The Tale of the Wyf of Bathe
Were in this world, were right ynough for me
To speke of wo that is in mariage,
For, lordynges, since I twelf yeer was of age,
Y-thonked be God that is eterne alive
Housbondes at chirche dore I have had fyve:
For I so ofte have y-wedded be;
And alle were worthi men in there degree.
But me was told certayn not long agone is,
That since that Christ had never gone but once
To weddyng in the Cane of Galilee
That by the same example taught he me,
That I shold wedded be but oonly once.
Herken, eek, what a sharp word for the nonce.
Beside a welle, Jhesus, God and man,
Spak in reprove of the Samaritan:
Thou hast y-had fyve housbondes, quoth he,
And that same man the which that hath now thee
Is not thyn housbonde; thus seyde he certeyn.
What that he mente ther by, I can not sayn;
But that I axe why the fifte man
Was noon housbond to the Samaritan
How many might she have in mariage?
Yet herd I never tellen in myn age
Upon this number deffinicioun.
Men may divine and glosen up and doun.
But wel I wot, withouten eny lye,
God bad us for to wax and multiplie;
That gentil tixt can I wel understonde.
Ek wel I wot, he sayde, myn housebonde
Schulde lete fader and moder, and folwe me;
But of no noumber mencioun made he,
Of bygamye or of octogomye;
Why schulde men speken of that vilonye?
Lo hier the wise kyng daun Salamon,
I trow he hadde wifes mo than oon,
As wolde God it were leful unto me
To be refreisshed half so oft as he!
Which gift of God had he for alle his wyvys!
No man hath such, that in the world on lyve is.
God wot, this nobil king, as to my wit,
The firste night hadde many a mery fit
With ech of hem, so wel was him on lyve.
I-blessid be God that I have weddid fyve!
Welcome the sixte whan that ever he schal!
For-sothe I nyl not kepe me chast in al;
Whan myn housbond is fro the world i-gon,
Som cristne man schal wedde me anoon,
For than thapostil saith that I am fre
To wedde, a goddis half, wher so it be.
He saith, that to be weddid is no synne;
Bet is to be weddid than to brynne.
What recchith me what folk sayn vilonye
Of schrewid Lameth, or of his bigamye?
I wot wel Abram was an holy man,
And Jacob eek, as ferforth as I can,
And ech of hem hadde wyves mo than tuo,
And many another holy man also.
Whan sawe ye in eny maner age
That highe God defendide mariage
By expres word? I pray you tellith me;
Or wher commaunded he virginité?
I wot as wel as ye, it is no drede,
Thapostil, when he spekth of maydenhede,
He sayde, that precept therof had he noon;
Men may counseil a womman to be oon,
But counselyng nys no comaundement;
He put it in our owne juggement.
For hadde God comaundid maydenhede,
Than had he dampnyd weddyng with the dede;
And certes, if ther were no seed i-sowe,
Virginité whereon schuld it growe?
Poul ne dorste not comaunde atte leste
A thing, of which his maister yaf non heste.
The dart is set upon virginité,
Cach who-so may, who rennith best let se.
But this word is not taken of every wight,
But ther as God list yive it of his might.
I wot wel that thapostil was a mayde,
But natheless, though that he wrot or sayde,
He wolde that every wight were such as he,
Al nys but counseil unto virginité.
And for to ben a wyf he gaf me leve,
Of indulgence, so nys it to repreve
To wedde me, if that my make deye,
Withoute excepcioun of bigamye;
Al were it good no womman for to touche,
(He mente in his bed or in his couche)
For peril is bothe fuyr and tow to assemble;
Ye knowe what this ensample wolde resemble.
This is al and som, he holdith virginité
More parfit than weddying in frelté;
(Frelté clepe I, but-if that he and sche
Wolde leden al her lif in chastité).
I graunt it wel, I have noon envye,
Though maidenhede preferre bygamye;
It liketh hem to be clene in body and gost;
Of myn estate I nyl make no bost.
For wel ye wot, a lord in his household
He nath not every vessel ful of gold;
Som ben of tre, and don her lord servise.
God clepeth folk to him in sondry wise,
And every hath of God a propre yifte,
Som this, som that, as him likith to schifte.
Virginité is gret perfeccioun,
And continens eek with gret devocioun;
But Christ, that of perfeccioun is welle,
Bad nought every wight schulde go and selle
Al that he had, and yive it to the pore,
And in such wise folwe him and his fore.
He spak to hem that wolde lyve parfytly,
But, lordyngs, by your leve, that am not I;
I wol bystowe the flour of myn age
In the actes and in the fruytes of mariage.
Tel me also, to what conclusioun
Were membres maad of generacioun,
And of so parfit wise, and why y-wrought?
Trustith right wel, they were nought maad for nought.
Glose who-so wol, and say bothe up and doun,
That thay were made for purgacioun
Of uryn, and oure bothe thinges smale
Were eek to knowe a femel fro a male;
And for non other cause:say ye no?
Thexperiens wot wel it is not so.
So that these clerkes ben not with me wrothe,
I say this, that thay makid ben for bothe,
That is to saye, for office and for ease
Of engendrure, ther we God nought displease.
Why schulde men elles in her bokes sette,
That man schal yelde to his wif his dette?
Now wherwith schuld he make his payement
If he ne used his sely instrument?
Than were thay maad upon a creature
To purge uryn, and eek for engendrure.
But I say not that every wight is holde,
That hath such harneys as I to you tolde,
To gon and usen hem in engendrure;
Than schulde men take of chastité no cure.
Crist was a mayde, and schapen as a man.
And many a seynt, sin that the world bygan,
Yet lyvede thay ever in
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