The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale
Heere bigynneth the Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.
In th'olde dayes of the Kyng Arthour,
Of which that Britons speken greet honour,
All was this land fulfild of fayerye.
865 The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
But now kan no man se none elves mo,
870 For now the grete charitee and prayeres
Of lymytours and othere hooly freres,
That serchen every lond and every streem,
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
875 Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes,
This maketh that ther been no fayeryes.
For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself
880 In undermeles and in morwenynges,
And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges
As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
Wommen may go saufly up and doun.
In every bussh or under every tree
885 Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
And so bifel it that this kyng Arthour
Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,
That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver;
890 And happed that, allone as she was born,
He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
By verray force he rafte hir maydenhed;
For which oppressioun was swich clamour
895 And swich pursute unto the kyng Arthour,
That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed -
Paraventure, swich was the statut tho -
But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
900 So longe preyeden the kyng of grace,
Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
And yaf hym to the queene al at hir wille,
To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
905 And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day,
"Thou standest yet," quod she, "in swich array
That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
910 What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren.
Be war and keep thy nekke-boon from iren!
And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon,
Yet shal I yeve thee leve for to gon
A twelf-month and a day to seche and leere
915 An answere suffisant in this mateere;
And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
Thy body for to yelden in this place."
Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
But what! He may nat do al as hym liketh.
920 And at the laste he chees hym for to wende,
And come agayn right at the yeres ende,
With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye;
And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.
He seketh every hous and every place
925 Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace
To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost;
But he ne koude arryven in no coost
Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere
Two creatures accordynge in-feere.
930 Somme seyde, wommen loven best richesse,
Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse,
Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde,
And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde.
Somme seyde, that oure hertes been moost esed
935 Whan that we been yflatered and yplesed.
He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye,
A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
And with attendance and with bisynesse
Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
940 And somme seyen, how that we loven best
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
But seye that we be wise, and nothyng nyce.
For trewely, ther is noon of us alle,
945 If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
That we nel kike; for he seith us sooth;
Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth.
For, be we never so vicious withinne,
We sol been holden wise, and clene of synne.
950 And somme seyn, that greet delit han we
For to been holden stable and eek secree,
And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
And nat biwerye thyng that men us telle.
But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele,
955 Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele.
Witnesse on Myda, - wol ye heere the tale?
Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
Seyde, Myda hadde under his longe heres
Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
960 The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte,
Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
He loved hire moost and trusted hir also;
He preyede hire, that to no creature
965 She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
She swoor him nay, for al this world to wynne,
She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
970 But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,
That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
That nedely som word hir moste asterte;
And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
975 Doun to a mareys faste by she ran,
Til she cam there, hir herte was a fyre,
And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
"Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,"
980 Quod she, "to thee I telle it and namo,
Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute."
Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
985 Yet out it moot, we kan no conseil hyde.
The remenant of the tale, if ye wol heere,
Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
Whan that he saugh he myghte nat come therby,
990 This is to seye, what wommen love moost,
Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne;
The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
995 In al this care under a forest syde,
Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
1000 But certeinly, er he came fully there,
Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf -
A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
1005 Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
And seyde, "Sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
Tel me what that ye seken, by your fey!
Paraventure it may the bettre be,
Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng," quod she.
1010 "My leeve mooder," quod this knyght, "certeyn
I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn
What thyng it is, that wommen moost desire.
Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire."
"Plight me thy trouthe, heere in myn hand," quod she,
1015 "The nexte thyng that I requere thee,
Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght,
And I wol telle it yow, er it be nyght."
"Have heer my trouthe," quod the knyght, "I grante."
"Thanne," quod she, "I dar me wel avante
1020 Thy lyf is sauf; for I wol stonde therby,
Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I.
Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle,
That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,
That dar seye nay of that I shal thee teche.
1025 Lat us go forth withouten lenger speche."
Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
And bad hym to be glad and have no fere.
Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,
1030 And redy was his answere, as he sayde.
Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
And many a wydwe, for that they been wise,
The queene hirself sittynge as a justise,
Assembled been, his answere for to heere;
1035 And afterward this knyght was bode appeere.
To every wight comanded was silence,
And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
1040 But ot his questioun anon answerde
With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
"My lige lady, generally," quod he,
"Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
As wel over hir housbond as hir love,
1045 And for to been in maistrie hym above.
This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
Dooth as yow list, I am heer at youre wille."
In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
Ne wydwe, that contraried that he sayde,
1050 But seyden he was worthy han his lyf.
And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,
Which that the knyght saugh sittynge in the grene.
"Mercy," quod she, "my sovereyn lady queene,
Er that youre court departe, do me right.
1055 I taughte this answere unto the knyght,
For which he plighte me his trouthe there,
The firste thyng I wolde of hym requere,
He wolde it do, if it lay in his myght.
Bifor the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght,"
1060 Quod she, "that thou me take unto thy wyf,
For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf.
If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey!"
This knyght answerde, "Allas and weylawey!
I woot right wel that swich was my biheste!
1065 For Goddes love, as chees a newe requeste!
Taak al my good, and lat my body go!"
"Nay, thanne," quod she, "I shrewe us bothe two!
For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore,
I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore,
1070 That under erthe is grave, or lith above,
But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love."
"My love?" quod he, "nay, my dampnacioun!
Allas, that any of my nacioun
Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!"
1075 But al for noght, the ende is this, that he
Constreyned was, he nedes moste hir wedde;
And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.
Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,
That for my necligence I do no cure
1080 To tellen yow the joye and al th'array,
That at the feeste was that ilke day;
To whiche thyng shortly answere I shal:
I seye, ther nas no joye ne feeste at al;
Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe.
1085 For prively he wedde hir on a morwe,
And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght,
Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght;
1090 He walweth and he turneth to and fro.
His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo,
And seyde, "O deere housbonde, benedicitee,
Fareth every knyght thus with his wyf, as ye?
Is this the lawe of Kyng Arthures hous?
1095 Is every knyght of his so dangerous?
I am youre owene love and youre wyf;
I am she which that saved hath youre lyf.
And certes, yet dide I yow nevere unright;
Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght?
1100 Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit.
What is my gilt? For Goddes love, tel it,
And it shal been amended, if I may."
"Amended," quod this knyght, "allas! nay! nay!
It wol nat been amended nevere mo;
1105 Thou art so loothly and so oold also,
And therto comen of so lough a kynde,
That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde.
So wolde God, myn herte wolde breste!"
"Is this," quod she, "the cause of youre unreste?"
1110 "Ye certeinly," quod he, "no wonder is!"
"Now, sire," quod she, "I koude amende al this,
If that me liste, er it were dayes thre,
So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me.
But for ye speken of swich gentillesse
1115 As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
Swich arrogance nis nat worth an hen.
Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
1120 To do the gentil dedes that he kan,
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
1125 For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng
To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
That made hem gentil men ycalled be,
And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.
1130 Wel kan the wise poete of Florence,
That highte Dant, speken in this sentence.
Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:
`Ful selde upriseth by his branches smale
Prowesse of man, for God of his goodnesse,
1135 Wole, that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse.'
For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
If gentillesse were planted natureelly
1140 Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
Pryvee nor apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne
To doon of gentillesse the faire office,
They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
1145 Bitwix this and the mount of Kaukasous,
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
His office natureel ay wol it holde,
1150 Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
Heere may ye se wel, how that genterye
Is nat annexed to possessioun,
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
1155 For God it woot, men may wel often fynde
A lordes sone do shame and vileynye,
And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,
1160 And nel hym-selven do no gentil dedis,
Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl;
For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
For gentillesse nys but renomee
1165 Of thyne auncestres for hire heigh bountee,
Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace,
It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
1170 Thenketh hou noble, as seith Valerius,
Was thilke Tullius Hostillius,
That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
Reedeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece,
Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is,
1175 That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
And therfore, leeve housbonde, I thus conclude:
Al were it that myne auncestres weren rude,
Yet may the hye God, and so hope I,
Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
1180 Thanne am I gentil whan that I bigynne
To lyven vertuously, and weyve synne.
And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve,
The hye God, on whom that we bileeve,
In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf.
1185 And certes every man, mayden or wyf,
May understonde that Jesus, hevene kyng,
Ne wolde nat chesen vicious lyvyng.
Glad poverte is an honeste thyng, certeyn,
This wole Senec and othere clerkes seyn.
1190 Who so that halt hym payd of his poverte,
I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.
He that coveiteth is a povre wight,
For he wolde han that is nat in his myght;
But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have,
1195 Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave.
Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely;
Juvenal seith of poverte myrily:
`The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,
Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye.'
1200 Poverte is hateful good, and, as I gesse,
A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse;
A greet amender eek of sapience
To hym that taketh it in pacience.
Poverte is this, although it seme alenge,
1205 Possessioun, that no wight wol chalenge.
Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe.
Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me,
Thurgh which he may hise verray freendes see.
1210 And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve,
Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve.
Now sire, of elde ye repreve me,
And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee
Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
1215 Seyn, that men sholde an oold wight doon favour,
And clepe hym fader for youre gentillesse;
And auctours shal I fynden, as I gesse.
Now, ther ye seye that I am foul and old,
Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;
1220 For filthe and eelde, al so moot I thee,
Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee;
But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit,
I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit."
"Chese now," quod she, "oon of thise thynges tweye:
1125 To han me foul and old til that I deye,
And be to yow a trewe humble wyf,
And nevere yow displese in al my lyf;
Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
And take youre aventure of the repair
1230 That shal be to youre hous, by cause of me,
Or in som oother place may wel be.
Now chese yourselven wheither that yow liketh."
This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh,
But atte laste, he seyde in this manere:
1235 "My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
I put me in youre wise governance.
Cheseth yourself, which may be moost plesance
And moost honour to yow and me also.
I do no fors the wheither of the two;
1240 For, as yow liketh, it suffiseth me."
"Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie," quod she,
"Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?"
"Ye, certes, wyf," quod he, "I holde it best."
"Kys me," quod she, "we be no lenger wrothe,
1245 For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe!
This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.
I prey to God that I moote sterven wood
But I to yow be al so good and trewe
As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe.
1250 And but I be to-morn as fair to seene
As any lady, emperice, or queene,
That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest.
Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is."
1255 And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this,
That she so fair was, and so yong therto,
For joye he hente hire in hise armes two.
His herte bathed in a bath of blisse,
A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hir kisse,
1260 And she obeyed hym in every thyng
That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng.
And thus they lyve unto hir lyves ende
In parfit joye;-and Jesu Crist us sende
Housbondes meeke, yonge, fressh abedde,
1265 And grace t'overbyde hem that we wedde;
And eek I praye Jesu shorte hir lyves
That nat wol be governed by hir wyves;
And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,
God sende hem soone verray pestilence!
Heere endeth the Wyves Tale of Bathe.
The Wife of Bath's Prologue | The Friar's Prologue