Geoffrey Chaucer

(c. 1343 – 25 October 1400 / London, England)

The Canterbury Tales; THE PHISICIENS TALE


Part 16


THE PHISICIENS TALE

Heere folweth the Phisiciens tale.

Ther was, as telleth Titus Livius,
A knyght that called was Virginius,
Fulfild of honour and of worthynesse,
And strong of freendes, and of greet richesse.
This knyght a doghter hadde by his wyf,

No children hadde he mo in al his lyf.
Fair was this mayde in excellent beautee
Aboven every wight that man may see.
For Nature hath with sovereyn diligence
Yformed hir in so greet excellence,

As though she wolde seyn, 'Lo, I, Nature,
Thus kan I forme and peynte a creature
Whan that me list; who kan me countrefete?
Pigmalion noght, though he ay forge and bete,
Or grave, or peynte, for I dar wel seyn

Apelles, Zanzis sholde werche in veyn
Outher to grave or peynte, or forge, or bete,
If they presumed me to countrefete.
For He that is the former principal
Hath maked me his vicaire general

To forme and peynten erthely creaturis
Right as me list, and ech thyng in my cure is
Under the Moone, that may wane and waxe,
And for my werk right nothyng wol I axe.
My lord and I been ful of oon accord;

I made hir to the worship of my lord,
So do I alle myne othere creatures,
What colour that they han, or what figures.'
Thus semeth me that Nature wolde seye.
This mayde of age twelf yeer was and tweye,

Is which that Nature hadde swich delit.
For right as she kan peynte a lilie whit,
And reed a rose, right with swich peynture
She peynted hath this noble creature,
Er she were born, upon hir lymes fre,

Where as by right swiche colours sholde be.
And Phebus dyed hath hir treses grete,
Lyk to the stremes of his burned heete;
And if that excellent was hir beautee,
A thousand foold moore vertuous was she.

In hire ne lakked no condicioun
That is to preyse, as by discrecioun;
As wel in goost as body chast was she,
For which she floured in virginitee
With alle humylitee and abstinence,

With alle attemperaunce and pacience,
With mesure eek of beryng and array.
Discreet she was in answeryng alway,
Though she were wise Pallas, dar I seyn,
Hir facound eek ful wommanly and pleyn,

No countrefeted termes hadde she
To seme wys, but after hir degree
She spak, and alle hir wordes, moore and lesse,
Sownynge in vertu and in gentillesse.
Shamefast she was in maydens shamefastnesse,

Constant in herte, and evere in bisynesse
To dryve hir out of ydel slogardye.
Bacus hadde of hire mouth right no maistrie;
For wyn and youthe dooth Venus encresse,
As man in fyr wol casten oille or greesse.

And of hir owene vertu unconstreyned,
She hath ful ofte tyme syk hir feyned,
For that she wolde fleen the compaignye
Wher likly was to treten of folye,
As is at feestes, revels, and at daunces

That been occasions of daliaunces.
Swich thynges maken children for to be
To soone rype and boold, as men may se,
Which is ful perilous, and hath been yoore;
For al to soone may they lerne loore

Of booldnesse, whan she woxen is a wyf.
And ye maistresses, in youre olde lyf,
That lordes doghtres han in governaunce,
Ne taketh of my wordes no displesaunce;
Thenketh that ye been set in governynges

Of lordes doghtres, oonly for two thynges;
Outher for ye han kept youre honestee,
Or elles ye han falle in freletee,
And knowen wel ynough the olde daunce,
And han forsaken fully swich meschaunce

For everemo; therfore for Cristes sake,
To teche hem vertu looke that ye ne slake.
A theef of venysoun, that hath forlaft
His likerousnesse, and al his olde craft,
Kan kepe a forest best of any man.

Now kepeth wel, for if ye wole, ye kan.
Looke wel that ye unto no vice assente,
Lest ye be dampned for your wikke entente.
For who so dooth, a traitour is, certeyn;
And taketh kepe of that that I shal seyn,

Of alle tresons, sovereyn pestilence
Is whan a wight bitrayseth innocence.
Ye fadres and ye moodres, eek also,
Though ye han children, be it oon or two,
Youre is the charge of al hir surveiaunce

Whil that they been under youre governaunce.
Beth war, if by ensample of youre lyvynge,
Or by youre necligence in chastisynge,
That they perisse, for I dar wel seye,
If that they doon ye shul it deere abeye;

Under a shepherde softe and necligent
The wolf hath many a sheep and lamb to-rent.
Suffyseth oon ensample now as here,
For I moot turne agayn to my mateere.
This mayde, of which I wol this tale expresse,

So kepte hirself, hir neded no maistresse.
For in hir lyvyng maydens myghten rede,
As in a book, every good word or dede
That longeth to a mayden vertuous,
She was so prudent and so bountevous.

For which the fame out-sprong on every syde
Bothe of hir beautee and hir bountee wyde,
That thurgh that land they preised hire echone
That loved vertu; save encye allone,
That sory is of oother mennes wele,

And glad is of his sorwe and his unheele-
The doctour maketh this descripcioun.
This mayde upon a day wente in the toun
Toward a temple, with hir mooder deere,
As is of yonge maydens the namere.

Now was ther thanne a justice in that toun,
That governour was of that regioun,

And so bifel this juge hise eyen caste
Upon this mayde, avysynge hym ful faste
As she cam forby, ther as this juge stood.

Anon his herte chaunged and his mood,
So was he caught with beautee of this mayde,
And to hymself ful pryvely he sayde,
'This mayde shal be myn, for any man.'
Anon the feend into his herte ran,

And taughte hym sodeynly, that he by slyghte
The mayden to his purpos wynne myghte.
For certes, by no force, ne by no meede,
Hym thoughte he was nat able for to speede;
For she was strong of freends, and eek she

Confermed was in swich soverayn bountee,
That wel he wiste he myghte hir nevere wynne,
As for to maken hir with hir body synne.
For which, by greet deliberacioun,
He sente after a cherl, was in the toun,

Which that he knew for subtil and for boold.
This Juge unto this cherl his tale hath toold
In secree wise, and made hym to ensure
He sholde telle it to no creature,
And if he dide, he sholde lese his heed.

Whan that assented was this cursed reed,
Glad was this juge, and maked him greet cheere,
And yaf hym yiftes preciouse and deere.
Whan shapen was al hir conspiracie
Fro point to point, how that his lecherie

Parfourned sholde been ful subtilly,
(As ye shul heere it after openly)
Hoom gooth the cherl, that highte Claudius.
This false juge, that highte Apius,
So was his name-for this is no fable,

But knowen for historial thyng notable;
The sentence of it sooth is out of doute-
This false juge gooth now faste aboute
To hasten his delit al that he may.
And so bifel soone after on a day,

This false juge, as telleth us the storie,
As he was wont, sat in his consistorie,
And yaf his doomes upon sondry cas.
This false cherl cam forth a ful greet pas
And seyde, 'Lord, if that it be youre wille,

As dooth me right upon this pitous bille
In which I pleyne upon Virginius;
And if that he wol seyn it is nat thus,
I wol it preeve, and fynde good witnesse
That sooth is, that my bille wol expresse.'

The juge answerde, 'Of this in his absence,
I may nat yeve diffynytyve sentence.
Lat do hym calle, and I wol gladly heere.
Thou shalt have al right and no wrong heere.'
Virginius cam to wite the juges wille,

And right anon was rad this cursed bille.
The sentence of it was, as ye shul heere:
'To yow, my lord, Sire Apius so deere,
Sheweth youre povre servant Claudius,
How that a knyght called Virginius

Agayns the lawe, agayn al equitee,
Holdeth expres agayn the wyl of me
My servant, which that is my thral by right,
Which fro myn hous was stole upon a nyght,
Whil that she was ful yong; this wol I preeve

By witnesse, lord, so that it nat yow greeve.
She nys his doghter, nat what so he seye.
Wherfore to yow, my lord the Juge, I preye
Yeld me my thral, if that it be youre wille.'
Lo, this was al the sentence of his bille.

Virginius gan upon the cherl biholde,
But hastily, er he his tale tolde,
And wolde have preeved it as sholde a knyght,
And eek by witnessyng of many a wight,
That it was fals, that seyde his adversarie,

This cursed juge wolde no thyng tarie,
Ne heere a word moore of Virginius,
But yaf his juggement and seyde thus:
'I deeme anon this cherl his servant have,
Thou shalt no lenger in thyn hous hir save.

Go, bryng hir forth, and put hir in our warde.
The cherl shal have his thral, this I awarde.'
And whan this worthy knyght Virginius,
Thurgh sentence of this justice Apius,
Moste by force his deere doghter yeven

Unto the juge in lecherie to lyven,
He gooth hym hoom, and sette him in his halle,
And leet anon his deere doghter calle,
And with a face deed as asshen colde,
Upon hir humble face he gan biholde

With fadres pitee stikynge thurgh his herte,
Al wolde he from his purpos nat converte.
'Doghter,' quod he, 'Virginia, by thy name,
Ther been two weyes, outher deeth or shame
That thou most suffre, allas, that I was bore!

For nevere thou deservedest wherfore
To dyen with a swerd, or with a knyf.
O deere doghter, ender of my lyf,
Which I have fostred up with swich plesaunce,
That thou were nevere out of my remembraunce.

O doghter, which that art my laste wo,
And in my lyf my laste joye also,
O gemme of chastitee, in pacience
Take thou thy deeth, for this is my sentence,
For love and nat for hate, thou most be deed;

My pitous hand moot smyten of thyn heed.
Allas, that evere Apius the say!
Thus hath he falsly jugged the to day.'
And tolde hir al the cas, as ye bifore
Han herd, nat nedeth for to telle it moore.

'O mercy, deere fader,' quod this mayde,
And with that word she bothe hir armes layde
About his nekke, as she was wont to do.
The teeris bruste out of hir eyen two,
And seyde, 'Goode fader, shal I dye?

Is ther no grace? is ther no remedye?'
'No certes, deere doghter myn,' quod he.
'Thanne yif me leyser, fader myn,' quod she,
'My deeth for to compleyne a litel space,
For, pardee, Jepte yaf his doghter grace

For to compleyne, er he hir slow, allas!
And God it woot, no thyng was hir trespas
But for she ran hir fader for to see
To welcome hym with greet solempnitee.'
And with that word she fil aswowne anon;

And after whan hir swownyng is agon
She riseth up and to hir fader sayde,
'Blissed be God that I shal dye a mayde;
Yif me my deeth, er that I have a shame.
Dooth with youre child youre wyl, a Goddes name.'

And with that word she preyed hym ful ofte
That with his swerd he wolde smyte softe,
And with that word aswowne doun she fil.
Hir fader with ful sorweful herte and wil
Hir heed of smoot, and by the top it hente,

And to the juge he gan it to presente
As he sat yet in doom, in consistorie.
And whan the juge it saugh, as seith the storie,
He bad to take hym and anhange hym faste.
But right anon a thousand peple in thraste

To save the knyght for routhe and for pitee;
For knowen was the false iniquitee.
The peple anon hath suspect of this thyng,
By manere of the cherles chalangyng,
That it was by the assent of Apius-

They wisten wel that he was lecherus;
For which unto this Apius they gon
And caste hym in a prisoun right anon,
Ther as he slow hymself, and Claudius
That servant was unto this Apius,

Was demed for to hange upon a tree,
But that Virginius, of his pitee,
So preyde for hym, that he was exiled;
And elles, certes, he had been bigyled.
The remenant were anhanged, moore and lesse,

That were consentant of this cursednesse.
Heere men may seen, how synne hath his merite.
Beth war, for no man woot whom God wol smyte
In no degree, ne in which manere wyse
The worm of conscience may agryse

Of wikked lyf, though it so pryvee be
That no man woot therof but God and he.
For be he lewed man, or ellis lered,
He noot how soone that he shal been afered.
Therfore I rede yow this conseil take,
Forsaketh synne, er synne yow forsake.

Heere endeth the Phisiciens tale.

Submitted: Monday, April 05, 2010

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