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◈ The Canterbury Tales ◈

◇ The Merchant’s Prologue, Tale and Epilogue ◇

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 1. The Merchant’s Prologue
 2. The Merchant’s Tale
 3. The Merchant’s Epilogue

1. The Merchant’s Prologue

0 The Prologue to the Merchant’s Tale
 
1 Weeping and wailing, care and other sorrow,
2 I’ve known enough of, even-tide and morrow,’
3 Quoth the Merchant, ‘as do others though,
4 Who have been wed, I know that it is so,
5 Too well I see that’s how it fares with me.
6 I have a wife, the worst sort there may be;
7 For even though the fiend were to wed her,
8 She would outmatch him, I’d truly swear.
9 What should I especially for you recall
10 Of her deep malice? She’s a shrew in all!
11 There is a vast and a broad difference
12 Betwixt Griselda’s wondrous patience,
13 And my wife’s exceeding cruelty.
14 Were I free once more, I say to thee,
15 I would ever again avoid the snare.
16 We wedded men live in sorrow and care.
17 Try it who will, and he indeed shall find
18 That I say true, by Saint Thomas of Inde! –
19 Speaking for most of us; I don’t say all.
20 God forbid that ever that should befall!
21 Ah, good sir Host, I have wedded been
22 These two months, no more than that, you see;
23 And yet I know, he that all his life
24 Wifeless has been, could in no like manner
25 Tell so much sorrow as I now, here,
26 Could tell of my wife’s cussedness!’
 
27 Now,’ quoth our Host, ‘Merchant, so God you bless,
28 Since you know so much of all that art,
29 Full heartily I pray you, tell us part.’
 
30 Gladly,’ quoth he, ‘but of my own sore
31 Because my heart is sad, I’ll tell no more.’
 

2. The Merchant’s Tale

0 Here begins the Merchant’s Tale
 
1 Once there was, dwelling in Lombardy
2 A worthy knight, born in Pavia he,
3 In which he lived in great prosperity.
4 And sixty years a wifeless man, was free
5 To pursue all his bodily delight
6 With women, where lay his appetite,
7 As do these fools who are but secular.
8 And when he had passed his sixtieth year,
9 Whether from holiness, or in his dotage
10 I cannot say, but he was in such a rage,
11 This knight, to see himself a wedded man
12 That day and knight he ponders all he can
13 Seeking for how he might wedded be,
14 Praying Our Lord to grant him that he
15 Might once know all of the blissful life
16 That is between a husband and his wife,
17 And to live in that holy bond, tight bound,
18 In which God first man and woman wound.
19 No other life,’ said he, ‘is worth a bean;
20 For wedlock is so comfortable, I mean,
21 That in this world it seems a paradise.’
22 So said this old knight who was so wise.
 
23 And certainly, as true as God is King,
24 To take a wife it is a glorious thing,
25 Especially when a man is old and hoar;
26 Then is a wife the fruit of all his hoard.
27 Then should he take a wife young and fair,
28 On whom he might engender an heir,
29 And all his life in joy and solace pass,
30 While all the bachelors may singalas!’
31 Where they are lost in the adversity
32 Of love which is but childish vanity.
33 And truly, it is fitting it should be so,
34 And bachelors have all the pain and woe.
35 On fragile base they build, fragility
36 They find when they would have security.
37 They live but as a bird or as a beast,
38 In liberty and free of any leash,
39 Yet a wedded man in his new state
40 Lives a life blissful and moderate,
41 Under this yoke of true marriage bound.
42 Well may his heart in joy and bliss abound;
43 For who shall be obedient as a wife?
44 Who is so true, and caring of his life
45 In sickness and in health, as is his mate?
46 For weal or woe she will not him forsake,
47 She never wearies, but will love and serve,
48 Though he lie bedridden while on this earth.
49 And yet some scholars say it is not so,
50 And Theophrastus he is one of those.
51 What matter if Theophrastus choose to lie?
52 For thriftiness,’ quoth he, ‘take not a wife,
53 In order to spare your household from expense.
54 A faithful servant will show more diligence
55 In nurturing your estate than your own wife,
56 For she will claim a half of it all her life.
57 And if you are sick, so God me save,
58 Your true friends, or an honest knave,
59 Will help you more than she that waits, I say
60 To own your goods, and has for many a day.
61 And if you take a wife to have and hold,
62 You may easily end up as a cuckold.’
63 This opinion, and a hundred worse,
64 Writes the man, may God his ashes curse!
65 But ignore all such, it’s vanity;
66 Defy Theophrastus, hearken unto me.
 
67 A wife is God’s gift, say I, verily.
68 All other kinds of gift, assuredly
69 Such as lands, rents, pasture, rights in common,
70 Or movablesthey are all gifts of Fortune,
71 Which vanish like the shadows on a wall.
72 But doubt not, plainly I shall speak to all,
73 A wife will last, and in your house endure,
74 Longer then you may wish, peradventure!
 
75 Marriage is a mighty sacrament;
76 He that has no wife is good as spent;
77 He lives helplessly and desolate
78 I speak of folk in the secular state.
79 And listen why – I do not speak for naught
80 Because woman was for man’s help wrought.
81 Great God, when he first Adam created,
82 And saw him all alone, and belly-naked,
83 God of his goodness said, as He had planned:
84 Let us create a helpmate for this man,
85 One like himself’ – and then created Eve.
86 Here may you see, and so may you believe,
87 A wife is a man’s help and consolation,
88 His terrestrial paradise and salvation.
89 So obedient and virtuous is she,
90 They cannot help but live in unity.
91 One flesh are they, and one flesh, I guess,
92 Has but one heart, in joy and in distress.
 
93 A wifeah, Saint Mary, benedicitee!
94 How should a man then know adversity
95 Who has a wife? For sure, I cannot say.
96 The bliss between them both, night and day,
97 No tongue can tell about nor heart can think.
98 If he is poor, she labours, every wink;
99 She nurtures his goods, wastes not a shell.
100 All that her husband likes, she likes as well.
101 She never once saysnay’, when he saysyes’.
102 Do this,’ says he, ‘all ready, sire,’ she says.
103 O blissful order of true wedlock precious,
104 You are so happy and so virtuous,
105 Commended and approved, week by week,
106 That every man that’s worth more than a leek,
107 Upon his bare knees ought throughout his life
108 To thank the God who sent to him a wife,
109 Or else should pray to God that He might send
110 A wife to him, to endure till his life end,
111 For then he can live life in security
112 And not be troubled, as far as I can see,
113 As long as by his wife’s advice he’s led;
114 Then may he boldly hold aloft his head.
115 They are so true, and withal are so wise.
116 Thus, if you’d live as learned men advise,
117 Do always as the womenfolk shall cite.
 
118 Lo then, how Jacob, as the clerics write,
119 By good counsel of his mother, Rebecca,
120 Binds the kid’s skin round his neck, a
121 Ploy by which his father’s blessing’s won.
122 Lo, how Judith, for thus the stories run,
123 By wise counsel, God’s own people kept,
124 And slew King Holofernes while he slept.
 
125 Lo, how by Abigail’s good counsel she
126 Saved her own husband Nabal, when he
127 Looked to be slain; and Esther, she also
128 By good counsel delivered out of woe
129 The people of God, and had Mordecai
130 Enhanced by Ahasuerus in God’s eye.
 
131 There is no rank superior, in life,
132 Says Seneca, to that of humble wife.
 
133 Endure your wife’s tongue, as Cato has it;
134 She shall command, and you must endure it
135 And yet she will obey out of courtesy.
136 A wife is the keeper of your property;
137 Well may the sick man wail and weep
138 When there is no wife the house to keep.
139 I warn you, if wisely you would work,
140 Love your wife well, as Christ loved his Church.
141 If you love yourself, then love your wife.
142 No man hates his flesh, but all his life
143 He nurtures it; and therefore bid I thee,
144 Cherish your wife, or never prosperous be.
145 Husband and wife, whatever men jesting say,
146 Among the worldly, keep to the safest way.
147 They are so knit, no harm may thus abide,
148 And especially upon the woman’s side.
149 So January considered, of whom I told,
150 For he, when the time came that he was old,
151 Thought of the pleasant life, the virtuous quiet,
152 That is marriage’s sweet and honeyed diet,
153 And for his friends thus one day he sent
154 To tell them the gist of all his fond intent.
 
155 With grave face this tale to them he told:
156 Friends,’ he said, ‘see, I am hoar and old,
157 And almost, God knows, on the grave’s brink;
158 Now, of my soul somewhat I must think.
159 I have my strength wantonly expended
160 Blessed be God that this may be amended!
161 For I will, indeed, become a married man,
162 And that anon, with all the haste I can.
163 I’ll wed some maid, of fair and tender age,
164 I pray you, prepare you for my marriage
165 Swiftly now, for I cannot long abide.
166 And I will try to discover, on my side,
167 To whom I might be wedded rapidly.
168 But since there are more of you than me,
169 You are more likely such a one to spy
170 Than me, one with whom I might best ally.
 
171 But of one thing I warn you, my friends dear,
172 I will have no old wife, no, never fear.
173 She shall not be more than twenty, say,
174 Old fish but young flesh I’d have any day;
175 Better a pike,’ quoth he, ‘than a pickerel,
176 Yet fresh veal better than old beef is well.
177 I’d wish for no woman thirty years of age;
178 Such is but bedstraw and coarse for forage.
179 And old widows, God knows that they float
180 As trickily as did Wade’s fabled boat,
181 Making so much mischief when they wish,
182 That I’d never have a moment’s peace.
183 For as diverse schools make subtle clerics;
184 Woman, of many schools, part-scholar is.
185 But surely, a young thing men may guide,
186 As warm wax in the hands, readily plied.
187 Wherefore, I say plainly, in a single clause,
188 I will have no old wife, and here’s the cause.
189 For if it happened by some cruel mischance
190 I would find no pleasure in her glance,
191 And I’d end in adultery, by and by,
192 And go straight to the devil when I die.
193 No children on her should I then beget;
194 And I’d prefer my hounds to eat me yet
195 Rather than that my property should fall
196 Into strange hands, and this I tell you all.
 
197 I am not in my dotage; I know why
198 Men should be wed, and furthermore I
199 Know that many a man speaks of marriage
200 That knows no more than does my page,
201 Of why every man should take a wife
202 If he cannot live chaste throughout his life
203 Take him a wife with proper devotion
204 And for the sake of lawful procreation
205 Of children, to the honour of God above,
206 And not for passion only or for love;
207 And so that he might lechery eschew,
208 And pay his debt when it falls due;
209 Or so that each should help the other
210 In misery, as a sister does her brother,
211 And live in chastity full holily.
212 But, sires, that is not I, by your leave;
213 For, God be thanked, I dare to boast,
214 I feel my limbs stronger are than most,
215 Enough to do all that a man may do.
216 I know best myself what I can do, too.
217 Though I am hoary, I am like a tree
218 That blossoms white before the fruit, we see,
219 A blossoming tree is neither dry nor dead.
220 And I am only hoary on my head.
221 My heart and all my limbs are as green
222 As laurel all the year is sweetly seen.
223 And since you have heard all my intent,
224 I pray that you will, to my wish, assent.’
 
225 Various men variously him told
226 Of marriage, gave many examples old.
227 Some blamed it, and some praised it again;
228 But at the last, and briefly to explain,
229 As everyday occur fierce altercations
230 Between friends in their disputations,
231 A quarrel fell out between his friends so;
232 Of whom the one was called Placebo,
233 While Justinus, in truth, was the other.
 
234 Placebo said: ‘O January, my brother,
235 You have little need, my lord so dear,
236 To take counsel of anyone that’s here,
237 Unless being so full of sapience,
238 You’d dislike, of your noble prudence,
239 To stray far from the words of Solomon.
240 This is what he said to us, every one,
241 Work everything by counsel” – so said he
242 And then youll not repent latterly.”
243 But though Solomon spoke this word,
244 My own dear brother and my lord,
245 God in Heaven bring my soul to rest,
246 I hold your own counsel still the best.
247 For, brother mine, since opinion’s rife,
248 Well, I have been a courtier all my life,
249 And God knows, though I unworthy be,
250 I have served with those of high degree,
251 Amongst lords of the highest estate,
252 Yet with them I never would debate.
253 I never contradicted them, truly;
254 I well know my lord knows more than me.
255 Whatever he says, I hold it to be right;
256 On the same, or something similar, I light.
257 A mighty fool is any councillor
258 Who serves a lord with high honour,
259 Yet dares presume, or consider he is fit
260 To offer advice that betters his lord’s wit.
261 No, lords are not fools, no, by my faith!
262 You have shown yourself, here today
263 Of such noble thought, so holy and fine,
264 That I agree, endorse it all with mine,
265 All your words and all your true opinion.
266 By God, there is no man in all this town,
267 Nor in Italy, who could have spoken better!
268 Christ would be satisfied with every letter.
269 And truly it is a noble wish I say
270 For any man who is advanced in age
271 To take a young wife; by my father’s kin,
272 Your heart’s hanging from a trusty pin!
273 Do now in this matter as you wish,
274 For, in conclusion, I do think that best.’
 
275 Justinus, who sat still and all this heard,
276 In this manner Placebo he answered:
277 Now, my brother, be patient I pray,
278 Since you have spoken, hear now what I say.
 
279 Seneca, among other words, all wise,
280 Says indeed that a man is well advised
281 To ponder where he leaves his land and chattels.
282 And since therefore I ought to think right well
283 To whom I give my goods away, truly
284 I should consider still more carefully
285 To whom I give my body for many a day,
286 I warn you truly now, it’s no child’s play
287 To marry without due consideration.
288 Men must enquirethis is my opinion
289 If she be wise, sober or drunken too,
290 Or proud, or else otherwise a shrew,
291 A chider, or a waster of your goods,
292 Rich or poor, a virago from the woods
293 Although it’s true as ever no man shall
294 Find any in this world sound in all,
295 No man, no beast that man could devise.
296 But nonetheless, it ought to suffice
297 For any wife, that one know if she had
298 More good qualities than she had bad.
299 And all this needs leisure to enquire.
300 For, God knows, I have wept tears entire
301 Days, privately, since I have had a wife.
302 Praise who will a married man’s life,
303 Be sure, I find in it but cost and care,
304 And duty, of all bliss and joy bare.
305 And yet, God knows, my neighbours all about,
306 And especially the women, I avow,
307 Say that I have a most constant wife,
308 And the meekest one that God gave life.
309 But I know best where pinches thus the shoe.
310 You can do, for my part, what pleases you.
311 Take thoughtyou are mature now in age
312 Before you enter into any marriage,
313 Especially with a wife both young and fair.
314 By Him that made water, earth, and air,
315 The youngest man there is among the crowd
316 Is hard put to ensure, if he’s allowed,
317 His wife for himself alone. Trust in me,
318 You shall not please her fully years three
319 That is to say, or give her satisfaction.
320 A wife demands plenty of attention.
321 With what I said, be not displeased I pray.’
 
322 Well, quoth January, ‘have you had your say?
323 That for your Seneca and your proverbs!
324 I care not a basketful of herbs
325 For scholar’s terms! Wiser men than thou,
326 As you know well, have assented now,
327 To my scheme. Placebo what say ye?’
 
328 ‘I say it is a cursed man,’ quoth he,
329 Indeed, who hinders true matrimony.’
330 And with that word they rose, suddenly,
331 And they assented fully that he should
332 Be wedded when he wished, and where he would.
 
333 Powerful imaginings, fresh anxiousness,
334 From day to day, full on the spirit pressed
335 Of January, concerning all this marriage.
336 Many a fair shape, many a fair visage,
337 There passed through his heart, night by night,
338 As one who took a mirror, polished bright,
339 And set it there in the public market-place,
340 Would see many a reflected figure pace
341 Across his mirror; and in similar wise
342 Could January in his own mind devise
343 Images of maids who dwelt on every side.
344 He was unsure where preference should abide;
345 For if the one had beauty in her face,
346 Another stood so in the people’s grace
347 For her sobriety and benignity,
348 That in folk’s report most worth had she;
349 And others were rich, but had a bad name.
350 Nonetheless, between earnest and game,
351 He, in the end, had fixed his mind on one,
352 And every other from his heart was gone,
353 And he chose her, on his own authority;
354 For love is blind always, and cannot see.
355 And when at night he his bed had sought,
356 He portrayed her in his heart and thought,
357 Her fresh beauty, and her age so tender,
358 Her little waist, her arms long and slender,
359 Her wise discipline, and her gentleness,
360 Her womanly bearing and her soberness.
361 And when to look on her he condescended,
362 He thought his choice could never be amended.
363 For when all this he concluded had,
364 He thought every other man’s wits so bad,
365 It would be for them an impossibility
366 To contest his choice; that was his fantasy.
367 His friends he sent to on the instant,
368 And begged them to honour his intent
369 Asking them swiftly to him now to come;
370 He would abridge their labour, all and some.
371 There was no further need for them to ride;
372 He’d decided where his choice would abide.
 
373 Placebo came, his friends were all there soon,
374 And first of all he begged of them a boon,
375 That none should any ill contention make
376 Against the decision that he chose to take;
377 Which decision was pleasant to God, said he,
378 And the very grounds of his prosperity.
 
379 He said there was a maiden in the town,
380 Who for her beauty had won great renown,
381 Although it chanced she was of low degree,
382 It sufficed for him she had youth and beauty;
383 Which maid, he said, he would take to wife,
384 And lead in ease and holiness his life,
385 And thanked God that he would have her all,
386 And no man should share his bliss at all,
387 And begged them to pander to his need,
388 And make sure that his courtship succeed,
389 For then, he said, his mind would be at ease.
390 There is,’ quoth he, ‘nothing to displease,
391 Except one thing pricking in my conscience,
392 The which I will rehearse in your presence.
 
393 I have,’ quoth he, ‘heard said, a year ago,
394 No man can have perfect bliss, in both
395 That is to say, in earth and then in heaven.
396 For though he keep him from the sins seven,
397 And from every branch, too, of that tree,
398 Yet is there such perfect felicity
399 And such great ease and joy in marriage,
400 That ever I am aghast now, at my age,
401 That I may lead now so merry a life,
402 Luxurious, and free of woe and strife,
403 That I shall have my heaven on earth here.
404 And yet since heaven indeed is bought so dear,
405 With tribulation and with mighty penance,
406 How should I then, living a life so pleasant,
407 As all married men do with their wives,
408 Come to bliss where Christ eternal thrives?
409 This is my dread; and you my brethren, say,
410 You two, how to resolve this question, pray.’
 
411 Justinus, who hated all such folly,
412 Answered at once, in silent mockery;
413 And as he would a longer tale abridge,
414 He would no clear authority allege,
415 But said: ‘Sire, if there’s no obstacle
416 Other than this, God, by a miracle
417 And of his mercy, may for you so work.
418 That ere you have the rites of holy church
419 You may repent of the married man’s life,
420 In which you say there is no woe or strife.
421 And God forbid He do ought but send
422 The married man the grace to repent
423 Much more often than the single man!
424 And therefore, sire, the best advice I can
425 Give you, despair not, but keep in memory
426 That she perhaps may prove your purgatory.
427 She may be God’s means, and God’s whip;
428 Then shall your soul up to Heaven skip
429 Swifter than does the arrow from the bow.
430 I hope to God hereafter you may know
431 That there is none so great a felicity
432 In marriage, nor nevermore shall be,
433 That could deprive you of your salvation,
434 Provided you use, with skill and reason,
435 The pleasures of your wife, temperately,
436 And that you please her not too amorously,
437 And that you keep from every other sin.
438 My advice is done, for my wits are thin.
439 Be not aghast at it all, my brother dear,
440 And let us turn from this matter here.
441 The Wife of Bath, if you can understand
442 Her view of the business weve on hand,
443 Has declared it clearly in little space.
444 Farwell now; God have you in His grace.’
 
445 And with that Justinus and his brother
446 Took their leave, and each one of the other.
447 For when they saw that it needs must be,
448 They so wrought, by wise and cunning treaty,
449 That this maiden, named fair May, she might
450 As swiftly as ever should appear right,
451 Be wedded to this old man January.
452 I think too long you’d need to tarry,
453 If I told you of every deed and bond
454 By which she was endowed with his land,
455 Or to detail all her rich array.
456 But finally we reach the wedding day
457 And to the church both of them now went
458 There to receive the holy sacrament.
459 Forth the priest, with stole about his neck, there,
460 And bade her be like Sarah and Rebecca,
461 In wisdom and in the truth of marriage,
462 And said the orisons, in common usage,
463 Signed them with the cross, and bade God bless,
464 And made all sure enough with holiness.
 
465 Thus were they wedded with solemnity,
466 And down to the feast sit he and she,
467 With other worthy folk on the dais.
468 All full of joy and bliss is the place,
469 And full of instruments, and plenty,
470 The most delicious food in all Italy.
471 Before them stood instruments whose sound
472 Was such that Orpheus, nor Amphion
473 Ever made such a perfect melody.
474 With every course there came loud minstrelsy
475 That never trumpet blared with Joab near,
476 Nor Thiodomas, never was half so clear,
477 At Thebes when the city was in doubt.
478 Bacchus himself poured wine all about,
479 And Venus smiled sweetly at the sight,
480 For January had become her knight,
481 And now would test out all his courage
482 As he had done in liberty, in marriage,
483 And with her firebrand in her hand about,
484 Danced before the bride and all the rout.
485 And for sure, I dare in truth say this:
486 Hymen that the god of marriage is,
487 Never saw so merry a married man.
488 Hold your peace, now, poet Marcian,
489 Who describes that same wedding merry
490 Of Philology the bride, to Mercury,
491 And then writes the songs the Muses sung!
492 Too shallow your pen, too weak your tongue,
493 To tell the story of this marriage.
494 When tender youth is wed to stooping age,
495 There is such mirth it can’t be written.
496 Try it yourself, and youll be bitten,
497 Tell me if I lie, in this matter here.
 
498 May sat: her looks were so benign and clear,
499 To see her was to see the world of faery.
500 Queen Esther never looked so meekly
501 On Ahasuerus, never such eye had she.
502 I may not tell you of all her beauty;
503 But this much of her beauty tell I may,
504 That she was like the bright morn of May,
505 Filled with every beauty was her glance.
 
506 Old January was ravished, in a trance
507 Every time he looked upon her face.
508 But in his mind he menaced her apace
509 With how that night in his arms he’d strain
510 Her tighter than Paris Helen did constrain.
511 But nonetheless, he felt it a great pity
512 That he must offend her that night, and he
513 Thought to himself: ‘Alas, O tender creature,
514 Now would to God that you may endure
515 All my passion, so sharp and keen, again
516 I am aghast lest you shall it not sustain.
517 God forbid that I do all that I might!
518 Would God though that it were truly night,
519 And the night last for evermore, and so
520 I wish these people were about to go!’
521 And finally he set himself to labour
522 As best he could, while careful of his honour,
523 To hasten them from the meal in subtle wise.
 
524 The moment came when it was time to rise,
525 And after that they danced and drank, at last
526 Spices all about the house they cast,
527 And full of joy and bliss was every man
528 All but a squire whose name was Damian,
529 Who carved for the knight full many a day.
530 He was so taken with this lady May
531 He was nigh mad with the pains of love.
532 He almost swooned and fainted where he stood,
533 So sore had Venus hurt him with her brand
534 That she bore, while she was dancing, in her hand.
535 And took himself off to bed hastily;
536 Of him no more at this time will I speak,
537 But leave him there to weep and to complain,
538 Till fresh May shall take pity on his pain.
 
539 O perilous fire, that in the bed-straw gathers!
540 O household foe, who his ill service proffers!
541 O treacherous servant, with false homely hue,
542 An adder in the bosom, sly, untrue!
543 God shield us all from your base acquaintance.
544 O January, drunken in the dance
545 Of marriage, see how your Damian
546 Your own squire, from birth that was your man,
547 Intends to do you now some villainy.
548 God grant that this household foe you see!
549 For in this world there’s no worse pestilence
550 Than a household foe daylong in your presence.
 
551 Perfected had the sun his arc diurnal;
552 No longer might the body of him sojourn,
553 All on the horizon in that latitude.
554 Night with her mantle that is dark of hue
555 Had overspread the hemisphere about,
556 At which departed all the merry rout
557 Of guests, and with thanks on every side.
558 Home to their houses merrily they ride,
559 Where they do whatever they think best,
560 And when it seems due time, take their rest.
 
561 Soon after that, our restless January
562 Desires his bed; he will no longer tarry.
563 He takes hippocras, and sweet wine laced
564 With spices hot, to make the spirits race,
565 And many a potion drinks he, as fine
566 As those the cursed monk Constantine,
567 Has written of in his book De Coitu;
568 He quaffed them all and nothing did eschew.
569 And to his private friends thus said he:
570 For God’s love, as soon as it may be,
571 Have the house cleared in courteous wise.’
572 And they did exactly as he did advise;
573 Men drank a toast, the curtains then were drawn,
574 The bride was brought abed, as still as stone;
575 And when the bed had by the priest been blessed,
576 Out of the chamber everybody pressed.
 
577 And January fast in his arms did take
578 His fresh May, his paradise, his mate.
579 He calms her, he kisses her full oft;
580 And with the bristles of his beard un-soft,
581 Like to dog-fish scales, and sharp as briars
582 For he has freshly shaved as it transpires
583 He rubs her all about her tender face,
584 And says thus: ‘Alas, my spouse, for a space
585 I must injure you, and greatly you offend,
586 Before the morning when we shall descend.
 
587 But nonetheless, consider this,’ quoth he,
588 There is no workman, whosoever he be,
589 That can work well, and also hurriedly.
590 This must be done at leisure, carefully.
591 It matters not now how long now we play;
592 Coupled in wedlock were we two today
593 And blessed be the yoke that we are in,
594 For in our actions we can do no sin.
595 A man can commit no sin with his wife,
596 No more than hurt himself with his own knife,
597 For we have leave to play, so says the law.’
598 Thus he laboured till daylight, as before,
599 And then he took some bread in spiced wine,
600 And upright in his bed sat so to dine,
601 And after that he sang out loud and clear,
602 And kissed his wife, and wanton did appear.
603 He was all coltish, folly in his eye,
604 And full of chatter as a pert magpie.
605 The slack of skin below his neck did shake
606 While he chanted, bawled, and song did make.
607 God knows what poor May thought in her heart,
608 When she saw him in his shirt upstart,
609 And in his night-cap, with his neck all lean;
610 She thought his dalliance not worth a bean.
 
611 Then said he thus: ‘My rest shall I take
612 Now day is come; I cannot keep awake.
613 And down he laid his head and slept till prime.
614 And afterward, when he thought it time,
615 Up rose January; but fresh May
616 Kept to her chamber till the fourth day,
617 As wives do, they think it for the best.
618 For every labourer must sometimes rest,
619 Or else the labour may not long endure
620 That is to say, of any living creature,
621 Be it of fish or bird or beast or man.
 
622 Now will I speak of woeful Damian,
623 Who languishes for love, as you shall hear.
624 Therefore I’d speak to him in this manner:
625 I’d say: ‘O foolish Damian, alas!
626 Answer my question, in this pretty pass:
627 How shall you to your lady, fresh May,
628 Tell your woe? She will ever say you nay.
629 And if you speak she will your woe betray.
630 God be your help! That’s all that I can say.’
 
631 This sick-hearted Damian in Venusfire
632 So burned that he was dying of desire,
633 And so he chose to put his life at venture.
634 No longer could he in this wise endure;
635 But secretly a pen-case he did borrow,
636 And in a letter wrote out all his sorrow,
637 In the form of a plaint or of a lay
638 Unto his fair and fresh lady May.
639 And in a purse of silk hung it with art
640 Inside his shirt, laid against his heart.
 
641 The moon in two degrees, at noon, the day
642 That January wedded his fresh May,
643 Of Taurus, into Cancer now had ridden
644 So long had May in her chamber hidden,
645 As is the custom with these nobles all.
646 A bride should never eat in the hall
647 Until four days, or three at the least
648 Have passed; then she may go and feast.
649 The fourth day complete from noon to noon,
650 When the high Mass was over and done,
651 In the hall sat January and May,
652 As fresh as is the bright summer’s day.
653 And so it befell that this good man
654 Recalled his faithful squire Damian,
655 And said: ‘Saint Mary, how may this be,
656 That Damian attends not here on me?
657 Is he sick, or what else may betide?’
658 His squires, who stood there by his side,
659 Excused him on the grounds of sickness,
660 Which excluded him from any business;
661 No other cause would make him tarry.
 
662 Sorry I am for that,’ quoth January,
663 He is a noble squire, a gentle youth.
664 If he should die, ‘twere pity then, in truth.
665 He is as wise, as secret and discrete
666 As any of his rank whom you may meet,
667 And courteous too, willing to serve at table,
668 And to be a worthy man he is right able.
669 But after meat, as soon as ever I may,
670 I will visit him myself, and so shall May,
671 To give him all the comfort that I can.’
672 And, at his words, blessed him every man,
673 That of his nobility and his kindness
674 He would go comfort in his sickness
675 His squire, for it was a gentle deed.
 
676 Dame,’ quoth this January, ‘take good heed,
677 That after meat you, with your women all,
678 When you reach your chamber from this hall,
679 Go along and see our Damian.
680 And entertain him; he’s a gentleman.
681 And tell him I shall pay him a visit,
682 When I have rested for a little bit.
683 And speed you fast, for I will abide
684 Until you sleep soundly by my side.’
685 And with those words he began to call
686 For the squire who was marshal of his hall,
687 And told him certain things that he wished.
 
688 Fresh May straight made her way after this,
689 With all her women, to see Damian.
690 Down by his bed she sat, and began
691 To comfort him as well as she may.
692 Damian, saw his chance, as there he lay,
693 And secretly his purse and his petition,
694 In which he had told of his condition,
695 He put into her hand with nothing more
696 Than a sigh both wondrous deep and sore,
697 And softly, to her, right thus said he:
698 Mercy, and do thou not expose me,
699 For I am dead if this thing be espied!’
700 The purse she does in her bosom hide,
701 And goes her wayof that no more from me!
702 But unto January comes she finally,
703 Who on his bedside sits full soft
704 And clasps her then and kisses her full oft,
705 Then lays him down to sleep, and that anon.
706 She pretended she must needs be gone
707 Where everyone we know must go at need.
708 And when she of the note had taken heed,
709 She rent it all to pieces at the last,
710 And into the privy softly did it cast.
 
711 Who deliberates but fair fresh May?
712 Adown by old January she lay,
713 Who slept till his cough woke him abed.
714 Then he begged her strip herself naked;
715 He would, he said, take pleasure at a chance;
716 And said he found her clothes an encumbrance.
717 And she obeyed, whether she would or not.
718 But lest prudish folk be me with wrath,
719 How that he wrought, that I dare not tell,
720 Nor whether she thought it paradise or hell,
721 But here I leave them working in their wise,
722 Till evensong when they were due to rise.
 
723 Whether by destiny, or at a venture,
724 By starry influence, or merely nature,
725 Or by some configuration of aspects straight,
726 The heavens then appeared more fortunate
727 To present petitions full of Venusworks
728 For each thing has its time, so say the clerks
729 To any woman to obtain her love,
730 I cannot say; but the great God above,
731 Who knows that no event is causeless,
732 Let Him judge all, for my pen will rest.
733 But true it is, that on our fresh May
734 Such was the impression made that day
735 By him, and by her pity for Damian,
736 That from her heart there is no way she can
737 Drive out the need to do him ease.
738 And then,’ she thought, ‘whoever it displease,
739 I care not; for I shall him assure
740 That I will love him best of any creature
741 Though but his shirt has he, at the start.’
742 Lo, pity swiftly flows in gentle heart!
 
743 Here may you see the generosity
744 Of woman, when she ponders carefully.
745 Some there may be, many such are known,
746 Tyrants with a heart as hard as stone,
747 That would have seen him perish in that place,
748 Rather than granting him a moment’s grace,
749 And rejoiced then in their cruel pride,
750 Careless of being thought a homicide.
 
751 But gentle May, filled full of pity,
752 In her own hand a letter wrote she,
753 In which she granted him her true grace.
754 There only lacked the time and place,
755 That might, to satisfy his wish, suffice;
756 For it must be just as he would devise.
757 And when she saw her chance one day,
758 To visit our Damian went May,
759 And surreptitiously the letter thrust
760 Under his pillowread it then he must.
761 She took him by the hand and gave a squeeze,
762 So secretly that no one else could see,
763 And bade him be well; and off she went
764 To January when for her he sent.
 
765 Up rose Damian the next morrow;
766 All past was his sickness and his sorrow.
767 He combed his hair; groomed himself and dressed;
768 He did all that his lady might like best.
769 And then to January as meek does go
770 As ever a dog following the bow.
771 He is so pleasant to every man
772 Being sly does all, for those who can
773 That everyone spoke well of him, who should,
774 And fully in his lady’s grace he stood.
775 Thus I leave Damian, busy with his need,
776 And in my tale forth I will proceed.
 
777 Some scholars hold that felicity
778 Consists in pleasure, and certainly,
779 This noble January, with all his might,
780 In honest ways, as became a knight,
781 Set out to live most luxuriously.
782 His household, his dress, was as finely
783 Tailored to his degree as is a king’s.
784 And amongst the rest of his fine things,
785 He had a garden, walled all with stone;
786 So fair a one, I’d say, was never known.
787 For sure, I would not easily suppose
788 That he who wrote the Romance of the Rose
789 Could capture its beauty to the life;
790 Nor would Priapus himself suffice,
791 Though he is god of gardens, to tell
792 The beauty of that garden, and the well
793 That stood beneath a laurel, always green.
794 Many a time had Pluto and his Queen
795 Proserpina, and all her band of faery,
796 Sported there and made their melody
797 About the well, and danced, or so men hold.
 
798 This noble knight, January the old,
799 Took such delight in walking there, that he
800 Would suffer no one else to have the key
801 Save he himself; for of the small wicket
802 He bore the silver key that would unlock it,
803 Which, when he wished, he often did do.
804 And when he would pleasure his wife too,
805 In summer season, thither would he go,
806 With May his wife, so none would know.
807 And anything they had not done in bed,
808 Was done in the garden there instead.
809 And in this wise many a merry day
810 Lived this January and fresh May.
811 But worldly joy may not always endure,
812 For January, or for any other creature.
 
813 O sudden chance, O Fortune the unstable,
814 Like the scorpion endlessly deceitful,
815 Feigning with your head when you would sting,
816 Your tail is death, through your envenoming!
817 O fragile joy, O sweet venom’s taint!
818 O Monster that so subtly can paint
819 Your gifts with the hue of steadfastness,
820 So that you deceive both great and less!
821 Why have you January thus deceived?
822 You had him as your true friend received,
823 And now have bereft him of his sight
824 For sorrow of which he would die tonight.
 
825 Alas, noble January, the worthy,
826 Amidst his pleasure and prosperity
827 Is stone blind, and that quite suddenly.
828 He weeps and he wails piteously;
829 And with it comes the fire of jealousy,
830 Lest his wife should fall into some folly,
831 That so burns his heart he would again
832 Prefer some man both her and him had slain.
833 For neither after his death nor in his life
834 Would he have her a lover or a wife,
835 But as a widow live, clothes black as fate,
836 Solitary as the dove that’s lost its mate.
837 But after a month or two had passed away,
838 His sorrow began to ease, truth to say.
839 For when he saw that nothing else could be,
840 In patience he accepted adversity;
841 Save that, indeed, he had not foregone
842 His jealousy: in that all days seemed one.
843 Which jealousy of his was so outrageous
844 That not to the hall, or any other house,
845 Nor to any other place here below,
846 Would he suffer her to ride or go
847 Unless he had his hand on her always.
848 At which treatment often wept fresh May,
849 Who loved Damian so graciously,
850 That she must either die suddenly,
851 Or else must have him: at the worst,
852 She thought her very heart would burst!
 
853 And on his side, Damian was then
854 One of the most sorrowful of men,
855 That ever was, for neither night nor day,
856 Might he speak one word to his fresh May,
857 And as to his purpose no such matter,
858 For January would overhear their chatter,
859 Who had his hand upon her, as you know.
860 Yet nonetheless, by writing to and fro,
861 And secret signs, he knew what she meant,
862 And she knew too