Legends and Sagas
The Canterbury Tales and Other Works of Chaucer (Middle English), by Geoffery Chaucer, [14th cent.], at sacred-texts.com
The Legend of Good Women
Prologue F A thousand tymes have I herd men telle
That ther ys joy in hevene and peyne in helle,
And I acorde wel that it ys so;
But, natheles, yet wot I wel also
That ther nis noon dwellyng in this contree
That eyther hath in hevene or helle ybe,
Ne may of hit noon other weyes witen
But as he hath herd seyd or founde it writen;
For by assay ther may no man it preve.
10 But God forbede but men shulde leve
Wel more thing than men han seen with ye!
Men shal not wenen every thing a lye
But yf himself yt seeth or elles dooth.
For, God wot, thing is never the lasse sooth,
Thogh every wight ne may it nat ysee.
Bernard the monk ne saugh nat all, pardee!
Than mote we to bokes that we fynde,
Thurgh whiche that olde thinges ben in mynde,
And to the doctrine of these olde wyse,
20 Yeve credence, in every skylful wise,
That tellen of these olde appreved stories
Of holynesse, of regnes, of victories,
Of love, of hate, of other sondry thynges,
Of whiche I may not maken rehersynges.
And yf that olde bokes were aweye,
Yloren were of remembraunce the keye.
Wel ought us thanne honouren and beleve
These bokes, there we han noon other preve.
And as for me, though that I konne but lyte,
30 On bokes for to rede I me delyte,
And to hem yive I feyth and ful credence,
And in myn herte have hem in reverence
So hertely, that ther is game noon
That fro my bokes maketh me to goon,
But yt be seldom on the holyday,
Save, certeynly, whan that the month of May
Is comen, and that I here the foules synge,
And that the floures gynnen for to sprynge,
Farewel my bok and my devocioun!
40 Now have I thanne eek this condicioun,
That, of al the floures in the mede,
Thanne love I most thise floures white and rede,
Swiche as men callen daysyes in our toun.
To hem have I so gret affeccioun,
As I seyde erst, whanne comen is the May,
That in my bed ther daweth me no day
That I nam up and walkyng in the mede
To seen this flour ayein the sonne sprede,
Whan it upryseth erly by the morwe.
50 That blisful sighte softneth al my sorwe,
So glad am I, whan that I have presence
Of it, to doon it alle reverence,
As she that is of alle floures flour,
Fulfilled of al vertu and honour,
And evere ilyke faire and fressh of hewe;
And I love it, and ever ylike newe,
And evere shal, til that myn herte dye.
Al swere I nat, of this I wol nat lye;
Ther loved no wight hotter in his lyve.
60 And whan that hit ys eve, I renne blyve,
As sone as evere the sonne gynneth weste,
To seen this flour, how it wol go to reste,
For fere of nyght, so hateth she derknesse.
Hire chere is pleynly sprad in the brightnesse
Of the sonne, for ther yt wol unclose.
Allas, that I ne had Englyssh, ryme or prose,
Suffisant this flour to preyse aryght!
But helpeth, ye that han konnyng and myght,
Ye lovers that kan make of sentement;
70 In this cas oghte ye be diligent
To forthren me somwhat in my labour,
Whethir ye ben with the leef or with the flour.
For wel I wot that ye han her-biforn
Of makyng ropen, and lad awey the corn,
And I come after, glenyng here and there,
And am ful glad yf I may fynde an ere
Of any goodly word that ye han left.
And thogh it happen me rehercen eft
That ye han in your fresshe songes sayd,
80 Forbereth me, and beth nat evele apayd,
Syn that ye see I do yt in the honour
Of love, and eke in service of the flour
Whom that I serve as I have wit or myght.
She is the clernesse and the verray lyght
That in this derke world me wynt and ledeth.
The hert in-with my sorwfull brest yow dredeth
And loveth so sore that ye ben verrayly
The maistresse of my wit, and nothing I.
My word, my werk ys knyt so in youre bond
90 That, as an harpe obeieth to the hond
And maketh it soune after his fyngerynge,
Ryght so mowe ye oute of myn herte bringe
Swich vois, ryght as yow lyst, to laughe or pleyne.
Be ye my gide and lady sovereyne!
As to myn erthly god to yow I calle,
Bothe in this werk and in my sorwes alle.
But wherfore that I spak, to yive credence
To olde stories and doon hem reverence,
And that men mosten more thyng beleve
100 Then men may seen at eye, or elles preve --
That shal I seyn, whanne that I see my tyme;
I may not al at-ones speke in ryme.
My besy gost, that thursteth alwey newe
To seen this flour so yong, so fressh of hewe,
Constreyned me with so gledy desir
That in myn herte I feele yet the fir
That made me to ryse er yt were day --
And this was now the firste morwe of May --
With dredful hert and glad devocioun,
110 For to ben at the resureccioun
Of this flour, whan that yt shulde unclose
Agayn the sonne, that roos as red as rose,
That in the brest was of the beste, that day,
That Agenores doghtre ladde away.
And doun on knes anoon-ryght I me sette,
And, as I koude, this fresshe flour I grette,
Knelyng alwey, til it unclosed was,
Upon the smale, softe, swote gras,
That was with floures swote enbrouded al,
120 Of swich swetnesse and swich odour overal,
That, for to speke of gomme, or herbe, or tree,
Comparisoun may noon ymaked bee;
For yt surmounteth pleynly alle odoures,
And of riche beaute alle floures.
Forgeten hadde the erthe his pore estat
Of wynter, that hym naked made and mat,
And with his swerd of cold so sore greved;
Now hath th' atempre sonne all that releved,
That naked was, and clad him new agayn.
130 The smale foules, of the sesoun fayn,
That from the panter and the net ben scaped,
Upon the foweler, that hem made awhaped
In wynter, and distroyed hadde hire brood,
In his dispit hem thoghte yt did hem good
To synge of hym, and in hir song despise
The foule cherl that, for his coveytise,
Had hem betrayed with his sophistrye.
This was hire song: "The foweler we deffye,
And al his craft." And somme songen clere
140 Layes of love, that joye it was to here,
In worship and in preysinge of hir make;
And for the newe blisful somers sake,
Upon the braunches ful of blosmes softe,
In hire delyt they turned hem ful ofte,
And songen, "Blessed be Seynt Valentyn,
For on his day I chees yow to be myn,
Withouten repentyng, myn herte swete!"
And therwithalle hire bekes gonnen meete,
Yeldyng honour and humble obeysaunces
150 To love, and diden hire other observaunces
That longeth onto love and to nature;
Construeth that as yow lyst, I do no cure.
And thoo that hadde doon unkyndenesse --
As dooth the tydif, for newfangelnesse --
Besoghte mercy of hir trespassynge,
And humblely songen hire repentynge,
And sworen on the blosmes to be trewe
So that hire makes wolde upon hem rewe,
And at the laste maden hire acord.
160 Al founde they Daunger for a tyme a lord,
Yet Pitee, thurgh his stronge gentil myght,
Forgaf, and made Mercy passen Ryght,
Thurgh innocence and ruled Curtesye.
But I ne clepe nat innocence folye,
Ne fals pitee, for vertu is the mene,
As Etik seith. in swich maner I mene.
And thus thise foweles, voide of al malice,
Acordeden to love, and laften vice
Of hate, and songen alle of oon acord,
170 "Welcome, somer, oure governour and lord!"
And Zepherus and Flora gentilly
Yaf to the floures, softe and tenderly,
Hire swoote breth, and made hem for to sprede,
As god and goddesse of the floury mede;
In which me thoghte I myghte, day by day,
Duellen alwey, the joly month of May,
Withouten slep, withouten mete or drynke.
Adoun ful softely I gan to synke,
And, lenynge on myn elbowe and my syde,
180 The longe day I shoop me for t' abide
For nothing elles, and I shal nat lye,
But for to loke upon the dayesie,
That wel by reson men it calle may
The "dayesye," or elles the "ye of day,"
The emperice and flour of floures alle.
I pray to God that faire mote she falle,
And alle that loven floures, for hire sake!
But natheles, ne wene nat that I make
In preysing of the flour agayn the leef,
190 No more than of the corn agayn the sheef;
For, as to me, nys lever noon ne lother.
I nam withholden yit with never nother;
Ne I not who serveth leef ne who the flour.
Wel browken they her service or labour;
For this thing is al of another tonne,
Of olde storye, er swich stryf was begonne.
Whan that the sonne out of the south gan weste,
And that this flour gan close and goon to reste
For derknesse of the nyght, the which she dredde,
200 Hom to myn hous ful swiftly I me spedde
To goon to reste, and erly for to ryse,
To seen this flour to sprede, as I devyse.
And in a litel herber that I have,
That benched was on turves fressh ygrave,
I bad men sholde me my couche make;
For deyntee of the newe someres sake,
I bad hem strawen floures on my bed.
Whan I was leyd and had myn eyen hed,
I fel on slepe within an houre or twoo.
210 Me mette how I lay in the medewe thoo,
To seen this flour that I so love and drede;
And from afer com walkyng in the mede
The god of Love, and in his hand a quene,
And she was clad in real habit grene.
A fret of gold she hadde next her heer,
And upon that a whit corowne she beer
With flourouns smale, and I shal nat lye;
For al the world, ryght as a dayesye
Ycorouned ys with white leves lyte,
220 So were the flowrouns of hire coroune white.
For of o perle fyn, oriental,
Hire white coroune was ymaked al;
For which the white coroune above the grene
Made hire lyk a daysie for to sene,
Considered eke hir fret of gold above.
Yclothed was this myghty god of Love
In silk, enbrouded ful of grene greves,
In-with a fret of rede rose-leves,
The fresshest syn the world was first bygonne.
230 His gilte heer was corowned with a sonne
Instede of gold, for hevynesse and wyghte.
Therwith me thoghte his face shoon so bryghte
That wel unnethes myghte I him beholde;
And in his hand me thoghte I saugh him holde
Twoo firy dartes as the gledes rede,
And aungelyke hys wynges saugh I sprede.
And al be that men seyn that blynd ys he,
Algate me thoghte that he myghte se;
For sternely on me he gan byholde,
240 So that his loking dooth myn herte colde.
And by the hand he held this noble quene
Corowned with whit and clothed al in grene,
So womanly, so benigne, and so meke,
That in this world, thogh that men wolde seke,
Half hire beaute shulde men nat fynde
In creature that formed ys by kynde.
And therfore may I seyn, as thynketh me,
This song in preysyng of this lady fre:
Hyd, Absolon, thy gilte tresses clere;
250 Ester, ley thou thy meknesse al adown;
Hyd, Jonathas, al thy frendly manere;
Penalopee and Marcia Catoun,
Make of youre wifhod no comparysoun;
Hyde ye youre beautes, Ysoude and Eleyne:
My lady cometh, that al this may disteyne.
Thy faire body, lat yt nat appere,
Lavyne; and thou, Lucresse of Rome toun,
And Polixene, that boghten love so dere,
And Cleopatre, with al thy passyoun,
260 Hyde ye your trouthe of love and your renoun;
And thou, Tisbe, that hast for love swich peyne:
My lady cometh, that al this may disteyne.
Herro, Dido, Laudomia, alle yfere,
And Phillis, hangyng for thy Demophoun,
And Canace, espied by thy chere,
Ysiphile, betrayed with Jasoun,
Maketh of your trouthe neythir boost ne soun;
Nor Ypermystre or Adriane, ye tweyne:
My lady cometh, that al this may dysteyne.
270 This balade may ful wel ysongen be,
As I have seyd erst, by my lady free;
For certeynly al thise mowe nat suffise
To apperen wyth my lady in no wyse.
For as the sonne wole the fyr disteyne,
So passeth al my lady sovereyne,
That ys so good, so faire, so debonayre,
I prey to God that ever falle hire faire!
For, nadde comfort ben of hire presence,
I hadde ben ded, withouten any defence,
280 For drede of Loves wordes and his chere,
As, when tyme ys, herafter ye shal here.
Behynde this god of Love, upon the grene,
I saugh comyng of ladyes nyntene,
In real habit, a ful esy paas,
And after hem coome of wymen swich a traas
That, syn that God Adam hadde mad of erthe,
The thridde part, of mankynde, or the ferthe,
Ne wende I not by possibilitee
Had ever in this wide world ybee;
290 And trewe of love thise women were echon.
Now wheither was that a wonder thing or non,
That ryght anoon as that they gonne espye
Thys flour which that I clepe the dayesie,
Ful sodeynly they stynten al attones,
And kneled doun, as it were for the nones,
And songen with o vois, "Heel and honour
To trouthe of womanhede, and to this flour
That bereth our alder pris in figurynge!
Hire white corowne bereth the witnessynge."
300 And with that word, a-compas enviroun,
They setten hem ful softely adoun.
First sat the god of Love, and syth his quene
With the white corowne, clad in grene,
And sithen al the remenaunt by and by,
As they were of estaat, ful curteysly;
Ne nat a word was spoken in the place
The mountaunce of a furlong wey of space.
I, knelying by this flour, in good entente,
Abood to knowen what this peple mente,
310 As stille as any ston; til at the laste
This god of Love on me hys eyen caste,
And seyde, "Who kneleth there?" And I answerde
Unto his askynge, whan that I it herde,
And seyde, "Sir, it am I," and com him ner,
And salwed him. Quod he, "What dostow her
So nygh myn oune floure, so boldely?
Yt were better worthy, trewely,
A worm to neghen ner my flour than thow."
"And why, sire," quod I, "and yt lyke yow?"
320 "For thow," quod he, "art therto nothing able.
Yt is my relyke, digne and delytable,
And thow my foo, and al my folk werreyest,
And of myn olde servauntes thow mysseyest,
And hynderest hem with thy translacioun,
And lettest folk from hire devocioun
To serve me, and holdest it folye
To serve Love. Thou maist yt nat denye,
For in pleyn text, withouten nede of glose,
Thou hast translated the Romaunce of the Rose,
330 That is an heresye ayeins my lawe,
And makest wise folk fro me withdrawe;
And of Creseyde thou hast seyd as the lyste,
That maketh men to wommen lasse triste,
That ben as trewe as ever was any steel.
Of thyn answere avise the ryght weel;
For thogh thou reneyed hast my lay,
As other wrecches han doon many a day,
By Seynt Venus that my moder ys,
If that thou lyve, thou shalt repenten this
340 So cruelly that it shal wel be sene!"
Thoo spak this lady, clothed al in grene,
And seyde, "God, ryght of youre curtesye,
Ye moten herken yf he can replye
Agayns al this that ye have to him meved.
A god ne sholde nat thus be agreved,
But of hys deitee he shal be stable,
And therto gracious and merciable.
And yf ye nere a god, that knowen al,
Thanne myght yt be as I yow tellen shal:
350 This man to yow may falsly ben accused
That as by right him oughte ben excused.
For in youre court ys many a losengeour,
And many a queynte totelere accusour,
That tabouren in youre eres many a sown,
Ryght after hire ymagynacioun,
To have youre daliance, and for envie.
Thise ben the causes, and I shal not lye.
Envie ys lavendere of the court alway,
For she ne parteth, neither nyght ne day,
360 Out of the hous of Cesar; thus seith Dante;
Whoso that gooth, algate she wol nat wante.
And eke, peraunter, for this man ys nyce,
He myghte doon yt, gessyng no malice,
But for he useth thynges for to make;
Hym rekketh noght of what matere he take.
Or him was boden maken thilke tweye
Of som persone, and durste yt nat withseye;
Or him repenteth outrely of this.
He ne hath nat doon so grevously amys
370 To translaten that olde clerkes writen,
As thogh that he of malice wolde enditen
Despit of love, and had himself yt wroght.
This shoolde a ryghtwis lord have in his thoght,
And nat be lyk tirauntz of Lumbardye,
That han no reward but at tyrannye.
For he that kynge or lord ys naturel,
Hym oghte nat be tiraunt ne crewel
As is a fermour, to doon the harm he kan.
He moste thinke yt is his lige man,
380 And is his tresour and his gold in cofre.
This is the sentence of the Philosophre,
A kyng to kepe his liges in justice;
Withouten doute, that is his office.
Al wol he kepe his lordes hire degree,
As it ys ryght and skilful that they bee
Enhaunced and honoured, and most dere --
For they ben half-goddes in this world here --
Yit mot he doon bothe ryght, to poore and ryche,
Al be that hire estaat be nat yliche,
390 And han of poore folk compassyoun.
For loo, the gentil kynde of the lyoun:
For whan a flye offendeth him or biteth,
He with his tayl awey the flye smyteth
Al esely; for, of hys genterye,
Hym deyneth not to wreke hym on a flye,
As dooth a curre, or elles another best.
In noble corage ought ben arest,
And weyen every thing by equytee,
And ever have reward to his owen degree.
400 For, syr, yt is no maistrye for a lord
To dampne a man without answere of word,
And for a lord that is ful foul to use.
And if so be he may hym nat excuse,
But asketh mercy with a dredeful herte,
And profereth him, ryght in his bare sherte,
To ben ryght at your owen jugement,
Than oght a god by short avysement
Consydre his owne honour and hys trespas.
For, syth no cause of deth lyeth in this caas,
410 Yow oghte to ben the lyghter merciable;
Leteth youre ire, and beth sumwhat tretable.
The man hath served yow of his kunnynge,
And furthred wel youre lawe in his makynge.
Al be hit that he kan nat wel endite,
Yet hath he maked lewed folk delyte
To serve yow, in preysinge of your name.
He made the book that hight the Hous of Fame,
And eke the Deeth of Blaunche the Duchesse,
And the Parlement of Foules, as I gesse,
420 And al the love of Palamon and Arcite
Of Thebes, thogh the storye ys knowen lyte;
And many an ympne for your halydayes,
That highten balades, roundels, virelayes;
And, for to speke of other holynesse,
He hath in prose translated Boece,
And maad the lyf also of Seynt Cecile.
He made also, goon ys a gret while,
Origenes upon the Maudeleyne.
Hym oughte now to have the lesse peyne;
430 He hath maad many a lay and many a thing.
Now as ye be a god and eke a kyng,
I, your Alceste, whilom quene of Trace,
Y aske yow this man, ryght of your grace,
That ye him never hurte in al his lyve;
And he shal swere to yow, and that as blyve,
He shal no more agilten in this wyse,
But he shal maken, as ye wol devyse,
Of wommen trewe in lovyng al hire lyve,
Wherso ye wol, of mayden or of wyve,
440 And forthren yow as muche as he mysseyde
Or in the Rose or elles in Creseyde."
The god of Love answerede hire thus anoon:
"Madame," quod he, "it is so long agoon
That I yow knew so charitable and trewe,
That never yit syn that the world was newe
To me ne fond y better noon than yee.
If that I wol save my degree,
I may, ne wol, nat werne your requeste.
Al lyeth in yow, dooth wyth hym what yow leste.
450 I al foryeve, withouten lenger space;
For whoso yeveth a yifte or dooth a grace,
Do it by tyme, his thank ys wel the more.
And demeth ye what he shal doo therfore.
Goo thanke now my lady here," quod he.
I roos, and doun I sette me on my knee,
And seyde thus: "Madame, the God above
Foryelde yow that ye the god of Love
Han maked me his wrathe to foryive,
And yeve me grace so longe for to lyve
460 That I may knowe soothly what ye bee
That han me holpe and put in this degree.
But trewly I wende, as in this cas,
Naught have agilt, ne doon to love trespas.
For-why a trewe man, withouten drede,
Hath nat to parten with a theves dede;
Ne a trewe lover oght me not to blame
Thogh that I speke a fals lovere som shame.
They oghte rather with me for to holde
For that I of Creseyde wroot or tolde,
470 Or of the Rose; what so myn auctour mente,
Algate, God woot, yt was myn entente
To forthren trouthe in love and yt cheryce,
And to ben war fro falsnesse and fro vice
By swich ensample; this was my menynge."
And she answerde, "Lat be thyn arguynge,
For Love ne wol nat countrepleted be
In ryght ne wrong; and lerne that at me!
Thow hast thy grace, and hold the ryght therto.
Now wol I seyn what penance thou shalt do
480 For thy trespas. Understonde yt here:
Thow shalt, while that thou lyvest, yer by yere,
The moste partye of thy tyme spende
In makyng of a glorious legende
Of goode wymmen, maydenes and wyves,
That weren trewe in lovyng al hire lyves;
And telle of false men that hem bytraien,
That al hir lyf ne don nat but assayen
How many women they may doon a shame;
For in youre world that is now holde a game.
490 And thogh the lyke nat a lovere bee,
Speke wel of love; this penance yive I thee.
And to the god of Love I shal so preye
That he shal charge his servantz by any weye
To forthren thee, and wel thy labour quyte.
Goo now thy wey, this penaunce ys but lyte.
And whan this book ys maad, yive it the quene,
On my byhalf, at Eltham or at Sheene."
The god of Love gan smyle, and than he sayde:
"Wostow," quod he, "wher this be wyf or mayde,
500 Or queene, or countesse, or of what degre,
That hath so lytel penance yiven thee,
That hast deserved sorer for to smerte?
But pite renneth soone in gentil herte;
That maistow seen; she kytheth what she ys."
And I answered, "Nay, sire, so have I blys,
No moore but that I see wel she is good."
"That is a trewe tale, by myn hood!"
Quod Love; "And that thou knowest wel, pardee,
If yt be so that thou avise the.
510 Hastow nat in a book, lyth in thy cheste,
The grete goodnesse of the quene Alceste,
That turned was into a dayesye;
She that for hire housbonde chees to dye,
And eke to goon to helle, rather than he,
And Ercules rescowed hire, parde,
And broght hir out of helle agayn to blys?"
And I answerd ageyn, and sayde, "Yis,
Now knowe I hire. And is this good Alceste,
The dayesie, and myn owene hertes reste?
520 Now fele I weel the goodnesse of this wyf,
That both aftir hir deth and in hir lyf
Hir grete bounte doubleth hire renoun.
Wel hath she quyt me myn affeccioun
That I have to hire flour, the dayesye.
No wonder ys thogh Jove hire stellyfye,
As telleth Agaton, for hire goodnesse!
Hire white corowne berith of hyt witnesse;
For also many vertues hadde shee
As smale florouns in hire corowne bee.
530 In remembraunce of hire and in honour
Cibella maade the daysye and the flour
Ycrowned al with whit, as men may see;
And Mars yaf to hire corowne reed, pardee,
In stede of rubyes, sette among the white."
Therwith this queene wex reed for shame a lyte
Whan she was preysed so in hire presence.
Thanne seyde Love, "A ful gret necligence
Was yt to the, that ylke tyme thou made
`Hyd, Absolon, thy tresses,' in balade,
540 That thou forgate hire in thi song to sette,
Syn that thou art so gretly in hire dette,
And wost so wel that kalender ys shee
To any woman that wol lover bee.
For she taught al the craft of fyn lovynge,
And namely of wyfhod the lyvynge,
And al the boundes that she oghte kepe.
Thy litel wit was thilke tyme aslepe.
But now I charge the upon thy lyf
That in thy legende thou make of thys wyf
550 Whan thou hast other smale ymaad before;
And far now wel, I charge the namore.
But er I goo, thus muche I wol the telle:
Ne shal no trewe lover come in helle.
Thise other ladies sittynge here arowe
Ben in thy balade, yf thou kanst hem knowe,
And in thy bookes alle thou shalt hem fynde.
Have hem now in thy legende al in mynde;
I mene of hem that ben in thy knowynge.
For here ben twenty thousand moo sittynge
560 Than thou knowest, goode wommen alle,
And trewe of love for oght that may byfalle.
Make the metres of hem as the lest --
I mot goon hom (the sonne draweth west)
To paradys, with al this companye --
And serve alwey the fresshe dayesye.
At Cleopatre I wol that thou begynne,
And so forth, and my love so shal thou wynne.
For lat see now what man that lover be,
Wol doon so strong a peyne for love as she.
570 I wot wel that thou maist nat al yt ryme
That swiche lovers diden in hire tyme;
It were to long to reden and to here.
Suffiseth me thou make in this manere:
That thou reherce of al hir lyf the grete,
After thise olde auctours lysten for to trete.
For whoso shal so many a storye telle,
Sey shortly, or he shal to longe dwelle."
And with that word my bokes gan I take,
And ryght thus on my Legende gan I make.
Next: Prologue G