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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 grace,
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.
But he that nought hath, ne coveiteth to have, Is riche, although ye hold him but a knave. Veray poverte is sinne proprely.
Juvenal saith of poverte merily:
The poure man whan he goth by the way,
Beforn the theves he may sing and play.
Poverte is hateful good; and, as I
A ful gret bringer out of besinesse;
A gret amender eke of sapience
To him, that taketh it in patience.
Poverte is this, although it seme elenge,
Possession that no wight wol challenge.
Poverte ful often, whan a man is low,
Maketh his God and eke himself to know:
Poverte a spectakel is, as thinketh me,
Thurgh which he may his veray frendes see.
And therfore, sire, sin that I you not greve,
Of my poverte no more me repreve.
Now, sire, of elde, that ye repreven me:
And certes, sire, though non auctoritee
Were in no book, ye gentiles of honour
Sain, that men shuld an olde wight honour,
And clepe him fader, for your gentillesse;
And auctours shal I finden, as I gesse.
Now ther ye sain that I am foule and old,
Than drede ye not to ben a cokewold.
For filthe, and elde also, so mote I the,
Ben grete wardeins upon chastitee.
But natheles, sin I know your delit,
I shal fulfill your worldly appetit.
Chese now (quod she) on of thise thinges twey, To han me foule and old til that I dey,
And be to you a trewe humble wif,
And never you displese in all
Or elles wol ye han me yonge and faire,
And take your aventure of the repaire,
That shal be to your hous because of me,
Or in som other place it may wel be?
Now chese yourselven whether that you
This knight aviseth him, and sore siketh,
But at the last he said in this manere;
My lady and my love, and wif so dere,
I put me in your wise governance,
Cheseth yourself which may be most plesance
And most honour to you and me also,
I do no force the whether of the two:
For as you liketh, it sufficeth me.
Than have I got the maisterie, quod she,
Sin may chese and governe as me lest.
Ye certes, wif, quod he, I hold it best.
Kisse me, quod she, we be no lenger wrothe,
For by my trouth I wol be to you bothe,
This is to sayn, ye bothe faire and good.
I pray to God that I mote sterven wood,
But I to you be al so good and trewe,
As ever was wif, sin that the world was newe;
And but I be to-morwe as faire to seen,
As any lady, emperice, or quene,
That is betwix the Est and eke the West,
Doth with my lif and deth right as you lest.
Cast up the curtein, loke how that it is.
And whan the knight saw veraily all this,
That she so faire was, and so yonge therto,
For joye he hent hire in his armes two:
His herte bathed in a bath of blisse,
A thousand time a-row he gan hire kisse:
And she obeyed him in every thing,
That mighte don him plesance or liking.
And thus they live unto hir lives ende
In parfit joye, and Jesu Crist us sende
Husbondes meke and yonge, and fresh a-bed,
And grace to overlive hem that we wed.
And eke I pray Jesus to short hir lives,
That wol not be governed by hir wives.
And old and angry nigards of dispence,
God send hem sone a veray pestilence.
THE FRERES PROLOGUE. THIS worthy limitour, this noble Frere, He made alway a maner louring chere Upon the Sompnour, but for honestee No vilains word as yet to him spake he: But at the last he said unto the wif; Dame, (quod he) God yeve you right good lif, Ye have here touched, all so mote I the, In scole matere a ful gret difficultee. Ye han said mochel thing right wel, I say: But, dame, here as we riden by the way, Us nedeth not to speken but of game, And let auctoritees in Goddes name To preching, and to scole eke of clergic. But if it like unto this compagnie, I wol you of a Sompnour tell a game; Parde ye may wel knowen by the name, That of a Sompnour may no good be said; I pray that non of you be evil apaid; A Sompnour is a renner up and doun With mandements for fornicatioun, And is ybete at every tounes ende.
Tho spake our hoste; A, sire, ye shuld ben