The Canterbury Tales

by: Geoffrey Chaucer

  The Wife of Bath’s Tale Page 10

page The Wife of Bath’s Tale: Page 10

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Wel can the wyse poete of Florence,
270That highte Dant, speken in this sentence;
Lo in swich maner rym is Dantes tale:
“Ful selde up ryseth by his branches smale
Prowesse of man, for God, of his goodnesse,
Wol that of him we clayme our gentillesse;”
For of our eldres may we no-thing clayme
But temporel thing, that man may hurte and mayme.
“The great poet Dante from Florence, Italy, knows all about this, and he wrote about it in The Divine Comedy. ‘A person’s strength comes not from the branches of a family tree,’ he said, ‘but from the grace of God.’ Our ancestors can only give us our bodies, which are feeble and weak and will one day die.
Eek every wight wot this as wel as I,
If gentillesse were planted naturelly
Unto a certeyn linage, doun the lyne,
280Privee ne apert, than wolde they never fyne
To doon of gentillesse the faire offyce;
They mighte do no vileinye or vyce.
“And everyone knows as well as I do that if nobility were handed down through the family line, then every generation would be just as noble as the one before, incapable of doing anything bad.
Tak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
Bitwix this and the mount of Caucasus,
And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
Yet wol the fyr as faire lye and brenne,
As twenty thousand men mighte it biholde;
His office naturel ay wol it holde,
Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
“If you light a fire in a dark room anywhere between here and the Caucasus Mountains in Russia and then leave the room and shut the door, the fire will burn the same just as if 20,0 people were staring at it. It’ll never change until it dies out, of that I’m sure.
290Heer may ye see wel, how that genterye
Is nat annexed to possessioun,
Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo! in his kinde.
For, God it woot, men may wel often finde
A lordes sone do shame and vileinye;
And he that wol han prys of his gentrye
For he was boren of a gentil hous,
And hadde hise eldres noble and vertuous,
And nil him-selven do no gentil dedis,
300Ne folwe his gentil auncestre that deed is,
He nis nat gentil, be he duk or erl;
For vileyns sinful dedes make a cherl.
For gentillesse nis but renomee
Of thyne auncestres, for hir heigh bountee,
Which is a strange thing to thy persone.
Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone;
Than comth our verray gentillesse of grace,
It was no-thing biquethe us with our place.
“Virtue and nobility are just like fire because they aren’t tied to earthly things. God knows that people aren’t like fire, though: They do things differently from one generation to the next. We all know examples of noblemen’s sons who break the law and do awful things. Anyone born into a noble household who does evil things isn’t really noble at all, even if he is a duke or an earl. Evil deeds make him a villain nonetheless. True nobility only comes from God and has nothing to do with how rich or poor one’s family is.