The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer/Clerk’s Tale
The Clerk's Tale
Here beginneth the Tale of the Clerk of Oxford.
"ON the west side of Italy, at the foot of Vesulus the cold, there is a lusty plain abounding in all good cheer, where thou mayst view many a tower and town that were founded in the time of our forefathers, and many another delectable sight, and Saluces was the name of this noble country. A marquis was whilom lord of it, as were his worthy elders before him, and all his lieges were obedient and ready to his hand, both low and high. Thus he liveth in delight and hath done long, beloved and dreaded, through fortune's favour, both of his lords and of his commons. Of lineage he was eke the gentlest born in Lombardy, fair of person, strong, young, and full of courtesy and of honour; discreet enough to govern his country, save in some matters wherein he was at fault; and Walter was this young lord's name. I blame him in this, that he considered not what might befall him in time to come, but all his thought was on present pleasure, as to hawk and hunt far and near; well nigh all other cares he let slide, and eke—what was worst of all— for naught that might hap, would he wed a wife. That one point his people bare so grievously that they went to him on a day in a flock, and one of them, because that he was the wisest of lore, or else that the marquis would most willingly hear him tell what the people thought, or else that he could discourse the best of such a thing,—he said to the marquis as ye shall hear :
"O noble marquis, as oft as there is need that we tell unto you our heaviness, your humanity giveth us assurance and courage. Permit now, lord, of your grace, that we lament unto you with piteous heart, and let not your ears disdain my voice. Although I have naught to do with this matter more than another man hath that is here, yet as ye, my dear lord, have alway showed me your grace and favour, I dare the better ask of you a little while of audience, to show our request, and do ye, my lord, even as it liketh you. For certes so pleasing to us be ye and all your work and ever have been, lord, that we could not ourselves devise how we might live in more felicity, save in one thing, lord, that, if it be your will, it might please you to be a wedded man; then were your people utterly in heart's content. Bow your neck under that blissful yoke of sovereignty, not of servitude, which men call spousal or wedlock ; and think, lord, amongst your wise thoughts, how in sundry fashion our days pass, for though we sleep, or wake, roam or ride, time fleeth aye, it will wait for no man. And though as yet your green youth flowereth, in creepeth age alway, as still as a stone, and death menaceth young and old, and smiteth in each estate, for none escapeth ; and as certain as we all know that we shall die, so uncertain be we all of that day when death shall betide us. Accept then the loyal meaning of us, that never yet refused your behest, and lord, if ye will assent, we will choose you a wife in short time, born of the gentlest and the highest of all this land, so that, as we believe, it ought to seem an honour to God and to you. Deliver us out of all this anxious fear, and wed a wife, for high God's sake; for if—as God forbid—it should so befall that through your death your lineage should cease, and a strange successor should take your heritage, oh, woe were us alive! Wherefore we pray you right soon to wed!"
Their meek prayer and their piteous look made the heart of the marquis to have pity. "Mine own people dear," quoth he, "ye would constrain me to what I never thought ere now. I rejoiced in my liberty; seldom is it found in marriage. Where till now I was free, I should enter into servitude. Natheless I see your loyal meaning and trust in your wit, and ever have done; wherefore of my free consent I will wed me, as soon as ever I may. Yet though ye have but now offered to choose me a wife, I release you of that choice, and pray you to stint of that offer. For God wot that children oft be unlike their worthy elders before them. Goodness cometh all of God, not of the strain of which they be engendered and born. I trust in God's goodness and therefore I commit to him my marriage and mine estate and my repose ; he may do as he list. Let me alone in the choosing of my wife ; that charge I will take upon mine own back. But I pray you, and charge you upon your souls, that whatsoever wife I take, ye promise me to honour her, while her life may endure, in word and work, here and everywhere, as she were an emperor's daughter. Furthermore ye shall swear this, that ye shall neither contend nor grumble against my choice; for sith I am to forego my liberty at your request, where my heart is set, there, as I hope for heaven, will I wive; and unless ye will assent to this, I pray you speak no more of the matter."
With hearty will, they swore and assented to all this; no wight said nay; and they besought him of his grace, ere they went that he would grant them a certain day for his espousal, as early as ever he could; for somewhat yet the people feared lest this marquis would wed no wife in spite of all.
He granted them such day as liked him, on which he would surely be wedded, and said he did this at their request; and they, with humble mind, all kneeling full reverently upon their knees, thanked him with all humility, and thus they were satisfied of their desire, and home they went again. Thereupon he commanded his officers to provide for the festival, and gave such charge to his household knights and squires as he list to lay upon them; and they obey his commandments; and each doth all his diligence that the nuptials might be splendid.
Explicit prima pars.
Incipit secunda pars.
Not far from that lordly palace where this marquis purposed his marriage, stood a hamlet, pleasant of site, in which poor folk had their beasts and their abode, and took sustenance from their labour according as the earth gave them of its plenty. Amongst these poor folk dwelt a man that was held the very poorest; but high God can sometime send his grace into a little ox's-stall ; Janicula was his name, and he had a daughter full fair to behold, and this young maiden was called Grisildis. But if men speak of the beauty of virtue, then was she one of the fairest under the sun, for she was fostered in poverty; no lustful pleasure had stirred her heart. Ofter of the well than of the cask she drank, and in obedience to virtue she knew much of labour but naught of idle ease. But though this maid was tender in years, yet in her virgin breast was enclosed a ripe and staid spirit; and with great reverence and love, she cherished her old, poor father. While she watched her few sheep in the field, she would do her spinning; she would not be idle till she slept. And when she came homeward, she would cull ofttimes roots and herbs, which she shred and seethed for their living, and she made her bed full hard; and aye she sustained her father's life with all compliance and diligence that a child may perform to honour her father.
Upon this simple maid, Grisildis, the marquis full oft set his eye as haply he rode a-hunting; and when it chanced that he beheld her, he cast not his eyes upon her with wanton look of folly, but in serious wise he would oft peruse her face, commending her womanhood in his heart, and eke her virtue, surpassing any other of so young age, as well in look as in deed; for though the people have no great insight into virtue, he considered full well what men said of her goodness, and determined that he would wed her only, if ever he should wed.
The day of the wedding came, but no wight could tell what woman it should be ; for which marvel many a man wondered and said, when he was in private, "Will not our lord leave his folly? Will he not wed? Alas, alas the time! Wherefore will he so beguile himself and us?" Natheless this marquis hath had rings made and brooches of gems, set in azure and gold, for Grisildis' sake; and he took the measure of her clothing by a maid like to her of height, and eke of all other adornments that pertain unto such a wedding.
The time of undern approacheth of the day when this wedding should betide, and all the palace was arrayed, both chambers and hall, each in its degree. There mayst thou behold servants' offices stuffed with abundance of daintiest victual that may be found as far as utmost Italy. This royal marquis, richly arrayed, in company with the young knights of his retinue, and the lords and ladies that were bidden unto the spousals, with sound of various melody and in festal wise, held the straight way unto the village of which I told. Grisildis, full innocent, God wot, that all this festivity was devised for her, is gone to fetch water at a well, and cometh home as fast as she may, for she had heard it said how that same morn the marquis should wed, and if she might, she fain would see some of that procession. She thought, "I will stand in our doorway, with other maidens that be my fellows, and see the marchioness, and therefore I will try, as soon as I may, to do my labour at home, and then at leisure I may behold her, if she take this way unto the castle." And as she stepped over her threshold, the marquis came and gan to call her, and anon she set down her water-pot beside the threshold in the stall of an ox, and down she fell on her knees, and kneeled still with serious countenance till she had heard what was the lord's wish.
The thoughtful marquis spake to this maid full soberly and said in this wise: "Where is your father, Grisilde?" And she, with reverence and humble mien, answered, "Lord, he is ready here." And she went in without longer tarrying, and fetched her father to the marquis. He took then this old man by the hand, and when he had led him aside, said thus: "Janicula, I cannot longer conceal the delight of my heart. If thou vouchesafe, whatsoever befall, I will, before I go, take thy daughter to my wife for as long as she shall live. Thou lovest me—I wot it well—and art my true liegeman born, and all that liketh me I dare to say liketh thee, and therefore tell me specially that point whereof I spoke even now, whether thou wilt consent to take me for thy son-in-law?"
These sudden tidings so astonished this man that he waxed red, abashed, and stood quaking ; scarce could he speak and only these words: "Lord," quoth he, "my willing is as ye will, nor will I aught against your liking; ye be my dear lord; do in this matter right as ye list."
"Yet," quoth this marquis softly, "I desire that in thy chamber I, thou and she may have a conference, and wottest thou why? Because I would ask if it be her will to become my wife and govern herself after my desire; and all this shall be done in thy presence; I will speak naught out of thy hearing."
And while they were in the chamber about their covenant which ye shall hear afterward, the people came without the house, and marvelled how honourably and heedfully she kept her dear father. But Grisildis might well wonder without end, for never before saw she such a sight. It is no wonder she was astonished to see so great a guest enter there; never had she been accustomed to such guests; wherefore her face looked full pale. But briefly to pursue this story, these be the words that the marquis spoke to this true, faithful, gentle maid.
"Grisilde," he said, "ye shall understand well that it pleaseth your father and me that I wed you, and eke, as I suppose, it may well be that ye too will it so; but these questions I ask first, whether, sith it is done so hastily, ye will assent or else deliberate. I say this: be ye ready with good heart to perform all my pleasure, so that I may freely, as seemeth me best, cause you to laugh or to grieve; and do ye promise never, day or night to grumble? and eke when I say 'yea' not to say 'nay', neither by word nor by frowning countenance? Swear this, and here I swear our espousal."
Wondering at these words and quaking for fear, she said: "Lord, unfit and unworthy am I for that honour which ye bid me ; but as ye yourself will, even so will I. And I swear here that never willingly in act nor in thought will I disobey you; rather would I be dead, though I were loath to die." "This is enough, Grisilde mine," quoth he; and he goeth forth with full sober cheer out at the door, and she came after, and in this manner he spoke to the people: "This is my wife, that standeth here; let whosoever loveth me honour her, I pray, and love her; there is no more to tell you."
And that she should bring naught of her old gear into his house, he commanded women to unclothe her right there ; whereat these ladies were not right glad to handle her clothes, which she wore. Natheless they have clothed this bright maid all new from head to foot. They combed her hair, that lay full rudely untressed, and with their slender fingers they set a crown upon her head, and adorned her with jewels, great and small; why should I make a tale of her array? The people scarce knew her for her beauty, when she was transfigured with such richness.
This marquis hath espoused her with a ring, brought for that purpose, and then set her upon a snow-white horse that ambled gently, and with joyful folk that accompanied and that came forth to meet them, conveyed her unto the palace, without longer tarrying; and thus they spent the day in revelry, till the sun gan sink. And briefly to pursue this tale, I say that God of his grace hath sent such favour unto this new marchioness, that it seemed not of likelihood that she was born and bred so rudely as in a cot or an ox-stall, but nourished in an emperor's palace. To every wight she waxed so dear and worshipful that the folk where she was born, who had known her year by year from her birth, scarce believed it was she, but durst have vowed that she was no daughter to Janicula; for it seemed to them she was another creature. For though she was ever virtuous, she increased in such excellence of virtues, set in noble graciousness, and was so discreet and fair of speech, so benign and so worthy of respect, and could so take unto herself the people's heart, that every wight loved her that looked on her face. Not only in Saluces was the goodness of her name published, but eke thereabout in many a region; if one spake well of her, another said the like; and the fame of her noble goodness so spread that men and women, both young and old, went to Saluces to look upon her.
Thus Walter lowly wedded (nay, royally, with honour and good fortune) liveth at home in happiness and the peace of God, and of outward blessings he had enough; and because he saw that virtue was oft hid under low degree, his folk held their lord a prudent man, and that is seen full seldom. This Grisildis understood not only the performance of womanly home-duties, but eke, when the case required, she could serve the public good; there was no discord, rancour, nor grief in all that land that she could not appease, and wisely bring all to rest and contentment. Though her husband were absent, and high folk or others of her country were wroth, she would reconcile them. Such wise and ripe words she had, and judgments of such equity, that men deemed she was sent from heaven to save people and to amend every wrong.
Not long after Grisildis was wedded, she bore a daughter, although she would liefer have borne a man-child. Thereof this marquis was glad, and eke the folk, for though a maid-child had come first, she might in likelihood attain unto a man-child, sith she was not barren.
Explicit secunda pars.
Incipit tercia pars.
It befell, as many times it befalleth, that when this child had been suckled but a short while, this marquis so longed in his heart to try his wife to learn her steadfastness, that he might not expel from his heart this strange desire ; needlessly, God wot, he planned to affray her. He had tested her enough ere this and found her ever good; what needeth it for to tempt her ever more and more? Though some men praise it for subtle wit, as for me, I say that it ill fitteth a man to try his wife, and to put her in anguish and fear, when there is no need. To which end the marquis wrought in this manner: At night, where she was lying, he came alone, with stern face and look full troubled, and said thus: "Grisilde, that day in which I took you out of your poverty and put you in high noblesse, ye have not forgotten that, as I ween. I say, Grisilde, that this present dignity in which I have put you, maketh you not forgetful, I ween, in spite of any weal which ye may now have, that I took you in poor estate and full low. Give heed unto every word that I say to you ; there is none that heareth it but we twain. Ye wot well yourself how ye came into this house, it is not long since, and though ye be pleasing and dear to me, ye be not so unto my gentles; they say it is great shame and woe unto them to be subjects and vassals of thee, that comest of a small village. And especially since thy daughter was born have they spoken these words; but I desire to live my life in rest and peace with them, as before ; I may not, in this case, be unmoved by them; I must do with thy daughter for the best, not as I would but as it pleaseth my people. Yet full loath am I, God wot, to do this, and without your knowledge I will not, but natheless this is my wish, that ye give me your consent unto this thing. Show now that patience which ye promised and sware unto me in your home that day when our marriage was made."
When she had heard all this, she changed not in word or look or countenance; she appeared not even grieved, but said, "Lord, all lieth in your pleasure ; my child and I be yours all, with heart- felt obedience, and ye may save or destroy your own; do after your own will. So may God have my soul as nothing that pleaseth you may displease me; and I desire to have naught, and dread to lose naught, save only you. This will is in my heart, and shall ever be. Not death nor length of time may remove it, nor change me to another temper."
Glad was this marquis of her answer, yet he feigned as he were not so ; all dreary was his look when he went out of the chamber ; and ere long he hath privily told unto a man all his purpose, and sent him to his wife.
This trusty man was an officer of his whom oft he had proved faithful in great things, and to such folk eke things bad may be entrusted safely. The lord knew well that he loved and feared him; and when this officer wist the will of his lord, into the chamber he stalked, full quietly. "Madame," he said, "ye must forgive me though I do the thing to which I am constrained; ye be so wise that ye know full well the behests of a lord may not be shunned; they may well be lamented or bewailed, but a man must needs bow unto their pleasure ; and so will I ; there is no more to say. This child I am commanded to take"—and no more he spoke, but caught the child out of her arms all pitilessly and gan make as though he would slay it ere he departed. Grisildis must needs suffer all and consent; and as a lamb she sitteth quiet and meek and let this cruel officer perform his will. Ill-boding was the ill-fame of this man; ill-boding his face and eke his words, ill-boding the time in which he did this. Alas! her daughter whom she loved so—she weened he would have slain it right then. Natheless she neither wept nor sighed, consenting to what pleased the marquis. But at last she spake and meekly prayed the officer, by his worth and gentle blood, that she might kiss her little child ere it died. And with full sad face she laid it in her bosom and gan kiss it, and lulled it, and after blessed it. And thus she said in her gentle voice: "Farewell, my child, I shall see thee nevermore ; but sith I have marked thee with the cross, blessed mayst thou be of that Father which died for us upon a cross of wood. Thy soul, little child, I commit to him, for this night for my sake shalt thou die."
I trow for a nurse it had been hard to see this piteous sight. Well then might a mother have cried "Alas!" Natheless she was so steadfast that she endured all the pain, and said meekly to the officer, "Have here again your little young maiden; go now and do my lord's bidding. But one thing of your grace will I pray you, that, unless my lord forbade you, ye at least bury this little body in some spot where no beasts nor birds may rend it." But he would speak no word in answer, and took the child and went his way.
This officer came again to his lord, and told him of Grisildis' words and look, point for point, and gave the child to him. Somewhat ruthful was this lord, but natheless he held to his purpose, as lords do when they will have their will ; and he bade his officer that he should privily wind and wrap this child full soft with all tender care, and carry it in a coffer or in a blanket, but—on pain of losing his head—that no man should know of his purpose, nor whence he came nor whither he went ; and that he should take it to his dear sister, at Bologna, who was countess of Panago, and make known to her this matter, and beseech her do her diligence to foster this child in all gentleness; and for aught that might befall, he bade her hide from every wight whose child it was.
The officer goeth and fulfilleth this thing; but now return we to this marquis, for now he imagineth full busily whether he might perceive by his wife's look, or by her words, that she was changed; but ever he found her alike steadfast and gentle. In every wise as glad, as humble she was, as busy in service and in love as she wont to be; nor of his daughter spake she a word. For all her pain, no strange look did she ever chance to show, nor ever named she her daughter's name, in earnest or in sport.
Explicit tercia pars.
Sequitur pars quarta.
In this wise there passed four years ere she was with child; but then, as God would, she bore a man-child by this Walter full gracious and fair to look upon; and when the folk told it to the father, not only he but all his country were merry for this child, and they thanked and praised God.
When it was two years old and taken from the breast of its nurse, this marquis on a day caught yet another whim to try his wife once again, if he might. O needless was she tried! But wedded men know no moderation when they find a patient creature. "Wife, ye have heard ere this," quoth the marquis, "how my people beareth ill our marriage, and especially now, since my son was born, it is worse than ever before ; the murmuring slayeth my heart and my spirit, the complaint cometh so bitter to mine ears. Thus they say : 'When Walter is gone, then shall the blood of Janicle succeed and be our lord, for we have none other.' Such words, in truth, my people say; and good heed ought I to take of such murmuring, for certainly I dread such thoughts though they be not spoken plainly in my hearing. I will live in peace if I may; wherefore I am utterly determined to serve this child privily even as by night I served his sister. Of this I warn you that ye may not, on a sudden, go beside yourself for woe; be patient, thereof I pray you." "I have said," quoth she, "and shall ever say thus: I wish for nothing and I refuse nothing, save in sooth as ye list; it grieveth me not at all though my daughter and my son be slain, at your command that is to say, I have had no share of my two children save first sickness, and afterward pain and woe. Ye be our lord, do with your own things ever as ye list; ask no counsel of me. For as I left at home all my clothing when I first came to you, even so left I my will and all my freedom, and took your clothing; wherefore I pray you do your pleasure; I will obey your wish. And certes if I had prescience of your will ere ye tell it me, I would perform it without neglect; but now that I wot your desire, firmly and stably I receive it; for if I wist that my death would gladden you, right gladly would I die to please you. Death weigheth naught in comparison with your love." And when this marquis saw the constancy of his wife, he cast down his two eyes, and wondered how she could suffer all this grief in patience. And forth he goeth with a dreary countenance but unto his heart it was a full great delight.
This ugly officer, in the same wise as he took her daughter, even so, or worse (if men can imagine worse), hath snatched her son, that was full fair. And ever alike in the same manner she was so patient that she made no sign of sorrow, but kissed her son, and afterward marked him with the cross ; and thereupon she prayed the officer that, if he might, he would bury her little son in the earth, to save his tender limbs, delicate to see, from birds and from beasts. But she could get no answer from him. He went his way, as though he recked not; but tenderly he brought the child to Bologna.
This marquis wondered at her patience ever more and more, and if he had not ere this known in sooth that she loved her children perfectly, he would have weened that of subtlety or malice or cruel mood she suffered this with unchanged visage. But truly he knew well that next himself she loved her children best of all; and now I would fain ask of women if these tests might not suffice? What more could a ruthless husband invent to test her wifehood and steadfastness, and he continuing ever in cruelty? But there be folk of such temper that, when they have conceived a certain purpose, they cannot stint of their intention, but even as if they were bound to a stake, they will not desist from that first purpose. Right so this marquis hath fully determined to try his wife, as at first he was disposed. He waiteth to see whether, by word or look, her heart had changed toward him, but never could he find variance; she was ever one in heart and visage; and aye the older she waxed, the more true to him, if that were possible, was she in love, and the more painstaking. Whereby it thus seemed that there was but one will in them both; for as it pleased Walter, the same was also her pleasure; and God be thanked, all happed for the best. She showed well that a wife should not, for any disquiet that she may suffer, will anything save as her husband willeth.
The slander spread wide and oft concerning Walter that because he had wedded a poor woman, he had of cruel heart murdered privily both his children. Such murmuring was general among the people ; no wonder, for no word came to their ears but that the children were murdered. So that, though his people before had loved him well, the slanderous report of his infamy made them to hate him. Murderer is an hateful name. Natheless for earnest nor for sport would he stint of his cruel purpose ; all his thought was set to tempt his wife.
When his daughter was twelve years old, he sent to the court of Rome, that were privily informed of his will, a messenger, commanding them to frame such bulls as might suffice for his cruel purpose, declaring how the pope bade him, for his people's repose, to wed another, if he list. I say he bade them counterfeit the pope's bulls, declaring that he had leave by the pope's dispensation to put away his first wife, thereby to stint the rancour and dissention betwixt his people and him; thus said the bull, and they made it known at large. The rude people weened full well—and no wonder—that it was even thus. When these tidings came to Grisildis, I deem her heart was full of woe; but she, this humble creature, evermore constant, was ready to suffer all the adversity of fortune, attending ever his will and pleasure to whom, as to her very all in all in this world, she was given heart and soul. But, that I may tell this story shortly, this marquis hath written a private letter in which he sheweth his purpose, and hath sent it secretly to Bologna. Much he prayed the earl of Panago, who was wedded to his sister, to bring home again his two children, openly in honourable estate. But one thing he prayed him most, that he should tell no wight, though men should ask, whose children they were ; but say that the maiden should be wedded anon unto the marquis of Saluces. And as this earl was prayed, so he did ; for on the day appointed he went forth toward Saluces, and many a lord eke in rich array, to escort this maiden and her young brother riding beside her. Arrayed full of bright gems was this fresh maid for her marriage; her brother, who was seven years old, arrayed eke full fresh as became his youth ; and thus amid great noblesse and glad cheer, shaping their journey toward Saluces, they ride forth from day to day.
Explicit quarta pars.
Sequitur quinta pars.
In the meanwhile, according to his wicked habit, in order to test his wife even further to the uttermost proof of her spirit, and fully to have knowledge and experience whether she were steadfast as formerly, this marquis on a day in open audience, spake to her full rudely these words: "Certes, Grisilde, I took great pleasure in wedding you for your goodness, your fidelity and your obedience, though not for your lineage or for your riches; but now that I consider it well, I know in very sooth that there is sundry and great servitude in the estate of a lord. I may not do as every ploughman; my people crieth out day after day and constraineth me to take another wife; and eke the pope, to assuage the rancour, giveth, I dare affirm, his consent thereto; and this much truly I will tell you, that my new wife is upon her way hither. Be strong of heart and straightway depart from her place, and take again that dower which ye brought me—I grant that of my favour— and return to your father's house. No man alway may have prosperity. Endure with even heart, I advise you, the strokes of fortune." And she answered again patiently, "My lord, I know and knew alway that betwixt your magnificence and my poverty no wight can make comparison; thereof is no doubt. I never deemed me in any manner worthy to be your wife, no, nor your chambermaid. And in this house where ye made me a lady—I take for my witness the high God, may he so surely comfort my soul!—I never held me lady nor mistress, but the humble servant of your worship, above every worldly creature, and that shall I ever, while my life may last. That ye of your goodness have held me so long in honour and noble estate where I was not worthy to be—for that I thank God and you, and to God I pray that it may be requited unto you; there is no more to say. Unto my father will I gladly depart and dwell with him unto my life's end. Where I was fostered a little child, there till I die will I lead my life—a widow clean in body, in heart and in all. For sith I gave unto you my maidenhood and am in sooth your faithful wife, God shield that I, the wife of such a lord, should take another man to husband and to mate. And God of his favour grant you weal and prosperity of your new wife, for I will gladly yield her my place, in which I was wont to be full blissful; for sith it pleaseth you that I shall go, my lord, that whilom wast all my heart's content, I will go when ye list. But though ye proffer me such dowry as I first brought, I have well in mind it was but my wretched clothes and uncomely, which it were hard now for me to light upon. O good God! how gentle and how kind ye seemed by your speech and your look the day that our marriage was made! But it is said truly—at least I find it so, for in me it is proved indeed—'love grown old is not as when it was new.' But certes, for no adversity, lord, even though it were death, shall it hap that ever I repent, in word or work, that I gave you my whole heart. My lord, ye wot that in my father's house ye caused me to be stripped of my poor garb, and clad me of your grace richly. Naught else I brought to you, in sooth, but faith and nakedness and maidenhood; and here I return again my clothing, and my wedding-ring forevermore. The rest of your jewels, I dare promise, be ready within your chamber. Naked I came forth of my father's house, and naked must I return. And yet I hope it be not your intent that I go smockless out of your palace. Ye could not do so dishonourable a thing as suffer that bosom, in which your children rested, to be seen all bare before the people in my walking; wherefore I beseech you, let me not go my way like a worm. Remember, my own dear lord, I was your wife, though unworthy. In guerdon of my maidenhood, therefore, which I brought hither but may not bear hence, vouchesafe to give me, as my meed, only such a smock as I was wont to wear, wherewith I may wrap the bosom of her that was your wife; and here I take my leave of you, my own lord, lest I trouble you more."
"The smock that thou hast on thy back," quoth he, "let it abide and bear it with thee." Yet scarce could he speak that word, but went his way for ruth and for pity. Before the folk she strippeth herself and in her smock, with head and foot bare, she is gone forth toward her father's house.
The folk, weeping, follow her along her way, and aye they curse fortune as they go; but she kept her eyes dry from weeping, nor at any time spake a word. Her father, that anon heard these tidings, curseth the day that nature framed him a living wight. For doubtless this old man had ever been suspicious of her marriage; for he deemed ever since it took place that when the lord had fulfilled his pleasure, he would think it disparagement to his estate to stoop so low, and would renounce her as soon as ever he might. Hastily he goeth toward his daughter, for by noise of the folk he knew of her coming, and as best he might he covered her with her old coat, full sorrowfully weeping ; but he could not put it on her, for the cloth was rude and older by many a day than at her marriage.
Thus for a certain time dwelleth with her father this flower of wifely patience, in such wise that neither by her words nor her face, neither before the folk nor out of their sight, she showed that wrong had been done her, nor had she, by her countenance, any recollection of her high estate. No wonder is it, for in her noble estate her spirit ever was entirely humble. No tender mouth, no dainty desires, no pomp, no simulation of royalty, were hers; but she was full of patient gentleness, aye discreet, prideless, honourable, and ever to her husband steadfast and meek. Men speak of Job and most for his humility, as clerks when they list can write well, especially of men, but in soothfastness, though clerks praise women but little, there can no man acquit himself in humility as a woman can, nor can be half so faithful as women be, unless it hath befallen newly.
From Bologna is come this earl of Panago, the rumour of which spread among high and low, and in the ears of all the people it was made known that he had brought with him a new marchioness, in such pomp and wealth, that never before with human eyes was there seen so noble an array in West Lombardy.
The marquis, who knew and contrived all this, ere the earl was come, sent for that innocent poor Grisildis; and she, with humble spirit and glad visage, not with any swelling thoughts in her heart, came at his behest and fell on her knees and reverently and prudently greeted him. "Grisilde," quoth he, "my will is, that this maiden whom I shall wed be received to-morrow in my house as royally as is possible, and that every wight be honoured after his degree in his place at table, in attendance and in festal pleasure, as best I can devise. I have indeed no women capable of arraying the chambers in the manner which I would have; and I would fain, therefore, that all such governance were thine; thou knowest of old eke all my pleasure in such a thing. Though thine array be bad and ill to look upon, do at least thy duty." "Not only, my lord," quoth she, "am I glad to do this your pleasure, but I desire also to serve and please you according to my station, without fainting, and shall evermore; nor ever, for weal or woe, shall the spirit within my heart stint to love you best with all my true will."
And with that word she gan to prepare the house, to set the tables and make the beds, and took pains to do all in her might, praying the chambermaids for God's love to hasten, and busily shake and sweep; and she, the most serviceable amongst them, hath arrayed his hall and every chamber.
About undern gan alight this earl, that brought with him these two noble children, for which the people ran to gaze on their array, so richly were they beseen; and then folk begn to say among themselves that Walter was no fool, though it pleased him to change his wife, sith it was for the best. For, as they all deemed, she was fairer and more tender of age than Grisildis, and fairer fruit and more gracious should be bred of them, because of her high descent; her brother eke was so fair of face that the people took delight to see them, commending now the action of the marquis.
Auctor. "O stormy people! ever unstable and faithless! Aye undiscerning and changeful as a weather-cock, delighting ever in new rumours, for aye like the moon ye wax and wane, ever full of idle prating, not worth a farthing; your judgment is false, your constancy proveth naught; a full great fool is he that believeth in you."
Thus said serious folk in that city when the people gazed from high and low, glad for the mere novelty to have a new lady of their town. No more now will I speak of this, but to Grisildis again I will address myself, and tell of her constancy and her diligence.
Full busy was Grisildis in all that pertained to the feast. She was not abashed of her clothing, though it was rude and eke somewhat torn; but with glad cheer she is gone to the gate with the other folk to greet the marchioness, and after that busieth herself once more. With such glad cheer she receiveth her guests, and so properly, each after his rank, that no man discerneth a fault; but aye they wonder who she may be, that is clad in such poor array yet knoweth so much of ceremony, and full highly they praise her discretion. In the meanwhile she stinted not to commend this maid and eke her brother, with all her heart and full kindly, so well that no man could praise them better.
But at last, when these lords thought to sit down to meat, the marquis gan summon Grisildis, as she was busy in the hall.
"Grisilde," quoth he, as it were in sport, "how liketh thee my wife and her beauty?" "Right well, my lord," quoth she; "in good faith, I saw never a fairer. I pray God let her prosper; and even so I hope he will grant to you great joy unto the end of your life. One thing I beseech and eke warn you, that ye sting not with tormenting this tender maid, as ye have done unto others; for she hath been more tenderly fostered, and in my belief she could not suffer adversity as could a poorly fostered creature."
And when Walter saw her fortitude and glad cheer and how she bare no malice, and that he so often had done offence to her, and she aye stable and constant as a wall, continuing her innocence ever throughout, this cruel marquis gan incline his heart to take pity upon her wifely steadfastness.
"This is enough, Grisilde mine; be now no more aghast nor sorrowful," quoth he. "I have assayed thy faith and thy goodness, in great estate and in lowly garb, as well as ever woman was tried. Now know I, dear wife, thy steadfastness." And he took her in his arms and gan kiss her. But for wonder she marked it not ; she heard not what thing he said to her, but fared as she had started out of sleep, till she awaked out of her bewilderment. "Grisilde," quoth he, "by God that died for us, thou art my wife ; I have none other, nor ever had, so God save me! This is thy daughter, that thou supposed to be my wife ; that other, on my faith, as I have ever intended, shall be mine heir; verily thou borest him in thy body ; at Bologna privily have I kept him. Take them to thee again, for now thou mayst not say that thou hast lost either of thy two children. And I warn well the folk that have said otherwise of me, that I have done this deed for no malice nor cruelty, but to test in thee thy womanhood, and not— God forbid!—to slay my children, but to keep them in quiet privily till I knew thy temper and all thy heart."
When she heareth this, she sinketh down in a swoon for piteous joy, and after her swoon she calleth both her young children unto her, and piteously weeping, embraceth them in her arms, and tenderly kissing them, full like a mother, with her salt tears she batheth both their hair and their visages. O how pitiful it was to see her swooning, and to hear her humble voice! "Grammercy, lord," quoth she, "I thank you that ye have saved me my children dear! Now I reck not though I die even now; sith I stand in your love and in your favour, death mattereth not, nor when my spirit may pass. O tender, O dear, O young children mine, your woful mother weened evermore that cruel hounds or foul vermin had eaten you ; but God of his mercy and your gentle father have caused you tenderly to be kept," and in that same moment all suddenly she sank on the ground. And in her swoon so firmly she holdeth her two children in her caress, that only with great pains and skill could they release them from her arms. O many a tear ran down upon many a pitying face of them that stood near her; scarce could they abide about her. Walter maketh her glad and stinteth her sorrow. She riseth up abashed from her swoon, and every wight maketh joy and festivity unto her, till once more she hath in control her countenance. Walter so faithfully waiteth on her pleasure that it is rare to see the looks betwixt them both, now they be brought together again.
These ladies, when they saw their time, took her into a chamber and stripped her out of her rude array, and in cloth of gold that shone brightly, with a crown upon her head set with many a rich gem, they brought her into the hall, and there she was honoured as she was worthy to be.
Thus this piteous day had a blissful end, for every man and woman did his best to pass the time in mirth and revel, till starlight shone in the welkin; for more sumptuous was this feast in every man's sight, and greater of cost, than was the revel of her marriage.
Full many a prosperous year these two lived in concord and peace, and Walter married his daughter richly unto a lord, one of the worthiest of all Italy; and then in peace and content he sustained his wife's father in his court till the soul crept out of his body. The son of the marquis succeeded to his heritage in peace, after his father's day, and was fortunate eke in marriage, although he put not his wife to great trial. This world, it may not be denied, is not so strong as it was in old times; hearken therefore what this author saith.
This story is told not that wives should follow Grisildis in humility, for it were insupportable if they did; but that every wight, in his own estate, should be constant in adversity as Grisildis was; therefore Petrarch telleth this story, which he enditeth in high style. For sith a woman was so patient unto a mortal man, the more ought we to receive in good part all that God sendeth us; for with good reason he may assay that which he wrought. But though he tempteth no man whom he hath redeemed, as Saint James saith, if ye will read his epistle, yet he tryeth folk every day, there is no doubt; and suffereth us to be beaten in sundry wise with sharp scourges of adversity, not to know our hearts, for certes ere we were born he knew all our weakness, but for our discipline ; and all his governance is for our best welfare. Let us live then in virtuous submission.
But, lordings, hearken one word ere I go : it were full hard to find nowadays Grisildes two or three in a whole town; for if they were put to such tests, the gold of them now hath such bad alloys of brass that though the coin be fair to the eye, it would break in two rather than bend. Wherefore now, for love of the Wife of Bath, whose life and all of her sect may God maintain in high mastery (else were it a pity!), I will, with lusty heart green and fresh, recite you a song to gladden you, I trow; and let us stint of earnest matter. Hearken my song, that saith in this wise.
Lenvoy de Chaucer.
Grisilde is dead and eke her patience,
And both interr'd in far Italia's vale;
For which I cry in open audience
Let no man be so hardy as to assail
The patience of his wife, in hope to find
Grisildis', for so surely he shall fail.
O noble wives, ye sovereigns of sense,
Suffer no lowliness your tongues to nail,
Nor any clerk have cause, or find pretence,
To write of you so marvellous a tale
As of Grisilde long-suffering and kind,
Lest Chichevache devour you, to your bale.
Ape Echo, that will own no diffidence
But answereth ever up and down the dale ;
Be not made fools of for your innocence,
But sharply wield of governance the flail;
Imprint full well this lesson in your mind,
For common profit, sith it may avail.
Ye archwives, stand alway on your defence,
Sith as a camel ye be strong and hale,
And suffer men to do you none offence;
Ye slender wives, that bend in battle's gale,
Be terrible as tigers yon in Ind;
Aye clap as doth a mill-wheel, when ye rail.
Dread not mankind, do them no reverence,
For though thy husband armed be in mail,
The arrows of thy crabbed eloquence
Shall pierce his armour and his breast impale;
In jealousy I charge that thou him bind,
And thou shalt make him couch as doth a quail.
If thou be fair, go forth where throngs be dense
To show thy duds and face without a veil;
If thou be foul, be lavish of expense;
To find thee lovers follow aye the trail;
Be aye of cheer as light as leaf i' the wind,
And let him weep and wring his hands and wail!
Here endeth the Clerk of Oxford his Tale.