The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer/Wife of Bath/Prologue
The Wife of Bath's Prologue
The Prologue of the Wife's Tale of Bath.
"EXPERIENCE, though no authority were in this world thereon, were enough for me to speak of woe that is in marriage; for, lordings, since I was twelve years old, thanks be to God that liveth eternally, I have had husbands five at church-door, for so oft have I been wedded; and in their degree all were worthy men. But in sooth it was told me not long ago that, sith Christ went never but once to a wedding in Cana of Galilee, by the same ensample he taught me that I should be wedded but once. Lo! hark what a sharp word eke on this matter spake Jesus, man and God, beside a well in reproof of the Samaritan : 'Thou hast had five husbands,' quoth he, 'and that man which hath thee now is not thy husband;' thus said he in truth; what he meant thereby I cannot say; but this I ask: Why was the fifth man no husband to the Samaritan? How many might she have in marriage? Never yet in my life heard I a clear explication concerning this number. Men may conjecture and gloss it up and down, but well I wot, in very truth, that God bade us expressly to wax and multiply. That gentle text I can well understand. Eke I wot well he said mine husband should leave father and mother and take me; but of no number made he mention, whether of bigamy or of octogamy; why should men speak reproach of such?
"Lo, Dan Solomon! the wise king; I trow he had more wives than one, as would God I had leave to be refreshed half so oft as he! What a gift of God he had in all his wives! No man hath such now in this world. God be praised that I have wedded five, from whom I have plucked their best. Diverse schools make perfect clerks; diverse practice, in many sundry labours, maketh the workman thoroughly perfect; of five husbands am I the scholar. Welcome the sixth, whensoever he shall come. In sooth, I will not for aye keep me chaste. When mine husband is departed from the world, some Christian man shall wed me anon; for then, the apostle saith, I am free to wed, in God's name, where I list. It is no sin, he saith, to be wedded; better is it to be wedded than to burn. What reck I though folk speak reproach of accursed Lamech and his bigamy. I wot well Abraham was an holy man, and Jacob eke as far as I know; and each of them had wives more than twain, and many another holy man also. When saw ye ever that high God at any time expressly forbade marriage? I pray you tell; or where hath he commanded virginity? I wot as well as ye, in sooth, that the apostle, when he spake of maidenhood, said that precept thereof he had none. A man may counsel a woman to be a maid; but counselling is no command; he left it to our own discretion. For had God commanded maidenhood, then by that act had he damned marrying; and certes if there were sown no seed, whereof, then, should virginity grow? Even Paul durst not command a thing for which his master gave no precept. The prize is set up for virginity ; let him win who may; let see who runneth best. But this word need not be received of every wight, but only where God list, of his power, to grant it. I wot well the apostle was a maid, but natheless, though he wrote that he would every wight were such as himself, all that is but counsel to virginity ; and he gave me leave of his indulgence to be a wife; so it is no reproof to wed, if my mate be dead, without the charge of bigamy. This is the sum and substance: He held maidenhood more perfect than wedding in frailty; and frailty I call it, if the man and maid will not lead all their life in continence.
"I grant, in sooth, I reck not though maidenhood be preferred to bigamy; it pleaseth such to be clean, body and spirit; of mine own estate I will make no boast. For well ye know a lord in his house hath not every vessel of pure gold ; some be of wood and do their lord service. God calleth folk to him in sundry ways, and each hath of God his own gift, some this, some that, as it pleaseth God to bestow. Virginity is a great virtue, and continence eke, with religious folk. But Christ, that is the spring of perfection, bade not every wight that he should go sell all he hath, and give it to the poor, and in such wise follow him and his steps. He spake but to them that would live perfectly, and by your leave, lordings, I am not such. I will bestow the flower of my life in the acts and in the fruit of marriage. But I say not that men should have no care of chastity. Christ was a maid, and yet created perfect man, and many a saint, since the beginning of the world, yet they lived alway in perfect chastity. I will envy no virgins ; let them be bread of pure wheat-seed; and let us wives be called barley-bread; yet with barley-bread, as Mark telleth, our lord Jesu refreshed many a man. I will persevere in such estate as God hath called us to ; I am not over-nice. An husband I will have, I will not forego him, that shall be my debtor and eke my thrall, and have his tribulation therewith while I am his wife. Whilst I live, I, and not he, shall have sway over him. Right thus was it told me by the apostle, that bade our husbands to love us well. That text pleaseth me every whit——"
Upstarted the Pardoner and that straightway; "Now, dame," quoth he, "by God and Saint John, ye be on this text a noble preacher. I was about to wed a wife. Alas! Why should I pay for it so dearly upon my flesh? Liefer had I wed no wife this year!"
"Abide!" quoth she, "my tale is yet to begin; nay, thou shalt drink of another tun, ere I go, shall savour worse than ale. And when I have told thee forth my story of tribulation in marriage, in which all my life I have been expert, that is to say, myself I have been the whip, then mayst thou choose whether thou wilt taste of that tun which I shall broach. Beware of it, ere thou draw too nigh; for I shall tell ensamples more than twice five. Whosoever will not beware by others, by him shall others be corrected. The same words writeth Ptolemy; read in his Almageste and there find it."
"Dame, I would pray you, if it be your will," said this Pardoner, "as ye began, tell forth your tale, spare for no wight, and teach us young men of your practice."
"Gladly," quoth she, "sith it may please you. But yet I pray unto all this fellowship, if I speak after my fantasy, take not amiss what I say, for mine intent is but to sport. Now, sirs, will I tell forth my story. As ever I hope to drink wine or ale, I shall say the sooth; those husbands that were mine, three of them were good and two were bad. The three were goody rich and old. They had given me their goods and their treasure; I needed no longer take pains to win their love, or do reverence to them. They loved me so well, by heaven's king, that I set no value on their love! A wise woman will ever busy her to get love where she hath none. But sith I had them wholly in hand, and sith they had given me all their goods, why should I take pains to please them, unless it were for mine own profit and my pleasure? The bacon, I ween, was not fetched for them, that some men get at Dunmowe in Essex. I governed them after my law so well that each of them was full blissful and fain to bring me gay things from the fair. They were full glad when I spake to them well for, God wot, I chid them pitilessly.
"Now hearken how I bare me, ye wise wives that can understand. Thus shall ye speak and beguile them, for there can no man swear and lie half so boldly as a woman. I say not this concerning wives that be wise, unless it be when they have forgotten themselves. A wise wife, if she knoweth her own good, shall make him believe the chough is mad, and take her own maid to witness. But hark how I would speak.
"Sir, old dotard, is this thy treatment of me? Why is my neighbour's wife so gay? She is honoured wheresoever she goeth; I sit at home, I have no gown that I can wear. What dost thou at my neighbour's house? Is she so fair? Art thou so enamoured? What whisper ye with our maid? Ben'cite! Sir old rake, let be thy wiles. And if I have a friend or a gossip without guilt, thou chidest as a fiend, if I amuse me by going unto his lodging! Thou comest home as drunk as a mouse, and preachest on thy bench, bad luck to thee! Thou sayest to me it is a great misfortune to wed a poor woman for the cost thereof; and if she be rich, of high birth, then sayest thou that it is a torment to suffer her pride and her humours. And if she be fair, thou very knave, thou sayest that every rake will have her; she may no while remain in chastity that is assailed upon each side. Thou sayest some folk desire us for wealth, some for our shape and some for our fairness, and some because we can sing or dance, and some for gentility and playfulness, some for our hands and our slender arms; thus by thy tale goeth all to the devil. Thou sayest a castle-wall may be so long assailed on every side that men may no longer keep it. And if she be foul thou sayest that she coveteth every man she may see; for as a spaniel she will leap on him, till she find some man to bargain with her ; and no goose so gray, sayest thou, goeth there in the lake as will be without a mate. And sayest it is a hard thing for to control a thing that no man will hold willingly. Thus sayest thou, old knave, when thou goest to bed. And that no wise man needeth to marry, nor any man that aspireth unto heaven; with wild thunder-clap and fiery lightning may thy withered neck be broken! Thou sayest that leaking roofs, and smoke, and chiding wives make men flee out of their own house. Ah! what aileth such an old man, ben'cite! to chide? Thou sayest, we wives will conceal our vices till we be fast wedded, and then we will show them; that may well be a rogue's proverb! Thou sayest that oxen, asses, horses and hounds at diverse times be tested; and so be basins and wash-pails, pots, clothes and other goods, spoons and tools, and all such chattels, ere men buy them ; but of wives folk make no assay till they be wedded; and then, sayest thou, old dotard rogue, we will show our vices.
"Thou sayest also that it displeaseth me unless thou wilt praise my beauty, and pore alway on my countenance, and in every place call me 'fair dame ;' and unless thou make a festival on my birthday, and make me gay and fresh of garb, and unless thou do respect to my nurse, and to my maidservant within my bower, and to my father's folk and his kindred;—thus thou sayest, old barrel full of lies!
"And yet of Jankin, our apprentice, for his crisp hair, shining as fine gold, and because he squireth me hither and thither, thou hast caught a false suspicion; I would naught of him, though thou wert dead to-morrow. But tell me this, why in the fiend's name hidest thou the keys of thy chest away from me? Pardee, my good is it as well as thine. Why weenest thou to make an idiot of thy lady? Now by that lord that is called Saint James, though thou be mad, thou shalt not be master both of my body and of my goods; one thou shalt forego, maugre thine eyes. What need hast thou to inquire of me, and spy upon me? I trow, thou wouldst lock me in thy chest! Thou shouldst say, 'Wife, go where it liketh you, take your disport, I will not believe any gossip; I know you for a true wife, dame Alis.' We love no man that taketh heed where we go; we would be free.
"May he be blessed of all men, the wise astrologer Dan Ptolemy, that saith in his Almageste this proverb: 'Of all men his wisdom is the highest that recketh never who hath the world in his hand.' This proverb thou shalt construe thus: if thou have enough, why needest thou reck or heed how merrily other folk fare? For certainly by your leave, old dotard, ye shall have right enough of your due in good time. He is too great a niggard that will refuse a man leave to light a candle at his lantern; he shall have never the less light, pardee; if so thou hast enough, thou needest not to complain.
"Thou sayest eke, if we make us gay with clothing and precious gear, that it is peril unto our chastity; and yet more, sorrow betide thee! thou must enforce thy speech, and say these words of the apostle, 'In habit made with chastity and shamefastness, ye women shall apparel you, and not in tressed hair and gay jewels, as pearls, nor with gold, nor rich clothes.' In accordance with this text and rubric of thine, I will not perform as much as a fly. Thou saidest I was like a cat; for if a man will singe a cat's skin, then will the cat alway abide in his house; but if the cat's skin be sleek and fair, she will not dwell in house half a day, but ere any daylight be dawned, she will forth to show her skin and go a-caterwauling. This is to say if I be clad fair, sir rogue, I am running out to show my duds.
"Sir old fool, what aileth thee to spy upon me? Though thou pray unto Argus, with his hundred eyes, to be my bodyguard as best he knoweth, in faith, he shall not keep me unless I please; still could I cozen him, on my life. Thou saidest eke that there be three things which trouble all this world, and that no wight may endure the fourth. O sweet sir rogue, Jesu shorten thy days! Yet thou preachest and sayest a hateful wife is reckoned for one of these mischiefs. Be there no other manner of resemblances that ye may use in your parables, unless a poor wife be one of them? Thou likenest woman's love to hell, to barren land, where no water may abide. Thou likenest it also to wild fire; the more it burneth, the more it hath appetite to consume everything that may be burnt. Thou sayest that even as worms ruin a tree, right so a wife destroyeth her husband; this know they that be bound to wives.
"Lordings, right thus stiffly, as ye have heard, I made mine old husbands believe that they had said thus when they were drunk; and all was false, but I took Jankin to witness and also my niece. O lord, the sorrow I made them and the woe, full guiltless, by God's sweet pain! For I could whine and bite as an horse. I could complain though I were in the guilt else oftentimes had I been lost. He that first cometh to mill grindeth first; I complained first, so I ended our strife. They were full glad to pray forgiveness full soon for things of which they were never guilty in their lives. I would accuse my husband of wenches when scarce he might stand for sickness. Yet it tickled his heart, for he weened that I had so great fondness for him. I swore that all my walking out by night was to spy on wenches that he wooed. Under colour of that had I many a mirth. For all such wit is given us when we are born. Deceit, weeping and spinning God hath given to women by nature while they live. And thus I vaunt me of one thing; in the end I had alway the better of them, either by sleight, or force, or by some manner of means, such as continual murmuring or grumbling. Especially would I chide and do them no pleasance, till they had made over their ransom to me. And therefore to every man I say this, let him win who may; for all is to sell. With empty hand men may lure no hawks. Though the pope had sat beside them, I would not spare them at their own table; I quit them word for word, by my troth. So help me very God almighty, though right now I should make my testament, I owe them no word that is not paid. I brought it so about by my wit, that they must give up, or else had we never been at peace. For though they looked as angry lions, yet should they fail of their end.
"Then would I say, 'Sweet love, give heed how meekly looketh Wilkin our sheep ; come nearer, my spouse, let me kiss thy cheek! Ye should be all mild and patient and have a sweet, scrupulous conscience, sith ye so preach of Job. Be patient alway, sith ye can preach so well ; and unless ye be, certainly ye shall learn how fair a thing it is to live with a wife in peace. Questionless one of us two must bow, and sith a man is more reasonable than woman is, ye must be the one to submit. What aileth you thus to grumble and groan? By God, ye be to blame; I say you the sooth.' Such manner of words had we together. Now will I speak of my fourth husband. My fourth husband was a reveller ; that is, he had a paramour; and I was young and full of wild spirit, stubborn and strong and merry as a magpie. Well could I dance to a small harp, and sing, sooth, as any nightingale, when I had drunk a draught of sweet wine. Metellius, the foul churl, the hog, that slew his wife with a staff because she drank wine,—had I been his wife, he should not have daunted me from drinking; and after wine, I think most on Venus. In a vinolent woman there is no denial; this rakes know by experience. But lord! when I take remembrance upon my youth and my jollity, it tickleth me about the root of mine heart. Unto this day it doth mine heart good that I have had my world in my time. But alas! age, that will envenom all, hath bereft me of my pith and my beauty; let go, farewell, the devil go with them! The flour is gone, there is nothing more to say; the bran now I must bestow as best I am able. But yet will I endeavour to be right merry. Now will I tell of my fourth husband.
"I say, I had great despite in my heart that he had joy of any other. But I paid him, by God and Saint Bennet! I made him a cross of the same wood; not in any foul manner, but certainly I made folk such cheer that I made him fry in his own grease, for very anger and jealousy. God's name! I was his purgatory on earth, for which I hope his soul be in bliss. For God wot, he sat full oft and sang when his shoe wrung him full bitterly. No wight, save God and him, knew how sore, in many wise, I tormented him. He died when I came from Jerusalem; under the rood-beam he lieth buried, although his tomb is not so curiously wrought as was the sepulchre of Darius, which Apelles wrought subtly; to bury him preciously were but waste. Let him fare well, God give peace to his soul; he is now in the grave and in his chest.
"Now will I speak of my fifth husband, God let his Soul never come in hell! And yet he was the most rascally to me, as I feel on my ribs all in a row, and shall ever unto mine ending-hour. But he was so fresh and gay, and therewith he could so well cajole me, that though he had beat me in every bone, he could straightway win my love again. I trow I loved him best because he was sparing of his love to me. To speak sooth, we women have in this matter a quaint fantasy; is there a thing that we may not lightly have? thereafter will we cry ever and crave. Forbid us a thing, and we desire it; press on us hard, and then we will flee. We grudge to spread out all our goods; great press at market maketh dear wares ; and too cheap is held at little worth ; every woman that is wise knoweth this.
"My fifth husband, God bless his soul! whom I took for love and not for riches, was sometime a clerk of Oxford, and had left school, and went home to board with my gossip, that dwells in our town, God have her soul! Alisoun was her name. She knew mine heart and my privity better than our parish priest, as I live! I confided to her all my secrets. For had my husband done a thing that should have cost him his head, I would have told every whit of his secret to her and another worthy wife and to my niece, that I loved well. And so I did, God knoweth, full often, so that it made his face red and hot for very shame, and he blamed himself that he had told to me so great a privity.
"And so it befell that once, in Lent (I visited my gossip so often, for ever I have loved to be merry, and to walk, in March, April and May, from house to house, and hear sundry tales), that Jankin the clerk, and my gossip dame Alis, and I myself, walked into the fields. All that Lent my husband was at London; I had the better leisure to sport, and to see and eke to be seen of lusty folk; how wist I where my luck was destined to be? Therefore I made my visits to vigils and to processions, to preaching and eke to these pilgrimages, to plays of miracles, and weddings, and wore my gay scarlet skirts. These worms, nor these moths, nor these mites, ate them never a whit; and wotst thou why? for they were used well.
"Now will I tell forth what happened to me. I say that we walked in the fields, till verily we had such dalliance, this clerk and I, that I spake to him, and said to him, of my foresight, how if I were a widow, he should wed me. For certainly, I say it not for any boast, I was never yet without provision for marriage, nor for other things also. I hold that mouse hath a heart not worth a leek, which hath but one hole to start to, and if that fail, then is all lost. I made him believe he had enchanted me; my dame taught me that trick. And I said eke that I dreamed of him all night; he would have slain me, I dreamed, as I lay, and my bed was all full of very blood; but yet I hoped that he should do well by me, for to dream of blood betokeneth gold, I was taught. And all was false, I dreamed of it never at all, but I ever followed my dame's lore in this as in other things. But sir, let me see now, what shall I say? Aha! by Saint John! I have my tale again.
"When my fourth husband was on his bier, I wept aye and made a sorrowful face, as wives must, for it is custom, and with my kerchief covered my visage; but because I was provided with a new mate, I wept but small and that I warrant. My husband was borne to church in the morning by neighbours that made great sorrow for him; and Jankin our clerk was one of them. So God help me, when I saw him walking after the bier, methought he had a pair of legs and of feet so fair and clean, that I gave unto him all mine heart. He was twenty winter old, I trow, and if I shall not lie, I was forty; but yet I had alway a colt's tooth. Gap-toothed I was, and that well became me; I had the print of Saint Venus' seal. So God help me, I was fair and rich, a lusty one, young and joyous. For certes in feeling I am all Venerian, and mine heart is Martian. Venus gave me my jollity and my wantonness, and Mars my sturdy hardihood. Mine ascendent was Taurus, and Mars in it. Alas! alas! that ever love was sin! I followed aye mine inclination by virtue of my stars; this caused that the Venus in me could never resist a good fellow. Yet I have Mars' mark upon my face, for, so God save me! I never loved by discretion, but ever followed my desire, were he white or black, or short or long; so he pleased me, I recked not how poor he was, nor of what estate.
"What should I say but that, at the month's end, this jolly clerk Jankin, that was so courteous, wedded me with great joy and feasting, and to him I gave all the land and fee that had ever been given me; but I repented me afterward full sore. He would let nothing be to my liking. By God, he smote me once on the ear, because I rent a leaf out of his book, so that of the stroke mine ear waxed stone deaf.
"I was as stubborn as a lioness, and a very jangler with my tongue, and I would walk from house to house, as I had done before, even if he had forbidden it. For which oftentimes he would preach to me, and tell me of old Roman stories, how Simplicius Gallus left his wife, and forsook her as long as he lived, for naught but that he saw her upon a day looking out at his door bareheaded. Another Roman he told me of that forsook his wife eke, because she was at a summer's game without his knowing. And then would he seek in his Bible that proverb of Ecclesiasticus, where in his commandment he strongly forbiddeth a man to suffer his wife go gadding about; then ye may be sure he would say right thus:
'Whoso that buildeth all his house of sallows,
Whoso that spurreth his blind horse over the fallows,
And suffereth his wife seek shrines and hallows,
Is worthy to be on the gallows.'
"But it was all for naught, I recked not a berry for his proverbs nor his old saws, nor would I be corrected of him. I hate him that telleth me my vices, and so do more of us than I, God wot! This made him utterly angry with me; I would not spare him in any case.
"Now by Saint Thomas, I will tell you the sooth why I rent a page out of his book, for which he smote me deaf. He had a book that gladly for his disport he would aye read day and night. He called it Valerie and Theofraste, at which book he laughed alway full merrily. And eke there was once a clerk at Rome, a cardinal, he was called Saint Jerome, that composed a book against Jovinian; in which book there were Crisippus, Trotula, Tertulan and Helowys, that was an abbess not far from Paris; and the Parables of Solomon, Ovid's Art and many a book, and all these were bound in one volume, and every night and day, when he had leisure and vacation from other worldly business, it was his custom to read on this book of wicked wives. He knew more legends of them and histories than there be of good wives in the Bible. For trust well, it is an impossibility that any clerk will speak good of wives, unless it be of holy saints, but of any other woman never. Who painted the lion, tell me who? By God, if women had written stories, as clerks have within their cells, they would have written of men more wickedness than the whole race of Adam might amend. The children of Mercury be full adverse in their working to those of Venus. Mercury loveth wisdom and knowledge, and Venus loveth riot and spending. And because of their diverse temperament, each declineth in the other's exaltation ; and thus Mercury, God wot, is desolate in Pisces, where Venus is exalted; and Venus falleth where Mercury is uplifted; therefore no woman is praised of a clerk. The clerk, when he is old and hath lost his amorousness, then sitteth he down and writeth in his dotage that women cannot keep their wedding-vows!
"But now to my point, pardee, why, as I was about to tell thee, I was beaten for a book. On a night, my lord and master Jankin, as he sat by the fire, read on his book first of Eve, by whose wickedness all mankind was brought to woe, for which Jesu Christ himself was slain, and redeemed us with his heart's blood. Lo! here may ye see it expressly written of woman, that she was the perdition of all mankind. Then he read me how, when Samson lay sleeping, his mistress cut off his hair with her shears; through which treason he lost both his eyes. Then he read me of Hercules and his Deianira, that caused him to burn to death. Nor forgot he the penance and woe that Socrates had with his two wives; how Xantippe cast slops on his head; this poor man sat still, as one sleeping; he wiped his head and durst say no more than 'ere thunder stinteth cometh a rain.' The tale of Pasiphaë, that was queen of Crete, savoured to him pleasantly for her wickedness ; fie! speak no more of her horrible lust and love; it is a grisly thing. Of Clytemnestra, that, for her wantonness, made her husband to die, he read it with full good devotion. He told me eke for what cause Amphiaraus died at Thebes; he had a legend of his wife, Eriphile, that for a clasp of gold privily revealed unto the Greeks the place where her husband hid him, for which he had a sorrowful fate at Thebes. Of Lyma he told me, and of Lucy, that both caused their husbands' deaths, the one for love, the other for hatred. Lyma, late on an even, poisoned her husband, because she had grown to be his foe. Lucy wantonly so loved her husband that, to make him alway have her in mind, she gave him such a manner of love-drink that he died, ere it was morrow; and thus husbands ever have woe.
"Then he told me how one Latumius complained to Arrius, his fellow, that a certain tree grew in his garden on which, he said, his three wives hanged themselves for anger of heart. 'O sweet brother,' quoth this Arrius, 'give me a graft of that blessed tree and it shall be planted in my garden!' He read me of wives of later date, how some slew their husbands in their beds. Some have driven nails in their husbands' brains while they slept, and thus they have killed them; some have given poison to them in their drink. He spake more harm than heart can conceive. And therewith he knew of more proverbs than there grow blades of grass in this world. 'Better is it,' quoth he, 'that thy habitation be with a lion or a foul dragon than with a woman that useth to chide. Better is It,' quoth he, 'to dwell high upon the roof than with an angry wife down in the house; they be so wicked and contrary, they hate aye what their husbands love.' He said, 'A woman casteth her shame away when she casteth off her smock,' and eke 'A fair woman, unless she be also chaste, is like a gold ring in a sow's nose.' Who can ween or conceive the woe and pain that was in my heart?
"And when I saw he would never have done all night reading on this cursed book, all suddenly I plucked three leaves out of his book, right as he read, and anon I so took him with my fist on the cheek that he fell down backward into our fire. And he started up as doth a mad lion, and so smote me with his fist on the temple that I lay on the floor as I were dead. And when he saw how still I lay, he was aghast and would have fled, till at last I started out of my swoon. 'O! hast thou slain me, false thief?' I said, 'and hast thou murdered me thus for my land? Yet ere I die, would I kiss thee.' And he came nigh and kneeled down gently and said, 'Dear sister Alisoun, so help me God, I shall never smite thee again; what I have done, thyself art to blame for. Forgive it me, I beseech thee.' And yet straight again I hit him on the cheek and said, 'Thief, thus mickle am I avenged; now will I die, I may speak no longer.' But at last, with mickle care and woe, we were accorded between ourselves. He gave me into my hand all the bridle to have governance of house and acres, and of his tongue and his hand also; and I made him burn his book then and there. And when, by my victory, I had got unto me all the power of governance, and he said, 'Mine own true wife, do as it liketh thee as long as thou shalt live, guard thine own honour and mine estate eke'—after that day we had never strife. So help me God, I was as loving to him as any wife from Denmark to Ind, and as true, and so was he to me. I pray to God that sitteth in splendour to bless his soul, of his dear mercy. Now, if ye will hark, I will tell my tale."
Behold the words between the Summoner and the Friar.
The Friar laughed when he had hearkened to all this. "Now dame," quoth he, "as I hope for joy, this is a full long preamble of a tale!" And when the Summoner heard the Friar sing out, "Lo!" quoth he, "God's two arms! A friar will evermore be meddling. Lo, good men! a fly and a friar will fall in every dish and every affair. Why speakest thou of preambulation? What! amble, or trot, or stand still, or go sit down; thou hinderest our sport in this manner."
"Yea!" quoth the Friar, "wilt thou so, Sir Summoner? Now by my faith, ere I go, I shall tell such a tale or two of a summoner, that all the folk here shall laugh." "Now, Friar," quoth this Summoner, "I beshrew else thy face, and I beshrew myself, but I tell tales two or three of friars, ere I arrive at Sidingborne, as shall irk thine heart full sore, for well I wot thy patience is gone."
Our host cried, "Peace! and that straightway! let the woman tell her story," he said. "Ye fare as folk that be drunken with ale. Pray, dame, tell your story, and that is best." "All ready, sir, right as it pleaseth you," quoth she, "if I have permission of this worthy Friar." "Yes," quoth he, "tell forth, dame, and I will listen."
Here endeth the Wife of Bath her Prologue.