Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
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Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
 
The Legend of Good Women
I. Cleopatra
 
Incipit Legenda Cleopatrie, Martiris, Egipti regine.

AFTER the deeth of Tholomee the king,
That al Egipte hadde in his governing,
Regned his quene Cleopataras;
Til on a tyme befel ther swiche a cas,
That out of Rome was sent a senatour,        5
For to conqueren regnes and honour
Unto the toun of Rome, as was usaunce,
To have the world unto her obeisaunce;
And, sooth to seye, Antonius was his name.
So fil hit, as Fortune him oghte a shame        10
Whan he was fallen in prosperitee,
Rebel unto the toun of Rome is he.
And over al this, the suster of Cesar,
He lafte hir falsly, er that she was war,
And wolde algates han another wyf;        15
For whiche he took with Rome and Cesar stryf.
  Natheles, for-sooth, this ilke senatour
Was a ful worthy gentil werreyour,
And of his deeth hit was ful greet damage.
But love had broght this man in swiche a rage,        20
And him so narwe bounden in his las,
Al for the love of Cleopataras,
That al the world he sette at no value.
Him thoughte, nas to him no thing so due
As Cleopatras for to love and serve;        25
Him roghte nat in armes for to sterve
In the defence of hir, and of hir right.
  This noble quene eek lovede so this knight,
Through his desert, and for his chivalrye;
As certeinly, but-if that bokes lye,        30
He was, of persone and of gentilesse,
And of discrecioun and hardinesse,
Worthy to any wight that liven may.
And she was fair as is the rose in May.
And, for to maken shortly is the beste,        35
She wex his wyf, and hadde him as hir leste.
  The wedding and the feste to devyse,
To me, that have y-take swiche empryse
Of so many a storie for to make,
Hit were to long, lest that I sholde slake        40
Of thing that bereth more effect and charge;
For men may overlade a ship or barge;
And forthy to theffect than wol I skippe,
And al the remenant, I wol lete hit slippe.
  Octovian, that wood was of this dede,        45
Shoop him an ost on Antony to lede
Al-outerly for his destruccioun,
With stoute Romains, cruel as leoun;
To ship they wente, and thus I let hem saile.
  Antonius was war, and wol nat faile        50
To meten with thise Romains, if he may;
Took eek his reed, and bothe, upon a day,
His wyf and he, and al his ost, forth wente
To shippe anoon, no lenger they ne stente;
And in the see hit happed hem to mete—        55
Up goth the trompe—and for to shoute and shete,
And peynen hem to sette on with the sonne.
With grisly soun out goth the grete gonne,
And heterly they hurtlen al at ones,
And fro the top doun cometh the grete stones.        60
In goth the grapenel so ful of crokes
Among the ropes, and the shering-hokes.
In with the polax presseth he and he;
Behind the mast beginneth he to flee,
And out agayn, and dryveth him over-borde;        65
He stingeth him upon his speres orde;
He rent the sail with hokes lyke a sythe;
He bringeth the cuppe, and biddeth hem be blythe;
He poureth pesen upon the hacches slider;
With pottes ful of lym they goon to-gider;        70
And thus the longe day in fight they spende
Til, at the laste, as every thing hath ende,
Antony is shent, and put him to the flighte,
And al his folk to-go, that best go mighte.
  Fleeth eek the queen, with al her purpre sail,        75
For strokes, which that wente as thikke as hail;
No wonder was, she mighte hit nat endure.
And whan that Antony saw that aventure,
‘Allas!’ quod he, ‘the day that I was born!
My worshipe in this day thus have I lorn!’        80
And for dispeyr out of his witte he sterte,
And roof him-self anoon through-out the herte
Er that he ferther wente out of the place.
His wyf, that coude of Cesar have no grace,
To Egipte is fled, for drede and for distresse;        85
But herkneth, ye that speke of kindenesse.
  Ye men, that falsly sweren many an ooth
That ye wol dye, if that your love be wrooth,
Heer may ye seen of women whiche a trouthe!
This woful Cleopatre hath mad swich routhe        90
That ther nis tonge noon that may hit telle.
But on the morwe she wol no lenger dwelle,
But made hir subtil werkmen make a shryne
Of alle the rubies and the stones fyne
In al Egipte that she coude espye;        95
And putte ful the shryne of spycerye,
And leet the cors embaume; and forth she fette
This dede cors, and in the shryne hit shette.
And next the shryne a pit than doth she grave;
And alle the serpents that she mighte have,        100
She putte hem in that grave, and thus she seyde:
‘Now love, to whom my sorweful herte obeyde
So ferforthly that, fro that blisful houre
That I yow swor to been al frely youre,
I mene yow, Antonius my knight!        105
That never waking, in the day or night,
Ye nere out of myn hertes remembraunce
For wele or wo, for carole or for daunce;
And in my-self this covenant made I tho,
That, right swich as ye felten, wele or wo,        110
As ferforth as hit in my power lay,
Unreprovable unto my wyfhood ay,
The same wolde I felen, lyf or deeth.
And thilke covenant, whyl me lasteth breeth,
I wol fulfille, and that shal wel be sene;        115
Was never unto hir love a trewer quene.’
And with that word, naked, with ful good herte,
Among the serpents in the pit she sterte,
And ther she chees to han hir buryinge.
Anoon the neddres gonne hir for to stinge,        120
And she hir deeth receyveth, with good chere,
For love of Antony, that was hir so dere:—
And this is storial sooth, hit is no fable.
  Now, er I finde a man thus trewe and stable,
And wol for love his deeth so freely take,        125
I pray god lat our hedes never ake!

Explicit Legenda Cleopatrie, martiris.
 
 
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