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The Canterbury Tales and Other Works of Chaucer (Middle English), by Geoffery Chaucer, [14th cent.], at

The Canterbury Tales

The Man of Law's Introduction and Prologue

 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 not depe ystert in loore,
 He wiste it was the eightetethe day
 Of Aprill, that is messager to May;
 And saugh wel that the shadwe of every tree
 Was in lengthe the same quantitee
 That was the body erect that caused it.
10 And therefore 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 of the clokke, he gan conclude,
 And sodeynly he plighte his horse 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 from the mountaigne into playn.
 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 Nomoore than wole Malkynes maydenhede,
 Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse.
 Lat us nat mowlen thus in ydelnesse.
 "Sire Man of Lawe," quod he, "so have ye blis,
 Telle us a tale anon, as forward is.
 Ye been submytted, thurgh youre free assent,
 To stonden in this cas at my juggement.
 Acquiteth yow 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;
 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
 In his Episteles, that been ful olde.
 What sholde I tellen hem, syn they been 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;
 The tree of Phillis for hire Demophon;
 The pleinte of Dianire and of 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, Ladomya;
 The crueltee of the, queene Medea,
 Thy litel children hangynge by the hals,
 For thy Jason, that was of love so fals!
 O Ypermystra, Penelopee, Alceste,
 Youre wifhod 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,
 Whan he hir threw upon the pavement.
 And therfore he, of ful avysement,
 Nolde nevere write in none of his sermons
 Of swiche unkynde abhomynacions,
 Ne I wol noon reherce, if that I may.
90 "But of my tale how shal 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
 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.
 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, with nede artow so woundid
 That verray nede unwrappeth al thy wounde hid!
 Maugree thyn heed, thou most for indigence
 Or stele, or begge, or borwe thy despence!
 Thow blamest Crist and seist ful bitterly
 He mysdeparteth richesse temporal;
 Thy neighebor 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";
 "Thy selve neighebor wol thee despise."
 If thou be povre, farwel thy reverence!
 Yet of the wise man take this sentence:
 "Alle the 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,
 But with sys cynk, that renneth for youre chaunce;
 At Cristemasse myrie may ye daunce!
 Ye seken lond and see for yowre wynnynges;
 As wise folk ye knowen al th' estaat
 Of regnes; ye been fadres of tidynges
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.

Next: The Man of Law's Tale