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Do, dame, tell forth your tale, and that is best.
Al redy, sire, quod she, right as you lest, If I have licence of this worthy frere.
Yes, dame, quod he, tell forth, and I wol here.
THE WIF OF BATHES TALE.
In olde dayes of the king Artour,
Of which that Bretons speken gret honour,
All was this lond fulfilled of faerie;
The Elf-quene, with hire joly compagnie,
Danced ful oft in many a grene mede.
This was the old opinion as I rede;
I speke of many hundred yeres ago;
But now can no man see non elves mo,
For now the grete charitee and prayeres
Of limitoures and other holy freres,
every land and every streme,
As thikke as motes in the sonne-beme,
Blissing halles, chambres, kichenes, and boures,
Citees and burghes, castles highe and toures,
Thropes and bernes, shepenes and dairies,
This maketh that ther ben no faeries:
For ther as wont to walken was an elf,
Ther walketh now the limitour himself,
In undermeles and in morweninges,
And sayth his Matines and his holy thinges,
As he goth in his limitatioun.
Women may now go safely up and doun,
bush and under every tree, Ther is non other incubus but he, And he ne will don hem no dishonour.
And so befell it, that this king Artour
Had in his hous a lusty bacheler,
That on a day came riding fro river:
And happed, that, alone as she was borne,
He saw a maiden walking him beforne,
Of which maid he anon, maugre hire hed,
By veray force beraft hire maidenhed:
For which oppression was swiche clamour,
And swiche pursuite unto the king Artour,
That damned was this knight for to be ded
By cours of lawe, and shuld have lost his hed,
(Paraventure swiche was the statute tho,)
But that the quene and other ladies mo
So longe praieden the king of grace, ,
Til he his lif him granted in the place,
And yaf him to the quene, all at hire will
To chese whether she wold him save or spill.
The quene thanketh the king with al hire might; And after this thus spake she to the knight, Whan that she saw hire time upon a day.
Thou standest yet (quod she) in swiche array, That of thy lif yet hast thou no seuretee; I grant thee lif, if thou canst tellen me, What thing is it that women most desiren: Beware, and kepe thy nekke-bone from yren. And if thou canst not tell it me anon, Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon A twelvemonth and a day, to seke and lere An answer suffisant in this matere. And seuretee wol I have, or that thou pace, Thy body for to yelden in this place.
Wo was the knight, and sorwefully he siketh; But what? he may not don all as him liketh. And at the last he chese him for to wende, And come agen right at the yeres
With swiche answer, as God wold him purvay: And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his way.
He seketh every hous and every place, Wher as he hopeth for to finden grace, To lernen what thing women loven moste: But he ne coude ariven in no coste, Wher as he mighte find in this matere Two creatures according in fere. Som saiden, women loven best richesse, Som saiden honour, som saiden jolinesse, Som riche array, som saiden lust a-bedde, And oft time to be widewe and to be wedde.
Some saiden, that we ben in herte most esed
Whan that we ben yflatered and ypreised.
He goth ful nigh the sothe, I wol not lie;
A man shal winne us best with flaterie;
And with attendance, and with besinesse
Ben we ylimed bothe more and lesse.
And som men saiden, that we loven best
For to be free, and do right as us lest,
And that no man repreve us of our vice,
But say that we ben wise, and nothing nice.
For trewely ther n'is non of us all,
If any wight wol claw us on the gall,
That we n'ill kike, for that he saith us soth:
Assay, and he shal find it, that so doth.
For be we never so vicious withinne,
We wol be holden wise and clene of sinne.
And som saiden, that
delit han we
For to be holden stable and eke secre,
And in o purpos stedfastly to dwell,
And not bewreyen thing that men us tell.
But that tale is not worth a rake-stele.
Parde we women connen nothing hele,
Witnesse on Mida; wol ye here the tale?
Ovide, amonges other thinges smale,
Said, Mida had under his longe heres
Growing upon his hed two asses eres;
The whiche vice he hid, as he beste might,
Ful subtilly from every mannes sight,
That, save his wif, ther wist of it no mo;
He loved hire most, and trusted hire also;
He praied hire, that to no creature
She n’olde tellen of his disfigure.
She swore him, nay, for all the world to winne,
She n'olde do that vilanie, ne sinne,
To make hire husbond han so foule a name:
She n'olde not tell it for hire owen shame.
But natheles hire thoughte that she dide,
That she so longe shuld a conseil hide;
H thought it swal so sore aboute hire herte,
That nedely som word hire must asterte;
And sith she dorst nat telle it to no man,
Doun to a mareis faste by she ran,
Til she came ther, hire herte was a-fire:
And as a bitore bumbleth in the mire,
She laid hire mouth unto the water doun.
Bewrey me not, thou water, with thy soun,
Quod she, to thee I tell it, and no mo,
Min husbond hath long asses eres two.
Now is min herte all hole, now is it out,
I might no lenger kepe it out of dout,
may ye see, though we a time abide, Yet out it moste, we can no conseil hide. The remenant of the tale, if ye wol here, Redeth Ovide, and ther ye may it lere.
This knight, of which my tale is specially, Whan that he saw he might not come therby,
(This is to sayn, what women loven most)
Within his brest ful sorweful was his gost.
But home he goth, he mighte not sojourne,
The day was come,
that homward must he turne.
And in his way, it happed him to ride
In all his care, under a forest side,
Wheras he saw upon a dance go
Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mo.
Toward this ilke dance he drow ful yerne,
In hope that he som wisdom shulde lerne;
But certainly, er he came fully there,
Yvanished was this dance, he n'iste not wher;
No creature saw he that bare lif,
grene he saw sitting a wif, A fouler wight ther may no man devise. Againe this knight this olde wif gan arise, And said; sire knight, here forth ne lith no way. Tell me what that ye seken by your fay. Paraventure it may the better be: Thise olde folk con mochel thing, quod she.
My leve mother, quod this knight, certain, I n'am but ded, but if that I can sain, What thing it is that women most desire: Coude ye me wisse, I wold quite wel your hire. Plight me thy trouthe here in myn hond, quod she, The nexte thing that I requere of thee Thou shalt it do, if it be in thy might, And I wol tell it you or it be night. [graunte.
Have here my trouthe, quod the knight, I
Thanne, quod she, I dare me wel avaunte,
Thy lif is sauf, for I wol stond therby,
Upon my lif the quene wol say as I:
Let see, which is the proudest of hem alle,
That wereth on a kerchef or a calle,