Our Hoste saw well that the brighte sun
Th' arc of his artificial day had run
The fourthe part, and half an houre more;
And, though he were not deep expert in lore,
He wist it was the eight-and-twenty day
Of April, that is messenger to May;
And saw well that the shadow of every tree
Was in its length of the same quantity
That was the body ***** that caused it;
And therefore by the shadow he took his wit, *knowledge
That Phoebus, which that shone so clear and bright,
Degrees was five-and-forty clomb on height;
And for that day, as in that latitude,
It was ten of the clock, he gan conclude;
And suddenly he plight his horse about. pulled
"Lordings," quoth he, "I warn you all this rout, company
The fourthe partie of this day is gone.
Now for the love of God and of Saint John
Lose no time, as farforth as ye may.
Lordings, the time wasteth night and day,
And steals from us, what privily sleeping,
And what through negligence in our waking,
As doth the stream, that turneth never again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
Well might Senec, and many a philosopher,
Bewaile time more than gold in coffer.
For loss of chattels may recover'd be,
But loss of time shendeth us, quoth he. destroys
It will not come again, withoute dread,
No more than will Malkin's maidenhead,
When she hath lost it in her wantonness.
Let us not moulde thus in idleness.
"Sir Man of Law," quoth he, "so have ye bliss,
Tell us a tale anon, as forword* is. the bargain
Ye be submitted through your free assent
To stand in this case at my judgement.
Acquit you now, and *holde your behest; keep your promise
Then have ye done your devoir* at the least." duty
"Hoste," quoth he, "de par dieux jeo asente;
To breake forword is not mine intent.
Behest is debt, and I would hold it fain,
All my behest; I can no better sayn.
For such law as a man gives another wight,
He should himselfe usen it by right.
Thus will our text: but natheless certain
I can right now no thrifty tale sayn, worthy
But Chaucer (though he *can but lewedly knows but imperfectly
On metres and on rhyming craftily)
Hath said them, in such English as he can,
Of olde time, as knoweth many a man.
And if he have not said them, leve* brother, dear
In one book, he hath said them in another
For he hath told of lovers up and down,
More than Ovide made of mentioun
In his Epistolae, that be full old.
Why should I telle them, since they he told?
In youth he made of Ceyx and Alcyon,
And since then he hath spoke of every one
These noble wives, and these lovers eke.
Whoso that will his large volume seek
Called the Saintes' Legend of Cupid:
There may he see the large woundes wide
Of Lucrece, and of Babylon Thisbe;
The sword of Dido for the false Enee;
The tree of Phillis for her Demophon;
The plaint of Diane, and of Hermion,
Of Ariadne, and Hypsipile;
The barren isle standing in the sea;
The drown'd Leander for his fair Hero;
The teares of Helene, and eke the woe
Of Briseis, and Laodamia;
The cruelty of thee, Queen Medea,
Thy little children hanging by the halse, neck
For thy Jason, that was of love so false.
Hypermnestra, Penelop', Alcest',
Your wifehood he commendeth with the best.
But certainly no worde writeth he
Of *thilke wick' example of Canace, that wicked
That loved her own brother sinfully;
(Of all such cursed stories I say, Fy),
Or else of Tyrius Apollonius,
How that the cursed king Antiochus
Bereft his daughter of her maidenhead;
That is so horrible a tale to read,
When he her threw upon the pavement.
And therefore he, of full avisement, deliberately, advisedly
Would never write in none of his sermons
Of such unkind* abominations; unnatural
Nor I will none rehearse, if that I may.
But of my tale how shall I do this day?
Me were loth to be liken'd doubteless
To Muses, that men call Pierides
(Metamorphoseos wot what I mean),
But natheless I recke not a bean,
Though I come after him with hawebake; lout
I speak in prose, and let him rhymes make."
And with that word, he with a sober cheer
Began his tale, and said as ye shall hear.
Notes to the Prologue to The Man of Law's Tale
1. Plight: pulled; the word is an obsolete past tense from
2. No more than will Malkin's maidenhead: a proverbial saying;
which, however, had obtained fresh point from the Reeve's
Tale, to which the host doubtless refers.
3. De par dieux jeo asente: "by God, I agree". It is
characteristic that the somewhat pompous Sergeant of Law
should couch his assent in the semi-barbarous French, then
familiar in law procedure.
4. Ceyx and Alcyon: Chaucer treats of these in the introduction
to the poem called "The Book of the Duchess." It relates to the
death of Blanche, wife of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the
poet's patron, and afterwards his connexion by marriage.
5. The Saintes Legend of Cupid: Now called "The Legend of
Good Women". The names of eight ladies mentioned here are
not in the "Legend" as it has come down to us; while those of
two ladies in the "legend" -- Cleopatra and Philomela -- are her
6. Not the Muses, who had their surname from the place near
Mount Olympus where the Thracians first worshipped them; but
the nine daughters of Pierus, king of Macedonia, whom he
called the nine Muses, and who, being conquered in a contest
with the genuine sisterhood, were changed into birds.
7. Metamorphoseos: Ovid's.
8. Hawebake: hawbuck, country lout; the common proverbial
phrase, "to put a rogue above a gentleman," may throw light on
the reading here, which is difficult.
O scatheful harm, condition of poverty,
With thirst, with cold, with hunger so confounded;
To aske help thee shameth in thine hearte;
If thou none ask, so sore art thou y-wounded,
That very need unwrappeth all thy wound hid.
Maugre thine head thou must for indigence
Or steal, or beg, or borrow thy dispence. expense
Thou blamest Christ, and sayst full bitterly,
He misdeparteth riches temporal; allots amiss
Thy neighebour thou witest sinfully, blamest
And sayst, thou hast too little, and he hath all:
"Parfay (sayst thou) sometime he reckon shall,
When that his tail shall *brennen in the glede, burn in the fire
For he not help'd the needful in their need."
Hearken what is the sentence of the wise:
Better to die than to have indigence.
Thy selve neighebour will thee despise, that same
If thou be poor, farewell thy reverence.
Yet of the wise man take this sentence,
Alle the days of poore men be wick', wicked, evil
Beware therefore ere thou come to that *****. point
If thou be poor, thy brother hateth thee,
And all thy friendes flee from thee, alas!
O riche merchants, full of wealth be ye,
O noble, prudent folk, as in this case,
Your bagges be not fill'd with ambes ace, two aces
But with six-cinque, that runneth for your chance; six-five
At Christenmass well merry may ye dance.
Ye seeke land and sea for your winnings,
As wise folk ye knowen all th' estate
Of regnes; ye be fathers of tidings, *kingdoms
And tales, both of peace and of debate: contention, war
I were right now of tales desolate, barren, empty.
But that a merchant, gone in many a year,
Me taught a tale, which ye shall after hear.
In Syria whilom dwelt a company
Of chapmen rich, and thereto sad and true, grave, steadfast
Clothes of gold, and satins rich of hue.
That widewhere sent their spicery, to distant parts
Their chaffare was so thriftly* and so new, wares advantageous
That every wight had dainty* to chaffare pleasure deal
With them, and eke to selle them their ware.
Now fell it, that the masters of that sort
Have *shapen them to Rome for to wend, determined, prepared
Were it for chapmanhood* or for disport, trading
None other message would they thither send,
But come themselves to Rome, this is the end:
And in such place as thought them a vantage
For their intent, they took their herbergage. lodging
Sojourned have these merchants in that town
A certain time as fell to their pleasance:
And so befell, that th' excellent renown
Of th' emperore's daughter, Dame Constance,
Reported was, with every circumstance,
Unto these Syrian merchants in such wise,
From day to day, as I shall you devise relate
This was the common voice of every man
"Our emperor of Rome, God him see, look on with favour
A daughter hath, that since the the world began,
To reckon as well her goodness and beauty,
Was never such another as is she:
I pray to God in honour her sustene, sustain
And would she were of all Europe the queen.
"In her is highe beauty without pride,
And youth withoute greenhood or folly: childishness, immaturity
To all her workes virtue is her guide;
Humbless hath slain in her all tyranny:
She is the mirror of all courtesy,
Her heart a very chamber of holiness,
Her hand minister of freedom for almess." almsgiving
And all this voice was sooth, as God is true;
But now to purpose let us turn again. our tale
These merchants have done freight their shippes new,
And when they have this blissful maiden seen,
Home to Syria then they went full fain,
And did their needes, as they have done yore, *business *formerly
And liv'd in weal; I can you say no more. *prosperity
Now fell it, that these merchants stood in grace favour
Of him that was the Soudan of Syrie: Sultan
For when they came from any strange place
He would of his benigne courtesy
Make them good cheer, and busily espy inquire
Tidings of sundry regnes, for to lear realms learn
The wonders that they mighte see or hear.
Amonges other thinges, specially
These merchants have him told of Dame Constance
So great nobless, in earnest so royally,
That this Soudan hath caught so great pleasance pleasure
To have her figure in his remembrance,
That all his lust, and all his busy cure, pleasure *care
Was for to love her while his life may dure.
Paraventure in thilke* large book, that
Which that men call the heaven, y-written was
With starres, when that he his birthe took,
That he for love should have his death, alas!
For in the starres, clearer than is glass,
Is written, God wot, whoso could it read,
The death of every man withoute dread. doubt
In starres many a winter therebeforn
Was writ the death of Hector, Achilles,
Of Pompey, Julius, ere they were born;
The strife of Thebes; and of Hercules,
Of Samson, Turnus, and of Socrates
The death; but mennes wittes be so dull,
That no wight can well read it at the full.
This Soudan for his privy council sent,
And, *shortly of this matter for to pace, to pass briefly by
He hath to them declared his intent,
And told them certain, but* he might have grace &