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Som men wold sain at requeste of Custance
This senatour hath lad this child to feste:
I may not tellen
Be as be may, ther was he at the leste:
But soth is this, that at his mothers heste
Beforn Alla, during the metes space,
The child stood, loking in the kinges face.
This Alla king hath of this child gret wonder,
And to the senatour he said anon,
Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?
I n'ot, quod he, by God and by Seint John;
A moder he hath, but fader hath he non,
That I of wote: but shortly in a stound
He told Alla how that this child was found.
But God wot, quod this senatour also, So vertuous a liver in all my
Ne saw I never, as she, ne herd of mo
Of worldly woman, maiden, widewe or wif:
I dare wel sayn hire hadde lever a knif
Thurghout hire brest, than ben a woman wikke,
Ther is no man coude bring hire to that prikke.
Now was this child as like unto Custance
As possible is a creature to be:
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and theron mused he,
If that the childes moder were aught she
That is his wif, and prively he sighte,
And sped him fro the table that he mighte.
Parfay, thought he, fantome is in min hed.
I ought to deme of skilful jugement,
That in the salte see my wif is ded.
And afterward he made his argument;
What wot I, if that Crist have hider sent
My wif by see, as wel as he hire lent
To my contree, fro thennes that she went?
And after noon home with the senatour
Goth Alla, for to see this wonder chance.
This senatour doth Alla gret honour,
And hastily he sent after Custance:
But trusteth wel, hire luste not to dance.
Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde,
Unnethe upon hire feet she mighte stonde.
Whan Alla saw his wif, faire he hire grette, And wept, that it was routhe for to see, For at the firste look he on hire sette He knew wel veraily that it was she: And she for sorwe, as domb stant as a tree: So was hire herte shette in hire distresse, Whan she remembered his unkindenesse.
Twies she swouneth in his owen sight, He wepeth and him excuseth pitously: Now God, quod he, and all his halwes bright So wisly on my soule as have mercy, That of youre harme as gilteles am I, As is Maurice my sone, so like your face, Elles the fend me fetche out of this place.
Long was the sobbing and the bitter peine,
Or that hir woful hertes mighten cese,
Gret was the pitee for to here hem pleine,
Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encrese.
I pray you
labour to relese,
I may not tell hir wo until to-morwe,
I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
But finally, whan that the soth is wist, That Alla gilteles was of hire wo,
I trow an hundred times han they kist,
And swiche a blisse is ther betwix hem two,
That save the joye that lasteth evermo,
Ther is non like, that any creature
Hath seen or shal, while that the world
dure. Tho praied she hire husbond mekely In releef of hire longe pitous pine, That he wold pray bire fader specially, That of his magestee he wold encline To vouchesauf som day with him to dine: She praied him eke, he shulde by no way Unto hire fader no word of hire say.
Som men wold sayn, how that the child Maurice
Doth this message until this emperour:
But as I gesse, Alla was not so nice,
To him that is so soveraine of honour,
As he that is of cristen folk the flour,
Send any child, but it is bet to deme
He went himself,
This emperour hath granted gentilly
To come to dinner, as he him besoughte:
And wel rede I, he loked besily
Upon this child, and on his doughter thought.
Alla goth to his inne, and as him ought
Arraied for this feste in every wise,
As ferforth as his conning may suffice.
The morwe came, and Alla gan him dresse, And eke his wif, this emperour to mete: And forth they ride in joye and in gladnesse, And whan she saw hire fader in the strete, She light adoun and falleth him to fete. Fader, quod she, your yonge child Custance Is now ful clene out of your remembrance.
I am your doughter, your Custance, quod she,
That whilom ye han sent into Surrie;
It am I, fader, that in the salte see
Was put alone, and dampned for to die.'
Now, goode fader, I you mercy crie,
Send me no more into non hethenesse,
But thanketh my lord here of his kindenesse.
Who can the pitous joye tellen all
Betwix hem thre, sin they ben thus ymette?
But of my tale make an ende I shal,
The day goth fast, I wol no longer lette.
Thise glade folk to dinner ben ysette,
In joy and blisse at mete I let hem dwell,
A thousand fold wel more than I can tell.
This child Maurice was sithen emperour
Made by the pope, and lived cristenly,
To Cristes chirche did he gret honour:
But I let all his storie passen by,
Of Custance is my tale specially,
In the olde Romane gestes men may find
Maurices lif, I bere it not in mind.
This king Alla, whan he his time sey,
With his Custance, his holy wif so swete,
To Englond ben they come the righte wey,
Ther as they live in joye and in quiete.
But litel while it lasteth I you hete,
Joye of this world for time wol not abide,
Fro day to night it changeth as the tide.
Who lived ever in swiche delite o day,
T'hat him ne meved other conscience,
Or ire, or talent, or som kin affray,
Envie, or pride, or passion, or offence?
I ne say but for this end this sentence,
That litel while in jóye or in plesance
Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
For deth, that taketh of hie and low his rente,
Whan passed was a yere, even as I gesse,
Out of this world this king Alla he hente,
For whom Custance hath ful gret hevinesse.
Now let us praien God his soule blesse:
And dame Custance, finally to say,
Toward the toun of Rome goth hire way.
To Rome is come this holy creature, And findeth ther hire frendes hole and sound: Now is she scaped all hire aventure: And whan that she hire fader hath yfound, Doun on hire knees falleth she to ground, Weping for tendernesse in herte blithe She herieth God an hundred thousand sithe.
In vertue and in holy almesse dede They liven alle, and never asonder wende; Till deth departeth hem, this lif they lede: And fareth now wel, my tale is at an ende. Now Jesu Crist, that of his might may sende Joye after wo, governe us in his grace, And kepe us alle that ben in this place.
THE WIF OF BATHES PROLOGUE.
EXPERIENCE, though non auctoritee
Were in this world, is right ynough for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage:
For, lordings, sin I twelf yere was of age,