Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
The Canterbury Tales
The Tale of the Man of Lawe
Here beginneth the Man of Lawe his Tale.

IN Surrie whylom dwelte a companye
Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
That wyde-wher senten her spycerye,
Clothes of gold, and satins riche of hewe;
Her chaffar was so thrifty and so newe,        5
That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
With hem, and eek to sellen hem hir ware.
Now fel it, that the maistres of that sort
Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
Were it for chapmanhode or for disport,        10
Non other message wolde they thider sende,
But comen hem-self to Rome, this is the ende;
And in swich place, as thoughte hem avantage
For her entente, they take her herbergage.
Soiourned han thise marchants in that toun        15
A certein tyme, as fel to hir plesance.
And so bifel, that thexcellent renoun
Of themperoures doghter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance,
Un-to thise Surrien marchants in swich wyse,        20
Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.
This was the commune vois of every man—
‘Our Emperour of Rome, god him see,
A doghter hath that, sin the world bigan,
To rekne as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,        25
Nas never swich another as is she;
I prey to god in honour hir sustene,
And wolde she were of al Europe the quene.
In hir is heigh beautee, with-oute pryde,
Yowthe, with-oute grenehede or folye;        30
To alle hir werkes vertu is hir gyde,
Humblesse hath slayn in hir al tirannye.
She is mirour of alle curteisye;
Hir herte is verray chambre of holinesse,
Hir hand, ministre of fredom for almesse.’        35
And al this vois was soth, as god is trewe,
But now to purpos lat us turne agayn;
Thise marchants han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
And, whan they han this blisful mayden seyn,
Hoom to Surryë been they went ful fayn,        40
And doon her nedes as they han don yore,
And liven in wele; I can sey yow no more.
Now fel it, that thise marchants stode in grace
Of him, that was the sowdan of Surrye;
For whan they came from any strange place,        45
He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
Make hem good chere, and bisily espye
Tydings of sondry regnes, for to lere
The wondres that they mighte seen or here.
Amonges othere thinges, specially        50
Thise marchants han him told of dame Custance,
So gret noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
That this sowdan hath caught so gret plesance
To han hir figure in his remembrance,
That al his lust and al his bisy cure        55
Was for to love hir whyl his lyf may dure.
Paraventure in thilke large book
Which that men clepe the heven, y-writen was
With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
That he for love shulde han his deeth, allas!        60
For in the sterres, clerer than is glas,
Is writen, god wot, who-so coude it rede,
The deeth of every man, withouten drede.
In sterres, many a winter ther-biforn,
Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,        65
Of Pompey, Iulius, er they were born;
The stryf of Thebes; and of Ercules,
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The deeth; but mennes wittes been so dulle,
That no wight can wel rede it atte fulle.        70
This sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
And, shortly of this mater for to pace,
He hath to hem declared his entente,
And seyde hem certein, ‘but he mighte have grace
To han Custance with-inne a litel space,        75
He nas but deed;’ and charged hem, in hye,
To shapen for his lyf som remedye.
Diverse men diverse thinges seyden;
They argumenten, casten up and doun;
Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden,        80
They speken of magik and abusioun;
But finally, as in conclusioun,
They can not seen in that non avantage,
Ne in non other wey, save mariage.
Than sawe they ther-in swich difficultee        85
By wey of resoun, for to speke al playn,
By-cause that ther was swich diversitee
Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn,
They trowe ‘that no cristen prince wolde fayn
Wedden his child under oure lawes swete        90
That us were taught by Mahoun our prophete.’
And he answerde, ‘rather than I lese
Custance, I wol be cristned doutelees;
I mot ben hires, I may non other chese.
I prey yow holde your arguments in pees;        95
Saveth my lyf, and beeth noght recchelees
To geten hir that hath my lyf in cure;
For in this wo I may not longe endure.’
What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
I seye, by tretis and embassadrye,        100
And by the popes mediacioun,
And al the chirche, and al the chivalrye,
That, in destruccioun of Maumetrye,
And in encrees of Cristes lawe dere,
They ben acorded, so as ye shal here;        105
How that the sowdan and his baronage
And alle his liges shulde y-cristned be,
And he shal han Custance in mariage,
And certein gold, I noot what quantitee,
And her-to founden suffisant seurtee;        110
This same acord was sworn on eyther syde;
Now, faire Custance, almighty god thee gyde!
Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
That I shulde tellen al the purveyance
That themperour, of his grete noblesse,        115
Hath shapen for his doghter dame Custance.
Wel may men knowe that so gret ordinance
May no man tellen in a litel clause
As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.
Bisshopes ben shapen with hir for to wende,        120
Lordes, ladyes, knightes of renoun,
And other folk y-nowe, this is the ende;
And notifyed is thurgh-out the toun
That every wight, with gret devocioun,
Shulde preyen Crist that he this mariage        125
Receyve in gree, and spede this viage.
The day is comen of hir departinge,
I sey, the woful day fatal is come,
That ther may be no lenger taryinge,
But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some;        130
Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
Ful pale arist, and dresseth hir to wende;
For wel she seeth ther is non other ende.
Allas! what wonder is it though she wepte,
That shal be sent to strange nacioun        135
Fro freendes, that so tendrely hir kepte,
And to be bounden under subieccioun
Of oon, she knoweth not his condicioun.
Housbondes been alle gode, and han ben yore,
That knowen wyves, I dar say yow no more.        140
‘Fader,’ she sayde, ‘thy wrecched child Custance,
Thy yonge doghter, fostred up so softe,
And ye, my moder, my soverayn plesance
Over alle thing, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
Custance, your child, hir recomandeth ofte        145
Un-to your grace, for I shal to Surryë,
Ne shal I never seen yow more with yë.
Allas! un-to the Barbre nacioun
I moste anon, sin that it is your wille;
But Crist, that starf for our redempcioun,        150
So yeve me grace, his hestes to fulfille;
I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille.
Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
And to ben under mannes governance.’
I trowe, at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal        155
Or Ylion brende, at Thebes the citee,
Nat Rome, for the harm thurgh Hanibal
That Romayns hath venquisshed tymes thre,
Nas herd swich tendre weping for pitee
As in the chambre was for hir departinge;        160
Bot forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or singe.
O firste moevyng cruel firmament,
With thy diurnal sweigh that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from Est til Occident,
That naturelly wolde holde another way,        165
Thy crowding set the heven in swich array
At the beginning of this fiers viage,
That cruel Mars hath slayn this mariage.
Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
Of which the lord is helples falle, allas!        170
Out of his angel in-to the derkest hous.
O Mars, O Atazir, as in this cas!
O feble mone, unhappy been thy pas!
Thou knittest thee ther thou art nat receyved,
Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.        175
Imprudent emperour of Rome, allas!
Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
Is no tyme bet than other in swich cas?
Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
Namely to folk of heigh condicioun,        180
Nat whan a rote is of a birthe y-knowe?
Allas! we ben to lewed or to slowe.
To shippe is brought this woful faire mayde
Solempnely, with every circumstance.
‘Now Iesu Crist be with yow alle,’ she sayde;        185
Ther nis namore but ‘farewel! faire Custance!’
She peyneth hir to make good countenance,
And forth I lete hir sayle in this manere,
And turne I wol agayn to my matere.
The moder of the sowdan, welle of vyces,        190
Espyëd hath hir sones pleyn entente,
How he wol lete his olde sacrifyces,
And right anon she for hir conseil sente;
And they ben come, to knowe what she mente.
And when assembled was this folk in-fere,        195
She sette hir doun, and sayde as ye shal here.
‘Lordes,’ quod she, ‘ye knowen everichon,
How that my sone in point is for to lete
The holy lawes of our Alkaron,
Yeven by goddes message Makomete.        200
But oon avow to grete god I hete,
The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte
Than Makometes lawe out of myn herte!
What shulde us tyden of this newe lawe
But thraldom to our bodies and penance?        205
And afterward in helle to be drawe
For we reneyed Mahoun our creance?
But, lordes, wol ye maken assurance,
As I shal seyn, assenting to my lore,
And I shall make us sauf for evermore?’        210
They sworen and assenten, every man,
To live with hir and dye, and by hir stonde;
And everich, in the beste wyse he can,
To strengthen hir shal alle his freendes fonde;
And she hath this empryse y-take on honde,        215
Which ye shal heren that I shal devyse,
And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse.
‘We shul first feyne us cristendom to take,
Cold water shal not greve us but a lyte;
And I shal swich a feste and revel make,        220
That, as I trowe, I shal the sowdan quyte.
For though his wyf be cristned never so whyte,
She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
Thogh she a font-ful water with hir lede.’
O sowdanesse, rote of iniquitee,        225
Virago, thou Semyram the secounde,
O serpent under femininitee,
Lyk to the serpent depe in helle y-bounde,
O feyned womman, al that may confounde
Vertu and innocence, thurgh thy malyce,        230
Is bred in thee, as nest of every vyce!
O Satan, envious sin thilke day
That thou were chased from our heritage,
Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
Thou madest Eva bringe us in servage.        235
Thou wolt fordoon this cristen mariage.
Thyn instrument so, weylawey the whyle!
Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt begyle.
This sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warie,
Leet prively hir conseil goon hir way.        240
What sholde I in this tale lenger tarie?
She rydeth to the sowdan on a day,
And seyde him, that she wolde reneye hir lay,
And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
Repenting hir she hethen was so longe,        245
Biseching him to doon hir that honour,
That she moste han the cristen men to feste;
‘To plesen hem I wol do my labour.’
The sowdan seith, ‘I wol don at your heste,’
And kneling thanketh hir of that requeste.        250
So glad he was, he niste what to seye;
She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.

Explicit prima pars.    Sequitur pars secunda.
Arryved ben this cristen folk to londe,
In Surrie, with a greet solempne route,
And hastily this sowdan sente his sonde,        255
First to his moder, and al the regne aboute,
And seyde, his wyf was comen, out of doute,
And preyde hir for to ryde agayn the quene,
The honour of his regne to sustene.
Gret was the prees, and riche was tharray        260
Of Surriens and Romayns met y-fere;
The moder of the sowdan, riche and gay,
Receyveth hir with al-so glad a chere
As any moder mighte hir doghter dere,
And to the nexte citee ther bisyde        265
A softe pas solempnely they ryde.
Noght trowe I the triumphe of Iulius,
Of which that Lucan maketh swich a bost,
Was royaller, ne more curious
Than was thassemblee of this blisful host.        270
But this scorpioun, this wikked gost,
The sowdanesse, for al hir flateringe,
Caste under this ful mortally to stinge.
The sowdan comth him-self sone after this
So royally, that wonder is to telle,        275
And welcometh hir with alle Ioye and blis.
And thus in merthe and Ioye I lete hem dwelle.
The fruyt of this matere is that I telle.
Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste
That revel stinte, and men goon to hir reste.        280
The tyme cam, this olde sowdanesse
Ordeyned hath this feste of which I tolde,
And to the feste cristen folk hem dresse
In general, ye! bothe yonge and olde.
Here may men feste and royaltee biholde,        285
And deyntees mo than I can yow devyse,
But al to dere they boughte it er they ryse.
O sodeyn wo! that ever art successour
To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse;
Thende of the Ioye of our worldly labour;        290
Wo occupieth the fyn of our gladnesse.
Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,
Up-on thy glade day have in thy minde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihinde.
For shortly for to tellen at o word,        295
The sowdan and the cristen everichone
Ben al to-hewe and stiked at the bord,
But it were only dame Custance allone.
This olde sowdanesse, cursed crone,
Hath with hir frendes doon this cursed dede,        300
For she hir-self wolde al the contree lede.
Ne ther was Surrien noon that was converted
That of the conseil of the sowdan woot,
That he nas al to-hewe er he asterted.
And Custance han they take anon, foot-hoot,        305
And in a shippe al sterelees, god woot,
They han hir set, and bidde hir lerne sayle
Out of Surrye agaynward to Itayle.
A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
And, sooth to sayn, vitaille gret plentee        310
They han hir yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
And forth she sayleth in the salte see.
O my Custance, ful of benignitee,
O emperoures yonge doghter dere,
He that is lord of fortune be thy stere!        315
She blesseth hir, and with ful pitous voys
Un-to the croys of Crist thus seyde she,
‘O clere, o welful auter, holy croys,
Reed of the lambes blood full of pitee,
That wesh the world fro the olde iniquitee,        320
Me fro the feend, and fro his clawes kepe,
That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
That only worthy were for to bere
The king of heven with his woundes newe,        325
The whyte lamb, that hurt was with the spere,
Flemer of feendes out of him and here
On which thy limes feithfully extenden,
Me keep, and yif me might my lyf tamenden.’
Yeres and dayes fleet this creature        330
Thurghout the see of Grece un-to the strayte
Of Marrok, as it was hir aventure;
On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
After her deeth ful often may she wayte,
Er that the wilde wawes wole hir dryve        335
Un-to the place, ther she shal arryve.
Men mighten asken why she was not slayn?
Eek at the feste who mighte hir body save?
And I answere to that demaunde agayn,
Who saved Daniel in the horrible cave,        340
Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
Was with the leoun frete er he asterte?
No wight but god, that he bar in his herte.
God liste to shewe his wonderful miracle
In hir, for we sholde seen his mighty werkes;        345
Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
By certein menes ofte, as knowen clerkes,
Doth thing for certein ende that ful derk is
To mannes wit, that for our ignorance
Ne conne not knowe his prudent purveyance.        350
Now, sith she was not at the feste y-slawe,
Who kepte hir fro the drenching in the see?
Who kepte Ionas in the fisshes mawe
Til he was spouted up at Ninivee?
Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he        355
That kepte peple Ebraik fro hir drenchinge,
With drye feet thurgh-out the see passinge.
Who bad the foure spirits of tempest,
That power han tanoyen land and see,
‘Bothe north and south, and also west and est,        360
Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree?’
Sothly, the comaundour of that was he,
That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte
As wel whan [that] she wook as whan she slepte.
Wher mighte this womman mete and drinke have?        365
Three yeer and more how lasteth hir vitaille?
Who fedde the Egipcien Marie in the cave,
Or in desert? no wight but Crist, sans faille.
Fyve thousand folk it was as gret mervaille
With loves fyve and fisshes two to fede.        370
God sente his foison at hir grete nede.
She dryveth forth in-to our occean
Thurgh-out our wilde see, til, atte laste,
Under an hold that nempnen I ne can,
Fer in Northumberlond the wawe hir caste,        375
And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste,
That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde,
The wille of Crist was that she shulde abyde.
The constable of the castel doun is fare
To seen this wrak, and al the ship he soghte,        380
And fond this wery womman ful of care;
He fond also the tresor that she broghte.
In hir langage mercy she bisoghte
The lyf out of hir body for to twinne,
Hir to delivere of wo that she was inne.        385
A maner Latin corrupt was hir speche,
But algates ther-by was she understonde;
The constable, whan him list no lenger seche,
This woful womman broghte he to the londe;
She kneleth doun, and thanketh goddes sonde.        390
But what she was, she wolde no man seye,
For foul ne fair, thogh that she shulde deye.
She seyde, she was so mased in the see
That she forgat hir minde, by hir trouthe;
The constable hath of hir so greet pitee,        395
And eek his wyf, that they wepen for routhe,
She was so diligent, with-outen slouthe,
To serve and plesen everich in that place,
That alle hir loven that loken on hir face.
This constable and dame Hermengild his wyf        400
Were payens, and that contree every-where;
But Hermengild lovede hir right as hir lyf,
And Custance hath so longe soiourned there,
In orisons, with many a bitter tere,
Til Iesu hath converted thurgh his grace        405
Dame Hermengild, constablesse of that place.
In al that lond no cristen durste route,
Alle Cristen folk ben fled fro that contree
Thurgh payens, that conquereden al aboute
The plages of the North, by land and see;        410
To Walis fled the cristianitee
Of olde Britons, dwellinge in this yle;
Ther was hir refut for the mene whyle.
But yet nere cristen Britons so exyled
That ther nere somme that in hir privetee        415
Honoured Crist, and hethen folk bigyled;
And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three.
That oon of hem was blind, and mighte nat see
But it were with thilke yën of his minde,
With whiche men seen, after that they ben blinde.        420
Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
For which the constable and his wyf also
And Custance han y-take the righte way
Toward the see, a furlong wey or two,
To pleyen and to romen to and fro;        425
And in hir walk this blinde man they mette
Croked and old, with yën faste y-shette.
‘In name of Crist,’ cryde this blinde Britoun,
‘Dame Hermengild, yif me my sighte agayn.’
This lady wex affrayed of the soun,        430
Lest that hir housbond, shortly for to sayn,
Wolde hir for Iesu Cristes love han slayn,
Til Custance made hir bold, and bad hir werche
The wil of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
The constable wex abasshed of that sight,        435
And seyde, ‘what amounteth al this fare?’
Custance answerde, ‘sire, it is Cristes might,
That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare.’
And so ferforth she gan our lay declare,
That she the constable, er that it were eve,        440
Converted, and on Crist made him bileve.
This constable was no-thing lord of this place
Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond,
But kepte it strongly, many wintres space,
Under Alla, king of al Northumberlond,        445
That was ful wys, and worthy of his hond
Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel here,
But turne I wol agayn to my matere.
Sathan, that ever us waiteth to bigyle,
Saugh of Custance al hir perfeccioun,        450
And caste anon how he mighte quyte hir whyle,
And made a yong knight, that dwelte in that toun,
Love hir so hote, of foul affeccioun,
That verraily him thoughte he shulde spille
But he of hir mighte ones have his wille.        455
He woweth hir, but it availleth noght,
She wolde do no sinne, by no weye;
And, for despyt, he compassed in his thoght
To maken hir on shamful deth to deye.
He wayteth whan the constable was aweye,        460
And prively, up-on a night, he crepte
In Hermengildes chambre whyl she slepte.
Wery, for-waked in her orisouns,
Slepeth Custance, and Hermengild also.
This knight, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,        465
Al softely is to the bed y-go,
And kitte the throte of Hermengild a-two,
And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
And wente his wey, ther god yeve him meschance!
Sone after comth this constable hoom agayn,        470
And eek Alla, that king was of that lond,
And saugh his wyf despitously y-slayn,
For which ful ofte he weep and wrong his hond,
And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
By dame Custance; allas! what mighte she seye?        475
For verray wo hir wit was al aweye.
To king Alla was told al this meschance,
And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wyse
That in a ship was founden dame Custance,
As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.        480
The kinges herte of pitee gan agryse,
Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
Falle in disese and in misaventure.
For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
So stant this innocent bifore the king;        485
This false knight that hath this tresoun wroght
Berth hir on hond that she hath doon this thing.
But nathelees, ther was greet moorning
Among the peple, and seyn, ‘they can not gesse
That she hath doon so greet a wikkednesse.        490
For they han seyn hir ever so vertuous,
And loving Hermengild right as her lyf.’
Of this bar witnesse everich in that hous
Save he that Hermengild slow with his knyf.
This gentil king hath caught a gret motyf        495
Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
Allas! Custance! thou hast no champioun,
Ne fighte canstow nought, so weylawey!
But he, that starf for our redempcioun        500
And bond Sathan (and yit lyth ther he lay)
So be thy stronge champioun this day!
For, but-if Crist open miracle kythe,
Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swythe.
She sette her doun on knees, and thus she sayde,        505
‘Immortal god, that savedest Susanne
Fro false blame, and thou, merciful mayde,
Mary I mene, doghter to Seint Anne,
Bifore whos child aungeles singe Osanne,
If I be giltlees of this felonye,        510
My socour be, for elles I shal dye!’
Have ye nat seyn som tyme a pale face,
Among a prees, of him that hath be lad
Toward his deeth, wher-as him gat no grace,
And swich a colour in his face hath had,        515
Men mighte knowe his face, that was bistad,
Amonges alle the faces in that route:
So stant Custance, and loketh hir aboute.
O quenes, livinge in prosperitee,
Duchesses, and ye ladies everichone,        520
Haveth som routhe on hir adversitee;
An emperoures doghter stant allone;
She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
O blood royal, that stondest in this drede,
Fer ben thy freendes at thy grete nede!        525
This Alla king hath swich compassioun,
As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
That from his yën ran the water doun.
‘Now hastily do fecche a book,’ quod he,
‘And if this knight wol sweren how that she        530
This womman slow, yet wole we us avyse
Whom that we wole that shal ben our Iustyse.’
A Briton book, writen with Evangyles,
Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
She gilty was, and in the mene whyles        535
A hand him smoot upon the nekke-boon,
That doun he fil atones as a stoon,
And bothe his yën broste out of his face
In sight of every body in that place.
A vois was herd in general audience,        540
And seyde, ‘thou hast desclaundred giltelees
The doghter of holy chirche in hey presence;
Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees.’
Of this mervaille agast was al the prees;
As mased folk they stoden everichone,        545
For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
Of hem that hadden wrong suspeccioun
Upon this sely innocent Custance;
And, for this miracle, in conclusioun,        550
And by Custances mediacioun,
The king, and many another in that place,
Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace!
This false knight was slayn for his untrouthe
By Iugement of Alla hastifly;        555
And yet Custance hadde of his deeth gret routhe.
And after this Iesus, of his mercy,
Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
This holy mayden, that is so bright and shene,
And thus hath Crist y-maad Custance a quene.        560
But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
Of this wedding but Donegild, and na mo,
The kinges moder, ful of tirannye?
Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast a-two;
She wolde noght hir sone had do so;        565
Hir thoughte a despit, that he sholde take
So strange a creature un-to his make.
Me list nat of the chaf nor of the stree
Maken so long a tale, as of the corn.
What sholde I tellen of the royaltee        570
At mariage, or which cours gooth biforn,
Who bloweth in a trompe or in an horn?
The fruit of every tale is for to seye;
They ete, and drinke, and daunce, and singe, and pleye.
They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right;        575
For, thogh that wyves been ful holy thinges,
They moste take in pacience at night
Swich maner necessaries as been plesinges
To folk that han y-wedded hem with ringes,
And leye a lyte hir holinesse asyde        580
As for the tyme; it may no bet bityde.
On hir he gat a knave-child anoon,
And to a bishop and his constable eke
He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is goon
To Scotland-ward, his fo-men for to seke;        585
Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
She halt hir chambre, abyding Cristes wille.
The tyme is come, a knave-child she ber;
Mauricius at the font-stoon they him calle;        590
This Constable dooth forth come a messager,
And wroot un-to his king, that cleped was Alle,
How that this blisful tyding is bifalle,
And othere tydings speedful for to seye;
He takth the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.        595
This messager, to doon his avantage,
Un-to the kinges moder rydeth swythe,
And salueth hir ful faire in his langage,
‘Madame,’ quod he, ‘ye may be glad and blythe,
And thanke god an hundred thousand sythe;        600
My lady quene hath child, with-outen doute,
To Ioye and blisse of al this regne aboute.
Lo, heer the lettres seled of this thing,
That I mot bere with al the haste I may;
If ye wol aught un-to your sone the king,        605
I am your servant, bothe night and day.’
Donegild answerde, ‘as now at this tyme, nay;
But heer al night I wol thou take thy reste,
Tomorwe wol I seye thee what me leste.’
This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,        610
And stolen were his lettres prively
Out of his box, whyl he sleep as a swyn;
And countrefeted was ful subtilly
Another lettre, wroght ful sinfully,
Un-to the king direct of this matere        615
Fro his constable, as ye shul after here.
The lettre spak, ‘the queen delivered was
Of so horrible a feendly creature,
That in the castel noon so hardy was
That any whyle dorste ther endure.        620
The moder was an elf, by aventure
Y-come, by charmes or by sorcerye,
And every wight hateth hir companye.’
Wo was this king whan he this lettre had seyn,
But to no wighte he tolde his sorwes sore,        625
But of his owene honde he wroot ageyn,
‘Welcome the sonde of Crist for evermore
To me, that am now lerned in his lore;
Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce,
My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce!        630
Kepeth this child, al be it foul or fair,
And eek my wyf, un-to myn hoom-cominge;
Crist, whan him list, may sende me an heir
More agreable than this to my lykinge.’
This lettre he seleth, prively wepinge,        635
Which to the messager was take sone,
And forth he gooth; ther is na more to done.
O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
Strong is thy breeth, thy limes faltren ay,
And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.        640
Thy mind is lorn, thou Ianglest as a Iay,
Thy face is turned in a newe array!
Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
Ther is no conseil hid, with-outen doute.
O Donegild, I ne have noon English digne        645
Un-to thy malice and thy tirannye!
And therfor to the feend I thee resigne,
Let him endyten of thy traitorye!
Fy, mannish, fy! o nay, by god, I lye,
Fy, feendly spirit, for I dar wel telle,        650
Though thou heer walke, thy spirit is in helle!
This messager comth fro the king agayn,
And at the kinges modres court he lighte,
And she was of this messager ful fayn,
And plesed him in al that ever she mighte.        655
He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte.
He slepeth, and he snoreth in his gyse
Al night, un-til the sonne gan aryse.
Eft were his lettres stolen everichon
And countrefeted lettres in this wyse;        660
‘The king comandeth his constable anon,
Up peyne of hanging, and on heigh Iuÿse,
That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
Custance in-with his regne for tabyde
Thre dayes and a quarter of a tyde;        665
But in the same ship as he hir fond,
Hir and hir yonge sone, and al hir gere,
He sholde putte, and croude hir fro the lond,
And charge hir that she never eft come there.’
O my Custance, wel may thy goost have fere        670
And sleping in thy dreem been in penance,
When Donegild caste al this ordinance!
This messager on morwe, whan he wook,
Un-to the castel halt the nexte wey,
And to the constable he the lettre took;        675
And whan that he this pitous lettre sey,
Ful ofte he seyde ‘allas!’ and ‘weylawey!’
‘Lord Crist,’ quod he, ‘how may this world endure?
So ful of sinne is many a creature!
O mighty god, if that it be thy wille,        680
Sith thou art rightful Iuge, how may it be
That thou wolt suffren innocents to spille,
And wikked folk regne in prosperitee?
O good Custance, allas! so wo is me
That I mot be thy tormentour, or deye        685
On shames deeth; ther is noon other weye!’
Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place,
Whan that the king this cursed lettre sente,
And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
The ferthe day toward hir ship she wente.        690
But natheles she taketh in good entente
The wille of Crist, and, kneling on the stronde,
She seyde, ‘lord! ay wel-com be thy sonde!
He that me kepte fro the false blame
Whyl I was on the londe amonges yow,        695
He can me kepe from harme and eek fro shame
In salte see, al-thogh I se nat how.
As strong as ever he was, he is yet now.
In him triste I, and in his moder dere,
That is to me my seyl and eek my stere.’        700
Hir litel child lay weping in hir arm,
And kneling, pitously to him she seyde,
‘Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee non harm.’
With that hir kerchef of hir heed she breyde,
And over his litel yën she it leyde;        705
And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
And in-to heven hir yën up she caste.
‘Moder,’ quod she, ‘and mayde bright, Marye,
Sooth is that thurgh wommannes eggement
Mankind was lorn and damned ay to dye,        710
For which thy child was on a croys y-rent;
Thy blisful yën sawe al his torment;
Than is ther no comparisoun bitwene
Thy wo and any wo man may sustene.
Thou sawe thy child y-slayn bifor thyn yën,        715
And yet now liveth my litel child, parfay!
Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryën,
Thou glorie of wommanhede, thou faire may,
Thou haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse        720
Rewest on every rewful in distresse!
O litel child, allas! what is thy gilt,
That never wroughtest sinne as yet, pardee,
Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
O mercy, dere Constable!’ quod she;        725
‘As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
And if thou darst not saven him, for blame,
So kis him ones in his fadres name!’
Ther-with she loketh bakward to the londe,
And seyde, ‘far-wel, housbond routhelees!’        730
And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde
Toward the ship; hir folweth al the prees,
And ever she preyeth hir child to holde his pees;
And taketh hir leve, and with an holy entente
She blesseth hir; and in-to ship she wente.        735
Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
Habundantly for hir, ful longe space,
And other necessaries that sholde nede
She hadde y-nogh, heried be goddes grace!
For wind and weder almighty god purchace,        740
And bringe hir hoom! I can no bettre seye;
But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.

Explicit secunda pars.    Sequitur pars tercia.
Alla the king comth hoom, sone after this,
Unto his castel of the which I tolde,
And axeth wher his wyf and his child is.        745
The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
And pleynly al the maner he him tolde
As ye han herd, I can telle it no bettre,
And sheweth the king his seel and [eek] his lettre,
And seyde, ‘lord, as ye comaunded me        750
Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein.’
This messager tormented was til he
Moste biknowe and tellen, plat and plein,
Fro night to night, in what place he had leyn.
And thus, by wit and subtil enqueringe,        755
Ymagined was by whom this harm gan springe.
The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
And al the venim of this cursed dede,
But in what wyse, certeinly I noot.
Theffect is this, that Alla, out of drede,        760
His moder slow, that men may pleinly rede,
For that she traitour was to hir ligeaunce.
Thus endeth olde Donegild with meschaunce.
The sorwe that this Alla, night and day,
Maketh for his wyf and for his child also,        765
Ther is no tonge that it telle may.
But now wol I un-to Custance go,
That fleteth in the see, in peyne and wo,
Fyve yeer and more, as lyked Cristes sonde,
Er that hir ship approched un-to londe.        770
Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
Of which the name in my text noght I finde,
Custance and eek hir child the see up-caste.
Almighty god, that saveth al mankinde,
Have on Custance and on hir child som minde,        775
That fallen is in hethen land eft-sone,
In point to spille, as I shal telle yow sone.
Doun from the castel comth ther many a wight
To gauren on this ship and on Custance.
But shortly, from the castel, on a night,        780
The lordes styward—god yeve him meschaunce!—
A theef, that had reneyed our creaunce,
Com in-to ship allone, and seyde he sholde
Hir lemman be, wher-so she wolde or nolde.
Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon,        785
Hir child cryde, and she cryde pitously;
But blisful Marie heelp hir right anon;
For with hir strugling wel and mightily
The theef fil over bord al sodeinly,
And in the see he dreynte for vengeance;        790
And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
O foule lust of luxurie! lo, thyn ende!
Nat only that thou feyntest mannes minde,
But verraily thou wolt his body shende;
Thende of thy werk or of thy lustes blinde        795
Is compleyning, how many-oon may men finde
That noght for werk som-tyme, but for thentente
To doon this sinne, ben outher sleyn or shente!
How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
Hir to defende agayn this renegat?        800
O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
How mighte David make thee so mat,
So yong and of armure so desolat?
How dorste he loke up-on thy dredful face?
Wel may men seen, it nas but goddes grace!        805
Who yaf Iudith corage or hardinesse
To sleen him, Olofernus, in his tente,
And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
The peple of god? I seye, for this entente,
That, right as god spirit of vigour sente        810
To hem, and saved hem out of meschance,
So sente he might and vigour to Custance.
Forth goth hir ship thurgh-out the narwe mouth
Of Iubaltar and Septe, dryving ay,
Som-tyme West, som-tyme North and South,        815
And som-tyme Est, ful many a wery day,
Til Cristes moder (blessed be she ay!)
Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
To make an ende of al hir hevinesse.
Now lat us stinte of Custance but a throwe,        820
And speke we of the Romain Emperour,
That out of Surrie hath by lettres knowe
The slaughtre of cristen folk, and dishonour
Don to his doghter by a fals traitour,
I mene the cursed wikked sowdanesse,        825
That at the feste leet sleen both more and lesse.
For which this emperour hath sent anoon
His senatour, with royal ordinance,
And othere lordes, got wot, many oon,
On Surriens to taken heigh vengeance.        830
They brennen, sleen, and bringe hem to meschance
Ful many a day; but shortly, this is thende,
Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
This senatour repaireth with victorie
To Rome-ward, sayling ful royally,        835
And mette the ship dryving, as seith the storie,
In which Custance sit ful pitously.
No-thing ne knew he what she was, ne why
She was in swich array; ne she nil seye
Of hir estaat, althogh she sholde deye.        840
He bringeth hir to Rome, and to his wyf
He yaf hir, and hir yonge sone also;
And with the senatour she ladde her lyf.
Thus can our lady bringen out of wo
Woful Custance, and many another mo.        845
And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
In holy werkes ever, as was hir grace.
The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
But for al that she knew hir never the more;
I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,        850
But to king Alla, which I spak of yore,
That for his wyf wepeth and syketh sore,
I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
Under the senatoures governance.
King Alla, which that hadde his moder slayn,        855
Upon a day fil in swich repentance,
That, if I shortly tellen shal and plain,
To Rome he comth, to receyven his penance;
And putte him in the popes ordinance
In heigh and low, and Iesu Crist bisoghte        860
Foryeve his wikked werkes that he wroghte.
The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born,
How Alla king shal come in pilgrimage,
By herbergeours that wenten him biforn;
For which the senatour, as was usage,        865
Rood him ageyn, and many of his linage,
As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
As to don any king a reverence.
Greet chere dooth this noble senatour
To king Alla, and he to him also;        870
Everich of hem doth other greet honour;
And so bifel that, in a day or two,
This senatour is to king Alla go
To feste, and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
Custances sone wente in his companye.        875
Som men wolde seyn, at requeste of Custance,
This senatour hath lad this child to feste;
I may nat tellen every circumstance,
Be as be may, ther was he at the leste.
But soth is this, that, at his modres heste,        880
Biforn Alla, during the metes space,
The child stood, loking in the kinges face.
This Alla king hath of this child greet wonder,
And to the senatour he seyde anon,
‘Whos is that faire child that stondeth yonder?’        885
‘I noot,’ quod he, ‘by god, and by seint Iohn!
A moder he hath, but fader hath he non
That I of woot’—but shortly, in a stounde,
He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.
‘But god wot,’ quod this senatour also,        890
‘So vertuous a livere in my lyf,
Ne saugh I never as she, ne herde of mo
Of worldly wommen, mayden, nor of wyf;
I dar wel seyn hir hadde lever a knyf
Thurgh-out her breste, than been a womman wikke;        895
Ther is no man coude bringe hir to that prikke.’
Now was this child as lyk un-to Custance
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and ther-on mused he        900
If that the childes moder were aught she
That was his wyf, and prively he sighte,
And spedde him fro the table that he mighte.
‘Parfay,’ thoghte he, ‘fantome is in myn heed!
I oghte deme, of skilful Iugement,        905
That in the salte see my wyf is deed.’
And afterward he made his argument—
‘What woot I, if that Crist have hider y-sent
My wyf by see, as wel as he hir sente
To my contree fro thennes that she wente?’        910
And, after noon, hoom with the senatour
Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
And hastifly he sente after Custaunce.
But trusteth weel, hir liste nat to daunce        915
Whan that she wiste wherefor was that sonde.
Unnethe up-on hir feet she mighte stonde.
When Alla saugh his wyf, faire he hir grette,
And weep, that it was routhe for to see.
For at the firste look he on hir sette        920
He knew wel verraily that it was she.
And she for sorwe as domb stant as a tree;
So was hir herte shet in hir distresse
Whan she remembred his unkindenesse.
Twyës she swowned in his owne sighte;        925
He weep, and him excuseth pitously:—
‘Now god,’ quod he, ‘and alle his halwes brighte
So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
That of your harm as giltelees am I
As is Maurice my sone so lyk your face;        930
Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!’
Long was the sobbing and the bitter peyne
Er that hir woful hertes mighte cesse;
Greet was the pitee for to here hem pleyne,
Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.        935
I prey yow al my labour to relesse;
I may nat telle hir wo un-til tomorwe,
I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
But fynally, when that the sooth is wist
That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,        940
I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two
That, save the Ioye that lasteth evermo,
Ther is non lyk, that any creature
Hath seyn or shal, whyl that the world may dure.        945
Tho preyde she hir housbond mekely,
In relief of hir longe pitous pyne,
That he wold preye hir fader specially
That, of his magestee, he wolde enclyne
To vouche-sauf som day with him to dyne;        950
She preyde him eek, he sholde by no weye
Un-to hir fader no word of hir seye.
Som men wold seyn, how that the child Maurice
Doth this message un-to this emperour;
But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce        955
To him, that was of so sovereyn honour
As he that is of cristen folk the flour,
Sente any child, but it is bet to deme
He wente him-self, and so it may wel seme.
This emperour hath graunted gentilly        960
To come to diner, as he him bisoghte;
And wel rede I, he loked bisily
Up-on this child, and on his doghter thoghte
Alla goth to his in, and, as him oghte,
Arrayed for this feste in every wyse        965
As ferforth as his conning may suffyse.
The morwe cam, and Alla gan him dresse,
And eek his wyf, this emperour to mete;
And forth they ryde in Ioye and in gladnesse.
And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,        970
She lighte doun, and falleth him to fete.
‘Fader,’ quod she, ‘your yonge child Custance
Is now ful clene out of your remembrance.
I am your doghter Custance,’ quod she,
‘That whylom ye han sent un-to Surrye.        975
It am I, fader, that in the salte see
Was put allone and dampned for to dye.
Now, gode fader, mercy I yow crye,
Send me namore un-to non hethenesse,
But thonketh my lord heer of his kindenesse.’        980
Who can the pitous Ioye tellen al
Bitwix hem three, sin they ben thus y-mette?
But of my tale make an ende I shal;
The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
This glade folk to diner they hem sette;        985
In Ioye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle
A thousand fold wel more than I can telle.
This child Maurice was sithen emperour
Maad by the pope, and lived cristenly.
To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour;        990
But I lete al his storie passen by,
Of Custance is my tale specially.
In olde Romayn gestes may men finde
Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in minde.
This king Alla, whan he his tyme sey,        995
With his Custance, his holy wyf so swete,
To Engelond been they come the righte wey,
Wher-as they live in Ioye and in quiete.
But litel whyl it lasteth, I yow hete,
Ioye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;        1000
Fro day to night it changeth as the tyde.
Who lived ever in swich delyt o day
That him ne moeved outher conscience,
Or ire, or talent, or som kin affray,
Envye, or pryde, or passion, or offence?        1005
I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
That litel whyl in Ioye or in plesance
Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
For deeth, that taketh of heigh and low his rente,
When passed was a yeer, even as I gesse,        1010
Out of this world this king Alla he hente,
For whom Custance hath ful gret hevinesse.
Now lat us preyen god his soule blesse!
And dame Custance, fynally to seye,
Towards the toun of Rome gooth hir weye.        1015
To Rome is come this holy creature,
And fyndeth ther hir frendes hole and sounde:
Now is she scaped al hir aventure;
And whan that she hir fader hath y-founde,
Doun on hir kneës falleth she to grounde;        1020
Weping for tendrenesse in herte blythe,
She herieth god an hundred thousand sythe.
In vertu and in holy almes-dede
They liven alle, and never a-sonder wende;
Til deeth departed hem, this lyf they lede.        1025
And fareth now weel, my tale is at an ende.
Now Iesu Crist, that of his might may sende
Ioye after wo, governe us in his grace,
And kepe us alle that ben in this place!

Here endeth the Tale of the Man of Lawe; and next folweth the Shipmannes Prolog.

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