The Canterbury Tales
Prologue to the Wife of Bath’s Tale: Page 3
But this word is nat take of every wight,
But ther as God list give it of his might.
I woot wel, that thapostel was a mayde;
But natheless, thogh that he wroot and sayde,
He wolde that every wight were swich as he,
Al nis but conseil to virginitee;
And for to been a wyf, he yaf me leve
Of indulgence; so it is no repreve
To wedde me, if that my make dye,
With-oute excepcioun of bigamye.
Al were it good no womman for to touche,
He mente as in his bed or in his couche;
For peril is bothe fyr and tow tassemble;
Ye knowe what this ensample may resemble.
This is al and som, he heeld virginitee
More parfit than wedding in freletee.
Freeltee clepe I, but-if that he and she
Wolde leden al hir lyf in chastitee.
|“Of course, all this talk only applies to those whom God wants to remain virgins. I know that St. Paul was a virgin, but I also know that even though he wrote about virginity and talked a lot about others remaining celibate like him, it all boiled down to advice, nothing more. This means that there’s nothing wrong with me getting married and indulging in early pleasures, or even getting married more than once—though he did probably mean that I shouldn’t be sleeping with my husbands. That must be the long and the short of it now that I think about it: St. Paul believed that virginity was better than marriage, unless the husband and wife never sleep together.|
I graunte it wel, I have noon envye,
Thogh maydenhede preferre bigamye;
Hem lyketh to be clene, body and goost,
Of myn estaat I nil nat make no boost.
For wel ye knowe, a lord in his houshold,
He hath nat every vessel al of gold;
Somme been of tree, and doon hir lord servyse.
God clepeth folk to him in sondry wyse,
And everich hath of God a propre yifte,
Som this, som that,—as him lyketh shifte.
|“As for myself, though, I’m not upset that maidenhood is preferable to getting married more than once. Some people prefer to be clean in both body and soul, others not. I personally don’t make any claims about how purely I’ve lived my life. As you well know, not everything in a person’s house can be made of pure gold. Some things have to be made of wood so that people can actually use them. God calls people to Him in a lot of different ways, and every person brings different gifts to Him—some this, some that, whatever he or she can.|