The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.

Here biginneth the Tale of the Wyf of Bathe.

In tholde dayes of the king Arthour,

Of which that Britons speken greet honour,

All was this land fulfild of fayerye.


The elf-queen, with hir Ioly companye,

Daunced ful ofte in many a grene mede;

This was the olde opinion, as I rede,

I speke of manye hundred yeres ago;

But now can no man see none elves mo.


For now the grete charitee and prayeres


Of limitours and othere holy freres,

That serchen every lond and every streem,

As thikke as motes in the sonne-beem,

Blessinge halles, chambres, kichenes, boures,


Citees, burghes, castels, hye toures,

Thropes, bernes, shipnes, dayeryes,

This maketh that ther been no fayeryes.

For ther as wont to walken was an elf,

Ther walketh now the limitour him-self


In undermeles and in morweninges,


And seyth his matins and his holy thinges

As he goth in his limitacioun.

Wommen may go saufly up and doun,

In every bush, or under every tree;


Ther is noon other incubus but he,

And he ne wol doon hem but dishonour.

Heading. From Hn.   857. E. Cm. om. the.   859. Cp. fayerie; rest fairye.   872. Cp. fayeries; E. Hn. fairyes.   880. Hl. incumbent (!).   881. Cm. non; rest but.   Hl. ne wol but doon hem.

 And so bifel it, that this king Arthour

Hadde in his hous a lusty bacheler,

That on a day cam rydinge fro river;


And happed that, allone as she was born,


He saugh a mayde walkinge him biforn,

Of whiche mayde anon, maugree hir heed,

By verray force he rafte hir maydenheed;

For which oppressioun was swich clamour


And swich pursute un-to the king Arthour,

That dampned was this knight for to be deed

By cours of lawe, and sholde han lost his heed

Paraventure, swich was the statut tho;

But that the quene and othere ladies mo


So longe preyeden the king of grace,


Til he his lyf him graunted in the place,

And yaf him to the quene al at hir wille,

To chese, whether she wolde him save or spille.

882. E. Hn. Cm. om. it.   883. E. om. his.   885. E. Hn. he(!).   887. Cm. Ln. whiche; rest which.   888. E. Cm. Hl. birafte; rest he rafte (refte).   895. Hl. Cm. preyeden; E. Hn. preyden.   898. E. wheither.

 The quene thanketh the king with al hir might,


And after this thus spak she to the knight,

Whan that she saugh hir tyme, up-on a day:

‘Thou standest yet,’ quod she, ‘in swich array,

That of thy lyf yet hastow no suretee.

I grante thee lyf, if thou canst tellen me


What thing is it that wommen most desyren?


Be war, and keep thy nekke-boon from yren.

And if thou canst nat tellen it anon,

Yet wol I yeve thee leve for to gon

A twelf-month and a day, to seche and lere


An answere suffisant in this matere.

And suretee wol I han, er that thou pace,

Thy body for to yelden in this place.’

907. E. Hl. tellen it; Hn. tellen me; Cm. telle me; rest telle it me.   908. E. shal (for wol).

 Wo was this knight and sorwefully he syketh;

But what! he may nat do al as him lyketh.


And at the laste, he chees him for to wende,


And come agayn, right at the yeres ende,

With swich answere as god wolde him purveye;

And taketh his leve, and wendeth forth his weye.

914. Cm. ȝit (for what); E. om.

 He seketh every hous and every place,


Wher-as he hopeth for to finde grace,

To lerne, what thing wommen loven most;

But he ne coude arryven in no cost,

Wher-as he mighte finde in this matere

Two creatures accordinge in-fere.


 Somme seyde, wommen loven best richesse,


Somme seyde, honour, somme seyde, Iolynesse;

Somme, riche array, somme seyden, lust abedde,

And ofte tyme to be widwe and wedde.

 Somme seyde, that our hertes been most esed,


Whan that we been y-flatered and y-plesed.

He gooth ful ny the sothe, I wol nat lye;

A man shal winne us best with flaterye;

And with attendance, and with bisinesse,

Been we y-lymed, bothe more and lesse.


 And somme seyn, how that we loven best


For to be free, and do right as us lest,

And that no man repreve us of our vyce,

But seye that we be wyse, and no-thing nyce.

For trewely, ther is noon of us alle,


If any wight wol clawe us on the galle,

That we nil kike, for he seith us sooth;

Assay, and he shal finde it that so dooth.

For be we never so vicious with-inne,

We wol been holden wyse, and clene of sinne.

935. E. Hn. Cm. Hl. om. how.   941. nil] E. nel; Cm. nolde.


 And somme seyn, that greet delyt han we


For to ben holden stable and eek secree,

And in o purpos stedefastly to dwelle,

And nat biwreye thing that men us telle.

But that tale is nat worth a rake-stele;


Pardee, we wommen conne no-thing hele;

Witnesse on Myda; wol ye here the tale?

 Ovyde, amonges othere thinges smale,

Seyde, Myda hadde, under his longe heres,

Growinge up-on his heed two asses eres,


The which vyce he hidde, as he best mighte,


Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,

That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it na-mo.

He loved hir most, and trusted hir also;

He preyede hir, that to no creature


She sholde tellen of his disfigure.

958. Hn. Cp. Hl. trusted; Cm. trostid; E. triste.   959. Cm. preyede; Hl. prayed; Hn. preyed; E. preyde.

 She swoor him ‘nay, for al this world to winne,

She nolde do that vileinye or sinne,

To make hir housbond han so foul a name;

She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.’


But nathelees, hir thoughte that she dyde,


That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;

Hir thoughte it swal so sore aboute hir herte,

That nedely som word hir moste asterte;

And sith she dorste telle it to no man,


Doun to a mareys faste by she ran;

Til she came there, hir herte was a-fyre,

And, as a bitore bombleth in the myre,

She leyde hir mouth un-to the water doun:

‘Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,’


Quod she, ‘to thee I telle it, and namo;


Myn housbond hath longe asses eres two!

Now is myn herte all hool, now is it oute;

I mighte no lenger kepe it, out of doute,’

Heer may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,


Yet out it moot, we can no conseil hyde;

The remenant of the tale if ye wol here,

Redeth Ovyde, and ther ye may it lere.

972. Cm. bumbith; Cp. Pt. bumlith; Hl. bumblith.

 This knight, of which my tale is specially,

Whan that he saugh he mighte nat come therby,


This is to seye, what wommen loven moost,


With-inne his brest ful sorweful was the goost;

But hoom he gooth, he mighte nat soiourne.

The day was come, that hoomward moste he tourne,

And in his wey it happed him to ryde,


In al this care, under a forest-syde,

Wher-as he saugh up-on a daunce go

Of ladies foure and twenty, and yet mo;

Toward the whiche daunce he drow ful yerne,

In hope that som wisdom sholde he lerne.


But certeinly, er he came fully there,


Vanisshed was this daunce, he niste where.

No creature saugh he that bar lyf,

Save on the grene he saugh sittinge a wyf;

A fouler wight ther may no man devyse.


Agayn the knight this olde wyf gan ryse,

And seyde, ‘sir knight, heer-forth ne lyth no wey.

Tel me, what that ye seken, by your fey?

Paraventure it may the bettre be;

Thise olde folk can muchel thing,’ quod she.

985. E. loue.   990. E. Hn. this; rest his.   993. Hn. whiche; E. which; rest vary.


 ‘My leve mooder,’ quod this knight certeyn,


‘I nam but deed, but-if that I can seyn

What thing it is that wommen most desyre;

Coude ye me wisse, I wolde wel quyte your hyre.’

 ‘Plighte me thy trouthe, heer in myn hand,’ quod she,


‘The nexte thing that I requere thee,

Thou shalt it do, if it lye in thy might;

And I wol telle it yow er it be night.’

‘Have heer my trouthe,’ quod the knight, ‘I grante.’

 ‘Thanne,’ quod she, ‘I dar me wel avante,


Thy lyf is sauf, for I wol stonde therby,


Up-on my lyf, the queen wol seye as I.

Lat see which is the proudeste of hem alle,

That wereth on a coverchief or a calle,

That dar seye nay, of that I shal thee teche;


Lat us go forth with-outen lenger speche.’

Tho rouned she a pistel in his ere,

And bad him to be glad, and have no fere.

1016. E. queene.

 Whan they be comen to the court, this knight

Seyde, ‘he had holde his day, as he hadde hight,


And redy was his answere,’ as he sayde.


Ful many a noble wyf, and many a mayde,

And many a widwe, for that they ben wyse,

The quene hir-self sittinge as a Iustyse,

Assembled been, his answere for to here;


And afterward this knight was bode appere.

1028. E. Hn. Cp. Ln. om. a.

 To every wight comanded was silence,

And that the knight sholde telle in audience,

What thing that worldly wommen loven best.

This knight ne stood nat stille as doth a best,


But to his questioun anon answerde


With manly voys, that al the court it herde:

 ‘My lige lady, generally,’ quod he,

‘Wommen desyren to have sovereyntee

As wel over hir housbond as hir love,


And for to been in maistrie him above;

This is your moste desyr, thogh ye me kille,

Doth as yow list, I am heer at your wille.’

1038. E. om. to.   1042. E. om. heer; Cm. al.

 In al the court ne was ther wyf ne mayde,

Ne widwe, that contraried that he sayde,


But seyden, ‘he was worthy han his lyf.’


 And with that word up stirte the olde wyf,

Which that the knight saugh sittinge in the grene:

‘Mercy,’ quod she, ‘my sovereyn lady quene!

Er that your court departe, do me right.


I taughte this answere un-to the knight;

For which he plighte me his trouthe there,

The firste thing I wolde of him requere,

He wolde it do, if it lay in his might.

Bifore the court than preye I thee, sir knight,’


Quod she, ‘that thou me take un-to thy wyf;


For wel thou wost that I have kept thy lyf.

If I sey fals, sey nay, up-on thy fey!’

1052. E. Hn. Cm. Hl. om. of.   1054. E. thanne.

 This knight answerde, ‘allas! and weylawey!

I woot right wel that swich was my biheste.


For goddes love, as chees a newe requeste;

Tak al my good, and lat my body go.’

1061. E. Hn. Taak.

 ‘Nay than,’ quod she, ‘I shrewe us bothe two!

For thogh that I be foul, and old, and pore,

I nolde for al the metal, ne for ore,


That under erthe is grave, or lyth above,


But-if thy wyf I were, and eek thy love.’

1062. E. thanne.   1063. All but Cp. Pt. om. 1st and.   E. oold, poore.   1064. Hl. the oure; E. Hn. oore; Cm. Pt. ore; Cp. oure; Ln. oer.

 ‘My love?’ quod he; ‘nay, my dampnacioun!

Allas! that any of my nacioun

Sholde ever so foule disparaged be!’


But al for noght, the ende is this, that he

Constreyned was, he nedes moste hir wedde;

And taketh his olde wyf, and gooth to bedde.

1070. E. Hn. thende.

 Now wolden som men seye, paraventure,

That, for my necligence, I do no cure


To tellen yow the Ioye and al tharray


That at the feste was that ilke day.

To whiche thing shortly answere I shal;

I seye, ther nas no Ioye ne feste at al,

Ther nas but hevinesse and muche sorwe;


For prively he wedded hir on a morwe,

And al day after hidde him as an oule;

So wo was him, his wyf looked so foule.

 Greet was the wo the knight hadde in his thoght,

Whan he was with his wyf a-bedde y-broght;


He walweth, and he turneth to and fro.


His olde wyf lay smylinge evermo,

And seyde, ‘o dere housbond, benedicite!

Fareth every knight thus with his wyf as ye?

Is this the lawe of king Arthures hous?


Is every knight of his so dangerous?

I am your owene love and eek your wyf;

I am she, which that saved hath your lyf;

And certes, yet dide I yow never unright;

Why fare ye thus with me this firste night?


Ye faren lyk a man had lost his wit;


What is my gilt? for goddes love, tel me it,

And it shal been amended, if I may.’

1091. Cp. Pt. Ln. eek; rest om.   1093. E. Hn. yet ne dide.   1096. Cm. Hl. me; rest om. (Read goddes as god’s).

 ‘Amended?’ quod this knight, ‘allas! nay, nay!

It wol nat been amended never mo!


Thou art so loothly, and so old also,

And ther-to comen of so lowe a kinde,

That litel wonder is, thogh I walwe and winde.

So wolde god myn herte wolde breste!’

1101. E. lough.   1102. Pt. no (for litel). Read wonder’s.

 ‘Is this,’ quod she, ‘the cause of your unreste?’


 ‘Ye, certainly,’ quod he, ‘no wonder is.’


 ‘Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘I coude amende al this,

If that me liste, er it were dayes three,

So wel ye mighte here yow un-to me.

 But for ye speken of swich gentillesse


As is descended out of old richesse,

That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,

Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.

Loke who that is most vertuous alway,

Privee and apert, and most entendeth ay


To do the gentil dedes that he can,


And tak him for the grettest gentil man.

Crist wol, we clayme of him our gentillesse,

Nat of our eldres for hir old richesse.

For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,


For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,

Yet may they nat biquethe, for no-thing,

To noon of us hir vertuous living,

That made hem gentil men y-called be;

And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.

1112. Cp. Pt. nys (for is).   1116. Cp. Pt. Ln. And take; rest om. And.


 Wel can the wyse poete of Florence,


That highte Dant, speken in this sentence;

Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:

“Ful selde up ryseth by his branches smale

Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse,


Wol that of him we clayme our gentillesse;”

For of our eldres may we no-thing clayme

But temporel thing, that man may hurte and mayme.

1126. Hl. of (for in).   Cm. declare (for speken in).   1129. E. goodnesse; rest prowesse.

 Eek every wight wot this as wel as I,

If gentillesse were planted naturelly


Un-to a certeyn linage, doun the lyne,


Privee ne apert, than wolde they never fyne

To doon of gentillesse the faire offyce;

They mighte do no vileinye or vyce.

1134. E. natureelly.   1136. E. Cm. nor; Hl. ne; rest and. E. thanne.

 Tak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous


Bitwix this and the mount of Caucasus,

And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;

Yet wol the fyr as faire lye and brenne,

As twenty thousand men mighte it biholde;

His office naturel ay wol it holde,


Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.

1139. E. Taak.   1140. E. Kaukasous.   1144. E. natureel.


 Heer may ye see wel, how that genterye

Is nat annexed to possessioun,

Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun

Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo! in his kinde.


For, god it woot, men may wel often finde

A lordes sone do shame and vileinye;

And he that wol han prys of his gentrye

For he was boren of a gentil hous,

And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,


And nil him-selven do no gentil dedis,


Ne folwe his gentil auncestre that deed is,

He nis nat gentil, be he duk or erl;

For vileyns sinful dedes make a cherl.

For gentillesse nis but renomee


Of thyne auncestres, for hir heigh bountee,

Which is a strange thing to thy persone.

Thy gentillesse cometh fro god allone;

Than comth our verray gentillesse of grace,

It was no-thing biquethe us with our place.

1153. Cp. Hl. boren; Cm. bore; rest born.   1155. E. nel; rest nyl.   1156. E. Hn. folwen.   1162. Read comth; see 1163.   1163. E. Thanne.


 Thenketh how noble, as seith Valerius,


Was thilke Tullius Hostilius,

That out of povert roos to heigh noblesse.

Redeth Senek, and redeth eek Boëce,

Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is,


That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis;

And therfore, leve housbond, I thus conclude,

Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,

Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,

Grante me grace to liven vertuously.


Thanne am I gentil, whan that I biginne


To liven vertuously and weyve sinne.

1166. E. Hn. Hostillius.   1167. Cm. Cp. Ln. Hl. pouert; rest pouerte.   1168. E. Reed; rest Redeth.   1169. Cp. Pt. Ln. it; rest om.   1172. E. Hn. weren (2nd).   1176. Cm. leuyn; Pt. leuen; rest weyue (weyuen).

 And ther-as ye of povert me repreve,

The hye god, on whom that we bileve,

In wilful povert chees to live his lyf.


And certes every man, mayden, or wyf,

May understonde that Iesus, hevene king,

Ne wolde nat chese a vicious living.

Glad povert is an honest thing, certeyn;

This wol Senek and othere clerkes seyn.


Who-so that halt him payd of his poverte,


I holde him riche, al hadde he nat a sherte.

He that coveyteth is a povre wight,

For he wolde han that is nat in his might.

But he that noght hath, ne coveyteth have,


Is riche, al-though ye holde him but a knave.

1177. E. Hn. pouerte; rest pouert.   1179. E. Hn. Pt. pouerte; rest pouert; so in 1183, 1191.   1182. E. chesen; E. om. a.   1183. E. Hn. honeste; Cm. oneste.

 Verray povert, it singeth proprely;

Iuvenal seith of povert merily:

“The povre man, whan he goth by the weye,

Bifore the theves he may singe and pleye.”


Povert is hateful good, and, as I gesse,


A ful greet bringer out of bisinesse;

A greet amender eek of sapience

To him that taketh it in pacience.

Povert is this, al-though it seme elenge:


Possessioun, that no wight wol chalenge.

Povert ful ofte, whan a man is lowe,

Maketh his god and eek him-self to knowe.

Povert a spectacle is, as thinketh me,

Thurgh which he may his verray frendes see.


And therfore, sire, sin that I noght yow greve,


Of my povert na-more ye me repreve.

1191. E. Cm. it syngeth; rest is sinne (!).   1192. E. Hn. Cp. myrily.   1195. Cp. Pt. Ln. hatel.   1199. Hn. Hl. elenge; Ln. alinge; rest alenge.   1205. E. hise.

 Now, sire, of elde ye repreve me;

And certes, sire, thogh noon auctoritee

Were in no book, ye gentils of honour


Seyn that men sholde an old wight doon favour,

And clepe him fader, for your gentillesse;

And auctours shal I finden, as I gesse.

 Now ther ye seye, that I am foul and old,

Than drede you noght to been a cokewold;


For filthe and elde, al-so moot I thee,


Been grete wardeyns up-on chastitee.

But nathelees, sin I knowe your delyt,

I shal fulfille your worldly appetyt.

 Chese now,’ quod she, ‘oon of thise thinges tweye,


To han me foul and old til that I deye,

And be to yow a trewe humble wyf,

And never yow displese in al my lyf,

Or elles ye wol han me yong and fair,

And take your aventure of the repair


That shal be to your hous, by-cause of me,


Or in som other place, may wel be.

Now chese your-selven, whether that yow lyketh.’

1227. E. wheither.

 This knight avyseth him and sore syketh,

But atte laste he seyde in this manere,


‘My lady and my love, and wyf so dere,

I put me in your wyse governance;

Cheseth your-self, which may be most plesance,

And most honour to yow and me also.

I do no fors the whether of the two;


For as yow lyketh, it suffiseth me.’


 ‘Thanne have I gete of yow maistrye,’ quod she,

‘Sin I may chese, and governe as me lest?’

1234. E. wheither.   1236. of — maistrye] Cm. the maysterye.

 ‘Ye, certes, wyf,’ quod he, ‘I holde it best.’

 ‘Kis me,’ quod she, ‘we be no lenger wrothe;


For, by my trouthe, I wol be to yow bothe,

This is to seyn, ye, bothe fair and good.

I prey to god that I mot sterven wood,

But I to yow be al-so good and trewe

As ever was wyf, sin that the world was newe.


And, but I be to-morn as fair to sene


As any lady, emperyce, or quene,

That is bitwixe the est and eke the west,

Doth with my lyf and deeth right as yow lest.

Cast up the curtin, loke how that it is.’


 And whan the knight saugh verraily al this,

That she so fair was, and so yong ther-to,

For Ioye he hente hir in his armes two,

His herte bathed in a bath of blisse;

A thousand tyme a-rewe he gan hir kisse.


And she obeyed him in every thing


That mighte doon him plesance or lyking.

1254. E. Hn. Ln. a rewe; Hl. on rowe; rest a rowe.

 And thus they live, un-to hir lyves ende,

In parfit Ioye; and Iesu Crist us sende

Housbondes meke, yonge, and fresshe a-bedde,


And grace toverbyde hem that we wedde.

And eek I preye Iesu shorte hir lyves

That wol nat be governed by hir wyves;

And olde and angry nigardes of dispence,

God sende hem sone verray pestilence.

Here endeth the Wyves Tale of Bathe.

1259. E. om. and Ln. fresshe; E. fressh.   1260. E. Hn. touerbyde; Cm. Hl. to ouerbyde; Cp. Pt. Ln. to ouerlede (!).   1261. Cm. preye; Hn. praye; E. pray.   1262. E. Hn. nat wol; rest transpose.   Colophon. So E. Hn.

Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06