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857: In th' olde dayes of the kyng arthour,
858: Of which that britons speken greet honour,
859: Al was this land fulfild of fayerye.
860: The elf-queene, with hir joly compaignye,
861: Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede.
862: This was the olde opinion, as I rede;
863: I speke of manye hundred yeres ago.
864: But now kan no man se none elves mo,
865: For now the grete charitee and prayers
866: Of lymytours and othere hooly freres,
867: That serchen every lond and every streem,
868: As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,
869: Blessynge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,
870: Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,
871: Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes --
872: This maketh that ther ben no fayeryes.
873: For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
874: Ther walketh now the lymytour hymself
875: In undermeles and in morwenynges,
876: And seyth his matyns and his hooly thynges
877: As he gooth in his lymytacioun.
878: Wommen may go now saufly up and doun.
879: In every bussh or under every tree
880: Ther is noon oother incubus but he,
881: And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.
882: And so bifel it that this kyng arthour
883: Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,
884: That on a day cam ridynge fro ryver;
885: And happed that, allone as he was born,
886: He saugh a mayde walkynge hym biforn,
887: Of which mayde anon, maugree hir heed,
888: By verray force, he rafte hire maydenhed;
889: For which oppressioun was swich clamour
890: And swich pursute unto the kyng arthour,
891: That dampned was this knyght for to be deed,
892: By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed --
893: Paraventure swich was the statut tho --
894: But that the queene and othere ladyes mo
895: So longe preyeden the kyng of grace,
896: Til he his lyf hym graunted in the place,
897: And yaf hym to the queene, al at hir wille,
898: To chese wheither she wolde hym save or spille.
899: The queene thanketh the kyng with al hir myght,
900: And after this thus spak she to the knyght,
901: Whan that she saugh hir tyme, upon a day:
902: Thou standest yet, quod she, in swich array
903: That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.
904: I grante thee lyf, if thou kanst tellen me
905: What thyng is it that wommen moost desiren.
906: Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from iren!
907: And if thou kanst nat tellen it anon,
908: Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon
909: A twelf-month and a day, to seche and leere
910: An answere suffisant in this mateere;
911: And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,
912: Thy body for to yelden in this place.
913: Wo was this knyght, and sorwefully he siketh;
914: But what! he may nat do al as hym liketh.
915: And at the laste he chees hym for to wende,
916: And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,
917: With swich answere as God wolde hym purveye;
918: And taketh his leve, and wendeth froth his weye.
919: He seketh every hous and and every place
920: Where as he hopeth for to fynde grace,
921: To lerne what thyng wommen loven moost;
922: But he ne koude arryven in no coost
923: Wher as he myghte fynde in this mateere
924: Two creatures accordynge in-feere.
925: Somme seyde wommen loven best richesse,
926: Somme seyde honour, somme seyde jolynesse,
927: Somme riche array, somme seyden lust abedde,
928: And oftetyme to be wydwe and wedde.
929: Somme seyde that oure hertes been moost esed
930: Whan that we ben yflatered and yplesed.
931: He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye.
932: A man shal wynne us best with flaterye;
933: And with attendance, and with bisynesse,
934: Been we ylymed, bothe moore and lesse.
935: And somme seyen that we loven best
936: For to be free, and do right as us lest,
937: And that no man repreve us of oure vice,
938: But seye that we be wise, and no thyng nyce.
939: For trewely ther is noon of us alle,
940: If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,
941: That we nel kike, for he seith us sooth.
942: Assay, and he shal fynde it that so dooth;
943: For, be we never so vicious withinne,
944: We wol been holden wise and clene of synne.
945: And somme seyn that greet delit han we
946: For to been holden stable, and eek secree,
947: And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,
948: And nat biwreye thyng that men us telle.
949: But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele.
950: Pardee, we wommen konne no thyng hele;
951: Witnesse on myda, -- wol ye heere the tale?
952: Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
953: Seyde myda hadde, under his longe heres,
954: Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
955: The whiche vice he hydde, as he best myghte,
956: Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
957: That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
958: He loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
959: He preyede hire that to no creature
960: She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
961: She swoor him, nay, for al this world to wynne,
962: She nolde do that vileynye or synne,
963: To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
964: She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
965: But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,
966: That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
967: Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
968: That nedely som word hire moste asterte;
969: And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
970: Doun to a mareys faste by she ran
971: Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre --
972: And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
973: She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun:
974: Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,
975: Quod she; -- to thee I telle it and namo;
976: Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
977: Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
978: I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.
979: Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
980: Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.
981: The remenant of the tale if ye wol heere,
982: Redeth ovyde, and ther ye may it leere.
983: This knyght, of which my tale is specially,
984: Than that he saugh he myghte nat come therby,
985: This is to seye, what wommen love moost,
986: Withinne his brest ful sorweful was the goost.
987: But hoom he gooth, he myghte nat sojourne;
988: The day was come that homward moste he tourne.
989: And in his wey it happed hym to ryde,
990: In al this care, under a forest syde,
991: Wher as he saugh upon a daunce go
992: Of ladyes foure and twenty, and yet mo;
993: Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,
994: In hope that som wysdom sholde he lerne.
995: But certeinly, er he cam fully there,
996: Vanysshed was this daunce, he nyste where.
997: No creature saugh he that bar lyf,
998: Save on the grene he saugh sittynge a wyf --
999: A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.
1000: Agayn the knyght this olde wyf gan ryse,
1001: And seyde, sire knyght, heer forth ne lith no wey.
1002: Tel me what that ye seken, by youre fey!
1003: Paraventure it may the bettre be;
1004: Thise olde folk kan muchel thyng, quod she.
1005: My leeve mooder, quod this knyght, certeyn
1006: I nam but deed, but if that I kan seyn
1007: What thyng it is that wommen moost desire.
1008: Koude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quite youre hire.
1009: Plight me thy trouthe heere in myn hand, quod she,
1010: The nexte thyng that I requere thee,
1011: Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy myght,
1012: And I wol telle it yow er it be nyght.
1013: Have heer my trouthe, quod the knyght, I grante.
1014: Thanne, quod she, I dar me wel avante
1015: Thy lyf is sauf; for I wol stonde therby,
1016: Upon my lyf, the queene wol seye as I.
1017: Lat se which is the proudeste of hem alle,
1018: That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,
1019: That day seye nay of that I shal thee teche.
1020: Lat us go forth, withouten lenger speche.
1021: Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
1022: And bad hym to be glad, and have no fere.
1023: Whan they be comen to the court, this knyght
1024: Seyde he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,
1025: And redy was his answere, as he sayde.
1026: Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,
1027: And many a wydwe, for that they been wise,
1028: The queene hirself sittynge as a justise,
1029: Assembled been, his answere for to heere;
1030: And afterward this knyght was bode appeere.
1031: To every wight comanded was silence,
1032: And that the knyght sholde telle in audience
1033: What thyng that worldly wommen loven best.
1034: This knyght ne stood nat stille as doth a best,
1035: But to his questioun anon answerde
1036: With manly voys, that al the court it herde:
1037: My lige lady, generally, quod he,
1038: Wommen desiren to have sovereynetee
1039: As wel over his housbond as hir love,
1040: And for to been in maistrie hym above.
1041: This is youre mooste desir, thogh ye me kille.
1042: Dooth as yow list; I am heer at youre wille.
1043: In al the court ne was ther wyf, ne mayde,
1044: Ne wydwe, that contraried that he sayde,
1045: But seyden he was worthy han his lyf.
1046: And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,
1047: Which that the knyght saugh sittynge on the grene:
1048: Mercy, quod she, my sovereyn lady queene!
1049: Er that youre court departe, do me right.
1050: I taughte this answere unto the knyght;
1051: For which he plighte me his trouthe there,
1052: The firste thyng that I wolde hym requere,
1053: He wolde it do, if it lay in his myghte.
1054: Bifore the court thanne preye I thee, sir knyght,
1055: Quod she, that thou me take unto thy wyf;
1056: For wel thou woost that I have kept thy lyf.
1057: If I seye fals, sey nay, upon thy fey!
1058: This knyght answerde, allas! and weylawey!
1059: I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.
1060: For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste!
1061: Taak al my good, and lat my body go.
1062: Nay, thanne, quod she, I shrewe us bothe two!
1063: For thogh that I be foul, and oold, and poore,
1064: I nolde for al the metal, ne for oore,
1065: That under erthe is grave, or lith above,
1066: But if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.
1067: My love? quod he, nay, my dampnacioun!
1068: Allas! that any of my nacioun
1069: Sholde evere so foule disparaged be!
1070: But al for noght; the ende is this, that he
1071: Constreyned was, he nedes moste hire wedde;
1072: And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.
1073: Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,
1074: That for my necligence I do no cure
1075: To tellen yow the joye and al th' array
1076: That at the feeste was that ilke day.
1077: To which thyng shortly answeren I shal:
1078: I seye ther nas no joye ne feeste at al;
1079: Ther nas but hevynesse and muche sorwe.
1080: For prively he wedded hire on the morwe,
1081: And al day after hidde hym as an owle,
1082: So wo was hym, his wyf looked so foule.
1083: Greet was the wo the knyght hadde in his thoght,
1084: Whan he was with his wyf abedde ybroght;
1085: He walweth and he turneth to and fro.
1086: His olde wyf lay smylynge everemo,
1087: And seyde, o deere housbonde, benedicitee!
1088: Fareth every knyght thys with his wyf as ye?
1089: Is this the lawe of kyng arthures hous?
1090: Is every knyght of his so dangerous?
1091: I am youre owene love and eek youre wyf;
1092: I am she which that saved hath youre lyf,
1093: And, certes, yet ne dide I yow nevere unright;
1094: Why fare ye thus with me this firste nyght?
1095: Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit.
1096: What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it,
1097: And it shal been amende, if I may.
1098: Amended? quod this knyght, allas! nay, nay!
1099: It wol nat been amended nevere mo.
1100: Thou art so loothly, and so oold also,
1101: And therto comen of so lough a kynde,
1102: That litel wonder is thogh I walwe and wynde.
1103: So wolde God myn herte wolde breste!
1104: Is this, quod she, the cause of youre unreste?
1105: Ye, certeinly, quod he, no wonder is.
1106: Now, sire, quod she, I koude amende al this,
1107: If that me liste, er it were dayes thre,
1108: So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me.
1109: But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse
1110: As is descended out of old richesse,
1111: That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
1112: Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
1113: Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
1114: Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
1115: To do the gentil dedes that he kan;
1116: Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
1117: Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
1118: Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
1119: For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
1120: For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
1121: Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng,
1122: To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
1123: That made hem gentil men ycalled be,
1124: And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.
1125: Wel kan the wise poete of florence,
1126: That highte dant, speken in this sentence.
1127: Lo, in swich maner rym is dantes tale:
1128: -- Ful selde up riseth by his brances smale
1129: Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse,
1130: Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse; --
1131: For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
1132: But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
1133: Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
1134: If gentillesse were planted natureelly
1135: Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
1136: Pryvee and apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne
1137: To doon of gentillesse the faire office;
1138: They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
1139: Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
1140: Bitwix this and the mount of kaukasous,
1141: And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
1142: Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
1143: As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
1144: His office natureel ay wol it holde,
1145: Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
1146: Heere may ye se wel how that genterye
1147: Is nat annexed to possessioun,
1148: Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
1149: Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
1150: For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde
1151: A lordes sone do shame and vileynye;
1152: And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
1153: For he was boren of a gentil hous,
1154: And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous,
1155: And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis,
1156: Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
1157: He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl;
1158: For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
1159: For gentillesse nys but renomee
1160: Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee,
1161: Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
1162: Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
1163: Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace;
1164: It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
1165: Thenketh how noble, as seith valerius,
1166: Was thilke tullius hostillius,
1167: That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
1168: Reedeth senek, and redeth eek boece;
1169: Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is
1170: That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
1171: And therfore, leeve housbonde, thus conclude:
1172: Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,
1173: Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,
1174: Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
1175: Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne
1176: To lyven vertuously and weyve synne.
1177: And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve,
1178: The hye god, on whom that we bileeve,
1179: In wilful poverte chees to lyve his lyf.
1180: And certes every man, mayden, or wyf,
1181: May understonde that jhesus, hevene kyng,
1182: Ne wolde nat chese a vicious lyvyng.
1183: Glad poverte is an honest thyng, certeyn;
1184: This wole senec and othere clerkes seyn.
1185: Whoso that halt hym payd of his poverte,
1186: I holde hym riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.
1187: He that coveiteth is a povre wight,
1188: For he wolde han that is nat in his myght;
1189: But he that noght hath, ne coveiteth have,
1190: Is riche, although ye holde hym but a knave.
1191: Verray poverte, it syngeth proprely;
1192: Juvenal seith of poverte myrily:
1193: -- The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,
1194: Bifore the theves he may synge and pleye.
1195: Poverte is hateful good and, as I gesse,
1196: A ful greet bryngere out of bisynesse;
1197: A greet amendere eek of sapience
1198: To hym that taketh it in pacience.
1199: Poverte is this, although it seme alenge,
1200: Possessioun that no wight wol chalenge.
1201: Poverte ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,
1202: Maketh his God and eek hymself to knowe.
1203: Poverte a spectacle is, as thynketh me,
1204: Thurgh which he may his verray freendes see.
1205: And therfore, sire, syn that I noght yow greve,
1206: Of my poverte namoore ye me repreve.
1207: No, sire, of elde ye repreve me;
1208: And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee
1209: Were in no book, ye gentils of honour
1210: Seyn that men sholde an oold wight doon favour,
1211: And clepe hym fader, for youre gentillesse;
1212: And auctours shal I fynde, as I gesse.
1213: Now ther ye seye that I am foul and old,
1214: Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;
1215: For filthe and eelde, also moot I thee,
1216: Been grete wardeyns upon chastitee.
1217: But nathelees, syn I knowe youre delit,
1218: I shal fulfille youre worldly appetit.
1219: Chese now, quod she, oon of thise thynges tweye:
1220: To han me foul and old til that I deye,
1221: And be to yow a trewe, humble wyf,
1222: And nevere yow displese in al my lyf;
1223: Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,
1224: And take youre aventure of the repair
1225: That shal be to youre hous by cause of me,
1226: Or in som oother place, may wel be.
1227: Now chese yourselven, wheither that yow liketh.
1228: This knyght avyseth hym and sore siketh,
1229: But atte laste he seyde in this manere:
1230: My lady and my love, and wyf so deere,
1231: I put me in youre wise governance;
1232: Cheseth youreself which may be moost plesance,
1233: And moost honour to yow and me also.
1234: I do no fors the wheither of the two;
1235: For as yow liketh, it suffiseth me.
1236: Thanne have I gete of yow maistrie, quod she,
1237: Syn I may chese and governe as me lest?
1238: Ye, certes, wyf, quod he, I holde it best.
1239: Kys me, quod she, we be no lenger wrothe;
1240: For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe,
1241: This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.
1242: I prey to God that I moote sterven wood,
1243: But I to yow be also good and trewe
1244: As evere was wyf, syn that the world was newe.
1245: And but I be to-morn as fair to seene
1246: As any lady, emperice, or queene,
1247: That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,
1248: Dooth with my lyf and deth right as yow lest.
1249: Cast up the curtyn, looke how that it is.
1250: And whan the knyght saugh verraily al this,
1251: That she so fair was, and so yong therto,
1252: For joye he hente hire in his armes two,
1253: His herte bathed in a bath of blisse.
1254: A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hire kisse,
1255: And she obeyed hym in every thyng
1256: That myghte doon hym plesance or likyng.
1257: And thys they lyve unto hir lyves ende
1258: In parfit joye; and jhesu crist us sende
1259: Housbondes meeke, yonge, and fressh abedde,
1260: And grace t' overbyde hem that we wedde;
1261: And eek I praye jhesu shorte hir lyves
1262: That wol nat be governed by hir wyves;
1263: And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,
1264: God sende hem soone verray pestilence!