The Canterbury Tales

The Wife Of Bath's Prologue

Modern English
1  Experience, though no authority
2   Were in this world, were good enough for me,
3   To speak of woe that is in all marriage;
4   For, masters, since I was twelve years of age,
5   Thanks be to God Who is for aye alive,
6   Of husbands at church door have I had five;
7   For men so many times have wedded me;
8   And all were worthy men in their degree.
9   But someone told me not so long ago
10   That since Our Lord, save once, would never go
11   To wedding (that at Cana in Galilee),
12   Thus, by this same example, showed He me
13   I never should have married more than once.
14   Lo and behold! What sharp words, for the nonce,
15   Beside a well Lord Jesus, God and man,
16   Spoke in reproving the Samaritan:
17   'For thou hast had five husbands,' thus said He,
18   'And he whom thou hast now to be with thee
19   Is not thine husband.' Thus He said that day,
20   But what He meant thereby I cannot say;
21   And I would ask now why that same fifth man
22   Was not husband to the Samaritan?
23   How many might she have, then, in marriage?
24   For I have never heard, in all my age,
25   Clear exposition of this number shown,
26   Though men may guess and argue up and down.
27   But well I know and say, and do not lie,
28   God bade us to increase and multiply;
29   That worthy text can I well understand.
30   And well I know He said, too, my husband
31   Should father leave, and mother, and cleave to me;
32   But no specific number mentioned He,
33   Whether of bigamy or octogamy;
34   Why should men speak of it reproachfully?
35   Lo, there's the wise old king Dan Solomon;
36   I understand he had more wives than one;
37   And now would God it were permitted me
38   To be refreshed one half as oft as he!
39   Which gift of God he had for all his wives!
40   No man has such that in this world now lives.
41   God knows, this noble king, it strikes my wit,
42   The first night he had many a merry fit
43   With each of them, so much he was alive!
44   Praise be to God that I have wedded five!
45   Welcome the sixth whenever come he shall.
46   Forsooth, I'll not keep chaste for good and all;
47   When my good husband from the world is gone,
48   Some Christian man shall marry me anon;
49   For then, the apostle says that I am free
50   To wed, in God's name, where it pleases me.
51   He says that to be wedded is no sin;
52   Better to marry than to burn within.
53   What care I though folk speak reproachfully
54   Of wicked Lamech and his bigamy?
55   I know well Abraham was holy man,
56   And Jacob, too, as far as know I can;
57   And each of them had spouses more than two;
58   And many another holy man also.
59   Or can you say that you have ever heard
60   That God has ever by His express word
61   Marriage forbidden? Pray you, now, tell me.
62   Or where commanded He virginity?
63   I read as well as you no doubt have read
64   The apostle when he speaks of maidenhead;
65   He said, commandment of the Lord he'd none.
66   Men may advise a woman to be one,
67   But such advice is not commandment, no;
68   He left the thing to our own judgment so.
69   For had Lord God commanded maidenhood,
70   He'd have condemned all marriage as not good;
71   And certainly, if there were no seed sown,
72   Virginity- where then should it be grown?
73   Paul dared not to forbid us, at the least,
74   A thing whereof his Master'd no behest.
75   The dart is set up for virginity;
76   Catch it who can; who runs best let us see.
77   But this word is not meant for every wight,
78   But where God wills to give it, of His might.
79   I know well that the apostle was a maid;
80   Nevertheless, and though he wrote and said
81   He would that everyone were such as he,
82   All is not counsel to virginity;
83   And so to be a wife he gave me leave
84   Out of permission; there's no shame should grieve
85   In marrying me, if that my mate should die,
86   Without exception, too, of bigamy.
87   And though 'twere good no woman flesh to touch,
88   He meant, in his own bed or on his couch;
89   For peril 'tis fire and tow to assemble;
90   You know what this example may resemble.
91   This is the sum: he held virginity
92   Nearer perfection than marriage for frailty.
93   And frailty's all, I say, save he and she
94   Would lead their lives throughout in chastity.
95   I grant this well, I have no great envy
96   Though maidenhood's preferred to bigamy;
97   Let those who will be clean, body and ghost,
98   Of my condition I will make no boast.
99   For well you know, a lord in his household,
100   He has not every vessel all of gold;
101   Some are of wood and serve well all their days.
102   God calls folk unto Him in sundry ways,
103   And each one has from God a proper gift,
104   Some this, some that, as pleases Him to shift.
105   Virginity is great perfection known,
106   And continence e'en with devotion shown.
107   But Christ, Who of perfection is the well,
108   Bade not each separate man he should go sell
109   All that he had and give it to the poor
110   And follow Him in such wise going before.
111   He spoke to those that would live perfectly;
112   And, masters, by your leave, such am not I.
113   I will devote the flower of all my age
114   To all the acts and harvests of marriage.
115   Tell me also, to what purpose or end
116   The genitals were made, that I defend,
117   And for what benefit was man first wrought?
118   Trust you right well, they were not made for naught.
119   Explain who will and argue up and down
120   That they were made for passing out, as known,
121   Of urine, and our two belongings small
122   Were just to tell a female from a male,
123   And for no other cause- ah, say you no?
124   Experience knows well it is not so;
125   And, so the clerics be not with me wroth,
126   I say now that they have been made for both,
127   That is to say, for duty and for ease
128   In getting, when we do not God displease.
129   Why should men otherwise in their books set
130   That man shall pay unto his wife his debt?
131   Now wherewith should he ever make payment,
132   Except he used his blessed instrument?
133   Then on a creature were devised these things
134   For urination and engenderings.
135   But I say not that every one is bound,
136   Who's fitted out and furnished as I've found,
137   To go and use it to beget an heir;
138   Then men would have for chastity no care.
139   Christ was a maid, and yet shaped like a man,
140   And many a saint, since this old world began,
141   Yet has lived ever in perfect chastity.
142   I bear no malice to virginity;
143   Let such be bread of purest white wheat-seed,
144   And let us wives be called but barley bread;
145   And yet with barley bread (if Mark you scan)
146   Jesus Our Lord refreshed full many a man.
147   In such condition as God places us
148   I'll persevere, I'm not fastidious.
149   In wifehood I will use my instrument
150   As freely as my Maker has it sent.
151   If I be niggardly, God give me sorrow!
152   My husband he shall have it, eve and morrow,
153   When he's pleased to come forth and pay his debt.
154   I'll not delay, a husband I will get
155   Who shall be both my debtor and my thrall
156   And have his tribulations therewithal
157   Upon his flesh, the while I am his wife.
158   I have the power during all my life
159   Over his own good body, and not he.
160   For thus the apostle told it unto me;
161   And bade our husbands that they love us well.
162   And all this pleases me whereof I tell.
163   Up rose the pardoner, and that anon.
164   Now dame, said he, by God and by Saint John,
165   You are a noble preacher in this case!
166   I was about to wed a wife, alas!
167   Why should I buy this on my flesh so dear?
168   No, I would rather wed no wife this year.
169   But wait, said she, my tale is not begun;
170   Nay, you shall drink from out another tun
171   Before I cease, and savour worse than ale.
172   And when I shall have told you all my tale
173   Of tribulation that is in marriage,
174   Whereof I've been an expert all my age,
175   That is to say, myself have been the whip,
176   Then may you choose whether you will go sip
177   Out of that very tun which I shall broach.
178   Beware of it ere you too near approach;
179   For I shall give examples more than ten.
180   Whoso will not be warned by other men
181   By him shall other men corrected be,
182   The self-same words has written Ptolemy;
183   Read in his Almagest and find it there.
184   Lady, I pray you, if your will it were,
185   Spoke up this pardoner, as you began,
186   Tell forth your tale, nor spare for any man,
187   And teach us younger men of your technique.
188   Gladly, said she, since it may please, not pique.
189   But yet I pray of all this company
190   That if I speak from my own phantasy,
191   They will not take amiss the things I say;
192   For my intention's only but to play.
193   Now, sirs, now will I tell you forth my tale.
194   And as I may drink ever wine and ale,
195   I will tell truth of husbands that I've had,
196   For three of them were good and two were bad.
197   The three were good men and were rich and old.
198   Not easily could they the promise hold
199   Whereby they had been bound to cherish me.
200   You know well what I mean by that, pardie!
201   So help me God, I laugh now when I think
202   How pitifully by night I made them swink;
203   And by my faith I set by it no store.
204   They'd given me their gold, and treasure more;
205   I needed not do longer diligence
206   To win their love, or show them reverence.
207   They all loved me so well, by God above,
208   I never did set value on their love!
209   A woman wise will strive continually
210   To get herself loved, when she's not, you see.
211   But since I had them wholly in my hand,
212   And since to me they'd given all their land,
213   Why should I take heed, then, that I should please,
214   Save it were for my profit or my ease?
215   I set them so to work, that, by my fay,
216   Full many a night they sighed out 'Welaway!'
217   The bacon was not brought them home, I trow,
218   That some men have in Essex at Dunmowe.
219   I governed them so well, by my own law,
220   That each of them was happy as a daw,
221   And fain to bring me fine things from the fair.
222   And they were right glad when I spoke them fair;
223   For God knows that I nagged them mercilessly.
224   Now hearken how I bore me properly,
225   All you wise wives that well can understand.
226   Thus shall you speak and wrongfully demand;
227   For half so brazenfacedly can no man
228   Swear to his lying as a woman can.
229   I say not this to wives who may be wise,
230   Except when they themselves do misadvise.
231   A wise wife, if she knows what's for her good,
232   Will swear the crow is mad, and in this mood
233   Call up for witness to it her own maid;
234   But hear me now, for this is what I said.
235   'Sir Dotard, is it thus you stand today?
236   Why is my neighbour's wife so fine and gay?
237   She's honoured over all where'er she goes;
238   I sit at home, I have no decent clo'es.
239   What do you do there at my neighbour's house?
240   Is she so fair? Are you so amorous?
241   Why whisper to our maid? Benedicite!
242   Sir Lecher old, let your seductions be!
243   And if I have a gossip or a friend,
244   Innocently, you blame me like a fiend
245   If I but walk, for company, to his house!
246   You come home here as drunken as a mouse,
247   And preach there on your bench, a curse on you!
248   You tell me it's a great misfortune, too,
249   To wed a girl who costs more than she's worth;
250   And if she's rich and of a higher birth,
251   You say it's torment to abide her folly
252   And put up with her pride and melancholy.
253   And if she be right fair, you utter knave,
254   You say that every lecher will her have;
255   She may no while in chastity abide
256   That is assailed by all and on each side.
257   'You say, some men desire us for our gold,
258   Some for our shape and some for fairness told:
259   And some, that she can either sing or dance,
260   And some, for courtesy and dalliance;
261   Some for her hands and for her arms so small;
262   Thus all goes to the devil in your tale.
263   You say men cannot keep a castle wall
264   That's long assailed on all sides, and by all.
265   'And if that she be foul, you say that she
266   Hankers for every man that she may see;
267   For like a spaniel will she leap on him
268   Until she finds a man to be victim;
269   And not a grey goose swims there in the lake
270   But finds a gander willing her to take.
271   You say, it is a hard thing to enfold
272   Her whom no man will in his own arms hold.
273   This say you, worthless, when you go to bed;
274   And that no wise man needs thus to be wed,
275   No, nor a man that hearkens unto Heaven.
276   With furious thunder-claps and fiery levin
277   May your thin, withered, wrinkled neck be broke:
278   'You say that dripping eaves, and also smoke,
279   And wives contentious, will make men to flee
280   Out of their houses; ah, benedicite!
281   What ails such an old fellow so to chide?
282   'You say that all we wives our vices hide
283   Till we are married, then we show them well;
284   That is a scoundrel's proverb, let me tell!
285   'You say that oxen, asses, horses, hounds
286   Are tried out variously, and on good grounds;
287   Basins and bowls, before men will them buy,
288   And spoons and stools and all such goods you try.
289   And so with pots and clothes and all array;
290   But of their wives men get no trial, you say,
291   Till they are married, base old dotard you!
292   And then we show what evil we can do.
293   'You say also that it displeases me
294   Unless you praise and flatter my beauty,
295   And save you gaze always upon my face
296   And call me lovely lady every place;
297   And save you make a feast upon that day
298   When I was born, and give me garments gay;
299   And save due honour to my nurse is paid
300   As well as to my faithful chambermaid,
301   And to my father's folk and his allies-
302   Thus you go on, old barrel full of lies!
303   'And yet of our apprentice, young Jenkin,
304   For his crisp hair, showing like gold so fine,
305   Because he squires me walking up and down,
306   A false suspicion in your mind is sown;
307   I'd give him naught, though you were dead tomorrow.
308   'But tell me this, why do you hide, with sorrow,
309   The keys to your strong-box away from me?
310   It is my gold as well as yours, pardie.
311   Why would you make an idiot of your dame?
312   Now by Saint James, but you shall miss your aim,
313   You shall not be, although like mad you scold,
314   Master of both my body and my gold;
315   One you'll forgo in spite of both your eyes;
316   Why need you seek me out or set on spies?
317   I think you'd like to lock me in your chest!
318   You should say: Dear wife, go where you like best,
319   Amuse yourself, I will believe no tales;
320   You're my wife Alis true, and truth prevails.
321   We love no man that guards us or gives charge
322   Of where we go, for we will be at large.
323   'Of all men the most blessed may he be,
324   That wise astrologer, Dan Ptolemy,
325   Who says this proverb in his Almagest:
326   Of all men he's in wisdom the highest
327   That nothing cares who has the world in hand.
328   And by this proverb shall you understand:
329   Since you've enough, why do you reck or care
330   How merrily all other folks may fare?
331   He is too much a niggard who's so tight
332   That from his lantern he'll give none a light.
333   For he'll have never the less light, by gad;
334   Since you've enough, you need not be so sad.
335   'You say, also, that if we make us gay
336   With clothing, all in costliest array,
337   That it's a danger to our chastity;
338   And you must back the saying up, pardie!
339   Repeating these words in the apostle's name:
340   In habits meet for chastity, not shame,
341   Your women shall be garmented, said he,
342   And not with broidered hair, or jewellery,
343   Or pearls, or gold, or costly gowns and chic;
344   After your text and after your rubric
345   I will not follow more than would a gnat.
346   You said this, too, that I was like a cat;
347   For if one care to singe a cat's furred skin,
348   Then would the cat remain the house within;
349   And if the cat's coat be all sleek and gay,
350   She will not keep in house a half a day,
351   But out she'll go, ere dawn of any day,
352   To show her skin and caterwaul and play.
353   This is to say, if I'm a little gay,
354   To show my rags I'll gad about all day.
355   'Sir Ancient Fool, what ails you with your spies?
356   Though you pray Argus, with his hundred eyes,
357   To be my body-guard and do his best,
358   Faith, he sha'n't hold me, save I am modest;
359   I could delude him easily- trust me!
360   'You said, also, that there are three things- three-
361   The which things are a trouble on this earth,
362   And that no man may ever endure the fourth:
363   O dear Sir Rogue, may Christ cut short your life!
364   Yet do you preach and say a hateful wife
365   Is to be reckoned one of these mischances.
366   Are there no other kinds of resemblances
367   That you may liken thus your parables to,
368   But must a hapless wife be made to do?
369   'You liken woman's love to very Hell,
370   To desert land where waters do not well.
371   You liken it, also, unto wildfire;
372   The more it burns, the more it has desire
373   To consume everything that burned may be.
374   You say that just as worms destroy a tree,
375   Just so a wife destroys her own husband;
376   Men know this who are bound in marriage band.'
377   Masters, like this, as you must understand,
378   Did I my old men charge and censure, and
379   Claim that they said these things in drunkenness;
380   And all was false, but yet I took witness
381   Of Jenkin and of my dear niece also.
382   O Lord, the pain I gave them and the woe,
383   All guiltless, too, by God's grief exquisite!
384   For like a stallion could I neigh and bite.
385   I could complain, though mine was all the guilt,
386   Or else, full many a time, I'd lost the tilt.
387   Whoso comes first to mill first gets meal ground;
388   I whimpered first and so did them confound.
389   They were right glad to hasten to excuse
390   Things they had never done, save in my ruse.
391   With wenches would I charge him, by this hand,
392   When, for some illness, he could hardly stand.
393   Yet tickled this the heart of him, for he
394   Deemed it was love produced such jealousy.
395   I swore that all my walking out at night
396   Was but to spy on girls he kept outright;
397   And under cover of that I had much mirth.
398   For all such wit is given us at birth;
399   Deceit, weeping, and spinning, does God give
400   To women, naturally, the while they live.
401   And thus of one thing I speak boastfully,
402   I got the best of each one, finally,
403   By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing,
404   As by continual growls or murmuring;
405   Especially in bed had they mischance,
406   There would I chide and give them no pleasance;
407   I would no longer in the bed abide
408   If I but felt his arm across my side,
409   Till he had paid his ransom unto me;
410   Then would I let him do his nicety.
411   And therefore to all men this tale I tell,
412   Let gain who may, for everything's to sell.
413   With empty hand men may no falcons lure;
414   For profit would I all his lust endure,
415   And make for him a well-feigned appetite;
416   Yet I in bacon never had delight;
417   And that is why I used so much to chide.
418   For if the pope were seated there beside
419   I'd not have spared them, no, at their own board.
420   For by my truth, I paid them, word for word.
421   So help me the True God Omnipotent,
422   Though I right now should make my testament,
423   I owe them not a word that was not quit.
424   I brought it so about, and by my wit,
425   That they must give it up, as for the best,
426   Or otherwise we'd never have had rest.
427   For though he glared and scowled like lion mad,
428   Yet failed he of the end he wished he had.
429   Then would I say: 'Good dearie, see you keep
430   In mind how meek is Wilkin, our old sheep;
431   Come near, my spouse, come let me kiss your cheek!
432   You should be always patient, aye, and meek,
433   And have a sweetly scrupulous tenderness,
434   Since you so preach of old Job's patience, yes.
435   Suffer always, since you so well can preach;
436   And, save you do, be sure that we will teach
437   That it is well to leave a wife in peace.
438   One of us two must bow, to be at ease;
439   And since a man's more reasonable, they say,
440   Than woman is, you must have patience aye.
441   Such were the words I had at my command.
442   Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.
443   My fourth husband, he was a reveller,
444   That is to say, he kept a paramour;
445   And young and full of passion then was I,
446   Stubborn and strong and jolly as a pie.
447   Well could I dance to tune of harp, nor fail
448   To sing as well as any nightingale
449   When I had drunk a good draught of sweet wine.
450   Metellius, the foul churl and the swine,
451   Did with a staff deprive his wife of life
452   Because she drank wine; had I been his wife
453   He never should have frightened me from drink;
454   For after wine, of Venus must I think:
455   For just as surely as cold produces hail,
456   A liquorish mouth must have a lickerish tail.
457   In women wine's no bar of impotence,
458   This know all lechers by experience.
459   But Lord Christ! When I do remember me
460   Upon my youth and on my jollity,
461   It tickles me about my heart's deep root.
462   To this day does my heart sing in salute
463   That I have had my world in my own time.
464   But age, alas! that poisons every prime,
465   Has taken away my beauty and my pith;
466   Let go, farewell, the devil go therewith!
467   The flour is gone, there is no more to tell,
468   The bran, as best I may, must I now sell;
469   But yet to be right merry I'll try, and
470   Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.
471   I say that in my heart I'd great despite
472   When he of any other had delight.
473   But he was quit by God and by Saint Joce!
474   I made, of the same wood, a staff most gross;
475   Not with my body and in manner foul,
476   But certainly I showed so gay a soul
477   That in his own thick grease I made him fry
478   For anger and for utter jealousy.
479   By God, on earth I was his purgatory,
480   For which I hope his soul lives now in glory.
481   For God knows, many a time he sat and sung
482   When the shoe bitterly his foot had wrung.
483   There was no one, save God and he, that knew
484   How, in so many ways, I'd twist the screw.
485   He died when I came from Jerusalem,
486   And lies entombed beneath the great rood-beam,
487   Although his tomb is not so glorious
488   As was the sepulchre of Darius,
489   The which Apelles wrought full cleverly;
490   'Twas waste to bury him expensively.
491   Let him fare well. God give his soul good rest,
492   He now is in the grave and in his chest.
493   And now of my fifth husband will I tell.
494   God grant his soul may never get to Hell!
495   And yet he was to me most brutal, too;
496   My ribs yet feel as they were black and blue,
497   And ever shall, until my dying day.
498   But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,
499   And therewithal he could so well impose,
500   What time he wanted use of my belle chose,
501   That though he'd beaten me on every bone,
502   He could re-win my love, and that full soon.
503   I guess I loved him best of all, for he
504   Gave of his love most sparingly to me.
505   We women have, if I am not to lie,
506   In this love matter, a quaint fantasy;
507   Look out a thing we may not lightly have,
508   And after that we'll cry all day and crave.
509   Forbid a thing, and that thing covet we;
510   Press hard upon us, then we turn and flee.
511   Sparingly offer we our goods, when fair;
512   Great crowds at market for dearer ware,
513   And what's too common brings but little price;
514   All this knows every woman who is wise.
515   My fifth husband, may God his spirit bless!
516   Whom I took all for love, and not riches,
517   Had been sometime a student at Oxford,
518   And had left school and had come home to board
519   With my best gossip, dwelling in our town,
520   God save her soul! Her name was Alison.
521   She knew my heart and all my privity
522   Better than did our parish priest, s'help me!
523   To her confided I my secrets all.
524   For had my husband pissed against a wall,
525   Or done a thing that might have cost his life,
526   To her and to another worthy wife,
527   And to my niece whom I loved always well,
528   I would have told it- every bit I'd tell,
529   And did so, many and many a time, God wot,
530   Which made his face full often red and hot
531   For utter shame; he blamed himself that he
532   Had told me of so deep a privity.
533   So it befell that on a time, in Lent
534   (For oftentimes I to my gossip went,
535   Since I loved always to be glad and gay
536   And to walk out, in March, April, and May,
537   From house to house, to hear the latest malice),
538   Jenkin the clerk, and my gossip Dame Alis,
539   And I myself into the meadows went.
540   My husband was in London all that Lent;
541   I had the greater leisure, then, to play,
542   And to observe, and to be seen, I say,
543   By pleasant folk; what knew I where my face
544   Was destined to be loved, or in what place?
545   Therefore I made my visits round about
546   To vigils and processions of devout,
547   To preaching too, and shrines of pilgrimage,
548   To miracle plays, and always to each marriage,
549   And wore my scarlet skirt before all wights.
550   These worms and all these moths and all these mites,
551   I say it at my peril, never ate;
552   And know you why? I wore it early and late.
553   Now will I tell you what befell to me.
554   I say that in the meadows walked we three
555   Till, truly, we had come to such dalliance,
556   This clerk and I, that, of my vigilance,
557   I spoke to him and told him how that he,
558   Were I a widow, might well marry me.
559   For certainly I say it not to brag,
560   But I was never quite without a bag
561   Full of the needs of marriage that I seek.
562   I hold a mouse's heart not worth a leek
563   That has but one hole into which to run,
564   And if it fail of that, then all is done.
565   I made him think he had enchanted me;
566   My mother taught me all that subtlety.
567   And then I said I'd dreamed of him all night,
568   He would have slain me as I lay upright,
569   And all my bed was full of very blood;
570   But yet I hoped that he would do me good,
571   For blood betokens gold, as I was taught.
572   And all was false, I dreamed of him just- naught,
573   Save as I acted on my mother's lore,
574   As well in this thing as in many more.
575   But now, let's see, what was I going to say?
576   Aha, by God, I know! It goes this way.
577   When my fourth husband lay upon his bier,
578   I wept enough and made but sorry cheer,
579   As wives must always, for it's custom's grace,
580   And with my kerchief covered up my face;
581   But since I was provided with a mate,
582   I really wept but little, I may state.
583   To church my man was borne upon the morrow
584   By neighbours, who for him made signs of sorrow;
585   And Jenkin, our good clerk, was one of them.
586   So help me God, when rang the requiem
587   After the bier, I thought he had a pair
588   Of legs and feet so clean-cut and so fair
589   That all my heart I gave to him to hold.
590   He was, I think, but twenty winters old,
591   And I was forty, if I tell the truth;
592   But then I always had a young colt's tooth.
593   Gap-toothed I was, and that became me well;
594   I had the print of holy Venus' seal.
595   So help me God, I was a healthy one,
596   And fair and rich and young and full of fun;
597   And truly, as my husbands all told me,
598   I had the silkiest quoniam that could be.
599   For truly, I am all Venusian
600   In feeling, and my brain is Martian.
601   Venus gave me my lust, my lickerishness,
602   And Mars gave me my sturdy hardiness.
603   Taurus was my ascendant, with Mars therein.
604   Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!
605   I followed always my own inclination
606   By virtue of my natal constellation;
607   Which wrought me so I never could withdraw
608   My Venus-chamber from a good fellow.
609   Yet have I Mars's mark upon my face,
610   And also in another private place.
611   For God so truly my salvation be
612   As I have never loved for policy,
613   But ever followed my own appetite,
614   Though he were short or tall, or black or white;
615   I took no heed, so that he cared for me,
616   How poor he was, nor even of what degree.
617   What should I say now, save, at the month's end,
618   This jolly, gentle, Jenkin clerk, my friend,
619   Had wedded me full ceremoniously,
620   And to him gave I all the land in fee
621   That ever had been given me before;
622   But, later I repented me full sore.
623   He never suffered me to have my way.
624   By God, he smote me on the ear, one day,
625   Because I tore out of his book a leaf,
626   So that from this my ear is grown quite deaf.
627   Stubborn I was as is a lioness,
628   And with my tongue a very jay, I guess,
629   And walk I would, as I had done before,
630   From house to house, though I should not, he swore.
631   For which he oftentimes would sit and preach
632   And read old Roman tales to me and teach
633   How one Sulpicius Gallus left his wife
634   And her forsook for term of all his life
635   Because he saw her with bared head, I say,
636   Looking out from his door, upon a day.
637   Another Roman told he of by name
638   Who, since his wife was at a summer-game
639   Without his knowing, he forsook her eke.
640   And then would he within his Bible seek
641   That proverb of the old Ecclesiast
642   Where he commands so freely and so fast
643   That man forbid his wife to gad about;
644   Then would he thus repeat, with never doubt:
645   'Whoso would build his whole house out of sallows,
646   And spur his blind horse to run over fallows,
647   And let his wife alone go seeking hallows,
648   Is worthy to be hanged upon the gallows.'
649   But all for naught, I didn't care a haw
650   For all his proverbs, nor for his old saw,
651   Nor yet would I by him corrected be.
652   I hate one that my vices tells to me,
653   And so do more of us- God knows!- than I.
654   This made him mad with me, and furiously,
655   That I'd not yield to him in any case.
656   Now will I tell you truth, by Saint Thomas,
657   Of why I tore from out his book a leaf,
658   For which he struck me so it made me deaf.
659   He had a book that gladly, night and day,
660   For his amusement he would read alway.
661   He called it 'Theophrastus' and 'Valerius',
662   At which book would he laugh, uproarious.
663   And, too, there sometime was a clerk at Rome,
664   A cardinal, that men called Saint Jerome,
665   Who made a book against Jovinian;
666   In which book, too, there was Tertullian,
667   Chrysippus, Trotula, and Heloise
668   Who was abbess near Paris' diocese;
669   And too, the Proverbs of King Solomon,
670   And Ovid's Art, and books full many a one.
671   And all of these were bound in one volume.
672   And every night and day 'twas his custom,
673   When he had leisure and took some vacation
674   From all his other worldly occupation,
675   To read, within this book, of wicked wives.
676   He knew of them more legends and more lives
677   Than are of good wives written in the Bible.
678   For trust me, it's impossible, no libel,
679   That any cleric shall speak well of wives,
680   Unless it be of saints and holy lives,
681   But naught for other women will they do.
682   Who painted first the lion, tell me who?
683   By God, if women had but written stories,
684   As have these clerks within their oratories,
685   They would have written of men more wickedness
686   Than all the race of Adam could redress.
687   The children of Mercury and of Venus
688   Are in their lives antagonistic thus;
689   For Mercury loves wisdom and science,
690   And Venus loves but pleasure and expense.
691   Because they different dispositions own,
692   Each falls when other's in ascendant shown.
693   And God knows Mercury is desolate
694   In Pisces, wherein Venus rules in state;
695   And Venus falls when Mercury is raised;
696   Therefore no woman by a clerk is praised.
697   A clerk, when he is old and can naught do
698   Of Venus' labours worth his worn-out shoe,
699   Then sits he down and writes, in his dotage,
700   That women cannot keep vow of marriage!
701   But now to tell you, as I started to,
702   Why I was beaten for a book, pardieu.
703   Upon a night Jenkin, who was our sire,
704   Read in his book, as he sat by the fire,
705   Of Mother Eve who, by her wickedness,
706   First brought mankind to all his wretchedness,
707   For which Lord Jesus Christ Himself was slain,
708   Who, with His heart's blood, saved us thus again.
709   Lo here, expressly of woman, may you find
710   That woman was the ruin of mankind.
711   Then read he out how Samson lost his hairs,
712   Sleeping, his leman cut them with her shears;
713   And through this treason lost he either eye.
714   Then read he out, if I am not to lie,
715   Of Hercules, and Deianira's desire
716   That caused him to go set himself on fire.
717   Nothing escaped him of the pain and woe
718   That Socrates had with his spouses two;
719   How Xantippe threw piss upon his head;
720   This hapless man sat still, as he were dead;
721   He wiped his head, no more durst he complain
722   Than 'Ere the thunder ceases comes the rain.'
723   Then of Pasiphae, the queen of Crete,
724   For cursedness he thought the story sweet;
725   Fie! Say no more- it is an awful thing-
726   Of her so horrible lust and love-liking.
727   Of Clytemnestra, for her lechery,
728   Who caused her husband's death by treachery,
729   He read all this with greatest zest, I vow.
730   He told me, too, just when it was and how
731   Amphiaraus at Thebes lost his life;
732   My husband had a legend of his wife
733   Eriphyle who, for a brooch of gold,
734   In secrecy to hostile Greeks had told
735   Whereat her husband had his hiding place,
736   For which he found at Thebes but sorry grace.
737   Of Livia and Lucia told he me,
738   For both of them their husbands killed, you see,
739   The one for love, the other killed for hate;
740   Livia her husband, on an evening late,
741   Made drink some poison, for she was his foe.
742   Lucia, lecherous, loved her husband so
743   That, to the end he'd always of her think,
744   She gave him such a, philtre, for love-drink,
745   That he was dead or ever it was morrow;
746   And husbands thus, by same means, came to sorrow.
747   Then did he tell how one Latumius
748   Complained unto his comrade Arrius
749   That in his garden grew a baleful tree
750   Whereon, he said, his wives, and they were three,
751   Had hanged themselves for wretchedness and woe.
752   'O brother,' Arrius said, 'and did they so?
753   Give me a graft of that same blessed tree
754   And in my garden planted it shall be!'
755   Of wives of later date he also read,
756   How some had slain their husbands in their bed
757   And let their lovers shag them all the night
758   While corpses lay upon the floor upright.
759   And some had driven nails into the brain
760   While husbands slept and in such wise were slain.
761   And some had given them poison in their drink.
762   He told more evil than the mind can think.
763   And therewithal he knew of more proverbs
764   Than in this world there grows of grass or herbs.
765   'Better,' he said, 'your habitation be
766   With lion wild or dragon foul,' said he,
767   'Than with a woman who will nag and chide.'
768   'Better,' he said, 'on the housetop abide
769   Than with a brawling wife down in the house;
770   Such are so wicked and contrarious
771   They hate the thing their husband loves, for aye.'
772   He said, 'a woman throws her shame away
773   When she throws off her smock,' and further, too:
774   'A woman fair, save she be chaste also,
775   Is like a ring of gold in a sow's nose.'
776   Who would imagine or who would suppose
777   What grief and pain were in this heart of mine?
778   And when I saw he'd never cease, in fine,
779   His reading in this cursed book at night,
780   Three leaves of it I snatched and tore outright
781   Out of his book, as he read on; and eke
782   I with my fist so took him on the cheek
783   That in our fire he reeled and fell right down.
784   Then he got up as does a wild lion,
785   And with his fist he struck me on the head,
786   And on the floor I lay as I were dead.
787   And when he saw how limp and still I lay,
788   He was afraid and would have run away,
789   Until at last, out of my swoon I made:
790   'Oh, have you slain me, you false thief?' I said,
791   'And for my land have you thus murdered me?
792   Kiss me before I die, and let me be.'
793   He came to me and near me he knelt down,
794   And said: 'O my dear sister Alison,
795   So help me God, I'll never strike you more;
796   What I have done, you are to blame therefor.
797   But all the same forgiveness now I seek!'
798   And thereupon I hit him on the cheek,
799   And said: 'Thief, so much vengeance do I wreak!
800   Now will I die; I can no longer speak!'
801   But at the last, and with much care and woe,
802   We made it up between ourselves. And so
803   He put the bridle reins within my hand
804   To have the governing of house and land;
805   And of his tongue and of his hand, also;
806   And made him burn his book, right then, oho!
807   And when I had thus gathered unto me
808   Masterfully, the entire sovereignty,
809   And he had said: 'My own true wedded wife,
810   Do as you please the term of all your life,
811   Guard your own honour and keep fair my state'-
812   After that day we never had debate.
813   God help me now, I was to him as kind
814   As any wife from Denmark unto Ind,
815   And also true, and so was he to me.
816   I pray to God, Who sits in majesty,
817   To bless his soul, out of His mercy dear!
818   Now will I tell my tale, if you will hear.
819   The friar laughed when he had heard all this.
820   Now dame, said he, so have I joy or bliss
821   This is a long preamble to a tale!
822   And when the summoner heard this friar's hail,
823   Lo, said the summoner, by God's arms two!
824   A friar will always interfere, mark you.
825   Behold, good men, a housefly and a friar
826   Will fall in every dish and matters higher.
827   Why speak of preambling; you in your gown?
828   What! Amble, trot, hold peace, or go sit down;
829   You hinder our diversion thus to inquire.
830   Aye, say you so, sir summoner? said the friar,
831   Now by my faith I will, before I go,
832   Tell of a summoner such a tale, or so,
833   That all the folk shall laugh who're in this place'
834   Otherwise, friar, I beshrew your face,
835   Replied this summoner, and beshrew me
836   If I do not tell tales here, two or three,
837   Of friars ere I come to Sittingbourne,
838   That certainly will give you cause to mourn,
839   For well I know your patience will be gone.
840   Our host cried out, Now peace, and that anon!
841   And said he: Let the woman tell her tale.
842   You act like people who are drunk with ale.
843   Do, lady, tell your tale, and that is best.
844   All ready, sir, said she, as you request,
845   If I have license of this worthy friar.
846   Yes, dame, said he, to hear you's my desire.

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