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For this with golden spurs the chiefs are graced,
cayed. With humble words, the wisest I could frame, And proffered service, I repaid the dame; That, of her grace, she gave her maid to know The secret meaning of this moral show. And she, to prove what profit I had made Of mystic truth, in fables first conveyed, Demanded till the next returning May, Whether the leaf or flower I would obey ? I chose the leaf; she smiled with sober cheer, And wished me fair adventure for the year, And gave me charms and sigils, for defence Against ill tongues that scandal innocence:But I, said she, my fellows must pursue, Already past the plain, and out of view.
We parted thus; I homeward sped my way, Bewildered in the wood till dawn of day; And met the merry crew, who dancedabout the May. Then late refreshed with sleep, I rose to write The visionary vigils of the night.
Blush, as thou may'st, my little book, for shame, Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame; For such thy maker chose, and so designed Thy simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
THE WIFE OF BATH.
The original of this tale should probably be sought in some ancient metrical romance. At least, we know, that there exists a ballad connected with the Round Table Romances, entitled “ The Marriage of Sir Gawain," which seems to have been taken, not from Chaucer, but some more ancient and romantic legend. Gower also had seized upon this subject, and wrought it into the tale, entitled
Florent,” which is the most pleasing in his dull Confessio Amantis. But what was a mere legendary tale of wonder in the rhime of the minstrel, and a vehicle for trite morality in that of Gower, in the verse of Chaucer reminds us of the resurrection of a skeleton, reinvested by miracle with flesh, complexion, and powers of life and motion. Of all Chaucer's multifarious powers, none is more wonderful than the humour, with which he touched upon natural frailty, and the truth with which he describes the inward feelings of the human heart; at a time when all around were employed in composing romantic legends, in which the real character of their heroes was as effectually disguised by the stiffness of their manners, as their shapes by the sharp angles and unnatural projections of their plate armour.
Dryden, who probably did not like the story worse, that it contained a passing satire against priests and women, has bestowed considerable pains upon his version. It is, perhaps, not to be regretted, that he left the Prologue to Pope, who has drawn a veil over the coarse nakedness of Father Chaucer. The tale is characteristically placed by the original author, in the mouth of the buxom Wife of Bath, whose mode of governing her different husbands is so ludicrously described in the Prologue.
WIFE OF BATH
In days of old, when Årthur filled the throne;
veyed. Above the rest our Britain held they dear; More solemnly they kept their Sabbaths here, And made more spacious rings, and revelled half
* Derrick, glance.
I speak of ancient times; for now the swain, Returning late, may pass the woods in vain, And never hope to see the nightly train; In vain the dairy now with mints is dressed, The dairy-maid expects no fairy guest To skim the bowls, and after pay the feast. She sighs, and shakes her empty shoes in vain, No silver penny to reward her pain; For priests, with prayers, and other godly gear, Have made the merry goblins disappear; And where they played their merry pranks before, Have sprinkled holy water on the floor; And friars, that through the wealthy regions run, Thick as the motes that twinkle in the sun, Resort to farmers rich, and bless their halls, And exorcise the beds, and cross the walls: This makes the fairy quires forsake the place, When once 'tis hallowed with the rites of grace. . But in the walks, where wicked elves have been, The learning of the parish now is seen; The midnight parson, posting o'er the green, With gown tucked up to wakes; for Sunday next, With humming ale encouraging his text; Nor wants the holy leer to country-girl betwixt. From fiends and imps he sets the village free, There haunts not any incubus but he. The maids and women need no danger fear To walk by night, and sanctity so near; For by some haycock, or some shady thorn, He bids his beads both even-song and morn. *
* The disappearance of the Fairies, which Chaucer ascribes to the exercitation of the friars, a latter bard, in the same vein of irony, imputes to the Reformation :
By which we note the fairies,
Were of the old profession;
Their dances were procession.