The canterbury tales, p.43
The Canterbury Tales,
‘Gladly,’ quod he, ‘but of min owene soore1243
For sory herte I telle may1244 namoore.’
THE MERCHANT’S TALE
Heere biginneth the Marchantes Tale.
1245 Whilom1245 ther was dwelling in Lumbardye
A worthy knight, that born was of Pavie,
In which he livede in greet prosperitee.
And sixty yeer a wiflees man was he,
And folwed ay his bodily delit1249
1250 On wommen, theras was his appetit,
As doon thise fooles that been seculer1251.
And whan that he was passed sixty yeer,
Were it for holinesse or for dotage
I kan nat seye, but swich a greet corage1254
1255 Hadde this knight to been a wedded man
That day and night he dooth al that he kan
T’espyen1257 where he mighte wedded be,
Preyinge oure lord to graunten him that he
Mighte ones knowe of thilke blisful lif
1260 That is bitwix an housbonde and his wif,
And for to live under that holy bond
With which that first God man and womman bond1262.
‘Noon oother lif’, seide he, ‘is worth a bene;
For wedlok is so esy1264 and so clene
1265 That in this world it is a paradis.’
– Thus seide this olde knight that was so wis.
And certeinly, as sooth as God is king,
To take a wif it is a glorious thing,
And namely whan a man is old and hoor1269;
1270 Thanne is a wif the fruit of his tresor.
Thanne sholde he take a yong wif and a feir1271,
On which he mighte engendren him an heir,
And lede his lif in joye and in solas1273,
Wheras thise bacheleres singe ‘allas!’,
1275 Whan that they finden any adversitee
In love, which nis but1276 childissh vanitee.
And trewely, it sit wel1277 to be so,
That bachileres have ofte peine and wo.
On brotil1279 grounde they bilde, and brotilnesse
1280 They finde, whan they wene sikernesse1280.
They live but as a brid or as a beest,
In libertee and under noon areest1282,
Theras a wedded man in his estat
Liveth a lif blisful and ordinat1284,
1285 Under this yok of mariage ybounde.
Wel may his herte in joye and blisse habounde;
For who kan be so buxom1287 as a wif?
Who is so trewe, and eek so ententif1288
To kepe him, sik and hool1289, as is his make?
1290 For wele or wo1290 she wol him nat forsake.
She nis nat wery him to love and serve,
Thogh that he lie bedrede1292 til he sterve.
And yet som clerkes seyn it nis nat so,
Of whiche he Theofraste is oon of tho.
1295 What force1295 thogh Theofraste liste lie?
‘Ne take no wif’, quod he, ‘for housbondrye1296,
As for to spare in houshold thy dispence1297.
A trewe servant dooth moore diligence
Thy good to kepe than thin owene wif,
1300 For she wol claime half part al hir lif.
And if that thow be sik, so God me save,
Thy verray freendes, or a trewe knave1302,
Wol kepe thee bet1303 than she that waiteth ay
After thy good, and hath doon many a day.
1305 And if thow take a wif unto thin hoold,
Ful lightly1306 maystow been a cokewold.’
This sentence1307, and an hundred thinges worse,
Writeth this man, ther God his bones curse!
But take no kepe1309 of al swich vanitee;
1310 Diffye Theofraste, and herke me.
A wif is Goddes yifte, verraily.
Alle othere manere yiftes, hardily1312 –
As londes, rentes1313, pasture, or comune,
Or moebles1314 – alle been yiftes of Fortune,
1315 That passen as a shadwe upon the wal.
But drede nat, if pleinly speke I shal,
A wif wol laste, and in thin hous endure,
Wel lenger than thee list1318, paraventure!
Mariage is a ful greet sacrament;
1320 He which that hath no wif, I holde him shent1320;
He liveth helplees and al desolat1321 –
I speke of folk in seculer estat.
And herke why – I sey nat this for noght –
That womman is for mannes help ywroght1324.
1325 The hye God, whan he hadde Adam maked,
And saugh him al allone, bely-naked1326,
God of his grete goodnesse seide than:
‘Lat us now make an help unto this man,
Lik to himself’ – and thanne he made him Eve.
1330 Here may ye see, and hereby may ye preeve1330,
That wif is mannes help and his confort,
His paradis terrestre1332 and his disport.
So buxom1333 and so vertuous is she,
They moste nedes live in unitee.
1335 O flessh they been, and o1335 flessh, as I gesse,
Hath but oon herte, in wele1336 and in distresse.
A wif – a, Seinte Marye, benedicite!
How mighte a man han any adversitee
That hath a wif? Certes, I kan nat seye.
1340 The blisse which that is bitwix hem tweye
Ther may no tonge telle or herte thinke.
If he be povre, she helpeth him to swinke1342;
She kepeth his good1343, and wasteth never a del.
Al that hir housbonde lust1344, hir liketh wel.
1345 She seyth nat ones ‘nay’ whan he seyth ‘ye’.
‘Do this’, seyth he; ‘al redy, sire’, seyth she.
O blisful ordre of wedlok precious,
Thow art so murye1348 and eek so vertuous,
And so commended and approved eek,
1350 That every man that halt1350 him worth a leek
Upon his bare knees oghte al his lif
Thanken his God that him hath sent a wif,
Or ellis preye to God him for to sende
A wif to laste unto his lives ende,
1355 For thanne his lif is set in sikernesse1355.
He may nat be deceived, as I gesse,
So that1357 he werke after his wives reed;
Thanne may he boldely kepen up his heed.
They been so trewe, and therwithal so wise.
1360 For which, if thow wolt werken as the wise,
Do alwey so as wommen wol thee rede1361.
Lo, how that Jacob, as thise clerkes rede1362,
By good conseil of his moder Rebekke,
Boond1364 the kides skin aboute his nekke,
1365 For which his fadres benisoun1365 he wan.
Lo, Judith, as the storye eek telle kan,
By wis conseil she Goddes peple kepte,
And slow1368 him Olofernus whil he slepte.
Lo, Abigail, by good conseil how she
1370 Saved hir housbonde Nabal, whan that he
Sholde han ben slain; and looke, Ester also
By good conseil delivered out of wo
The peple of God, and made him Mardochee
Of1374 Assuere enhaunced for to be.
1375 Ther nis no thing in gree superlatif1375,
As seyth Senek, above an humble wif.
Suffre1377 thy wives tonge, as Caton bit;
She shal comaunde, and thow shalt suffren it –
And yet she wol obeye of curteisye.
1380 A wif is kepere of thin housbondrye1380;
Wel may the sike man biwaille and wepe
Theras ther nis no wif the hous to kepe.
I warne thee, if wisely thow wolt wirche1383,
Love wel thy wif, as Crist loved his chirche.
1385 If thow lovest thyself, thow lovest thy wif.
No man hateth his fles
He fostreth it; and therfore bidde I thee,
Cherisse thy wif, or thow shalt nevere thee1388.
Housbonde and wif, whatso men jape1389 or pleye,
1390 Of worldly folk holden the siker weye1390.
They been so knit, ther may noon harm bitide,
And namely upon the wives side.
For which this Januarye, of whom I tolde,
Considered hath, inwith1394 his dayes olde,
1395 The lusty1395 lif, the vertuous quiete,
That is in mariage hony-swete,
And for his freendes on a day he sente
To tellen hem th’effect1398 of his entente.
With face sad1399 this tale he hath hem told:
1400 He seide, ‘Freendes, I am hoor1400 and old,
And almoost, God woot, on my pittes brinke1401;
Upon my soule somwhat moste I thinke.
I have my body folily despended1403 –
Blessed be God that it shal been amended!
1405 For I wol be, certein, a wedded man,
And that anon, in al the haste I kan.
Unto som maide fair and tendre of age,
I pray yow, shapeth1408 for my mariage
Al sodeinly, for I wol nat abide1409.
1410 And I wol fonde t’espyen1410, on my side,
To whom I may be wedded hastily.
But forasmuche as ye been mo than I,
Ye shullen rather swich a thing espyen
Than I, and where me beste were to allyen1414.
1415 ‘But o thing warne I yow, my freendes deere,
I wol noon old wif han in no manere1416.
She shal nat passe twenty yeer, certein.
Old fissh and yong flessh wolde I have fein1418;
Bet is’, quod he, ‘a pik1419 than a pikerel,
1420 And bet than old boef1420 is the tendre veel.
I wol no womman thritty yeer of age;
It is but benestraw1422 and greet forage.
And eek thise olde widwes, God it woot,
They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot1424,
1425 So muchel broken harm1425, whan that hem leste,
That with hem sholde I nevere live in reste.
For sondry1427 scoles maken subtile clerkis;
Womman of many scoles half a clerk is1428.
But certeinly, a yong thing may men gye1429,
1430 Right as men may warm wex with handes plye1430.
Wherfore I sey yow pleinly, in a clause,
I wol noon old wif han, right for this cause.
For if so were I hadde swich meschaunce
That I in hire ne koude han no plesaunce,
1435 Thanne sholde I lede my lif in avoutrye1435,
And go streight to the devel whan I die.
Ne children sholde I noon upon hire geten1437;
Yet were me levere1438 houndes hadde me eten
Than that min heritage sholde falle
1440 In straunge1440 hand, and this I telle yow alle.
‘I dote nat1441; I woot the cause why
Men sholde wedde, and ferthermoore woot I
Ther speketh many a man of mariage
That woot namoore of it than woot my page1444
1445 For whiche causes man sholde take a wif –
If he ne may nat liven chast his lif –
Take him a wif with greet devocioun
Bicause of leveful1448 procreacioun
Of children, to th’onour of God above,
1450 And nat oonly for paramour1450 or love;
And for they sholde lecherye eschue1451,
And yelde1452 hir dette whan that it is due;
Or for that ech of hem sholde helpen oother
In meschief1454, as a suster shal the brother,
1455 And live in chastitee ful holily.
But sires, by youre leve, that am nat I;
For, God be thanked, I dar make avaunt1457
I feele my limes stark1458 and suffisaunt
To do al that a man bilongeth to.
1460 I woot myselven best what I may do.
Thogh I be hoor, I fare as dooth a tree
That blosmeth1462 er that fruit ywoxen be;
And blosmy tree1463 nis neither drye ne deed.
I feele me nowher hoor but on min heed.
1465 Min herte and alle my limes been as grene
As laurer1466 thurgh the yeer is for to sene.
And sin that ye han herd al min entente,
I pray yow to my wil ye wol assente.’
Diverse men diversely him tolde
1470 Of mariage manye ensamples olde.
Somme blamed it, somme preised it certein;
But at the laste, shortly for to seyn,
As alday1473 falleth altercacioun
Bitwixen freendes in disputisoun,
1475 Ther fil1475 a strif bitwix his bretheren two;
Of which that oon was cleped Placebo,
Justinus soothly called was that oother.
Placebo seide, ‘O Januarye, brother,
Ful litel nede hadde ye, my lord so deere,
1480 Conseil to axe1480 of any that is heere,
But that ye been so ful of sapience1481
That yow ne liketh, for youre heighe prudence,
To weiven fro1483 the word of Salomon.
This word seide he unto us everychon:
1485 “Werk alle thing by conseil” – thus seide he –
“And thanne shaltow nat repenten thee.”
But thogh that Salomon spak swich a word,
Min owene deere brother and my lord,
So wysly1489 God my soule bringe at reste,
1490 I holde your owene conseil is the beste.
For, brother min, of me tak this motif1491:
I have now been a court-man1492 al my lif,
And God it woot, thogh I unworthy be,
I have stonden in ful greet degree1494
1495 Abouten lordes of ful heigh estat,
Yet hadde I nevere with noon of hem debat1496.
I nevere hem contraried1497, trewely;
I woot wel that my lord kan1498 moore than I.
What that he seyth, I holde it ferme and stable1499;
1500 I seye the same, or ellis thing semblable1500.
A ful greet fool is any conseillour
That serveth any lord of heigh honour,
That dar presume, or ellis thenken it,
That his conseil1504 sholde passe his lordes wit.
1505 Nay, lordes been no fooles, by my fay!
Ye han yourselven shewed heer today
So heigh sentence1507, so holily and weel,
That I consente and conferme everydeel1508
Youre wordes alle and youre opinioun.
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