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That dare sayn nay of that I shal you
teche. Let us go forth withouten lenger speche.
Tho rowned she a pistel in his ere,
And bad him to be glad, and have no fere.
Whan they ben comen to the court, this knight
Said, he had hold his day, as he had hight,
And redy was his answere, as he saide.
Ful many a noble wif, and many a maide,
And many a widewe, for that they ben wise,
(The quene hireself sitting as a justice)
Assembled ben, his answer for to here,
And afterward this knight was bode appere.
To every wight commanded was silence,
And that the knight shuld tell in audience,
What thing that worldly women loven best.
This knight ne stood not still, as doth a best,
But to this question anon answerd ·
With manly vois, that all the court it herd.
My liege lady, generally, quod he,
Women desiren to han soverainetee,
As well over hir husbond as hir love,
And for to ben in maistrie him above.
This is your most desire, though ye me kille,
Doth as you list, I am here at your wille.
In all the court ne was ther wif ne maide,
Ne widewe, that contraried that he saide,
But said, he was worthy to han his lif.
And with that word up stert this olde wif, Which that the knight saw sitting on the grene. Mercy, quod she, my soveraine lady quene, Er that your court depart, as doth me right. I taughte this answer unto this knight, For which he plighte me his trouthe there, The firste thing I wold of him requere,
He wold it do, if it lay in his might.
Before this court than pray I thee, sire knight,
Quod she, that thou me take unto thy wif,
For wel thou wost, that I have kept thy lif:
If I say false, say nay upon thy fay.
This knight answered, alas and wala wa!
I wot right wel that swiche was my behest.
For Goddes love as chese a new request:
Take all my good, and let my body go.
Nay than, quod she, I shrewe us bothe two. For though that I be olde, foule, and pore, I n’olde for all the metal ne the ore, That under erthe is grave, or lith above, But if thy wif I were and eke thy love.
My love? quod he, nay, my dampnation. Alas! that
Shuld ever so foule disparaged be.
But all for nought; the end is this, that he
Constrained was, he nedes must hire wed,
And taketh this olde wif, and goth to bed.
Now wolden som men sayn paraventure,
That for my negligence I do no cure
you the joye and all the array, That at the feste was that ilke day.
To which thing shortly answeren I shal:
say ther was no joye ne feste at al,
Ther n'as but hevinesse and mochel sorwe:
For prively he wedded hire on the morwe,
And all day after hid him as an oule,
So wo was him, his wif loked so foule.
Gret was the wo the knight had in his thought
Whan he was with his wif a-bed ybrought,
He walweth, and he turneth to and fro.
This olde wif lay smiling evermo,
And said: 0 dere husbond, benedicite,
Fareth every knight thus with his wif as ye?
Is this the lawe of king Artoures hous?
Is every knight of his thus dangerous ?
I am your owen love, and eke your wif,
I am she, which that saved hath your lif,
And certes yet did I you never unright.
Why fare ye thus with me this firste night?
Ye faren like a man had lost his wit.
What is my gilt? for Goddes love tell it,
And it shal ben amended, if I may.
Amended? quod this knight, alas! nay, nay,
It wol not ben amended never mo;
Thou art so lothly, and so olde also,
And therto comen of so low a kind,
That litel wonder is though I walwe and wind;
So wolde God, min herte wolde brest.
Is this, quod she, the cause of your unrest? Ye certainly, quod he, no wonder is.
Now sire, quod she, I coude amend all this,
If that me list, er it were dayes three,
So wel ye mighten bere you unto me.
But for ye speken of swiche gentillesse,
As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore shullen ye be gentilmen;
Swiche arrogance n'is not worth an hen.
Loke who that is most vertuous alway,
Prive and apert, and most entendeth ay
To do the gentil dedes that he can,
And take him for the gretest gentilman.
Crist wol we claime of him our gentillesse,
Not of our elders for hir old richesse.
For though they yeve us all hir heritage,
For which we claime to ben of high parage,
Yet may they not bequethen, for no thing,
To non of us, hir vertuous living,
That made hem gentilmen called to be,
And bade us folwen hem in swiche degree.
Wel can the wise poet of Florence,
That highte Dant, speken of this sentence:
Lo, in swiche maner rime is Dantes tale.
Ful selde up riseth by his branches smale
Prowesse of man, for God of his goodnesse
Wol that we claime of him our gentillesse:
For of our elders may we nothing claime
But temporel thing, that man may hurt and maime.
Eke every wight wot this as wel as I,
If gentillesse were planted naturelly
Unto a certain linage doun the line,
Prive and apert, than wold they never fine
To don of gentillesse the faire office,
They mighten do no vilanie or vice.
Take fire and bere it into the derkest hous
Betwix this and the mount of Caucasus,
And let men shette the dores, and go thenne,
Yet wol the fire as faire lie and brenne
As twenty thousand men might it behold;
His office naturel ay wol it hold,
Up peril of my lif, til that it die.
Here may ye see wel, how that genterie
Is not annexed to possession,
Sith folk ne don hir operation
Alway, as doth the fire, lo, in his kind.
For God it wot, men moun ful often find
A lordes sone do shame and vilanie.
And he that wol han pris of his genterie,
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
And had his elders noble and vertuous,
And n'ill himselven do no gentil dedes,
Ne folwe his gentil auncestrie, that ded is,
He n'is not gentil, be he duk or erl;
For vilains sinful dedes make a cherl.
For gentillesse n'is but the renomee
Of thin auncestres, for hir high bountee,
Which is a strange thing to thy persone:
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God alone.
Than cometh our veray gentillesse of
It was no thing bequethed us with our place.
Thinketh how noble, as saith Valerius,
Was thilke Tullius Hostilius,
That out of poverte rose to high noblesse.
Redeth Senek, and redeth eke Boece,
Ther shull ye seen expresse, that it no dred is,
That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis.
And therfore, leve husbond, I thus conclude,
Al be it that min auncestres weren rude,
Yet may the highe God, and so hope I,
Granten me grace to liven vertuously:
Than am I gentil, whan that I beginne
To liven vertuously, and weiven sinne.
And ther as ye of poverty me repreve,
The highe God, on whom that we beleve,
In wilful poverte chese to lede his lif:
And certes, every man, maiden, or wif
May understond, that Jesus heven king
Ne wold not chese a vicious living.
Glad poverte is an honest thing certain.
This wol Senek and other clerkes sain.
Who so that halt him paid of his poverte,
I hold him rich, al had he not a sherte.
He that coveiteth is a poure wight,
For he wold han that is not in his might.