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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Man of Law's Tale

Heere begynneth the Man of Lawe his Tale.

       In Surrye whilom dwelte a compaignye
135Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
That wyde-where senten hir spicerye,
Clothes of gold, and satyns riche of hewe.
Hir chaffare was so thrifty and so newe
That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
140With hem, and eek to sellen hem hir ware.

Now fil it, that the maistres of that sort
Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
Were it for chapmanhode, or for disport,
Noon oother message wolde they thider sende,
145But comen hemself to Rome, this is the ende,
And in swich place as thoughte hem avantage
For hir entente, they take hir herbergage.

       Sojourned han thise marchantz in that toun
A certein tyme, as fil to hire plesance.
150And so bifel, that th'excellent renoun
Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance
Unto thise Surryen marchantz in swich wyse
Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.

155        This was the commune voys of every man:
"Oure Emperour of Rome, God hym see,
A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
160I prey to God in honour hir susteene
And wolde she were of all Europe the queene!

In hir is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye,
To alle hir werkes vertu is hir gyde,
165Humblesse hath slayn in hir al tirannye,
She is mirour of alle curteisye,
Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
Hir hand ministre of fredam for almesse."

And al this voys was sooth, as God is trewe!
170But now to purpos, lat us turne agayn;
Thise marchantz han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
And whan they han this blisful mayden sayn,
Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,
And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore,
175And lyven in wele, I kan sey yow namoore.

       Now fil it, that thise marchantz stode in grace
Of hym, that was the Sowdan of Surrye.
For whan they cam from any strange place,
He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
180Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye
Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere
The wondres that they myghte seen or heere.

Amonges othere thynges, specially
Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance
185So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance
To han hir figure in his remembrance,
That all his lust and al his bisy cure
Was for to love hir, while his lyf may dure.

190 Paraventure in thilke large book,
Which that men clepe the hevene, ywriten was
With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
That he for love sholde han his deeth, allas!
For in the sterres clerer than is glas
195Is writen, God woot, whoso koude it rede,
The deeth of every man, withouten drede.

In sterres many a wynter therbiforn
Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
Of Pompei, Julius, er they were born,
200The strif of Thebes, and of Ercules,
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The deeth, but mennes wittes ben so dulle
That no wight kan wel rede it atte fulle.

       This Sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
205And, shortly of this matiere for to pace,
He hath to hem declared his entente
And seyde hem, certein, but he myghte have grace
To han Custance withinne a litel space,
He nas but deed; and charged hem in hye
210To shapen for his lyf som remedye.

       Diverse men diverse thynges seyden;
They argumenten, casten up and doun,
Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden,
They speken of magyk and abusioun;
215But finally, as in conclusioun,
They kan nat seen in that noon avantage,
Ne in noon oother wey, save mariage.

Thanne sawe they therin swich difficultee
By wey of reson, for to speke al playn
220By cause that ther was swich diversitee
Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
They trowe that "no Cristene prince wolde fayn
Wedden his child under oure lawes swete
That us were taught by Mahoun oure prophete."

225        And he answerde: "Rather than I lese
Custance, I wol be cristned, doutelees.
I moot been hires, I may noon oother chese;
I prey yow, hoold youre argumentz in pees.
Saveth my lyf, and beth noght recchelees
230To geten hir that hath my lyf in cure,
For in this wo I may nat longe endure."

       What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
I seye, by tretys and embassadrye
And by the popes mediacioun,
235And al the chirche and al the chivalrie,
That in destruccioun of Mawmettrie
And in encrees of Cristes lawe deere,
They been acorded, so as ye shal heere:

How that the Sowdan and his baronage
240And alle hise liges sholde ycristned be-
And he shal han Custance in mariage,
And certein gold, I noot what quantitee,
And heerto founden suffisant suretee.
This same accord was sworn on eyther syde.
245Now, faire Custance, almyghty God thee gyde!

       Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
That I sholde tellen al the purveiance
That th'Emperour, of his grete noblesse,
Hath shapen for his doghter dame Custance;
250Wel may men knowen that so greet ordinance
May no man tellen in a litel clause
As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.

Bisshopes been shapen with hir for to wende,
Lordes, ladies, knyghtes of renoun,
255And oother folk ynogh, this is th'ende,
And notified is, thurghout the toun,
That every wight with greet devocioun
Sholde preyen Crist, that he this mariage
Receyve in gree, and spede this viage.

260        The day is comen of hir departynge,
I seye, the woful day fatal is come,
That ther may be no lenger tariynge,
But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some.
Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
265Ful pale arist, and dresseth hir to wende,
For wel she seeth ther is noon oother ende.

       Allas, what wonder is it thogh she wepte,
That shal be sent to strange nacioun
Fro freendes that so tendrely hir kepte,
270And to be bounden under subjeccioun
Of oon, she knoweth nat his condicioun?
Housbondes been alle goode, and han ben yoore,
That knowen wyves! I dar sey yow namoore.

       "Fader," she seyde, "Thy wrecched child Custance,
275Thy yonge doghter, fostred up so softe,
And ye my mooder, my soverayn plesance,
Over alle thyng, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
Custance, youre child, hir recomandeth ofte
Unto your grace, for I shal to Surrye
280Ne shal I nevere seen yow moore with eye.

Allas! unto the Barbre nacioun
I moste goon, syn that it is youre wille,
But Crist, that starf for our savacioun,
So yeve me grace hise heestes to fulfille,-
285I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille!
Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
And to been under mannes governance."

       I trowe at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal,
Or Ilion brende, ne at Thebes the Citee,
290N'at Rome for the harm thurgh Hanybal
That Romayns hath venquysshed tymes thre,
Nas herd swich tendre wepyng for pitee
As in the chambre was, for his departynge;
But forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or synge.

295        O firste moevyng! Crueel firmament,
With thy diurnal sweigh, that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from Est til Occident
That naturelly wolde holde another way,
Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
300At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.

Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
Of which the lord is helplees falle, allas!
Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!
305O Mars! O Atazir! As in this cas,
O fieble Moone, unhappy been thy paas!
Thou knyttest thee, ther thou art nat receyved;
Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.-

Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
310Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
Is no tyme bet than oother in swich cas?
Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
Namely to folk of heigh condicioun,
Noght whan a roote is of a burthe yknowe?
315Allas, we been to lewed or to slowe!

       To ship is brought this woful faire mayde
Solempnely, with every circumstance,
"Now Jesu Crist be with yow alle," she seyde.
Ther nys namoore but, "Farewel faire Custance!"
320She peyneth hir to make good contenance,
And forth I lete hir saille in this manere,
And turne I wole agayn to my matere.

       The mooder of the Sowdan, welle of vices,
Espied hath hir sones pleyne entente,
325How he wol lete hise olde sacrifices,
And right anon she for hir conseil sente,
And they been come, to knowe what she mente,
And whan assembled was this folk in-feere,
She sette hir doun, and seyde as ye shal heere.

330        "Lordes," quod she, "ye knowen everichon,
How that my sone in point is for to lete
The hooly lawes of oure Alkaron,
Yeven by Goddes message, Makomete.
But oon avow to grete God I heete,
335The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte,
Than Makometes lawe out of myn herte!

What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe
But thraldom to our bodies, and penance,
And afterward in helle to be drawe
340For we reneyed Mahoun oure creance?
But lordes, wol ye maken assurance
As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,
And I shal make us sauf for everemoore."

       They sworen and assenten every man
345To lyve with hir, and dye, and by hir stonde,
And everich in the beste wise he kan
To strengthen hir shal alle hise frendes fonde,
And she hath this emprise ytake on honde,
Which ye shal heren, that I shal devyse.
350And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse:

       "We shul first feyne us cristendom to take, -
Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite-
And I shal swich a feeste and revel make,
That, as I trowe, I shal the Sowdan quite;
355For thogh his wyf be cristned never so white,
She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
Thogh she a font-ful water with hir lede!"

O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
Virage, thou Semyrame the secounde!
360O serpent under femynyntee,
Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
O feyned womman, al that may confounde
Vertu and innocence thurgh thy malice
Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!

365 O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage;
Thou wolt fordoon this Cristen mariage.
370Thyn instrument, so weylawey the while!
Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt bigile.

       This Sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warye,
Leet prively hir conseil goon hir way.
What sholde I in this tale lenger tarie?
375She rydeth to the Sowdan on a day,
And seyde hym, that she wolde reneye hir lay,
And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
Repentynge hir she hethen was so longe;

Bisechynge hym to doon hir that honour
380That she moste han the Cristen folk to feeste.
"To plesen hem I wol do my labour."
The Sowdan seith, "I wol doon at youre heeste,"
And knelynge thanketh hir of that requeste.
So gald he was, he nyste what to seye;
385She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.


Explicit prima pars
(Here ends the first part)



Next:
The Man of Law's Tale, Second part (ll.386-875)