “Lordes,” quod she, “ye knowen everichon,
MLT 331 How that my sone in point is for to lete
MLT 332 The hooly lawes of our Alkaron,
MLT 333 Yeven by Goddes message Makomete.
MLT 334 But oon avow to grete God I heete,
MLT 335 The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte
MLT 336 Or Makometes lawe out of myn herte!
MLT 337 “What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe
MLT 338 But thraldom to oure bodies and penance,
MLT 339 And afterward in helle to be drawe,
MLT 340 For we reneyed Mahoun oure creance?
MLT 341 But, lordes, wol ye maken assurance,
MLT 342 As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,
MLT 343 And I shal make us sauf for everemoore?”
MLT 344 They sworen and assenten, every man,
MLT 345 To lyve with hire and dye, and by hire stonde,
MLT 346 And everich, in the beste wise he kan,
MLT 347 To strengthen hire shal alle his frendes fonde;
MLT 348 And she hath this emprise ytake on honde,
MLT 349 Which ye shal heren that I shal devyse,
MLT 350 And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse:
MLT 351 “We shul first feyne us cristendom to take —
MLT 352 Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite! —
MLT 353 And I shal swich a feeste and revel make
MLT 354 That, as I trowe, I shal the Sowdan quite.
MLT 355 For thogh his wyf be cristned never so white,
MLT 356 She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
MLT 357 Thogh she a font-ful water with hire lede.”
MLT 358 O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
MLT 359 Virago, thou Semyrame the secounde!
MLT 360 O serpent under femynynytee,
MLT 361 Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
MLT 362 O feyned womman, al that may confounde
MLT 363 Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malice,
MLT 364 Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!
MLT 365 O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
MLT 366 That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
MLT 367 Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
MLT 368 Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage;
MLT 369 Thou wolt fordoon this Cristen mariage.
MLT 370 Thyn instrument so — weylawey the while! —
MLT 371 Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt bigile.
MLT 372 This Sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warye,
MLT 373 Leet prively hire conseil goon hire way.
MLT 374 What sholde I in this tale lenger tarye?
MLT 375 She rydeth to the Sowdan on a day,
MLT 376 And seyde hym that she wolde reneye hir lay,
MLT 377 And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
MLT 378 Repentynge hire she hethen was so longe,
MLT 379 Bisechynge hym to doon hire that honour,
MLT 380 That she moste han the Cristen folk to feeste —
MLT 381 “To plesen hem I wol do my labour.”
MLT 382 The Sowdan seith, “I wol doon at youre heeste,”
MLT 383 And knelynge thanketh hire of that requeste.
MLT 384 So glad he was, he nyste what to seye.
MLT 385 She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.
MLT 386 Arryved been this Cristen folk to londe
MLT 387 In Surrye, with a greet solempne route,
MLT 388 And hastifliche this Sowdan sente his sonde
MLT 389 First to his mooder, and al the regne aboute,
MLT 390 And seyde his wyf was comen, out of doute,
MLT 391 And preyde hire for to ryde agayn the queene,
MLT 392 The honour of his regne to susteene.
MLT 393 Greet was the prees, and riche was th’ array
MLT 394 Of Surryens and Romayns met yfeere;
MLT 395 The mooder of the Sowdan, riche and gay,
MLT 396 Receyveth hire with also glad a cheere
MLT 397 As any mooder myghte hir doghter deere,
MLT 398 And to the nexte citee ther bisyde
MLT 399 A softe paas solempnely they ryde.
MLT 400 Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,
MLT 401 Of which that Lucan maketh swich a boost,
MLT 402 Was roialler ne moore curius
MLT 403 Than was th’ assemblee of this blisful hoost.
MLT 404 But this scorpioun, this wikked goost,
MLT 405 The Sowdanesse, for al hire flaterynge,
MLT 406 Caste under this ful mortally to stynge.
MLT 407 The Sowdan comth hymself soone after this
MLT 408 So roially that wonder is to telle,
MLT 409 And welcometh hire with alle joye and blis.
MLT 410 And thus in murthe and joye I lete hem dwelle;
MLT 411 The fruyt of this matiere is that I telle.
MLT 412 Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste
MLT 413 That revel stynte, and men goon to hir reste.
MLT 414 The tyme cam, this olde Sowdanesse
MLT 415 Ordeyned hath this feeste of which I tolde,
MLT 416 And to the feeste Cristen folk hem dresse
MLT 417 In general, ye, bothe yonge and olde.
MLT 418 Heere may men feeste and roialtee biholde,
MLT 419 And deyntees mo than I kan yow devyse;
MLT 420 But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse.
MLT 421 O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
MLT 422 To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse,
MLT 423 The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
MLT 424 Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse.
MLT 425 Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse:
MLT 426 Upon thy glade day have in thy mynde
MLT 427 The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.
MLT 428 For shortly for to tellen, at o word,
MLT 429 The Sowdan and the Cristen everichone
MLT 430 Been al tohewe and stiked at the bord,
MLT 431 But it were oonly dame Custance allone.
MLT 432 This olde Sowdanesse, cursed krone,
MLT 433 Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede,
MLT 434 For she hirself wolde al the contree lede.
MLT 435 Ne ther was Surryen noon that was converted,
MLT 436 That of the conseil of the Sowdan woot,
MLT 437 That he nas al tohewe er he asterted.
MLT 438 And Custance han they take anon, foot-hoot,
MLT 439 And in a ship al steerelees, God woot,
MLT 440 They han hir set, and bidde hire lerne saille
MLT 441 Out of Surrye agaynward to Ytaille.
MLT 442 A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
MLT 443 And, sooth to seyn, vitaille greet plentee
MLT 444 They han hire yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
MLT 445 And forth she sailleth in the salte see.
MLT 446 O my Custance, ful of benignytee,
MLT 447 O Emperoures yonge doghter deere,
MLT 448 He that is lord of Fortune be thy steere!
MLT 449 She blesseth hire, and with ful pitous voys
MLT 450 Unto the croys of Crist thus seyde she:
MLT 451 “O cleere, o welful auter, hooly croys,
MLT 452 Reed of the Lambes blood ful of pitee,
MLT 453 That wessh the world fro the olde iniquitee,
MLT 454 Me fro the feend and fro his clawes kepe,
MLT 455 That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
MLT 456 “Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
MLT 457 That oonly worthy were for to bere
MLT 458 The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
MLT 459 The white Lamb, that hurt was with a spere,
MLT 460 Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
MLT 461 On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,
MLT 462 Me kepe, and yif me myght my lyf t’ amenden.”
MLT 463 Yeres and dayes fleet this creature
MLT 464 Thurghout the See of Grece unto the Strayte
MLT 465 Of Marrok, as it was hire aventure.
MLT 466 On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
MLT 467 After hir deeth ful often may she wayte,
MLT 468 Er that the wilde wawes wol hire dryve
MLT 469 Unto the place ther she shal arryve.
MLT 470 Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn
MLT 471 Eek at the feeste? Who myghte hir body save?
MLT 472 And I answere to that demande agayn,
MLT 473 Who saved Danyel in the horrible cave
MLT 474 Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
MLT 475 Was with the leon frete er he asterte?
MLT 476 No wight but God that he bar in his herte.
MLT 477 God liste to shewe his wonderful myracle
MLT 478 In hire, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis;
MLT 479 Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
MLT 480 By certeine meenes ofte, as knowen clerkis,
MLT 481 Dooth thyng for certein ende that ful derk is
MLT 482 To mannes wit, that for oure ignorance
MLT 483 Ne konne noght knowe his prudent purveiance.
MLT 484 Now sith she was nat at the feeste yslawe,
MLT 485 Who kepte hire fro the drenchyng in the see?
MLT 486 Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
MLT 487 Til he was spouted up at Nynyvee?
MLT 488 Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he
MLT 489 That kepte peple Ebrayk from hir drenchynge,
MLT 490 With drye feet thurghout the see passynge.
MLT 491 Who bad the foure spirites of tempest
MLT 492 That power han t’ anoyen lond and see,
MLT 493 Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
MLT 494 “Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree”?
MLT 495 Soothly, the comandour of that was he
MLT 496 That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte
MLT 497 As wel whan she wook as whan she slepte.
MLT 498 Where myghte this womman mete and drynke have
MLT 499 Thre yeer and moore? How lasteth hire vitaille?
MLT 500 Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,
MLT 501 Or in desert? No wight but Crist, sanz faille.
MLT 502 Fyve thousand folk it was as greet mervaille
MLT 503 With loves fyve and fisshes two to feede.
MLT 504 God sente his foyson at hir grete neede.
MLT 505 She dryveth forth into oure occian
MLT 506 Thurghout oure wilde see, til atte laste
MLT 507 Under an hoold that nempnen I ne kan,
MLT 508 Fer in Northhumberlond the wawe hire caste,
MLT 509 And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste
MLT 510 That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde;
MLT 511 The wyl of Crist was that she sholde abyde.
MLT 512 The constable of the castel doun is fare
MLT 513 To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
MLT 514 And foond this wery womman ful of care;
MLT 515 He foond also the tresor that she broghte.
MLT 516 In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
MLT 517 The lyf out of hir body for to twynne,
MLT 518 Hire to delivere of wo that she was inne.
MLT 519 A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche,
MLT 520 But algates therby was she understonde.
MLT 521 The constable, whan hym lyst no longer seche,
MLT 522 This woful womman broghte he to the londe.
MLT 523 She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde;
MLT 524 But what she was she wolde no man seye,
MLT 525 For foul ne fair, thogh that she sholde deye.
MLT 526 She seyde she was so mazed in the see
MLT 527 That she forgat hir mynde, by hir trouthe.
MLT 528 The constable hath of hire so greet pitee,
MLT 529 And eek his wyf, that they wepen for routhe.
MLT 530 She was so diligent, withouten slouthe,
MLT 531 To serve and plesen everich in that place
MLT 532 That alle hir loven that looken in hir face.
MLT 533 This constable and dame Hermengyld, his wyf,
MLT 534 Were payens, and that contree everywhere;
MLT 535 But Hermengyld loved hire right as hir lyf,
MLT 536 And Custance hath so longe sojourned there,
MLT 537 In orisons, with many a bitter teere,
MLT 538 Til Jhesu hath converted thurgh his grace
MLT 539 Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place.
MLT 540 In al that lond no Cristen dorste route;
MLT 541 Alle Cristen folk been fled fro that contree
MLT 542 Thurgh payens, that conquereden al aboute
MLT 543 The plages of the north, by land and see.
MLT 544 To Walys fledde the Cristyanytee
MLT 545 Of olde Britons dwellynge in this ile;
MLT 546 Ther was hir refut for the meene while.
MLT 547 But yet nere Cristene Britons so exiled
MLT 548 That ther nere somme that in hir privetee
MLT 549 Honoured Crist and hethen folk bigiled,
MLT 550 And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three.
MLT 551 That oon of hem was blynd and myghte nat see,
MLT 552 But it were with thilke eyen of his mynde
MLT 553 With whiche men seen, after that they ben blynde.
MLT 554 Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
MLT 555 For which the constable and his wyf also
MLT 556 And Custance han ytake the righte way
MLT 557 Toward the see a furlong wey or two,
MLT 558 To pleyen and to romen to and fro,
MLT 559 And in hir walk this blynde man they mette,
MLT 560 Croked and oold, with eyen faste yshette.
MLT 561 “In name of Crist,” cride this blinde Britoun,
MLT 562 “Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn!”
MLT 563 This lady weex affrayed of the soun,
MLT 564 Lest that hir housbonde, shortly for to sayn,
MLT 565 Wolde hire for Jhesu Cristes love han slayn,
MLT 566 Til Custance made hire boold, and bad hire wirche
MLT 567 The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
MLT 568 The constable weex abasshed of that sight,
MLT 569 And seyde, “What amounteth al this fare?”
MLT 570 Custance answerde, “Sire, it is Cristes myght,
MLT 571 That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.”
MLT 572 And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare
MLT 573 That she the constable, er that it was eve
MLT 574 Converteth, and on Crist made hym bileve.
MLT 575 This constable was nothyng lord of this place
MLT 576 Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond,
MLT 577 But kepte it strongly many a wyntres space
MLT 578 Under Alla, kyng of al Northhumbrelond,
MLT 579 That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond
MLT 580 Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel heere;
MLT 581 But turne I wole agayn to my mateere.
MLT 582 Sathan, that evere us waiteth to bigile,
MLT 583 Saugh of Custance al hire perfeccioun,
MLT 584 And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while,
MLT 585 And made a yong knyght that dwelte in that toun
MLT 586 Love hire so hoote, of foul affeccioun,
MLT 587 That verraily hym thoughte he sholde spille,
MLT 588 But he of hire myghte ones have his wille.
MLT 589 He woweth hire, but it availleth noght;
MLT 590 She wolde do no synne, by no weye.
MLT 591 And for despit he compassed in his thoght
MLT 592 To maken hire on shameful deeth to deye.
MLT 593 He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,
MLT 594 And pryvely upon a nyght he crepte
MLT 595 In Hermengyldes chambre, whil she slepte.
MLT 596 Wery, forwaked in hire orisouns,
MLT 597 Slepeth Custance, and Hermengyld also.
MLT 598 This knyght, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,
MLT 599 Al softely is to the bed ygo,
MLT 600 And kitte the throte of Hermengyld atwo,
MLT 601 And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
MLT 602 And wente his wey, ther God yeve hym meschance!
MLT 603 Soone after cometh this constable hoom agayn,
MLT 604 And eek Alla, that kyng was of that lond,
MLT 605 And saugh his wyf despitously yslayn,
MLT 606 For which ful ofte he weep and wroong his hond,
MLT 607 And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
MLT 608 By Dame Custance. Allas, what myghte she seye?
MLT 609 For verray wo hir wit was al aweye.
MLT 610 To kyng Alla was toold al this meschance,
MLT 611 And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wise
MLT 612 That in a ship was founden this Custance,
MLT 613 As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.
MLT 614 The kynges herte of pitee gan agryse,
MLT 615 Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
MLT 616 Falle in disese and in mysaventure.
MLT 617 For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
MLT 618 So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.
MLT 619 This false knyght, that hath this tresoun wroght,
MLT 620 Berth hire on hond that she hath doon thys thyng.
MLT 621 But nathelees, ther was greet moornyng
MLT 622 Among the peple, and seyn they kan nat gesse
MLT 623 That she had doon so greet a wikkednesse,
MLT 624 For they han seyn hire evere so vertuous,
MLT 625 And lovynge Hermengyld right as hir lyf.
MLT 626 Of this baar witnesse everich in that hous,
MLT 627 Save he that Hermengyld slow with his knyf.
MLT 628 This gentil kyng hath caught a greet motyf
MLT 629 Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
MLT 630 Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
MLT 631 Allas! Custance, thou hast no champioun,
MLT 632 Ne fighte kanstow noght, so weylaway!
MLT 633 But he that starf for our redempcioun,
MLT 634 And boond Sathan (and yet lith ther he lay),
MLT 635 So be thy stronge champion this day!
MLT 636 For, but if Crist open myracle kithe,
MLT 637 Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swithe.
MLT 638 She sette hire doun on knees, and thus she sayde:
MLT 639 “Immortal God, that savedest Susanne
MLT 640 Fro false blame, and thou, merciful mayde,
MLT 641 Marie I meene, doghter to Seint Anne,
MLT 642 Bifore whos child angeles synge Osanne,
MLT 643 If I be giltlees of this felonye,
MLT 644 My socour be, for ellis shal I dye!”
MLT 645 Have ye nat seyn somtyme a pale face,
MLT 646 Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
MLT 647 Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
MLT 648 And swich a colour in his face hath had
MLT 649 Men myghte knowe his face that was bistad
MLT 650 Amonges alle the faces in that route?
MLT 651 So stant Custance, and looketh hire aboute.
MLT 652 O queenes, lyvynge in prosperitee,
MLT 653 Duchesses, and ye ladyes everichone,
MLT 654 Haveth som routhe on hire adversitee!
MLT 655 An Emperoures doghter stant allone;
MLT 656 She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
MLT 657 O blood roial, that stondest in this drede,
MLT 658 Fer been thy freendes at thy grete nede!
MLT 659 This Alla kyng hath swich compassioun,
MLT 660 As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
MLT 661 That from his eyen ran the water doun.
MLT 662 “Now hastily do fecche a book,” quod he,
MLT 663 “And if this knyght wol sweren how that she
MLT 664 This womman slow, yet wol we us avyse
MLT 665 Whom that we wole that shal been oure justise.”
MLT 666 A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,
MLT 667 Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
MLT 668 She gilty was, and in the meene whiles
MLT 669 An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-boon,
MLT 670 That doun he fil atones as a stoon,
MLT 671 And bothe his eyen broste out of his face
MLT 672 In sighte of every body in that place.
MLT 673 A voys was herd in general audience,
MLT 674 And seyde, “Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees,
MLT 675 The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence;
MLT 676 Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees!”
MLT 677 Of this mervaille agast was al the prees;
MLT 678 As mazed folk they stoden everichone,
MLT 679 For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
MLT 680 Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
MLT 681 Of hem that hadden wrong suspecioun
MLT 682 Upon this sely innocent, Custance;
MLT 683 And for this miracle, in conclusioun,
MLT 684 And by Custances mediacioun,
MLT 685 The kyng — and many another in that place —
MLT 686 Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace!
MLT 687 This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe
MLT 688 By juggement of Alla hastifly;
MLT 689 And yet Custance hadde of his deeth greet routhe.
MLT 690 And after this Jhesus, of his mercy,
MLT 691 Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
MLT 692 This hooly mayden, that is so bright and sheene;
MLT 693 And thus hath Crist ymaad Custance a queene.
MLT 694 But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
MLT 695 Of this weddyng but Donegild, and namo,
MLT 696 The kynges mooder, ful of tirannye?
MLT 697 Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast atwo.
MLT 698 She wolde noght hir sone had do so;
MLT 699 Hir thoughte a despit that he sholde take
MLT 700 So strange a creature unto his make.
MLT 701 Me list nat of the chaf, ne of the stree,
MLT 702 Maken so long a tale as of the corn.
MLT 703 What sholde I tellen of the roialtee
MLT 704 At mariage, or which cours goth biforn;
MLT 705 Who bloweth in a trumpe or in an horn?
MLT 706 The fruyt of every tale is for to seye:
MLT 707 They ete, and drynke, and daunce, and synge, and pleye.
MLT 708 They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right;
MLT 709 For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,
MLT 710 They moste take in pacience at nyght
MLT 711 Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges
MLT 712 To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,
MLT 713 And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside,
MLT 714 As for the tyme — it may no bet bitide.
MLT 715 On hire he gat a knave child anon,
MLT 716 And to a bisshop, and his constable eke,
MLT 717 He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon
MLT 718 To Scotlond-ward, his foomen for to seke.
MLT 719 Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
MLT 720 So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
MLT 721 She halt hire chambre, abidyng Cristes wille.
MLT 722 The tyme is come a knave child she beer;
MLT 723 Mauricius at the fontstoon they hym calle.
MLT 724 This constable dooth forth come a messageer,
MLT 725 And wroot unto his kyng, that cleped was Alle,
MLT 726 How that this blisful tidyng is bifalle,
MLT 727 And othere tidynges spedeful for to seye.
MLT 728 He taketh the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.
MLT 729 This messager, to doon his avantage,
MLT 730 Unto the kynges mooder rideth swithe,
MLT 731 And salueth hire ful faire in his langage:
MLT 732 “Madame,” quod he, “ye may be glad and blithe,
MLT 733 And thanketh God an hundred thousand sithe!
MLT 734 My lady queene hath child, withouten doute,
MLT 735 To joye and blisse to al this regne aboute.
MLT 736 “Lo, heere the lettres seled of this thyng,
MLT 737 That I moot bere with al the haste I may.
MLT 738 If ye wol aught unto youre sone the kyng,
MLT 739 I am youre servant, bothe nyght and day.”
MLT 740 Donegild answerde, “As now at this tyme, nay;
MLT 741 But heere al nyght I wol thou take thy reste.
MLT 742 To-morwe wol I seye thee what me leste.”
MLT 743 This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,
MLT 744 And stolen were his lettres pryvely
MLT 745 Out of his box, whil he sleep as a swyn;
MLT 746 And countrefeted was ful subtilly
MLT 747 Another lettre, wroght ful synfully,
MLT 748 Unto the kyng direct of this mateere
MLT 749 Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.
MLT 750 The lettre spak the queene delivered was
MLT 751 Of so horrible a feendly creature
MLT 752 That in the castel noon so hardy was
MLT 753 That any while dorste ther endure.
MLT 754 The mooder was an elf, by aventure
MLT 755 Ycomen, by charmes or by sorcerie,
MLT 756 And every wight hateth hir compaignye.
MLT 757 Wo was this kyng whan he this lettre had sayn,
MLT 758 But to no wight he tolde his sorwes soore,
MLT 759 But of his owene hand he wroot agayn,
MLT 760 “Welcome the sonde of Crist for everemoore
MLT 761 To me that am now lerned in his loore!
MLT 762 Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce;
MLT 763 My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.
MLT 764 “Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feir,
MLT 765 And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge.
MLT 766 Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
MLT 767 Moore agreable than this to my likynge.”
MLT 768 This lettre he seleth, pryvely wepynge,
MLT 769 Which to the messager was take soone,
MLT 770 And forth he gooth; ther is na moore to doone.
MLT 771 O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
MLT 772 Strong is thy breeth, thy lymes faltren ay,
MLT 773 And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.
MLT 774 Thy mynde is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,
MLT 775 Thy face is turned in a newe array.
MLT 776 Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
MLT 777 Ther is no conseil hyd, withouten doute.
MLT 778 O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne
MLT 779 Unto thy malice and thy tirannye!
MLT 780 And therfore to the feend I thee resigne;
MLT 781 Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie!
MLT 782 Fy, mannysh, fy! — o nay, by God, I lye —
MLT 783 Fy, feendlych spirit, for I dar wel telle,
MLT 784 Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle!
MLT 785 This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,
MLT 786 And at the kynges moodres court he lighte,
MLT 787 And she was of this messager ful fayn,
MLT 788 And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
MLT 789 He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte;
MLT 790 He slepeth, and he fnorteth in his gyse
MLT 791 Al nyght, til the sonne gan aryse.
MLT 792 Eft were his lettres stolen everychon,
MLT 793 And countrefeted lettres in this wyse:
MLT 794 “The king comandeth his constable anon,
MLT 795 Up peyne of hangyng, and on heigh juyse,
MLT 796 That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
MLT 797 Custance in-with his reawme for t’ abyde
MLT 798 Thre dayes and o quarter of a tyde;
MLT 799 “But in the same ship as he hire fond,
MLT 800 Hire, and hir yonge sone, and al hir geere,
MLT 801 He sholde putte, and croude hire fro the lond,
MLT 802 And charge hire that she never eft coome theere.”
MLT 803 O my Custance, wel may thy goost have feere,
MLT 804 And, slepynge, in thy dreem been in penance,
MLT 805 Whan Donegild cast al this ordinance.
MLT 806 This messager on morwe, whan he wook,
MLT 807 Unto the castel halt the nexte way,
MLT 808 And to the constable he the lettre took;
MLT 809 And whan that he this pitous lettre say,
MLT 810 Ful ofte he seyde, “Allas and weylaway!”
MLT 811 “Lord Crist,” quod he, “how may this world endure,
MLT 812 So ful of synne is many a creature?
MLT 813 “O myghty God, if that it be thy wille,
MLT 814 Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be
MLT 815 That thou wolt suffren innocentz to spille,
MLT 816 And wikked folk regne in prosperitee?
MLT 817 O goode Custance, allas, so wo is me
MLT 818 That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye
MLT 819 On shames deeth; ther is noon oother weye.”
MLT 820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place
MLT 821 Whan that the kyng this cursed lettre sente,
MLT 822 And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
MLT 823 The ferthe day toward hir ship she wente.
MLT 824 But nathelees she taketh in good entente
MLT 825 The wyl of Crist, and knelynge on the stronde,
MLT 826 She seyde, “Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde!
MLT 827 “He that me kepte fro the false blame
MLT 828 While I was on the lond amonges yow,
MLT 829 He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame
MLT 830 In salte see, althogh I se noght how.
MLT 831 As strong as evere he was, he is yet now.
MLT 832 In hym triste I, and in his mooder deere,
MLT 833 That is to me my seyl and eek my steere.”
MLT 834 Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
MLT 835 And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
MLT 836 “Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm.”
MLT 837 With that hir coverchief of hir heed she breyde,
MLT 838 And over his litel eyen she it leyde,
MLT 839 And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
MLT 840 And into hevene hire eyen up she caste.
MLT 841 “Mooder,” quod she, “and mayde bright, Marie,
MLT 842 Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
MLT 843 Mankynde was lorn, and damned ay to dye,
MLT 844 For which thy child was on a croys yrent.
MLT 845 Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
MLT 846 Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
MLT 847 Thy wo and any wo man may sustene.
MLT 848 “Thow sawe thy child yslayn bifore thyne yen,
MLT 849 And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay!
MLT 850 Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
MLT 851 Thow glorie of wommanhede, thow faire may,
MLT 852 Thow haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
MLT 853 Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse
MLT 854 Rewest on every reweful in distresse.
MLT 855 “O litel child, allas! What is thy gilt,
MLT 856 That nevere wroghtest synne as yet, pardee?
MLT 857 Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
MLT 858 O mercy, deere constable,” quod she,
MLT 859 “As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
MLT 860 And if thou darst nat saven hym, for blame,
MLT 861 So kys hym ones in his fadres name!”
MLT 862 Therwith she looked bakward to the londe,
MLT 863 And seyde, “Farewel, housbonde routhelees!”
MLT 864 And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde
MLT 865 Toward the ship — hir folweth al the prees —
MLT 866 And evere she preyeth hire child to holde his pees;
MLT 867 And taketh hir leve, and with an hooly entente
MLT 868 She blisseth hire, and into ship she wente.
MLT 869 Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
MLT 870 Habundantly for hire ful longe space,
MLT 871 And othere necessaries that sholde nede
MLT 872 She hadde ynogh — heryed be Goddes grace!
MLT 873 For wynd and weder almyghty God purchace,
MLT 874 And brynge hire hoom! I kan no bettre seye,
MLT 875 But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.
MLT 876 Alla the kyng comth hoom soone after this
MLT 877 Unto his castel, of the which I tolde,
MLT 878 And asketh where his wyf and his child is.
MLT 879 The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
MLT 880 And pleynly al the manere he hym tolde
MLT 881 As ye han herd — I kan telle it no bettre —
MLT 882 And sheweth the kyng his seel and eek his lettre,
MLT 883 And seyde, “Lord, as ye comanded me
MLT 884 Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein.”
MLT 885 This messager tormented was til he
MLT 886 Moste biknowe and tellen, plat and pleyn,
MLT 887 Fro nyght to nyght, in what place he had leyn;
MLT 888 And thus, by wit and sotil enquerynge,
MLT 889 Ymagined was by whom this harm gan sprynge.
MLT 890 The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
MLT 891 And al the venym of this cursed dede,
MLT 892 But in what wise, certeinly, I noot.
MLT 893 Th’ effect is this: that Alla, out of drede,
MLT 894 His mooder slow — that may men pleynly rede —
MLT 895 For that she traitour was to hire ligeance.
MLT 896 Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschance!
MLT 897 The sorwe that this Alla nyght and day
MLT 898 Maketh for his wyf, and for his child also,
MLT 899 Ther is no tonge that it telle may.
MLT 900 But now wol I unto Custance go,
MLT 901 That fleteth in the see, in peyne and wo,
MLT 902 Fyve yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde,
MLT 903 Er that hir ship approched unto londe.
MLT 904 Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
MLT 905 Of which the name in my text noght I fynde,
MLT 906 Custance, and eek hir child, the see up caste.
MLT 907 Almyghty God, that saveth al mankynde,
MLT 908 Have on Custance and on hir child som mynde,
MLT 909 That fallen is in hethen hand eft soone,
MLT 910 In point to spille, as I shal telle yow soone.
MLT 911 Doun fro the castel comth ther many a wight
MLT 912 To gauren on this ship and on Custance.
MLT 913 But shortly, from the castel, on a nyght,
MLT 914 The lordes styward — God yeve hym meschance! —
MLT 915 A theef, that hadde reneyed oure creance,
MLT 916 Cam into ship allone, and seyde he sholde
MLT 917 Hir lemman be, wher-so she wolde or nolde.
MLT 918 Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon;
MLT 919 Hir child cride, and she cride pitously.
MLT 920 But blisful Marie heelp hire right anon;
MLT 921 For with hir struglyng wel and myghtily
MLT 922 The theef fil over bord al sodeynly,
MLT 923 And in the see he dreynte for vengeance;
MLT 924 And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
MLT 925 O foule lust of luxurie, lo, thyn ende!
MLT 926 Nat oonly that thou feyntest mannes mynde,
MLT 927 But verraily thou wolt his body shende.
MLT 928 Th’ ende of thy werk, or of thy lustes blynde,
MLT 929 Is compleynyng. Hou many oon may men fynde
MLT 930 That noght for werk somtyme, but for th’ entente
MLT 931 To doon this synne, been outher slayn or shente!
MLT 932 How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
MLT 933 Hire to defende agayn this renegat?
MLT 934 O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
MLT 935 Hou myghte David make thee so maat,
MLT 936 So yong and of armure so desolaat?
MLT 937 Hou dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?
MLT 938 Wel may men seen, it nas but Goddes grace.
MLT 939 Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
MLT 940 To sleen hym Olofernus in his tente,
MLT 941 And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
MLT 942 The peple of God? I seye, for this entente,
MLT 943 That right as God spirit of vigour sente
MLT 944 To hem and saved hem out of meschance,
MLT 945 So sente he myght and vigour to Custance.
MLT 946 Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe mouth
MLT 947 Of Jubaltare and Septe, dryvynge ay
MLT 948 Somtyme west, and somtyme north and south,
MLT 949 And somtyme est, ful many a wery day,
MLT 950 Til Cristes mooder — blessed be she ay! —
MLT 951 Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
MLT 952 To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.
MLT 953 Now lat us stynte of Custance but a throwe,
MLT 954 And speke we of the Romayn Emperour,
MLT 955 That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe
MLT 956 The slaughtre of cristen folk, and dishonour
MLT 957 Doon to his doghter by a fals traytour,
MLT 958 I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse
MLT 959 That at the feeste leet sleen bothe moore and lesse.
MLT 960 For which this Emperour hath sent anon
MLT 961 His senatour, with roial ordinance,
MLT 962 And othere lordes, God woot, many oon,
MLT 963 On Surryens to taken heigh vengeance.
MLT 964 They brennen, sleen, and brynge hem to meschance
MLT 965 Ful many a day; but shortly — this is th’ ende —
MLT 966 Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
MLT 967 This senatour repaireth with victorie
MLT 968 To Rome-ward, saillynge ful roially,
MLT 969 And mette the ship dryvynge, as seith the storie,
MLT 970 In which Custance sit ful pitously.
MLT 971 Nothyng ne knew he what she was, ne why
MLT 972 She was in swich array, ne she nyl seye
MLT 973 Of hire estaat, althogh she sholde deye.
MLT 974 He bryngeth hire to Rome, and to his wyf
MLT 975 He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also;
MLT 976 And with the senatour she ladde hir lyf.
MLT 977 Thus kan Oure Lady bryngen out of wo
MLT 978 Woful Custance, and many another mo.
MLT 979 And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
MLT 980 In hooly werkes evere, as was hir grace.
MLT 981 The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
MLT 982 But for al that she knew hire never the moore.
MLT 983 I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,
MLT 984 But to kyng Alla, which I spak of yoore,
MLT 985 That for his wyf wepeth and siketh soore,
MLT 986 I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
MLT 987 Under the senatoures governance.
MLT 988 Kyng Alla, which that hadde his mooder slayn,
MLT 989 Upon a day fil in swich repentance
MLT 990 That, if I shortly tellen shal and playn,
MLT 991 To Rome he comth to receyven his penance;
MLT 992 And putte hym in the Popes ordinance
MLT 993 In heigh and logh, and Jhesu Crist bisoghte
MLT 994 Foryeve his wikked werkes that he wroghte.
MLT 995 The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born,
MLT 996 How Alla kyng shal comen in pilgrymage,
MLT 997 By herbergeours that wenten hym biforn;
MLT 998 For which the senatour, as was usage,
MLT 999 Rood hym agayns, and many of his lynage,
MLT 1000 As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
MLT 1001 As to doon any kyng a reverence.
MLT 1002 Greet cheere dooth this noble senatour
MLT 1003 To kyng Alla, and he to hym also;
MLT 1004 Everich of hem dooth oother greet honour.
MLT 1005 And so bifel that in a day or two
MLT 1006 This senatour is to kyng Alla go
MLT 1007 To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
MLT 1008 Custances sone wente in his compaignye.
MLT 1009 Som men wolde seyn at requeste of Custance
MLT 1010 This senatour hath lad this child to feeste;
MLT 1011 I may nat tellen every circumstance —
MLT 1012 Be as be may, ther was he at the leeste.
MLT 1013 But sooth is this, that at his moodres heeste
MLT 1014 Biforn Alla, durynge the metes space,
MLT 1015 The child stood, lookynge in the kynges face.
MLT 1016 This Alla kyng hath of this child greet wonder,
MLT 1017 And to the senatour he seyde anon,
MLT 1018 “Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?”
MLT 1019 “I noot,” quod he, “by God, and by Seint John!
MLT 1020 A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon
MLT 1021 That I of woot” — and shortly, in a stounde,
MLT 1022 He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.
MLT 1023 “But God woot,” quod this senatour also,
MLT 1024 “So vertuous a lyvere in my lyf
MLT 1025 Ne saugh I nevere as she, ne herde of mo,
MLT 1026 Of worldly wommen, mayde, ne of wyf.
MLT 1027 I dar wel seyn hir hadde levere a knyf
MLT 1028 Thurghout hir brest, than ben a womman wikke;
MLT 1029 There is no man koude brynge hire to that prikke.”
MLT 1030 Now was this child as lyk unto Custance
MLT 1031 As possible is a creature to be.
MLT 1032 This Alla hath the face in remembrance
MLT 1033 Of dame Custance, and ther on mused he
MLT 1034 If that the childes mooder were aught she
MLT 1035 That is his wyf, and pryvely he sighte,
MLT 1036 And spedde hym fro the table that he myghte.
MLT 1037 “Parfay,” thoghte he, “fantome is in myn heed!
MLT 1038 I oghte deme, of skilful juggement,
MLT 1039 That in the salte see my wyf is deed.”
MLT 1040 And afterward he made his argument:
MLT 1041 “What woot I if that Crist have hyder ysent
MLT 1042 My wyf by see, as wel as he hire sente
MLT 1043 To my contree fro thennes that she wente?”
MLT 1044 And after noon, hoom with the senatour
MLT 1045 Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
MLT 1046 This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
MLT 1047 And hastifly he sente after Custaunce.
MLT 1048 But trusteth weel, hire liste nat to daunce
MLT 1049 Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;
MLT 1050 Unnethe upon hir feet she myghte stonde.
MLT 1051 Whan Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hire grette,
MLT 1052 And weep that it was routhe for to see;
MLT 1053 For at the firste look he on hire sette
MLT 1054 He knew wel verraily that it was she.
MLT 1055 And she, for sorwe, as doumb stant as a tree,
MLT 1056 So was hir herte shet in hir distresse,
MLT 1057 Whan she remembred his unkyndenesse.
MLT 1058 Twyes she swowned in his owene sighte;
MLT 1059 He weep, and hym excuseth pitously.
MLT 1060 “Now God,” quod he, “and his halwes brighte
MLT 1061 So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
MLT 1062 That of youre harm as giltelees am I
MLT 1063 As is Maurice my sone, so lyk youre face;
MLT 1064 Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!”
MLT 1065 Long was the sobbyng and the bitter peyne,
MLT 1066 Er that hir woful hertes myghte cesse;
MLT 1067 Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleyne,
MLT 1068 Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.
MLT 1069 I pray yow alle my labour to relesse;
MLT 1070 I may nat telle hir wo until to-morwe,
MLT 1071 I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
MLT 1072 But finally, whan that the sothe is wist
MLT 1073 That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,
MLT 1074 I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
MLT 1075 And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two
MLT 1076 That, save the joye that lasteth everemo,
MLT 1077 Ther is noon lyk that any creature
MLT 1078 Hath seyn or shal, whil that the world may dure.
MLT 1079 Tho preyde she hir housbonde mekely,
MLT 1080 In relief of hir longe, pitous pyne,
MLT 1081 That he wolde preye hir fader specially
MLT 1082 That of his magestee he wolde enclyne
MLT 1083 To vouche sauf som day with hym to dyne.
MLT 1084 She preyde hym eek he sholde by no weye
MLT 1085 Unto hir fader no word of hire seye.
MLT 1086 Som men wolde seyn how that the child Maurice
MLT 1087 Dooth this message unto this Emperour;
MLT 1088 But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce
MLT 1089 To hym that was of so sovereyn honour
MLT 1090 As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,
MLT 1091 Sente any child, but it is bet to deeme
MLT 1092 He wente hymself, and so it may wel seeme.
MLT 1093 This Emperour hath graunted gentilly
MLT 1094 To come to dyner, as he hym bisoughte;
MLT 1095 And wel rede I he looked bisily
MLT 1096 Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte.
MLT 1097 Alla goth to his in, and as hym oghte,
MLT 1098 Arrayed for this feste in every wise
MLT 1099 As ferforth as his konnyng may suffise.
MLT 1100 The morwe cam, and Alla gan hym dresse,
MLT 1101 And eek his wyf, this Emperour to meete;
MLT 1102 And forth they ryde in joye and in gladnesse.
MLT 1103 And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,
MLT 1104 She lighte doun, and falleth hym to feete.
MLT 1105 “Fader,” quod she, “youre yonge child Custance
MLT 1106 Is now ful clene out of youre remembrance.
MLT 1107 “I am youre doghter Custance,” quod she,
MLT 1108 “That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
MLT 1109 It am I, fader, that in the salte see
MLT 1110 Was put allone and dampned for to dye.
MLT 1111 Now, goode fader, mercy I yow crye!
MLT 1112 Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,
MLT 1113 But thonketh my lord heere of his kyndenesse.”
MLT 1114 Who kan the pitous joye tellen al
MLT 1115 Bitwixe hem thre, syn they been thus ymette?
MLT 1116 But of my tale make an ende I shal;
MLT 1117 The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
MLT 1118 This glade folk to dyner they hem sette;
MLT 1119 In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle
MLT 1120 A thousand foold wel moore than I kan telle.
MLT 1121 This child Maurice was sithen Emperour
MLT 1122 Maad by the Pope, and lyved cristenly;
MLT 1123 To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour.
MLT 1124 But I lete al his storie passen by;
MLT 1125 Of Custance is my tale specially.
MLT 1126 In the olde Romayn geestes may men fynde
MLT 1127 Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in mynde.
MLT 1128 This kyng Alla, whan he his tyme say,
MLT 1129 With his Custance, his hooly wyf so sweete,
MLT 1130 To Engelond been they come the righte way,
MLT 1131 Wher as they lyve in joye and in quiete.
MLT 1132 But litel while it lasteth, I yow heete,
MLT 1133 Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;
MLT 1134 Fro day to nyght it changeth as the tyde.
MLT 1135 Who lyved euere in swich delit o day
MLT 1136 That hym ne moeved outher conscience,
MLT 1137 Or ire, or talent, or som kynnes affray,
MLT 1138 Envye, or pride, or passion, or offence?
MLT 1139 I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
MLT 1140 That litel while in joye or in plesance
MLT 1141 Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
MLT 1142 For Deeth, that taketh of heigh and logh his rente,
MLT 1143 Whan passed was a yeer, evene as I gesse,
MLT 1144 Out of this world this kyng Alla he hente,
MLT 1145 For whom Custance hath ful greet hevynesse.
MLT 1146 Now lat us prayen God his soule blesse!
MLT 1147 And dame Custance, finally to seye,
MLT 1148 Toward the toun of Rome goth hir weye.
MLT 1149 To Rome is come this hooly creature,
MLT 1150 And fyndeth hire freendes hoole and sounde;
MLT 1151 Now is she scaped al hire aventure.
MLT 1152 And whan that she hir fader hath yfounde,
MLT 1153 Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde;
MLT 1154 Wepynge for tendrenesse in herte blithe,
MLT 1155 She heryeth God an hundred thousand sithe.
MLT 1156 In vertu and in hooly almus-dede
MLT 1157 They lyven alle, and nevere asonder wende;
MLT 1158 Til deeth departeth hem, this lyf they lede.
MLT 1159 And fareth now weel! my tale is at an ende.
MLT 1160 Now Jhesu Crist, that of his myght may sende
MLT 1161 Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,
MLT 1162 And kepe us alle that been in this place! Amen