The Wife of Bath’s Tale

From The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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