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Impearls: Excerpt from the Wife of Bath's Prologue

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Earthdate 2004-02-13

Excerpt from “The Wife of Bath's Prologue” in The Canterbury Tales   by Geoffrey Chaucer

Following is an excerpt from “The Wife of Bath's Prologue” in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: 2

Modern English
translated by J. U. Nicolson
 
Middle English
edited by W. W. Skeat
 
“ ‘Of all men the most blessed may he be, Of alle men y-blessed moot he be,
That wise astrologer, Dan Ptolemy, The wyse astrologien Dan Ptholome,
Who says this proverb in his Almagest: That seith this proverbe in his Almageste,
”Of all men he's in wisdom the highest “Of alle men his wisdom is the hyeste,
That nothing cares who has the world in hand.” That rekketh never who hath the world in honde.”
By this proverb shall you understand: By this proverbe thou shalt understonde,
Since you've enough, why do you reck or care Have thou y-nogh, what that thee recche or care
How merrily all other folks may fare? How merily that othere folkes fare?
For certainly, old dotard, by your leave, For certeyn, old dotard, by your leve,
You shall have cunt all right enough at eve. Ye shul have queynte right y-nough at eve.
He is too much a niggard who's so tight He is to greet a nigard that wol werne
That from his lantern he'll give none a light. A man to lighte his candle at his lanterne;
For he'll have never the less light, by gad; He shal have never the lasse light, pardee;
Since you've enough, you need not be so sad. Have thou y-nough, thee thar nat pleyne thee.
   
“ ‘You say, also, that if we make us gay Thou seyst also, that if we make us gay
With clothing, all in costliest array, With clothing and with precious array.
That it's a danger to our chastity; That it is peril of our chastitee;
And you must back the saying up, pardie! And yet, with sorwe, thou most enforce thee,
Repeating these words in the apostle's name: And seye thise wordes in the apostles name,
“In habits meet for chastity, not shame, “In habit, maad with chastitee and shame,
Your women shall be garmented,” said he, Ye wommen shul apparaille yow,” quod he,
“And not with broidered hair, or jewellery, “And noght in tressed heer and gay perree,
Or pearls, or gold, or costly gowns and chic”; As perles, ne with gold, ne clothes riche”;
After your text and after your rubric After thy text, ne after thy rubriche
I will not follow more than would a gnat. I wol nat wirche as muchel as a gnat.
You said this, too, that I was like a cat; Thou seydest this, that I was lyk a cat;
For if one care to singe a cat's furred skin, For who-so wolde senge a cattes skin,
Then would the cat remain the house within; Thanne wolde the cat wel dwellen in his in;
And if the cat's coat be all sleek and gay, And if the cattes skin be slyk and gay,
She will not keep in house a half a day, She wol nat dwelle in house half a day,
But out she'll go, ere dawn of any day, But forth she wole, er any day be dawed,
To show her skin and caterwaul and play. To shewe hir skin, and goon a-caterwawed;
This is to say, if I'm a little gay, This is to seye, if I be gay, sir shrewe,
To show my rags I'll gad about all day. I wol renne out, my borel for to shewe.
   
“ ‘Sir Ancient Fool, what ails you with your spies? Sire olde fool, what eyleth thee to spyën?
Though you pray Argus, with his hundred eyes, Thogh thou preye Argus, with his hundred yën,
To be my body-guard and do his best, To be my warde-cors, as he can best,
Faith, he sha'n't hold me, save I am modest; In feith, he shal nat kepe me but me lest;
I could delude him easily — trust me! Yet coude I make his berd, so moot I thee.
   
“ ‘You said, also, that there are three things — three — Thou seydest eek, that ther ben thinges three,
The which things are a trouble on this earth, The whiche thinges troublen al this erthe,
And that no man may ever endure the fourth: And that no wight ne may endure the ferthe:
O dear Sir Rogue, may Christ cut short your life! O leve sir shrewe, Jesu shorte thy lyf!
Yet do you preach and say a hateful wife Yet prechestow, and seyst, an hateful wyf
Is to be reckoned one of these mischances. Y-rekened is for oon of thise meschances.
Are there no other kinds of resemblances Been ther none othere maner resemblances
That you may liken thus your parables to, That ye may lykne your parables to,
But must a hapless wife be made to do? But-if a sely wyf be oon of tho?
   
“ ‘You liken woman's love to very Hell, Thou lykenest wommanes love to helle,
To desert land where waters do not well. To bareyne lond, ther water may not dwelle,
You liken it, also, unto wildfire; Thou lyknest it also to wilde fyr;
The more it burns, the more it has desire The more it brenneth, the more it hath desyr
To consume everything that burned may be. To consume every thing that brent wol be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree, Thou seyst, that right as wormes shende a tree,
Just so a wife destroys her own husband; Right so a wyf destroyeth hir housbonde;
Men know this who are bound in marriage band.’ This knowe they that been to wyves bonde.
   
“Masters, like this, as you must understand, Lordinges, right thus, as ye have understonde,
Did I my old men charge and censure, and Bar I stifly myne olde housbondes on honde,
Claim that they said these things in drunkenness; That thus they seyden in hir dronkenesse;
And all was false, but yet I took witness And al was fals, but that I took witnesse
Of Jenkin and of my dear niece also. On Janekin and on my nece also.
O Lord, the pain I gave them and the woe, O lord, the peyne I dide hem and the wo,
All guiltless, too, by God's grief exquisite! Ful giltelees, by goddes swete pyne!
For like a stallion could I neigh and bite. For as an hors I coude byte and whyne.
I could complain, though mine was all the guilt, I coude pleyne, thogh I were in the gilt,
Or else, full many a time, I'd lost the tilt. Or elles often tyme hadde I ben spilt.
Whoso comes first to mill first gets meal ground; Who-so that first to mille comth, first grint;
I whimpered first and so did them confound. I pleyned first, so was our werre y-stint.
They were right glad to hasten to excuse They were ful glad t'excusen hem ful blyve
Things they had never done, save in my ruse. Of thing of which they never agilte hir lyve.
   
“With wenches would I charge him, by this hand, Of wenches wolde I beren him on honde,
When, for some illness, he could hardly stand. Whan that for syk unnethes mighte he stonde.
Yet tickled this the heart of him, for he Yet tikled it his herte, for that he
Deemed it was love produced such jealousy. Wende that I hadde of him so greet chiertee.
I swore that all my walking out at night I swoor that al my walkinge out by nighte
Was but to spy on girls he kept outright; Was for t'espye wenches that he dighte;
And under cover of that I had much mirth. Under that colour hadde I many a mirthe.
For all such wit is given us at birth; For al swich wit is yeven us in our birthe;
Deceit, weeping, and spinning, does God give Deceite, weping, spinning god have yive
To women, naturally, the while they live. To wommen kindely, whyl they may live.
And thus of one thing I speak boastfully, And thus of o thing I avaunte me,
I got the best of each one, finally, Atte ende I hadde the bettre in ech degree,
By trick, or force, or by some kind of thing, By sleighte, or force, or by som maner thing,
As by continual growls or murmuring; As by continuel murmur or grucching;
Especially in bed had they mischance, Namely a-bedde hadden they meschaunce;
There would I chide and give them no pleasance; Ther wolde I chyde and do hem no plesaunce;
I would no longer in the bed abide I wolde no lenger in the bed abyde,
If I but felt his arm across my side, If that I felte his arm over my syde,
Till he had paid his ransom unto me; Til he had maad his raunson un-to me;
Then would I let him do his nicety. Than wolde I suffre him do his nycetee.
And therefore to all men this tale I tell, And ther-fore every man this tale I telle,
Let gain who may, for everything's to sell. Winne who-so may, for al is for to selle.
With empty hand men may no falcons lure; With empty hand men may none haukes lure;
For profit would I all his lust endure, For winning wolde I al his lust endure,
And make for him a well-feigned appetite; And make me a feyned appetyt;
Yet I in bacon never had delight; And yet in bacon hadde I never delyt;
And that is why I used so much to chide. That made me that ever I wolde hem chyde.
For if the pope were seated there beside For thogh the pope had seten hem bisyde,
I'd not have spared them, no, at their own board. I wolde nat spare hem at hir owene bord.
For by my truth, I paid them, word for word. For by my trouthe, I quitte hem word for word.
So help me the True God Omnipotent, As help me verray god omnipotent,
Though I right now should make my testament, Thogh I right now sholde make my testament,
I owe them not a word that was not quit. I ne owe hem nat a word that it nis quit
I brought it so about, and by my wit, I broghte it so aboute by my wit,
That they must give it up, as for the best, That they moste yeve it up, as for the beste;
Or otherwise we'd never have had rest. Or elles hadde we never been in reste.
For though he glared and scowled like lion mad, For thogh he loked as a wood leoun,
Yet failed he of the end he wished he had. Yet sholde he faille of his conclusioun.
   
“Then I would say: ‘Good dearie, see you keep Thanne wolde I seye, ‘gode lief, tak keep
In mind how meek is Wilkin, our old sheep; How mekely loketh Wilkin oure sheep;
Come near, my spouse, come let me kiss your cheek! Com neer, my spouse, lat me ba thy cheke!
You should be always patient, aye, and meek, Ye sholde been al pacient and meke,
And have a sweetly scrupulous tenderness, And han a swete spyced conscience,
Since you so preach of old Job's patience, yes. Sith ye so preche of Jobes pacience.
Suffer always, since you so well can preach; Suffreth alwey, sin ye so wel can preche;
And, save you do, be sure that we will teach And but ye do, certein we shal yow teche
That it is well to leave a wife in peace. That it is fair to have a wyf in pees.
One of us two must bow, to be at ease; Oon of us two moste bowen, doutelees;
And since a man's more reasonable, they say, And sith a man is more resonable
Than woman is, you must have patience aye. Than womman is, ye moste been suffrable.
What ails you that you grumble thus and groan? What eyleth yow to grucche thus and grone?
Is it because you'd have my cunt alone? Is it for ye wolde have my queynte allone?
Why take it all, lo, have it every bit; Why taak it al, lo, have it every-deel;
Peter! Beshrew you but you're fond of it! Peter! I shrewe yow but ye love it weel!
For if I would go peddle my belle chose, For if I wolde selle my bele chose,
I could walk out as fresh as is a rose; I coude walke as fresh as is a rose;
But I will keep it for your own sweet tooth. But I wol kepe it for your owene tooth,
You are to blame, by God I tell the truth.’ Ye be to blame, by god, I sey yow sooth.’
   
“Such were the words I had at my command. Swiche maner wordes hadde we on honde.
Now will I tell you of my fourth husband. Now wol I speken of my fourthe housbonde.
   
“My fourth husband, he was a reveller, My fourthe housbonde was a revelour,
That is to say, he kept a paramour; This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour;
And young and full of passion then was I, And I was yong and ful of regerye,
Stubborn and strong and jolly as a pie. Stiborn and strong, and joly as a pye.
Well could I dance to tune of harp, nor fail Wel coude I daunce to an harpe smale,
To sing as well as any nightingale And singe, y-wis, as any nightingale,
When I had drunk a good draught of sweet wine. Whan I had dronke a draughte of swete wyn.
Metellius, the foul churl and the swine, Metellius, the foule cherl, the swyn,
Did with a staff deprive his wife of life That with a staf birafte his wyf hir lyf,
Because she drank wine; had I been his wife For she drank wyn, thogh I hadde been his wyf,
He never should have frightened me from drink; He sholde nat han daunted me fro drinke;
For after wine, of Venus must I think: And, after wyn, on Venus moste I thinke:
For just as surely as cold produces hail, For al so siker as cold engendreth hayl,
A liquorish mouth must have a lickerish tail. A likerous mouth moote han a likerous tayl.
In women wine's no bar of impotence, In womman vinolent is no defence,
This know all lechers by experience. This knowen lechours by experience.
   
“But Lord Christ! When I do remember me But, lord Crist! whan that it remembreth me
Upon my youth and on my jollity, Up-on my yowthe, and on my jolitee,
It tickles me about my heart's deep root. It tikleth me aboute myn herte rote.
To this day does my heart sing in salute Unto this day it dooth myn herte bote
That I have had my world in my own time. That I have had my world as in my tyme.
But age, alas! that poisons every prime, But age, allas! that al wol envenyme,
Has taken away my beauty and my pith; Hath me biraft my beautee and my pith;
Let go, farewell, the devil go therewith! Lat go, fare-wel, the devel go therwith!
The flour is gone, there is no more to tell, The flour is goon, there is na-more to telle,
The bran, as best I may, must I now sell; The bren, as I best can, now moste I selle;
But yet to be right merry I'll try, and But yet to be right mery wol I fonde.
Now will I tell you of my fourth husband.” Now wol I tellen of my fourthe housbonde.
   
“I say that in my heart I'd great despite I seye, I hadde in herte greet despyt
When he of any other had delight. That he of any other had delyt.
But he was quit, by God and by Saint Joce! But he was quit, by god and by seint Joce!
I made, of the same wood, a staff most gross; I made him of the same wode a croce;
Not with my body and in manner foul, Nat of my body in no foul manere,
But certainly I showed so gay a soul But certeinly, I made folk swich chere,
That in his own thick grease I made him fry That in his owene grece I made him frye
For anger and for utter jealousy. For angre, and for verray jalousye.
By God, on earth I was his purgatory, By god, in erthe I was his purgatorie,
For which I hope his soul lives now in glory. For which I hope his soule be in glorie.
For God knows, many a time he sat and sung For god it woot, he sat ful ofte and song
When the shoe bitterly his foot had wrung Whan that his shoo ful bitterly him wrong.
There was no one, save God and he, that knew Ther was no wight, save god and he, that wiste,
How, in so many ways, I'd twist the screw. In many wyse, how sore I him twiste.
He died when I came from Jerusalem, He deyde whan I cam fro Jerusalem,
And lies entombed beneath the great rood-beam, And lyth y-grave under the rode-beem,
Although his tomb is not so glorious Al is his tombe noght so curious
As was the sepulchre of Darius, As was the sepulcre of him, Darius,
The which Apelles wrought full cleverly; Which that Appelles wroghte subtilly;
'Twas waste to bury him expensively. It nis but wast to burie him preciously.
Let him fare well. God give his soul good rest, Lat him fare-wel, god yeve his soule reste,
He now is in the grave and in his chest. He is now in the grave and in his cheste.
   
“And now of my fifth husband will I tell. Now of my fifthe housbond wol I telle.
God grant his soul may never get to Hell!” God lete his soule never come in helle!



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