The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Marchaundes Tale

“Wepyng and wailyng, care and other sorwe

I knowe ynough, bothe on even and on morwe;”

Quod the Marchaund, “and so doon other mo,

That weddid ben; I trowe that it be so,

For wel I woot it fareth so with me.

I have a wyf, the worste that may be,

For though the feend to hir y-coupled were,

Sche wold him overmacche I dar wel swere.

What schuld I yow reherse in special

Hir high malice? sche is a schrewe at al.

Ther is a long and a large difference

Betwix Grisildes grete pacience,

And of my wyf the passyng cruelté.

Were I unbounden, al-so mot I the,

I wolde never eft come in the snare.

We weddid men lyve in sorwe and care,

Assay it who-so wil, and he schal fynde

That I say soth, by seint Thomas of Inde,

As for the more part, I say not alle;

God schilde that it scholde so byfalle.

A! good sir host, I have y-weddid be

Thise monethes tuo, and more not, pardé;

And yit I trowe that he, that al his lyve

Wyfles hath ben, though that men wold him rive

Unto the hert, ne couthe in no manere

Tellen so moche sorwe, as I now heere

Couthe telle of my wyfes cursednesse.”

“Now,” quod our ost,
“Marchaunt, so God yow blesse!
Sin ye so moche knowen of that art,
Ful hertily tellith us a part.”
“Gladly,” quod he, “but of myn oughne sore
For sory hert I telle may na more.”

Whilom ther was dwellyng in Lombardy
A worthy knight, that born was of Pavy,
In which he lyved in gret prosperité;
And fourty yer a wifles man was he,
And folwed ay his bodily delyt
On wommen, ther as was his appetyt,
As doon these fooles that ben seculere.
And whan that he was passed sixty yere,
Were it for holyness or for dotage,
I can not say, but such a gret corrage
Hadde this knight to ben a weddid man,
That day and night he doth al that he can
Taspye wher that he mighte weddid be;
Praying our Lord to graunte him, that he
Might oones knowen of that blisful lif
That is bitwix an housbond and his wyf,
And for to lyve under that holy bond
With which God first man to womman bond.
“Noon other lif,” sayd he, “is worth a bene;
For wedlok is so holy and so clene,
That in this world it is a paradis.”
Thus sayde this olde knight, that was so wys.
And certeinly, as soth as God is king,
To take a wyf is a glorious thing,
And namely whan a man is old and hoor,
Than is a wyf the fruyt of his tresor;
Than schuld he take a yong wif and a fair,
On which he might engendre him an hair,
And lede his lyf in mirthe and solace,
Wheras these bachileres synge allas,
Whan that thay fynde eny adversité
In love, which is but childes vanité.
And trewely it sit wel to be so,
That bachilers have ofte peyne and wo;
On brutil ground thay bulde, and brutelnesse
Thay fynde, whan thay wene sikernesse;
Thay lyve but as a brid other as a best,
In liberté and under noon arrest;
Ther as a weddid man, in his estate,
Lyvith his lif blisful and ordinate,
Under the yok of mariage i-bounde,
Wel may his herte in joye and blisse abounde;
For who can be so buxom as a wyf?
Who is so trewe and eek so ententyf
To kepe him, seek and hool, as is his make?
For wele or woo sche wol him not forsake.
Sche is not wery him to love and serve,
Theigh that he lay bedred til that he sterve.
And yet som clerkes seyn it is not so,
Of whiche Theofrast is oon of tho.
What fors though Theofraste liste lye?
Ne take no wif, quod he, for housbondrye,
As for to spare in houshold thy dispense;
A trewe servaunt doth more diligence
Thy good to kepe, than thin oughne wif,
For sche wol clayme half part in al hir life.
And if that thou be seek, so God me save,
Thyne verray frendes or a trewe knave
Wol kepe the bet than sche that waytith ay
After thy good, and hath doon many a day.
And if that thou take a wif, be war
Of oon peril, which declare I ne dar.

This entent, and an hundred sithe wors,
Writith this man, ther God his bones curs.
But take no keep of al such vanité;
Deffy Theofrast, and herkne me.
A wyf is Goddes yifte verrayly;
Al other maner yiftes hardily,
As landes, rentes, pasture, or comune,
Or other moeblis, ben yiftes of fortune,
That passen as a schadow on a wal.
But dred not, if I playnly telle schal,
A wyf wil last and in thin hous endure,
Wel lenger than the lust peradventure.
Mariage is a ful gret sacrament;
He which hath no wif I hold him schent;
He lyveth helples, and is al desolate
(I speke of folk in seculer estate).
And herken why, I say not this for nought,
That womman is for mannes help i-wrought.
The heighe God, whan he had Adam maked,
And saugh him al aloone body naked,
God of his grete goodnes sayde thanne,
Let us now make an helpe to this manne
Lyk to himself; and than he made Eve.
Her may ye see, and here may ye preve,
That wyf is mannes help and his comfort,
His paradis terrestre and his desport.
So buxom and so vertuous is sche,
Thay mosten neede lyve in unité;
O fleisch thay ben, and on blood, as I gesse,
Have but oon hert in wele and in distresse.

A wyf? a! seinte Mary, benedicite,
How might a man have eny adversité
That hath a wyf? certes I can not saye.
The joye that is betwixen hem twaye.
Ther may no tonge telle or herte thinke.
If he be pore, sche helpith him to swynke;
Sche kepith his good, and wastith never a del;
And al that her housbond list, sche likith it wel;
Sche saith nought oones nay, whan he saith ye;
Do this, saith he; al redy, sir, saith sche.

O blisful ordre, o wedlok precious!
Thou art so mery, and eek so vertuous,
And so comendid, and approved eek,
That every man that holt him worth a leek,
Upon his bare knees ought al his lyf
Thanken his God, that him hath sent a wif,
Or praye to God oon him for to sende
To be with him unto his lyves ende.
For than his lyf is set in sikernesse;
He may not be deceyved, as I gesse,
So that he worche after his wyfes red;
Than may be boldely bere up his heed,
Thay ben so trewe, and also so wyse,
For whiche, if thou wolt do as the wyse,
Do alway so, as womman wol the rede.
Lo how that Jacob, as the clerkes rede,
By good counseil of his moder Rebecke,
Band the kydes skyn aboute his nekke;
For which his fader benesoun he wan.
Lo Judith, as the story telle can,
By wys counseil sche Goddes poepel kepte,
And slough him Oliphernus whil he slepte.

Lo Abygaille, by good counseil how sche
Sayvd hir housbond Nabal, whan that he
Schold han ben slayn. And loke, Hester also
By good counseil delivered out of wo
The poeple of God, and made him Mardoche
Of Assuere enhaunsed for to be.
Ther nys no thing in gre superlatif
(As saith Senec) above an humble wyf.
Suffre thy wyves tonge, as Catoun byt,
She schal comaunde, and thou schalt suffre it,
And yit sche wil obeye of curtesye.

A wif is keper of thin housbondrye:
Wel may the sike man wayle and wepe,
Ther as ther is no wyf the house to kepe.
I warne the, if wisly thou wilt wirche,
Love wel thy wyf, as Crist loveth his chirche;
If thou lovest thiself, thou lovest thy wyf.
No man hatith his fleissch, but in his lif
He fostrith it, and therfore warne I the
Cherissh thy wyf, or thou schalt never the.
Housbond and wif, what so men jape or pleye,
Of worldly folk holden the righte weye;
Thay ben so knyt, ther may noon harm bytyde,
And nameliche upon the wyves syde.
For which this January, of which I tolde,
Considered hath inwith his dayes olde
The lusty lif, the vertuous quiete,
That is in mariage honey-swete.

And for his frendes on a day he sente
To tellen hem theffect of his entente.
With face sad, he hath hem this tale told;
He sayde, “Frendes, I am hoor and old,
And almost (God woot) at my pittes brinke,
Upon my soule som-what most I thynke.
I have my body folily dispendid,
Blessed be God that it schal be amendid;
For I wil be certeyn a weddid man,
And that anoon in al the hast I can,
Unto som mayde, fair and tender of age.
I pray yow helpith for my mariage
Al sodeynly, for I wil not abyde;
And I wil fonde tespien on my syde,
To whom I may be weddid hastily.
But for als moche as ye ben mo than I,
Ye schul rather such a thing aspien
Than I, and wher me lust best to allien.
But oo thing warne I yow, my frendes deere,
I wol noon old wyf have in no manere;
Sche schal not passe sixtene yer certayn.
Old fleisch and young fleisch, that wold I have
ful fayn.
Bet is,” quod he, “a pyk than a pikerel,
And bet than olde boef is the tendre vel
I wil no womman twenty yer of age,
It nys but bene-straw and gret forage.
And eek these olde wydewes (God it woot)
Thay can so moche craft of Wades boot,
So moche broken harm whan that hem list,
That with hem schuld I never lyven in rest.
For sondry scolis maken subtil clerkes;
Womman of many a scole half a clerk is.
But certeyn, a yong thing may men gye,
Right as men may warm wax with hondes plye.
Wherfor I say yow plenerly in a clause,
I wil noon old wyf han right for that cause.
For if so were I hadde so meschaunce,
That I in hir ne couthe have no plesaunce,
Then schuld I lede my lyf in advoutrie,
And go streight to the devel whan I dye.
Ne children schuld I noon upon hir geten;
Yet were me lever houndes hadde me eten,
Than that myn heritage schulde falle
In straunge hond; and thus I telle yow alle.
I doute not, I wot the cause why
Men scholde wedde; and forthermor woot I,
Ther spekith many man of mariage,
That wot nomore of it than wot my page
For whiche causes man schulde take a wyf.
If he ne may not chast be by his lif,
Take him a wif with gret devocioun,
Bycause of lawful procreacioun
Of children, to thonour of God above,
And not oonly for paramour and for love;
And for thay schulde leccherye eschiewe,
And yeld our dettes whan that it is due;
Or for that ilk man schulde helpen other
In meschief, as a suster schal to the brother,
And lyve in chastité ful hevenly.
But, sires, by your leve, that am not I,
For God be thanked, I dar make avaunt,
I fele my lemys stark and suffisaunt
To doon al that a man bilongeth unto;
I wot my selve best what I may do.

“Though I be hoor, I fare as doth a tree,
That blossemith er that the fruyt i-waxe be,
A blossemy tre is neither drye ne deed;
I fele me no-wher hoor but on myn heed.
Myn herte and alle my lymes ben as greene,
As laurer thurgh the yeer is for to seene.
And synnes ye han herd al myn entente,
I pray yow to my wille that ye assente.”

Diverse men diversly him tolde
Of mariage many ensamples olde;
Some blamed it, some praised it certayn;
But atte laste, schortly for to sayn,
(As alday fallith altercacioun,
Bitwixe frendes in despitesoun)
Ther fel a strif bitwen his bretheren tuo,
Of which that oon was clepid Placebo,
Justinus sothly cleped was that other.
Placebo sayde: “O January, brother,
Ful litel need hadde ye, my lord so deere,
Counseil to axe of eny that is heere;
But that ye ben so ful of sapience,
That yow ne likith for your heigh prudence
To wayve fro the word of Salamon.
This word, said he, unto us everychoon:
Werk al thing by counsail, thus sayd he,
And thanne schaltow nought repente the.
But though that Salamon speke such a word,
Myn owne deere brother and my lord,
So wisly God bring my soule at ese and rest,
I holde your oughne counseil is the best.
For, brother myn, of me tak this motif,
I have now ben a court-man al my lyf,
And God wot, though that I unworthy be,
I have standen in ful gret degre
Abouten lordes in ful high estat;
Yit had I never with noon of hem debaat,
I never hem contraried trewely.
I wot wel that my lord can more than I;
What that he saith, I hold it ferm and stable,
I say the same, or elles thing semblable.
A ful gret fool is eny counselour,
That servith any lord of high honour,
That dar presume, or oones thenken it,
That his counseil schulde passe his lordes wit.
Nay, lordes ben no fooles by my fay,
Ye have your self y-spoken heer to day
So heigh sentens, so holly, and so wel,
That I consente, and conferme every del
Your wordes alle, and youre oppinioun.
By God ther is no man in al this toun
Ne in Ytaile, couthe better have sayd;
Crist holdith him of this ful wel apayd.
And trewely it is an heigh corrage
Of any man that stoupen is in age,
To take a yong wyf, by my fader kyn;
Your herte hongith on a joly pyn.
Doth now in this matier right as yow leste,
For fynally I hold it for the beste.”
Justinus, that ay stille sat and herde,
Right in this wise he to Placebo answerde.
“Now, brother myn, be pacient I yow pray,
Syns ye have sayd, and herknith what I say:
Senek amonges other wordes wyse
Saith, that a man aught him wel avyse,
To whom he yiveth his lond or his catel.
And syns I aught avyse me right wel,
To whom I yive my good away fro me,
Wel more I aught avised for to be
To whom I yive my body; for alwey
I warn yow wel it is no childes pley
To take a wyf withoute avisement.
Men most enquere (this is myn assent)
Wher sche be wys, or sobre, or dronkelewe,
Or proud, or eny other way a schrewe,
A chyder, or a wastour of thy good,
Or riche or pore, or elles man is wood.
Al be it so, that no man fynde schal
Noon in this world, that trottith hool in al,
Neyther man, ne best, such as men can devyse.
But natheles it aught y-nough suffise
With any wyf, if so were that sche hadde
Mo goode thewes than hir vices badde;
And al this askith leyser to enquere.
For God woot, I have weped many a tere
Ful prively, syns I have had a wyf.
Prayse who so wil a weddid mannes lif,
Certes I fynd in it but cost, and care,
And observaunce of alle blisses bare.
And yit, God woot, myn neighebours aboute,
And namely of wommen many a route,
Sayn that I have the moste stedefast wyf,
And eek the meekest oon that berith lyf;
But I woot best, wher wryngith me my scho.
Ye maye for me right as yow liste do.
Avysith yow, ye ben a man of age,
How that ye entren into mariage;
And namly with a yong wif and a fair.
By Him that made water, eorthe, and air,
The yongest man, that is in al this route,
Is busy ynough to bring it wel aboute
To have his wif alloone, trustith me;
Ye schul not please hir fully yeres thre,
This is to saye, to doon hir ful plesaunce.
A wyf axith ful many an observaunce.
I pray yow that ye be not evel apayd.”
“Wel,” quod this January, “and hastow sayd?
Straw for thy Senec, and for thy proverbis!
I counte nought a panyer ful of herbes
Of scole termes; wiser men than thow,
As I have sayd, assenten her right now
Unto my purpose: Placebo, what say ye?”
“I say it is a cursed man,” quod he,
“That lettith matrimoigne sicurly.”
And with that word thay rysen up sodeinly,
And ben assented fully, that he scholde
Be weddid whan him lust, and wher he wolde.

The fantasy and the curious busynesse
Fro day to day gan in the soule impresse
Of January aboute his mariage.
Many a fair schap, and many a fair visage,
Ther passith thorugh his herte night by night.
As who so took a mirrour polissched bright,
And set it in a comun market place,
Than schuld he se many a figure pace
By his mirour; and in the same wise
Gan January in his thought devyse
Of maydens, which that dwellid him bisyde;
He wiste not where that he might abyde.
For though that oon have beauté in hir face,
Another stant so in the poeples grace
For hir sadness and hir benignité,
That of the poeple grettest vois hath sche;
And som were riche and hadde badde name.
But natheles, bitwix ernest and game,
He atte last appoynted him anoon,
And let al other fro his herte goon,
And ches hir of his oughne auctorité,
For love is blynd al day, and may not se.

And whan he was into the bedde brought,
He purtrayed in his hert and in his thought
Hir freische beauté, and hir age tendre,
Hir myddel smal, hir armes long and sclendre,
Hir wise governaunce, hir gentilnesse,
Hir wommanly beryng, and hir sadnesse.
And whan that he on hir was condescendid,
Him thought his chois mighte nought ben amendid:
For whan that he himself concludid hadde,
Him thought ech other mannes witte so badde,
That impossible it were to repplie
Agayn his choys: this was his fantasie.
His frendes sent he to, at his instaunce,
And prayed hem to doon him that plesaunce,
That hastily thay wolde to him come;
He wold abrigge her labour alle and some.
Nedith no more for him to gon ne ryde,
He was appoynted ther he wold abyde.
Placebo cam, and eek his frendes soone,
And althirfirst he bad hem alle a boone,
That noon of hem noon argumentis make
Agayn the purpos which that he hadde take;
Which purpos was plesaunt to God, sayd he,
And verray ground of his prosperité.

He sayde, ther was a mayden in the toun,
Which that of beauté hadde gret renoun,
Al were it so, sche were of smal degre,
Suffisith him hir youthe and hir beauté;
Which mayde, he sayd, he wold have to his wyf,
To lede in ease and holinesse his lyf;
And thankede God, that he might have hir al,
That no wight with his blisse parten schal;
And preyed hem to laboure in this neede,
And schapen that he faile not to speede.
For than he sayd, his spirit was at ease;
“Than is,” quod he, “no thing may me displease,
Save oon thing prikkith in my conscience,
The which I wil reherse in your presence.
I have herd sayd,” quod he, “ful yore ago,
Ther may no man have parfyt blisses tuo,
That is to say, in erthe and eek in hevene.
For though he kepe him fro the synnes sevene,
And eek from ylk a braunche of thilke tre,
Yit is ther so parfyt felicité
And so gret ease and lust in mariage,
That ever 1 am agast now in myn age,
That I schal lede now so mery a lyf,
So delicat, withoute wo and stryf,
That I schal have myn heven in erthe heere.
For sith that verrey heven is bought so deere
With tribulacioun and gret penaunce,
How schuld I thanne, that live in such plesaunce
As alle wedded men doon with her wyves,
Come to blisse ther Crist eterne on lyve is?
This is my drede, and ye, my bretheren tweye,
Assoilith me this questioun, I yow preye.”

Justinus, which that hated his folye,
Answerd anoon right in his japerie;
And for he wold his longe tale abrigge,
He wolde noon auctorité alegge,
But sayde, “Sir, so ther be noon obstacle
Other than this, God of his high miracle,
And of his mercy may so for yow wirche,
That er ye have your rightes of holy chirche
Ye may repente of weddid mannes lyf,
In which ye sayn ther is no wo ne stryf;
And ellis God forbede, but he sente
A weddid man grace him to repente
Wel ofte, rather than a sengle man.
And therfor, sire, the beste reed I can,
Dispaire yow nought, but have in youre memorie,
Peradventure she may be your purgatorie;
Sche may be Goddes mene and Goddes whippe;
Than schal your soule up to heven skippe
Swyfter than doth an arwe out of a bowe.
I hope to God herafter ye shuln knowe,
That ther nys noon so gret felicité
In mariage, ne nevermor schal be,
That you schal lette of your savacioun,
So that ye use, as skile is and resoun,
The lustes of your wyf attemperely,
And that ye please hir not to amorously;
And that ye kepe yow eek from other synne.
My tale is doon, for my witt is thynne.
Beth not agast hereof, my brother deere,
But let us waden out of this matiere.
The wif of Bathe, if ye han understonde,
Of mariage, which ye han now in honde,
Declared hath ful wel in litel space;
Fareth now wel, God have yow in his grace.”

And with that word this Justinus and his brother
Han tak her leve, and ech of hem of other.
And whan they saughe that it moste needis be,
Thay wroughten so by sleight and wys treté,
That sche this mayden, which that Mayus highte,
As hastily as ever that sche mighte,
Schal weddid be unto this Januarie.
I trow it were to longe yow to tarie,
If I yow tolde of every scrit and bond,
By which that sche was feoffed in his lond;
Or for to herken of hir riche array.
But finally y-comen is that day,
That to the chirche bothe ben thay went,
For to receyve the holy sacrement.
Forth comth the preost, with stoole about his necke,
And bad hir be lik Sarra and Rebecke
In wisdom and in trouth of mariage;
And sayd his orisouns, as is usage,
And crouched hem, and bad God schuld hem blesse
And made al secur ynowgh with holinesse.

Thus ben thay weddid with solempnité;
And atte fest sittith he and sche
With othir worthy folk upon the deys.
Al ful of joy and blis is that paleys,
And ful of instrumentz, and of vitaile,
The moste deintevous of al Ytaile.
Biforn hem stood such instruments of soun,
That Orpheus, ne of Thebes Amphioun,
Ne maden never such a melodye.
At every cours ther cam loud menstralcye,
That never tromped Joab for to heere,
Ne he Theodomas yit half so cleere
At Thebes, whan the cite was in doute.
Bachus the wyn hem schenchith al aboute,
And Venus laughith upon every wight,
(For January was bycome hir knight,
And wolde bothe assayen his corrage
In liberté and eek in mariage)
And with hir fuyrbrond in hir hond aboute
Daunceth bifore the bryde and al the route.
And certeynly I dar right wel saye this,
Imeneus, that god of weddyng is,
Seigh never his lif so mery a weddid man.
Holde thy pees, thow poete Marcian,
That writest us that ilke weddyng merye
Of hir Philologie and him Mercurie,
And of the songes that the Muses songe;
To smal is bothe thy penne and eek thy tonge
For to descrive of this mariage.
Whan tender youthe hath weddid stoupyng age,
Ther is such mirthe that it may not be write;
Assaieth it your self, than may ye wyte
If that I lye or noon in this mateere.
Mayus, that sit with so benigne a cheere,
Hir to bihold it semede fayerye;
Queen Esther lokede never with such an ye
On Assuere, so meke a look hath sche;
I may not yow devyse al hir beauté;
But thus moche of hir beauté telle I may,
That sche was lyk the brighte morw of May,
Fulfild of alle beauté and plesaunce.

This January is ravyscht in a traunce,
At every tyme he lokith in hir face,
But in his hert he gan hir to manace,
That he that night in armes wold hir streyne
Harder than ever Paris did Eleyne.
But natheles yit had he gret pité
That thilke night offenden hir most he,
And thought: “Alas! O tendre creature,
Now wolde God ye mighte wel endure
Al my corrage, it is so scharp and keene;
I am agast ye schul it not susteene.
For God forbede, that I dede al my might.
Now wolde God that it were woxe night,
And that the night wolde stonden evermo.
I wolde that al this poeple were ago.”
And fynally he doth al his labour,
As he best mighte, savyng his honour,
To hast hem from the mete in subtil wise.

The tyme cam that resoun was to ryse,
And after that men daunce, and drynke faste
And spices al about the hous thay caste,
And ful of joy and blis is every man,
Al but a squier, that hight Damyan,
Which karf to-for the knight ful many a day;
He was so ravyssht on his lady May,
That for the verray peyne he was nigh wood:
Almost he swelt and swowned as he stood;
So sore hath Venus hurt him with hir brond,
As that sche bar it daunsyng in hir hond.
And to his bed he went him hastily;
No more of him as at this tyme telle I;
But ther I lete him now his wo compleyne,
Til freisshe May wol rewen on his peyne.
O perilous fuyr, that in the bed-straw bredith!
O famuler fo, that his service bedith!
O servaunt traitour, false homly hewe,
Lyk to the nedder sleighe in bosom untrewe.
God schild us alle from your acqueintance!
O January, dronken in plesaunce
Of marriage, se how thy Damyan,
Thyn oughne squier and thy borne man,
Entendith for to do the vilonye;
God graunte the thin homly fo espye.
For in this world nys worse pestilence
Than homly foo, alday in thy presence.

Parfourmed hath the sonne his ark diourne,
No lenger may the body of him sojourne
On thorisonte, as in that latitude;
Night with his mantel, that is derk and rude,
Gan oversprede themesperie aboute;
For which departed is the lusti route
Fro January, with thank on every side.
Hoom to her houses lustily thay ryde,
Wher as they doon her thinges, as hem leste,
And whan they seigh her tyme thay goon to reste.
Soone after that this hasty Januarie
Wolde go to bed, he wolde no lenger tarie.
He drinkith ypocras, clarre, and vernage
Of spices hote, to encrese his corrage;
And many a letuary had he ful fyn,
Such as the cursed monk daun Constantin
Hath writen in his book de Coitu;
To ete hem alle he wolde no thing eschieu.
And to his privé frendes thus sayd he:
“For Goddes love, as soon as it may be,
Let voyden al this hous in curteys wise.”
And thay han doon right as he wolde devyse.
Men drinken, and the travers drawe anoon;
The bruyd was brought abedde as stille as stoon;
And whan the bed was with the prest i-blessid,
Out of the chambre hath every wight him dressed.
And January hath fast in armes take
His freisshe May, his paradys, his make.
He lullith hir, he kissith hir ful ofte;
With thikke bristlis on his berd unsofte,
Lik to the skyn of houndfisch, scharp as brere,
(For he was schave al newe in his manere)
He rubbith hir about hir tendre face,
And sayde thus: “Allas! I mot trespace
To yow, my spouse, and yow gretly offende,
Or tyme come that I wol doun descende;
But natheles considerith this,” quod he,
“Ther nys no werkmen, whatsoever he be,
That may bothe werke wel and hastily;
This wol be doon at leysir parfitly.
It is no fors how longe that we pleye;
In trewe wedlock coupled be we tweye;
And blessed be the yok that we ben inne,
For in our actes we mowe do no synne.
A man may do no synne with his wif,
Ne hurt himselven with his oughne knyf:
For we han leve to play us by the lawe.”

Thus laborith he, til that the day gan dawe,
And than he takith a sop in fyn clarré,
And upright in his bed than sittith he.
And after that he song ful lowd and cleré,
And kissed his wyf, and made wantoun cheere.
He was al coltissch, ful of ragerye,
And ful of jargoun, as a flekked pye.
The slakke skyn about his nekke schaketh,
Whil that he song, so chaunteth he and craketh.
But God wot what that May thought in hir hert,
Whan sche him saugh up sittyng in his schert,
In his night-cappe, and with his nekke lene;
Sche praysith nought his pleying worth a bene.
Than sayde he thus: “My reste wol I take
Now day is come, I may no lenger wake.”
And doun he layd his heed and sleep til prime.
And afterward, whan that he saugh his tyme,
Up riseth January, but freissche May
Holdith hir chamber unto the fourthe day,
As usage is of wyves for the best.
For every labour som tyme moot have rest,
Or elles longe may he not endure;
This is to saye, no lyves creature,
Be it of fissch, or brid, or best, or man.

Now wol I speke of woful Damyan,
That languyssheth for love, as ye schuln here;
Therefore I speke to him in this manere.
I say, “O sely Damyan, allas!
Answere to my demaunde, as in this caas,
How schaltow to thy lady, freissche May,
Telle thy woo? Sche wol alway saye nay;
Eek if thou speke, sche wol thy woo bywreye;
God be thin help, I can no better seye.”

This seke Damyan in Venus fuyr
So brennith, that he deyeth for desir;
For which he put his lyf in aventure,
No lenger might he in this wo endure,
But prively a penner gan he borwe,
And in a letter wrot he al his sorwe,
In maner of a compleynt or of a lay,
Unto his faire freissche lady May.
And in a purs of silk, heng on his schert,
He hath it put, and layd it at his hert.

The moone that at noon was thilke day
That January hadde weddid freissche May
In tuo of Taure, was into Cancre gliden;
So long hath Mayus in hir chambre abiden,
As custom is unto these nobles alle.
A bryde schal not eten in the halle,
Til dayes foure or thre dayes atte lest
I-passed ben, than let hir go to the fest.
The fourthe day complet fro noon to noon,
Whan that the heighe masse was i-doon,
In halle sitte this January and May,
As freissch as is the brighte someres day.
And so bifelle, that this goode man
Remembrid him upon this Damyan,
And sayde, “Seinte Mary! how may this be,
That Damyan entendith not to me?
Is he ay seek? or how may this bityde?”
His squiers, which that stoode ther bisyde,
Excusid him, bycause of his syknesse,
Which letted him to doon his busynesse;
Noon other cause mighte make him tarie.
“That me for-thinketh,” quod this Januarie;
“He is a gentil squyer, by my trouthe,
If that he deyde, it were harm and routhe.
He is as wys, discret, and eek secré,
As any man I wot of his degré,
And therto manerly and servysable,
And for to be a thrifty man right able.
But after mete, as soon as ever I may,
I wol myself visit him, and eek May,
To doon him al the confort that I can.”
And for that word him blessed every man,
That of his bounté and his gentilesse
He wolde so comfort in his seekenesse
His squyer, for it was a gentil deede.
“Dame,” quod this January, “tak good heede,
At after-mete, ye with your wommen alle,
(Whan ye han ben in chambre out of this halle)
That alle ye goo to se this Damyan;
Doth him desport, he is a gentil man,
And tellith him that I wil him visite,
Have I no thing but rested me a lyte;
And spedith yow faste, for I wol abyde
Til that ye slepe faste by my syde.”
And with that word he gan unto him calle
A squier, that was marchal of his halle,
And told him certeyn thinges what he wolde.

This freissche May hath streight hir wey i-holde
With alle hir wommen unto Damyan.
Doun by his beddes syde sat sche than,
Comfortyng him as goodly as sche may.

This Damyan, whan that his tyme he say,
In secré wise, his purs, and eek his bille,
In which that he i-writen had his wille,
Hath put into hir hond withouten more,
Save that he siketh wonder deepe and sore,
And softely to hir right thus sayd he;
“Mercy, and that ye not discover me;
For I am deed, if that this thing be kud.”
This purs hath sche inwith hir bosom hud,
And went hir way; ye gete no more of me;
But unto January comen is sche,
That on his beddes syde sit ful softe.
He takith hir, and kissith hir ful ofte;
And layd him doun to slepe, and that anoon.
Sche feyned hir as that sche moste goon
Ther as ye woot that every wight moot neede;
And whan sche of this bille hath taken heede,
Sche rente it al to cloutes atte laste,
And into the privy softely it caste.

Who studieth now but faire freissche May?
Adoun by olde January sche lay,
That slepith, til that the coughe hath him awaked;
Anoon he prayde stripen hir al naked,
He wold of hir, he sayd, have som plesaunce;
Hir clothis dede him, he sayde, some grevaunce.
And sche obeieth, be hir lief or loth.
But lest that precious folk be with me wroth,
How that he wroughte I dar not telle,
Or whethir it semed him paradys or helle;
But here I lete hem werken in her wise
Til evensong rong, and than thay most arise.

Whethir it be by desteny or adventure,
Were it by influence, or by nature,
Or by constellacioun, that in such estate
The heven stood that tyme fortunate,
As for to putte a bille of Venus werkis
(For alle thing hath tyme, as seyn these clerkis)
To eny womman for to gete hir love,
I can not saye; but grete God above,
That knowith that noon acte is causeles,
He demeth of al, for I wil holde my pees.
But soth is this, how that this freisshe May
Hath take such impressioun that day,
Of pité on this sike Damyan,
That from hir herte sche ne dryve can
The remembraunce for to doon him ease.
“Certeyn,” thought sche, “whom that this thing displease
I rekke not, for her I him assure,
To love him best of eny creature,
Though he no more hadde than his scherte.”
Lo, pité renneth soone in gentil herte.
Heer may ye see, how excellent fraunchise
In womman is whan thay narrow hem avyse.
Som tyraunt is, as ther ben many oon,
That hath an hert as hard as is a stoon,
Which wold han lete sterven in the place
Wel rather than han graunted him her grace;
And hem rejoysen in her cruel pride,
And rekken nought to ben an homicide.

This gentil May, fulfillid of pité,
Right of hir hond a letter makede sche,
In which sche grauntith him hir verray grace;
Ther lakkide nought but oonly day and place,
Wher that sche might unto his lust suffise;
For it schal be right as he wol devyse.
And whan sche saugh hir tyme upon a day
To visite this Damyan goth May,
And subtilly this lettre doun sche thruste
Under his pylow, rede it if him luste.
Sche takith him by the hond, and hard him twiste
So secrely, that no wight of it wiste,
And bad him be al hool, and forth sche wente
To January, whan that he for hir sente.
Up ryseth Damyan the nexte morwe,
Al passed was his siknes and his sorwe.
He kembith him, he pruneth him and pyketh,
He doth al that unto his lady likith;
And eek to January he goth as lowe
As ever did a dogge for the bowe.
He is so plesaunt unto every man,
(For craft is al, who so that do it can)
That every wight is fayn to speke him good:
And fully in his ladys grace he stood.
Thus lete I Damyan about his neede,
And in my tale forth I wol procede.

Some clerkes holden that feliticé
Stant in delit, and therfor certeyn he
This noble January, with al his might
In honest wise as longith to a knight,
Schop him to lyve ful deliciously.
His housyng, his array, as honestly
To his degre was maked as a kynges.
Amonges other of his honest thinges
He hade a gardyn walled al with stoon,
So fair a gardyn wot I nowher noon.
For out of doute I verrely suppose,
That he that wroot the Romauns of the Rose,
Ne couthe of hit the beauté wel devyse;
Ne Priapus ne mighte not wel suffice,
Though he be god of gardyns, for to telle
The beauté of the gardyn, and the welle,
That stood under a laurer alway greene.
Ful ofte tyme he Pluto and his queene
Preserpina, and al the fayerie,
Desporten hem and maken melodye
Aboute that welle, and daunced, as men tolde.
This noble knight, this January the olde,
Such deynté hath in it to walk and pleye,
That he wolde no wight suffre bere the keye,
Save he himself, for of the smale wyket
He bar alway of silver a smal cliket,
With which whan that him list he it unschette.
And whan he wolde pay his wyf hir dette
In somer sesoun, thider wold he go,
And May his wyf, and no wight but thay tuo;
And thinges which that weren not doon in bedde,
He in the gardyn parformed hem and spedde.
And in this wise many a mery day
Lyvede this January and freische May;
But worldly joye may not alway endure
To January, ne to no creature.

O sodeyn hap! o thou fortune unstable!
Lyk to the scorpioun so desceyvable,
That flaterist with thin heed whan thou wilt stynge;
Thy tayl is deth, thurgh thin envenymynge.
O britel joye! o sweete venym queynte!
O monster, that so subtily canst peynte
Thyn yiftes, under hiew of stedfastnesse,
That thou desceyvest bothe more and lesse!
Why hastow January thus deceyved,
That haddist him for thy fulle frend receyved?
And now thou hast byreft him bothe his yen,
For sorw of which desireth he to dyen.
Allas! this noble January fre,
Amyd his lust and his prosperité
Is woxe blynd, and that al sodeynly.
He wepith and he weyleth pitously;
And therwithal, the fuyr of jalousye
(Lest that his wif schulde falle in som folye)
So brent his herte that he wolde fayn
That som man bothe hir and him hadde slayn;
For neyther after his deth, nor in his lyf,
Ne wold he that sche were love ne wyf,
But ever lyve as wydow in clothes blake,
Soul as the turtil that lost hath hir make.
But atte last, after a moneth or tweye,
His sorwe gan aswage, soth to seye.
For whan he wist it may noon other be,
He paciently took his adversité;
Save out of doute he may not forgoon,
That he nas jalous evermore in oon;
With jalousie it was so outrageous,
That neyther in halle, ne in noon other hous,
Ne in noon other place never the mo
He nolde suffre hir to ryde or go,
But-if that he hadde hond on hir alway.
For which ful ofte wepeth friesche May,
That loveth Damyan so benignely,
That sche moot outher deyen sodeinly,
Or elles sche moot han him as hir leste;
She waytith whan hir herte wolde breste.
Upon that other syde Damyan
Bicomen is the sorwfulleste man
That ever was, for neyther night ne day
Ne might he speke a word to fressche May,
As to his purpos, of no such matiere,
But-if that January most it heere,
That had an hond upon hir evermo.
But natheles, by writyng to and fro,
And privé signes, wist he what sche mente,
And sche knew eek the fyn of his entente.

O January, what might it the availe,
If thou might see as fer as schippes saile?
For as good is blynd deceyved be,
As to be deceyved whan a man may see.
Lo, Argus, which that had an hundred eyen,
For al that ever he couthe poure or prien,
Yet was he blent, as, God wot, so ben moo,
That weneth wisly that it be nought so;
Passe over is an ease, I say no more.
This freissche May, that I spak of so yore,
In warm wex hath emprynted the cliket,
That January bar of the smale wiket,
With which into his gardyn ofte he wente,
And Damyan that knew al hir entente
The cliket counterfeted prively;
Ther nys no more so saye, but hastily
Som wonder by this cliket schal betyde,
Which ye schal heeren, if ye wol abyde.

O noble Ovyde, wel soth saistow, God woot,
What sleight is it though it be long and hoot,
That he nyl fynd it out in som manere?
By Piramus and Thesbe may men leere;
Though they were kept ful longe streyt overal,
Thay ben accorded, rownyng thurgh a wal,
Ther no wight couthe han found out swich a sleight.
For now to purpos; er that dayes eyght
Were passid of the moneth of Juyl, bifille
That January hath caught so gret a wille,
Thorugh eggyng of his wyf, him for to pleye
In his gardyn, and no wight but they tweye,
That in a morwe unto this May saith he:
“Rys up, my wif, my love, my lady fre;
The turtlis vois is herd, my douve swete;
The wynter is goon, with his raynes wete.
Come forth now with thin eyghen columbine.
How fairer ben thy brestes than is the wyne.
The gardyn is enclosed al aboute:
Com forth, my swete spouse, out of doute,
Thou hast me wounded in myn hert, o wyf;
No spot in the knew I in al my lif.
Com forth, and let us take oure desport,
I ches the for my wif and my comfort.”
Such olde lewed wordes used he.
On Damyan a signe made sche,
That he schulde go biforn with his cliket.
This Damyan than hath opened the wiket,
And in he stert, and that in such manere,
That no wight it mighte see nor heere,
And stille he seet under a bussch. Anoon
This January, as blynd as is a stoon,
With Mayus in his hond, and no wight mo,
Into his freische gardyn is ago.
And clappide to the wiket sodeinly.
“Now, wyf,” quod he, “her nys but ye and I,
Thou art the creature that I best love;
For by that Lord that sit in heven above,
Lever ich hadde to dyen on a knyf,
Than the offende, deere trewe wyf.
For Goddes sake, thenk how I the chees,
Nought for no coveytise douteles,
But oonly for the love I hadde to the.
And though that I be old and may not se,
Beeth trewe to me, and I wol telle yow why;
Thre thinges, certes, schul ye wynne therby;
First, love of Crist, and to your self honour,
And al myn heritage, toun and tour.
I yive it yow, makith chartres as yow leste;
This schal ben doon to morw er sonne reste
So wisly God my soule bringe in blisse!
I pray yow first in covenaunt ye me kisse.
And though that I be jalous, wyt me nought,
Ye ben so deep emprinted in my thought,
That whan that I considre your beauté,
And therwithal the unlikly eelde of me,
I may nought, certes, though I schulde dye,
Forbere to ben out of your companye
For verray love; this is withouten doute.
Now kisse me, wyf, and let us rome aboute.”
This freissche May, whan sche his wordes herde,
Benignely to January answerde,
But first and forward sche bigan to wepe:
“I have,” quod sche, “a soule for to kepe
As wel as ye, and also myn honour,
And of my wifhod thilke tendre flour,
Which that I have ensured in your hond,
Whan that the prest to yow my body bond;
Wherfor I wil answer in this manere,
With the leve of yow, myn owen lord, so deere.
I pray to God that never dawe the day,
That I ne sterve, as foule as womman may,
If ever I do unto my kyn that schame,
Or elles I empaire so my name,
That I be fals; and if I do that lak,
Doth strepe me, and put me in a sak,
And in the nexte ryver do me drenche;
I am a gentil womman, and no wenche.
Why speke ye thus? but men ben ever untrewe,
And wommen han reproef of yow ever newe.
Ye have noon other contenaunce, I leve,
But speke to us of untrust and repreve.”
And with that word sche saugh wher Damyan
Sat in the buissh, and coughen sche bigan;
And with hir fyngres signes made sche,
That Damyan schulde clymb upon a tre,
That charged was with fruyt, and up he wente;
For verrayly he knew al hir entente,
And every signe that sche couthe make,
Wel bet than January hir oughne make.
For in a letter sche hadde told him al
Of this matier, how he worche schal.
And thus I lete him sitte in the pirie,
And January and May romynge mirye.

Bright was the day, and bliew the firmament;
Phebus hath of gold his stremes doun i-sent
To gladen every flour with his warmnesse;
He was that tyme in Gemines, as I gesse,
But litel fro his declinacioun
Of Canker, Joves exaltacioun.
And so bifel that brighte morwen tyde,
That in that gardyn, in the ferther syde,
Pluto, that is the kyng of fayerye,
And many a lady in his compaignie
Folwyng his wif, the queene Preserpina,
Whiche that he ravysched out of Cecilia,
Whil that sche gadrede floures in the mede,
(In Claudian ye maye the story rede,
How in his grisly carte he hir fette);
This king of fayry than adoun him sette
Upon a bench of turves freissh and greene,
And right anoon thus sayd he to his queene:

“My wyf,” quod he, “ther may no wight saye nay,
Thexperiens so preveth every day,
The tresoun which that womman doth to man.
Ten hundrid thousand [stories] tellen I can
Notable of your untrouth and brutelnesse.
O Salamon, wys and richest of richesse,
Fulfild of sapiens, and of worldly glorie,
Ful worthy ben thy wordes to memorie
To every wight, that wit and resoun can.
Thus praysith he yit the bounté of man;
Among a thousand men yit fond I oon,
But of wommen alle found I never noon
Thus saith the king, that knoweth your wikkednesse,
That Jhesus, filius Sirac, as I gesse,
Ne spekith of yow but selde reverence.
A wild fuyr and corrupt pestilence
So falle upon your bodies yit to night!
Ne see ye not this honourable knight?
Bycause, allas! that he is blynd and old,
His owne man schal make him cokewold;
Loo, wher he sitt, the lecchour, in the tre!
Now wol I graunten, of my majesté,
Unto this olde blinde worthy knight,
That he schal have ayein his eyghen sight,
Whan that his wyf wol do him vilonye;
Than schal he knowe al her harlotrye,
Bothe in reproef of her and other mo.”
“Ye schal?” quod Preserpine, “and wol ye so?
Now by my modres Ceres soule I swere,
That I schal yive hir suffisaunt answere,
And alle wommen after for hir sake;
That though thay be in any gult i-take,
With face bold thay schul hemself excuse,
And bere hem doun that wolde hem accuse.
For lak of answer, noon of hem schal dyen.
Al had a man seyn a thing with bothe his yen,
Yit schul we wymmen visage it hardily,
And wepe, and swere, and chide subtilly,
So that ye men schul ben as lewed as gees;
What rekkith me of your auctoritees?
I wot wel that this Jew, this Salamon,
Fond of us wommen fooles many oon;
But though he ne fond no good womman,
Yit hath ther founde many another man
Wommen ful trewe, ful good, and vertuous;
Witnesse on hem that dwelle in Cristes hous,
With martirdom thay proved her constaunce.
The Romayn gestes eek make remembraunce
Of many a verray trewe wyf also.
But, sire, be nought wrath, al be it so,
Though that he sayd he fond no good womman,
I pray yow tak the sentens of the man;
He mente thus, that in sovereign bounté
Nis noon but God, that sit in Trinité.
Ey, for verrey God that nys but oon,
What make ye so moche of Salamon?
What though he made a temple, Goddes hous?
What though he were riche and glorious?
So made he eek a temple of fals godis,
How might he do a thing that more forbode is?
Pardé, als fair as ye his name emplastre,
He was a lecchour and an ydolastre,
And in his eelde he verray God forsook;
And if that God ne hadde (as saith the book)
I-spared him for his fadres sake, he scholde
Have lest his regne rather than he wolde.
I sette right nought of the vilonye,
That ye of wommen write, a boterflie;
I am a womman, needes most I speke,
Or elles swelle tyl myn herte breke.
For syn he sayde that we ben jangleresses,
As ever hool I moote brouke my tresses,
I schal not spare for no curtesye
To speke him harm, that wold us vilonye.”
“Dame,” quod this Pluto, “be no lenger wroth,
I yive it up: but sith I swere myn oth,
That I wil graunte him his sight agein,
My word schal stonde, I warne yow certeyn;
I am a kyng, it sit me nought to lye.”
“And I,” quod sche, “am queen of faierie.
Hir answer schal sche have, I undertake;
Let us no mo wordes herof make.
Forsoth I wol no lenger yow contrarie.”

Now let us turne agayn to Januarye,
That in this gardyn with this faire May
Syngeth, ful merier than the papinjay,
“Yow love I best, and schal, and other noon.”
So long about the aleys is he goon,
Til he was come agaynes thilke pirie,
Wher as this Damyan sittith ful mirye
On heigh, among the freische leevys greene.
This freissche May, that is so bright and scheene,
Gan for to syke, and sayd, “Allas my syde!
Now, sir,” quod sche, “for ought that may bityde,
I most han of the peres that I see,
Or I moot dye, so sore longith me
To eten of the smale peris greene;
Help for hir love that is of heven queen!
I telle yow wel a womman in my plyt
May have to fruyt so gret an appetyt
That sche may deyen, but sche it have.”
“Allas!” quod he, “that I had heer a knave
That couthe climbe, allas! allas!” quod he,
“For I am blynd.” “Ye, sire, no fors,” quod sche;
“But wolde ye vouchesauf, for Goddes sake,
The piry inwith your armes for to take,
(For wel I woot that ye mystruste me)
Than schold I clymbe wel y-nough,” quod sche,
“So I my foot mighte set upon your bak.”
“Certes,” quod he, “theron schal be no lak,
Might I yow helpe with myn herte blood.”
He stoupith doun, and on his bak sche stood,
And caught hir by a twist, and up sche goth.
(Ladys, I pray yow that ye be not wroth,
I can not glose, I am a rude man:)
And sodeinly anoon this Damyan
Gan pullen up the smok, and in he throng.

And whan that Pluto saugh this grete wrong,
To January he yaf his sight agayn,
Ne was ther never man of thing so fayn;
But on his wyf his thought was evermo.
Up to the tree he kest his eyghen tuo,
And seigh that Damyan his wyf hadde dressid
In which maner it may not ben expressid,
But-if I wolde speke uncurteisly.
And up he yaf a roryng and a cry,
As doth the moder whan the child schal dye;
“Out! help! allas! harrow!” he gan to crie;
“O stronge lady stoure, what dos thow?”

And sche answerith: “Sire, what eylith yow?
Have paciens and resoun in your mynde,
I have yow holpen on bothe your eyen blynde.
Up peril of my soule, I schal not lyen,
As me was taught to hele with your yen,
Was nothing bet for to make yow see,
Than stroggle with a man upon a tree;
God woot, I dede it in ful good entente.”
“Stroggle!” quod he, “ye, algat in it wente.
God yive yow bothe on schames deth to dyen!
He swyvede the; I saugh it with myn yen;
And elles be I honged by the hals.”
“Than is,” quod sche “my medicene fals.
For certeynly, if that ye mighten see,
Ye wolde not saye tho wordes unto me.
Ye han som glymsyng, and no parfyt sighte.
“I se,” quod he, “as wel as ever I mighte.
(Thankid be God) with bothe myn yen tuo,
And by my trouth me thought he did the so.”
“Ye mase, mase, goode sir,” quod sche;
“This thank have I for I have maad yow see;
Allas!” quod sche, “that ever I was so kynde.”
“Now, dame,” quod he, “let al passe out of mynde;
Com doun, my leef, and if I have myssayd,
God help me so, as I am evel appayd.
But by my fader soule, I wende have seyn,
How that this Damyan hadde by the leyn
And that thy smok hadde layn upon thy breste.”
“Ye, sire,” quod sche, “ye may wene as yow leste;
But, sire, a man that wakith out of his slep,
He may not sodeynly wel take keep
Upon a thing, ne seen it parfytly,
Til that he be adawed verrayly.
Right so a man, that long hath blynd i-be,
He may not sodeynly so wel i-se,
First whan the sight is newe comen agayn,
As he that hath a day or tuo i-sayn.
Til that your sight y-stablid be a while,
Ther may ful many a sighte yow bigile.
Beth war, I pray yow, for, by heven king,
Ful many man wenith for to se a thing
And it is al another than it semeth;
He that mysconceyveth he mysdemeth.”

And with that word sche leep doun fro the tre.
This January who is glad but he?
He kissith hir, and clippith hir ful ofte, —
And on hir wombe he strokith hir ful softe;
And to his paleys hom he hath hir lad.
Now, goode men, I pray yow to be glad.
Thus endith her my tale of Januarye,
God blesse us, and his moder seinte Marie!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52