The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe

The Prologe of the Wyves Tale of Bathe

‘ Experience, though noon auctoritee

Were in this world, were right y-nough to me

To speke of wo that is in mariage ;

For, lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age,

Thonked be god that is eterne on lyve,

Housbondes at chirche-dore I have had fyve ;

For I so ofte have y-wedded be ;

And alle were worthy men in hir degree.

But me was told certeyn, nat longe agon is,

That sith that Crist ne wente never but onis

To wedding in the Cane of Galilee,

That by the same ensample taughte he me

That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.

Herke eek, lo ! which a sharp word for the nones

Besyde a welle Jesus, god and man,

Spak in repreve of the Samaritan :

‘Thou hast y-had fyve housbondes,” quod he,

” And thilke man, the which that hath now thee,

Is noght thyn housbond ; ” thus seyde he certeyn ;

What that he mente ther-by, I can nat seyn ;

But that I axe, why that the fifthe man

Was noon housbond to the Samaritan ?

How manye mighte she have in mariage ?

Yet herde I never tellen in myn age

Upon this nombre diffinicioun ;

Men may devyne and glosen up and doun.

But wel I woot expres, with-oute lye,

God bad us for to wexe and multiplye ;

That gentil text can I wel understonde.

Eek wel I woot he seyde, myn housbonde

Sholde lete fader and moder, and take me ;

But of no nombre mencioun made he,

Of bigamye or of octogamye”;

Why sholde men speke of it vileinye ?

Lo, here the wyse king, dan Salomon ;

I trowe he hadde wyves mo than oon ;

As, wolde god, it leveful were to me

To be refresshed half so ofte as he !

Which yifte of god hadde he for alle his wyvis !

No man hath swich, that in this world alyve is.

God woot, this noble king, as to my wit,

The firste night had many a mery fit

With ech of hem, so wel was him on lyve !

Blessed be god that I have wedded fyve !

Welcome the sixte, whan that ever he shal.

For sothe, I wol nat kepe me chast in al ;

Whan myn housbond is fro the world y-gon,

Som Cristen man shal wedde me anon ;

For thanne th’apostle seith, that I am free

To we^de, a godd’s half, wher it lyketh me.

He seith that to be wedded is no sinne ;

Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.

What rekketh me, thogh folk seye vileinye

Of shrewed Lameth and his bigamye ?

I woot wel Abraham was an holy man,

And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I can ;

And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than two ;

And many another holy man also.

Whan saugh ye ever, in any maner age,

That hye god defended mariage

By expres word ? I pray you, telleth me ;

Or wher comanded he virginitee ?

I woot as wel as ye, it is- no drede,

Th’apostel, whan he speke th of maydenhede ;

He seyde, that precept ther-of hadde he noon.

Men may conseille a womman to been oon,

But conseilling is no comandement ;

He putte it in our owene jugement

For hadde god comanded maydenhede,

Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the dede ;

And certes, if ther were no seed y-sowe,

Virginitee, wher-of than sholde it growe ?

Poul dorste nat comanden atte leste

A thing of which his maister yaf noon heste.

The dart is set up for virginitee ;

Cacche who so may, who renneth best lat see.

But this word is nat take of every wight,

But ther as god list give it of his might.

I woot wel, that th’apostel was a mayde ;

But natheless, thogh that he wroot and sayde,

He wolde that every wight were swich as he,

Al nis but conseil to virginitee ;

And for to been a wyf, he yaf me leve

Of indulgence ; so it is no repreve

To wedde me, if that my make dye,

With-oute excepcioun of bigamye.

Al were it good no womman for to touche,

He mente as in his bed or in his couche ;

For peril is bothe fyr and tow t’assemble ;

Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble.

This is al and som, he heeld virginitee

More parfit than wedding in freletee.

Freeltee clepe I, but-if that he and she

Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.

I graunte it wel, I have noon envye,

Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye ;

Hem lyketh to be clene, body and goost,

Of myn estaat I nil nat make no boost.

For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,

He hath nat every vessel al of gold ;

Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse.

God clepeth folk to him in sondry wyse,

And everich hath of god a propre yifte,

Som this, som that, — as him lyketh shifte.

Virginitee is greet perfeccioun,

And continence eek with devocioun.

But Crist, that of perfeccioun is welle,

Bad nat every wight he sholde go selle

All that he hadde, and give it to the pore,

And in swich wyse folwe him and his fore.

He spak to hem that wolde live parfitly ;

And lordinges, by your leve, that am nat I.

I wol bistowe the flour of al myn age

In th’ actes and in fruit of mariage.

Telle me also, to what conclusioun

Were membres maad of generacioun,

And for what profit was a wight y-wroght ?

Trusteth right wel, they wer nat maad for noght.

Glose who-so wole, and seye bothe up and doun,

That they were maked for purgacioun

Of urine, and our bothe thinges smale

Were eek to knowe a femele from a male,

And for noon other cause : sey ye no ?

The experience woot wel it is noght so ;

So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,

I sey this, that they maked been for bothe,

This is to seye, for office, and for ese

Of engendrure, ther we nat god displese.

Why sholde men elles in hir bokes sette,

That man shal yelde to his wyf hir dette ?

Now wher-with sholde he make his payement,

If he ne used his sely instrument ?

Than were they maad up-on a creature,

To purge uryne, and eek for engendrure.

But I seye noght that every wight is holde,

That hath swich harneys as I to yow tolde,

To goon and usen hem in engendrure ;

Than sholde men take of chastitee no cure.

Crist was a mayde, and shapen as a man,

And many a seint, sith that the world bigan,

Yet lived they ever in parfit chastitee.

I nil envye no virginitee ;

Lat hem be breed of pured whete-seed,

And lat us wyves hoten barly-breed ;

And yet with barly-breed, Mark telle can,

Our lord Jesu refresshed many a man.

In swich estaat as god hath cleped us

I wol persevere, I nam nat precious.

In wyfhode I wol use myn instrument

As frely as my maker hath it sent.

If I be daungerous, god yeve me sorwe !

Myn housbond shal it have bothe eve and morwe,

Whan that him list com forth and paye his dette.

An housbonde I wol have, I nil nat lette,

Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,

And have his tribulacioun with-al

Up-on his flessh, whyl that I am his wyf.

I have the power duringe al my lyf

Up-on his propre body, and noght he.

Right thus th’apostel tolde it un-to me ;

And bad our housbondes for to love us weel.

Al this sentence me lyketh every-deel ‘ —

Up sterte the Pardoner, and that anon,

‘ Now dame,’ quod he, ‘ by god and by seint John,

Ye been a noble prechour in this cas !

I was aboute to wedde a wyf ; allas !

What sholde I bye it on my flesh so dere ?

Yet hadde I lever wedde no wyf to-yere ! ‘

‘ Abyde ! ‘ quod she, ‘ my tale is nat bigonne ;

Nay, thou shalt drinken of another tonne

Er that I go, shal savoure wors than ale.

And whan that I have told thee forth my tale

Of tribulacioun in mariage,

Of which I am expert in al myn age,

This to seyn, my -self have been the whippe ; —

Than maystow chese whether thou wolt sippe

Of thilkc tonne that I shal abroche.

Be war of it, er thou to ny approche ;

For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten.

Who-so that nil be war by othere men,

By him shul othere men corrected be.

The same wordes wryteth Ptholomee ;

Rede in his Almageste, and take it there.’

‘ Dame, I wolde praye yow, if your wil it were,’

Seyde this Pardoner, ‘ as ye bigan,

Telle forth your tale, spareth for no man,

And teche us yonge men of your praktike.’

‘ Gladly,’ quod she, ‘ sith it may yow lyke.

But yet I praye to al this companye,

If that I speke after my fantasye,

As taketh not a-grief of that I seye ;

For myn entente nis but for to pleye.

Now sires, now wol I telle forth my tale. —

As ever mote I drinken wyn or ale,

I shal seye sooth, tho housbondes that I hadde,

As three of hem were gode and two were badde.

The three men were gode, and riche, and olde ;

Unnethe mighte they the statut holde

In which that they were bounden un-to me.

Ye woot wel what I mene of- this, pardee !

As help me god, I laughe whan I thinke

How pitously a-night I made hem swinke ;

And by my fey, I tolde of it no stoor.

They had me yeven hir gold and hir tresoor ;

Me neded nat do lenger diligence

To winne hir love, or doon hem reverence.

They loved me so wel, by god above,

That I ne tolde no deyntee of hir love !

A wys womman wol sette hir ever in oon

To gete hir love, ther as she hath noon.

But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hond,

And sith they hadde me yeven all hir lond,

What sholde I taken hede hem for to plese,

But it were for my profit and myn ese ?

I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,

That many a night they songen ” weilawey ! “

The bacoun was nat fet for hem, I trowe,

That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.

I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,

That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe

To bringe me gaye thinges fro the fayre.

They were ful glad whan I spak to hem fayre ;

For god it woot, I chidde hem spitously.

Now herkneth, how I bar me proprely,

Ye wyse wyves, that can understonde.

Thus shul ye speke and bere hem wrong on honde ;

For half so boldely can ther no man

Swere and lyen as a womman can.

I sey nat this by wyves that ben wyse,

But-if it be whan they hem misavyse.

A wys wyf, if that she can hir good,

Shal beren him on hond the cow is wood,

And take witnesse of hir owene mayde

Of hir assent ; but herkneth how I sayde.

” Sir olde kaynard, is this thyn array ?

Why is my neighebores wyf so gay ?

She is honoured over-al ther she goth ;

I sitte at hoom, I have no thrifty cloth.

What dostow at my neighebores hous ?

Is she so fair ? artow so amorous ?

What rowne ye with our mayde ? ben’cite J

Sir olde lechour, lat thy japes be !

And if I have a gossib or a freend,

With-outen gilt, thou chydest as a feend,

If that I walke or pleye un-to his hous !

Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,

And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef !

Thou seist to me, it is a greet meschief

To wedde a povre womman, for costage ;

And if that she be riche, of heigh parage,

Than seistow that it is a tormentrye

To suffre hir pryde and hir malencolye.

And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,

Thou seyst that every holour wol hir have ;

She may no whyle in chastitee abyde,

That is assailled up -on ech a syde.

Thou seyst, som folk desyre us for richesse,

Som for our shap, and som for our fairnesse ;

And som, for she can outher singe or daunce,

And som, for gentillesse and dAllaunce ;

Som, for hir handes and hir armes smale ;

Thus goth al to the devel by thy tale.

Thou seyst, men may nat kepe a castel-wal ;

It may so longe assailled been over-al.

And if that she be foul, thou seist that she

Coveiteth every man that she may see ;

For as a spaynel she wol on him lepe,

Til that she finde som man hir to chepe ;

Ne noon so grey goos goth ther in the lake,

As, seistow, that wol been with-oute make.

And seyst, it is an hard thing for to welde

A thing that no man wol, his thankes, helde.

Thus seistow, lorel, whan thow goost to bedde ;

And that no wys man nedeth for to wedde,

Ne no man that entendeth un-to hevene.

With wilde thonder-dint and firy levene

Mote thy welked nekke be to-broke !

Thow seyst that dropping houses, and eek smoke,

And chyding wyves, maken men to flee

Out of hir owene hous ; a ! ben 9 cite /

What eyleth swich an old man for to chyde ?

Thow seyst, we wyves wol our vyces hyde

Til we be fast, and than we wol hem shewe ;

Wei may that be a proverbe of a shrewe !

Thou seist, that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes,

They been assayed at diverse stoundes ;

Bacins, lavours, er that men hem bye,

S pones and stoles, and al swich housbondrye,

And so been pottes, clothes, and array ;

But folk of wyves maken noon assay

Til they be wedded ; olde dotard shrewe !

And than, seistow, we wol oure vices shewe.

Thou seist also, that it displeseth me

But-if that thou wolt preyse my beautee,

And but thou poure alwey up-on my face,

And clepe me ‘ faire dame ‘ in every place ;

And but thou make a feste on thilke day

That I was born, and make me fresh and gay,

And but thou do to my norice honour,

And to my chamberere with-inne my bour,

And to my fadres folk and his allyes ; —

Thus seistow, olde barel ful of lyes !

And yet of our apprentice Janekyn,

For his crisp heer, shyninge as gold so fyn,

And for he squiereth me bothe up and doun,

Yet hastow caught a fals suspecioun ;

I wol hym noght, thogh thou were deed to-morwe.

But tel me this, why hydestow, with sorwe,

The keyes of thy cheste awey fro me ?

It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee.

What wenestow make an idiot of our dame ?

Now by that lord, that called is seint Jame,

Thou shalt nat bothe, thogh that thou were wood,

Be maister of my body and of my good ;

That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thyne yen ;

What nedeth thee of me to enquere or spyen ?

I trowe, thou woldest loke me in thy cheste !

Thou sholdest seye, ‘ wyf, go wher thee leste,

Tak your disport, I wol nat leve no talis ;

I knowe yow for a trewe wyf, dame Alis.’

We love no man that taketh kepe or charge

Wher that we goon, we wol ben at our large.

Of alle men y-blessed moot he be,

The wyse astrologien Dan Ptholome,

That seith this proverbe in his Almageste,

‘ Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste,

That rekketh never who hath the world in honde.’

By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,

Have thou y-nogh, what thar thee recche or care

How merily that othere folkes fare ?

For certeyn, olde dotard, by your leve,

Ye shul have queynte right y-nough at eve.

He is to greet a nigard that wol werne

A man to lighte his candle at his lanterne ;

He shal have never the lasse light, pardee ;

Have thou y-nough, thee thar nat pleyne thee.

Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay

With clothing and with precious array.

That it is peril of our chastitee ;

And yet, with sorwe, thou most enforce thee,

And seye thise wordes in the apostles name,

‘ In habit, maad with chastitee and shame,

Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,’ quod he,

‘ And noght in tressed heer and gay perree,

As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche ; ‘

After thy text, ne after thy rubriche

I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat.

Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat ;

For who-so wolde senge a cattes skin,

Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in ;

And if the cattes skin be slyk and gay,

She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,

But forth she wole, er any day be dawed,

To shewe hir skin, and goon a-caterwawed ;

This is to seye, if I be gay, sir shrewe,

I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe.

Sire olde fool, what eyleth thee to spyen ?

Thogh thou preye Argus, with his hundred yen,

To be my warde-cors, as he can best,

In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest ;

Yet coude I make his berd, so moot I thee.

Thou seydest eek, that ther ben thinges three,

The whiche thinges troublen al this erthe,

And that no wight ne may endure the ferthe ;

leve sir shrewe, Jesu shorte thy lyf !

Yet prechestow. and seyst, an hateful wyf

Y-rekened is for oon of thise meschances.

Been ther none othere maner resemblances

That ye may lykne your parables to,

But-if a sely wyf be oon of tho ?

Thou lykenest wommanes love to helle,

To bareyne lond, ther water may not dwelle.-

Thou lyknest it also to wilde fyr ;

The more it’brenneth, the more it hath desyr

To consume every thing that brent wol be.

Thou seyst, that right as wormes shende a tree,

Right so a wyf destroyeth hir housbonde ;

I This knowe they that been to wyves bonde.”

Lordinges, right thus, as ye have understonde,

Bar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde,

That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse ;

, And al was fals, but that I took witnesse

On Janekin and on my nece also.

O lord, the peyne I dide hem and the wo,

Ful giltelees, by goddes swete pyne !

For as an hors I coude byte and whyne.

I coude pleyne, thogh I were in the gilt,

Or elles often tyme hadde I ben spilt.

Who-so that first to mille comth, first grint ;

I pleyned first, so was our werre y-stint.

They were ful glad t’excusen hem ful blyve

Of thing of which they never agilte hir lyve.

Of wenches wolde I beren him on honde,

Whan that for syk unnethes mighte he stonde.

Yet tikled it his herte, for that he

Wende that I hadde of him so greet chiertee.

I swoor that al my walkinge out by nighte

Was for t’espye wenches that he dighte ;

Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.

For al swich wit is yeven us in our birthe ;

Deceite, weping, spinning god hath yive

To wommen kindely, whyl they may live.

And thus of o thing I avaunte me,

Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,

By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thing,

As by continuel murmur or grucching ;

Namely a-bedde hadden they meschaunce,

Ther wolde I chyde and do hem no plesaunce ;

I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,

If that I felte his arm over my syde,

Til he had maad his raunson un-to me ;

Than wolde I suffre him do his nycetee.

And ther-fore every man this tale I telle,

Winne who-so may, for al is for to selle.

With empty hand men may none haukes lure ;

For winning wolde I al his lust endure,

And make me a feyned appetyt ;

And yet in bacon hadde I never delyt ;

That made me that ever I wolde hem chyde.

For thogh the pope had seten hem bisyde,

I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord.

For by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.

As help me verray god omnipotent,

Thogh I right now sholde make my testament,

I ne owe hem nat a word that it nis quit.

I broghte it so aboute by my wit,

That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste ;

Or elles hadde we never been in reste.

For thogh he loked as a wood leoun,

Yet sholde he faille of his conclusioun.

Thanne wolde I seye, ” gode lief, tak keep

How mekely loketh Wilkin oure sheep ;

Com neer, my spouse, let me ba thy cheke !

Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,

And han a swete spyced conscience,

Sith ye so preche of Jobes pacience.

Suffreth alwey, sin ye so wel can preche ;

And but ye do, certein we shal yow teche

That it is fair to have a wyf in pees.

Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees ;

And sith a man is more resonable

Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable.

What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone ?

Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone ?

Why taak it al, lo, have it every-deel ;

Peter ! I shrewe yow but ye love it weel !

For if I wolde selle my bele chose,

I coude walke as fresh as is a rose ;

But I wol kepe it for your owene tooth.

Ye be to blame, by god, I sey yow sooth.”

Swiche maner wordes hadde we on honde.

Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde.

My fourthe housbonde was a revelour,

This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour ;

And I was yong and ful of ragerye,

Stiborn and strong, and joly as a pye.

Wel coude I daunce to an harpe smale,

And singe, y-wis, as any nightingale,

Whan I had dronke a draughte of swete wyn.

Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn,

That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf,

For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf,

He sholde nat han daunted me fro drinke ;

And, after wyn, on Venus moste I thinke :

For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl,

A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tayl.

In womrnan vinolent is no defence.

This knowen lechours by experience.

But, lord Crist ! whan that it remembreth me

Up-on my yowthe, and on my jolitee,

It tikleth me aboute myn herte rote.

Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote

That I have had my world as in my tyme.

But age, allas ! that al wol envenyme,

Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith ;

Lat go, fare-wel, the devel go therwith 1

The flour is goon, ther is na-more to telle,

The bren, as I best can, now moste I selle ;

But yet to be right mery wol I fonde.

Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.

I seye, I hadde in herte greet despyt

That he of any other had delyt.

But he was quit, by god and by seint Joce !

I made him of the same wode a croce ;

Nat of my body in no foul manere,

But certeinly, I made folk swich chere,

That in his owene grece I made him frye

For angre, and for verray jalousye.

By god, in erthe I was his purgatorie,

For which I hope his soule be in glorie.

For god it woot, he sat ful ofte and song

Whan that his shoo ful bitterly him wrong.

Ther was no wight, save god and he, that wiste,

In many wyse, how sore I him twiste.

He deyde whan I cam fro Jerusalem,

And lyth y-grave under the rode-beem,

Al is his tombe noght so curious

As was the sepulcre of him, Darius,

Which that Appelles wroghte subtilly ;

It nis but wast to burie him preciously.

Lat him fare-wel, god yeve his soule reste,

He is now in the grave and in his cheste.

Now of my fifthe housbond wol I telle.

God lete his soule never come in helle !

And yet was he to me the moste shrewe ;

That fele I on my ribbes al by rewe,


And ever shal, un-to myn ending-day

But in our bed he was so fresh and gay,

And ther-with-al so wel coude he me glose,

Whan that he wolde han niy bele chose,

That thogh he hadde me bet on every boon,

He coude winne agayn my love anoon.

I trowe I loved him beste, for that he

Was of his love daungerous to me.

We wommen han, if that I shal nat lye,

In this matere a queynte fantasye ;

Wayte what thing we may nat lightly have,

Ther-after wol we crye al-day and crave.

Forbede us thing, and that desyren we ;

Prees on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.

With daunger oute we al our chaffare ;

Greet prees at market maketh dere ware,

And to greet cheep is holde at litel prys ;

This knoweth every womman that is wys..

My fifthe housbonde, god his soule blesse !

Which that I took for love and no richesse,

He som-tyme was a clerk of Oxenford,

And had left scole, and wente at hoom to bord

With my gossib, dwellinge in oure toun,

God have hir soule ! hir name was Alisoun.

She knew myn herte and eek my privetee

Bet than our parisshe-preest, so moot I thee !

To hir biwreyed I my conseil al.

For had myn housbonde pissed on a wal,

Or doon a thing that sholde han cost his lyf,

To hir, and to another worthy wyf,

And to my nece, which that I loved weel,

I wolde han told his conseil every-deel.

And so I dide ful often, god it woot,

That made his face ful often reed and hoot

For verray shame, and blamed him-self for he

Had told to me so greet a privetee.

And so bifel that ones, in a Lente,

(So often tymes I to my gossib wente,

For ever yet I lovede to be gay,

And for to walke, in March, Averille, and May,

Fro hous to hous, to here sondry talis),

That Jankin clerk, and my gossib dame Alis,

And I my-self, in-to the feldes wente.

Myn housbond was at London al that Lente ;

I hadde the bettre leyser for to pleye,

And for to see, and eek for to be seye

Of lusty folk ; what wiste I wher my grace

Was shapen for to be, or in what place ?

Therefore I made my visitaciouns,

To vigilies and to processiouns,

To preching eek and to thise pilgrimages,

To pleyes of miracles and manages,

And wered upon my gaye scarlet gytes.

Thise wormes, ne thise motthes, ne thise mytes,

Upon my peril, frete hem never a deel ;

And wostow why ? for they were used weel.

Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.

I seye, that in the feeldes walked we,

Til trewely we hadde swich dAllance,

This clerk and I, that of my purveyance

I spak to him, and seyde him, how that he,

If I were widwe, sholde wedde me.

For certeinly, I sey for no bobance,

Yet was I never with-outen purveyance

Of mariage, n’of othere thinges eek.

I holde a mouses herte nat worth a leek,

That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,

And if that faille, thanne is al y-do.

I bar him on honde, he hadde enchanted me ;

My dame taughte me that soutiltee.

And eek I seyde, I mette of him al night ;

He wolde han slayn me as I lay up-right,

And al my bed was ful of verray blood,

But yet I hope that he shal do me good ;

For blood bitokeneth gold, as me was taught.

And al was fals, I dremed of it right naught,

But as I folwed ay my dames lore,

As wel of this as of other thinges more.

But now sir, lat me see, what I shal seyn ?

A ! ha ! by god, I have my tale ageyn.

Whan that my fourthe housbond was on bere,

I weep algate, and made sory chere,

As wyves moten, for it is usage,

And with my coverchief covered my visage ;

But for that I was purveyed of a make,

I weep but smal, and that I undertake.

To chirche was myn housbond born a-morwe

With neighebores, that for him maden sorwe ;

And Jankin oure clerk was oon of tho.

As help me god, whan that I saugh him go

After the bere, me thoughte he hadde a paire

Of legges and of feet so clene and faire,

That al myn herte I yaf un-to his hold.

He was, I trowe, a twenty winter old,

And I was fourty, if I shal seye sooth ;

But yet I hadde alwey a coltes tooth.

Gat-tothed I was, and that bicam me weel ;

I hadde the prente of seynt Venus seel.

As help me god, I was a lusty oon,

And faire and riche, and yong, and wel bigoon ;

And trewely, as myne housbondes tolde me,

I had the beste qtioniam mighte be.

For certes, I am al Venerien

In felinge, and myn herte is Marcien.

Venus me yaf my lust, my likerousnesse,

And Mars yaf me my sturdy hardinesse.

Myn ascendent was Taur, and Mars ther-inne.

Allas ! allas ! that ever love was sinne !

I folwed ay myn inclinacioun

By vertu of my constellacioun ;

That made me I coude noght withdrawe

My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.

Yet have I Martes mark up-on my face,

And also in another privee place.

For, god so wis be my savacioun,

I ne loved never by no discrecioun,

But ever folwede myn appetyt,

Al were he short or long, or blak or whyt ;

I took no kepe, so that he lyked me,

How pore he was, ne eek of what degree.

What sholde I seye, but, at the monthes ende,

This joly clerk Jankin, that was so hende.

Hath wedded me with greet solempnitee,

And to him yaf I al the lond and fee

That ever was me yeven ther-bifore ;

But afterward repented me ful sore.

He nolde suffre nothing of my list.

By god, he smoot me ones on the list,

For that I rente out of his book a leef,

That of the strook myn ere wex al deef.

Stiborn I was as is a leonesse,

And of my tonge a verray jangleresse,

And walke I wolde, as I had doon biforn,

From hous to hous, al-though he had it sworn.

For which he often tymes wolde preche,

And me of olde Romayn gestes teche,

How he, Simplicius Gallus, lefte his wyf,

And hir forsook for terme of al his lyf,

Noght but for open -heeded he hir say

Lokinge out at his dore upon a day.

Another Romayn tolde he me by name,

That, for his wyf was at a someres game

With-oute his witing, he forsook hir eke.

And than wolde he up-on his Bible seke

That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste,

Wher he comandeth and forbedeth faste,

Man shal nat suffre his wyf go roule aboute ;

Than wolde he seye right thus, withouten doute,

” Who-so that buildeth his hous al of salwes,

And priketh his blinde hors over the falwes,

And sufFreth his wyf to go seken halwes,

Is worthy to been hanged on the galwes ! “

But al for noght, I sette noght an hawe

Of his proverbes n’of his olde sawe,

Ne I wolde nat of him corrected be.

I hate him that my vices telleth me,

And so do mo, god woot ! of us than I.

This made him with me wood al outrely ;

I nolde noght forbere him in no cas.

Now wol I seye yow sooth, by seint Thomas,

Why that I rente out of his book a leef,

For which he smoot me so that I was deef.

He hadde a book that gladly, night and day,

For his desport he wolde rede alway.

He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,

At whiche book he lough alwey ful faste.

And eek ther was som-tyme a clerk at Rome,

A cardinal, that highte Seint Jerome,

That made a book agayn Jovinian ;

In whiche book eek ther was Tertulan,

Crisippus, Trotula, and Helowys,

That was abbesse nat fer fro Parys ;

And eek the Parables of Salomon,

Ovydes Art, and bokes many on,

And alle thise wer bounden in o volume.

And every night and day was his custume,

Whan he had leyser and vacacioun

From other worldly occupacioun,

To reden on this book of wikked wyves.

He knew of hem mo legendes and lyves

Than been of gode wyves in the Bible.

For trusteth wel, it is an impossible

That any clerk wol speke good of wyves,

But-if it be of holy seintes lyves,

Ne of noon other womman never the mo.

Who peyntede the leoun, tel me who ?

By god, if wommen hadde writen stories,

As clerkes han with-inne hir oratories,

They wolde han writen of men more wikkednesse

Than all the mark of Adam may redresse.

The children of Mercurie and of Venus

Been in hir wirking ful contrarious ;

Mercurie loveth wisdom and science,

And Venus loveth ryot and dispence. ‘

And, for hir diverse disposicioun,

Ech falleth in otheres exaltacioun ;

And thus, god woot ! Mercurie is desolat

In Pisces, wher Venus is exaltat ;

And Venus falleth ther Mercurie is reysed ;

Therfore no womman of no clerk is preysed.

The clerk, whan he is old, and may noght do

Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,

Than sit he doun, and writ in his dotage

That wommen can nat kepe hir manage !

But now to purpos, why I tolde thee

That I was beten for a book, pardee.

Up-on a night Jankin, that was our syre,

Redde on his book, as he sat by the fyre,

Of Eva first, that, for hir wikkednesse,

Was al mankinde broght to wrecchednesse,

For which that Jesu Crist him -self was slayn,

That boghte us with his herte-blood agayn.

Lo, here expres of womman may ye finde,

That womman was the los of al mankinde.

Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres,

Slepinge, his lemman kitte hem with hir sheres ;

Thurgh whiche tresoun loste he bothe his yen.

Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lyen,

Of Hercules and of his Dianyre,

That caused him to sette himself a-fyre.

No-thing forgat he the penaunce and wo

That Socrates had with hise wyves two ;

How Xantippa caste pisse up-on his heed ;

This sely man sat stille, as he were deed ;

He wyped his heed, namore dorste he seyn

But ” er that thonder stinte, comth a reyn.”

Of Phasipha, that was the quene of Crete,

For shrewednesse, him thoughte the tale swete ;

Fy ! spek na-more — it is a grisly thing —

Of hir horrible lust and hir lyking.

Of Clitemistra, for hir lecherye,

That falsly made hir housbond for to dye,

He redde it with ful good devocioun.

He tolde me eek for what occasioun

Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lyf ;

Myn housbond hadde a legende of his wyf,

Eriphilem, that for an ouche of gold

Hath prively un-to the Grekes told

Wher that hir housbonde hidde him in a place,

For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace.

Of Lyma tolde he me, and of Lucye,

They bothe made hir housbondes for to dye ;

That oon for love, that other was for hate ;

Lyma hir housbond, on an even late,

Empoysoned hath, for that she was his fo.

Lucya, likerous, loved hir housbond so,

That, for he sholde alwey up-on hir thinke,

She yaf him swich a maner love-drinke,

That he was deed, er it were by the morwe ;

And thus algates housbondes han sorwe.

Than tolde he me, how oon Latumius

Compleyned to his felawe Arrius,

That in his gardin growed swich a tree,

On which, he seyde, how that his wyves three

Hanged hem-self for herte despitous.

” O leve brother,” quod this Arrius,

” Yif me a plante of thilke blissed tree,

And in my gardin planted shal it be ! “

Of latter date, of wyves hath he red,

That somme han slayn hir housbondes in hir bed,

And lete hir lechour dighte hir al the night

Whyl that the corps lay in the floor up-right.

And somme han drive nayles in hir brayn

Whyl that theyslepte, and thus they han hem slayn.

Somme han hem yeve poysoun in hir drinke.

He spak more harm than herte may bithinke.

And ther-with-al, he knew of mo proverbes

Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes.

” Bet is,” quod he, ” thyn habitacioun

Be with a leoun or a foul dragoun,

Than with a womman usinge for to chyde.

Bet is,” quod he, ” hye in the roof abyde

Than with an angry wyf doun in the hous ;

They been so wikked and contrarious ;

They haten that hir housbondes loveth ay.”

He seyde, ” a womman cast hir shame away,

Whan she cast of hir smok ; ” and forthermo,

” A fair womman, but she be chaast also,

Is lyk a gold ring in a sowes nose.”

Who wolde wenen, or who wolde suppose

The wo that in myn herte was, and pyne ?

And whan I saugh he wolde never fyne

To reden on this cursed book al night,

Al sodeynly three leves have I plight

Out of his book, right as he radde, and eke,

I with my fist so took him on the cheke,

That in our fyr he fil bakward adoun.

And he up-stirte as dooth a wood leoun,

And with his fist he smoot me on the heed,

That in the floor I lay as I were deed.

And when he saugh how stille that I lay,

He was agast, and wolde han fled his way,

Til atte laste out of my swogh I breyde :

” O ! hastow slayn me, false theef ? ” I seyde,

” And for my land thus hastow mordred me ?

Er I be deed, yet wol I kisse thee.”

And neer he cam, and kneled faire adoun,

And seyde, ” dere suster Alisoun,

As help me god, I shal thee never smyte ;

That I have doon, it is thy-self to wyte.

Foryeve it me, and that I thee biseke “

And yet eft-sones I hitte him on the cheke,

And seyde, ” theef, thus muchel am I wreke ;

Now wol I dye, I may no lenger speke.”

But atte laste, with muchel care and wo,

We fille acorded, by us selven two.

He yaf me al the brydel in myn hond

To han the governance of hous and lond,

And of his tonge and of his hond also,

And made him brenne his book anon right tho.

And whan that I hadde geten un-to me,

By maistrie, al the soveraynetee,

And that he seyde, ” myn owene trewe wyf,

Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lyf,

Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estaat “

After that day we hadden never debaat.

God help me so, I was to him as kinde

As any wyf from Denmark un-to Inde,

And also trewe, and so was he to me.

I prey to god that sit in magestee,

So blesse his soule, for his mercy dere !

Now wol I seye my tale, if ye wol here.’

Biholde the wordes bitween the Somonour and the Frere,

The Frere lough, whan he hadde herd al this,

‘ Now, dame,’ quod he, ‘ so have I joye or blis,

This is a long preamble of a tale ! ‘

And whan the Somnour herde the Frere gale,

‘ Lo ! ‘ quod the Somnour, ‘ goddes armes two !

A frere wol entremette him ever-mo.

Lo, gode men, a flye and eek a frere

Wol falle in every dish and eek matere.

What spekestow of preambulacioun ?

What ! amble, or trotte, or pees, or go sit doun ;

Thou lettest our disport in this manere.’

‘ Ye, woltow so, sir Somnour ? ‘ quod the Frere,

‘ Now, by my feith, I shal, er that I go,

Telle of a Somnour swich a tale or two,

That alle the folk shal laughen in this place.’

‘ Now elles, Frere, I bishrewe thy face,’

Quod this Somnour, ‘ and I bishrewe me,

But-if I telle tales two or three

Of freres er I come to Sidingborne,

That I shal make thyn herte for to morne ;

For wel I woot thy pacience is goon.’

Our hoste cryde ‘ pees ! and that anoon ! ‘

And seyde, ‘ lat the womman telle hir tale.

Ye fare as folk that dronken been of ale.

Do, dame, tel forth your tale, and that is best.’

‘ Al redy, sir,’ quod she, ‘ right as yow lest,

If I have licence of this worthy Frere.’

‘ Yis, dame,’ quod he, ‘ tel forth, and I wol here.’

Here endeth the Wyf of Bathe hir Prologe.

Here biginneth the Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.

In th’olde dayes of the king Arthour,

Of which that Britons speken greet honour,

Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.

The elf -queen, with hir joly companye,

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 can no man see none elves mo.

For now the grete charitee and prayeres

Of limitours and othere holy freres,

That serchen every lond and every streem,

As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,

Blessinge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,

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 limitour himself

In undermeles and in morweninges,

And seyth his matins and his holy thinges

As he goth in his limitacioun.

Wommen may go saufly up and doun,

In every bush, or under every tree ;

Ther is noon other incubus but he,

And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.

And so bifel it, that this king Arthour

Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,

That on a day cam rydinge fro river ;

And happed that, allone as she was born,

He saugh a mayde walkinge him biforn,

Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,

By verray force he rafte hir maydenheed ;

For which oppressioun was swich clamour

And swich pursute un-to the king Arthour,

That dampned was this knight for to be deed

By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed

Paraventure, swich was the statut tho ;

But that the quene and othere ladies mo

So longe preyeden the king of grace,

Til he his lyf him graunted in the place,

And yaf him to the quene al at hir wille,

To chese, whether she wolde him save or spille.

The quene thanketh the king with al hir might,

And after this thus spak she to the knight,

Whan that she saugh hir tyme, up-on a day :

‘ Thou standest yet,’ quod she, ‘ in swich array,

That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.

I grante thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me

What thing is it that wommen most desyren ?

Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from yren.

And if thou canst nat tellen it anon,

Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon

A twelf -month and a day, to seche and lere

An an s were suffisant in this matere.

And suretee wol I han, er ,that thou pace,

Thy body for to yelden in this place.’

Wo was this knight and sorwefully he syketh ;

But what ! he may nat do al as him lyketh.

And at the laste, he chees him for to wende,

And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,

With swich answere as god wolde him purveye ;

And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.

He seketh every hous and every place,

Wher-as he hopeth for to finde grace,

To ierne, what thing wommen loven most ;

But he ne coude arryven in no cost,

Wher-as he mighte finde in this matere

Two creatures accordinge in-fere.

Somme seyde, wommen loven best richesse,

Somme seyde, honour, somme seyde, jolynesse ;

Somme, riche array, somme seyden, lust abedde,

And of te tyme to be widwe and wedde.

Somme seyde, that our hertes been most esed,

Whan that we been y-flatered and y-plesed.

He goo th ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye ;

A man shal winne us best with flaterye ;

And with attendance, and with bisinesse,

Been we y-lymed, bothe more and lesse.

And somme seyn, how that we loven best

For to be free, and do right as us lest,

And that no man repreve us of our vyce,

But seye that we be wyse, and no-thing nyce.

For trewely, ther is noon of us alle,

If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,

That we nil kike, for he seith us sooth ;

Assay, and he shal finde it that so dooth.

For be we never so vicious with-inne,

We wol been holden wyse, and clene of sinne.

And somme seyn, that greet delyt han we

For to ben holden stable and eek secree,

And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,

And nat biwreye thing that men us telle.

But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele ;

Pardee, we wommen conne no-thing hele ;

Witnesse on Myda ; wol ye here the tale ?

Ovyde, amonges othere thinges smale,

Seyde, Myda hadde, under his longe heres,

Growinge up-on his heed two asses eres,

The whiche vyee he hidde, as he best mighte,

Ful subtilly from every mannes sight e,

That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it na-mo.

He loved hir most, and trusted hir also ;

He preyede hir, that to no creature

She sholde tellen of his disfigure.

She swoor him ‘ nay, for al this world to winne,

She nolde do that vileinye or sinne,

To make hir housbond han so foul a name ;

She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.’

But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde.

That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde :

Hir thoughte it swal so sore aboute hir herte,

That nedely som word hir moste asterte ;

And sith she dorste telle it to no man,

Doun to a mareys faste by she ran ;

Til she came there, hir herte was a-fyre,

And, as a bitore bombleth in the myre,

She leyde hir mouth un-to the water doun :

4 Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,’

Quod she, ‘ to thee I telle it, and namo ;

Myn housbond hath longe asses eres two !

Now is myn herte all hool, now is it oute ;

I mighte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.’


Heer may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,

Yet out it moot, we can no conseil hyde ;

The remenant of the tale if ye wol here,

Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it lere.

This knight, of which my tale is specially,

Whan that he saugh he mighte nat come therby,

This is to seye, what wommen loven moost,

With-inne his brest ful sorweful was the goost ;

But hoom he gooth, he mighte nat sojourne.

The day was come, that hoomward moste he tourne,

And in his wey it happed him to ryde,

In al this care, under a forest-syde,

Wher-as he saugh up-on a daunce go

Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mo ;

Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,

In hope that som wisdom sholde he lerne.

But certeinly, er he came fully there,

Vanisshed was this daunce, he niste where.

No creature saugh he that bar lyf,

Save on the grene he saugh sittinge a wyf ;

A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.

Agayn the knight this olde wyf gan ryse,

And seyde, ‘ sir knight, heer-forth ne lyth no wey,

Tel me, what that ye seken, by your fey ?

Paraventure it may the bettre be ;

Thise olde folk can muchel thing,’ quod she.

‘ My leve mooder,’ quod this knight certeyn,

‘ I nam but deed, but-if that I can seyn

What thing it is that wommen most desyre ;

Coude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quyte your hyre.’

‘ Plight me thy trouthe, heer in myn hand,’ quod


‘ The nexte thing that I requere thee,

Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy might ;

And I wol telle it yow er it be night.’

‘ Have heer my trouthe,’ quod the knight, ‘ I


‘ Thanne,’ quod she, ‘ I dar me wel avante,

Thy lyf is sauf, for I wol stonde therby,

Up-on my lyf, the queen wol seye as I.

Lat see 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 ;

Lat us go forth with-outen lenger speche.’

Tho rouned she a pistel in his ere,

And bad him to be glad, and have no fere.

Whan they be comen to the court, this knight

Seyde, ‘ he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,

And redy was his answere,’ as he sayde.

Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,

And many a widwe, for that they ben wyse,

The quene hir-self sittinge as a justyse,

Assembled been, his answere for to here ;

And afterward this knight was bode appere.

To every wight comanded was silence,

And that the knight sholde telle in audience,

What thing that worldly wommen loven best.

This knight ne stood nat stille as doth a best,

But to his questioun anon answerde

With manly voys, that al the court it herde :

‘ My lige lady, generally,’ quod he,

£ Wommen desyren to have sovereyntee

As wel over hir housbond as hir love,

And for to been in maistrie him above ;

This is your moste desyr, thogh ye me kille,

Doth as yow list, I am heer at your wille.’

In al the court ne was ther wyf ne mayde,

Ne widwe, that contraried that he sayde,

But seyden, ‘ he was worthy han his lyf.’

And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,

Which that the knight saugh sittinge in the grene :

‘ Mercy,’ quod she, ‘ my sovereyn lady quene !

Er that your court departe, do me right.

I taughte this answere un-to the knight ;

For which he plighte me his trouthe there,

The firste thing I wolde of him requere,

He wolde it do, if it lay in his might.

Bifore the court than preye I thee, sir knight,’

Quod she, ‘ that thou me take un-to thy wyf ;

For wel thou wost that I have kept thy lyf.

If I sey fals, sey nay, up-on thy fey ! ‘

This knight answerde, ‘ allas ! and weylawey !

I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.

For goddes love, as chees a neAve requeste ;

Tak al my good, and lat my body go.’

‘ Nay than,’ quod she, ‘ I shrewe us bothe two !

For thogh that I be foul, and old, and pore,

I nolde for al the metal, ne for ore,

That under erthe is grave, or lyth 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 ever so foule disparaged be ! ‘

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.

Nov/ wolden som men seye, para venture,

That, for my necligence, I do no cure

To tellen yow the joye and al th’ array

That at the feste was that ilke day.

To whiche thing shortly answere I shal ;

I seye, ther nas no joye ne feste at al,

Ther nas but hevinesse and muche sorwe ;

For prively he wedded hir on a morwe,

And al day after hidde him as an oule ;

So wo was him, his wyf looked so foule.

Greet was the wo the knight hadde in his thoght,

Whan he was with his wyf a-bedde y-broght ;

He walweth, and he turneth to and fro.

His olde wyf lay smylinge evermo,

And seyde, ‘ o dere housbond, ben” cite !

Fareth every knight thus with his wyf as ye ?

Is this the la we of king Arthures hous ?

Is every knight of his so dangerous ?

I am your owene love and eek your wyf ;

I am she, which that saved hath your lyf ;

And certes, yet dide I yow never unright ;

Why fare ye thus with me this firste night ?

Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit ;

What is my gilt ? for godd’s love, tel me it,

And it shal been amended, if I may.’

‘ Amended ? ‘ quod this knight, ‘ allas ! nay,


It wol nat been amended never mo !

Thou art so loothly, and so old also,

And ther-to comen of so lowe a kinde,

That litel wonder is, thogh I walwe and winde.

So wolde god myn herte wolde breste ! ‘

‘ Is this,’ quod she, ‘ the cause of your unreste 1 ‘

‘ Ye, certainly,’ quod he, ‘ no wonder is.’

‘ Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘ I coude amende al this,

If that me liste, er it were dayes three,

So wel ye mighte bere yow un-to me.

But for ye speken of swich gentillesse

As is descended out of old richesse,

That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,

Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.

Loke who that is most vertuous alway,

Privee and apert, and most entendeth ay

To do the gentil dedes that he can,

And tak him for the grettest gentil man.

Crist wol, we clayme of him our gentillesse,

Nat of our eldres for hir old richesse.

For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,

For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,

Yet may they nat biquethe, for no-thing,

To noon of us hir vertuous living,

That made hem gentil men y-called be ;

And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.

Wel can the wyse poete of Florence,

That highte Dant, speken in this sentence ;

Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale :

” Ful selde up ryseth by his branches smale

Prowesse of man ; for god, of his goodnesse,

Wol that of him we clayme our gentillesse ; “

For of our eldres may we no -thing clayme

But temporel thing, that man may hurte and


Eek every wight wot this as wel as I,

If gentillesse were planted naturelly

Un-to a certeyn linage, doun the lyne,

Privee ne apert, than wolde they never fyne

To doon of gentillesse the faire offyce ;

They mighte do no vileinye or vyce.

Tak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous

Bitwix this and the mount of Caucasus,

And lat men shette the dores and go thenne ;

Yet wol the fyr as faire lye and brenne,

As twenty thousand men mighte it biholde ;

His office naturel ay wol it holde,

Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.

Heer may ye see wel, how that genterye

Is nat annexed to possessioun,

Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun

Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo ! in his kinde.

For, god it woot, men may wel often finde

A lordes sone do shame and vileinye ;

And he that wol han prys of his gentrye

For he was boren of a gentil hous,

And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,

And nil him-selven do no gentil dedis,

Ne folwe his gentil auncestre that deed is,

He nis nat gentil, be he duk or erl ;

For vileyns sinful dedes make a cherl.

For gentillesse nis but renomee

Of thyne auncestres, for hir heigh bountee,

Which is a strange thing to thy persone.

Thy gentillesse cometh fro god allone ;

Than comth our verray gentillesse of grace,

It was no-thing biquethe us with our place.

Thenketh how noble, as seith Valerius,

Was thilke Tullius Hostilius,

That out of povert roos to heigh noblesse.

Redeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece,

Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is,

That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis ;

And therfore, leve housbond, I thus conclude,

Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,

Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,

Grante me grace to liven vertuously.

Thanne am I gentil, whan that I biginne

To liven vertuously and weyve sinne.

And ther-as ye of povert me repreve,

The hye god, on whom that we bileve,

In wilful povert chees to live his lyf.

And certes every man, mayden, or wyf,

May understonde that Jesus, hevene king,

Ne wolde nat chese a vicious living.

Glad povert is an honest thing, certeyn ;

This wol Senek and othere clerkes seyn.

Who-so that halt him payd of his poverte,

I holde him riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.

He that coveyteth is a povre wight,

For he wolde han that is nat in his might.

But he that noght hath, ne coveyteth have

Is riche, al-though ye holde him but a knave.

Verray povert, it singeth proprely ;

Juvenal seith of povert merily :

” The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,

Bifore the theves he may singe and pleye.”

Povert is hateful good, and, as I gesse,

A ful greet bringer out of bisinesse ;

A greet amender eek of sapience

To him that taketh it in pacience.

Povert is this, al-though it seme elenge :

Possessioun, that no wight wol chalenge.

Povert ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,

Maketh his god and eek him-self to knowe.

Povert a spectacle is, as thinketh me,

Thurgh which he may his verray frendes see.

And therfore, sire, sin that I noght yow greve,

Of my povert na-more ye me repreve.

Now, sire, of elde ye repreve me ;

And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee

Were in no book, ye gentils of honour

Seyn that men sholde an old wight doon favour,

And clepe him fader, for your gentillesse ;

And auctours shal I finden, as I gesse.

Now ther ye seye, that I am foul and old,

Than drede you noght to been a cokewold ;

For filthe and elde, al-so mote I thee,

Been grete wardeyns up-on chastitee.

But nathelees, sin I knowe your delyt,

I shal fulfille your worldly appetyt.

Chees now,’ quod she, ‘oon of thise thinges tweye,

To han me foul and old til that I deye,

And be to yow a trewe humble wyf,

And never yow displese in al my lyf,

Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,

And take your aventure of the repair

That shal be to your hous, by-cause of me,

Or in som other place, may wel be.

Now chees your-selven, whether that yow lyketh.’

This knight avyseth him and sore syketh,

But atte laste he seyde in this manere,

‘ My lady and my love, and wyf so dere,

I put me in your wyse governance ;

Cheseth your-self, which may be most plesance,

And most honour to yow and me also.

I do no fors the whether of the two ;

For as yow lyketh, it suffiseth me.’

‘ Thanne have I gete of yow maistrye,’ quod she,

‘ Sin I may chese, and governe as me lest ? ‘

‘ Ye certes, wyf,’ quod he, ‘ I holde it best.’

‘ Kis me,’ quod she, ‘ we be no lenger wrothe ;

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 mot sterven wood,

But I to yow be al-so good and trewe

As ever was wyf, sin that the world was newe.

And, but I be to-morn as fair to sene

As any lady, emperyce, or quene,

That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,

Doth with my lyf and deeth right as yow lest.

Cast up the curtin, loke how that it is.’

And whan the knight saugh verraily al this,

That she so fair was, and so yong ther-to,

For joye he hente hir in his armes two,

His herte bathed in a bath of blisse ;

A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hir kisse.

And she obeyed him in every thing

That mighte doon him plesance or lyking.

And thus they live, un-to hir lyves ende,

In parfit joye ; and Jesu Crist us sende

Housbondes meke, yonge, and fresshe a-bedde,

And grace t’overbyde hem that we wedde.

And eek I preye Jesu shorte hir lyves

That wol nat be governed by hir wyves ;

And olde and angry nigardes of dispence,

God sende hem sone verray pestilence.

Here endeth the Wyves Tale of Bathe.