The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

As strong as ever he was, he is yet now,

In him trust I, and in his mother dere,

That is to me my sail and eke my stere."*               *rudder, guide


Her little child lay weeping in her arm

And, kneeling, piteously to him she said

"Peace, little son, I will do thee no harm:"

With that her kerchief off her head she braid,*            *took, drew

And over his little eyen she it laid,

And in her arm she lulled it full fast,

And unto heav'n her eyen up she cast.


"Mother," quoth she, "and maiden bright, Mary,

Sooth is, that through a woman's eggement*                       *incitement, egging on

Mankind was lorn,* and damned aye to die;                         *lost

For which thy child was on a cross y-rent:*                         *torn, pierced

Thy blissful eyen saw all his torment,

Then is there no comparison between

Thy woe, and any woe man may sustene.


"Thou saw'st thy child y-slain before thine eyen,

And yet now lives my little child, parfay:*                         *by my faith

Now, lady bright, to whom the woeful cryen,

Thou glory of womanhood, thou faire may,*                         *maid

Thou haven of refuge, bright star of day,

Rue* on my child, that of thy gentleness                    *take pity

Ruest on every rueful* in distress.                    *sorrowful person


"O little child, alas! what is thy guilt,

That never wroughtest sin as yet, pardie?*              *par Dieu; by God

Why will thine harde* father have thee spilt?**         *cruel **destroyed

O mercy, deare Constable," quoth she,

"And let my little child here dwell with thee:

And if thou dar'st not save him from blame,

So kiss him ones in his father's name."


Therewith she looked backward to the land, And saide,

"Farewell, husband rutheless!"

And up she rose, and walked down the strand

Toward the ship, her following all the press:*              *multitude

And ever she pray'd her child to hold his peace,

And took her leave, and with an holy intent

She blessed her, and to the ship she went.


Victualed was the ship, it is no drede,*                        *doubt

Abundantly for her a full long space:

And other necessaries that should need*                       *be needed

She had enough, heried* be Godde's grace:                *praised <15>

For wind and weather, Almighty God purchase,*                 *provide

And bring her home; I can no better say;

But in the sea she drived forth her way.

Alla the king came home soon after this

Unto the castle, of the which I told,

And asked where his wife and his child is;

The Constable gan about his heart feel cold,

And plainly all the matter he him told

As ye have heard; I can tell it no better;

And shew'd the king his seal, and eke his letter


And saide; "Lord, as ye commanded me

On pain of death, so have I done certain."

The messenger tormented* was, till he                         *tortured

Muste beknow,* and tell it flat and plain,               *confess <16>

From night to night in what place he had lain;

And thus, by wit and subtle inquiring,

Imagin'd was by whom this harm gan spring.


The hand was known that had the letter wrote,

And all the venom of the cursed deed;

But in what wise, certainly I know not.

Th' effect is this, that Alla, *out of drede,*         *without doubt*

His mother slew, that may men plainly read,

For that she traitor was to her liegeance:*                *allegiance

Thus ended olde Donegild with mischance.


The sorrow that this Alla night and day

Made for his wife, and for his child also,

There is no tongue that it telle may.

But now will I again to Constance go,

That floated in the sea in pain and woe

Five year and more, as liked Christe's sond,*         *decree, command

Ere that her ship approached to the lond.*                        *land


Under an heathen castle, at the last,

Of which the name in my text I not find,

Constance and eke her child the sea upcast.

Almighty God, that saved all mankind,

Have on Constance and on her child some mind,

That fallen is in heathen hand eftsoon*                         *again

*In point to spill,* as I shall tell you soon!           *in danger of perishing*

Down from the castle came there many a wight

To gauren* on this ship, and on Constance:                *gaze, stare

But shortly from the castle, on a night,

The lorde's steward, -- God give him mischance, --

A thief that had *renied our creance,*              *denied our faith*

Came to the ship alone, and said he would

Her leman* be, whether she would or n'ould.             *illicit lover


Woe was this wretched woman then begone;

Her child cri'd, and she cried piteously:

But blissful Mary help'd her right anon,

For, with her struggling well and mightily,

The thief fell overboard all suddenly,

And in the sea he drenched* for vengeance,                    *drowned

And thus hath Christ unwemmed* kept Constance.            *unblemished


O foul lust of luxury! lo thine end!

Not only that thou faintest* manne's mind,                   *weakenest

But verily thou wilt his body shend.*                         *destroy

Th' end of thy work, or of thy lustes blind,

Is complaining: how many may men find,

That not for work, sometimes, but for th' intent

To do this sin, be either slain or shent?


How may this weake woman have the strength

Her to defend against this renegate?

O Goliath, unmeasurable of length,

How mighte David make thee so mate?*                       *overthrown

So young, and of armour so desolate,*                          *devoid

How durst he look upon thy dreadful face?

Well may men see it was but Godde's grace.


Who gave Judith courage or hardiness

To slay him, Holofernes, in his tent,

And to deliver out of wretchedness

The people of God? I say for this intent

That right as God spirit of vigour sent

To them, and saved them out of mischance,

So sent he might and vigour to Constance.


Forth went her ship throughout the narrow mouth

Of *Jubaltare and Septe,* driving alway,         *Gibraltar and Ceuta*

Sometime west, and sometime north and south,

And sometime east, full many a weary day:

Till Christe's mother (blessed be she aye)

Had shaped* through her endeless goodness          *resolved, arranged

To make an end of all her heaviness.


Now let us stint* of Constance but a throw,**          *cease speaking

And speak we of the Roman emperor,                        **short time

That out of Syria had by letters know

The slaughter of Christian folk, and dishonor

Done to his daughter by a false traitor,

I mean the cursed wicked Soudaness,

That at the feast *let slay both more and less.*     *caused both high and low to be killed* For which this emperor had sent anon

His senator, with royal ordinance,

And other lordes, God wot, many a one,

On Syrians to take high vengeance:

They burn and slay, and bring them to mischance

Full many a day: but shortly this is th' end,

Homeward to Rome they shaped them to wend.


This senator repaired with victory

To Rome-ward, sailing full royally,

And met the ship driving, as saith the story,

In which Constance sat full piteously:

And nothing knew he what she was, nor why

She was in such array; nor she will say

Of her estate, although that she should dey.*                      *die


He brought her unto Rome, and to his wife

He gave her, and her younge son also:

And with the senator she led her life.

Thus can our Lady bringen out of woe

Woeful Constance, and many another mo':

And longe time she dwelled in that place,

In holy works ever, as was her grace.


The senatores wife her aunte was,

But for all that she knew her ne'er the more:

I will no longer tarry in this case,

But to King Alla, whom I spake of yore,

That for his wife wept and sighed sore,

I will return, and leave I will Constance

Under the senatores governance.


King Alla, which that had his mother slain,

Upon a day fell in such repentance;

That, if I shortly tell it shall and plain,

To Rome he came to receive his penitance,

And put him in the Pope's ordinance

In high and low, and Jesus Christ besought

Forgive his wicked works that he had wrought.

The fame anon throughout the town is borne,

How Alla king shall come on pilgrimage,

By harbingers that wente him beforn,

For which the senator, as was usage,

Rode *him again,* and many of his lineage,               *to meet him*

As well to show his high magnificence,

As to do any king a reverence.


Great cheere* did this noble senator                         *courtesy

To King Alla and he to him also;

Each of them did the other great honor;

And so befell, that in a day or two

This senator did to King Alla go

To feast, and shortly, if I shall not lie,

Constance's son went in his company.


Some men would say,<17> at request of Constance

This senator had led this child to feast:

I may not tellen every circumstance,

Be as be may, there was he at the least:

But sooth is this, that at his mother's hest*                  *behest

Before Alla during *the meates space,*                     *meal time*

The child stood, looking in the kinges face.


This Alla king had of this child great wonder,

And to the senator he said anon,

"Whose is that faire child that standeth yonder?"

"I n'ot,"* quoth he, "by God and by Saint John;              *know not

A mother he hath, but father hath he none,

That I of wot:" and shortly in a stound*              *short time <18>

He told to Alla how this child was found.


"But God wot," quoth this senator also,

"So virtuous a liver in all my life

I never saw, as she, nor heard of mo'

Of worldly woman, maiden, widow or wife:

I dare well say she hadde lever* a knife                        *rather

Throughout her breast, than be a woman wick',*                 *wicked

There is no man could bring her to that prick.*                 *point


Now was this child as like unto Constance

As possible is a creature to be:

This Alla had the face in remembrance

Of Dame Constance, and thereon mused he,

If that the childe's mother *were aught she*            *could be she*

That was his wife; and privily he sight,*                      *sighed

And sped him from the table *that he might.*     *as fast as he could*


"Parfay,"* thought he, "phantom** is in mine head.        *by my faith

I ought to deem, of skilful judgement,                     **a fantasy

That in the salte sea my wife is dead.

And afterward he made his argument,

"What wot I, if that Christ have hither sent

My wife by sea, as well as he her sent

To my country, from thennes that she went?"


And, after noon, home with the senator.

Went Alla, for to see this wondrous chance.

This senator did Alla great honor,

And hastily he sent after Constance:

But truste well, her liste not to dance.

When that she wiste wherefore was that sond,*                 *summons

Unneth* upon her feet she mighte stand.               *with difficulty


When Alla saw his wife, fair he her gret,*                     *greeted

And wept, that it was ruthe for to see,

For at the firste look he on her set

He knew well verily that it was she:

And she, for sorrow, as dumb stood as a tree:

So was her hearte shut in her distress,

When she remember'd his unkindeness.


Twice she swooned in his owen sight,

He wept and him excused piteously:

"Now God," quoth he, "and all his hallows bright*              *saints

So wisly* on my soule have mercy,                               *surely

That of your harm as guilteless am I,

As is Maurice my son, so like your face,

Else may the fiend me fetch out of this place."


Long was the sobbing and the bitter pain,

Ere that their woeful heartes mighte cease;

Great was the pity for to hear them plain,*                    *lament

Through whiche plaintes gan their woe increase.

I pray you all my labour to release,

I may not tell all their woe till to-morrow,

I am so weary for to speak of sorrow.


But finally, when that the *sooth is wist,*           *truth is known*

That Alla guiltless was of all her woe,

I trow an hundred times have they kiss'd,

And such a bliss is there betwixt them two,

That, save the joy that lasteth evermo',

There is none like, that any creature

Hath seen, or shall see, while the world may dure.


Then prayed she her husband meekely

In the relief of her long piteous pine,*                       *sorrow

That he would pray her father specially,

That of his majesty he would incline

To vouchesafe some day with him to dine:

She pray'd him eke, that he should by no way

Unto her father no word of her say.


Some men would say,<17> how that the child Maurice

Did this message unto the emperor:

But, as I guess, Alla was not so nice,*                        *foolish

To him that is so sovereign of honor

As he that is of Christian folk the flow'r,

Send any child, but better 'tis to deem

He went himself; and so it may well seem.


This emperor hath granted gentilly

To come to dinner, as he him besought:

And well rede* I, he looked busily                          *guess, know

Upon this child, and on his daughter thought.

Alla went to his inn, and as him ought

Arrayed* for this feast in every wise,                        *prepared

*As farforth as his cunning* may suffice.                *as far as his skill*


The morrow came, and Alla gan him dress,*                  *make ready

And eke his wife, the emperor to meet:

And forth they rode in joy and in gladness,

And when she saw her father in the street,

She lighted down and fell before his feet.

"Father," quoth she, "your younge child Constance

Is now full clean out of your remembrance.


"I am your daughter, your Constance," quoth she,

"That whilom ye have sent into Syrie;

It am I, father, that in the salt sea

Was put alone, and damned* for to die.                       *condemned

Now, goode father, I you mercy cry,

Send me no more into none heatheness,

But thank my lord here of his kindeness."

Who can the piteous joye tellen all,

Betwixt them three, since they be thus y-met?

But of my tale make an end I shall,

The day goes fast, I will no longer let.*                       *hinder

These gladde folk to dinner be y-set;

In joy and bliss at meat I let them dwell,

A thousand fold well more than I can tell.


This child Maurice was since then emperor

Made by the Pope, and lived Christianly,

To Christe's Churche did he great honor:

But I let all his story passe by,

Of Constance is my tale especially,

In the olde Roman gestes* men may find                   *histories<19>

Maurice's life, I bear it not in mind.


This King Alla, when he his time sey,*                             *saw

With his Constance, his holy wife so sweet,

To England are they come the righte way,

Where they did live in joy and in quiet.

But little while it lasted, I you hete,*                        *promise

Joy of this world for time will not abide,

From day to night it changeth as the tide.


Who liv'd ever in such delight one day,

That him not moved either conscience,

Or ire, or talent, or *some kind affray,*   *some kind of disturbance*

Envy, or pride, or passion, or offence?

I say but for this ende this sentence,*            *judgment, opinion*

That little while in joy or in pleasance

Lasted the bliss of Alla with Constance.


For death, that takes of high and low his rent,

When passed was a year, even as I guess,

Out of this world this King Alla he hent,*                   *snatched

For whom Constance had full great heaviness.

Now let us pray that God his soule bless:

And Dame Constance, finally to say,

Toward the town of Rome went her way.


To Rome is come this holy creature,

And findeth there her friendes whole and sound:

Now is she scaped all her aventure:

And when that she her father hath y-found,

Down on her knees falleth she to ground,

Weeping for tenderness in hearte blithe

She herieth* God an hundred thousand sithe.**         *praises **times


In virtue and in holy almes-deed

They liven all, and ne'er asunder wend;

Till death departeth them, this life they lead:

And fare now well, my tale is at an end

Now Jesus Christ, that of his might may send

Joy after woe, govern us in his grace

And keep us alle that be in this place.