Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
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Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
 
The Canterbury Tales
The Clerkes Tale
 
Here biginneth the Tale of the Clerk of Oxenford.

THER is, at the west syde of Itaille,
Doun at the rote of Vesulus the colde,
A lusty playne, habundant of vitaille,
Wher many a tour and toun thou mayst biholde,
That founded were in tyme of fadres olde,        5
And many another delitable sighte,
And Saluces this noble contree highte.
 
A markis whylom lord was of that londe,
As were his worthy eldres him bifore;
And obeisant and redy to his honde        10
Were alle his liges, bothe lasse and more.
Thus in delyt he liveth, and hath don yore,
Biloved and drad, thurgh favour of fortune,
Bothe of his lordes and of his commune.
 
Therwith he was, to speke as of linage,        15
The gentilleste y-born of Lumbardye,
A fair persone, and strong, and yong of age,
And ful of honour and of curteisye;
Discreet y-nogh his contree for to gye,
Save in somme thinges that he was to blame,        20
And Walter was this yonge lordes name.
 
I blame him thus, that he considereth noght
In tyme cominge what mighte him bityde,
But on his lust present was al his thoght,
As for to hauke and hunte on every syde;        25
Wel ny alle othere cures leet he slyde,
And eek he nolde, and that was worst of alle,
Wedde no wyf, for noght that may bifalle.
 
Only that point his peple bar so sore,
That flokmele on a day they to him wente,        30
And oon of hem, that wysest was of lore,
Or elles that the lord best wolde assente
That he sholde telle him what his peple mente,
Or elles coude he shewe wel swich matere,
He to the markis seyde as ye shul here.        35
 
‘O noble markis, your humanitee
Assureth us and yeveth us hardinesse,
As ofte as tyme is of necessitee
That we to yow mowe telle our hevinesse;
Accepteth, lord, now for your gentillesse,        40
That we with pitous herte un-to yow pleyne,
And lete your eres nat my voys disdeyne.
 
Al have I noght to done in this matere
More than another man hath in this place,
Yet for as muche as ye, my lord so dere,        45
Han alwey shewed me favour and grace,
I dar the better aske of yow a space
Of audience, to shewen our requeste,
And ye, my lord, to doon right as yow leste.
 
For certes, lord, so wel us lyketh yow        50
And al your werk and ever han doon, that we
Ne coude nat us self devysen how
We mighte liven in more felicitee,
Save o thing, lord, if it your wille be,
That for to been a wedded man yow leste,        55
Than were your peple in sovereyn hertes reste.
 
Boweth your nekke under that blisful yok
Of soveraynetee, noght of servyse,
Which that men clepeth spousaille or wedlok;
And thenketh, lord, among your thoghtes wyse,        60
How that our dayes passe in sondry wyse;
For though we slepe or wake, or rome, or ryde,
Ay fleeth the tyme, it nil no man abyde.
 
And though your grene youthe floure as yit,
In crepeth age alwey, as stille as stoon,        65
And deeth manaceth every age, and smit
In ech estaat, for ther escapeth noon:
And al so certein as we knowe echoon
That we shul deye, as uncerteyn we alle
Been of that day whan deeth shal on us falle.        70
 
Accepteth than of us the trewe entente,
That never yet refuseden your heste,
And we wol, lord, if that ye wol assente,
Chese yow a wyf in short tyme, atte leste,
Born of the gentilleste and of the meste        75
Of al this lond, so that it oghte seme
Honour to god and yow, as we can deme.
 
Deliver us out of al this bisy drede,
And tak a wyf, for hye goddes sake;
For if it so bifelle, as god forbede,        80
That thurgh your deeth your linage sholde slake,
And that a straunge successour sholde take
Your heritage, o! wo were us alyve!
Wherfor we pray you hastily to wyve.’
 
Hir meke preyere and hir pitous chere        85
Made the markis herte han pitee.
‘Ye wol,’ quod he, ‘myn owene peple dere,
To that I never erst thoghte streyne me.
I me reioysed of my libertee,
That selde tyme is founde in mariage;        90
Ther I was free, I moot been in servage.
 
But nathelees I see your trewe entente,
And truste upon your wit, and have don ay;
Wherfor of my free wil I wol assente
To wedde me, as sone as ever I may.        95
But ther-as ye han profred me to-day
To chese me a wyf, I yow relesse
That choys, and prey yow of that profre cesse.
 
For god it woot, that children ofte been
Unlyk her worthy eldres hem bifore;        100
Bountee comth al of god, nat of the streen
Of which they been engendred and y-bore;
I truste in goddes bountee, and therfore
My mariage and myn estaat and reste
I him bitake; he may don as him leste.        105
 
Lat me alone in chesinge of my wyf,
That charge up-on my bak I wol endure;
But I yow preye, and charge up-on your lyf,
That what wyf that I take, ye me assure
To worshipe hir, whyl that hir lyf may dure,        110
In word and werk, bothe here and everywhere,
As she an emperoures doghter were.
 
And forthermore, this shal ye swere, that ye
Agayn my choys shul neither grucche ne stryve;
For sith I shal forgoon my libertee        115
At your requeste, as ever moot I thryve,
Ther as myn herte is set, ther wol I wyve;
And but ye wole assente in swich manere,
I prey yow, speketh na-more of this matere.’
 
With hertly wil they sworen, and assenten        120
To al this thing, ther seyde no wight nay;
Bisekinge him of grace, er that they wenten,
That he wolde graunten hem a certein day
Of his spousaille, as sone as ever he may;
For yet alwey the peple som-what dredde        125
Lest that this markis no wyf wolde wedde.
 
He graunted hem a day, swich as him leste,
On which he wolde be wedded sikerly,
And seyde, he dide al this at hir requeste;
And they, with humble entente, buxomly,        130
Knelinge up-on her knees ful reverently
Him thanken alle, and thus they han an ende
Of hir entente, and hoom agayn they wende.
 
And heer-up-on he to his officeres
Comaundeth for the feste to purveye,        135
And to his privee knightes and squyeres
Swich charge yaf, as him liste on hem leye;
And they to his comandement obeye,
And ech of hem doth al his diligence
To doon un-to the feste reverence.

Explicit prima pars.    Incipit secunda pars.
        140
 
Noght fer fro thilke paleys honurable
Ther-as this markis shoop his mariage,
Ther stood a throp, of site delitable,
In which that povre folk of that village
Hadden hir bestes and hir herbergage,        145
And of hir labour took hir sustenance
After that the erthe yaf hem habundance.
 
Amonges thise povre folk ther dwelte a man
Which that was holden povrest of hem alle;
But hye god som tyme senden can        150
His grace in-to a litel oxes stalle:
Ianicula men of that throp him calle.
A doghter hadde he, fair y-nogh to sighte,
And Grisildis this yonge mayden highte.
 
But for to speke of vertuous beautee,        155
Than was she oon the faireste under sonne;
For povreliche y-fostred up was she,
No likerous lust was thurgh hir herte y-ronne;
Wel ofter of the welle than of the tonne
She drank, and for she wolde vertu plese,        160
She knew wel labour, but non ydel ese.
 
But thogh this mayde tendre were of age,
Yet in the brest of hir virginitee
Ther was enclosed rype and sad corage;
And in greet reverence and charitee        165
Hir olde povre fader fostred she;
A fewe sheep spinning on feeld she kepte,
She wolde noght been ydel til she slepte.
 
And whan she hoomward cam, she wolde bringe
Wortes or othere herbes tymes ofte,        170
The whiche she shredde and seeth for hir livinge,
And made hir bed ful harde and no-thing softe;
And ay she kepte hir fadres lyf on-lofte
With everich obeisaunce and diligence
That child may doon to fadres reverence.        175
 
Up-on Grisilde, this povre creature,
Ful ofte sythe this markis sette his yë
As he on hunting rood paraventure;
And whan it fil that he mighte hir espye,
He noght with wantoun loking of folye        180
His yën caste on hir, but in sad wyse
Up-on hir chere he wolde him ofte avyse,
 
Commending in his herte hir wommanhede,
And eek hir vertu, passing any wight
Of so yong age, as wel in chere as dede.        185
For thogh the peple have no greet insight
In vertu, he considered ful right
Hir bountee, and disposed that he wolde
Wedde hir only, if ever he wedde sholde.
 
The day of wedding cam, but no wight can        190
Telle what womman that it sholde be;
For which merveille wondred many a man,
And seyden, whan they were in privetee,
‘Wol nat our lord yet leve his vanitee?
Wol he nat wedde? allas, allas the whyle!        195
Why wol he thus him-self and us bigyle?’
 
But natheles this markis hath don make
Of gemmes, set in gold and in asure,
Broches and ringes, for Grisildis sake,
And of hir clothing took he the mesure        200
By a mayde, lyk to hir stature,
And eek of othere ornamentes alle
That un-to swich a wedding sholde falle.
 
The tyme of undern of the same day
Approcheth, that this wedding sholde be;        205
And al the paleys put was in array,
Bothe halle and chambres, ech in his degree;
Houses of office stuffed with plentee
Ther maystow seen of deyntevous vitaille,
That may be founde, as fer as last Itaille.        210
 
This royal markis, richely arrayed,
Lordes and ladyes in his companye,
The whiche unto the feste were y-prayed,
And of his retenue the bachelrye,
With many a soun of sondry melodye,        215
Un-to the village, of the which I tolde,
In this array the righte wey han holde.
 
Grisilde of this, god woot, ful innocent,
That for hir shapen was al this array,
To fecchen water at a welle is went,        220
And cometh hoom as sone as ever she may.
For wel she hadde herd seyd, that thilke day
The markis sholde wedde, and, if she mighte,
She wolde fayn han seyn som of that sighte.
 
She thoghte, ‘I wol with othere maydens stonde,        225
That been my felawes, in our dore, and see
The markisesse, and therfor wol I fonde
To doon at hoom, as sone as it may be,
The labour which that longeth un-to me;
And than I may at leyser hir biholde,        230
If she this wey un-to the castel holde.’
 
And as she wolde over hir threshfold goon,
The markis cam and gan hir for to calle;
And she sette doun hir water-pot anoon
Bisyde the threshfold, in an oxes stalle,        235
And doun up-on hir knees she gan to falle,
And with sad contenance kneleth stille
Til she had herd what was the lordes wille.
 
This thoghtful markis spak un-to this mayde
Ful sobrely, and seyde in this manere,        240
‘Wher is your fader, Grisildis?’ he sayde,
And she with reverence, in humble chere,
Answerde, ‘lord, he is al redy here.’
And in she gooth with-outen lenger lette,
And to the markis she hir fader fette.        245
 
He by the hond than took this olde man,
And seyde thus, whan he him hadde asyde,
‘Ianicula, I neither may ne can
Lenger the plesance of myn herte hyde.
If that thou vouche-sauf, what-so bityde,        250
Thy doghter wol I take, er that I wende,
As for my wyf, un-to hir lyves ende.
 
Thou lovest me, I woot it wel, certeyn,
And art my feithful lige man y-bore;
And al that lyketh me, I dar wel seyn        255
It lyketh thee, and specially therfore
Tel me that poynt that I have seyd bifore,
If that thou wolt un-to that purpos drawe,
To take me as for thy sone-in-lawe?’
 
This sodeyn cas this man astoned so,        260
That reed he wex, abayst, and al quaking
He stood; unnethes seyde he wordes mo,
But only thus: ‘lord,’ quod he, ‘my willing
Is as ye wole, ne ayeines your lyking
I wol no-thing; ye be my lord so dere;        265
Right as yow lust governeth this matere.’
 
‘Yet wol I,’ quod this markis softely,
‘That in thy chambre I and thou and she
Have a collacion, and wostow why?
For I wol axe if it hir wille be        270
To be my wyf, and reule hir after me;
And al this shal be doon in thy presence,
I wol noght speke out of thyn audience.’
 
And in the chambre whyl they were aboute
Hir tretis, which as ye shal after here,        275
The peple cam un-to the hous with-oute,
And wondred hem in how honest manere
And tentifly she kepte hir fader dere.
But outerly Grisildis wondre mighte,
For never erst ne saugh she swich a sighte.        280
 
No wonder is thogh that she were astoned
To seen so greet a gest come in that place;
She never was to swiche gestes woned,
For which she loked with ful pale face.
But shortly forth this tale for to chace,        285
Thise arn the wordes that the markis sayde
To this benigne verray feithful mayde.
 
‘Grisilde,’ he seyde, ‘ye shul wel understonde
It lyketh to your fader and to me
That I yow wedde, and eek it may so stonde,        290
As I suppose, ye wol that it so be.
But thise demandes axe I first,’ quod he,
‘That, sith it shal be doon in hastif wyse,
Wol ye assente, or elles yow avyse?
 
I seye this, be ye redy with good herte        295
To al my lust, and that I frely may,
As me best thinketh, do yow laughe or smerte,
And never ye to grucche it, night ne day?
And eek whan I sey “ye,” ne sey nat “nay,”
Neither by word ne frowning contenance;        300
Swer this, and here I swere our alliance.’
 
Wondring upon this word, quaking for drede,
She seyde, ‘lord, undigne and unworthy
Am I to thilke honour that ye me bede;
But as ye wol your-self, right so wol I.        305
And heer I swere that never willingly
In werk ne thoght I nil yow disobeye,
For to be deed, though me were looth to deye.’
 
‘This is y-nogh, Grisilde myn!’ quod he.
And forth he gooth with a ful sobre chere        310
Out at the dore, and after that cam she,
And to the peple he seyde in this manere,
‘This is my wyf,’ quod he, ‘that standeth here.
Honoureth hir, and loveth hir, I preye,
Who-so me loveth; ther is na-more to seye.’        315
 
And for that no-thing of hir olde gere
She sholde bringe in-to his hous, he bad
That wommen sholde dispoilen hir right there;
Of which thise ladyes were nat right glad
To handle hir clothes wher-in she was clad.        320
But natheles this mayde bright of hewe
Fro foot to heed they clothed han al newe.
 
Hir heres han they kembd, that lay untressed
Ful rudely, and with hir fingres smale
A corone on hir heed they han y-dressed,        325
And sette hir ful of nowches grete and smale;
Of hir array what sholde I make a tale?
Unnethe the peple hir knew for hir fairnesse,
Whan she translated was in swich richesse.
 
This markis hath hir spoused with a ring        330
Broght for the same cause, and than hir sette
Up-on an hors, snow-whyt and wel ambling,
And to his paleys, er he lenger lette,
With Ioyful peple that hir ladde and mette,
Conveyed hir, and thus the day they spende        335
In revel, til the sonne gan descende.
 
And shortly forth this tale for to chace,
I seye that to this newe markisesse
God hath swich favour sent hir of his grace,
That it ne semed nat by lyklinesse        340
That she was born and fed in rudenesse,
As in a cote or in an oxe-stalle,
But norished in an emperoures halle.
 
To every wight she woxen is so dere
And worshipful, that folk ther she was bore        345
And from hir birthe knewe hir yeer by yere,
Unnethe trowed they, but dorste han swore
That to Ianicle, of which I spak bifore,
She doghter nas, for, as by coniecture,
Hem thoughte she was another creature.        350
 
For thogh that ever vertuous was she,
She was encressed in swich excellence
Of thewes gode, y-set in heigh bountee,
And so discreet and fair of eloquence,
So benigne and so digne of reverence,        355
And coude so the peples herte embrace,
That ech hir lovede that loked on hir face.
 
Noght only of Saluces in the toun
Publiced was the bountee of hir name,
But eek bisyde in many a regioun,        360
If oon seyde wel, another seyde the same;
So spradde of hir heigh bountee the fame,
That men and wommen, as wel yonge as olde,
Gon to Saluce, upon hir to biholde.
 
Thus Walter lowly, nay but royally,        365
Wedded with fortunat honestetee,
In goddes pees liveth ful esily
At hoom, and outward grace y-nogh had he;
And for he saugh that under low degree
Was ofte vertu hid, the peple him helde        370
A prudent man, and that is seyn ful selde.
 
Nat only this Grisildis thurgh hir wit
Coude al the feet of wyfly hoomlinesse,
But eek, whan that the cas requyred it,
The commune profit coude she redresse.        375
Ther nas discord, rancour, ne hevinesse
In al that lond, that she ne coude apese,
And wysly bringe hem alle in reste and ese.
 
Though that hir housbonde absent were anoon,
If gentil men, or othere of hir contree        380
Were wrothe, she wolde bringen hem atoon;
So wyse and rype wordes hadde she,
And Iugements of so greet equitee,
That she from heven sent was, as men wende,
Peple to save and every wrong tamende.        385
 
Nat longe tyme after that this Grisild
Was wedded, she a doughter hath y-bore,
Al had hir lever have born a knave child.
Glad was this markis and the folk therfore;
For though a mayde child come al bifore,        390
She may unto a knave child atteyne
By lyklihed, sin she nis nat bareyne.

Explicit secunda pars.    Incipit tercia pars.
 
Ther fil, as it bifalleth tymes mo,
Whan that this child had souked but a throwe,
This markis in his herte longeth so        395
To tempte his wyf, hir sadnesse for to knowe,
That he ne mighte out of his herte throwe
This merveillous desyr, his wyf tassaye,
Needless, god woot, he thoughte hir for taffraye.
 
He hadde assayed hir y-nogh bifore,        400
And fond hir ever good; what neded it
Hir for to tempte and alwey more and more?
Though som men preise it for a subtil wit,
But as for me, I seye that yvel it sit
Tassaye a wyf whan that it is no nede,        405
And putten her in anguish and in drede.
 
For which this markis wroghte in this manere;
He cam alone a-night, ther as she lay,
With sterne face and with ful trouble chere,
And seyde thus, ‘Grisild,’ quod he, ‘that day        410
That I yow took out of your povre array,
And putte yow in estaat of heigh noblesse,
Ye have nat that forgeten, as I gesse.
 
I seye, Grisild, this present dignitee,
In which that I have put yow, as I trowe,        415
Maketh yow nat foryetful for to be
That I yow took in povre estaat ful lowe
For any wele ye moot your-selven knowe.
Tak hede of every word that I yow seye,
Ther is no wight that hereth it but we tweye.        420
 
Ye woot your-self wel, how that ye cam here
In-to this hous, it is nat longe ago,
And though to me that ye be lief and dere,
Un-to my gentils ye be no-thing so;
They seyn, to hem it is greet shame and wo        425
For to be subgets and ben in servage
To thee, that born art of a smal village.
 
And namely, sith thy doghter was y-bore,
Thise wordes han they spoken doutelees;
But I desyre, as I have doon bifore,        430
To live my lyf with hem in reste and pees;
I may nat in this caas be recchelees.
I moot don with thy doghter for the beste,
Nat as I wolde, but as my peple leste.
 
And yet, god wot, this is ful looth to me;        435
But nathelees with-oute your witing
I wol nat doon, but this wol I,’ quod he,
‘That ye to me assente as in this thing.
Shewe now your pacience in your werking
That ye me highte and swore in your village        440
That day that maked was our mariage.’
 
Whan she had herd al this, she noght ameved
Neither in word, or chere, or countenaunce;
For, as it semed, she was nat agreved:
She seyde, ‘lord, al lyth in your plesaunce,        445
My child and I with hertly obeisaunce
Ben youres al, and ye mowe save or spille
Your owene thing; werketh after your wille.
 
Ther may no-thing, god so my soule save,
Lyken to yow that may displese me;        450
Ne I desyre no-thing for to have,
Ne drede for to lese, save only ye;
This wil is in myn herte and ay shal be.
No lengthe of tyme or deeth may this deface,
Ne chaunge my corage to another place.’        455
 
Glad was this markis of hir answering,
But yet he feyned as he were nat so;
Al drery was his chere and his loking
Whan that he sholde out of the chambre go.
Sone after this, a furlong wey or two,        460
He prively hath told al his entente
Un-to a man, and to his wyf him sente.
 
A maner sergeant was this privee man,
The which that feithful ofte he founden hadde
In thinges grete, and eek swich folk wel can        465
Don execucioun on thinges badde.
The lord knew wel that he him loved and dradde;
And whan this sergeant wiste his lordes wille,
In-to the chambre he stalked him ful stille.
 
‘Madame,’ he seyde, ‘ye mote foryeve it me,        470
Thogh I do thing to which I am constreyned;
Ye ben so wys that ful wel knowe ye
That lordes hestes mowe nat been y-feyned;
They mowe wel been biwailled or compleyned,
But men mot nede un-to her lust obeye,        475
And so wol I; ther is na-more to seye.
 
This child I am comanded for to take’—
And spak na-more, but out the child he hente
Despitously, and gan a chere make
As though he wolde han slayn it er he wente.        480
Grisildis mot al suffren and consente;
And as a lamb she sitteth meke and stille,
And leet this cruel sergeant doon his wille.
 
Suspecious was the diffame of this man,
Suspect his face, suspect his word also;        485
Suspect the tyme in which he this bigan.
Allas! hir doghter that she lovede so
She wende he wolde han slawen it right tho.
But natheles she neither weep ne syked,
Consenting hir to that the markis lyked.        490
 
But atte laste speken she bigan,
And mekely she to the sergeant preyde,
So as he was a worthy gentil man,
That she moste kisse hir child er that it deyde;
And in her barm this litel child she leyde        495
With ful sad face, and gan the child to kisse
And lulled it, and after gan it blisse.
 
And thus she seyde in hir benigne voys,
‘Far weel, my child; I shal thee never see;
But, sith I thee have marked with the croys,        500
Of thilke fader blessed mote thou be,
That for us deyde up-on a croys of tree.
Thy soule, litel child, I him bitake,
For this night shaltow dyen for my sake.’
 
I trowe that to a norice in this cas        505
It had ben hard this rewthe for to se;
Wel mighte a mooder than han cryed ‘allas!’
But nathelees so sad stedfast was she,
That she endured all adversitee,
And to the sergeant mekely she sayde,        510
‘Have heer agayn your litel yonge mayde.
 
Goth now,’ quod she, ‘and dooth my lordes heste,
But o thing wol I preye yow of your grace,
That, but my lord forbad yow, atte leste
Burieth this litel body in som place        515
That bestes ne no briddes it to-race.’
But he no word wol to that purpos seye,
But took the child and wente upon his weye.
 
This sergeant cam un-to his lord ageyn,
And of Grisildis wordes and hir chere        520
He tolde him point for point, in short and playn,
And him presenteth with his doghter dere.
Somwhat this lord hath rewthe in his manere;
But nathelees his purpos heeld he stille,
As lordes doon, whan they wol han hir wille;        525
 
And bad his sergeant that he prively
Sholde this child ful softe winde and wrappe
With alle circumstances tendrely,
And carie it in a cofre or in a lappe;
But, up-on peyne his heed of for to swappe,        530
That no man sholde knowe of his entente,
Ne whenne he cam, ne whider that he wente;
 
But at Boloigne to his suster dere,
That thilke tyme of Panik was countesse,
He sholde it take, and shewe hir this matere,        535
Bisekinge hir to don hir bisinesse
This child to fostre in alle gentilesse;
And whos child that it was he bad hir hyde
From every wight, for oght that may bityde.
 
The sergeant gooth, and hath fulfild this thing;        540
But to this markis now retourne we;
For now goth he ful faste imagining
If by his wyves chere he mighte see,
Or by hir word aperceyve that she
Were chaunged; but he never hir coude finde        545
But ever in oon y-lyke sad and kinde.
 
As glad, as humble, as bisy in servyse,
And eek in love as she was wont to be,
Was she to him in every maner wyse;
Ne of hir doghter noght a word spak she.        550
Non accident for noon adversitee
Was seyn in hir, ne never hir doghter name
Ne nempned she, in ernest nor in game.

Explicit tercia pars.    Sequitur pars quarta.
 
In this estaat ther passed been foure yeer
Er she with childe was; but, as god wolde,        555
A knave child she bar by this Walter,
Ful gracious and fair for to biholde.
And whan that folk it to his fader tolde,
Nat only he, but al his contree, merie
Was for this child, and god they thanke and herie.        560
 
Whan it was two yeer old, and fro the brest
Departed of his norice, on a day
This markis caughte yet another lest
To tempte his wyf yet ofter, if he may.
O needles was she tempted in assay!        565
But wedded men ne knowe no mesure,
Whan that they finde a pacient creature.
 
‘Wyf,’ quod this markis, ‘ye han herd er this,
My peple sikly berth our mariage,
And namely, sith my sone y-boren is,        570
Now is it worse than ever in al our age.
The murmur sleeth myn herte and my corage;
For to myne eres comth the voys so smerte,
That it wel ny destroyed hath myn herte.
 
Now sey they thus, “whan Walter is agoon,        575
Then shal the blood of Ianicle succede
And been our lord, for other have we noon;”
Swiche wordes seith my peple, out of drede.
Wel oughte I of swich murmur taken hede;
For certeinly I drede swich sentence,        580
Though they nat pleyn speke in myn audience.
 
I wolde live in pees, if that I mighte;
Wherfor I am disposed outerly,
As I his suster servede by nighte,
Right so thenke I to serve him prively;        585
This warne I yow, that ye nat sodeynly
Out of your-self for no wo sholde outraye;
Beth pacient, and ther-of I yow preye.’
 
‘I have,’ quod she, ‘seyd thus, and ever shal,
I wol no thing, ne nil no thing, certayn,        590
But as yow list; noght greveth me at al,
Thogh that my doghter and my sone be slayn,
At your comandement, this is to sayn.
I have noght had no part of children tweyne
But first siknesse, and after wo and peyne.        595
 
Ye been our lord, doth with your owene thing
Right as yow list; axeth no reed at me.
For, as I lefte at hoom al my clothing,
Whan I first cam to yow, right so,’ quod she,
‘Left I my wil and al my libertee,        600
And took your clothing; wherfor I yow preye,
Doth your plesaunce, I wol your lust obeye.
 
And certes, if I hadde prescience
Your wil to knowe er ye your lust me tolde,
I wolde it doon with-outen necligence;        605
But now I woot your lust and what ye wolde,
Al your plesaunce ferme and stable I holde;
For wiste I that my deeth wolde do yow ese,
Right gladly wolde I dyen, yow to plese.
 
Deth may noght make no comparisoun        610
Un-to your love:’ and, whan this markis sey
The constance of his wyf, he caste adoun
His yën two, and wondreth that she may
In pacience suffre al this array.
And forth he gooth with drery contenaunce,        615
But to his herte it was ful greet plesaunce.
 
This ugly sergeant, in the same wyse
That he hir doghter caughte, right so he,
Or worse, if men worse can devyse,
Hath hent hir sone, that ful was of beautee.        620
And ever in oon so pacient was she,
That she no chere made of hevinesse,
But kiste hir sone, and after gan it blesse;
 
Save this; she preyed him that, if he mighte,
Hir litel sone he wolde in erthe grave,        625
His tendre limes, delicat to sighte,
Fro foules and fro bestes for to save.
But she non answer of him mighte have.
He wente his wey, as him no-thing ne roghte;
But to Boloigne he tendrely it broghte.        630
 
This markis wondreth ever lenger the more
Up-on hir pacience, and if that he
Ne hadde soothly knowen ther-bifore,
That parfitly hir children lovede she,
He wolde have wend that of som subtiltee,        635
And of malice or for cruel corage,
That she had suffred this with sad visage.
 
But wel he knew that next him-self, certayn,
She loved hir children best in every wyse.
But now of wommen wolde I axen fayn,        640
If thise assayes mighte nat suffyse?
What coude a sturdy housbond more devyse
To preve hir wyfhod and hir stedfastnesse,
And he continuing ever in sturdinesse?
 
But ther ben folk of swich condicioun,        645
That, whan they have a certein purpos take,
They can nat stinte of hir entencioun,
But, right as they were bounden to a stake,
They wol nat of that firste purpos slake.
Right so this markis fulliche hath purposed        650
To tempte his wyf, as he was first disposed.
 
He waiteth, if by word or contenance
That she to him was changed of corage;
But never coude he finde variance;
She was ay oon in herte and in visage;        655
And ay the forther that she was in age,
The more trewe, if that it were possible,
She was to him in love, and more penible.
 
For which it semed thus, that of hem two
Ther nas but o wil; for, as Walter leste,        660
The same lust was hir plesance also,
And, god be thanked, al fil for the beste.
She shewed wel, for no worldly unreste
A wyf, as of hir-self, no-thing ne sholde
Wille in effect, but as hir housbond wolde.        665
 
The sclaundre of Walter ofte and wyde spradde,
That of a cruel herte he wikkedly,
For he a povre womman wedded hadde,
Hath mordred bothe his children prively.
Swich murmur was among hem comunly.        670
No wonder is, for to the peples ere
Ther cam no word but that they mordred were.
 
For which, wher-as his peple ther-bifore
Had loved him wel, the sclaundre of his diffame
Made hem that they him hatede therfore;        675
To been a mordrer is an hateful name.
But natheles, for ernest ne for game
He of his cruel purpos nolde stente;
To tempte his wyf was set al his entente.
 
Whan that his doghter twelf yeer was of age,        680
He to the court of Rome, in subtil wyse
Enformed of his wil, sente his message,
Comaunding hem swiche bulles to devyse
As to his cruel purpos may suffyse,
How that the pope, as for his peples reste,        685
Bad him to wedde another, if him leste.
 
I seye, he bad they sholde countrefete
The popes bulles, making mencioun
That he hath leve his firste wyf to lete,
As by the popes dispensacioun,        690
To stinte rancour and dissencioun
Bitwixe his peple and him; thus seyde the bulle,
The which they han publiced atte fulle.
 
The rude peple, as it no wonder is,
Wenden ful wel that it had been right so;        695
But whan thise tydinges cam to Grisildis,
I deme that hir herte was ful wo.
But she, y-lyke sad for evermo,
Disposed was, this humble creature,
Thadversitee of fortune al tendure.        700
 
Abyding ever his lust and his plesaunce,
To whom that she was yeven, herte and al,
As to hir verray worldly suffisaunce;
But shortly if this storie I tellen shal,
This markis writen hath in special        705
A lettre in which he sheweth his entente,
And secrely he to Boloigne it sente.
 
To the erl of Panik, which that hadde tho
Wedded his suster, preyde he specially
To bringen hoom agayn his children two        710
In honurable estaat al openly.
But o thing he him preyede outerly,
That he to no wight, though men wolde enquere,
Sholde nat telle, whos children that they were,
 
But seye, the mayden sholde y-wedded be        715
Un-to the markis of Saluce anon.
And as this erl was preyed, so dide he;
For at day set he on his wey is goon
Toward Saluce, and lordes many oon,
In riche array, this mayden for to gyde;        720
Hir yonge brother ryding hir bisyde.
 
Arrayed was toward hir mariage
This fresshe mayde, ful of gemmes clere;
Hir brother, which that seven yeer was of age,
Arrayed eek ful fresh in his manere.        725
And thus in greet noblesse and with glad chere,
Toward Saluces shaping hir Iourney,
Fro day to day they ryden in hir wey.

Explicit quarta pars.    Sequitur quinta pars.
 
Among al this, after his wikke usage,
This markis, yet his wyf to tempte more        730
To the uttereste preve of hir corage,
Fully to han experience and lore
If that she were as stedfast as bifore,
He on a day in open audience
Ful boistously hath seyd hir this sentence:        735
 
‘Certes, Grisilde, I hadde y-nough plesaunce
To han yow to my wyf for your goodnesse,
As for your trouthe and for your obeisaunce,
Nought for your linage ne for your richesse;
But now knowe I in verray soothfastnesse        740
That in gret lordshipe, if I wel avyse,
Ther is gret servitute in sondry wyse.
 
I may nat don as every plowman may;
My peple me constreyneth for to take
Another wyf, and cryen day by day;        745
And eek the pope, rancour for to slake,
Consenteth it, that dar I undertake;
And treweliche thus muche I wol yow seye,
My newe wyf is coming by the weye.
 
Be strong of herte, and voyde anon hir place,        750
And thilke dower that ye broghten me
Tak it agayn, I graunte it of my grace;
Retourneth to your fadres hous,’ quod he;
‘No man may alwey han prosperitee;
With evene herte I rede yow tendure        755
The strook of fortune or of aventure.’
 
And she answerde agayn in pacience,
‘My lord,’ quod she, ‘I woot, and wiste alway
How that bitwixen your magnificence
And my poverte no wight can ne may        760
Maken comparison; it is no nay.
I ne heeld me never digne in no manere
To be your wyf, no, ne your chamberere.
 
And in this hous, ther ye me lady made—
The heighe god take I for my witnesse,        765
And also wisly he my soule glade—
I never heeld me lady ne maistresse,
But humble servant to your worthinesse,
And ever shal, whyl that my lyf may dure,
Aboven every worldly creature.        770
 
That ye so longe of your benignitee
Han holden me in honour and nobleye,
Wher-as I was noght worthy for to be,
That thonke I god and yow, to whom I preye
Foryelde it yow; there is na-more to seye.        775
Un-to my fader gladly wol I wende,
And with him dwelle un-to my lyves ende.
 
Ther I was fostred of a child ful smal,
Til I be deed, my lyf ther wol I lede
A widwe clene, in body, herte, and al.        780
For sith I yaf to yow my maydenhede,
And am your trewe wyf, it is no drede,
God shilde swich a lordes wyf to take
Another man to housbonde or to make.
 
And of your newe wyf, god of his grace        785
So graunte yow wele and prosperitee:
For I wol gladly yelden hir my place,
In which that I was blisful wont to be,
For sith it lyketh yow, my lord,’ quod she,
‘That whylom weren al myn hertes reste,        790
That I shal goon, I wol gon whan yow leste.
 
But ther-as ye me profre swich dowaire
As I first broghte, it is wel in my minde
It were my wrecched clothes, no-thing faire,
The which to me were hard now for to finde.        795
O gode god! how gentil and how kinde
Ye semed by your speche and your visage
The day that maked was our mariage!
 
But sooth is seyd, algate I finde it trewe—
For in effect it preved is on me—        800
Love is noght old as whan that it is newe.
But certes, lord, for noon adversitee,
To dyen in the cas, it shal nat be
That ever in word or werk I shal repente
That I yow yaf myn herte in hool entente.        805
 
My lord, ye woot that, in my fadres place,
Ye dede me strepe out of my povre wede,
And richely me cladden, of your grace.
To yow broghte I noght elles, out of drede,
But feyth and nakednesse and maydenhede.        810
And here agayn my clothing I restore,
And eek my wedding-ring, for evermore.
 
The remenant of your Iewels redy be
In-with your chambre, dar I saufly sayn;
Naked out of my fadres hous,’ quod she,        815
‘I cam, and naked moot I turne agayn.
Al your plesaunce wol I folwen fayn;
But yet I hope it be nat your entente
That I smoklees out of your paleys wente.
 
Ye coude nat doon so dishoneste a thing,        820
That thilke wombe in which your children leye
Sholde, biforn the peple, in my walking,
Be seyn al bare; wherfor I yow preye,
Lat me nat lyk a worm go by the weye.
Remembre yow, myn owene lord so dere,        825
I was your wyf, thogh I unworthy were.
 
Wherfor, in guerdon of my maydenhede,
Which that I broghte, and noght agayn I bere,
As voucheth sauf to yeve me, to my mede,
But swich a smok as I was wont to were,        830
That I therwith may wrye the wombe of here
That was your wyf; and heer take I my leve
Of yow, myn owene lord, lest I yow greve.’
 
‘The smok,’ quod he, ‘that thou hast on thy bak,
Lat it be stille, and ber it forth with thee.’        835
But wel unnethes thilke word he spak,
But wente his wey for rewthe and for pitee.
Biforn the folk hir-selven strepeth she,
And in hir smok, with heed and foot al bare,
Toward hir fader hous forth is she fare.        840
 
The folk hir folwe wepinge in hir weye,
And fortune ay they cursen as they goon;
But she fro weping kepte hir yën dreye,
Ne in this tyme word ne spak she noon.
Hir fader, that this tyding herde anoon,        845
Curseth the day and tyme that nature
Shoop him to been a lyves creature.
 
For out of doute this olde povre man
Was ever in suspect of hir mariage;
For ever he demed, sith that it bigan,        850
That whan the lord fulfild had his corage,
Him wolde thinke it were a disparage
To his estaat so lowe for talighte,
And voyden hir as sone as ever he mighte.
 
Agayns his doghter hastilich goth he,        855
For he by noyse of folk knew hir cominge,
And with hir olde cote, as it mighte be,
He covered hir, ful sorwefully wepinge;
But on hir body mighte he it nat bringe.
For rude was the cloth, and more of age        860
By dayes fele than at hir mariage.
 
Thus with hir fader, for a certeyn space,
Dwelleth this flour of wyfly pacience,
That neither by hir wordes ne hir face
Biforn the folk, ne eek in hir absence,        865
Ne shewed she that hir was doon offence;
Ne of hir heigh estaat no remembraunce
Ne hadde she, as by hir countenaunce.
 
No wonder is, for in hir grete estaat
Hir goost was ever in pleyn humylitee;        870
No tendre mouth, non herte delicaat,
No pompe, no semblant of royaltee,
But ful of pacient benignitee,
Discreet and prydeles, ay honurable,
And to hir housbonde ever meke and stable.        875
 
Men speke of Iob and most for his humblesse,
As clerkes, whan hem list, can wel endyte,
Namely of men, but as in soothfastnesse,
Thogh clerkes preyse wommen but a lyte,
Ther can no man in humblesse him acquyte        880
As womman can, ne can ben half so trewe
As wommen been, but it be falle of-newe.

[Pars Sexta.]
 
Fro Boloigne is this erl of Panik come,
Of which the fame up-sprang to more and lesse,
And in the peples eres alle and some        885
Was couth eek, that a newe markisesse
He with him broghte, in swich pompe and richesse,
That never was ther seyn with mannes yë
So noble array in al West Lumbardye.
 
The markis, which that shoop and knew al this,        890
Er that this erl was come, sente his message
For thilke sely povre Grisildis;
And she with humble herte and glad visage,
Nat with no swollen thoght in hir corage,
Cam at his heste, and on hir knees hir sette,        895
And reverently and wysly she him grette.
 
‘Grisild,’ quod he, ‘my wille is outerly,
This mayden, that shal wedded been to me,
Receyved be to-morwe as royally
As it possible is in myn hous to be.        900
And eek that every wight in his degree
Have his estaat in sitting and servyse
And heigh plesaunce, as I can best devyse.
 
I have no wommen suffisaunt certayn
The chambres for tarraye in ordinaunce        905
After my lust, and therfor wolde I fayn
That thyn were al swich maner governaunce;
Thou knowest eek of old al my plesaunce;
Though thyn array be badde and yvel biseye,
Do thou thy devoir at the leeste weye.’        910
 
‘Nat only, lord, that I am glad,’ quod she,
‘To doon your lust, but I desyre also
Yow for to serve and plese in my degree
With-outen feynting, and shal evermo.
Ne never, for no wele ne no wo,        915
Ne shal the gost with-in myn herte stente
To love yow best with al my trewe entente.’
 
And with that word she gan the hous to dighte,
And tables for to sette and beddes make;
And peyned hir to doon al that she mighte,        920
Preying the chambereres, for goddes sake,
To hasten hem, and faste swepe and shake;
And she, the moste servisable of alle,
Hath every chambre arrayed and his halle.
 
Abouten undern gan this erl alighte,        925
That with him broghte thise noble children tweye,
For which the peple ran to seen the sighte
Of hir array, so richely biseye;
And than at erst amonges hem they seye,
That Walter was no fool, thogh that him leste        930
To chaunge his wyf, for it was for the beste.
 
For she is fairer, as they demen alle,
Than is Grisild, and more tendre of age,
And fairer fruit bitwene hem sholde falle,
And more plesant, for hir heigh linage;        935
Hir brother eek so fair was of visage,
That hem to seen the peple hath caught plesaunce,
Commending now the markis governaunce.—
 
Auctor.  ‘O stormy peple! unsad and ever untrewe!
Ay undiscreet and chaunging as a vane,        940
Delyting ever in rumbel that is newe,
For lyk the mone ay wexe ye and wane;
Ay ful of clapping, dere y-nogh a Iane;
Your doom is fals, your constance yvel preveth,
A ful greet fool is he that on yow leveth!’        945
 
Thus seyden sadde folk in that citee,
Whan that the peple gazed up and doun,
For they were glad, right for the noveltee,
To han a newe lady of hir toun.
Na-more of this make I now mencioun;        950
But to Grisilde agayn wol I me dresse,
And telle hir constance and hir bisinesse.—
 
Ful bisy was Grisilde in every thing
That to the feste was apertinent;
Right noght was she abayst of hir clothing,        955
Though it were rude and somdel eek to-rent.
But with glad chere to the yate is went,
With other folk, to grete the markisesse,
And after that doth forth hir bisinesse.
 
With so glad chere his gestes she receyveth,        960
And conningly, everich in his degree,
That no defaute no man aperceyveth;
But ay they wondren what she mighte be
That in so povre array was for to see,
And coude swich honour and reverence;        965
And worthily they preisen hir prudence.
 
In al this mene whyle she ne stente
This mayde and eek hir brother to commende
With al hir herte, in ful benigne entente,
So wel, that no man coude hir prys amende.        970
But atte laste, whan that thise lordes wende
To sitten doun to mete, he gan to calle
Grisilde, as she was bisy in his halle.
 
‘Grisilde,’ quod he, as it were in his pley,
‘How lyketh thee my wyf and hir beautee?’        975
‘Right wel,’ quod she, ‘my lord; for, in good fey,
A fairer say I never noon than she.
I prey to god yeve hir prosperitee;
And so hope I that he wol to yow sende
Plesance y-nogh un-to your lyves ende.        980
 
O thing biseke I yow and warne also,
That ye ne prikke with no tormentinge
This tendre mayden, as ye han don mo;
For she is fostred in hir norishinge
More tendrely, and, to my supposinge,        985
She coude nat adversitee endure
As coude a povre fostred creature.’
 
And whan this Walter say hir pacience,
Hir glade chere and no malice at al,
And he so ofte had doon to hir offence,        990
And she ay sad and constant as a wal,
Continuing ever hir innocence overal,
This sturdy markis gan his herte dresse
To rewen up-on hir wyfly stedfastnesse.
 
‘This is y-nogh, Grisilde myn,’ quod he,        995
‘Be now na-more agast ne yvel apayed;
I have thy feith and thy benignitee,
As wel as ever womman was, assayed,
In greet estaat, and povreliche arrayed.
Now knowe I, dere wyf, thy stedfastnesse,’—        1000
And hir in armes took and gan hir kesse.
 
And she for wonder took of it no keep;
She herde nat what thing he to hir seyde;
She ferde as she had stert out of a sleep,
Til she out of hir masednesse abreyde.        1005
‘Grisilde,’ quod he, ‘by god that for us deyde,
Thou art my wyf, ne noon other I have,
Ne never hadde, as god my soule save!
 
This is thy doghter which thou hast supposed
To be my wyf; that other feithfully        1010
Shal be myn heir, as I have ay purposed;
Thou bare him in thy body trewely.
At Boloigne have I kept hem prively;
Tak hem agayn, for now maystow nat seye
That thou hast lorn non of thy children tweye.        1015
 
And folk that otherweyes han seyd of me,
I warne hem wel that I have doon this dede
For no malice ne for no crueltee,
But for tassaye in thee thy wommanhede,
And nat to sleen my children, god forbede!        1020
But for to kepe hem prively and stille,
Til I thy purpos knewe and al thy wille.’
 
Whan she this herde, aswowne doun she falleth
For pitous Ioye, and after hir swowninge
She bothe hir yonge children un-to hir calleth,        1025
And in hir armes, pitously wepinge,
Embraceth hem, and tendrely kissinge
Ful lyk a mooder, with hir salte teres
She batheth bothe hir visage and hir heres.
 
O, which a pitous thing it was to see        1030
Hir swowning, and hir humble voys to here!
‘Grauntmercy, lord, that thanke I yow,’ quod she,
‘That ye han saved me my children dere!
Now rekke I never to ben deed right here;
Sith I stonde in your love and in your grace,        1035
No fors of deeth, ne whan my spirit pace!
 
O tendre, o dere, o yonge children myne,
Your woful mooder wende stedfastly
That cruel houndes or som foul vermyne
Hadde eten yow; but god, of his mercy,        1040
And your benigne fader tendrely
Hath doon yow kept;’ and in that same stounde
Al sodeynly she swapte adoun to grounde.
 
And in her swough so sadly holdeth she
Hir children two, whan she gan hem tembrace,        1045
That with greet sleighte and greet difficultee
The children from hir arm they gonne arace.
O many a teer on many a pitous face
Doun ran of hem that stoden hir bisyde;
Unnethe abouten hir mighte they abyde.        1050
 
Walter hir gladeth, and hir sorwe slaketh;
She ryseth up, abaysed, from hir traunce,
And every wight hir Ioye and feste maketh,
Til she hath caught agayn hir contenaunce.
Walter hir dooth so feithfully plesaunce,        1055
That it was deyntee for to seen the chere
Bitwixe hem two, now they ben met y-fere.
 
Thise ladyes, whan that they hir tyme say,
Han taken hir, and in-to chambre goon,
And strepen hir out of hir rude array,        1060
And in a cloth of gold that brighte shoon,
With a coroune of many a riche stoon
Up-on hir heed, they in-to halle hir broghte,
And ther she was honoured as hir oghte.
 
Thus hath this pitous day a blisful ende,        1065
For every man and womman dooth his might
This day in murthe and revel to dispende
Til on the welkne shoon the sterres light.
For more solempne in every mannes sight
This feste was, and gretter of costage,        1070
Than was the revel of hir mariage.
 
Ful many a yeer in heigh prosperitee
Liven thise two in concord and in reste,
And richely his doghter maried he
Un-to a lord, oon of the worthieste        1075
Of al Itaille; and than in pees and reste
His wyves fader in his court he kepeth,
Til that the soule out of his body crepeth.
 
His sone succedeth in his heritage
In reste and pees, after his fader day;        1080
And fortunat was eek in mariage,
Al putte he nat his wyf in greet assay.
This world is nat so strong, it is no nay,
As it hath been in olde tymes yore,
And herkneth what this auctour seith therfore.        1085
 
This storie is seyd, nat for that wyves sholde
Folwen Grisilde as in humilitee,
For it were importable, though they wolde;
But for that every wight, in his degree,
Sholde be constant in adversitee        1090
As was Grisilde; therfor Petrark wryteth
This storie, which with heigh style he endyteth.
 
For, sith a womman was so pacient
Un-to a mortal man, wel more us oghte
Receyven al in gree that god us sent;        1095
For greet skile is, he preve that he wroghte.
But he ne tempteth no man that he boghte,
As seith seint Iame, if ye his pistel rede;
He preveth folk al day, it is no drede,
 
And suffreth us, as for our excercyse,        1100
With sharpe scourges of adversitee
Ful ofte to be bete in sondry wyse;
Nat for to knowe our wil, for certes he,
Er we were born, knew al our freletee;
And for our beste is al his governaunce;        1105
Lat us than live in vertuous suffraunce.
 
But o word, lordinges, herkneth er I go:—
It were ful hard to finde now a dayes
In al a toun Grisildes three or two;
For, if that they were put to swiche assayes,        1110
The gold of hem hath now so badde alayes
With bras, that thogh the coyne be fair at yë,
It wolde rather breste a-two than plye.
 
For which heer, for the wyves love of Bathe,
Whos lyf and al hir secte god mayntene        1115
In heigh maistrye, and elles were it scathe,
I wol with lusty herte fresshe and grene
Seyn yow a song to glade yow, I wene,
And lat us stinte of ernestful matere:—
Herkneth my song, that seith in this manere.

Lenvoy de Chaucer.
        1120
 
Grisilde is deed, and eek hir pacience,
And bothe atones buried in Itaille;
For which I crye in open audience,
No wedded man so hardy be tassaille
His wyves pacience, in hope to finde        1125
Grisildes, for in certein he shall faille!
 
O noble wyves, ful of heigh prudence,
Lat noon humilitee your tonge naille,
Ne lat no clerk have cause or diligence
To wryte of yow a storie of swich mervaille        1130
As of Grisildis pacient and kinde;
Lest Chichevache yow swelwe in hir entraille!
 
Folweth Ekko, that holdeth no silence,
But evere answereth at the countretaille;
Beth nat bidaffed for your innocence,        1135
But sharply tak on yow the governaille.
Emprinteth wel this lesson in your minde
For commune profit, sith it may availle.
 
Ye archewyves, stondeth at defence,
Sin ye be stronge as is a greet camaille;        1140
Ne suffreth nat that men yow doon offence.
And sclendre wyves, feble as in bataille,
Beth egre as is a tygre yond in Inde;
Ay clappeth as a mille, I yow consaille.
 
Ne dreed hem nat, do hem no reverence;        1145
For though thyn housbonde armed be in maille,
The arwes of thy crabbed eloquence
Shal perce his brest, and eek his aventaille;
In Ialousye I rede eek thou him binde,
And thou shalt make him couche as dooth a quaille.        1150
 
If thou be fair, ther folk ben in presence
Shew thou thy visage and thyn apparaille;
If thou be foul, be free of thy dispence,
To gete thee freendes ay do thy travaille;
Be ay of chere as light as leef on linde,        1155
And lat him care, and wepe, and wringe, and waille!

Here endeth the Clerk of Oxonford his Tale.
 
 
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