The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Experience, though noon auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynough for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage:
For lordinges, sith I twelf yeer was of age--
Thanked be God that is eterne on live--

Housbondes at chirche dore I have had five
(If I so ofte mighte han wedded be),
And alle were worthy men in hir degree.
But me was told, certain, nat longe agoon is,
That sith that Crist ne wente nevere but ones
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,
Biside a welle, Jesus, God and man,
Spak in repreve of the Samaritan:
"Thou hast yhad five housbondes," quod he,
"And that ilke man that now hath thee
Is nat thyn housbonde." Thus saide her certain.
What that he mente therby I can nat sayn,
But that I axe why the fifthe man
Was noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
How manye mighte she han in mariage?
Yit herde I nevere tellen in myn age
Upon this nombre diffinicioun.

Men may divine and glosen up and down,
But wel I woot, expres, withouten lie,
God bad us for to wexe and multiplye:
That gentil text can I wel understonde.
Eek wel I woot he saide that myn housbonde
Sholde lete fader and moder and take to me,
But of no nombre mencion made he--
Of bigamye or of octogamye:
Why sholde men thanne speke of it vilainye?
Lo, here the wise king daun Salomon:
I trowe he hadde wives many 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 wives!
No man hath swich that in this world alive is.
God woot this noble king, as to my wit,
The firste night hadde many a merye fit
With eech of hem, so wel was him on live.
Blessed be God that I have wedded five,
Of whiche I have piked out the beste,
Bothe of hir nether purs and of hir cheste.
Diverse scoles maken parfit clerkes,
And diverse practikes in sondry werkes
Maken the werkman parfit sikerly:
Of five housbondes scoleying am I.
Welcome the sixte whan that evere he shal!
For sith I wol nat kepe me chast in al,
Whan my housbonde is fro the world agoon,
Som Cristen man shal wedde me anoon.
For thanne th'Apostle saith that I am free
To wedde, a Goddes half, where it liketh me.
He saide that to be wedded is no sinne:
Bet is to be wedded than to brinne.
What rekketh me though folk saye vilainye
Of shrewed Lamech and his bigamye?
I woot wel Abraham was an holy man,
And Jacob eek, as fer as evere I can,
And eech of hem hadde wives mo than two,
And many another holy man also.
Where can ye saye in any manere age
That hye God defended mariage
By expres word? I praye you, telleth me.
Or where comanded he virginitee?
I woot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
Th'Apostle, whan he speketh of maidenhede,
He saide that precept therof hadde he noon:

Men may conseile a womman to be oon,
But conseiling nis no comandement.
He putte it in oure owene juggement.
For hadde God comanded maidenhede,
Thanne hadde he dampned wedding with the deede;

And certes, if there were no seed ysowe,
Virginitee, thanne wherof sholde it growe?
Paul dorste nat comanden at the leeste
A thing of which his maister yaf no heeste.
The dart is set up for virginitee:
Cacche whoso may, who renneth best lat see.
But this word is nought take of every wight,
But ther as God list yive it of his might.
I woot wel that th'Apostle was a maide,
But nathelees, thought that he wroot and saide
He wolde that every wight were swich as he,
Al nis but conseil to virginitee;
And for to been a wif he yaf me leve
Of indulgence; so nis it no repreve
To wedde me if that my make die,
Withouten excepcion 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 fir and tow t'assemble--
Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble).
This al and som, he heeld virginitee
More parfit than wedding in freletee.
(Freletee clepe I but if that he and she
Wolde leden al hir lif in chastitee.)
I graunte it wel, I have noon envye
Though maidenhede preferre bigamye:
It liketh hem to be clene in body and gost.
Of myn estaat ne wol I make no boost;
For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold
Ne hath nat every vessel al of gold:
Some been of tree, and doon hir lord servise.
God clepeth folk to him in sondry wise,
And everich hath of God a propre yifte,
Som this, som that, as him liketh shifte.

Virginitee is greet perfeccioun,
And continence eek with devocioun,
But Crist, that of perfeccion is welle,
Bad nat every wight he sholde go selle
Al that he hadde and yive it to the poore,
And in swich wise folwe him and his fore:
He spak to hem that wolde live parfitly--
And lordinges, by youre 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 of so parfit wis a wrighte ywrought?
Trusteth right wel, they were nat maad for nought.
Glose whoso wol, and saye bothe up and down
That they were maked for purgacioun
Of urine, and oure bothe thinges smale
Was eek to knowe a femele from a male,
And for noon other cause--saye ye no?
Th'experience woot it is nought so.

So that the clerkes be nat with me wrothe,
I saye this, that they been maad for bothe--
That is to sayn, for office and for ese
Of engendrure, ther we nat God displese.
Why sholde men elles in hir bookes sette
That man shal yeelde to his wif hir dette?
Now wherwith sholde he make his payement
If he ne used his sely instrument?
Thanne were they maad upon a creature
To purge urine, and eek for engendrure.
But I saye nought that every wight is holde,
That hath swich harneis as I to you tolde,
To goon and usen hem in engendrure:
Thanne sholde men take of chastitee no cure.
Crist was a maide and shapen as a man,
And many a saint sith that the world bigan,
Yit lived they evere in parfit chastitee.
I nil envye no virginitee:
Lat hem be breed of pured whete seed,
And lat us wives hote barly breed--
And yit with barly breed, Mark telle can,
Oure Lord Jesu refresshed many a man.
In swich estaat as God hath cleped us
I wol persevere: I nam nat precious.
In wifhood wol I use myn instrument
As freely as my Makere hath it sent.
If I be daungerous, God yive me sorwe:
Myn housbonde shal it han both eve and morwe,
Whan that him list come forth and paye his dette.
An housbonde wol I have, I wol nat lette,
Which shal be bothe my dettour and my thral,
And have his tribulacion withal
Upon his flessh whil that I am his wif.
I have the power during al my lif
Upon his propre body, and nat he:
Right thus th'Apostle tolde it unto me,
And bad oure housbondes for to love us weel.
Al this sentence me liketh everydeel.
An Interlude

Up sterte the Pardoner and that anoon:
"Now dame," quod he, "by God and by Saint John,
Ye been a noble prechour in this cas.
I was aboute to wedde a wif: allas,
What sholde I bye it on my flessh so dere?
Yit hadde I levere wedde no wif toyere."
"Abid," 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 tribulacion in mariage,
Of which I am expert in al myn age--
This is to saye, myself hath been the whippe--
Thanne maistou chese wheither thou wolt sippe
Of thilke tonne that I shal abroche;
Be war of it, er thou too neigh approche,
For I shal telle ensamples mo than ten.
"Whoso that nile be war by othere men,
By him shal othere men corrected be.'
Thise same wordes writeth Ptolomee:
Rede in his Almageste and take it there.
"Dame, I wolde praye you if youre wil it were,"
Saide this Pardoner, "as ye bigan,
Telle forth youre tale; spareth for no man,
And teche us yonge men of youre practike."
"Gladly," quod she, "sith it may you like;
But that I praye to al this compaignye,
If that I speke after my fantasye,
As taketh nat agrief of that I saye,
For myn entente nis but for to playe."
The Wife Continues

Now sire, thanne wol I telle you forth my tale.
As evere mote I drinke win or ale,
I shal saye sooth: tho housbondes that I hadde,
As three of hem were goode, and two were badde.
The three men were goode, and riche, and olde;
Unnethe mighte they the statut holde
In which they were bounden unto me--
Ye woot wel what I mene of this, pardee.
As help me God, I laughe whan I thinke
How pitously anight I made hem swinke;
And by my fay, I tolde of it no stoor:
They hadde me yiven hir land and hir tresor;
Me needed 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 daintee of hir love.
A wis womman wol bisye hire evere in oon
To gete hire love, ye, ther as she hath noon.
But sith I hadde hem hoolly in myn hand,
And sith that they hadde yiven me al hir land,
What sholde I take keep hem for to plese,
But it were for my profit and myn ese?
I sette hem so awerke, by my fay,
That many a night they songen wailaway.
The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
That some men han in Essexe at Dunmowe.
I governed hem so wel after my lawe
That eech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To bringe me gaye thinges fro the faire;
They were ful glade whan I spak hem faire,
For God it woot, I chidde hem spitously.
Now herkneth how I bar me proprely:

Ye wise wives, that conne understonde,
Thus sholde ye speke and bere him wrong on honde--
For half so boldely can ther no man
Swere and lie as a woman can.
I saye nat this by wives that been wise,
But if it be whan they hem misavise.
A wis wif, if that she can hir good,
Shal bere him on hande the cow is wood,
And take witnesse of hir owene maide
Of hir assent. But herkneth how I saide:
"Sire olde cainard, is this thyn array?
Why is my neighebores wif so gay?
She is honoured overal ther she gooth:
I sitte at hoom; I have no thrifty cloth.
What doostou at my neighebores hous?
Is she so fair? Artou so amorous?
What roune ye with oure maide, benedicite?
Sire olde lechour, lat thy japes be.
And if I have a gossib or a freend,
Withouten gilt ye chiden as a feend,
If that I walke or playe unto his hous.
Thou comest hoom as dronken as a mous,
And prechest on thy bench, with yvel preef.
Thou saist to me, it is a greet meschief
To wedde a poore womman for costage.
And if that she be riche, of heigh parage,
Thanne saistou that it is a tormentrye
To suffre hir pride and hir malencolye.
And if that she be fair, thou verray knave,
Thou saist that every holour wol hire have;
She may no while in chastitee abide
That is assailed upon eech a side.
"Thou saist som folk desiren us for richesse,
Som for oure shap, and som for oure fairnesse,
And som for she can outher signe or daunce,
And som for gentilesse and daliaunce,
Som for hir handes and hir armes smale--
Thus gooth al to the devel by thy tale!
Thou saist men may nat keepe a castel wal,
It may so longe assailed been overal.
And if that she be foul, thou saist that she
Coveiteth every man that she may see;
For as a spaniel she wol on him lepe,
Til that she finde som man hire to chepe.
Ne noon so grey goos gooth ther in the lake,
As, saistou, wol be withoute make;
And saist it is an hard thing for to weelde
A thing that no man wol, his thankes, heelde.
Thus saistou, lorel, whan thou goost to bedde,
And that no wis man needeth for to wedde,
Ne no man that entendeth unto hevene--
With wilde thonder-dint and firy levene
Mote thy welked nekke be tobroke!

Thou saist that dropping houses and eek smoke
And chiding wives maken men to flee
Out of hir owene hous: a, benedicite,
What aileth swich an old man for to chide?
Thou saist we wives wil oure vices hide
Til we be fast, and thanne we wol hem shewe--
Wel may that be a proverbe of a shrewe!
Thou saist that oxen, asses, hors, and houndes,
They been assayed at diverse stoundes;
Bacins, lavours, er that men hem bye,
Spoones, stooles, and al swich housbondrye,
And so be pottes, clothes, and array--
But folk of wives maken noon assay
Til they be wedded--olde dotard shrewe!
And thanne, saistou, we wil oure vices shewe.
Thou saist also that it displeseth me
But if that thou wolt praise my beautee,
And but thou poure alway upon my face,
And clepe me "Faire Dame' in every place,
And but thou make a feeste on thilke day
That I was born, and make me fressh and gay,
And but thou do to my norice honour,
And to my chamberere within my bowr,
And to my fadres folk, and his allies--
Thus saistou, olde barel-ful of lies.
And yit of our apprentice Janekin,
For his crispe heer, shining as gold so fin,
And for he squiereth me bothe up and down,
Yit hastou caught a fals suspecioun;
I wil him nat though thou were deed tomorwe.
"But tel me this, why hidestou with sorwe
The keyes of thy cheste away fro me?
It is my good as wel as thyn, pardee.
What, weenestou make an idiot of oure dame?
Now by that lord that called is Saint Jame,
Thou shalt nought bothe, though thou were wood,
Be maister of my body and of my good:
That oon thou shalt forgo, maugree thine yin.
"What helpeth it of me enquere and spyen?
I trowe thou woldest loke me in thy cheste.
Thou sholdest saye, "Wif, go wher thee leste.
Taak youre disport. I nil leve no tales:
I knowe you for a trewe wif, dame Alis.'
We love no man that taketh keep or charge
Wher that we goon: we wol been at oure large.
Of alle men yblessed mote he be
The wise astrologen daun Ptolomee,
That saith this proverbe in his Almageste:
"Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste
That rekketh nat who hath the world in honde.'
By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,
Have thou ynough, what thar thee rekke or care
How merily that othere folkes fare?
For certes, olde dotard, by youre leve,
Ye shal han queinte right ynough at eve:
He is too greet a nigard that wil werne
A man to lighte a candle at his lanterne;
He shal han nevere the lasse lighte, pardee.
Have thou ynough, thee thar nat plaine thee.
"Thou saist also that if we make us gay
With clothing and with precious array,
That it is peril of oure chastitee,
And yit with sorwe thou moste enforce thee,
And saye thise wordes in th' Apostles name:
"In habit maad with chastitee and shame
Ye wommen shal apparaile you,' quod he,
"And nat in tressed heer and gay perree,
As perles ne with gold ne clothes riche.
After thy text, ne after thy rubriche,
I wol nat werke as muchel as a gnat.
Thou saidest this, that I was lik a cat:
For whose wolde senge a cattes skin,
Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;
And if the cattes skin be slik and gay,
She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,
But forth she wol, er any day be dawed,
To shewe her skin and goon a-caterwawed.
This is to saye, if I be gay, sire shrewe,
I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe.
Sir olde fool, what helpeth thee t'espyen?
Though thou praye Argus with his hundred yin
To be my wardecors, as he can best,
In faith, he shal nat keepe me but me lest:
Yit coulde I make his beerd, so mote I thee.
"Thou saidest eek that ther been thinges three,
The wiche thinges troublen al this erthe,
And that no wight may endure the ferthe.
O leve sire shrewe, Jesu shorte thy lif!
Yit prechestou and saist an hateful wif
Yrekened is for oon of thise meschaunces.
Been ther nat none othere resemblaunces
That ye may likne youre parables to,
But if a sely wif be oon of tho?
"Thou liknest eek womannes love to helle,
To bareine land ther water may nat dwelle;
Thou liknest it also to wilde fir--
The more it brenneth, the more it hath desir
To consumen every thing that brent wol be;
Thou saist right as wormes shende a tree,
Right so a wife destroyeth hir housbonde--
This knowen they that been to wives bonde.
Lordinges, right thus, as ye han understonde,
Bar I stifly mine olde housbondes on honde
That thus they saiden in hir dronkenesse--
And al was fals, but that I took witnesse
On Janekin and on my nece also.
O Lord, the paine I dide hem and the wo,
Ful giltelees, by Goddes sweete pine!
For as an hors I coude bite and whine;
I coude plaine and I was in the gilt,
Or elles often time I hadde been spilt.
Whoso that first to mille comth first grint.
I plained first: so was oure werre stint.
They were ful glade to excusen hem ful blive
Of thing of which they nevere agilte hir live.
Of wenches wolde I beren hem on honde,
Whan that for sik they mighte unnethe stonde,
Yit tikled I his herte for that he
Wende I hadde had of him so greet cheertee.
I swoor that al my walking out by nighte
Was for to espye wenches that he dighte.
Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.
For al swich wit is yiven us in oure birthe:
Deceite, weeping, spinning God hath yive
To wommen kindely whil they may live.
And thus of oo thing I avaunte me:
At ende I hadde the bet in eech degree,
By sleighte or force, or by som manere thing,
As by continuel murmur or grucching;
Namely abedde hadden they meschaunce:
Ther wolde I chide and do hem no plesaunce;

I wolde no lenger in the bed abide
If that I felte his arm over my side,
Til he hadde maad his raunson unto me;
Thanne wolde I suffre him do his nicetee.
And therfore every man this tale I telle:
Winne whoso may, for al is for to selle;
With empty hand men may no hawkes lure.
For winning wolde I al his lust endure,
And make me a feined appetit--
And yit in bacon hadde I nevere delit.
That made me that evere I wolde hem chide;
For though the Pope hadde seten hem biside,
I wolde nought spare hem at hir owene boord.
For by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.
As help me verray God omnipotent,
Though I right now sholde make my testament,
I ne owe hem nat a word that it nis quit.
I broughte it so aboute by my wit
That they moste yive it up as for the beste,
Or elles hadde we nevere been in reste;
For though he looked as a wood leoun,
Yit solde he faile of his conclusioun.
Thanne wolde I saye, "Goodelief, taak keep,
How mekely looketh Wilekin, oure sheep!
Com neer my spouse, lat me ba thy cheeke--
Ye sholden be al pacient and meeke,
And han a sweete-spiced conscience,
Sith ye so preche of Jobes pacience;
Suffreth alway, sin ye so wel can preche;
And but ye do, certain, we shal you teche
That it is fair to han a wif in pees.
Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees,
And sith a man is more resonable
Than womman is, ye mosten been suffrable.
What aileth you to grucche thus and grone?
Is it for ye wolde have my queinte allone?
Why, taak it al--lo, have it everydeel.
Peter, I shrewe you but ye love it weel.
For if I wolde selle my bele chose,
I coude walke as fressh as is a rose;
But I wol keepe it for youre owene tooth.
Ye be to blame. By God, I saye you sooth!"
Switche manere wordes hadde we on honde.
Now wol I speke of my ferthe housbonde.
My ferthe housbonde was a revelour--
This is to sayn, he hadde a paramour--

And I was yong and ful of ragerye,
Stibourne and strong and joly as a pie:
How coude I daunce to an harpe smale,
And singe, ywis, as any nightingale,
Whan I hadde dronke a draughte of sweete win.
Metellius, the foule cherl, the swin,
That with a staf birafte his wif hir lif
For she drank win, though I hadde been his wif,
Ne sholde nat han daunted me fro drinke;
And after win on Venus moste I thinke,
For also siker as cold engendreth hail,
A likerous mouth moste han a likerous tail:
In womman vinolent is no defence--
This knowen lechours by experience.
But Lord Crist, whan that it remembreth me
Upon my youthe and on my jolitee,
It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote--
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote
That I have had my world as in my time,

But age, allas that al wol envenime,
Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith--
Lat go, farewel, the devel go therwith!
The flour is goon, ther is namore to telle:
The bren as I best can now moste I selle;
But yit to be right merye wol I fonde.
Now wol I tellen of my ferthe housbonde.
I saye I hadde in herte greet despit
That he of any other hadde delit,
But he was quit, by God and by Saint Joce:
I made him of the same wode a croce--
Nat of my body in no foul manere--
But, certainly, I made folk swich cheere
That in his owene grece I made him frye,
For angre and for verray jalousye.
By God, in erthe I was his purgatorye,
For which I hope his soule be in glorye.
For God it woot, he sat ful ofte and soong
Whan that his sho ful bitterly him wroong.
Ther was no wight save God and he that wiste
In many wise how sore I him twiste.
He deide whan I cam from Jerusalem,
And lith ygrave under the roode-beem,
Al is his tombe nought so curious
As was the sepulcre of him Darius,
Which that Apelles wroughte subtilly:
It nis but wast to burye him preciously.
Lat him fare wel, God yive his soule reste;
He is now in his grave and in his cheste.
Now of my fifthe housbonde wol I telle--
God lete his soule nevere come in helle--
ANd yit he was to me the moste shrewe:
That feele I on my ribbes al by rewe,
And evere shal unto myn ending day.
But in oure bed he was so fressh and gay,
And therwithal so wel coulde he me glose
Whan that he wolde han my bele chose,
That though he hadde me bet on every boon,
He coude winne again my love anoon.
I trowe I loved him best for that he
Was of his love daungerous to me.
We wommen han, if that I shal nat lie,
In this matere a quainte fantasye:
Waite what thing we may nat lightly have,
Theafter wol we crye al day and crave;

Forbede us thing, and that desiren we;
Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.
With daunger oute we al oure chaffare:
Greet prees at market maketh dere ware,
And too greet chepe is holden at litel pris.
This knoweth every womman that is wis.
My fifthe housbonde--God his soule blesse!--
Which that I took for love and no richesse,
He somtime was a clerk at Oxenforde,
And hadde laft scole and wente at hoom to boorde
With my gossib, dwelling in oure town--
God have hir soule!--hir name was Alisoun;
She knew myn herte and eek my privetee
Bet than oure parissh preest, as mote I thee.
To hire biwrayed I my conseil al,
For hadde myn housbonde pissed on a wal,
Or doon a thing that sholde han cost his lif,
To hire, and to another worthy wif,
And to my nece which I loved weel,
I wolde han told his conseil everydeel;
And so I dide ful often, God it woot,
That made his face often reed and hoot
For verray shame, and blamed himself for he
Hadde told to me so greet a privetee.
And so bifel that ones in a Lente--
So often times I to my gossib wente,
For evere yit I loved to be gay,
And for to walke in March, Averil, and May,
From hous to hous, to heere sondry tales--
That Janekin clerk and my gossib dame Alis
And I myself into the feeldes wente.
Myn housbonde was at London al that Lente:
I hadde the better leiser for to playe,
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?
Therfore I made my visitaciouns
To vigilies and to processiouns,
To preching eek, and to thise pilgrimages,
To playes of miracles and to mariages,
And wered upon my gaye scarlet gites--
Thise wormes ne thise motthes ne thise mites,
Upon my peril, frete hem neveradeel:
And woostou why? For they were used weel.
Now wol I tellen forth what happed me.
I saye that in the feeldes walked we,
Til trewely we hadde swich daliaunce,
This clerk and I, that of my purveyaunce
I spak to him and saide him how that he,
If I were widwe, sholde wedde me.
For certainly, I saye for no bobaunce,
Yit was I nevere withouten purveyaunce
Of mariage n'of othere thinges eek:
I holde a mouses herte nought worth a leek
That hath but oon hole for to sterte to,
And if that faile thanne is al ydo.
I bar him on hand he hadde enchaunted me
(My dame taughte me that subtiltee);
And eek I saide I mette of him al night:
He wolde han slain me as I lay upright,
And al my bed was ful of verray blood--
"But yit I hope that ye shul 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 that as othere thinges more.
But now sire--lat me see, what shal I sayn?
Aha, by God, I have my tale again.
Whan that my ferthe housbonde was on beere,
I weep, algate, and made sory cheere,
As wives moten, for it is usage,
And with my coverchief covered my visage;
But for I was purveyed of a make.
I wepte but smale, and that I undertake.
To chirche was myn housbonde born amorwe
With neighebores that for him maden sorwe,
And Janekin oure clerk was oon of tho.
As help me God, whan that I saw him go
After the beere, me thoughte he hadde a paire
Of legges and of feet so clene and faire,
That al myn herte I yaf unto his hold.
He was, I trowe, twenty winter old,
And I was fourty, if I shal saye sooth--
But yit I hadde alway a coltes tooth:

Gat-toothed was I, and that bicam me weel;
I hadde the prente of Sainte Venus seel.
As help me God, I was a lusty oon,
And fair and riche and yong and wel-bigoon,
And trewely, as mine housbondes tolde me,
I hadde the beste quoniam mighte be.
For certes I am al Venerien
In feeling, 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 therinne--
Allas, allas, that evere love was sinne!
I folwed ay my inclincacioun
By vertu of my constellacioun;
That made me I coude nought withdrawe
My chambre of Venus from a good felawe.
Yit have I Martes merk upon my face,
And also in another privee place.
For God so wis be my savacioun,
I loved nevere by no discrecioun,
But evere folwede myn appetit,
Al were he short or long or blak or whit;
I took no keep, so that he liked me,
How poore he was, ne eek of what degree.
What sholde I saye but at the monthes ende
This joly clerk Janekin that was so hende
Hath wedded me with greet solempnitee,
And to him yaf I al the land and fee
That evere was me yiven therbifore--
But afterward repented me ful sore:
He nolde suffre no thing 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 my ere weex al deef.
Stibourne I was as is a leonesse,
And of my tonge a verray jangleresse,
And walke I wolde, as I hadde doon biforn,
From hous to hous, although he hadde it sworn;
For which he often times wolde preche,
And me of olde Romain geestes teche,
How he Simplicius Gallus lafte his wif,
And hire forsook for terme of al his lif,
Nought but for open-heveded he hire sey
Looking out at his dore upon a day.
Another Romain tolde he me by name
That, for his wif was at a someres game
Withouten his witing, he forsook hire eke;
And thanne wolde he upon his Bible seeke
That ilke proverbe of Ecclesiaste
Where he comandeth and forbedeth faste
Man shal nat suffre his wif go roule aboute;
Thanne wolde he saye right thus withouten doute:
"Whoso that buildeth his hous al of salwes,
And priketh his blinde hors over the falwes,
And suffreth his wif to go seeken halwes,
Is worthy to be hanged on the galwes."
But al for nought--I sette nought an hawe
Of his proverbes n'of his olde sawe;
N' I wolde nat of him corrected be:
I hate him that my vices telleth me,
And so doon mo, God woot, of us than I.
This made him with me wood al outrely:
I nolde nought forbere him in no cas.
Now wol I saye you sooth, by Saint 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 disport he wolde rede alway.
He cleped it Valerie and Theofraste,
At which book he lough alway ful faste;
And eek ther was somtime a clerk at Rome,
A cardinal, that highte Saint Jerome,
That made a book again Jovinian;
In which book eek ther was Tertulan,
Crysippus, Trotula, and Helouis,
That was abbesse nat fer fro Paris;
And eek the Parables of Salomon,
Ovides Art, and bookes many oon--
And alle thise were bounden in oo volume.
And every night and day was his custume,
Whan he hadde leiser and vacacioun
From other worldly occupacioun,
To reden in this book of wikked wives.
He knew of hem mo legendes and lives
Than been of goode wives in the Bible.
For trusteth wel, it is an impossible
That any clerk wol speke good of wives,
But if it be of holy saintes lives,
N'of noon other womman nevere the mo--
Who painted the leon, tel me who?
By God, if wommen hadden writen stories,
As clerkes han within hir oratories,
They wolde han writen of men more wikkednesse
Than al the merk of Adam may redresse.
The children of Mercurye and Venus
Been in hir werking ful contrarious:
Mercurye loveth wisdom and science,
And Venus loveth riot and dispence;
And for hir diverse disposicioun
Each falleth in otheres exaltacioun,
And thus, God woot, Mercurye is desolat
In Pisces wher Venus is exaltat,
And Venus falleth ther Mercurye is raised:
Therfore no womman of no clerk is praised.
The clerk, whan he is old and may nought do
Of Venus werkes worth his olde sho,
Thanne sit he down and writ in his dotage
That wommen can nat keep hir mariage.
But now to purpose why I tolde thee
That I was beten for a book, pardee:
Upon a night Janekin, that was our sire,
Redde on his book as he sat by the fire

Of Eva first, that for hir wikkednesse
Was al mankinde brought to wrecchednesse,
For which that Jesu Crist himself was slain
That boughte us with his herte blood again--
Lo, heer expres of wommen may ye finde
That womman was the los of al mankinde.
Tho redde he me how Sampson loste his heres:
Sleeping his lemman kitte it with hir sheres,
Thurgh which treson loste he both his yin.
Tho redde he me, if that I shal nat lien,
Of Ercules and of his Dianire,
That caused him to sette himself afire.
No thing forgat he the sorwe and wo
That Socrates hadde with his wives two--
How Xantippa caste pisse upon his heed:
This sely man sat stille as he were deed;
He wiped his heed, namore dorste he sayn
But "Er that thonder stinte, comth a rain."
Of Pasipha that was the queene of Crete--
For shrewednesse him thoughte the tale sweete--
Fy, speek namore, it is a grisly thing
Of hir horrible lust and hir liking.
Of Clytermistra for hir lecherye
That falsly made hir housbonde for to die,
He redde it with ful good devocioun.
He tolde me eek for what occasioun
Amphiorax at Thebes loste his lif:
Myn housbonde hadde a legende of his wif
Eriphylem, that for an ouche of gold
Hath prively unto the Greekes told
Wher that hir housbonde hidde him in a place,
For which he hadde at Thebes sory grace.
Of Livia tolde he me and of Lucie:
They bothe made hir housbondes for to die,
That oon for love, that other was for hate;
Livia hir housbonde on an even late
Empoisoned hath for that she was his fo;
Lucia likerous loved hir housbonde so
That for he sholde alway upon hire thinke,
She yaf him swich a manere love-drinke
That he was deed er it were by the morwe.
And thus algates housbondes han sorwe.
Thanne tolde he me how oon Latumius
Complained unto his felawe Arrius
That in his garden growed swich a tree,
On which he saide how that his wives three
Hanged hemself for herte despitous.
"Of leve brother," quod this Arrius,
"Yif me a plante of thilke blessed tree,
And in my gardin planted shal it be."
Of latter date of wives hath he red
That some han slain hir housbondes in hir bed
And lete hir lechour dighte hire al the night,
Whan that the cors lay in the floor upright;
And some han driven nailes in hir brain
Whil that they sleepe, and thus they han hem slain
Some han hem yiven poison in hir drinke.
He spak more harm than herte may bithinke,
And therwithal he knew of mo proverbes
Than in this world ther growen gras or herbes:
"Bet is," quod he, "thyn habitacioun
Be with a leon or a foul dragoun
Than with a womman using for to chide."
"Bet is," quod he, "hye in the roof abide
Than with an angry wif down in the hous:
They been so wikked and contrarious,
They haten that hir housbondes loveth ay."
He saide, "A womman cast hir shame away
When she cast of hir smok," and ferthermo,
"A fair womman, but she be chast also,
Is like a gold ring in a sowes nose."
Who wolde weene, or who wolde suppose
The wo that in myn herte was and pine?
And whan I sawgh he wolde nevere fine
To reden on this cursed book al night,
Al sodeinly three leves have I plight
Out of his book right as he redde, and eke
I with my fist so took him on the cheeke
That in oure fir he fil bakward adown.
And up he sterte 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 whan he sawgh how stille that I lay,
He was agast, and wolde have fled his way,
Til atte laste out of my swough I braide:
"O hastou slain me, false thief?" I saide,
"And for my land thus hastou mordred me?
Er I be deed yit wol I kisse thee."
And neer he cam and kneeled faire adown,
And saide, "Dere suster Alisoun,
As help me God, I shal thee nevere smite.
That I have doon, it is thyself to wite.
Foryif it me, and that I thee biseeke."
And yit eftsoones I hitte him on the cheeke,
And saide, "Thief, thus muchel am I wreke.
Now wol I die: I may no lenger speke."
But at the laste with muchel care and wo
We fille accorded by us selven two.

He yaf me al the bridel in myn hand,
To han the governance of hous and land,
And of his tonge and his hand also;
And made him brenne his book anoonright tho.
And whan that I hadde geten unto me
By maistrye al the sovereinetee,
And that he saide, "Myn owene trewe wif,
Do as thee lust the terme of al thy lif;
Keep thyn honour, and keep eek myn estat,"
After that day we hadde nevere debat.
God help me so, I was to him as kinde
As any wif from Denmark unto Inde,
And also trewe, and so was he to me.
I praye to God that sit in majestee,
So blesse his soule for his mercy dere.
Now wol I saye my tale if ye wol heere.
Another Interruption

The Frere lough whan he hadde herd all 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 everemo!
Lo, goode men, a flye and eek a frere
Wol falle in every dissh and eek matere.
What spekestou of preambulacioun?
What, amble or trotte or pisse or go sitte down!
Thou lettest oure disport in this manere."
"Ye, woultou so, sire Somnour?" quod the Frere.
"Now by my faith, I shal er that I go
Telle of a somnour swich a tale or two
That al the folk shal laughen in this place."
"Now elles, Frere, I wol 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 moorne--
For wel I woot thy pacience is goon."
Oure Hoste cride, "Pees, and that anoon!"
And saide, "Lat the womman telle hir tale:
Ye fare as folk that dronken been of ale.
Do, dame, tel forth youre tale, and that is best."
"Al redy, sire," quod she, "right as you lest--
If I have licence of this worthy Frere."
"Yis, dame," quod he, "tel forth and I wol heere."
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