by Geoffry Chaucer
The Lawyer's Tale
The wordes of the Hoost to the compaignye.
Oure Hooste saugh wel that the brighte sonne
The ark of his artificial day hath ronne
The ferthe part, and half an houre and moore;
And though he were nat depe expert in loore,
5 He wiste it was the eightetethe day
Of Aprill, that is messager to May;
And saugh wel, that the shadwe of every tree
Was as in lengthe the same quantitee
That was the body erect that caused it,
10 And therfore by the shadwe he took his wit
That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,
Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte;
And for that day, as in that latitude,
It was ten at the clokke, he gan conclude,
15 And sodeynly he plighte his hors aboute.-
"Lordynges," quod he, "I warne yow, al this route,
The fourthe party of this day is gon.
Now for the love of God and of Seint John,
Leseth no tyme, as ferforth as ye may.
20 Lordynges, the tyme wasteth nyght and day,
And steleth from us, what pryvely slepynge,
And what thurgh necligence in oure wakynge,
As dooth the streem, that turneth nevere agayn,
Descendynge fro the montaigne into playn.
25 Wel kan Senec and many a philosophre
Biwaillen tyme, moore than gold in cofre.
For 'Los of catel may recovered be,
But los of tyme shendeth us,' quod he.
It wol nat come agayn, withouten drede,
30 Namoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede,
Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse.
Lat us nat mowlen thus in ydelnesse;
Sir Man of Lawe," quod he, "so have ye blis,
Telle us a tale anon, as forward is.
35 Ye been submytted thurgh youre free assent
To stonden in this cas at my juggement.
Acquiteth yow as now of youre biheeste,
Thanne have ye do youre devoir atte leeste."
"Hooste," quod he, "Depardieux ich assente,
40 To breke forward is nat myn entente.
Biheste is dette, and I wole holde fayn
Al my biheste, I kan no bettre sayn.
For swich lawe as a man yeveth another wight,
He sholde hymselven usen it by right;
45 Thus wole oure text, but nathelees certeyn
I kan right now no thrifty tale seyn;
That Chaucer, thogh he kan but lewedly
On metres and on rymyng craftily,
Hath seyd hem in swich Englissh as he kan,
50 Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man.
And if he have noght seyd hem, leve brother,
In o book, he hath seyd hem in another.
For he hath toold of loveris up and doun
Mo than Ovide made of mencioun,
55 In hise Episteles that been ful olde;
What sholde I tellen hem, syn they ben tolde?
In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcione,
And sitthen hath he spoken of everichone
Thise noble wyves and thise loveris eke.
60 Whoso that wole his large volume seke
Cleped the Seintes Legende of Cupide,
Ther may he seen the large woundes wyde
Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tesbee,
The swerd of Dido for the false Enee,
65 The tree of Phillis for hir Demophon,
The pleinte of Dianire and Hermyon,
Of Adriane and of Isiphilee,
The bareyne yle stondynge in the see,
The dreynte Leandre for his Erro,
70 The teeris of Eleyne, and eek the wo
Of Brixseyde, and of the, Ladomea,
The crueltee of the, queene Medea,
Thy litel children hangyng by the hals
For thy Jason, that was in love so fals.
75 O Ypermystra, Penolopee, Alceste,
Youre wyfhede he comendeth with the beste!
But certeinly no word ne writeth he
Of thilke wikke ensample of Canacee,
That loved hir owene brother synfully; -
80 Of swiche cursed stories I sey fy!-
Or ellis of Tyro Appollonius,
How that the cursed kyng Antiochus
Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede,
That is so horrible a tale for to rede,
85 Whan he hir threw upon the pavement.
And therfore he, of ful avysement,
Nolde nevere write, in none of his sermouns,
Of swiche unkynde abhomynaciouns;
Ne I wol noon reherce, if that I may.
90 But of my tale how shall I doon this day?
Me were looth be likned, doutelees,
To Muses that men clepe Pierides -
Methamorphosios woot what I mene -
But nathelees, I recche noght a bene
95 Though I come after hym with hawebake,
I speke in prose, and lat him rymes make."
And with that word he, with a sobre cheere,
Bigan his tale, as ye shal after heere.
The Words of the Host to the Company
Our good host saw well that the shining sun
The are of artificial day had run
A quarter part, plus half an hour or more;
And though not deeply expert in such lore,
He reckoned that it was the eighteenth day
Of April, which is harbinger to May;
And saw well that the shadow of each tree
Was, as to length, of even quantity
As was the body upright causing it.
And therefore by the shade he had the wit
To know that Phoebus, shining there so bright,
Had climbed degrees full forty-five in height;
And that, that day, and in that latitude,
It was ten of the clock, he did conclude,
And suddenly he put his horse about.
"Masters," quoth he, "I warn all of this rout,
A quarter of this present day is gone;
Now for the love of God and of Saint John,
Lose no more time, or little as you may;
Masters, the time is wasting night and day,
And steals away from us, what with our sleeping
And with our sloth, when we awake are keeping,
As does the stream, that never turns again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
And well may Seneca, and many more,
Bewail lost time far more than gold in store.
'For chattels lost may yet recovered be,
But time lost ruins us for aye,' says he.
It will not come again, once it has fled,
Not any more than will Mag's maidenhead
When she has lost it in her wantonness;
Let's not grow mouldy thus in idleness.
"Sir Lawyer," said he, "as you have hope of bliss,
Tell us a tale, as our agreement is;
You have submitted, by your free assent,
To stand, in this case, to my sole judgment;
Acquit yourself, keep promise with the rest,
And you'll have done your duty, at the least."
"Mine host," said he, "by the gods, I consent;
To break a promise is not my intent.
"A promise is a debt, and by my fay
I keep all mine; I can no better say.
For such law as man gives to other wight,
He should himself submit to it, by right;
Thus says our text; nevertheless, 'tis true
I can relate no useful tale to you,
But Chaucer, though he speaks but vulgarly
In metre and in rhyming dextrously,
Has told them in such English as he can,
In former years, as knows full many a man.
For if he has not told them, my dear brother,
In one book, why he's done so in another.
For he has told of lovers, up and down,
More than old Ovid mentions, of renown,
In his Epistles, that are now so old.
Why should I then re-tell what has been told?
In youth he told of Ceyx and Alcyon,
And has since then spoken of everyone-
Of noble wives and lovers did he speak.
And whoso will that weighty volume seek
Called Legend of Good Women, need not chide;
There may be ever seen the large wounds wide
Of Lucrece, Babylonian Thisbe;
Dido's for false Aeneas when fled he;
Demophoon and Phyllis and her tree;
The plaint of Deianira and Hermione;
Of Ariadne and Hypsipyle;
The barren island standing in the sea;
The drowned Leander and his fair Hero;
The tears of Helen and the bitter woe
Of Briseis and that of Laodomea;
The cruelty of that fair Queen Medea,
Her little children hanging by the neck
When all her love for Jason came to wreck!
O Hypermnestra, Penelope, Alcestis,
Your wifehood does he honour, since it best is!
"But certainly no word has written he
Of that so wicked woman, Canace,
Who loved her own blood brother sinfully.
Of suchlike cursed tales, I say 'Let be!'
Nor yet of Tyrian Apollonius;
Nor how the wicked King Antiochus
Bereft his daughter of her maidenhead
(Which is so horrible a tale to read),
When down he flung her on the paving stones
And therefore he, advisedly, truth owns,
Would never write, in one of his creations,
Of such unnatural abominations.
And I'll refuse to tell them, if I may.
"But for my tale, what shall I do this day?
Any comparison would me displease
To Muses whom men call Pierides
(The Metamorphoses show what I mean).
Nevertheless, I do not care a bean
Though I come after him with my plain fare.
I'll stick to prose. Let him his rhymes prepare."
And thereupon, with sober face and cheer,
He told his tale, as you shall read it here.
The prologe of the Mannes Tale of Lawe.
O hateful harm, condicion of poverte!
100 With thurst, with coold, with hunger so confoundid!
To asken help thee shameth in thyn herte,
If thou noon aske, so soore artow so woundid
That verray nede unwrappeth al thy wounde hid;
Maugree thyn heed thou most for indigence
105 Or stele, or begge, or borwe thy despence!
Thow blamest Crist, and seist ful bitterly
He mysdeparteth richesse temporal.
Thy neighebore thou wytest synfully,
And seist thou hast to lite and he hath al.
110 "Parfay!" seistow, "somtyme he rekene shal,
Whan that his tayl shal brennen in the gleede,
For he noght helpeth needfulle in hir neede."
Herkne what is the sentence of the wise,
"Bet is to dyen than have indigence."
115 Thy selve neighebor wol thee despise,
If thou be povre, farwel thy reverence!
Yet of the wise man take this sentence,
"Alle dayes of povre men been wikke;"
Be war therfore, er thou come to that prikke.
120 If thou be povre, thy brother hateth thee,
And alle thy freendes fleen from thee; allas,
O riche marchauntz, ful of wele been yee!
O noble, o prudent folk, as in this cas!
Youre bagges been nat fild with ambes as,
125 But with sys cynk, that renneth for youre chaunce,
At Cristemasse myrie may ye daunce!
Ye seken lond and see for your wynnynges,
As wise folk ye knowen all th'estaat
Of regnes; ye been fadres of tydynges
130 And tales, bothe of pees and of debaat.
I were right now of tales desolaat
Nere that a marchant, goon is many a yeere,
Me taughte a tale, which that ye shal heere.
The Lawyer's Prologue
O Hateful evil! State of Poverty!
With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded!
To ask help shameth thy heart's delicacy;
If none thou ask, by need thou art so wounded
That need itself uncovereth all the wound hid!
Spite of thy will thou must, for indigence,
Go steal, or beg, or borrow thine expense.
Thou blamest Christ, and thou say'st bitterly,
He misdistributes riches temporal;
Thy neighbour dost thou censure, sinfully,
Saying thou hast too little and he hath all.
"My faith," sayest thou, "sometime the reckoning shall
Come on him, when his tail shall burn for greed,
Not having helped the needy in their need."
Hear now what is the judgment of the wise:
"Better to die than live in indigence;"
"Thy very pauper neighbours thee despise."
If thou be poor, farewell thy reverence!
Still of the wise man take this full sentence:
"The days of the afflicted are all sin."
Beware, therefore, that thou come not therein!
"If thou be poor, thy brother hateth thee,
And all thy friends will flee from thee, alas!"
O wealthy merchants, full of weal ye be,
O noble, prudent folk in happier case!
Your dice-box doth not tumble out ambsace,
But with six-cinq ye throw against your chance;
And so, at Christmas, merrily may ye dance!
Ye search all land and sea for your winnings,
And, as wise folk, ye know well the estate
Of all realms; ye are sires of happenings
And tales of peace and tales of war's debate.
But I were now of tales all desolate,
Were 't not a merchant, gone this many a year,
Taught me the story which you now shall hear.
Heere begynneth the Man of Lawe his Tale.
In Surrye whilom dwelte a compaignye
135 Of chapmen riche, and therto sadde and trewe,
That wyde-where senten hir spicerye,
Clothes of gold, and satyns riche of hewe.
Hir chaffare was so thrifty and so newe
That every wight hath deyntee to chaffare
140 With hem, and eek to sellen hem hir ware.
Now fil it, that the maistres of that sort
Han shapen hem to Rome for to wende;
Were it for chapmanhode, or for disport,
Noon oother message wolde they thider sende,
145 But comen hemself to Rome, this is the ende,
And in swich place as thoughte hem avantage
For hir entente, they take hir herbergage.
Sojourned han thise marchantz in that toun
A certein tyme, as fil to hire plesance.
150 And so bifel, that th'excellent renoun
Of the Emperoures doghter, dame Custance,
Reported was, with every circumstance
Unto thise Surryen marchantz in swich wyse
Fro day to day, as I shal yow devyse.
155 This was the commune voys of every man:
"Oure Emperour of Rome, God hym see,
A doghter hath that, syn the world bigan,
To rekene as wel hir goodnesse as beautee,
Nas nevere swich another as is shee.
160 I prey to God in honour hir susteene
And wolde she were of all Europe the queene!
In hir is heigh beautee, withoute pride,
Yowthe, withoute grenehede or folye,
To alle hir werkes vertu is hir gyde,
165 Humblesse hath slayn in hir al tirannye,
She is mirour of alle curteisye,
Hir herte is verray chambre of hoolynesse,
Hir hand ministre of fredam for almesse."
And al this voys was sooth, as God is trewe!
170 But now to purpos, lat us turne agayn;
Thise marchantz han doon fraught hir shippes newe,
And whan they han this blisful mayden sayn,
Hoom to Surrye been they went ful fayn,
And doon hir nedes as they han doon yoore,
175 And lyven in wele, I kan sey yow namoore.
Now fil it, that thise marchantz stode in grace
Of hym, that was the Sowdan of Surrye.
For whan they cam from any strange place,
He wolde, of his benigne curteisye,
180 Make hem good chiere, and bisily espye
Tidynges of sondry regnes, for to leere
The wondres that they myghte seen or heere.
Amonges othere thynges, specially
Thise marchantz han hym toold of dame Custance
185 So greet noblesse in ernest, ceriously,
That this Sowdan hath caught so greet plesance
To han hir figure in his remembrance,
That all his lust and al his bisy cure
Was for to love hir, while his lyf may dure.
190 Paraventure in thilke large book,
Which that men clepe the hevene, ywriten was
With sterres, whan that he his birthe took,
That he for love sholde han his deeth, allas!
For in the sterres clerer than is glas
195 Is writen, God woot, whoso koude it rede,
The deeth of every man, withouten drede.
In sterres many a wynter therbiforn
Was writen the deeth of Ector, Achilles,
Of Pompei, Julius, er they were born,
200 The strif of Thebes, and of Ercules,
Of Sampson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The deeth, but mennes wittes ben so dulle
That no wight kan wel rede it atte fulle.
This Sowdan for his privee conseil sente,
205 And, shortly of this matiere for to pace,
He hath to hem declared his entente
And seyde hem, certein, but he myghte have grace
To han Custance withinne a litel space,
He nas but deed; and charged hem in hye
210 To shapen for his lyf som remedye.
Diverse men diverse thynges seyden;
They argumenten, casten up and doun,
Many a subtil resoun forth they leyden,
They speken of magyk and abusioun;
215 But finally, as in conclusioun,
They kan nat seen in that noon avantage,
Ne in noon oother wey, save mariage.
Thanne sawe they therin swich difficultee
By wey of reson, for to speke al playn
220 By cause that ther was swich diversitee
Bitwene hir bothe lawes, that they sayn
They trowe that "no Cristene prince wolde fayn
Wedden his child under oure lawes swete
That us were taught by Mahoun oure prophete."
225 And he answerde: "Rather than I lese
Custance, I wol be cristned, doutelees.
I moot been hires, I may noon oother chese;
I prey yow, hoold youre argumentz in pees.
Saveth my lyf, and beth noght recchelees
230 To geten hir that hath my lyf in cure,
For in this wo I may nat longe endure."
What nedeth gretter dilatacioun?
I seye, by tretys and embassadrye
And by the popes mediacioun,
235 And al the chirche and al the chivalrie,
That in destruccioun of Mawmettrie
And in encrees of Cristes lawe deere,
They been acorded, so as ye shal heere:
How that the Sowdan and his baronage
240 And alle hise liges sholde ycristned be-
And he shal han Custance in mariage,
And certein gold, I noot what quantitee,
And heerto founden suffisant suretee.
This same accord was sworn on eyther syde.
245 Now, faire Custance, almyghty God thee gyde!
Now wolde som men waiten, as I gesse,
That I sholde tellen al the purveiance
That th'Emperour, of his grete noblesse,
Hath shapen for his doghter dame Custance;
250 Wel may men knowen that so greet ordinance
May no man tellen in a litel clause
As was arrayed for so heigh a cause.
Bisshopes been shapen with hir for to wende,
Lordes, ladies, knyghtes of renoun,
255 And oother folk ynogh, this is th'ende,
And notified is, thurghout the toun,
That every wight with greet devocioun
Sholde preyen Crist, that he this mariage
Receyve in gree, and spede this viage.
260 The day is comen of hir departynge,
I seye, the woful day fatal is come,
That ther may be no lenger tariynge,
But forthward they hem dressen, alle and some.
Custance, that was with sorwe al overcome,
265 Ful pale arist, and dresseth hir to wende,
For wel she seeth ther is noon oother ende.
Allas, what wonder is it thogh she wepte,
That shal be sent to strange nacioun
Fro freendes that so tendrely hir kepte,
270 And to be bounden under subjeccioun
Of oon, she knoweth nat his condicioun?
Housbondes been alle goode, and han ben yoore,
That knowen wyves! I dar sey yow namoore.
"Fader," she seyde, "Thy wrecched child Custance,
275 Thy yonge doghter, fostred up so softe,
And ye my mooder, my soverayn plesance,
Over alle thyng, out-taken Crist on-lofte,
Custance, youre child, hir recomandeth ofte
Unto your grace, for I shal to Surrye
280 Ne shal I nevere seen yow moore with eye.
Allas! unto the Barbre nacioun
I moste goon, syn that it is youre wille,
But Crist, that starf for our savacioun,
So yeve me grace hise heestes to fulfille,-
285 I, wrecche womman, no fors though I spille!
Wommen are born to thraldom and penance,
And to been under mannes governance."
I trowe at Troye, whan Pirrus brak the wal,
Or Ilion brende, ne at Thebes the Citee,
290 N'at Rome for the harm thurgh Hanybal
That Romayns hath venquysshed tymes thre,
Nas herd swich tendre wepyng for pitee
As in the chambre was, for his departynge;
But forth she moot, wher-so she wepe or synge.
295 O firste moevyng! Crueel firmament,
With thy diurnal sweigh, that crowdest ay
And hurlest al from Est til Occident
That naturelly wolde holde another way,
Thy crowdyng set the hevene in swich array
300 At the bigynnyng of this fiers viage,
That crueel Mars hath slayn this mariage.
Infortunat ascendent tortuous,
Of which the lord is helplees falle, allas!
Out of his angle into the derkeste hous!
305 O Mars! O Atazir! As in this cas,
O fieble Moone, unhappy been thy paas!
Thou knyttest thee, ther thou art nat receyved;
Ther thou were weel, fro thennes artow weyved.-
Imprudent Emperour of Rome, allas!
310 Was ther no philosophre in al thy toun?
Is no tyme bet than oother in swich cas?
Of viage is ther noon eleccioun,
Namely to folk of heigh condicioun,
Noght whan a roote is of a burthe yknowe?
315 Allas, we been to lewed or to slowe!
To ship is brought this woful faire mayde
Solempnely, with every circumstance,
"Now Jesu Crist be with yow alle," she seyde.
Ther nys namoore but, "Farewel faire Custance!"
320 She peyneth hir to make good contenance,
And forth I lete hir saille in this manere,
And turne I wole agayn to my matere.
The mooder of the Sowdan, welle of vices,
Espied hath hir sones pleyne entente,
325 How he wol lete hise olde sacrifices,
And right anon she for hir conseil sente,
And they been come, to knowe what she mente,
And whan assembled was this folk in-feere,
She sette hir doun, and seyde as ye shal heere.
330 "Lordes," quod she, "ye knowen everichon,
How that my sone in point is for to lete
The hooly lawes of oure Alkaron,
Yeven by Goddes message, Makomete.
But oon avow to grete God I heete,
335 The lyf shal rather out of my body sterte,
Than Makometes lawe out of myn herte!
What sholde us tyden of this newe lawe
But thraldom to our bodies, and penance,
And afterward in helle to be drawe
340 For we reneyed Mahoun oure creance?
But lordes, wol ye maken assurance
As I shal seyn, assentynge to my loore,
And I shal make us sauf for everemoore."
They sworen and assenten every man
345 To lyve with hir, and dye, and by hir stonde,
And everich in the beste wise he kan
To strengthen hir shal alle hise frendes fonde,
And she hath this emprise ytake on honde,
Which ye shal heren, that I shal devyse.
350 And to hem alle she spak right in this wyse:
"We shul first feyne us cristendom to take, -
Coold water shal nat greve us but a lite-
And I shal swich a feeste and revel make,
That, as I trowe, I shal the Sowdan quite;
355 For thogh his wyf be cristned never so white,
She shal have nede to wasshe awey the rede,
Thogh she a font-ful water with hir lede!"
O Sowdanesse, roote of iniquitee!
Virage, thou Semyrame the secounde!
360 O serpent under femynyntee,
Lik to the serpent depe in helle ybounde!
O feyned womman, al that may confounde
Vertu and innocence thurgh thy malice
Is bred in thee, as nest of every vice!
365 O Sathan, envious syn thilke day
That thou were chaced from oure heritage,
Wel knowestow to wommen the olde way!
Thou madest Eva brynge us in servage;
Thou wolt fordoon this Cristen mariage.
370 Thyn instrument, so weylawey the while!
Makestow of wommen, whan thou wolt bigile.
This Sowdanesse, whom I thus blame and warye,
Leet prively hir conseil goon hir way.
What sholde I in this tale lenger tarie?
375 She rydeth to the Sowdan on a day,
And seyde hym, that she wolde reneye hir lay,
And cristendom of preestes handes fonge,
Repentynge hir she hethen was so longe;
Bisechynge hym to doon hir that honour
380 That she moste han the Cristen folk to feeste.
"To plesen hem I wol do my labour."
The Sowdan seith, "I wol doon at youre heeste,"
And knelynge thanketh hir of that requeste.
So gald he was, he nyste what to seye;
385 She kiste hir sone, and hoom she gooth hir weye.
Explicit prima pars
THE LAWYER'S TALE
In Syria, once, there dwelt a company
Of traders rich, all sober men and true,
That far abroad did send their spicery,
And cloth of gold, and satins rich in hue;
Their wares were all so excellent and new
That everyone was eager to exchange
With them, and sell them divers things and strange,
It came to pass, the masters of this sort
Decided that to Rome they all would wend,
Were it for business or for only sport;
No other message would they thither send,
But went themselves to Rome; this is the end.
And there they found an inn and took their rest
As seemed to their advantage suited best.
Sojourned have now these merchants in that town
A certain time, as fell to their pleasance.
And so it happened that the high renown
Of th' emperor's daughter, called the fair Constance.
Reported was, with every circumstance,
Unto these Syrian merchants, in such wise,
From day to day, as I will now apprise.
This was the common voice of every man:
"Our emperor of Rome, God save and see,
A daughter has that since the world began.
To reckon as well her goodness as beauty,
Was never such another as is she;
I pray that God her fame will keep, serene,
And would she were of all Europe the queen.
"In her is beauty high, and without pride;
Youth, without crudity or levity;
In an endeavours, virtue is her guide;
Meekness in her has humbled tyranny;
She is the mirror of all courtesy;
Her heart's a very shrine of holiness;
Her hand is freedom's agent for largess."
And all this voice said truth, as God is true.
But to our story let us turn again.
These merchants all have freighted ships anew,
And when they'd seen the lovely maid, they fain
Would seek their Syrian homes with all their train,
To do their business as they'd done yore,
And live in weal; I cannot tell you more.
Now so it was, these merchants stood in grace
Of Syria's sultan; and so wise was he
That when they came from any foreign place
He would, of his benignant courtesy,
Make them good cheer, inquiring earnestly
For news of sundry realms, to learn, by word,
The wonders that they might have seen and heard.
Among some other things, especially
These merchants told him tales of fair Constance;
From such nobility, told of earnestly,
This sultan caught a dream of great pleasance,
And she so figured in his remembrance
That all his wish and all his busy care
Were, throughout life, to love that lady fair.
Now peradventure, in that mighty book
Which men call heaven, it had come to pass,
In stars, when first a living breath he took,
That he for love should get his death, alas!
For in the stars, far dearer than is glass,
Is written, God knows, read it he who can,-
And truth it is- the death of every man.
In stars, full many a winter over-worn,
Was written the death of Hector, Achilles,
Of Pompey, Julius, long ere they were born;
The strife at Thebes; and of great Hercules,
Of Samson, of Turnus, of Socrates,
The death to each; but men's wits are so dull
There is no man may read this to the full.
This sultan for his privy-council sent,
And, but to tell it briefly in this place,
He did to them declare his whole intent,
And said that, surely, save he might have grace
To gain Constance within a little space,
He was but dead; and charged them, speedily
To find out, for his life, some remedy.
By divers men, then, divers things were said;
They reasoned, and they argued up and down;
Full much with subtle logic there they sped;
They spoke of spells, of treachery in Rome town;
But finally, as to an end foreknown,
They were agreed that nothing should gainsay
A marriage, for there was no other way.
Then saw they therein so much difficulty,
When reasoning of it, (to make all plain,
Because such conflict and diversity
Between the laws of both lands long had lain)
They held: "No Christian emperor were fain
To have his child wed under our sweet laws,
Given us by Mahomet for God's cause."
But he replied: "Nay, rather then than lose
The Lady Constance, I'll be christened, yes!
I must be hers, I can no other choose.
I pray you let be no rebelliousness;
Save me my life, and do not be careless
In getting her who thus alone may cure
The woe whereof I cannot long endure."
What needs a copious dilation now?
I say: By treaties and by embassy,
And the pope's mediation, high and low,
And all the Church and all the chivalry,
That, to destruction of Mahometry
And to augmenting Christian faith so dear,
They were agreed, at last, as you shall hear.
The sultan and his entire baronage
And all his vassals, they must christened be,
And he shall have Constance in true marriage,
And gold (I know not in what quantity),
For which was found enough security;
This, being agreed, was sworn by either side.
Now, Constance fair, may great God be your guide!
Now would some men expect, as I may guess,
That I should tell of all the purveyance
The emperor, of his great nobleness,
Has destined for his daughter, fair Constance.
But men must know that so great ordinance
May no one tell within a little clause
As was arrayed there for so high a cause.
Bishops were named who were with her to wend,
Ladies and lords and knights of high renown,
And other folk- but I will make an end,
Except that it was ordered through the town
That everyone, with great devotion shown,
Should pray to Christ that He this marriage lead
To happy end, and the long voyage speed.
The day is come, at last, for leave-taking,
I say, the woeful, fatal day is come,
When there may be no longer tarrying,
But to go forth make ready all and some;
Constance, who was with sorrow overcome,
Rose, sad and pale, and dressed herself to wend;
For well she saw there was no other end.
Alas! What wonder is it that she wept?
She shall be sent to a strange. country, far
From friends that her so tenderly have kept,
And bound to one her joy to make or mar
Whom she knows not, nor what his people are.
Husbands are all good, and have been of yore,
That know their wives, but I dare say no more.
"Father," she said, "your wretched child, Constance,
Your daughter reared in luxury so soft,
And you, my mother, and my chief pleasance,
Above all things, save Christ Who rules aloft,
Constance your child would be remembered oft
Within your prayers, for I to Syria go,
Nor shall I ever see you more, ah no!
"Unto the land of Barbary my fate
Compels me now, because it is your will;
But Christ, Who died to save our sad estate,
So give me grace, His mandates I'll fulfill;
I, wretched woman, though I die, 'tis nil.
Women are born to slave and to repent,
And to be subject to man's government."
I think, at Troy, when Pyrrhus broke the wall;
When Ilium burned; when Thebes fell, that city;
At Rome, for all the harm from Hannibal,
Who vanquished Roman arms in campaigns three-
I think was heard no weeping for pity
As in the chamber at her leave-taking;
Yet go she must, whether she weep or sing.
O primal-moving, cruel Firmament,
With thy diurnal pressure, that doth sway
And hurl all things from East to Occident,
Which otherwise would hold another way,
Thy pressure set the heavens in such array,
At the beginning of this wild voyage,
That cruel Mars hath murdered this marriage.
Unfortunate ascendant tortuous,
Of which the lord has helpless fall'n, alas,
Out of his angle to the darkest house!
O Mars! O Atazir in present case!
O feeble Moon, unhappy is thy pace!
Thou'rt in conjunction where thou'rt not received,
And where thou should'st go, thou hast not achieved.
Imprudent emperor of Rome, alas!
Was no philosopher in all thy town?
Is one time like another in such case?
Indeed, can there be no election shown,
Especially to folk of high renown,
And when their dates of birth may all men know?
Alas! We are too ignorant or too slow.
To ship is brought this fair and woeful maid,
Full decorously, with every circumstance.
"Now Jesus Christ be with you all," she said;
And there's no more, save "Farewell, fair Constance!"
She strove to keep a cheerful countenance,
And forth I let her sail in this manner,
And turn again to matters far from her.
The mother of the sultan, well of vices,
Has heard the news of her son's full intent,
How he will leave the ancient sacrifices;
And she at once for her own council sent;
And so they came to learn what thing she meant.
And when they were assembled, each compeer,
She took her seat and spoke as you shall hear.
"My lords," said she, "you know well, every man,
My son intends to forgo and forget
The holy precepts of our Alkoran,
Given by God's own prophet, Mahomet.
But I will make one vow to great God yet:
The life shall rather from my body start
Than Islam's laws out of my faithful heart!
"What should we get from taking this new creed
But thralldom for our bodies and penance?
And afterward, be drawn to Hell, indeed,
For thus denying our faith's inheritance?
But, lords, if you will give your sustenance,
And join me for the wisdom I've in store,
I swear to save us all for evermore."
They swore and they assented, every man,
To live by her and die, and by her stand;
And each of them, in what best wise he can,
Shall gather friends and followers into band;
And she shall take the enterprise in hand,
The form of which I soon will you apprise,
And to them all she spoke, then, in this wise.
"We will first feign the Christian faith to take;
Cold water will not harm us from the rite;
And I will such a feast and revel make
As will, I trust, to lull be requisite.
For though his wife be christened ever so white,
She shall have need to wash away the red,
Though a full font of water be there sped."
O sultana, root of iniquity!
Virago, you Semiramis second!
O serpent hid in femininity,
Just as the Serpent deep in Hell is bound!
O pseudo-woman, all that may confound
Virtue and innocence, through your malice,
Is bred in you, the nest of every vice!
O Satan, envious since that same day
When thou wert banished from our heritage,
Well know'st thou unto woman thine old way!
Thou made'st Eve bring us into long bondage.
Thou wilt destroy this Christian marriage.
Thine instrument- ah welaway the while!-
Make'st thou of woman when thou wilt beguile!
Now this sultana whom I blame and harry,
Let, secretly, her council go their way.
Why should I longer in my story tarry?
She rode unto the sultan, on a day,
And told him she'd renounce her old faith, yea,
Be christened at priests' hands, with all the throng,
Repentant she'd been heathen for so long.
Beseeching him to do her the honour
To let her have the Christian men to feast:
"To entertain them will be my labour."
The sultan said: "I'll be at your behest."
And, kneeling, thanked her for that fair request,
So glad he was he knew not what to say;
She kissed her son, and homeward went her way.
Explicit prima pars.
(Here ends the first part)
Sequitur pars secunda
Arryved been this Cristen folk to londe,
In Surrye, with a greet solempne route,
And hastifliche this Sowdan sente his sonde
First to his mooder and all the regne aboute,
390 And seyde his wyf was comen, oute of doute,
And preyde hir for to ryde agayn the queene,
The honour of his regne to susteene.
Greet was the prees, and riche was th'array
Of Surryens and Romayns met yfeere;
395 The mooder of the Sowdan, riche and gay,
Receyveth hir with also glad a cheere
As any mooder myghte hir doghter deere,
And to the nexte citee ther bisyde
A softe pass solempnely they ryde.
400 Noght trowe I the triumphe of Julius,
Of which that Lucan maketh swich a boost,
Was roialler, ne moore curius
Than was th'assemblee of this blisful hoost.
But this scorpioun, this wikked goost,
405 The Sowdanesse, for all hir falterynge
Caste under this ful mortally to stynge.
The Sowdan comth hymself soone after this
So roially, that wonder is to telle,
And welcometh hir with alle joye and blis,
410 And thus in murthe and joye I lete hem dwelle-
The fruyt of this matiere is that I telle.-
Whan tyme cam, men thoughte it for the beste,
The revel stynte, and men goon to hir reste.
The tyme cam, this olde Sowdanesse
415 Ordeyned hath this feeste of which I tolde,
And to the feeste Cristen folk hem dresse
In general, ye, bothe yonge and olde.
Heere may men feeste and roialtee biholde,
And deyntees mo than I kan yow devyse;
420 But al to deere they boghte it er they ryse!
O sodeyn wo, that evere art successour
To worldly blisse, spreynd with bitternesse!
The ende of the joye of oure worldly labour!
Wo occupieth the fyn of oure gladnesse!
425 Herke this conseil for thy sikernesse,
Upon thy galde day have in thy minde
The unwar wo or harm that comth bihynde.
For shortly for to tellen at o word,
The Sowdan and the Cristen everichone
430 Been al tohewe and stiked at the bord,
But it were oonly dame Custance allone.
This olde Sowdanesse, cursed krone,
Hath with hir freendes doon this cursed dede,
For she hirself wolde all the contree lede.
435 Ne was ther Surryen noon, that was converted,
That of the conseil of the Sowdan woot,
That he nas al tohewe er he asterted.
And Custance han they take anon foot-hoot
And in a ship all steerelees, God woot,
440 They han hir set, and biddeth hir lerne saille
Out of Surrye agaynward to Ytaille.
A certein tresor that she thider ladde,
And, sooth to seyn, vitaille greet plentee
They han hir yeven, and clothes eek she hadde,
445 And forth she sailleth in the salte see.
O my Custance, ful of benignytee,
O Emperoures yonge doghter deere,
He that is lord of Fortune be thy steere!
She blesseth hir, and with ful pitous voys
450 Unto the croys of Crist thus seyde she,
"O cleere, o welful auter, hooly croys,
Reed of the lambes blood, ful of pitee,
That wesshe the world fro the olde iniquitee,
Me fro the feend and fro his clawes kepe,
455 That day that I shal drenchen in the depe.
Victorious tree, proteccioun of trewe,
That oonly worthy were for to bere
The Kyng of Hevene with his woundes newe,
The white lamb that hurt was with the spere,
460 Flemere of feendes out of hym and here
On which thy lymes feithfully extenden,
Me keep, and yif me myght my lyf tamenden."
Yeres and dayes fleteth this creature
Thurghout the See of Grece unto the Strayte
465 Of Marrok, as it was hir aventure.
On many a sory meel now may she bayte;
After hir deeth ful often may she wayte,
Er that the wilde wawes wol hire dryve
Unto the place ther she shal arryve.
470 Men myghten asken why she was nat slayn?
Eek at the feeste who myghte hir body save?
And I answere to that demande agayn,
Who saved Danyel in the horrible cave,
Ther every wight save he, maister and knave,
475 Was with the leoun frete, er he asterte?
No wight but God, that he bar in his herte.
God liste to shewe his wonderful myracle
In hir, for we sholde seen his myghty werkis.
Crist, which that is to every harm triacle,
480 By certeine meenes ofte, as knowen clerkis,
Dooth thyng for certein ende, that ful derk is
To mannes wit, that for oure ignorance
Ne konne noght knowe his prudent purveiance.
Now, sith she was nat at the feeste yslawe,
485 Who kepte hir fro the drenchyng in the see?
Who kepte Jonas in the fisshes mawe
Til he was spouted up at Nynyvee?
Wel may men knowe it was no wight but he
That kepte peple Ebrayk from hir drenchynge,
490 With drye feet thurghout the see passynge.
Who bad the foure spirites of tempest,
That power han t'anoyen lond and see,
"Bothe north and south, and also west and est,
Anoyeth neither see, ne land, ne tree?"
495 Soothly, the comandour of that was he,
That fro the tempest ay this womman kepte,
As wel eek when she wook as whan she slepte.
Where myghte this womman mete and drynke have?
Thre yeer and moore how lasteth hir vitaille?
500 Who fedde the Egypcien Marie in the cave,
Or in desert? No wight but Crist, sanz faille.
Fyve thousand folk it was as greet mervaille
With loves fyve and fisshes two to feede;
God sente his foyson at hir grete neede.
505 She dryveth forth into oure occian
Thurghout oure wilde see, til atte laste
Under an hoold that nempnen I ne kan,
Fer in Northhumberlond, the wawe hir caste,
And in the sond hir ship stiked so faste
510 That thennes wolde it noght of al a tyde,
The wyl of Crist was that she sholde abyde.
The constable of the castel doun is fare
To seen his wrak, and al the ship he soghte,
And foond this wery womman ful of care,
515 He foond also the tresor that she broghte,
In hir langage mercy she bisoghte,
The lyf out of hire body for to twynne,
Hir to delivere of wo that she was inne.
A maner Latyn corrupt was hir speche,
520 But algates therby was she understonde.
The constable, whan hym lyst no lenger seche,
This woful womman broghte he to the londe.
She kneleth doun and thanketh Goddes sonde;
But what she was, she wolde no man seye,
525 For foul ne fair, thogh that she sholde deye.
She seyde, she was so mazed in the see
That she forgat hir mynde, by hir trouthe.
The constable hath of hir so greet pitee,
And eke his wyf, that they wepen for routhe.
530 She was so diligent, withouten slouthe
To serve and plesen everich in that place,
That alle hir loven that looken on hir face.
This constable and dame Hermengyld his wyf
Were payens, and that contree everywhere;
535 But Hermengyld loved hir right as hir lyf,
And Custance hath so longe sojourned there
In orisons, with many a bitter teere,
Til Jesu hath converted thurgh his grace
Dame Hermengyld, constablesse of that place.
540 In al that lond no Cristen dorste route,
Alle Cristen folk been fled fro that contree
Thurgh payens that conquereden al aboute
The plages of the North by land and see.
To Walys fledde the Cristyanytee
545 Of olde Britons, dwellynge in this ile;
Ther was hir refut for the meene-while.
But yet nere cristene Britons so exiled
That ther nere somme that in hir privetee
Honoured Crist, and hethen folk bigiled,
550 And ny the castel swiche ther dwelten three;
That oon of hem was blynd, and myghte nat see,
But it were with thilke eyen of his mynde,
With whiche men seen, after that they ben blynde.
Bright was the sonne as in that someres day,
555 For which the constable and his wyf also
And Custance han ytake the righte way
Toward the see, a furlong wey or two,
To pleyen, and to romen, to and fro,
And in hir walk this blynde man they mette,
560 Croked and oold, with eyen faste yshette.
"In name of Crist," cride this olde Britoun,
"Dame Hermengyld, yif me my sighte agayn."
This lady weex affrayed of the soun,
Lest that hir housbonde, shortly for to sayn,
565 Wolde hir for Jesu Cristes love han slayn,
Til Custance made hir boold, and bad hir wirche
The wyl of Crist, as doghter of his chirche.
The constable weex abasshed of that sight,
And seyde, "What amounteth all this fare!"
570 Custance answerde, "Sire, it is Cristes myght,
That helpeth folk out of the feendes snare."
And so ferforth she gan oure lay declare,
That she the constable, er that it were eve
Converteth, and on Crist maketh hym bileve.
575 This constable was no-thyng lord of this place
Of which I speke, ther he Custance fond;
But kepte it strongly many wyntres space
Under Alla, kyng of al Northhumbrelond,
That was ful wys and worthy of his hond
580 Agayn the Scottes, as men may wel heere;-
But turne I wole agayn to my mateere.
Sathan, that ever us waiteth to bigile,
Saugh of Custance al hir perfeccioun
And caste anon how he myghte quite hir while;
585 And made a yong knyght, that dwelte in that toun,
Love hir so hoote of foul affeccioun
That verraily hym thoughte he sholde spille,
But he of hir myghte ones have his wille.
He woweth hir, but it availleth noght,
590 She wolde do no synne, by no were;
And for despit he compassed in his thoght
To maken hir on shameful deeth to deye.
He wayteth whan the constable was aweye
And pryvely upon a nyght he crepte
595 In Hermengyldes chambre whil she slepte.
Wery, for-waked in hir orisouns,
Slepeth Custance, and Hermengyld also.
This knyght, thurgh Sathanas temptaciouns,
All softely is to the bed ygo,
600 And kitte the throte of Hermengyld atwo,
And leyde the blody knyf by dame Custance,
And wente his wey, ther God yeve hym meschance!
Soone after cometh this constable hoom agayn,
And eek Alla, that kyng was of that lond,
605 And saugh his wyf despitously yslayn,
For which ful ofte he weep and wroong his hond,
And in the bed the blody knyf he fond
By Dame Custance; allas, what myghte she seye?
For verray wo hir wit was al aweye!
610 To kyng Alla was toold al this meschance,
And eek the tyme, and where, and in what wise
That in a ship was founden dame Custance,
As heer-biforn that ye han herd devyse.
The kynges herte of pitee gan agryse,
615 Whan he saugh so benigne a creature
Falle in disese and in mysaventure.
For as the lomb toward his deeth is broght,
So stant this innocent bifore the kyng.
This false knyght, that hath this tresoun wroght,
620 Berth hir on hond that she hath doon thys thyng,
But nathelees, ther was greet moornyng
Among the peple, and seyn, they kan nat gesse
That she had doon so greet a wikkednesse;
For they han seyn hir evere so vertuous,
625 And lovyng Hermengyld right as hir lyf:
Of this baar witnesse everich in that hous
Save he that Hermengyld slow with his knyf.
This gentil kyng hath caught a greet motyf
Of this witnesse, and thoghte he wolde enquere
630 Depper in this, a trouthe for to lere.
Allas, Custance, thou hast no champioun!
Ne fighte kanstow noght, so weylaway!
But he, that starf for our redempcioun,
And boond Sathan-and yet lith ther he lay-
635 So be thy stronge champion this day!
For but if Crist open myracle kithe,
Withouten gilt thou shalt be slayn as swithe.
She sette hir doun on knees, and thus she sayde,
"Immortal God, that savedest Susanne
640 Fro false blame, and thou, merciful Mayde,
Marie I meene, doghter to Seynte Anne,
Bifore whos child angeles synge Osanne,
If I be giltlees of this felonye,
My socour be, for ellis shal I dye."
645 Have ye nat seyn som tyme a pale face
Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
And swich a colour in his face hath had,
Men myghte knowe his face, that was bistad,
650 Amonges alle the faces in that route?
So stant Custance, and looketh hir aboute.
O queenes, lyvynge in prosperitee,
Duchesses, and ladyes everichone,
Haveth som routhe on hir adversitee;
655 An Emperoures doghter stant allone,
She hath no wight to whom to make hir mone.
O blood roial, that stondest in this drede,
Fer been thy freendes at thy grete nede!
This Alla kyng hath swich compassioun,
660 As gentil herte is fulfild of pitee,
That from hise eyen ran the water doun.
"Now hastily do fecche a book," quod he,
"And if this knyght wol sweren how that she
This womman slow, yet wol we us avyse,
665 Whom that we wole, that shal been oure justise."
A Britoun book, written with Evaungiles,
Was fet, and on this book he swoor anoon
She gilty was, and in the meene-whiles
An hand hym smoot upon the nekke-boon,
670 That doun he fil atones, as a stoon;
And bothe hise eyen broste out of his face,
In sighte of every body in that place.
A voys was herd in general audience,
And seyde, "Thou hast desclaundred, giltelees
675 The doghter of hooly chirche in heigh presence,
Thus hastou doon, and yet holde I my pees."
Of this mervaille agast was al the prees,
As mazed folk they stoden everichone
For drede of wreche, save Custance allone.
680 Greet was the drede and eek the repentance
Of hem that hadden wronge suspecioun
Upon this sely innocent, Custance;
And for this miracle, in conclusioun,
And by Custances mediacioun,
685 The kyng, and many another in that place,
Converted was, thanked be Cristes grace.
This false knyght was slayn for his untrouthe,
By juggement of Alla hastifly-
And yet Custance hadde of his deeth greet routhe-
690 And after this Jesus, of His mercy,
Made Alla wedden ful solempnely
This hooly mayden, that is so bright and sheene,
And thus hath Crist ymaad Custance a queene.
But who was woful, if I shal nat lye,
695 Of this weddyng but Donegild, and namo,
The kynges mooder, ful of tirannye?
Hir thoughte hir cursed herte brast atwo,
She wolde noght hir sone had do so,
Hir thoughte a despit, that he sholde take
700 So strange a creature unto 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 roialtee
At mariages, or which cours goth biforn,
705 Who bloweth in the trumpe, or in an horn?
The fruyt of every tale is for to seye;
They ete, and drynke, and daunce, and synge, and pleye.
They goon to bedde, as it was skile and right,
For thogh that wyves be ful hooly thynges,
710 They moste take in pacience at nyght
Swiche manere necessaries as been plesynges
To folk that han ywedded hem with rynges,
And leye a lite hir hoolynesse aside
As for the tyme, it may no bet bitide.
715 On hire he gat a knave childe anon,
And to a bisshop and his constable eke
He took his wyf to kepe, whan he is gon
To Scotlond-ward, his foomen for to seke.
Now faire Custance, that is so humble and meke,
720 So longe is goon with childe, til that stille
She halt hire chambre, abidyng Cristes wille.
The tyme is come; a knave child she beer,
Mauricius at the fontstoon they hym calle.
This constable dooth forth come a messageer,
725 And wroot unto his kyng, that cleped was Alle,
How that this blisful tidyng is bifalle,
And othere tidynges spedeful for to seye;
He taketh the lettre, and forth he gooth his weye.
This messager, to doon his avantage,
730 Unto the kynges mooder rideth swithe,
And salueth hir ful faire in his langage,
"Madame," quod he, "ye may be glad and blithe,
And thanketh God an hundred thousand sithe.
My lady queene hath child, withouten doute,
735 To joye and blisse to al this regne aboute.
Lo, heere the lettres seled of this thyng,
That I moot bere with al the haste I may.
If ye wol aught unto youre sone, the kyng,
I am youre servant both nyght and day."
740 Donegild answerde, "as now at this tyme, nay,
But heere al nyght I wol thou take thy reste,
Tomorwe wol I seye thee what me leste."
This messager drank sadly ale and wyn,
And stolen wer hise lettres pryvely
745 Out of his box, whil he sleep as a swyn;
And countrefeted was ful subtilly
Another lettre wroght ful synfully,
Unto the kyng direct of this mateere
Fro his constable, as ye shal after heere.
750 The lettre spak, the queene delivered was
Of so horrible a feendly creature
That in the castel noon so hardy was
That any while dorste ther endure;
The mooder was an elf, by aventure,
755 Ycomen by charmes or by sorcerie,
And every wight hateth hir compaignye.
Wo was this kyng whan he this lettre had sayn,
But to no wight he tolde his sorwes soore,
But of his owene hand he wroot agayn:
760 "Welcome the sonde of Crist for everemoore
To me, that am now lerned in his loore!
Lord, welcome be thy lust and thy plesaunce,
My lust I putte al in thyn ordinaunce.
Kepeth this child, al be it foul or feire,
765 And eek my wyf, unto myn hoom-comynge;
Crist, whan hym list, may sende me an heir
Moore agreable than this to my likynge."
This lettre he seleth, pryvely wepynge,
Which to the messager was take soone
770 And forth he gooth, ther is namoore to doone.
O messager, fulfild of dronkenesse,
Strong is thy breeth, thy lymes faltren ay,
And thou biwreyest alle secreenesse.
Thy mynde is lorn, thou janglest as a jay,
775 Thy face is turned in a newe array;
Ther dronkenesse regneth in any route,
Ther is no conseil hyd, withouten doute.
O Donegild, I ne have noon Englissh digne
Unto thy malice and thy tirannye;
780 And therfore to the feend I thee resigne,
Lat hym enditen of thy traitorie!
Fy, mannysh, fy? - O nay, by God, I lye -
Fy, feendlych spirit! for I dar wel telle,
Thogh thou heere walke, thy spirit is in helle.
785 This messager comth fro the kyng agayn,
And at the kynges moodres court he lighte
And she was of this messager ful fayn,
And plesed hym in al that ever she myghte.
He drank, and wel his girdel underpighte.
790 He slepeth, and he fnorteth in his gyse
Al nyght until the sonne gan aryse.
Eft were hise lettres stolen everychon
And countrefeted lettres in this wyse,
"The king comandeth his constable anon
795 Up peyne of hangyng and on heigh juyse
That he ne sholde suffren in no wyse
Custance inwith his reawme for t'abyde,
Thre dayes and o quarter of a tyde.
But in the same ship as he hir fond,
800 Hire, and hir yonge sone, and al hir geere,
He sholde putte, and croude hir fro the lond,
And chargen hir she never eft coome theere."
O my Custance, wel may thy goost have fere,
And slepynge in thy dreem been in penance,
805 Whan Donegild cast al this ordinance.
This messager, on morwe whan he wook,
Unto the Castel halt the nexte way,
And to the constable he the lettre took.
And whan that he this pitous lettre say,
810 Ful ofte he seyde, "Allas and weylaway!"
"Lord Crist," quod he, "how may this world endure,
So ful of synne is many a creature?
O myghty God, if that it be thy wille,
Sith thou art rightful juge, how may it be
815 That thou wolt suffren innocentz to spille,
And wikked folk regnen in prosperitee?
O goode Custance, allas, so wo is me,
That I moot be thy tormentour, or deye
On shames deeth! Ther is noon oother weye!"
820 Wepen bothe yonge and olde in al that place,
Whan that the kyng this cursed lettre sente,
And Custance, with a deedly pale face,
The ferthe day toward the ship she wente;
But nathelees she taketh in good entente
825 The wyl of Crist, and knelynge on the stronde,
She seyde, "Lord, ay welcome be thy sonde!
He that me kepte fro the false blame,
While I was on the lond amonges yow,
He kan me kepe from harm and eek fro shame
830 In salte see, al thogh I se noght how.
As strong as evere he was, he is yet now;
In hym triste I, and in his mooder deere,
That is to me my seyl and eek my steere."
Hir litel child lay wepyng in hir arm,
835 And knelynge, pitously to hym she seyde,
"Pees, litel sone, I wol do thee noon harm."
With that hir coverchief on hir heed she breyde,
And over hise litel eyen she it leyde,
And in hir arm she lulleth it ful faste,
840 And into hevene hir eyen up she caste.
"Mooder," quod she, "and mayde bright, Marie,
Sooth is that thurgh wommanes eggement
Mankynde was lorn and damned ay to dye,
For which thy child was on a croys yrent;
845 Thy blisful eyen sawe al his torment;
Thanne is ther no comparison bitwene
Thy wo, and any wo man may sustene.
Thow sawe thy child yslayn bifore thyne eyen,
And yet now lyveth my litel child, parfay.
850 Now, lady bright, to whom alle woful cryen,
Thow glorie of wommanhede, thow faire may,
Thow haven of refut, brighte sterre of day,
Rewe on my child, that of thy gentillesse
Ruest on every reweful in distresse.
855 O litel child, allas, what is thy gilt,
That nevere wroghtest synne as yet, pardee!
Why wil thyn harde fader han thee spilt?
O mercy, deere Constable," quod she,
"As lat my litel child dwelle heer with thee;
860 And if thou darst nat saven hym for blame,
Yet kys hym ones in his fadres name."
Therwith she looketh bakward to the londe,
And seyde, "Farwel, housbonde routheless!"
And up she rist, and walketh doun the stronde,
865 Toward the ship. - hir folweth al the prees -
And evere she preyeth hir child to holde his pees,
And taketh hir leve, and with an hooly entente
She blisseth hir, and into ship she wente.
Vitailled was the ship, it is no drede,
870 Habundantly for hir ful longe space;
And othere necessaries that sholde nede
She hadde ynogh, heried be Goddes grace;
For wynd and weder almyghty God purchace,
And brynge hir hoom, I kan no bettre seye!
875 But in the see she dryveth forth hir weye.
Explicit secunda pars
Sequitur pars secunda.
(Here begins the second part)
Arrived now are these Christian folk at land,
In Syria, with a great stately rout,
And hastily this sultan gave command,
First to his mother and all the realm about,
Saying his wife was come, beyond a doubt,
And prayed her that she ride to meet the queen,
That all due honour might be shown and seen.
Great was the crush and rich was the array
Of Syrians and Romans, meeting here;
The mother of the sultan, rich and gay,
Received her open-armed, with smiling cheer,
As any mother might a daughter dear;
And to the nearest city, with the bride,
At gentle pace, right festively they ride.
I think the triumph of great Julius,
Whereof old Lucan make so long a boast,
Was not more royal nor more curious
Than was the assembling of this happy host.
But this same Scorpion, this wicked ghost-
The old sultana, for all her flattering,
Chose in that sign full mortally to sting.
The sultan came himself, soon after this,
So regally 'twere wonderful to tell,
And welcomed her into all joy and bliss.
And thus in such delight I let them dwell.
The fruit of all is what I now shall tell.
When came the time, men thought it for the best
Their revels cease, and got them home to rest.
The time came when this old sultana there
Has ordered up the feast of which I told,
Whereto the Christian folk did them prepare,
The company together, young and old.
There men might feast and royalty behold,
With dainties more than I can e'en surmise;
But all too dear they've bought it, ere they rise.
O sudden woe! that ever will succeed
On worldly bliss, infused with bitterness;
That ends the joy of earthly toil, indeed;
Woe holds at last the place of our gladness.
Hear, now, this counsel for your certainness:
Upon your most glad day, bear then in mind
The unknown harm and woe that come behind.
For, but to tell you briefly, in one word-
The sultan and the Christians, every one,
Were all hewed down and thrust through at the board,
Save the fair Lady Constance, she alone.
This old sultana, aye, this cursed crone
Has, with her followers, done this wicked deed,
For she herself would all the nation lead.
There was no Syrian that had been converted,
Being of the sultan's council resolute,
But was struck down, ere from the board he'd started
And Constance have they taken now, hot-foot,
And on a ship, of rudder destitute,
They her have placed, bidding her learn to sail
From Syria to Italy- or fail.
A certain treasure that she'd brought, they add,
And, truth to tell, of food great quantity
They have her given, and clothing too she had;
And forth she sails upon the wide salt sea.
O Constance mine, full of benignity,
O emperor's young daughter, from afar
He that is Lord of fortune be your star!
She crossed herself, and in a pious voice
Unto the Cross of Jesus thus said she:
"O bright, O blessed Altar of my choice,
Red with the Lamb's blood full of all pity,
That washed the world from old iniquity,
Me from the Fiend and from his claws, oh keep
That day when I shall drown within the deep!
"Victorious Tree, Protection of the true,
The only thing that worthy was to bear
The King of Heaven with His wounds so new,
The White Lamb Who was pierced with the spear,
Driver of devils out of him and her
Who on Thine arms do lay themselves in faith,
Keep me and give me grace before my death!"
For years and days drifted this maiden pure,
Through all the seas of Greece and to the strait
Of dark Gibraltar dier she adventure;
On many a sorry meal now may she bait;
Upon her death full often may she wait
Before the wild waves and the winds shall drive
Her vessel where it shall some day arrive.
Men might well ask: But why was she not slain?
And at that feast who could her body save?
And I reply to that demand, again:
Who saved young Daniel in the dreadful cave
Where every other man, master and knave,
Was killed by lions ere he might up-start?
No one, save God, Whom he bore in his heart.
God willed to show this wondrous miracle
Through her, that we should see His mighty works;
And Christ Who every evil can dispel,
By certain means does oft, as know all clerks,
Do that whereof the end in darkness lurks
For man's poor wit, which of its ignorance
Cannot conceive His careful purveyance.
Now, since she was not slain at feast we saw,
Who kept her that she drowned not in the sea?
But who kept Jonah in the fish's maw
Till he was spewed forth there at Nineveh?
Well may men know it was no one but He
Who saved the Hebrew people from drowning
When, dry-shod, through the sea they went walking.
Who bade the four great spirits of tempest,
That power have to harry land and sea,
"Not north, nor south, nor yet to east, nor west
Shall ye molest the ocean, land, or tree"?
Truly, the Captain of all this was He
Who from the storm has aye this woman kept,
As well when waking as in hours she slept.
Where might this woman get her drink and meat?
Three years and more, how lasted her supply?
Who gave Egyptian Mary food to eat
In cave desert? None but Christ, say I.
Five thousand folk, the gospels testify,
On five loaves and two fishes once did feed.
And thus God sent abundance for her need.
Forth into our own ocean then she came,
Through all our wild white seas, until at last,
Under a keep, whose name I cannot name,
Far up Northumberland, her ship was cast,
And on the sands drove hard and stuck so fast
That thence it moved not, no, for all the tide,
It being Christ's will that she should there abide.
The warden of the castle down did fare
To view this wreck, and through the ship he sought
And found this weary woman, full of care;
He found, also, the treasure she had brought.
In her own language mercy she besought
That he would help her soul from body win
To free her from the plight that she was in.
A kind of bastard Latin did she speak,
But, nevertheless, these folk could understand;
The constable no longer thought to seek,
But led the sorrowing woman to the land;
There she knelt down and thanked God, on the sand.
But who or what she was, she would not say,
For threat or promise, though she died that day.
She said she'd been bewildered by the sea,
And had lost recollection, by her truth;
The warden had for her so great pity,
As had his wife, that both they wept for ruth.
She was so diligent to toil, in sooth,
To serve and please all folk within that place,
That all loved her who looked upon her face.
This warden and Dame Hermengild, his wife,
Were pagans, and that country, everywhere;
But Hermengild now loved her as her life,
And Constance has so long abided there,
And prayed so oft, with many a tearful prayer,
That Jesus has converted, through His grace,
Dame Hermengild, the lady of that place.
In all that land no Christian dared speak out
All Christians having fled from that country,
For pagan men had conquered all about
The regions of the north, by land and sea;
To Wales was fled the Christianity
Of the old Britons dwelling in this isle;
That was their refuge in the wild meanwhile.
Yet ne'er were Christian Britons so exiled
But some of them assembled, privately,
To honour Christ, and heathen folk beguiled;
And near the castle dwelt of such men three.
But one of them was blind and could not see,
Save with the inner optics of his mind,
Wherewith all men see after they go blind.
Bright was the sun upon that summer's day
When went the warden and his wife also,
And Constance, down the hill, along the way
Toward the sea, a furlong off, or so,
To frolic and to wander to and fro;
And in their walk on this blind man they came,
With eyes fast shut, a creature old and lame.
"In name of Christ!" this blind old Briton cried,
"Dame Hermengild, give me my sight again."
But she was frightened of the words, and sighed,
Lest that her husband, briefly to be plain,
Should have her, for her love of Jesus, slain;
Till Constance strengthened her and bade her work
The will of God, as daughter of His kirk.
The warden was confounded by that sight,
And asked: "What mean these words and this affair?"
Constance replied: "Sir, it is Jesus' might
That helps all poor folk from the foul Fiend's snare."
And so far did she our sweet faith declare
That she the constable, before 'twas eve,
Converted, and in Christ made him believe.
This constable, though not lord of that place
Where he'd found Constance, wrecked upon the sand,
Had held it well for many a winter's space,
For Alla, king of all Northumberland,
Who was full wise and hardy of his hand
Against the Scots, as men may read and hear,
But I will to my tale again- give ear.
Satan, that ever waits, men to beguile,
Saw now, in Constance, all perfection grown,
And wondering how to be revenged the while,
He made a young knight, living in the town,
Love her so madly, with foul passion flown,
That verily he thought his life should spill,
Save that, of her, be once might have his will.
He wooed her, but it all availed him naught;
She would not sin in any wise or way;
And, for despite, he plotted in his thought
To make her die a death of shame some day.
He waited till the warden was away,
And, stealthily by night, he went and crept
To Hermengild's bed-chamber, while she slept.
Weary with waking for her orisons,
Slept Constance, and Dame Hermengild also.
This knight, by Satan's tempting, came at once
And softly to the bedside he did go.
And cut the throat of Hermengild, and so
Laid the hot reeking knife by fair Constance,
And went his way- where God give him mischance!
Soon after came the warden home again,
And with him Alla, king of all that land,
And saw his wife so pitilessly slain,
For which he wept and cried and wrung his hand;
And in the bed the bloody dagger, and
The Lady Constance. Ah! What could she say?
For very woe her wits went all away.
King Alla was apprised of this sad chance,
And told the time, and where, and in what wise
Was found in a wrecked ship the fair Constance,
As heretofore you've heard my tale apprise.
But in the king's heart pity did arise
When he saw so benignant a creature
Fallen in distress of such misadventure.
For as the lamb unto his death is brought,
So stood this innocent before the king;
And the false knight that had this treason wrought,
He swore that it was she had done this thing.
Nevertheless, there was much sorrowing
Among the people, saying, "We cannot gues
That she has done so great a wickedness.
"For we have seen her always virtuous,
And loving Hermengild as she loved life."
To this bore witness each one in that house,
Save he that slew the victim with his knife.
The gentle king suspected. motive rife
In that man's heart; and thought he would inquire
Deeper therein, the truth to learn entire.
Alas, Constance! You have no champion,
And since you cannot fight, it's welaway!
But He Who died for us the cross upon,
And Satan bound (who lies yet where he lay),
So be your doughty Champion this day!
For, except Christ a miracle make known,
You shall be slain, though guiltless, and right soon.
She dropped upon her knees and thus she prayed:
"Immortal God, Who saved the fair Susanna
From lying blame, and Thou, O gracious Maid
(Mary, I mean, the daughter of Saint Anna),
Before Child the angels sing hosanna,
If I be guiltless of this felony,
My succour be, for otherwise I die!"
Have you not sometime seen a pallid face
Among the crowd, of one that's being led
Toward his death- one who had got no grace?
And such a pallor on his face was spread
All men must mark it, full of horrid dread,
Among the other faces in the rout.
So stood fair Constance there and looked about.
O queens that live in all prosperity,
Duchesses, and you ladies, every one,
Have pity, now, on her adversity;
An emperor's young daughter stands alone;
She has no one to whom to make her moan.
O royal blood that stands there in such dread,
Far are your friends away in your great need!
This King Alla has such compassion shown
(Since gentle heart is full of all pity),
That from his two eyes ran the tears right down.
"Now hastily go fetch a book," quoth he,
"And if this knight will swear that it was she
Who slew the woman, then will we make clear
The judge we shall appoint the case to hear."
A book of Gospels writ in British tongue
Was brought, and on this Book he swore anon
Her guilt; but then the people all among
A clenched hand smote him on the shoulder-bone,
And down he fell, as stunned as by a stone,
And both his eyes burst forth out of his face
In sight of everybody in that place.
A voice was heard by all that audience,
Saying: "You have here slandered the guiltless
Daughter of Holy Church, in high Presence;
Thus have you done, and further I'll not press."
Whereat were all the folk aghast, no less;
As men amazed they stand there, every one,
For dread of vengeance, save Constance alone.
Great was the fear and, too, the repentance
Of those that held a wrong suspicion there
Against this simple innocent Constance;
And by this miracle so wondrous fair,
And by her mediation and her prayer,
The king, with many another in that place,
Was there converted, thanks to Christ His grace!
This lying knight was slain for his untruth,
By sentence of King Alla, hastily;
Yet Constance had upon his death great ruth.
And after this, Jesus, of His mercy,
Caused Alla take in marriage, solemnly,
This holy maiden, so bright and serene,
And thus has Christ made fair Constance a queen.
But who was sad, if I am not to lie,
At this but Lady Donegild, she who
Was the king's mother, full of tyranny?
She thought her wicked heart must burst in two;
She would he'd never thought this thing to do;
And so she hugged her anger that he'd take
So strange a wife as this creature must make.
Neither with chaff nor straw it pleases me
To make a long tale, here, but with the corn.
Why should I tell of all the royalty
At that wedding, or who went first, well-born,
Or who blew out a trumpet or a horn?
The fruit of every tale is but to say,
They eat and drink and dance and sing and play
They went to bed, as was but just and right,
For though some wives are pure and saintly things,
They must endure, in patience, in the night,
Such necessaries as make pleasurings
To men whom they have wedded well with rings,
And lay their holiness a while aside;
There may no better destiny betide.
On her he got a man-child right anon;
And to a bishop and the warden eke
He gave his wife to guard, while he was gone
To Scotland, there his enemies to seek;
Now Constance, who so humble is, and meek,
So long is gone with child that, hushed and still,
She keeps her chamber, waiting on Christ's will.
The time was come, a baby boy she bore;
Mauritius they did name him at the font;
This constable sent forth a messenger
And wrote unto King Alla at the front
Of all this glad event, a full account,
And other pressing matters did he say.
He took the letter and went on his way.
This messenger, to forward his own ends,
To the king's mother rode with swiftest speed,
Humbly saluting her as down he bends:
"Madam," quoth he, "be joyful now indeed!
To God a hundred thousand thanks proceed.
The queen has borne a child, beyond all doubt,
To joy and bliss of all this land about.
"Lo, here are letters sealed that say this thing,
Which I must bear with all the speed I may;
If you will send aught to your son, the king,
I am your humble servant, night and day."
Donegild answered: "As for this time, nay;
But here tonight I'd have you take your rest;
Tomorrow I will say what I think best."
This messenger drank deep of ale and wine,
And stolen were his letters, stealthily,
Out of his box, while slept he like a swine;
And counterfeited was, right cleverly,
Another letter, wrought full sinfully,
Unto the king; of this event so near,
All from the constable, as you shall hear.
The letter said, the queen delivered was
Of such a fiendish, horrible creature,
That in the castle none so hardy as
Durst, for a lengthy time, there to endure.
The mother was an elf or fairy, sure,
Come there by chance of charm, or sorcery,
And all good men hated her company.
Sad was the king when this letter he'd seen;
But to no man he told his sorrows sore,
But with his own hand he wrote back again:
"Welcome what's sent from Christ, for evermore,
To me, who now am learned in His lore;
Lord, welcome be Thy wish, though hidden still,
My own desire is but to do Thy will.
"Guard well this child, though foul it be or fair,
And guard my wife until my home-coming;
Christ, when He wills it, may send me an heir
More consonant than this with my liking."
This letter sealed, and inwardly weeping,
To the same messenger 'twas taken soon,
And forth he went; there's no more to be done.
O messenger, possessed of drunkenness,
Strong is your breath, your limbs do falter aye,
And you betray all secrets, great and less;
Your mind is gone, you jangle like a jay;
Your face is mottled in a new array!
Where drunkenness can reign, in any rout,
There is no counsel kept, beyond a doubt.
O Donegild, there is no English mine
Fit for your malice and your tyranny!
Therefore you to the Fiend I do resign,
Let him go write of your foul treachery!
Fie, mannish women! Nay, by God, I lie!
Fie, fiendish spirit, for I dare well tell,
Though you walk here, your spirit is in Hell!
This messenger came from the king again,
And at the king's old mother's court did light,
And she was of this messenger full fain
To please him in whatever way she might.
He drank until his girdle was too tight,
He slept and snored and mumbled, drunken-wise,
All night, until the sun began to rise.
Again were his letters stolen, every one,
And others counterfeited, in this wise:
"The king commands his constable, anon,
On pain of hanging by the high justice,
That he shall suffer not, in any guise,
Constance within the kingdom to abide
Beyond three days and quarter of a tide.
"But in the ship wherein she came to strand
She and her infant son and all her gear
Shall be embarked and pushed out from the land,
And charge her that she never again come here."
O Constance mine, well might your spirit fear,
And, sleeping, in your dream have great grievance
When Donegild arranged this ordinance.
This messenger, the morrow, when he woke,
Unto the castle held the nearest way,
And to the constable the letter took;
And when he'd read and learned what it did say,
Often he cried "Alas!" and "Welaway!
Lord Christ," quoth he, "how may this world endure?
So full of sin is many a bad creature.
"O mighty God, and is it then Thy will?
Since Thou art righteous judge, how can it be
That innocence may suffer so much ill
And wicked folk reign in prosperity?
O good Constance, alas! Ah, woe is me
That I must be your torturer, or die
A shameful death! There is no other way."
Wept both the young and old of all that place
Because the king this cursed letter sent,
And Constance, with a deathly pallid face,
Upon the fourth day to the ship she went.
Nevertheless, she took as good intent
The will of Christ, and kneeling on the strand,
She said: "Lord, always welcome Thy command!
"He that did keep me from all lying blame
The while I lived among you, sun and snow,
He can still guard me from all harm and shame
Upon salt seas, albeit I see not how.
As strong as ever He was, so is He now.
In Him I trust and in His Mother dear,
He is my sail, the star by which I steer."
Her little child lay crying in her arm,
And kneeling, piteously to him she said:
"Peace, little son, I will do you no harm."
With that the kerchief took she from her braid,
And binding it across his eyes, she laid
Again her arm about and lulled him fast
Asleep, and then to Heaven her eyes up-cast.
"Mother," she said, "O Thou bright Maid, Mary,
True is it that through woman's incitement
Mankind was banished and is doomed to die,
For which Thy Son upon the cross was rent;
Thy blessed eyes saw all of His torment;
Wherefore there's no comparison between
Thy woe and any woe of man, though keen.
"Thou sawest them slay Thy Son before Thine eyes;
And yet lives now my little child, I say!
O Lady bright, to Whom affliction cries,
Thou glory of womanhood, O Thou fair May,
Haven of refuge, bright star of the day,
Pity my child, Who of Thy gentleness
Hast pity on mankind in all distress!
"O little child, alas! What is your guilt,
Who never wrought the smallest sin? Ah me,
Why will your too hard father have you killed?
Have mercy, O dear constable!" cried she,
"And let my little child bide, safe from sea;
And if you dare not save him, lest they blame
Then kiss him once in his dear father's name!"
Therewith she gazed long backward at the land,
And said: "Farewell, my husband merciless!"
And up she rose and walked right down the strand
Toward the ship; followed her all the press;
And ever she prayed her child to cry the less;
And took her leave; and with a high intent
She crossed herself; and aboard ship she went.
Victualled had been the ship, 'tis true- indeed
Abundantly- for her, and for long space;
Of many other things that she should need
She had great plenty, thanks be to God's grace!
Through wind and weather may God find her place
And bring her home! I can no better say;
But out to sea she stood upon her way.
Explicit secunda pars.
Sequitur pars tercia
Alla the kyng comth hoom, soone after this,
Unto his castel of the which I tolde,
And asketh where his wyf and his child is.
The constable gan aboute his herte colde,
880 And pleynly al the manere he hym tolde,
As ye han herd - I kan telle it no bettre -
And sheweth the kyng his seel and eek his lettre,
And seyde, "Lord, as ye comanded me,
Up peyne of deeth, so have I doon, certein."
885 This messager tormented was til he
Moste biknowe, and tellen plat and pleyn
Fro nyght to nyght in what place he had leyn,
And thus, by wit and sotil enquerynge,
Ymagined was, by whom this harm gan sprynge.
890 The hand was knowe that the lettre wroot,
And al the venym of this cursed dede,
But in what wise certeinly I noot.
Th'effect is this, that Alla, out of drede,
His mooder slow - that may men pleynly rede -
895 For that she traitoure was to hir ligeance,
Thus endeth olde Donegild, with meschance!
The sorwe that this Alla, nyght and day,
Maketh for his wyf, and for his child also,
Ther is no tonge that it telle may-
900 But now wol I unto Custance go,
That fleteth in the see in peyne and wo,
Fyve yeer and moore, as liked Cristes sonde,
Er that hir ship approched unto londe.
Under an hethen castel, atte laste,
905 Of which the name in my text toght I fynde,
Custance and eek hir child the see upcaste.
Almyghty god that saved al mankynde,
Have on Custance and on hir child som mynde,
That fallen is in hethen hand eft soone,
910 In point to spille, as I shal telle yow soone.
Doun fro the castel comth ther many a wight
To gauren on this ship and on Custance,
But shortly from the castel on a nyght
The lordes styward - God yeve hym meschance!-
915 A theef that hadde reneyed oure creance,
Cam into the ship allone, and seyde he sholde
Hir lemman be, wherso she wolde or nolde.
Wo was this wrecched womman tho bigon!
Hir child cride, and she cride pitously,
920 But blisful Marie heelp hir right anon,
For with hir struglyng wel and myghtily,
The theef fil over bord al sodeynly,
And in the see he dreynte for vengeance,
And thus hath Crist unwemmed kept Custance.
925 O foule lust of luxurie, lo, thyn ende!
Nat oonly that thou feyntest mannes mynde,
But verraily thou wolt his body shende.
Th'ende of thy werk or of thy lustes blynde
Is compleynyng. Hou many oon may men fynde,
930 That noght for werk somtyme, but for th'entente
To doon this synne, been outher slayn or shente!
How may this wayke womman han this strengthe
Hire to defende agayn this renegat?
O Golias, unmesurable of lengthe,
935 Hou myghte David make thee so maat,
So yong, and of armure so desolaat?
Hou dorste he looke upon thy dredful face?
Wel may men seen, it nas but Goddes grace!
Who yaf Judith corage or hardynesse
940 To sleen hym, Olofernus, in his tente,
And to deliveren out of wrecchednesse
The peple of God? I seyde, for this entente
That right as God spirit of vigour sente
To hem, and saved hem out of meschance,
945 So sente he myght and vigour to Custance.
Forth gooth hir ship thurghout the narwe mouth
Of Jubaltar and Septe, dryvynge alway,
Somtyme west, and somtyme north and south,
And somtyme est, ful many a wery day;
950 Til Cristes mooder - blessed be she ay! -
Hath shapen, thurgh hir endelees goodnesse,
To make an ende of al hir hevynesse.
Now lat us stynte of Custance but a throwe,
And speke we of the Romayn Emperour,
955 That out of Surrye hath by lettres knowe
The slaughtre of Cristen folk, and dishonour
Doon to his doghter by a fals traytour,
I mene the cursed wikked Sowdanesse,
That at the feeste leet sleen both moore and lesse;
960 For which this emperour hath sent anon
His senatour with roial ordinance,
And othere lordes, God woot many oon,
On Surryens to taken heigh vengeance.
They brennen, sleen, and brynge hem to meschance
965 Ful many a day, but shortly, this is th'ende,
Homward to Rome they shapen hem to wende.
This senatour repaireth with victorie
To Rome-ward saillynge ful roially,
And mette the ship dryvynge, as seith the storie,
970 In which Custance sit ful pitously.
Nothyng ne knew he what she was, ne why
She was in swich array, ne she nyl seye
Of hire estaat, thogh that she sholde deye.
He bryngeth hire to Rome, and to his wyf
975 He yaf hire, and hir yonge sone also,
And with the senatour she ladde hir lyf.
Thus kan oure Lady bryngen out of wo
Woful Custance, and many another mo.
And longe tyme dwelled she in that place,
980 In hooly werkes evere, as was hir grace.
The senatoures wyf hir aunte was,
But for all that she knew hir never the moore.
I wol no lenger tarien in this cas,
But to kyng Alla, which I spake of yoore,
985 That wepeth for his wyf and siketh soore,
I wol retourne, and lete I wol Custance
Under the senatoures governance.
Kyng Alla, which that hadde his mooder slayn,
Upon a day fil in swich repentance
990 That, if I shortly tellen shal and playn,
To Rome he comth, to receyven his penance;
And putte hym in the popes ordinance
In heigh and logh, and Jesu Crist bisoghte
Foryeve hise wikked werkes that he wroghte.
995 The fame anon thurgh Rome toun is born
How Alla kyng shal comen on pilgrymage,
By herbergeours that wenten hym biforn,
For which the Senatour, as was usage,
Rood hym agayns, and many of his lynage,
1000 As wel to shewen his heighe magnificence
As to doon any kyng a reverence.
Greet cheere dooth this noble senatour
To kyng Alla, and he to hym also,
Everich of hem dooth oother greet honour;
1005 And so bifel, that inwith a day or two
This senatour is to kyng Alla go
To feste; and shortly, if I shal nat lye,
Custances sone wente in his compaignye.
Som men wolde seyn, at requeste of Custance
1010 This senatour hath lad this child to feeste;
I may nat tellen every circumstance,
Be as be may, ther was he at the leeste,
But sooth is this, that at his moodres heeste
Biforn Alla durynge the metes space,
1015 The child stood, lookynge in the kynges face.
This Alla kyng hath of this child greet wonder,
And to the senatour he seyde anon,
"Whos is that faire child, that stondeth yonder?"
"I noot," quod he, "by God and by Seint John!
1020 A mooder he hath, but fader hath he noon,
That I of woot." But shortly, in a stounde,
He tolde Alla how that this child was founde.
"But God woot," quod this senatour also,
"So vertuous a lyvere in my lyf
1025 Ne saugh I nevere as she, ne herde of mo
Of worldly wommen, mayde, ne of wyf;
I dar wel seyn, hir hadde levere a knyf
Thurghout hir brest, than ben a womman wikke,
There is no man koude brynge hir to that prikke."
1030 Now was this child as lyke unto Custance,
As possible is a creature to be.
This Alla hath the face in remembrance
Of dame Custance, and theron mused he,
If that the childes mooder were aught she
1035 That is his wyf; and prively he sighte
And spedde hym fro the table that he myghte.
"Parfay," thoghte he, "fantome is in myn heed!
I oghte deme, of skilful juggement,
That in the salte see my wyf is deed."
1040 And afterward he made his argument:
"What woot I, if that Crist have hyder ysent
My wyf by see, as wel as he hir sente
To my contree fro thennes that she wente?"
And, after noon, hoom with the senatour
1045 Goth Alla, for to seen this wonder chaunce.
This senatour dooth Alla greet honour,
And hastifly he sente after Custance.
But trusteth weel, hir liste nat to daunce
Whan that she wiste wherfore was that sonde;
1050 Unnethe upon hir feet she myghte stonde.
Whan 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,
He knew wel verraily that it was she.
1055 And she for sorwe, as doumb stant as a tree,
So was hir herte shet in hir distresse,
Whan she remembred his unkyndenesse.
Twyes she swowned in his owene sighte.
He weep, and hym excuseth pitously.
1060 "Now God," quod he, "and alle hise halwes brighte
So wisly on my soule as have mercy,
That of youre harm as giltelees am I
As is Maurice my sone, so lyk youre face;
Elles the feend me fecche out of this place!"
1065 Long was the sobbyng and the bitter peyne
Er that hir woful hertes myghte cesse,
Greet was the pitee for to heere hem pleyne,
Thurgh whiche pleintes gan hir wo encresse.
I pray yow alle my labour to relesse;
1070 I may nat telle hir wo until tomorwe,
I am so wery for to speke of sorwe.
But finally, whan that the sothe is wist,
That Alla giltelees was of hir wo,
I trowe an hundred tymes been they kist,
1075 And swich a blisse is ther bitwix hem two,
That, save the joye that lasteth everemo
Ther is noon lyk that any creature
Hath seyn, or shal, whil that the world may dure.
Tho preyde she hir housbonde mekely,
1080 In relief of hir longe pitous pyne,
That he wolde preye hir fader specially
That, of his magestee, he wolde enclyne
To vouche sauf som day with hym to dyne.
She preyde hym eek, he wolde by no weye
1085 Unto hir fader no word of hir seye.
Som men wolde seyn, how that the child Maurice
Dooth this message unto this emperour,
But, as I gesse, Alla was nat so nyce
To hym that was of so sovereyn honour,
1090 As he that is of Cristen folk the flour,
Sente any child, but it is bet to deeme
He wente hymself, and so it may wel seeme.
This emperour hath graunted gentilly
To come to dyner, as he hym bisoughte,
1095 And wel rede I he looked bisily
Upon this child, and on his doghter thoghte.
Alla goth to his in, and as him oghte
Arrayed for this feste in every wise
As ferforth as his konnyng may suffise.
1100 The morwe cam, and Alla gan hym dresse
And eek his wyf, this emperour to meete,
And forth they ryde in joye and in galdnesse,
And whan she saugh hir fader in the strete,
She lighte doun and falleth hym to feete.
1105 "Fader," quod she, "youre yonge child Custance
Is now ful clene out of youre remembrance.
I am youre doghter Custance," quod she,
"That whilom ye han sent unto Surrye.
It am I, fader, that in the salte see
1110 Was put allone, and dampned for to dye.
Now goode fader, mercy I yow crye,
Sende me namoore unto noon hethenesse,
But thonketh my lord heere of his kyndenesse."
Who kan the pitous joye tellen al
1115 Bitwixe hem thre, syn they been thus ymette?
But of my tale make an ende I shal,
The day goth faste, I wol no lenger lette.
This glade folk to dyner they hem sette,
In joye and blisse at mete I lete hem dwelle,
1120 A thousand foold wel moore than I kan telle.
This child Maurice was sithen emperour
Maad by the pope, and lyved cristenly.
To Cristes chirche he dide greet honour;
But I lete all his storie passen by-
1125 Of Custance is my tale specially-
In the olde Romayn geestes may men fynde
Maurices lyf; I bere it noght in mynde.
This kyng Alla, whan he his tyme say,
With his Custance, his hooly wyf so sweete,
1130 To Engelond been they come the righte way,
Wher as they lyve in joye and in quiete.
But litel while it lasteth, I yow heete,
Joye of this world, for tyme wol nat abyde;
Fro day to nyght it changeth as the tyde.
1135 Who lyved evere in swich delit o day
That hym ne moeved outher conscience
Or ire, or talent, or som-kyn affray,
Envye, or pride, or passion, or offence?
I ne seye but for this ende this sentence,
1140 That litel while in joye or in plesance
Lasteth the blisse of Alla with Custance.
For deeth, that taketh of heigh and logh his rente,
Whan passed was a yeer, evene as I gesse,
Out of this world this kyng Alla he hente,
1145 For whom Custance hath ful greet hevynesse.
Now lat us praye God his soule blesse,
And dame Custance, finally to seye,
Toward the toun of Rome goth hir weye.
To Rome is come this hooly creature,
1150 And fyndeth ther hir freendes hoole and sounde.
Now is she scaped al hire aventure,
And whan that she hir fader hath yfounde,
Doun on hir knees falleth she to grounde,
Wepynge for tendrenesse, in herte blithe,
1155 She heryeth God an hundred thousande sithe.
In vertu and in hooly almus-dede
They lyven alle, and never asonder wende
Til deeth departed hem; this lyf they lede;-
And fareth now weel, my tale is at an ende.
1160 Now Jesu Crist, that of his myght may sende
Joye after wo, governe us in his grace,
And kepe us alle that been in this place. Amen.
Heere endeth the tale of the Man of Lawe.
Sequitur pars tercia.
(Here begins the third part)
Alla the king came home soon after this
Unto his castle, of the which I've told,
And asked for wife and child, whom he did miss.
The constable about his heart grew cold,
And plainly all the story he then told,
As you have heard, I cannot tell it better,
And showed the king his seal and the false letter.
And said: "My lord, as you commanded me,
On pain of death, so have I done- in vain!"
The messenger was tortured until he
Made known the facts to all men, full and plain,
From night to night, in what beds he had lain.
And thus, by dint of subtle questioning,
'Twas reasoned out from whom this harm did spring.
The hand was known, now, that the letter wrote,
And all the venom of this cursed deed,
But in what wise I certainly know not,
The effect is this, that Alla, for her meed,
His mother slew, as men may plainly read,
She being false to her sworn allegiance,
And thus old Donegild ended with mischance.
The sorrow that this Alla, night and day,
Felt for his wife, and for his child also,
There is no human tongue on earth to say.
But now will I back to fair Constance go,
Who drifted on the seas, in pain and woe,
Five years and more, as was Lord Christ's command,
Before her ship approached to any land.
Under a heathen castle, at the last,
Whereof the name not in my text I find,
Constance and her young son the sea did cast.
Almighty God, Redeemer of mankind,
Have Constance and her little child in mind!
Who must fall into heathen hands and soon
Be near to death, as I shall tell anon.
Down from the castle came full many a wight
To stare upon the ship and on Constance.
But briefly, from the castle, on a night,
The warden's steward- God give him mischance!-
A thief who had renounced allegiance
To Christ, came to the ship and said he should
Possess her body, whether or not she would.
Woe for this wretched woman then began,
Her child cried out and she cried, piteously;
But blessed Mary helped her soon; the man
With whom she struggled well and mightily,
This thief fell overboard all suddenly,
And in the sea was drowned by God's vengeance;
And thus has Christ unsullied kept Constance.
O foul desire of lechery, lo thine end!
Not only dost thou cripple a man's mind,
But verily dost thou his body rend;
The end of all thy work and thy lusts blind
Is bitterness; how many may we find
That not for actions but for mere intent
To do this sin, to shame or death are sent.
How could this poor weak woman have the strength
To keep herself against that renegade?
Goliath of immeasurable length,
How could young David such a death have made,
So slight and without armour? How arrayed
Himself to look upon that dreadful face?
Men may well see, it was but God's own grace!
Who gave to Judith courage all reckless
To slay him, Holofernes, in his tent,
And to deliver out of wretchedness
The folk of God? I say, for this intent
That just as God a soul of vigour sent
To them, and saved them out of their mischance,
So sent He might and vigour to Constance.
Forth went her ship and through the narrow mouth
Of Ceuta and Gibraltar, on its way,
Sometimes to west, and sometimes north or south,
Aye and sometimes east, many a weary day,
Until Christ's Mother (blest be She for aye!)
Did destine, out of good that is endless,
To make an end of Constance' heaviness.
But let us leave this Constance now, and turn
To speak of that same Roman emperor
Who does, from Syria, by letters, learn
The slaughter of Christians and the dishonour
Done to his daughter by a vile traitor-
I mean that old sultana, years ago,
Who, at the feast, slew all men, high and low.
For which this emperor did send anon
A senator, with royal ordinance,
And other lords, God knows, and many a one,
On Syrians to take full high vengeance.
They burn, they slay, they give them all mischance
Through many a day; but, briefly to make end,
Homeward to Rome, at last, the victors wend.
This senator returned with victory
To Rome again, sailing right royally,
And spoke the ship (so goes the old story)
In which our Constance sat so piteously,
Nothing he knew of who she was, or why
She was in such a plight; nor would she say
Aught of herself, though she might die that day.
He took her into Rome, and to his wife
Gave her in charge, and her young son also;
And in his house she lived awhile her life.
Thus can Our Lady bring from deepest woe
Most woeful Constance, aye and more, we know.
And for a long time dwelt she in that place,
Engaged in God's good works, such was her grace.
The senator's good wife her own aunt was,
Yet for all that she knew her never the more;
I will no longer tarry in this case,
But to King Alla, whom we left, of yore,
Weeping for his lost wife and sighing sore.
I will return, and I will leave Constance
Under the senator's roof and governance.
King Alla, who had had his mother slain,
Upon a day fell to such repentance,
That, but to tell it briefly and be plain,
To Rome he came to pay his just penance
And put himself in the pope's ordinance,
In high and low; and Jesus Christ he sought
To pardon all the wicked deeds he'd wrought.
The news anon through all Rome town was borne,
How King Alla would come on pilgrimage,
By harbingers that unto him were sworn;
Whereat the senator, as was usage,
Rode out to him, with many of his lineage,
As well to show his own magnificence
As do to any king a reverence.
Great welcome gave this noble senator
To King Alla, and he to him also;
Each of them showed the other much honour;
And so befell that, in a day or so,
This senator to King Alla did go
To feast, and briefly, if I may not lie,
Constance' young son went in his company.
Some men would say, 'twas instance of Constance
That sent him with the senator to feast;
I cannot tell you every circumstance,
Be it as may be, he was there, at least.
But truth is that, at his mother's behest,
Before the king, during the banquet's space,
The child stood, looking in King Alla's face.
This child aroused within the king great wonder,
And to the senator he said, anon:
"Whose is the fair child that is standing yonder?"
"I know not," quoth he, "by God and Saint John!
A mother he has, but father has he none
That I know of"- and briefly, at a bound,
He told King Alla how this child was found.
"But God knows," said this senator, as well,
"So virtuous a liver, in my life
I never saw, as she is, nor heard tell
Of earthly woman, maiden, no nor wife.
I dare say, she would rather have a knife
Thrust through her breast than play a female trick;
There is no man could bring her to the prick."
Now this boy was as like unto Constance
As it was possible for one to be.
Alla had kept the face in remembrance
Of Dame Constance, and thereon now mused he:
Mayhap the mother of the child was she
Who was his wife. And inwardly he sighed,
And left the table with a hasty stride.
"In faith," thought he, "a phantom's in my head!
I ought to hold, by any right judgment,
That in the wide salt sea my wife is dead."
And afterward he made this argument:
"How know I but that Christ has hither sent
My wife by sea, as surely as she went
To my own land, the which was evident?"
And, after noon, home with the senator
Went Alla, all to test this wondrous chance.
The senator did Alla great honour,
And hastily he sent for fair Constance.
But, trust me, she was little fain to dance
When she had heard the cause of that command.
Scarcely upon her two feet could she stand.
When Alla saw his wife, he greeted her,
Then wept till it was a sad thing to see.
For, at the first glance, when she entered there,
He knew full verily that it was she.
And she for grief stood dumb as ever tree;
So was her heart shut up in her distress
When she remembered his unkindliness.
Twice did she swoon away there, in his sight;
He wept and he protested piteously.
"Now God," quoth he, "and all His angels bright
So truly on my spirit have mercy
As of your ills all innocent am I,
As is Maurice, my son, so like your face,
Or may the foul Fiend take me from this place!"
Long was the sobbing and the bitter pain
Before their woeful hearts could find surcease;
Great was the pity to hear them complain,
Whereof their sorrows surely did increase.
I pray you all my labour to release;
I cannot tell their grief until tomorrow,
I am so weary, speaking long of sorrow.
But, truth being known and all doubt now dismissed,
And Alla proven guiltless of her woe,
I think a hundred times they must have kissed,
And such great bliss there was between the two
That, save the joy that nevermore shall go,
There was naught like it, present time or past,
Nor shall be, ever, while the world shall last.
Then prayed she of her husband, all meekly,
As for her pain a splendid anodyne,
That he would pray her father, specially,
That, of his majesty, he would incline
And that, some day, would come with him to dine;
She prayed him, also, he should in no way
Unto her father one word of her say.
Some men would say, it was the child Maurice
Did bear this message to the emperor;
But, as I guess, King Alla was too nice
In etiquette to one of such honour
As he that was of Christendom the flower,
To send a child; and it is best to deem
He went himself, and so it well may seem.
This emperor has granted, graciously,
To come to dinner, as he's been besought,
And, well I think, he pondered busily
Upon the child, and on his daughter thought.
Alla went to his inn, and, as he ought,
Made ready for the feast in every wise
As far as his experience could devise.
The morrow came, and Alla rose to dress,
And, too, his wife, the emperor to meet;
And forth they rode in joy and happiness.
And when she saw her father in the street,
She lighted down, and falling at his feet,
"Father," quoth she, "your young child, your Constance,
Is now gone clean out of your remembrance.
"I am your daughter Constance," then said she,
"That once you sent to Syria. 'Tis I.
It is I, father, who, on the salt sea,
Was sent, alone to drift and doomed to die.
But now, good father, mercy must I cry:
Send me no more to heathendom, godless,
But thank my lord, here, for his kindliness."
But all the tender joy, who'll tell it all
That was between the three who thus are met?
But of my tale, now, make an end I shall;
The day goes fast, I will no longer fret.
These happy folk at dinner are all set,
And there, in joy and bliss, I let them dwell;
Happier a thousand fold than I can tell.
This child Maurice was, since then, emperor
Made by the pope, and lived right christianly.
Unto Christ's Church he did a great honour;
But I let all his story pass me by.
Of Constance is my tale, especially.
In ancient Roman histories men may find
The life of Maurice; I've it not in mind.
This King Alla, when came the proper day,
With his Constance, his saintly wife so sweet,
To England went again, by the straight way,
Where they did live in joy and quiet meet.
But little while it lasts us, thus complete.
Joy of this world, for time will not abide;
From day to day it changes as the tide.
Who ever lived in such delight one day
That was not stirred therefrom by his conscience,
Desire, or anger, or some kindred fray,
Envy, or pride, or passion, or offense?
I say but to one ending this sentence:
That but a little while in joy's pleasance
Lasted the bliss of Alla and Constance.
For death, that takes from high and low his rent,
When but a year had passed, as I should guess,
Out of the world King Alla quickly sent,
For whom Constance felt heavy wretchedness.
Now let us pray that God his soul will bless!
And of Dame Constance, finally to say,
Towards the town of Rome she took her way.
To Rome is come this holy one and pure,
And finds that all her friends are safe and sound;
For now she's done with all her adventure;
And when she'd come there, and her father found,
Down on her two knees fell she to the ground,
Weeping but joyful gave she God her praise
A hundred thousand times for all His ways.
In virtue, and with alms and holy deed,
They all live there, nor ever asunder wend;
Till death does part them, such a life they lead.
And fare now well, my tale is at an end.
And Jesus Christ, Who of His might may send
Joy after woe, govern us by His grace
And keep us all that now are in this place! Amen.
The Epilogue of the Man of Law's Tale
Owre Hoost upon his stiropes stood anon,
And seyde, "Goode men, herkeneth everych on!
1165 This was a thrifty tale for the nones!
Sir Parisshe Prest," quod he, "for Goddes bones,
Telle us a tale, as was thi forward yore.
I se wel that ye lerned men in lore
Can moche good, by Goddes dignitee!"
1170 The Parson him answerde, "Benedicite!
What eyleth the man, so synfully to swere?"
Oure Host answerde, "O Jankin, be ye there?
I smelle a Lollere in the wynd," quod he.
"Now! goode men," quod oure Hoste, 'herkeneth me;
1175 Abydeth, for Goddes digne passioun,
For we schal han a predicacioun;
This Lollere heer wil prechen us somwhat."
"Nay, by my fader soule, that schal he nat!"
Seyde the Shipman, "Heer schal he nat preche;
1180 He schal no gospel glosen here ne teche.
We leven alle in the grete God," quod he;
"He wolde sowen som difficulte,
Or springen cokkel in oure clene corn.
And therfore, Hoost, I warne thee biforn,
1185 My joly body schal a tale telle,
And I schal clynken you so merry a belle,
That I schal waken al this compaignie.
But it schal not ben of philosophie,
Ne phislyas, ne termes queinte of lawe.
1190 Ther is but litel Latyn in my mawe!"
The Epilogue of the Man of Law's Tale
Continue on to the Wife of Bath's Tale
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