Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
 
Ballad of Women’s Doubleness
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
 
THIS world is full of variance
  In everything; who taketh heed,
That faith and trust, and all constance,
  Exiléd be, this is no drede,
And save only in womanhead,        5
  I can ysee no sikerness;
But, for all that, yet as I read,
  Beware alway of doubleness.
 
Also that the fresh summer flowers,
  The white and red, the blue and green,        10
Be suddenly with winter showers,
  Made faint and fade, withouten ween;
That trust is none, as ye may seen,
  In no thing, nor no steadfastness,
Except in women, thus I mean;        15
  Yet aye beware of doubleness.
 
The crooked moon (this is no tale),
  Some while isheen and bright of hue,
And after that full dark and pale,
  And every moneth changeth new,        20
That who the very sothé knew
  All thing is built on brittleness,
Save that women always be true;
  Yet aye beware of doubleness.
 
The lusty freshé summer’s day,        25
  And Phœbus with his beamés clear,
Towardés night they draw away,
  And no longer list t’ appear,
That in this present life now here
  Nothing abideth in his fairness,        30
Save women aye be found entere,
  And devoid of all doubleness.
 
The sea eke with his sterné wawés
  Each day yfloweth new again,
And by the concourse of his lawés        35
  The ebbe floweth in certáin;
After great drought there cometh rain;
  That farewell here all stableness,
Save that women be whole and plein;
  Yet aye beware of doubleness.        40
 
Fortunés wheel go’th round about
  A thousand timés day and night,
Whose course standeth ever in doubt
  For to transmue she is so light,
For which adverteth in your sight        45
  Th’ untrust of worldly fickleness,
Save women, which of kindly right
  Ne hath no touch of doubleness.
 
What man ymay the wind restrain,
  Or holden a snake by the tail?        50
Who may a slipper eel constrain
  That it will void withouten fail?
Or who can driven so a nail
  To maké sure newfangleness,
Save women, that can gie their sail        55
  To row their boat with doubleness?
 
At every haven they can arrive
  Whereat they wot is good passáge;
Of innocence they cannot strive
  With wawés, nor no rockés rage;        60
So happy is their lodemanage
  With needle’ and stone their course to dress,
That Solomon was not so sage
  To find in them no doubleness.
 
Therefore whoso doth them accuse        65
  Of any double intentión,
To speaké rown, other to muse.
  To pinch at their conditión,
All is but false collusión,
  I dare right well the soth express;        70
They have no better protectión,
  But shroud them under doubleness.
 
So well fortunéd is their chance,
  The dice to-turnen up so down,
With sice and cinque they can advance,        75
  And then by revolutión
They set a fell conclusión
  Of lombés, as in sothfastness,
Though clerkés maken mentión
  Their kind is fret with doubleness.        80
 
Sampson yhad experience
  That women were full true yfound
When Dalila of innocence
  With shearés ’gan his hair to round;
To speak also of Rosamond,        85
  And Cleopatra’s faithfulness,
The stories plainly will confound
  Men that apeach their doubleness.
 
Single thing is not ypraiséd,
  Nor of old is of no renown,        90
In balance when they be ypesed,
  For lack of weight they be borne down,
And for this cause of just reason
  These women all of rightwisness
Of choice and free electión        95
  Most love exchange and doubleness.
 
L’ENVOI
O YE women! which be inclinéd
By influence of your natúre
To be as pure as gold yfinéd,
And in your truth for to endure,        100
Armeth yourself in strong armúre,
(Lest men assail your sikerness,)
Set on your breast, yourself t’ assure,
A mighty shield of doubleness.
 
 
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