Heere bigynneth the Marchantes Tale

 

 

       Whilom ther was dwellynge in Lumbardye

 

A worthy knyght, that born was of Pavye,

35

In which he lyved in greet prosperitee;

 

And sixty yeer a wyflees man was hee,

 

And folwed ay his bodily delyt

 

On wommen, ther as was his appetyt,

 

As doon thise fooles that been seculeer.

40

And whan that he was passed sixty yeer,

 

Were it for hoolynesse or for dotage,

 

I kan nat seye, but swich a greet corage

 

Hadde this knyght to been a wedded man

 

That day and nyght he dooth al that he kan

45

T'espien where he myghte wedded be,

 

Preyinge oure lord to graunten him that he

 

Mighte ones knowe of thilke blisful lyf

 

That is bitwixe an housbonde and his wyf,

 

And for to lyve under that hooly boond

50

With which that first God man and womman bond.

 

"Noon oother lyf," seyde he, "is worth a bene;

 

For wedlok is so esy and so clene,

 

That in this world it is paradys."

 

Thus seyde this olde knyght, that was so wys.

 

       Once on a time there dwelt in Lombardy

 

A worthy knight, born in Pavia,

35

And there he lived in great prosperity;

 

And sixty years a wifeless man was he,

 

And followed ever his bodily delight

 

In women, whereof was his appetite,

 

As these fool laymen will, so it appears.

40

And when he had so passed his sixty years,

 

Were it for piety or for dotage

 

I cannot say, but such a rapturous rage

 

Had this knight to become a married man

 

That day and night he did his best to scan

45

And spy a place where he might married be;

 

Praying Our Lord to grant to him that he

 

Might once know something of that blissful life

 

That is between a husband and his wife;

 

And so to live within that holy band

50

Wherein God first made man and woman stand.

 

"No other life," said he, "is worth a bean;

 

For marriage is so easy and so clean

 

That in this world it is a paradise."

 

Thus said this ancient knight, who was so wise.

lines 55-98: About the pros of marriage

 

55

       And certeinly, as sooth as God is kyng,

 

To take a wyf it is a glorious thyng,

 

And namely whan a man is oold and hoor;

 

Thanne is a wyf the fruyt of his tresor.

 

Thanne sholde he take a yong wyf and a feir,

60

On which he myghte engendren hym and heir,

 

And lede his lyf in joye and in solas,

 

Where as thise bacheleris synge allas,

 

Whan that they funden any adversitee

 

In love, which nys but childyssh vanytee.

65

And trewely it sit wel to be so,

 

That bacheleris have often peyne and wo;

 

On brotel ground they buylde, and brotelnesse

 

They fynde, whan they wene sikernesse.

 

They lyve but as a bryd or as a beest,

70

In libertee, and under noon arreest,

 

Ther as a wedded man in his estaat

 

Lyveth a lyf blisful and ordinaat,

 

Under this yok of mariage ybounde.

 

Wel may his herte in joy and blisse habounde,

75

For who kan be so buxom as a wyf?

 

Who is so trewe, and eek so ententyf

 

To kepe hym, syk and hool, as is his make?

 

For wele or wo she wole hym nat forsake;

 

She nys nat wery hym to love and serve,

80

Thogh that he lye bedrede, til he sterve.

 

And yet somme clerkes seyn it nys nat so,

 

Of whiche he Theofraste is oon of tho.

 

What force though Theofraste liste lye?

 

"Ne take no wyf," quod he, "for housbondrye,

85

As for to spare in houshold thy dispence.

 

A trewe servant dooth moore diligence

 

Thy good to kepe, than thyn owene wyf,

 

For she wol clayme half part al hir lyf.

 

And if that thou be syk, so God me save,

90

Thy verray freendes, or a trewe knave,

 

Wol kepe thee bet than she that waiteth ay

 

After thy good and hath doon many a day.

 

And if thou take a wyf unto thyn hoold,

 

Ful lightly maystow been a cokewold."

95

This sentence, and an hundred thynges worse,

 

Writeth this man, ther God his bones corse!

 

But take no kep of al swich vanytee;

 

Deffie Theofraste, and herke me.

55

       And certainly, as sure as God is King,

 

To take a wife, it is a glorious thing,

 

Especially when a man is old and hoary;

 

Then is a wife the fruit of wealth and glory.

 

Then should he take a young wife and a fair,

60

On whom he may beget himself an heir,

 

And lead his life in joy and in solace,

 

Whereas these bachelors do but sing "Alas!"'

 

When they fall into some adversity

 

In love, which is but childish vanity.

65

And truly, it is well that it is so

 

That bachelors have often pain and woe;

 

On shifting ground they build, and shiftiness

 

They find when they suppose they've certainness.

 

They live but as a bird does, or a beast,

70

In liberty and under no arrest,

 

Whereas a wedded man in his high state

 

Lives a life blissful, ordered, moderate,

 

Under the yoke of happy marriage bound;

 

Well may his heart in joy and bliss abound.

75

For who can be so docile as a wife?

 

Who is so true as she whose aim in life

 

Is comfort for him, sick or well, to make?

 

For weal or woe she will not him forsake.

 

She's ne'er too tired to love and serve, say I,

80

Though he may lie bedridden till he die.

 

And yet some writers say it is not so,

 

And Theophrastus is one such, I know.

 

What odds though Theophrastus chose to lie?

 

"Take not a wife," said he, "for husbandry,

85

If you would spare in household your expense;

 

A faithful servant does more diligence

 

To keep your goods than your own wedded wife.

 

For she will claim a half part all her life;

 

And if you should be sick, so God me save,

90

Your true friends or an honest serving knave

 

Will keep you better than she that waits, I say,

 

After your wealth, and has done, many a day.

 

And if you take a wife to have and hold,

 

Right easily may you become cuckold."

95

This judgment and a hundred such things worse

 

Did this man write, may God his dead bones curse!

 

But take no heed of all such vanity.

 

Defy old Theophrastus and hear me.

lines 99-124: God made Adam a wife

 

 

       A wyf is Goddes yifte verraily;

100

Alle othere manere yiftes hardily,

 

As londes, rentes, pasture, or commune,

 

Or moebles, alle been yiftes of fortune,

 

That passen as a shadwe upon a wal.

 

But drede nat, if pleynly speke I shal,

105

A wyf wol laste, and thyn hous endure,

 

Wel lenger than thee list, paraventure.

 

       A wife is God's own gift, yes truly;

100

All other kinds of gifts, most certainly,

 

As lands, rents, pasture, rights in common land,

 

Or moveables, in gift of Fortune stand,

 

And pass away like shadows on the wall.

 

But, without doubt, if plainly speak I shall,

105

A wife will last, and in your house endure

 

Longer than you would like, peradventure.

 

 

       Mariage is a ful greet sacrement.

 

He which that hath no wyf, I holde hym shent;

 

He lyveth helplees and al desolat, --

110

I speke of folk in seculer estaat.

 

And herke why, I sey nat this for noght,

 

That womman is for mannes helpe ywroght.

 

The hye God, whan he hadde Adam maked,

 

And saugh him al allone, bely-naked,

115

God of his grete goodnesse syde than,

 

"Lat us now make an helpe unto this man

 

Lyk to hymself"; and thanne he made him Eve.

 

Heere may ye se, and heerby may ye preve,

 

That wyf is mannes helpe and his confort,

120

His paradys terrestre, and his disport.

 

So buxom and so vertuous is she,

 

They moste nedes lyve in unitee.

 

O flessh they been, and o fleesh, as I gesse,

 

Hath but oon herte, in wele and in distresse.

 

       But marriage is a solemn sacrament;

 

Who has no wife I hold on ruin bent;

 

He lives in helplessness, all desolate,

110

I speak of folk in secular estate.

 

And listen why, I say not this for naught:

 

It's because woman was for man's help wrought.

 

The High God, when He'd Adam made, all rude,

 

And saw him so alone and belly-nude,

115

God of His goodness thus to speak began:

 

"Let us now make a help meet for this man,

 

Like to himself." And then he made him Eve.

 

Here may you see, and here prove, I believe,

 

A wife is a man's help and his comfort,

120

His earthly paradise and means of sport;

 

So docile and so virtuous is she

 

That they must needs live in all harmony.

 

One flesh they are, and one flesh, as I guess,

 

Has but one heart in weal and in distress.

lines 125-149: Men should thank God for their wives

 

125

       A wyf! a, Seinte Marie, benedicite!

 

How myghte man han any adversitee

 

That hath a wyf? certes, I kan nat seye.

 

The blisse which that is bitwixe hem tweye

 

Ther may no tonge telle, or herte thynke.

130

If he be povre, she helpeth hym to swynke;

 

She kepeth his good, and wasteth never a deel;

 

Al that hire housbonde lust, hire liketh weel;

 

She seith nat ones "nay", whan he seith "ye".

 

"Do this," seith he; "Al redy, sire," seith she.

135

O blisful ordre of wedlok precious,

 

Thou art so murye, and eek so vertuous,

 

And so commended and appreved eek

 

That every man that halt hym worth a leek,

 

Upon his bare knees oughte al his lyf

140

Thanken his God that hym hath sent a wyf,

 

Or elles preye to God hym for to sende

 

A wyf, to laste unto his lyves ende.

 

For thanne his lyf is set in sikernesse;

 

He may nat be deceyved, as I gesse,

145

So that he werke after his wyves reed.

 

Thanne may he boldely beren up his heed,

 

They been so trewe, and therwithal so wyse;

 

For which, if thou wolt werken as the wyse,

 

Do alwey so as wommen wol thee rede.

125

       A wife! Ah, Holy Mary, ben'cite!

 

How may a man have any adversity

 

Who has a wife? Truly, I cannot say.

 

The bliss that is between such two, for aye,

 

No tongue can tell, nor any heart can think.

130

If he be poor, why, she helps him to swink;

 

She keeps his money and never wastes a deal;

 

All that her husband wishes she likes well;

 

She never once says "nay" when he says "yea."

 

"Do this," says he; "All ready, sir," she'll say.

135

O blissful state of wedlock, prized and dear,

 

So pleasant and so full of virtue clear,

 

So much approved and praised as fortune's peak,

 

That every man who holds him worth a leek

 

Upon his bare knees ought, through all his life,

140

To give God thanks, who's sent to him a wife;

 

Or else he should pray God that he will send

 

A wife to him, to last till his life's end.

 

For then his life is set in certainness;

 

He cannot be deceived, as I may guess,

145

So that he act according as she's said;

 

Then may he boldly carry high his head,

 

They are so true and therewithal so wise;

 

Wherefore, if you will do as do the wise,

 

Then aye as women counsel be your deed.

lines 150-162: Biblical examples about good wives

 

150

       Lo, how that Jacob, as thise clerkes rede,

 

By good conseil of his mooder Rebekke,

 

Boond the kydes skyn aboute his nekke,

 

For which his fadres benyson he wan.

 

       Lo, Judith, as the storie eek telle kan,

155

By wys conseil she Goddes peple kepte,

 

And slow hym Olofernus, whil he slepte.

 

       Lo Abigayl, by good conseil, how she

 

Saved hir housbonde Nabal, whan that he

 

Sholde han be slayn; and looke, Ester also

160

By good conseil delyvered out of wo

 

The peple of God, and made hym Mardochee

 

Of Assuere enhaunced for to be.

150

       Lo, how young Jacob, as these clerics read,

 

About his hairless neck a kid's skin bound,

 

A trick that Dame Rebecca for him found,

 

By which his father's benison he won.

 

Lo, Judith, as the ancient stories run,

155

By her wise counsel she God's people kept,

 

And Holofernes slew, while yet he slept.

 

Lo, Abigail, by good advice how she

 

Did save her husband, Nabal, when that he

 

Should have been slain; and lo, Esther also

160

By good advice delivered out of woe

 

The people of God and got him, Mordecai,

 

By King Ahasuerus lifted high.

lines 163-186: January the knight decides to marry

 

 

       Ther nys no thyng in gree superlatyf,

 

As seith Senek, above and humble wyf.

165

       Suffre thy wyves tonge, as Catoun bit;

 

She shal comande, and thou shalt suffren it,

 

And yet she wole obeye of curteisye.

 

A wyf is kepere of thyn housbondrye;

 

Wel may the sike man biwaille and wepe,

170

Ther as ther nys no wyf the hous to kepe.

 

I warne thee, if wisely thou wolt wirche,

 

Love wel thy wyf, as Crist loved his chirche.

 

If thou lovest thyself, thou lovest thy wyf;

 

No man hateth his flessh, but in his lyf

175

He fostreth it, and therfore bidde I thee,

 

Cherisse thy wyf, or thou shalt nevere thee.

 

Housbonde and wyf, what so men jape or pleye,

 

Of worldly folk holden the siker weye;

 

They been so knyt ther may noon harm bityde,

180

And namely upon the wyves syde.

 

For which this Januarie, of whom I tolde,

 

Considered hath, inwith his dayes olde,

 

The lusty lyf, the vertuous quyete,

 

That is in mariage hony-sweete;

185

And for his freendes on a day he sente,

 

To tellen hem th'effect of his entente.

 

       There is no pleasure so superlative

 

Says Seneca, as a humble wife can give.

165

Suffer your wife's tongue, Cato bids, as fit;

 

She shall command, and you shall suffer it;

 

And yet she will obey, of courtesy.

 

A wife is keeper of your husbandry;

 

Well may the sick man wail and even weep

170

Who has no wife the house to clean and keep.

 

I warn you now, if wisely you would work,

 

Love well your wife, as Jesus loves his church.

 

For if you love yourself, you love your wife;

 

No man hates his own flesh, but through his life

175

He fosters it, and so I bid you strive

 

To cherish her, or you shall never thrive.

 

Husband and wife, despite men's jape or play,

 

Of all the world's folk hold the safest way;

 

They are so knit there may no harm betide,

180

Especially upon the good wife's side.

 

For which this January, of whom I told,

 

Did well consider in his days grown old,

 

The pleasant life, the virtuous rest complete

 

That are in marriage, always honey-sweet;

185

And for his friends upon a day he sent

 

To tell them the effect of his intent.

lines 187-202: January tells his friends he wants to marry

 

 

       With face sad his tale he hath hem toold.

 

He seyde, "Freendes, I am hoor and oold,

 

And almost, God woot, on my pittes brynke;

190

Upon my soule somwhat moste I thynke.

 

I have my body folily despended;

 

Blessed be God that it shal been amended!

 

For I wol be, certeyn, a wedded man,

 

And that anoon in al the haste I kan.

195

Unto som mayde fair and tendre of age,

 

I prey yow, shapeth for my mariage

 

Al sodeynly, for I wol nat abyde;

 

And I wol fonde t'espien, on my syde,

 

To whom I may be wedded hastily.

200

But forasmuche as ye been mo than I,

 

Ye shullen rather swich a thyng espyen

 

Than I, and where me best were to allyen.

 

       With sober face his tale to them he's told;

 

He said to them: "My friends, I'm grey and old,

 

And almost, God knows, come to my grave's brink;

190

About my soul, now, somewhat must I think.

 

I have my body foolishly expended;

 

Blessed be God, that thing be amended!

 

For I will be, truly, a wedded man,

 

And that at once, in all the haste I can,

195

Unto some maiden young in age and fair.

 

I pray you for my marriage all prepare,

 

And do so now, for I will not abide;

 

And I will try to find one, on my side,

 

To whom I may be wedded speedily.

200

But for as much as you are more than I,

 

It's better that you have the thing in mind

 

And try a proper mate for me to find.

lines 203-256: January explains he wants a young wife

 

 

       "But o thyng warne I yow, my freendes deere,

 

I wol moon oold wyf han in no manere.

205

She shal nat passe twenty yeer, certayn;

 

Oold fissh and yong flessh wolde I have ful fayn.

 

Bet is," quod he, "a pyk than a pykerel,

 

And bet than old boef is the tendre veel.

 

I wol no womman thritty yeer of age;

210

It is but bene-straw and greet forage.

 

And eek thise olde wydwes, God it woot,

 

They konne so muchel craft on Wades boot,

 

So muchel broken harm, whan that hem leste,

 

That with hem sholde I nevere lyve in reste.

215

For sondry scoles maken sotile clerkis;

 

Womman of manye scoles half a clerk is.

 

But certeynly, a yong thyng may men gye,

 

Right as men may warm wex with handes plye.

 

Wherfore I sey yow pleynly, in a clause,

220

I wol noon oold wyf han right for this cause.

 

For if so were I hadde swich myschaunce,

 

That I in hire ne koude han no plesaunce,

 

Thanne sholde I lede my lyf in avoutrye,

 

And go streight to the devel, whan I dye.

225

Ne children sholde I none upon hire geten;

 

Yet were me levere houndes hand me eten,

 

Than that myn heritage sholde falle

 

In straunge hand, and this I telle yow alle.

 

I dote nat, I woot the cause why

230

Men sholde wedde, and forthermoore woot I,

 

Ther speketh many a man of mariage

 

That woot namoore of it than woot my page,

 

For whiche causes man sholde take a wyf.

 

If he ne may nat lyven chaast his lyf,

235

Take hym a wyf with greet devocioun,

 

By cause of leveful procreacioun

 

Of children, to th'onour of God above,

 

And nat oonly for paramour or love;

 

And for they sholde leccherye eschue,

240

And yelde hir dette whan that it is due;

 

Or for that ech of hem sholde helpen oother

 

In meschief, as a suster shal the brother;

 

And lyve in chastitee ful holily.

 

But sires, by youre leve, that am nat I.

245

For, God be thanked! I dar make avaunt,

 

I feele my lymes stark and suffisaunt

 

To do al that a man bilongeth to;

 

I woot myselven best what I may do.

 

Though I be hoor, I fare as dooth a tree

250

That blosmeth er that fruyt ywoxen bee;

 

And blosmy tree nys neither drye ne deed.

 

I feele me nowhere hoor but on myn heed;

 

Myn herte and alle my lymes been as grene

 

As laurer thurgh the yeer is for to sene.

255

And syn that ye han herd al myn entente,

 

I prey yow to my wyl ye wole assente.

 

       "But of one thing I warn you, my friends dear,

 

I will not have an old wife coming here.

205

She shan't have more than twenty years, that's plain;

 

Of old fish and young flesh I am full fain.

 

Better," said he, "a pike than pickerel;

 

And better than old beef is tender veal.

 

I'll have no woman thirty years of age,

210

It is but bean-straw and such rough forage.

 

And these old widows, God knows that, afloat,

 

They know so much of spells when on Wade's boat,

 

And do such petty harm, when they think best,

 

That with one should I never live at rest.

215

For several schools can make men clever clerks;

 

Woman in many schools learns clever works.

 

But certainly a young thing men may guide,

 

Just as warm wax may with one's hands be plied.

 

Wherefore I tell you plainly, in a clause,

220

I will not have an old wife, for that cause.

 

For if it chanced I made that sad mistake

 

And never in her could my pleasure take,

 

My life I'd lead then in adultery

 

And go straight to the devil when I die.

225

No children should I then on her beget;

 

Yet would I rather hounds my flesh should fret

 

Than that my heritage descend and fall

 

Into strange hands, and this I tell you all.

 

I dote not, and I know the reason why

230

A man should marry, and furthermore know I

 

There speaks full many a man of all marriage

 

Who knows no more of it than knows my page,

 

Nor for what reasons man should take a wife.

 

If one may not live chastely all his life,

235

Let him take wife whose quality he's known

 

For lawful procreation of his own

 

Blood children, to the honour of God above,

 

And not alone for passion or for love;

 

And because lechery they should eschew

240

And do their family duty when it's due;

 

Or because each of them should help the other

 

In trouble, as a sister shall a brother;

 

And live in chastity full decently.

 

But, sirs, and by your leave, that is not I.

245

For, God be thanked, I dare to make a vaunt,

 

I feel my limbs are strong and fit to jaunt

 

In doing all man's are expected to;

 

I know myself and know what I can do.

 

Though I am hoar, I fare as does a tree

250

That blossoms before the fruit be grown; you see

 

A blooming tree is neither dry nor dead.

 

And I feel nowhere hoary but on head;

 

My heart and all my limbs are still as green

 

As laurel through the year is to be seen.

255

And now that you have heard all my intent,

 

I pray that to my wish you will assent."

ines 257-306: January's brother Placebo agrees with him

 

 

       Diverse men diversely hym tolde

 

Of mariage manye ensamples olde.

 

Somme blamed it, somme preysed it, certeyn;

260

But atte laste, shortly for to seyn,

 

As al day falleth altercacioun

 

Bitwixen freendes in disputisoun,

 

Ther fil a stryf bitwixe his bretheren two,

 

Of whiche that oon was cleped Placebo,

265

Justinus soothly called was that oother.

 

Placebo seyde, "O Januarie, brother,

 

Ful litel nede hadde ye, my lord so deere,

 

Conseil to axe of any that is heere,

 

But that ye been so ful of sapience

270

That yow ne liketh, for youre heighe prudence,

 

To weyven fro the word of Salomon.

 

This word seyde he unto us everychon:

 

Wirk alle thyng by conseil," - thus seyde he,

 

"And thanne shaltow nat repente thee." -

275

But though that Salomon spak swich a word,

 

Myn owene deere brother and my lord,

 

So wysly God my soule brynge at reste,

 

I holde youre owene conseil is the beste.

 

For, brother myn, of me taak this motyf,

280

I have now been a court-man al my lyf,

 

And God it woot, though I unworthy be,

 

I have stonden in ful greet degree

 

Abouten lordes of ful heigh estaat;

 

Yet hadde I nevere with noon of hem debaat.

285

I nevere hem contraried, trewely;

 

I woot wel that my lord kan moore than I.

 

With that he seith, I holde it ferme and stable;

 

I seye the same, or elles thyng semblable.

 

A ful greet fool is any conseillour

290

That serveth any lord of heigh honour,

 

That dar presume, or elles thanken it,

 

That his conseil sholde passe his lordes wit.

 

Nay, lordes been no fooles, by my fay!

 

Ye han youreselven shewed heer to-day

295

So heigh sentence, so holily and weel,

 

That I consente and conferme everydeel

 

Youre wordes alle and youre opinioun.

 

By God, ther nys no man in al this toun,

 

Ne in Ytaille, that koude bet han sayd!

300

Crist halt hym of this conseil ful wel apayd.

 

And trewely, it is an heigh corage

 

Of any man that stapen is in age

 

To take a yong wyf; by my fader kyn,

 

Youre herte hangeth on a joly pyn!

305

Dooth now in this matiere right as yow leste,

 

For finally I holde it for the beste."

 

       Then divers men to him diversely told,

 

Of marriage, many an instance known of old.

 

Some blamed it and some praised it, that's certain,

260

But at the last, and briefly to make plain,

 

Since altercation follows soon or late

 

When friends begin such matters to debate,

 

There fell a strife between his brothers two,

 

Whereof the name of one was Placebo

265

And truly Justinus was that other.

 

Placebo said: "O January, brother,

 

Very little need had you, my lord so dear,

 

Counsel to ask of anyone that's here;

 

Except that you are so full of sapience

270

That you like not, what of your high prudence,

 

To vary from the word of Solomon.

 

This word said he to each and every one:

 

'Do everything by counsel,' thus said he,

 

'And then thou hast no cause to repent thee.'

275

But although Solomon spoke such a word,

 

My own dear brother and my proper lord,

 

So truly may God bring my soul to rest

 

As I hold your own counsel is the best.

 

For, brother mine, of me take this one word,

280

I've been a courtier all my days, my lord.

 

And God knows well, though I unworthy be

 

I have stood well, and in full great degree,

 

With many lords of very high estate;

 

Yet ne'er with one of them had I debate.

285

I never contradicted, certainly;

 

I know well that my lord knows more than I.

 

Whate'er he says, I hold it firm and stable;

 

I say the same, or nearly as I'm able.

 

A full great fool is any Councillor

290

That serves a lord of any high honour

 

And dares presume to say, or else think it,

 

His counsel can surpass his lordship's wit.

 

Nay, lords are never fools, nay, by my fay;

 

You have yourself, sir, showed, and here today,

295

With such good sense and piety withal

 

That I assent to and confirm it all,

 

The words and the opinions you have shown.

 

By God, there is no man in all this town,

 

Or Italy, it better could have phrased;

300

And Christ Himself your counsel would have praised

 

And truthfully, it argues high courage

 

In any man that is advanced in age

 

To take a young wife; by my father's kin,

 

A merry heart you've got beneath your skin?

305

Do in this matter at your own behest,

 

For, finally, I hold that for the best."

lines 307-353: January's brother Justinus advises a wise wife

 

 

       Justinus, that ay stille sat and herde,

 

Right in this wise he to Placebo answerde:

 

"Now, brother myn, be pacient, I preye,

310

Syn ye han seyd, and herkneth what I seye.

 

Senek, amonges othere wordes wyse,

 

Seith that a man oghte hym right wel avyse

 

To whom he yeveth his lond or his catel.

 

And syn I oghte avyse me right wel

315

To whom I yeve my good awey from me,

 

Wel muchel moore I oghte avysed be

 

To whom I yeve my body for alwey.

 

I warne yow wel, it is no childes pley

 

To take a wyf withouten avysement.

320

Men moste enquere, this is myn assent,

 

Wher she be wys, or sobre, or dronkelewe,

 

Or proud, or elles ootherweys a shrewe,

 

A chidestere, or wastour of thy good,

 

Or riche, or poore, or elles mannyssh wood.

325

Al be it so that no man fynden shal

 

Noon in this world that trotteth hool in al,

 

Ne man, ne beest, swich as men koude devyse;

 

But nathelees it oghte ynough suffise

 

With any wyf, if so were that she hadde

330

Mo goode thewes than hire vices badde;

 

And al this axeth leyser for t'enquere.

 

For, God it woot, I have wept many a teere

 

Ful pryvely, syn I have had a wyf.

 

Preyse whoso wole a wedded mannes lyf,

335

Certein I fynde in it but cost and care

 

And observances, of alle blisses bare.

 

And yet, God woot, my neighebores aboute,

 

And namely of wommen many a route,

 

Seyn that I have the mooste stedefast wyf,

340

And eek the mekeste oon that bereth lyf;

 

But I woot best where wryngeth me my sho.

 

Ye mowe, for me, right as yow liketh do;

 

Avyseth yow - ye been a man of age -

 

How that ye entren into mariage,

345

And namely with a yong wyf and a fair.

 

By hym that made water, erthe, and air,

 

The yongeste man that is in al this route

 

Is bisy ynough to bryngen it aboute

 

To han his wyf allone. Trusteth me,

350

Ye shul nat plesen hire fully yeres thre, -

 

This is to seyn, to doon hire ful plesaunce.

 

A wyf axeth ful many an observaunce.

 

I prey yow that ye be nat yvele apayd."

 

       Justinus, who sat still and calm, and heard,

 

Right in this wise Placebo he answered:

 

"Now, brother mine, be patient, so I pray;

310

Since you have spoken, hear what I shall say.

 

For Seneca, among his words so wise,

 

Says that a man ought well himself advise

 

To whom he'll give his chattels or his land.

 

And since I ought to know just where I stand

315

Before I give my wealth away from me,

 

How much more well advised I ought to be

 

To whom I give my body; for alway

 

I warn you well, that it is not child's play

 

To take a wife without much advisement.

320

Men must inquire, and this is my intent,

 

Whether she's wise, or sober, or drunkard,

 

Or proud, or else in other things froward,

 

Or shrewish, or a waster of what's had,

 

Or rich, or poor, or whether she's man-mad.

325

And be it true that no man finds, or shall,

 

One in this world that perfect is in all,

 

Of man or beast, such as men could devise;

 

Nevertheless, it ought enough suffice

 

With any wife, if so were that she had

330

More traits of virtue that her vices bad;

 

And all this leisure asks to see and hear.

 

For God knows I have wept full many a tear

 

In privity, since I have had a wife.

 

Praise whoso will a wedded man's good life,

335

Truly I find in it, but cost and care

 

And many duties, of all blisses bare.

 

And yet, God knows, my neighbours round about,

 

Especially the women, many a rout,

 

Say that I've married the most steadfast wife,

340

Aye, and the meekest one there is in life.

 

But I know best where pinches me my shoe.

 

You may, for me, do as you please to do;

 

But take good heed, since you're a man of age,

 

How you shall enter into a marriage,

345

Especially with a young wife and a fair.

 

By him ho made the water, earth, and air,

 

The youngest man there is in all this rout

 

Is busy enough to bring the thing about

 

That he alone shall have his wife, trust me.

350

You'll not be able to please her through years three,

 

That is to say, to give all she desires.

 

A wife attention all the while requires.

 

I pray you that you be not offended."

lines 354-364: The purpose of January

 

 

       "Wel," quod this Januarie, "and hastow ysayd?

355

Straw for thy Senek, and for thy proverbes!

 

I counte nat a panyer ful of herbes

 

Of scole-termes. Wyser men than thow,

 

As thou hast herd, assenteden right now

 

To my purpos. Placebo, what sey ye?"

360

       "I seye it is a cursed man," quod he,

 

"That letteth matrimoigne, sikerly."

 

And with that word they rysen sodeynly,

 

And been assented fully that he sholde

 

Be wedded whanne hym liste, and where he wolde.

 

       "Well?" asked this January, "And have you said?

355

A straw for Seneca and your proverbs!

 

I value not a basketful of herbs

 

Your schoolmen's terms; for wiser men than you,

 

As you have heard, assent and bid me do

 

My purpose now. Placebo, what say ye?"

360

"I say it is a wicked man," said he,

 

"That hinders matrimony, certainly."

 

And with that word they rose up, suddenly,

 

Having assented fully that he should

 

Be married when he pleased and where he would.

lines 365-410: January chooses a bride and calls his brothers

 

365

       Heigh fantasye and curious bisynesse

 

Fro day to day gan in the soule impresse

 

Of Januarie aboute his mariage.

 

Many fair shap and many a fair visage

 

Ther passeth thurgh his herte nyght by nyght,

370

As whoso tooke a mirour, polisshed bryght,

 

And sette it in a commune market-place,

 

Thanne sholde he se ful many a figure pace

 

By his mirour; and in the same wyse

 

Gan Januarie inwith his thoght devyse

375

Of maydens whiche that dwelten hym bisyde.

 

He wiste nat wher that he myghte abyde.

 

For if that oon have beaute in hir face,

 

Another stant so in the peples grace

 

For hire sadnesse and hire benyngnytee

380

That of the peple grettest voys hath she;

 

And somme were riche, and hadden badde name.

 

But nathelees, bitwixe ernest and game,

 

He atte laste apoynted hym on oon,

 

And leet alle othere from his herte goon,

385

And chees hire of his owene auctoritee;

 

For love is blynd alday, and may nat see.

 

And whan that he was in his bed ybroght,

 

He purtreyed in his herte and in his thoght

 

Hir fresshe beautee and hir age tendre,

390

Hir myddel smal, hire armes longe and sklendre,

 

Hir wise governaunce, hir gentillesse,

 

Hir wommanly berynge, and hire sadnesse.

 

And whan that he on hire was condescended,

 

Hym thoughte his choys myghte nat ben amended.

395

For whan that he hymself concluded hadde,

 

Hym thoughte ech oother mannes wit so badde

 

That inpossible it were to repplye

 

Agayn his choys, this was his fantasye.

 

His freendes sente he to, at his instaunce,

400

And preyed hem to doon hym that plesaunce,

 

That hastily they wolden to hym come;

 

He wolde abregge hir labour, alle and some.

 

Nedeth namoore for hym to go ne ryde;

 

He was apoynted ther he wolde abyde.

405

Placebo cam, and eek his freendes soone,

 

And alderfirst he bad hem alle a boone,

 

That noon of hem none argumentes make

 

Agayn the purpos which that he hath take,

 

Which purpos was plesant to God, seyde he,

410

And verray ground of his prosperitee.

365

       Imagination and his eagerness

 

Did in the soul of January press

 

As he considered marriage for a space.

 

Many fair shapes and many a lovely face

 

Passed through his amorous fancy, night by night.

370

As who might take mirror polished bright

 

And set it in the common market-place

 

And then should see full many a figure pace

 

Within the mirror; just in that same wise

 

Did January within his thought surmise

375

Of maidens whom he dwelt in town beside.

 

He knew not where his fancy might abide.

 

For if the one have beauty of her face,

 

Another stands so in the people's grace

 

For soberness and for benignity,

380

That all the people's choice she seems to be;

 

And some were rich and had an evil name.

 

Nevertheless, half earnest, half in game,

 

He fixed at last upon a certain one

 

And let all others from his heart be gone,

385

And chose her on his own authority;

 

For love is always blind and cannot see.

 

And when in bed at night, why then he wrought

 

To portray, in his heart and in his thought,

 

Her beauty fresh and her young age, so tender,

390

Her middle small, her two arms long and slender,

 

Her management full wise, her gentleness,

 

Her womanly bearing, and her seriousness.

 

And when to her at last his choice descended,

 

He thought that choice might never be amended.

395

For when he had concluded thus, egad,

 

He thought that other men had wits so bad

 

It were impossible to make reply

 

Against his choice, this was his fantasy.

 

His friends he sent to, at his own instance,

400

And prayed them give him, in this wise, pleasance,

 

That speedily they would set forth and come:

 

He would abridge their labour, all and some.

 

He need not more to walk about or ride,

 

For he'd determined where he would abide.

405

Placebo came, and all his friends came soon,

 

And first of all he asked of them the boon

 

That none of them an argument should make

 

Against the course he fully meant to take;

 

'Which purpose pleasing is to God,' said he,

410

'And the true ground of my felicity.'

lines 411-424: January says he likes her but has one urgent question

 

 

       He seyde ther was a mayden in the toun,

 

Which that of beautee hadde greet renoun,

 

Al were it so she were of smal degree;

 

Suffiseth hym hir yowthe and hir beautee.

415

Which mayde, he seyde, he wolde han to his wyf,

 

To lede in ese and hoolynesse his lyf;

 

And thanked God that he myghte han hire al,

 

That no wight his blisse parten shal.

 

And preyed hem to laboure in this nede,

420

And shapen that he faille nat to spede;

 

For thanne, he seyde, his spirit was at ese.

 

"Thanne is," quod he, "no thyng may me displese,

 

Save o thyng priketh in my conscience,

 

The which I wol reherce in youre presence.

 

       He said there was a maiden in the town

 

Who had for beauty come to great renown,

 

Despite the fact she was of small degree;

 

Sufficed him well her youth and her beauty.

415

Which maid, he said, he wanted for his wife,

 

To lead in ease and decency his life.

 

And he thanked God that he might have her, all,

 

That none partook of his bliss now, nor shall.

 

And prayed them all to labour in this need

420

And so arrange that he'd fail not, indeed;

 

For then, he said, his soul should be at case.

 

"And then," said he, "there's naught can me displease,

 

Except one lone thing that sticks in my conscience,

 

The which I will recite in your presence.

lines 425-442: "How do I get to heaven when marriage is already heaven on earth?"

 

425

       I have," quod he, "herd seyd, ful yoore ago,

 

Ther may no man han parfite blisses two, -

 

This is to seye, in erthe and eek in hevene.

 

For though he kepe hym fro the synnes sevene,

 

And eek from every branche of thilke tree,

430

Yet is ther so parfit felicitee

 

And so greet ese and lust in mariage,

 

That evere I am agast now in myn age

 

That I shal lede now so myrie a lyf,

 

So delicat, withouten wo and stryf,

435

That I shal have myn hevene in erthe heere.

 

For sith that verray hevene is boght so deere

 

With tribulation and greet penaunce,

 

How sholde I thanne, that lyve in swich plesaunce

 

As alle wedded men doon with hire wyvys,

440

Come to the blisse ther rist eterne on lyve ys?

 

This is my drede, and ye, my bretheren tweye,

 

Assoilleth me this question, I preye.

425

       I have," said he, "heard said, and long ago,

 

There may no man have perfect blisses two,

 

That is to say, on earth and then in Heaven.

 

For though he keep from sins the deadly seven,

 

And, too, from every branch of that same tree,

430

Yet is there so complete felicity

 

And such great pleasure in the married state

 

That I am fearful, since it comes so late,

 

That I shall lead so merry and fine a life,

 

And so delicious, without woe and strife,

435

That I shall have my heaven on earth here.

 

For since that other Heaven is bought so dear,

 

With tribulation and with great penance,

 

How should I then, who live in such pleasance,

 

As all these married men do with their wives,

440

Come to the bliss where Christ Eternal lives?

 

This is my fear, and you, my brothers, pray

 

Resolve for me this problem now, I say."

ines 443-476: Justinus puts marriage as heaven on earth in perspective

 

 

       Justinus, which that hated his folye,

 

Answerde anon right in his japerye;

445

And for he wolde his longe tale abregge,

 

He wolde noon auctoritee allegge,

 

But seyde, "Sire, so ther be noon obstacle

 

Oother than this, God of his hygh myracle

 

And of his mercy may so for yow wirche

450

That, er ye have youre right of hooly chirche,

 

Ye may repente of wedded mannes lyf,

 

In which ye seyn ther is no wo ne stryf.

 

And elles, God forbede but he sente

 

A wedded man hym grace to repente

455

Wel ofte rather than a sengle man!

 

And therfore, sire - the beste reed I kan -

 

Dispeire yow noght, but have in youre memorie,

 

Paraunter she may be youre purgatorie!

 

She may be Goddes meene and Goddes whippe;

460

Thanne shal youre soule up to hevene skippe

 

Swifter than dooth and arwe out of bowe.

 

I hope to God, herafter shul ye knowe

 

That ther nys no so greet felicitee

 

In mariage, ne nevere mo shal bee,

465

That yow shal lette of youre savacion,

 

So that ye sue, as skile is an reson,

 

The lustes of youre wyf attemprely,

 

And that ye plese hire nat to amorously,

 

And that ye kepe yow eek from oother synne.

470

My tale is doon, for my wit is thynne.

 

Beth nat agast herof, my brother deere,

 

But lat us waden out of this mateere.

 

The Wyf of Bathe, if ye han understonde,

 

Of mariage, which we have on honde,

475

Declared hath ful wel in litel space.

 

Fareth now wel, God have yow in his grace."

 

       Justinus, who so hated this folly,

 

Answered at once in jesting wise and free;

445

And since he would his longish tale abridge,

 

He would no old authority allege,

 

But said: "Sir, so there is no obstacle

 

Other than this, God, of high miracle

 

And of his mercy, may so for you work

450

That, before you have your right of holy church,

 

You'll change your mind on wedded husband's life,

 

Wherein you say there is no woe or strife.

 

And otherwise, God grant that there be sent

 

To wedded man the fair grace to repent

455

Often, and sooner than a single man!

 

And therefore, sir, this is the best I can:

 

Despair not, but retain in memory,

 

Perhaps she may your purgatory be!

 

She may be God's tool, she may be God's whip;

460

Then shall your spirit up to Heaven skip

 

Swifter than does an arrow from the bow!

 

I hope to God, hereafter you shall know

 

That there is none so great felicity

 

In marriage, no nor ever shall there be,

465

To keep you from salvation that's your own,

 

So that you use, with reason that's well known,

 

The charms of your wife's body temperately,

 

And that you please her not too amorously,

 

And that you keep as well from other sin.

470

My tale is done now, for my wit is thin.

 

Be not deterred hereby, my brother dear" -

 

But let us pass quite over what's said here.

 

The wife of Bath, if you have understood,

 

Has treated marriage, in its likelihood,

475

And spoken well of it in little space -

 

"Fare you well now, God have you in His grace."

lines 477-496: January the knight and Maia the virgin are married

 

 

       And with this word this Justyn and his brother

 

Han take hir leve, and ech of hem of oother.

 

For whan they saughe that it moste nedes be,

480

They wroghten so, by sly and wys tretee,

 

That she, this mayden, which that Mayus highte,

 

As hastily as evere that she myghte,

 

Shal wedded be unto this Januarie.

 

I trowe it were to longe yow to tarie,

485

If I yow tolde of every scrit and bond

 

By which that she was feffed in his lond,

 

Or for to herknen of hir riche array.

 

But finally ycomen is the day

 

That to the chirche bothe be they went

490

For to receyve the hooly sacrement.

 

Forth comth the preest, with stole aboute his nakke,

 

And bad hire be lyk Sarra and Rebekke

 

In wysdom and in trouthe of mariage;

 

And seyde his orisons, as is usage,

495

And croucheth hem, and bad God sholde hem blesse,

 

And made al siker ynogh with hoolynesse.

 

       And with that word this Justin and his brother

 

Did take their leave, and each of them from other.

 

For when they all saw that it must needs be,

480

They so arranged, by sly and wise treaty,

 

That she, this virgin, who was Maia hight,

 

As speedily indeed as ever she might,

 

Should married be unto this January.

 

I think it were too long a time to tarry

485

To tell of deed and bond between them, and

 

The way she was enfeoffed of all his land;

 

Or to hear tell of all her rich array.

 

But finally was come the happy day

 

When to the church together they two went,

490

There to receive the holy sacrament.

 

Forth came the priest with stole about his neck,

 

Saying of Rebecca and Sarah she should reck

 

For wisdom and for truth in her marriage;

 

And said his orisons, as is usage,

495

And crossed them, praying God that he should bless,

 

And made all tight enough with holiness.


nes 497-529: The wedding party

 

 

       Thus been they wedded with solempnitee,

 

And at the feeste sitteth he and she

 

With othere worthy folk upon the deys.

500

Al ful of joye and blisse is the paleys,

 

And ful of instrumentz and of vitaille,

 

The mooste deyntevous of al Ytaille.

 

Biforn hem stoode instrumentz of swich soun

 

That Orpheus, ne of Thebes Amphioun,

505

Ne maden nevere swich a melodye.

 

At every cours thanne cam loud mynstralcye,

 

That nevere tromped Joab for to heer,

 

Nor he Theodomas, yet half so cleere,

 

At Thebes, whan the citee was in doute.

510

Bacus the wyn hem shynketh al aboute,

 

And Venus laugheth upon every wight,

 

For Januarie was bicome hir knyght,

 

And wolde bothe assayen his corage

 

In libertee, and eek in mariage;

515

And with hire fyrbrond in hire hand aboute

 

Daunceth biforn the bryde and al the route.

 

And certeinly, I dar right wel seyn this,

 

Ymeneus, that God of weddyng is,

 

Saugh nevere his lyf so myrie a wedded man.

520

Hoold thou thy pees, thou poete Marcian,

 

That writest us that ilke weddyng murie

 

Of hire Philologie and hym Mercurie,

 

And of the songes that the Muses songe!

 

To smal is bothe thy penen, and eek thy tonge,

525

For to descryven of this mariage.

 

Whan tendre youthe hath wedded stoupyng age,

 

Ther is swich myrthe that it may nat be writen.

 

Assayeth it youreself, thanne may ye witen

 

If that I lye or noon in this matiere.

 

       Thus are they wedded with solemnity,

 

And at the feast are sitting, he and she,

 

With other worthy folk upon the dais.

500

All full of joy and bliss the palace gay is,

 

And full of instruments and viandry,

 

The daintiest in all of Italy.

 

Before them played such instruments anon

 

That Orpheus or Theban Amphion

505

Never in life made such a melody.

 

With every course there rose loud minstrelsy,

 

And never Joab sounded trump, to hear,

 

Nor did Theodomas, one half so clear

 

At Thebes, while yet the city hung in doubt.

510

Bacchus the wine poured out for all about,

 

And Venus gaily laughed for every wight.

 

For January had become her knight,

 

And would make trial of his amorous power

 

In liberty and in the bridal bower;

515

And with her firebrand in her hand, about

 

Danced she before the bride and all the rout.

 

And certainly I dare right well say this,

 

That Hymenaeus, god of wedded bliss,

 

Ne'er saw in life so merry a married man.

520

Hold thou thy peace, thou poet Marcian

 

Who tellest how Philology was wed

 

And how with Mercury she went to bed,

 

And of the sweet songs by the Muses sung.

 

Too slight are both thy pen and thy thin tongue.

525

To show aright this wedding on thy page.

 

When tender youth has wedded stooping age,

 

There is such mirth that no one may it show;

 

Try it yourself, and then you well will know

 

Whether I lie or not in matters here.

lines 530-537: Maia sits beautifully

 

530

       Mayus, that sit with so benyngne a chiere,

 

Hire to biholde it semed fayerye.

 

Queene Ester looked nevere with swich an ye

 

On Assuer, so meke a look hath she.

 

I may yow nat devyse al hir beautee.

535

But thus muche of hire beautee telle I may,

 

That she was lyk the brighte morwe of May,

 

Fulfild of alle beautee and plesaunce.

530

       Maia, she sat there with so gentle cheer,

 

To look at her it seemed like faery;

 

Queen Esther never looked with such an eye

 

Upon Ahasuerus, so meek was she.

 

I can't describe to you all her beauty;

535

But thus much of her beauty I can say,

 

That she was like the brightening morn of May,

 

Fulfilled of beauty and of all pleasance.

ines 538-555: January thinks about consummation of his marriage

 

 

       This Januarie is ravysshed in a traunce

 

At every tyme he looked on hir face;

540

But in his herte he gan hire to manace

 

That he that nyght in armes wolde hire streyne

 

Harder than evere Parys dide Eleyne.

 

But nathelees yet hadde he greet pitee

 

That thilke nyght offenden hire moste he,

545

And thoughte, "Allas! O tendre creature,

 

Now wolde God ye myghte wel endure

 

Al my corage, it is so sharp and keene!

 

I am agast ye shul it nat sustene.

 

But God forbede that I dide al my myght!

550

Now wolde God that it were woxen nyght,

 

And that the nyght wolde lasten everemo.

 

I wolde that al this peple were ago."

 

And finally he dooth al his labour,

 

As he best myghte, savynge his honour,

555

To haste hem fro the mete in subtil wyse.

 

       January was rapt into a trance

 

With each time that he looked upon her face;

540

And in his heart her beauty he'd embrace,

 

And threatened in his arms to hold her tight,

 

Harder than Paris Helen did, that night.

 

But nonetheless great pity, too, had he

 

Because that night she must deflowered be;

545

And thought: "Alas! O tender young creature!

 

Now would God you may easily endure

 

All my desire, it is so sharp and keen.

 

I fear you can't sustain it long, my queen.

 

But God forbid that I do all I might!

550

And now would God that it were come to night,

 

And that the night would last for ever- oh,

 

I wish these people would arise and go."

 

And at the last he laboured all in all,

 

As best he might for manners there in hall,

555

To haste them from the feast in subtle wise.

lines 556-570: A squire called Damian is at the wedding party

 

 

       The tyme cam that resoun was to ryse;

 

And after that men daunce and drynken faste,

 

And spices al aboute the hous they caste,

 

And ful of joye and blisse is every man, -

560

Al but a squyer, highte Damyan,

 

Which carf biforn the knyght ful many a day.

 

He was so ravysshed on his lady May

 

That for the verray peyne he was ny wood.

 

Almoost he swelte and swowned ther he stood,

565

So soore hath Venus hurt hym with hire brond,

 

As that she bar it daunsynge in hire hond;

 

And to his bed he wente hym hastily.

 

Namoore of hym as at this tyme speke I,

 

But there I lete hym wepe ynogh and pleyne,

570

Til fresshe May wol rewen on his peyne.

 

       Time came when it was right that they should rise;

 

And after that men danced and drank right fast,

 

And spices all about the house they cast;

 

And full of bliss and joy was every man,

560

All but a squire, a youth called Damian,

 

Who'd carved before the knight full many a day.

 

He was so ravished by his Lady May

 

That for the very pain, as madman would,

 

Almost he fell down fainting where he stood.

565

So sore had Venus hurt him with her brand,

 

When she went dancing, bearing it in hand.

 

And to his bed he took him speedily;

 

No more of him just at this time say I.

 

I'll let him weep his fill, with woe complain,

570

Until fresh May have ruth upon his pain.

lines 571-582: January doesn't know Damian likes Maia

 

 

       O perilous fyr, that in the bedstraw bredeth!

 

O famulier foo, that his servyce bedeth!

 

O servant traytour, false hoomly hewe,

 

Lyk to the naddre in bosom sly untrewe,

575

God shilde us alle from youre aqueyntaunce!

 

O Januarie, dronken in plesaunce

 

In mariage, se how thy Damyan,

 

Thyn owene squier and thy borne man,

 

Entendeth for to do thee vileynye.

580

God graunte thee thyn hoomly fo t'espye!

 

For in this world nys worse pestilence

 

Than hoomly foo al day in thy presence.

 

       O dangerous fire that in the bedstraw breeds!

 

O foe familiar that his service speeds!

 

O treacherous servant, false domestic who

 

Is most like adder in bosom, sly, untrue,

575

God shield us all from knowing aught of you!

 

O January, drunk of pleasure's brew

 

In marriage, see how now your Damian,

 

Your own trained personal squire, born your man,

 

Wishes and means to do you villainy.

580

God grant that on this household foe you'll spy!

 

For in this world no pestilence is worse

 

Than foe domestic, constantly a curse.

ines 583-653: The consummation of the marriage

 

 

       Parfourned hath the sonne his ark diurne;

 

No lenger may the body of hym sojurne

585

On th'orisonte, as in that latitude.

 

Night with his mantel, that is derk and rude,

 

Gan oversprede the hemysperie aboute;

 

For which departed is this lusty route

 

Fro Januarie, with thank on every syde.

590

Hoom to hir houses lustily they ryde,

 

Where as they doon hir thynges as hem leste,

 

And whan they sye hir tyme, goon to reste.

 

Soone after than, this hastif Januarie

 

Wolde go to bedde, he wolde no lenger tarye.

595

He drynketh ypocras, clarree, and vernage

 

Of spices hoote, t'encreessen his corage;

 

And many a letuarie hath he ful fyn,

 

Swiche as the cursed monk, daun Constantyn,

 

Hath writen in his book De Coitu;

600

To eten hem alle he nas no thyng eschu.

 

And to his privee freendes thus seyde he:

 

"For Goddes love, as soone as it may be,

 

Lat voyden al this hous in curteys wyse."

 

And they han doon right as he wol devyse.

605

Men drynken, and the travers drawe anon.

 

The bryde was broght abedde as stille as stoon;

 

And whan the bed was with the preest yblessed,

 

Out of the chambre hath every wight hym dressed;

 

And Januarie hath faste in armes take

610

His fresshe May, his paradys, his make.

 

He lulleth hire, he kisseth hire ful ofte;

 

With thikke brustles of his berd unsofte,

 

Lyk to the skyn of houndfyssh, sharp as brere -

 

For he was shave al newe in his manere -

615

He rubbeth hire aboute hir tendre face,

 

And seyde thus, "Allas! I moot trespace

 

To yow, my spouse, and yow greetly offende,

 

Er tyme come that I wil doun descende.

 

But nathelees, considereth this," quod he,

620

"Ther nys no werkman, whatsoevere he be,

 

That may bothe werke wel and hastily;

 

This wol be doon at leyser parfitly.

 

It is no fors how longe that we pleye;

 

In trewe wedlok coupled be we tweye;

625

And blessed be the yok that we been inne,

 

For in oure actes we mowe do no synne.

 

A man may do no synne with his wyf,

 

Ne hurte hymselven with his owene knyf;

 

For we han leve to pleye us by the lawe."

630

Thus laboureth he til that the day gan dawe;

 

And thanne he taketh a sop in fyn clarree,

 

And upright in his bed thanne sitteth he,

 

And after that he sang ful loude and cleere,

 

And kiste his wyf, and made wantown cheere

635

He was al coltissh, ful of ragerye,

 

And ful of jargon as a flekked pye.

 

The slakke skyn aboute his nekke shaketh,

 

Whil that he sang, so chaunteth he and craketh.

 

But God woot what that may thoughte in hir herte,

640

Whan she hym saugh up sittynge in his sherte,

 

In his nyght-cappe, and with his nekke lene;

 

She preyseth nat his pleyyng worth a bene.

 

Thanne seide he thus, "My reste wol I take;

 

Now day is come, I may no lenger wake."

645

And doun he leyde his heed, and sleep til pryme.

 

And afterward, whan that he saugh his tyme,

 

Up ryseth Januarie; but fresshe May

 

Heeld hire chambre unto the fourthe day,

 

As usage is of wyves for the beste.

650

For every labour somtyme moot han reste,

 

Or elles longe may he nat endure;

 

This is to seyn, no lyves creature,

 

Be it of fyssh, or bryd, or beest, or man.

 

       When traversed has the sun his are of day,

 

No longer may the body of him stay

585

On the horizon, in that latitude.

 

Night with his mantle, which is dark and rude,

 

Did overspread the hemisphere about;

 

And so departed had this joyous rout

 

From January, with thanks on every side.

590

Home to their houses happily they ride,

 

Whereat they do what things may please them best,

 

And when they see the time come, go to rest.

 

Soon after that this hasty January

 

Would go to bed, he would no longer tarry.

595

He drank of claret, hippocras, vernage,

 

All spiced and hot to heighten his love's rage;

 

And many an aphrodisiac, full and fine,

 

Such as the wicked monk, Dan Constantine,

 

Has written in his book De Coitu

600

Not one of all of them he did eschew.

 

And to his friends most intimate, said he:

 

"For God's love, and as soon as it may be,

 

Let all now leave this house in courteous wise."

 

And all they rose, just as he bade them rise.

605

They drank good-night, and curtains drew anon;

 

The bride was brought to bed, as still as stone;

 

And when the bed had been by priest well blessed,

 

Out of the chamber everyone progressed.

 

And January lay down close beside

610

His fresh young May, his paradise, his bride.

 

He soothed her, and he kissed her much and oft,

 

With the thick bristles of his beard, not soft,

 

But sharp as briars, like a dogfish skin,

 

For he'd been badly shaved before he came in.

615

He stroked and rubbed her on her tender face,

 

And said: "Alas! I fear I'll do trespass

 

Against you here, my spouse, and much offend

 

Before the time when I will down descend.

 

But nonetheless, consider this," said he,

620

"There is no workman, whosoe'er he be,

 

That may work well, if he works hastily;

 

This will be done at leisure, perfectly.

 

It makes no difference how long we two play;

 

For in true wedlock were we tied today;

625

And blessed be the yoke that we are in,

 

For in our acts, now, we can do no sin.

 

A man can do no sin with his own wife,

 

Nor can he hurt himself with his own knife;

 

For we have leave most lawfully to play."

630

Thus laboured he till came the dawn of day;

 

And then he took in wine a sop of bread,

 

And upright sat within the marriage bed,

 

And after that he sang full loud and clear

 

And kissed his wife and made much wanton cheer.

635

He was all coltish, full of venery,

 

And full of chatter as a speckled pie.

 

The slackened skin about his neck did shake

 

The while he sang and chanted like a crake.

 

But God knows what thing May thought in her heart

640

When up she saw him sitting in his shirt,

 

In his nightcap, and with his neck so lean;

 

She valued his playing not worth a bean.

 

Then said he thus: "My rest now will I take;

 

Now day is come, I can no longer wake."

645

And down he laid his head and slept till prime.

 

And afterward, when saw he it was time,

 

Up rose this January; but fresh May,

 

She kept her chamber until the fourth day,

 

As custom is of wives, and for the best.

650

For every worker sometime must have rest,

 

Or else for long he'll certainly not thrive,

 

That is to say, no creature that's alive,

 

Be it of fish, or bird, or beast, or man.

ines 654-672: Lovesick Damian writes a letter and puts it in his shirt pocket

 

 

       Now wol I speke of woful Damyan,

655

That langwissheth for love, as ye shul heere;

 

Therfore I speke to hym in this manere:

 

I seye, "O sely Damyan, allas!

 

Andswere to my demaunde, as in this cas.

 

How shaltow to thy lady, fresshe May,

660

Telle thy wo? She wole alwey seye nay.

 

Eek if thou speke, she wol thy wo biwreye.

 

God be thyn helpe! I kan no bettre seye."

 

       This sike Damyan in Venus fyr

 

So brenneth that he dyeth for desyr,

665

For which he putte his lyf in aventure.

 

No lenger myghte he in this wise endure,

 

But prively a penner gan he borwe,

 

And in a lettre wroot he al his sorwe,

 

In manere of a compleynt or a lay,

670

Unto his faire, fresshe lady may;

 

And in a purs of sylk, heng on his sherte

 

He hath it put, and leyde it at his herte.

 

       Now will I speak of woeful Damian,

655

Who languished for his love, as you shall hear;

 

I thus address him in this fashion here.

 

I say: "O hapless Damian, alas!

 

Answer to my demand in this your case,

 

How shall you to your lady, lovely May,

660

Tell all your woe? She would of course say 'Nay.'

 

And if you speak, she will your state betray;

 

God be your help! I can no better say."

 

This lovesick Damian in Venus' fire

 

So burned, he almost perished for desire;

665

Which put his life in danger, I am sure;

 

Longer in this wise could he not endure;

 

But privily a pen-case did he borrow

 

And in a letter wrote he all his sorrow,

 

In form of a complaint or of a lay,

670

Unto his fair and blooming Lady May.

 

And in a purse of silk hung in his shirt,

 

He put the poem and laid it next his heart.

lines 673-693: January asks for Damian and hears he is sick

 

 

       The moone, that at noon was thilke day

 

That Januarie hath wedded fresshe May

675

In two of Tawr, was into Cancre glyden;

 

So longe hath Mayus in hir chambre abyden,

 

As custume is unto thise nobles alle.

 

A bryde shal nat eten in the halle

 

Til dayes foure, or thre dayes atte leeste,

680

Ypassed been; thanne lat hire go to feeste.

 

The fourthe day compleet fro noon to noon,

 

Whan that the heighe masse was ydoon,

 

In halle sit this Januarie and May,

 

As fressh as is the brighte someres day.

685

And so bifel how that this goode man

 

Remembred hym upon this Damyan,

 

And seyde, "Seynte Marie! how may this be,

 

That Damyan entendeth nat to me?

 

Is he ay syk, or how may this bityde?"

690

His squieres, whiche that stooden ther bisyde,

 

Excused hym by cause of his siknesse,

 

Which letted hym to doon his bisynesse;

 

Noon oother cause myghte make hym tarye.

 

       The moon, which was at noon of that same day

 

Whereon this January wedded May

675

Half way through Taurus, had to Cancer glided,

 

So long had Maia in her chamber bided.

 

As is the custom among nobles all.

 

A bride shall not eat in the common hall

 

Until four days, or three days at the least,

680

Have fully passed; then let her go to feast.

 

On the fourth day, complete from noon to noon,

 

After the high Mass had been said and done,

 

In hall did January sit with May

 

As fresh as is the fair bright summer day.

685

And so befell it there that this good man

 

Recalled to mind his squire, this Damian,

 

And said: "Why holy Mary! How can it be

 

That Damian attends not here on me?

 

Is he sick always? How may this betide?"

690

His other squires, who waited there beside,

 

Made the excuse that he indeed was ill,

 

Which kept him from his proper duties still;

 

There was no other cause could make him tarry.


lines 694-719: January orders Maia to cheer up Damian

 

 

       "That me forthynketh," quod this Januarie,

695

       "He is a gentil squier, by my trouthe!

 

If that he deyde, it were harm and routhe.

 

He is as wys, discreet, and as secree

 

As any man I woot of his degree,

 

And therto manly, and eek servysable.

700

And for to been a thrifty man right able.

 

But after mete, as soone as evere I may,

 

I wol myself visite hym, and eek May,

 

To doon hym al the confort that I kan."

 

And for that word hym blessed every man,

705

That of his bountee and his gentillesse

 

He wolde so conforten in siknesse

 

His squier, for it was a gentil dede.

 

"Dame," quod this Januarie, "taak good hede,

 

At after-mete ye with youre wommen alle,

710

Whan ye han been in chambre out of this halle,

 

That alle ye go se this Damyan.

 

Dooth hym disport - he is a gentil man;

 

And telleth hym that I wol hym visite,

 

Have I no thyng but rested me a lite;

715

And spede yow faste, for I wole abyde

 

Til that ye slepe faste by my syde."

 

And with that word he gan to hym to calle

 

A squier, that was marchal of his halle,

 

And tolde hym certeyn thynges, what he wolde.

 

       "That is a pity," said this January,

695

       "He is a gentle squire, aye, by my truth!

 

If he should die, it were great harm and ruth;

 

As wise and secret, and discreet is he

 

As any man I know of his degree;

 

Therewith he's manly and he's serviceable,

700

And to become a useful man right able.

 

But after meat, as soon as ever I may,

 

I will myself go visit him, with May,

 

To give him all the comfort that I can."

 

And for that word they blessed him, every man,

705

Because, for goodness and his gentleness,

 

He would so go to comfort, in sickness,

 

His suffering squire, for 'twas a gentle deed.

 

"Dame," said this January, "take good heed

 

That after meat, you, with your women all,

710

When you have gone to chamber from this hall,

 

That all you go to see this Damian;

 

Cheer him a bit, for he's a gentleman;

 

And tell him that I'll come to visit him

 

After I've rested- a short interim;

715

And get this over quickly, for I'll bide

 

Awake until you sleep there at my side."

 

And with that word he raised his voice to call

 

A squire, who served as marshal of his hall,

 

And certain things he wished arranged were told.

lines 720-742: Damian stealthly passes the letter to Maia

 

720

       This fresshe May hath streight hir wey yholde,

 

With alle hir wommen, unto Damyan.

 

Doun by his beddes syde sit she than,

 

Confortynge hym as goodly as she may.

 

This Damyan, whan that his tyme he say,

725

In secree wise his purs and eek his bille,

 

In which that he ywriten hadde his wille,

 

Hath put into hire hand, withouten moore,

 

Save that he siketh wonder depe and soore

 

And softely to hire right thus seyde he:

730

"Mercy! and that ye nat discovere me,

 

For I am deed if that this thyng be kyd."

 

This purs hath she inwith hir bosom hyd,

 

And wente hire wey; ye gete namoore of me.

 

But unto Januarie ycomen is she,

735

That on his beddes syde sit ful softe.

 

He taketh hire, and kisseth hire ful ofte,

 

And leyde hym doun to slepe, and that anon.

 

She feyned hire as that she moste gon

 

Ther as ye woot that every wight moot neede;

740

And whan she of this bille hath taken heede,

 

She rente it al to cloutes atte laste,

 

And in the pryvee softely it caste.

720

       This lovely May then did her straight way hold,

 

With all her women, unto Damian.

 

Down by his bed she sat, and so began

 

To comfort him with kindly word and glance.

 

This Damian, when once he'd found his chance,

725

In secret wise his purse and letter, too,

 

Wherein he'd said what he aspired to,

 

He put into her hand, with nothing more,

 

Save that he heaved a sigh both deep and sore,

 

And softly to her in this wise said he:

730

"Oh, mercy! Don't, I beg you, tell on me;

 

For I'm but dead if this thing be made known."

 

This purse she hid in bosom of her gown

 

And went her way; you get no more of me.

 

But unto January then came she,

735

Who on his bedside sat in mood full soft.

 

He took her in his arms and kissed her oft,

 

And laid him down to sleep, and that anon.

 

And she pretended that she must be gone

 

Where you know well that everyone has need.

740

And when she of this note had taken heed,

 

She tore it all to fragments at the last

 

And down the privy quietly it cast.

lines 743-754: Maia obeys January

 

 

       Who studieth now but faire fresshe May?

 

Adoun by olde Januarie she lay,

745

That sleep til that the coughe hath hym awaked.

 

Anon he preyde hire strepen hire al naked;

 

He wolde of hire, he seyde, han som plesaunce,

 

And seyde hir clothes dide hym encombraunce,

 

And she obeyeth, be hire lief or looth.

750

But lest that precious folk be with me wrooth,

 

How that he wroghte, I dar nat to yow telle;

 

Or wheither hire thoughte it paradys or helle.

 

But heere I lete hem werken in hir wyse

 

Til evensong rong, and that they moste aryse.

 

       Who's in brown study now but fair fresh May?

 

Down by old January's side she lay,

745

Who slept, until the cough awakened him;

 

He prayed her strip all naked for his whim;

 

He would have pleasure of her, so he said,

 

And clothes were an incumbrance when in bed,

 

And she obeyed him, whether lief or loath.

750

But lest these precious folk be with me wroth,

 

How there he worked, I dare not to you tell;

 

Nor whether she thought it paradise or hell;

 

But there I leave them working in their wise

 

Till vespers rang and they must needs arise.

lines 755-774: Maia thinks about Damian

 

755

       Were it by destynee or aventure,

 

Were it by influence or by nature,

 

Or constellacion, that in swich estaat

 

The hevene stood, that tyme fortunaat

 

Was for to putte a bille of Venus werkes -

760

For alle thyng hath tyme, as seyn thise clerkes -

 

To any womman, for to gete hire love,

 

I kan nat seye; but grete God above,

 

That knoweth that noon act is causeless,

 

He deme of al, for I wole hole my pees.

765

But sooth is this, how that this fresshe May

 

Hath take swich impression that day

 

Of pitee of this sike Damyan,

 

That from hire herte she ne dryve kan

 

The remembrance for to doon hym ese.

770

"Certeyn," thoghte she, "whom that this thyng displese,

 

I rekke noght, for heere I hym assure

 

To love hym best of any creature,

 

Though he namoore hadde than his sherte."

 

Lo, pitee renneth soone in gentil herte!

755

       Were it by destiny or merely chance,

 

By nature or some other circumstance,

 

Or constellation's sign, that in such state

 

The heavens stood, the time was fortunate

 

To make request concerning Venus' works

760

For there's a time for all things, say these clerks

 

To any woman, to procure her love,

 

I cannot say; but the great God above,

 

Who knows there's no effect without a cause,

 

He may judge all, for here my voice withdraws.

765

But true it is that this fair blooming May

 

Was so affected and impressed that day

 

For pity of this lovesick Damian,

 

That from her heart she could not drive or ban

 

Remembrance of her wish to give him ease.

770

"Certainly," thought she, "whom this may displease

 

I do not care, for I'd assure him now

 

Him with my love I'd willingly endow,

 

Though he'd no more of riches than his shirt."

 

Lo, pity soon wells up in gentle heart.

ines 775-782: An example on generosity

 

755

       Heere may ye se how excellent franchise

 

In wommen is, whan they hem narwe avyse.

 

Som tyrant is, as ther be many oon,

 

That hath an herte as hard as any stoon,

 

Which wolde han lat hym sterven in the place

780

Wel rather than han graunted hym hire grace;

 

And hem rejoysen in hire crueel pryde,

 

And rekke nat to been an homycide.

775

       Here may you see what generosity

 

In women is when they advise closely.

 

Perhaps some tyrant, for there's many a one,

 

Who has a heart as hard as any stone,

 

Would well have let him die within that place

780

Much rather than have granted him her grace;

 

And such would have rejoiced in cruel pride,

 

Nor cared that she were thus a homicide.

lines 783-796: Maia writes a letter back and reveals her thougths to Damian

 

 

       This gentil May, fulfilled of pitee,

 

Right of hire hand a lettre made she,

785

In which she graunteth hym hire verray grace.

 

Ther lakketh noght, oonly but day and place,

 

Wher that she myghte unto his lust suffise;

 

For it shal be right as he wole devyse.

 

And whan she saugh hir tyme, upon a day,

790

To visite this Damyan gooth May,

 

And sotilly this lettre doun she threste

 

Under his pilwe, rede it if hym leste.

 

She taketh hym by the hand, and harde hym twiste

 

So secrely that no wight of it wiste,

795

And bad hym been al hool, and forth she wente

 

To Januarie, whan that he for hire sente.

 

       This gentle May, fulfilled of all pity,

 

With her own hand a letter then wrote she

785

In which she granted him her utmost grace;

 

There was naught lacking now, except time and place

 

Wherein she might suffice to ease his lust:

 

For all should be as he would have it, just;

 

And when she'd opportunity on a day,

790

To visit Damian went this lovely May,

 

And cleverly this letter she thrust close

 

Under his pillow, read it if he chose.

 

She took him by the hand and hard did press,

 

So secretly that no one else could guess,

795

And bade him gain his health, and forth she went

 

To January, when for her he sent.

lines 797-808: Damian is well again

 

 

       Up riseth Damyan the nexte morwe;

 

Al passed was his siknesse and his sorwe.

 

He kembeth hym, he preyneth hym and pyketh,

800

He dooth al that his lady lust and lyketh;

 

And eek to Januarie he gooth as lowe

 

As evere dide a dogge for the bowe.

 

He is so plesant unto every man

 

(For craft is al, whoso that do it kan)

805

That every wight is fayn to speke hym good;

 

And fully in his lady grace he stood.

 

Thus lete I Damyan aboute his nede,

 

And in my tale forth I wol procede.

 

       Up rose this Damian upon the morrow,

 

For gone was all his sickness and his sorrow.

 

He combed himself and preened his feathers smooth,

800

He did all that his lady liked, in sooth;

 

And then to January went as low

 

As ever did a hound trained to the bow.

 

He was so pleasant unto every man

 

For craft is everything for those who can

805

That everyone was fain to speak his good;

 

And fully in his lady's grace he stood.

 

Thus Damian I leave about his need

 

And forward in my tale I will proceed.

ines 808-829: About January's garden

 

 

       Somme clerkes holden that felicitee

810

Stant in delit, and therfore certeyn he,

 

This noble Januarie, with al his myght,

 

In honest wyse, as longeth to a knyght,

 

Shoop hym to lyve ful deliciously.

 

His housynge, his array, as honestly

815

To his degree was maked as a kynges.

 

Amonges othere of his honeste thynges,

 

He made a gardyn, walled al with stoon;

 

So fair a gardyn woot I nowher noon.

 

For, out of doute, I verraily suppose

820

That he that wroot the romance of the rose

 

Ne koude of it the beautee wel devyse;

 

Ne Priapus ne myghte nat suffise,

 

Though he be God of gardyns, for to telle

 

The beautee of the gardyn and the welle,

825

That stood under a laurer alwey grene.

 

Ful ofte tyme he Pluto and his queene,

 

Proserpina, and al hire fayerye,

 

Disporten hem and maken melodye

 

Aboute that welle, and daunced, as men tolde.

 

       Some writers hold that all felicity

810

Stands in delight, and therefor, certainly,

 

This noble January, with all his might,

 

Honourably, as does befit a knight,

 

Arranged affairs to live deliciously.

 

His housing, his array, as splendidly

815

Befitted his condition as a king's.

 

Among the rest of his luxurious things

 

He built a garden walled about with stone;

 

So fair a garden do I know of none.

 

For, without doubt, I verily suppose

820

That he who wrote The Romance of the Rose

 

Could not its beauty say in singing wise;

 

Nor could Priapus' power quite suffice,

 

Though he is god of gardens all, to tell

 

The beauty of that garden, and the well

825

Which was beneath the laurel always green.

 

For oftentimes God Pluto and his queen,

 

Fair Proserpine and all her faery

 

Disported there and made sweet melody

 

About that well, and danced there, as men told.

ines 830-844: About the key to the garden

 

830

       This noble knyght, this Januarie the olde,

 

Swich deyntee hath in it to walke and pleye,

 

That he wol no wight suffren bere the keye

 

Save he hymself; for of the smale wyket

 

He baar alwey of silver a clyket,

835

With which, whan that hym leste, he it unshette.

 

And whan he wolde paye his wyf hir dette

 

In somer seson, thider wolde he go,

 

And May his wyf, and no wight but they two;

 

And thynges whiche that were nat doon abedde,

840

He in the gardyn parfourned hem and spedde.

 

And in this wyse, many a murye day,

 

Lyved this Januarie and fresshe May.

 

But worldly joye may nat alwey dure

 

To Januarie, ne to creature.

830

       This noble knight, this January old,

 

Such pleasure had therein to walk and play,

 

That none he'd suffer bear the key, they say.

 

Except he himself; for of the little wicket

 

He carried always the small silver clicket

835

With which, as pleased him, he'd unlock the gate.

 

And when he chose to pay court to his mate

 

In summer season, thither would he go

 

With May, his wife, and no one but they two;

 

And divers things that were not done abed,

840

Within that garden there were done, 'tis said.

 

And in this manner many a merry day

 

Lived this old January and young May.

 

But worldly pleasure cannot always stay,

 

And January's joy must pass away.

ines 845-856: About January's mental blindness

 

845

       O sodeyn hap! O thou fortune unstable!

 

Lyk to the scorpion so deceyvable,

 

That flaterest with thyn heed whan thou wolt stynge;

 

Thy tayl is deeth, thurgh thyn envenymynge.

 

O brotil joye! o sweete venym queynte!

850

O monstre, that so subtilly kanst peynte

 

Thy yiftes under hewe of stidefastnesse,

 

That thou deceyvest bothe moore and lesse!

 

Why hastow Januarie thus deceyved,

 

That haddest hym for thy fulle freend receyved?

855

And now thou hast biraft hym bothe his ye,

 

For sorwe of which desireth he to dyen.

845

       O sudden chance, O Fortune, thou unstable,

 

Like to the scorpion so deceptive, able

 

To flatter with thy mouth when thou wilt sting;

 

Thy tail is death, through thine envenoming.

 

O fragile joy! O poison sweetly taint!

850

O monster that so cleverly canst paint

 

Thy gifts in all the hues of steadfastness

 

That thou deceivest both the great and less!

 

Why hast thou January thus deceived,

 

That had'st him for thine own full friend received?

855

And now thou hast bereft him of his eyes,

 

For sorrow of which in love he daily dies.

ines 857-898: January becomes physically blind but observes his wife Maia closely

 

 

       Allas! this noble Januarie free,

 

Amydde his lust and his prosperitee,

 

Is woxen blynd, and that al sodeynly,

860

He wepeth and he wayleth pitously;

 

And therwithal the fyr of jalousie,

 

Lest that his wyf sholde falle in som folye,

 

So brente his herte that he wolde fayn

 

That som man bothe hire and hym had slayn.

865

For neither after his deeth, nor in his lyf,

 

Ne wolde he that she were love ne wyf,

 

But evere lyve as wydwe in clothes blake,

 

Soul as the turtle that lost hath hire make,

 

But atte laste, after a month or tweye

870

His sorwe gan aswage, sooth to seye;

 

For whan he wiste it may noon oother be,

 

He paciently took his adversitee,

 

Save, out of doute, he may nat forgoon

 

That he nas jalous everemoore in oon;

875

Which jalousye it was so outrageous,

 

That neither in halle, n'yn noon oother hous,

 

Ne in noon oother place, neverthemo,

 

He nolde suffre hire for to ryde or go,

 

But if that he had hond on hire alway;

880

For which ful ofte wepeth fresshe May,

 

That loveth Damyan so benyngnely

 

That she moot outher dyen sodeynly,

 

Or elles she moot han hym as hir leste.

 

She wayteth whan hir herte wolde breste.

885

Upon that oother syde Damyan

 

Bicomen is the sorwefulleste man

 

That evere was; for neither nyght ne day

 

Ne myghte he speke a word to fresshe May,

 

As to his purpos, of no swich mateere,

890

But if that Januarie moste it heere,

 

That hadde an hand upon hire everemo.

 

But nathelees, by writyng to and fro,

 

And privee signes, wiste he what she mente,

 

And she knew eek the fyn of his entente.

895

O Januarie, what myghte it thee availle,

 

Thogh thou myghte se as fer as shippes saille?

 

For as good is blynd deceyved be

 

As to be deceyved whan a man may se.

 

       Alas! This noble January free,

 

In all his pleasure and prosperity,

 

Is fallen blind, and that all suddenly.

860

He wept and he lamented, pitifully;

 

And therewithal the fire of jealousy

 

Lest that his wife should fall to some folly,

 

So burned within his heart that he would fain

 

Both him and her some man had swiftly slain.

865

For neither after death nor in his life

 

Would he that she were other's love or wife,

 

But dress in black and live in widow's state,

 

Lone as the turtle-dove that's lost her mate.

 

But finally, after a month or twain,

870

His grief somewhat abated, to speak plain;

 

For when he knew it might not elsewise be,

 

He took in patience his adversity,

 

Except, doubtless, he could not renounce, as done,

 

His jealousy, from which he never won.

875

For this his passion was so outrageous

 

That neither in his hall nor other house

 

Nor any other place, not ever, no,

 

He suffered her to ride or walking go,

 

Unless he had his hand on her alway;

880

For which did often weep this fresh young May,

 

Who loved her Damian so tenderly

 

That she must either swiftly die or she

 

Must have him as she willed, her thirst to slake;

 

Biding her time, she thought her heart would break.

885

And on the other side this Damian

 

Was now become the most disconsolate man

 

That ever was; for neither night nor day

 

Might he so much as speak a word to May

 

Of his desire, as I am telling here,

890

Except it were said to January's ear,

 

Who never took his blind hand off her, no.

 

Nevertheless, by writing to and fro

 

And secret signals, he knew what she meant;

 

And she too knew the aim of his intent.

895

O January, what might it now avail

 

Could your eyes see as far as ships can sail?

 

For it's as pleasant, blind, deceived to be

 

As be deceived while yet a man may see.

lines 899-912: A wax impression is made of the key to the garden

 

 

       Lo, Argus, which that hadde an hondred yen,

900

For al that evere he koude poure or pryen,

 

Yet was he blent, and, God woot, so been mo,

 

That wenen wisly that it be nat so.

 

Passe over is an ese, I sey namoore.

 

This fresshe May, that I spak of so yoore,

905

In warm wex hath emprented the clyket

 

That Januarie bar of the smale wyket,

 

By which into his gardyn ofte he wente;

 

And Damyan, that knew al hire entente,

 

The cliket countrefeted pryvely.

910

Ther nys namoore to seye, but hastily

 

Som wonder by this clyket shal bityde,

 

Which ye shul heeren, if ye wole abyde.

 

       Lo, Argus, who was called the hundred-eyed,

900

No matter how he peered and watched and pried,

 

He was deceived; and God knows others to

 

Who think, and firmly, that it is not so.

 

Oblivion is peace; I say no more.

 

This lovely May, of whom I spoke before,

905

In warm wax made impression of the key

 

Her husband carried, to the gate where he

 

In entering his garden often went.

 

And Damian, who knew all her intent,

 

The key did counterfeit, and privately;

910

There is no more to say, but speedily

 

Some mischief of this latch-key shall betide,

 

Which you shall hear, if you but time will bide.


lines 913-936: January asks Maia to go with him to the garden

 

 

       O noble Ovyde, ful sooth seystou, God woot,

 

What sleighte is it, thogh it be long and hoot,

915

That Love nyl fynde it out in som manere?

 

By Piramus and Tesbee may men leere;

 

Thogh they were kept ful longe streite overal,

 

They been accorded, rownynge thurgh a wal,

 

Ther no wight koude han founde out swich a sleighte.

920

But now to purpos: er that dayes eighte

 

Were passed, er the month of Juyn, bifil

 

That Januarie hath caught so greet a wil,

 

Thurgh eggyng of his wyf, hym for to pleye

 

In his gardyn, and no wight but they tweye,

925

That in a morwe unto his May seith he:

 

"Rys up, my wyf, my love, my lady free!

 

The turtles voys is herd, my dowve sweete;

 

The wynter is goon with alle his reynes weete.

 

Com forth now, with thyne eyen columbyn!

930

How fairer been thy brestes than is wyn!

 

The gardyn is enclosed al aboute;

 

Com forth, my white spouse! Out of doute

 

Thou hast me wounded in myn herte, o wyf!

 

No spot of thee ne knew I al my lyf.

935

Com forth, and lat us taken oure disport;

 

I chees thee for my wyf and my confort."

 

       O noble Ovid, truth you say, God wot!

 

What art is there, though it be long and hot,

915

But Love will find it somehow suits his turn?

 

By Pyramus and Thisbe may men learn;

 

Though they were strictly kept apart in all,

 

They soon accorded, whispering through a wall,

 

Where none could have suspected any gate.

920

But now to purpose: before had passed days eight,

 

And before the first day of July, befell

 

That January was under such a spell,

 

Through egging of his wife, to go and play

 

Within his garden, and no one but they,

925

That on a morning to this May said he:

 

"Rise up, my wife, my love, my lady free;

 

The turtle's voice is heard, my dove so sweet;

 

The winter's past, the rain's gone, and the sleet;

 

Come forth now with your two eyes columbine!

930

How sweeter are your breasts than is sweet wine!

 

The garden is enclosed and walled about;

 

Come forth, my white spouse, for beyond all doubt

 

You have me ravished in my heart, O wife!

 

No fault have I found in you in my life.

935

Come forth, come forth, and let us take our sport;

 

I chose you for my wife and my comfort."

lines 937-947: Maia stealthly signs to Damian and they go to the garden

 

 

       Swiche olde lewed wordes used he.

 

On Damyan a signe made she,

 

That he sholde go biforn with his cliket.

940

This Damyan thanne hath opened the wyket,

 

And in he stirte, and that in swich manere

 

That no wight myghte it se neither yheere,

 

And stille he sit under a bussh anon.

 

This Januarie, as blynd as is a stoon,

945

With Mayus in his hand, and no wight mo,

 

Into his fresshe gardyn is ago,

 

And clapte to the wyket sodeynly.

 

       Such were the lewd old words that then used he;

 

To Damian a secret sign made she

 

That he should go before them with his clicket;

940

This Damian then opened up the wicket,

 

And in he slipped, and that in manner such

 

That none could see nor hear; and he did crouch

 

And still he sat beneath a bush anon.

 

This January, blind as is a stone,

945

With Maia's hand in his, and none else there,

 

Into his garden went, so fresh and fair,

 

And then clapped to the wicket suddenly.

ines 948-972: In the garden, January affirms his love to Maia

 

 

       "Now wyf," quod he, "heere nys but thou and I,

 

That art the creature that I best love.

950

For by that lord that sit in hevene above,

 

Levere ich hadde to dyen on a knyf,

 

Than thee offende, trewe deere wyf!

 

For Goddes sake, thenk how I thee chees,

 

Noght for no coveitise, doutelees,

955

But oonly for the love I had to thee.

 

And though that I be oold, and may nat see,

 

Beth to me trewe, and I wol telle yow why.

 

Thre thynges, certes, shal ye wynne therby:

 

First, love of Crist, and to youreself honour,

960

And al myn heritage, toun and tour;

 

I yeve it yow, maketh chartres as yow leste;

 

This shal be doon to-morwe er sonne reste,

 

So wisly God my soule brynge in blisse.

 

I prey yow first, in covenant ye me kisse;

965

And though that I be jalous, wyte me noght.

 

Ye been so depe enprented in my thoght

 

That, whan that I considere youre beautee,

 

And therwithal the unlikly elde of me,

 

I may nat, certes, though I sholde dye,

970

Forbere to been out of youre compaignye

 

For verray love; this is withouten doute.

 

Now kys me, wyf, and lat us rome aboute."

 

       "Now, wife," said he, "here's none but you and I,

 

And you're the one of all that I best love.

950

For by that Lord Who sits in Heaven above,

 

Far rather would I die upon a knife

 

Than do offence to you, my true, dear wife!

 

For God's sake how I did choose you out,

 

And for no love of money, beyond doubt,

955

But only for the love you roused in me.

 

And though I am grown old and cannot see,

 

Be true to me, and I will tell you why.

 

Three things, it's certain, shall you gain thereby;

 

First, Christ's dear love, and honour of your own,

960

And all my heritage of tower and town;

 

I give it you, draw deeds to please you, pet;

 

This shall be done tomorrow before sunset.

 

So truly may God bring my soul to bliss,

 

I pray you first, in covenant, that we kiss.

965

And though I'm jealous, yet reproach me not.

 

You are so deeply printed in my thought

 

That, when I do consider your beauty

 

And therewith all the unlovely age of me,

 

I cannot, truly, nay, though I should die,'

970

Abstain from being in your company,

 

For utter love; of this there is no doubt.

 

Now kiss me, wife, and let us walk about."

lines 973-994: Maia affirms her love to her husband January

 

 

       This fresshe May, whan she thise wordes herde,

 

Benyngnely to Januarie answerde,

975

But first and forward she bigan to wepe.

 

"I have," quod she, "a soule for to kepe

 

As wel as ye, and also myn honour,

 

And of my wyfhod thilke tendre flour,

 

Which that I have assured in youre hond,

980

Whan that the preest to yow my body bond;

 

Wherfore I wole answere in this manere,

 

By the leve of yow, my lord so deere:

 

I prey to God that nevere dawe the day

 

That I ne sterve, as foule as womman may,

985

If evere I do unto my kyn that shame,

 

Or elles I empeyre so my name,

 

That I be fals; and if I do that lak,

 

Do strepe me and put me in a sak,

 

And in the nexte ryver do me drenche.

990

I am a gentil womman and no wenche.

 

Why speke ye thus? But men been evere untrewe,

 

And wommen have repreve of yow ay newe.

 

Ye han noon oother contenance, I leeve,

 

But speke to us of untrust and repreeve."

 

       This blooming May, when these words she had heard,

 

Graciously January she answered,

975

But first and foremost she began to weep.

 

"I have also," said she, "a soul to keep,

 

As well as you, and also honour mine,

 

And of my wifehood that sweet flower divine

 

Which I assured you of, both safe and sound,

980

When unto you that priest my body bound;

 

Wherefore I'll answer you in this manner,

 

If I may by your leave, my lord so dear.

 

I pray to God that never dawns the day

 

That I'll not die, foully as woman may,

985

If ever I do unto my kin such shame,

 

And likewise damage so my own fair name,

 

As to be false; and if I grow so slack,

 

Strip me and put me naked in a sack

 

And in the nearest river let me drown.

990

I am a lady, not a wench of town.

 

Why speak you thus? Men ever are untrue,

 

And woman have reproaches always new.

 

No reason or excuse have you, I think,

 

And so you harp on women who hoodwink."

lines 995-1006: Maia directs Damian into a tree

 

995

       And with that word she saugh wher Damyan

 

Sat in the bussh, and coughen she bigan,

 

And with hir fynger signes made she

 

That Damyan sholde clymbe upon a tree,

 

That charged was with fruyt, and up he wente.

1000

For verraily he knew al hire entente,

 

And every signe that she koude make,

 

Wel bet than Januarie, hir owene make;

 

For in a lettre she hadde toold hym al

 

Of this matere, how he werchen shal.

1005

And thus I lete hym sitte upon the pyrie,

 

And Januarie and may romynge ful myrie.

995

       And with that word she saw where Damian

 

Sat under bush; to cough then she began,

 

And with her slender finger signs made she

 

That Damian should climb into a tree

 

That burdened was with fruit, and up he went;

1000

For verily he knew her full intent,

 

And understood each sign that she could make,

 

Better than January, her old rake.

 

For in a letter she had told him all

 

Of how he should proceed when time should fall.

1005

And thus I leave him in the pear-tree still

 

While May and January roam at will.

lines 1007-1024: Pluto the fairy king and his wife Proserpine the fairy queen witness the scene

 

 

       Bright was the day, and blew the firmament;

 

Phebus hath of gold his stremes doun ysent,

 

To gladen every flour with his warmnesse.

1010

He was that tyme in Geminis, as I gesse,

 

But litel fro his declynacion

 

Of Cancer, Jovis exaltacion.

 

And so bifel, that brighte morwe-tyde,

 

That in that gardyn, in the ferther syde,

1015

Pluto, that is kyng of Fayerye,

 

And many a lady in his compaignye,

 

Folwynge his wyf, the queene Proserpyna,

 

Which that he ravysshed out of Ethna

 

Whil that she gadered floures in the mede -

1020

In Claudyan ye may the stories rede,

 

How in his grisely carte he hire fette -

 

This kyng of fairye thanne adoun hym sette

 

Upon a bench of turves, fressh and grene,

 

And right anon thus seyde he to his queene:

 

       Bright was the day and blue the firmament,

 

Phoebus his golden streamers down has sent

 

To gladden every flower with his warmness.

1010

He was that time in Gemini, I guess,

 

And but a little from his declination

 

Of Cancer, which is great Jove's exaltation.

 

And so it happened, in that bright morning-tide,

 

That in this garden, on the farther side,

1015

Pluto, who is the king of Faery,

 

With many a lady in his company,

 

Following his wife, the fair Queen Proserpine,

 

Each after other, straight as any line

 

While she was gathering flowers on a mead,

1020

In Claudian you may the story read

 

How in his grim car he had stolen her -

 

This king of Faery sat down yonder

 

Upon a turfen bank all fresh and green,

 

And right anon thus said he to his queen.

lines 1025-1051: Pluto pities the deceived knight and says he will return the power of vision to January

 

1025

       "My wyf," quod he, "ther may no wight seye nay;

 

Th'experience so preveth every day

 

The tresons whiche that wommen doon to man.

 

Ten hondred thousand (tales) tellen I kan

 

Notable of youre untrouthe and brotilnesse.

1030

O Salomon, wys, and richest of richesse,

 

Fulfild of sapience and of worldly glorie,

 

Ful worthy been thy wordes to memorie

 

To every wight that wit and reson kan.

 

Thus preiseth he yet the bountee of man:

1035

'Amonges a thousand men yet foond I oon,

 

But of wommen alle foond I noon.' -

1025

       "My wife," said he, "there may no one say nay;

 

Experience proves fully every day

 

The treason that these women do to man.

 

Ten hundred thousand stories tell I can

 

To show your fickleness and lies. Of which,

1030

O Solomon wise, and richest of the rich,

 

Fulfilled of sapience and worldly glory,

 

Well worth remembrance are thy words and story

 

By everyone who's wit, and reason can.

 

Thus goodness he expounds with praise of man:

1035

'Among a thousand men yet found I one,

 

But of all women living found I none.'

 

 

       Thus seith the kyng that knoweth youre wikkednesse.

 

And Jhesus, filius Syrak, as I gesse,

 

Ne speketh of yow but seelde reverence.

1040

A wylde fyr and corrupt pestilence

 

So falle upon youre bodyes yet to-nyght!

 

Ne se ye nat this honurable knyght,

 

By cause, allas that he is blynd and old,

 

His owene man shal make hym cokewold.

1045

Lo, where he sit, the lechour, in the tree!

 

Now wol I graunten, of my magestee,

 

Unto this olde, blynde, worthy knyght

 

That he shal have ayen his eyen syght,

 

Whan that his wyf wold doon hym vileynye.

1050

Thanne shal he knowen al hire harlotrye,

 

Bothe in repreve of hire and othere mo."

 

       Thus spoke the king that knew your wickedness;

 

And Jesus son of Sirach, as I guess,

 

Spoke of you seldom with much reverence.

1040

A wild fire and a rotten pestilence

 

Fall on your bodies all before tonight!

 

Do you not see this honourable knight,

 

Because, alas! he is both blind and old,

 

His own sworn man shall make him a cuckold;

1045

Lo, there he sits, the lecher, in that tree.

 

Now will I grant, of my high majesty,

 

Unto this old and blind and worthy knight,

 

That he shall have again his two eyes' sight,

 

Just when his wife shall do him villainy;

1050

Then shall he know of all her harlotry,

 

Both in reproach to her and others too."


lines 1052-1098: Proserpine pities Maia and says she will enhance Maia's power of speech

 

 

       Ye shal?" quod Proserpyne, "wol ye so?

 

Now by my moodres sires soule I swere

 

That I shal yeven hire suffisant answere,