The canterbury tales, p.28
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       The Canterbury Tales, p.28

           Geoffrey Chaucer

  And to the constable he the lettre took808.

  And whan that he this pitous809 lettre sey,

  810 Ful ofte he seide ‘allas!’ and ‘weilawey!’

  ‘Lord Crist,’ quod he, ‘how may this world endure,

  So ful of sinne is many a creature?

  ‘O mighty God, if that it be thy wille,

  Sith thow art rightful juge, how may it be

  815 That thow wolt suffren815 innocentz to spille,

  And wikked folk regne in prosperitee?

  O goode Custaunce, allas, so wo is me817,

  That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye

  On shames deeth; ther is noon oother weye.’

  820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place,

  Whan that the king this cursed lettre sente.

  And Custaunce, with a dedly pale face,

  The ferthe823 day toward hir ship she wente.

  But nathelees she taketh in good entente824

  825 The wil of Crist, and kneling on the stronde825,

  She seide, ‘Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde826!

  ‘He that me kepte fro the false blame

  Whil I was on the lond amonges yow,

  He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame

  830 In salte see, althogh I se noght how.

  As strong as evere he was, he is yet now.

  In him triste I, and in his moder deere,

  That is to me my sail and eek my steere833.’

  Hir litel child lay weping in hir arm,

  835 And kneling, pitously835 to him she seide,

  ‘Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm.’

  With that hir coverchief837 of hir hed she breide,

  And over his litel eyen she it leide,

  And in hir arm she lulleth839 it ful faste,

  840 And into hevene hir eyen up she caste.

  ‘Moder,’ quod she, ‘and maide bright, Marye,

  Sooth842 is, that thurgh wommans eggement

  Mankinde was lorn843 and dampned ay to die,

  For which thy child was on a crois yrent844.

  845 Thy blisful845 eyen sawe al his torment;

  Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene

  Thy wo, and any wo man may sustene847.

  ‘Thow saw thy child yslain bifore thine eyen,

  And yet now liveth my litel child, parfay.

  850 Now lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,

  Thow glorye of wommanhod, thow faire may851,

  Thow haven of refut852, brighte sterre of day,

  Rewe853 on my child, that of thy gentillesse

  Rewest on every rewful854 in distresse.

  855 ‘O litel child, allas, what is thy gilt,

  That nevere wroghtest856 sinne as yet, pardee?

  Why wil thin harde fader han thee spilt857?

  O mercy, deere constable,’ quod she,

  ‘As lat859 my litel child dwelle here with thee!

  860 And if thow darst noght saven him for blame,

  So kis him ones in his fadres name!’

  Therwith she looketh bakward to the londe,

  And seide, ‘Farewel, housbonde routhelees863!’

  And up she rist864 and walketh doun the stronde

  865 Toward the ship; hir folweth al the prees865.

  And evere she prayeth hir child to holde his pees,

  And taketh hir leve, and with an holy entente867

  She blesseth hire868, and into ship she wente.

  Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede869,

  870 Habundantly for hire ful longe space870;

  And othere necessaries871 that sholde nede

  She hadde inow, heried872 be Goddes grace!

  For wind and weder almighty873 God purchace,

  And bringe hir hom! I kan no bettre seye;

  875 But in the see she driveth forth hir weye875.

  [Part Three]

  Alla the king comth hom soone after this

  Unto his castel, of the which I tolde,

  And axeth878 where his wif and his child is.

  The constable gan aboute his herte colde879,

  880 And pleinly al the manere he him tolde –

  As ye han herd; I kan telle it no bettre –

  And sheweth the king his seel and eek his lettre,

  And seide, ‘Lord, as ye comaunded me

  Up884 peine of deeth, so have I doon, certein.’

  885 This messager tormented885 was til he

  Moste biknowe886 and tellen, plat and plein,

  Fro night to night in what place he had lein.

  And thus by wit888 and subtil enqueringe

  Imagined was by whom this harm gan springe889.

  890 The hond was knowe890 that the lettre wroot,

  And al the venim of this cursed dede,

  But in what wise, certeinly I noot892.

  Th’effect893 is this: that Alla, out of drede,

  His moder slow – that may men pleinly rede –

  895 For that she traitour was to hir ligeaunce895.

  Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschaunce896!

  The sorwe that this Alla night and day

  Maketh for his wif and for his child also,

  Ther is no tonge that it telle may.

  900 But now wol I unto Custaunce go,

  That fleteth901 in the see, in peine and wo,

  Five yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde902,

  Er that hir ship approched unto londe.

  Under an hethen castel atte laste,

  905 Of which the name in my text noght I finde,

  Custaunce and eek hir child the see up caste.

  Almighty God, that saveth al mankinde,

  Have on Custaunce and on hir child som minde908,

  That fallen is in hethen hand eftsoone909,

  910 In point to spille910, as I shal telle yow soone.

  Doun from the castel comth ther many a wight

  To gauren on912 this ship, and on Custaunce;

  But shortly, from the castel on a night

  The lordes stiward – God yeve him meschaunce! –

  915 A theef that hadde reneyed915 oure creaunce,

  Cam into ship allone and seide he sholde

  Hir lemman be, wherso she917 wolde or nolde.

  Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon918;

  Hir child cride, and she cride pitously.

  920 But blisful Marye heelp920 hire right anon;

  For with hir strogeling921 wel and mightily

  The theef fil overbord al sodeinly,

  And in the see he dreinte923 for vengeaunce.

  And thus hath Crist unwemmed924 kept Custaunce.

  925 O foule lust925 of luxurye, lo, thin ende!

  Nat oonly that thow faintest926 mannes minde,

  But verraily thow wolt his body shende927.

  Th’ende of thy werk or of thy lustes blinde

  Is compleining929. How many oon may men finde,

  930 That noght for werk930 somtime, but for th’entente

  To doon this sinne, been outher slain or shente?

  How may this waike932 womman han this strengthe

  Hir to defende again this renegat933?

  O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe934,

  935 How mighte David make thee so maat935,

  So yong and of armure so desolat936?

  How dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?

  Wel may men seen, it was but Goddes grace.

  Who yaf Judith corage or hardinesse939

  940 To sleen him Olofernus in his tente,

  And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse

  The peple of God? I sey for this entente,

  That right as God spirit of vigour sente

  To hem, and saved hem out of meschaunce944,

  945 So sente he might and vigour to Custaunce.

  Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe946 mouth

  Of Jubaltare and Septe, driving947 ay

  Somtime west, and somtime north and south,

  And somtim
e est, ful many a wery day.

  950 Til Cristes moder – blessed be she ay! –

  Hath shapen951 thurgh hir endelees goodnesse

  To make an ende of al hir hevinesse952.

  Now lat us stinte of953 Custaunce but a throwe,

  And speke we of the Romain Emperour,

  955 That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe

  The slaughtre of Cristen folk, and dishonour

  Doon to his doghter by a fals traitour;

  I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse,

  That at the feeste leet sleen959 bothe moore and lesse.

  960 For which this Emperour hath sent anon

  His senatour, with royal ordinaunce961,

  And othere lordes, God woot, many oon,

  On Surriens to taken heigh vengeaunce.

  They brennen964, sleen, and bringe hem to meschaunce

  965 Ful many a day; but shortly, this is th’ende:

  Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende966.

  This senatour repaireth967 with victorye

  To Romeward, sailinge ful royally,

  And mette the ship drivinge, as seyth the storye,

  970 In which Custaunce sit970 ful pitously.

  Nothing ne knew he what she was, ne why

  She was in swich array, ne she nil seye972

  Of hir estaat, althogh she sholde deye973.

  He bringeth hire to Rome, and to his wif

  975 He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also,

  And with the senatour she ladde hir lif.

  Thus kan Oure Lady bringen out of wo

  Woful Custaunce, and many another mo;

  And longe time dwelled she in that place,

  980 In holy werkes evere, as was hir grace.

  The senatoures wif hir aunte was,

  But for al that she knew hir never the moore982.

  I wol no lenger taryen in this cas,

  But to King Alla, which I spak of yoore,

  985 That wepeth for his wif and siketh985 soore,

  I wol retourne, and lete986 I wole Custaunce

  Under the senatoures governaunce987.

  King Alla, which that hadde his moder slain,

  Upon a day fil in swich repentaunce

  990 That, if I shortly tellen shal and plein,

  To Rome he comth, to receiven his penaunce991,

  And putte him in the Popes ordinaunce992

  In heigh and logh, and Jesu Crist bisoghte

  Foryeve his wikked werkes994 that he wroghte.

  995 The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born

  How Alla king shal come in pilgrimage,

  By herbergeours997 that wenten him biforn;

  For which the senatour, as was usage998,

  Rood him agains999, and many of his linage,

  1000 As wel to shewe his heighe magnificence,

  As to doon any king a reverence.

  Greet cheere dooth1002 this noble senatour

  To King Alla, and he to him also;

  Everich1004 of hem dooth oother greet honour.

  1005 And so bifel, that in a day or two,

  This senatour is to King Alla go

  To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lie,

  Custaunces sone wente in his compaignye.

  Som men wolde seyn at requeste of Custaunce

  1010 This senatour hath lad1010 this child to feste.

  I may nat tellen every circumstaunce;

  Be as be may1012, ther was he atte leste.

  But sooth is this, that at his modres heste1013

  Biforn Alla, during the metes space1014,

  1015 The child stood, looking in the kinges face.

  This Alla king hath of this child greet wonder,

  And to the senatour he seide anon1017:

  ‘Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?’

  ‘I noot,’ quod he, ‘by God and by Seint John!

  1020 A moder he hath, but fader hath he non

  That I of woot1021’ – and shortly, in a stounde,

  He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.

  ‘But God wot,’ quod this senatour also,

  ‘So vertuous a livere in my lif

  1025 Ne saw I nevere as she, ne herde of mo,

  Of worldly wommen, maide ne of wif.

  I dar wel seyn hir hadde levere1027 a knif

  Thurghout hir brest than been a womman wikke;

  Ther is no man koude bringe hire to that prikke1029.’

  1030 Now was this child as lik unto Custaunce

  As possible is a creature to be.

  This Alla hath the face in remembraunce

  Of dame Custaunce, and theron mused he,

  If that the childes moder were aught1034 she

  1035 That is his wif, and prively he sighte1035,

  And spedde him1036 fro the table that he mighte.

  ‘Parfay,’ thoughte he, ‘fantome1037 is in min heed!

  I oghte deme1038, of skilful jugement,

  That in the salte see my wif is deed.’

  1040 And afterward he made his argument:

  ‘What woot I if that Crist have hider sent

  My wif by see, as wel as he hir sente

  To my contree fro thennes that she wente?’

  And after noon, hom with the senatour

  1045 Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce1045.

  This senatour dooth Alla greet honour

  And hastily he sente after1047 Custaunce.

  But trusteth wel, hir liste noght to daunce1048

  Whan1049 that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;

  1050 Unnethe1050 upon hir feet she mighte stonde.

  Whan Alla saugh his wif, faire he hir grette1051,

  And weep1052 that it was routhe for to se;

  For at the firste look he on hir sette

  He knew wel verraily that it was she.

  1055 And she for sorwe as domb stant as a tree,

  So was hir herte shet1056 in hir distresse,

  Whan she remembred his unkindenesse1057.

  Twies she swowneth in his owene sighte,

  He weep and him excuseth pitously.

  1060 ‘Now God,’ quod he, ‘and alle his halwes1060 brighte,

  So wysly1061 on my soule as have mercy,

  That of youre harm as giltelees am I

  As is Maurice my sone, so lik youre face –

  Ellis the feend me fecche1064 out of this place!’

  1065 Long was the sobbing and the bitter peine

  Er that hir woful hertes mighte cesse1066.

  Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleine1067,

  Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.

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