Librarius Homepage
© Librarius
All rights reserved.



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

Sequitur pars tercia
(Here begins the third part)

       Alla the kyng comth hoom, soone after this,
Unto his castel of the which I tolde,
And asketh where his wyf and his child is.
The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
880And pleynly al the manere he hym tolde,
As ye han herd - I kan telle it no bettre -
And sheweth the kyng his seel and eek his lettre,

And seyde, "Lord, as ye comanded me,
Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein."
885This messager tormented was til he
Moste biknowe, and tellen plat and pleyn
Fro nyght to nyght in what place he had leyn,
And thus, by wit and sotil enquerynge,
Ymagined was, by whom this harm gan sprynge.

890        The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
And al the venym of this cursed dede,
But in what wise certeinly I noot.
Th'effect is this, that Alla, out of drede,
His mooder slow - that may men pleynly rede -
895For that she traitoure was to hir ligeance,
Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschance!

       The sorwe that this Alla, nyght and day,
Maketh for his wyf, and for his child also,
Ther is no tonge that it telle may-
900But now wol I unto Custance go,
That fleteth in the see in peyne and wo,
Fyve yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde,
Er that hir ship approched unto londe.

       Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
905Of which the name in my text toght I fynde,
Custance and eek hir child the see upcaste.
Almyghty god that saved al mankynde,
Have on Custance and on hir child som mynde,
That fallen is in hethen hand eft soone,
910In point to spille, as I shal telle yow soone.

       Doun fro the castel comth ther many a wight
To gauren on this ship and on Custance,
But shortly from the castel on a nyght
The lordes styward - God yeve hym meschance!-
915A theef that hadde reneyed oure creance,
Cam into the ship allone, and seyde he sholde
Hir lemman be, wherso she wolde or nolde.

       Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon!
Hir child cride, and she cride pitously,
920But blisful Marie heelp hir right anon,
For with hir struglyng wel and myghtily,
The theef fil over bord al sodeynly,
And in the see he dreynte for vengeance,
And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.

925        O foule lust of luxurie, lo, thyn ende!
Nat oonly that thou feyntest mannes mynde,
But verraily thou wolt his body shende.
Th'ende of thy werk or of thy lustes blynde
Is compleynyng. Hou many oon may men fynde,
930That noght for werk somtyme, but for th'entente
To doon this synne, been outher slayn or shente!

How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
Hire to defende agayn this renegat?
O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
935Hou myghte David make thee so maat,
So yong, and of armure so desolaat?
Hou dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?
Wel may men seen, it nas but Goddes grace!

Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
940To sleen hym, Olofernus, in his tente,
And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
The peple of God? I seyde, for this entente
That right as God spirit of vigour sente
To hem, and saved hem out of meschance,
945So sente he myght and vigour to Custance.

       Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe mouth
Of Jubaltar and Septe, dryvynge alway,
Somtyme west, and somtyme north and south,
And somtyme est, ful many a wery day;
950Til Cristes mooder - blessed be she ay! -
Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.

       Now lat us stynte of Custance but a throwe,
And speke we of the Romayn Emperour,
955That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe
The slaughtre of Cristen folk, and dishonour
Doon to his doghter by a fals traytour,
I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse,
That at the feeste leet sleen both moore and lesse;

960 For which this emperour hath sent anon
His senatour with roial ordinance,
And othere lordes, God woot many oon,
On Surryens to taken heigh vengeance.
They brennen, sleen, and brynge hem to meschance
965Ful many a day, but shortly, this is th'ende,
Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.

       This senatour repaireth with victorie
To Rome-ward saillynge ful roially,
And mette the ship dryvynge, as seith the storie,
970In which Custance sit ful pitously.
Nothyng ne knew he what she was, ne why
She was in swich array, ne she nyl seye
Of hire estaat, thogh that she sholde deye.

He bryngeth hire to Rome, and to his wyf
975He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also,
And with the senatour she ladde hir lyf.
Thus kan oure Lady bryngen out of wo
Woful Custance, and many another mo.
And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
980In hooly werkes evere, as was hir grace.

The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
But for all that she knew hir never the moore.
I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,
But to kyng Alla, which I spake of yoore,
985That wepeth for his wyf and siketh soore,
I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
Under the senatoures governance.

       Kyng Alla, which that hadde his mooder slayn,
Upon a day fil in swich repentance
990That, if I shortly tellen shal and playn,
To Rome he comth, to receyven his penance;
And putte hym in the popes ordinance
In heigh and logh, and Jesu Crist bisoghte
Foryeve hise wikked werkes that he wroghte.

995        The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born
How Alla kyng shal comen on pilgrymage,
By herbergeours that wenten hym biforn,
For which the Senatour, as was usage,
Rood hym agayns, and many of his lynage,
1000As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
As to doon any kyng a reverence.

       Greet cheere dooth this noble senatour
To kyng Alla, and he to hym also,
Everich of hem dooth oother greet honour;
1005And so bifel, that inwith a day or two
This senatour is to kyng Alla go
To feste; and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
Custances sone wente in his compaignye.

       Som men wolde seyn, at requeste of Custance
1010This senatour hath lad this child to feeste;
I may nat tellen every circumstance,
Be as be may, ther was he at the leeste,
But sooth is this, that at his moodres heeste
Biforn Alla durynge the metes space,
1015The child stood, lookynge in the kynges face.

This Alla kyng hath of this child greet wonder,
And to the senatour he seyde anon,
"Whos is that faire child, that stondeth yonder?"
"I noot," quod he, "by God and by Seint John!
1020A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon,
That I of woot." But shortly, in a stounde,
He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.

"But God woot," quod this senatour also,
"So vertuous a lyvere in my lyf
1025Ne saugh I nevere as she, ne herde of mo
Of worldly wommen, mayde, ne of wyf;
I dar wel seyn, hir hadde levere a knyf
Thurghout hir brest, than ben a womman wikke,
There is no man koude brynge hir to that prikke."

1030        Now was this child as lyke unto Custance,
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and theron mused he,
If that the childes mooder were aught she
1035That is his wyf; and prively he sighte
And spedde hym fro the table that he myghte.

"Parfay," thoghte he, "fantome is in myn heed!
I oghte deme, of skilful juggement,
That in the salte see my wyf is deed."
1040And afterward he made his argument:
"What woot I, if that Crist have hyder ysent
My wyf by see, as wel as he hir sente
To my contree fro thennes that she wente?"

And, after noon, hoom with the senatour
1045Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
And hastifly he sente after Custance.
But trusteth weel, hir liste nat to daunce
Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;
1050Unnethe upon hir feet she myghte stonde.

       Whan Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hir grette,
And weep, that it was routhe for to see.
For at the firste look he on hir sette,
He knew wel verraily that it was she.
1055And she for sorwe, as doumb stant as a tree,
So was hir herte shet in hir distresse,
Whan she remembred his unkyndenesse.

Twyes she swowned in his owene sighte.
He weep, and hym excuseth pitously.
1060"Now God," quod he, "and alle hise halwes brighte
So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
That of youre harm as giltelees am I
As is Maurice my sone, so lyk youre face;
Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!"

1065        Long was the sobbyng and the bitter peyne
Er that hir woful hertes myghte cesse,
Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleyne,
Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.
I pray yow alle my labour to relesse;
1070I may nat telle hir wo until tomorwe,
I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.

But finally, whan that the sothe is wist,
That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,
I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
1075And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two,
That, save the joye that lasteth everemo
Ther is noon lyk that any creature
Hath seyn, or shal, whil that the world may dure.

Tho preyde she hir housbonde mekely,
1080In relief of hir longe pitous pyne,
That he wolde preye hir fader specially
That, of his magestee, he wolde enclyne
To vouche sauf som day with hym to dyne.
She preyde hym eek, he wolde by no weye
1085Unto hir fader no word of hir seye.

       Som men wolde seyn, how that the child Maurice
Dooth this message unto this emperour,
But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce
To hym that was of so sovereyn honour,
1090As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,
Sente any child, but it is bet to deeme
He wente hymself, and so it may wel seeme.

       This emperour hath graunted gentilly
To come to dyner, as he hym bisoughte,
1095And wel rede I he looked bisily
Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte.
Alla goth to his in, and as him oghte
Arrayed for this feste in every wise
As ferforth as his konnyng may suffise.

1100        The morwe cam, and Alla gan hym dresse
And eek his wyf, this emperour to meete,
And forth they ryde in joye and in galdnesse,
And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,
She lighte doun and falleth hym to feete.
1105"Fader," quod she, "youre yonge child Custance
Is now ful clene out of youre remembrance.

I am youre doghter Custance," quod she,
"That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
It am I, fader, that in the salte see
1110Was put allone, and dampned for to dye.
Now goode fader, mercy I yow crye,
Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,
But thonketh my lord heere of his kyndenesse."

       Who kan the pitous joye tellen al
1115Bitwixe hem thre, syn they been thus ymette?
But of my tale make an ende I shal,
The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
This glade folk to dyner they hem sette,
In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle,
1120A thousand foold wel moore than I kan telle.

       This child Maurice was sithen emperour
Maad by the pope, and lyved cristenly.
To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour;
But I lete all his storie passen by-
1125Of Custance is my tale specially-
In the olde Romayn geestes may men fynde
Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in mynde.

       This kyng Alla, whan he his tyme say,
With his Custance, his hooly wyf so sweete,
1130To Engelond been they come the righte way,
Wher as they lyve in joye and in quiete.
But litel while it lasteth, I yow heete,
Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;
Fro day to nyght it changeth as the tyde.

1135 Who lyved evere in swich delit o day
That hym ne moeved outher conscience
Or ire, or talent, or som-kyn affray,
Envye, or pride, or passion, or offence?
I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
1140That litel while in joye or in plesance
Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.

For deeth, that taketh of heigh and logh his rente,
Whan passed was a yeer, evene as I gesse,
Out of this world this kyng Alla he hente,
1145For whom Custance hath ful greet hevynesse.
Now lat us praye God his soule blesse,
And dame Custance, finally to seye,
Toward the toun of Rome goth hir weye.

       To Rome is come this hooly creature,
1150And fyndeth ther hir freendes hoole and sounde.
Now is she scaped al hire aventure,
And whan that she hir fader hath yfounde,
Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde,
Wepynge for tendrenesse, in herte blithe,
1155She heryeth God an hundred thousande sithe.

       In vertu and in hooly almus-dede
They lyven alle, and never asonder wende
Til deeth departed hem; this lyf they lede;-
And fareth now weel, my tale is at an ende.
1160Now Jesu Crist, that of his myght may sende
Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,
And kepe us alle that been in this place. Amen.

Heere endeth the tale of the Man of Lawe.




Next:
The Man of Law's Epilogue (ll. 1163-1190)