The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale Contents
Part 23: l.1106-1176
1106 Now, sire, quod she, I koude amende al this,
1107 If that me liste, er it were dayes thre,
1108 So wel ye myghte bere yow unto me.
1109 But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse
1110 As is descended out of old richesse,
1111 That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
1112 Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
1113 Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
1114 Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
1115 To do the gentil dedes that he kan;
1116 Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
1117 Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
1118 Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.
1119 For thogh they yeve us al hir heritage,
1120 For which we clayme to been of heigh parage,
1121 Yet may they nat biquethe, for no thyng,
1122 To noon of us hir vertuous lyvyng,
1123 That made hem gentil men ycalled be,
1124 And bad us folwen hem in swich degree.
1125 Wel kan the wise poete of florence,
1126 That highte dant, speken in this sentence.
1127 Lo, in swich maner rym is dantes tale:
1128 'Ful selde up riseth by his brances smale
1129 Prowesse of man, for god, of his goodnesse,
1130 Wole that of hym we clayme oure gentillesse;'
1131 For of oure eldres may we no thyng clayme
1132 But temporel thyng, that man may hurte and mayme.
1133 Eek every wight woot this as wel as I,
1134 If gentillesse were planted natureelly
1135 Unto a certeyn lynage doun the lyne,
1136 Pryvee and apert, thanne wolde they nevere fyne
1137 To doon of gentillesse the faire office;
1138 They myghte do no vileynye or vice.
1139 Taak fyr, and ber it in the derkeste hous
1140 Bitwix this and the mount of kaukasous,
1141 And lat men shette the dores and go thenne;
1142 Yet wole the fyr as faire lye and brenne
1143 As twenty thousand men myghte it biholde;
1144 His office natureel ay wol it holde,
1145 Up peril of my lyf, til that it dye.
1146 Heere may ye se wel how that genterye
1147 Is nat annexed to possessioun,
1148 Sith folk ne doon hir operacioun
1149 Alwey, as dooth the fyr, lo, in his kynde.
1150 For, God it woot, men may wel often fynde
1151 A lordes sone do shame and vileynye;
1152 And he that wole han pris of his gentrye,
1153 For he was boren of a gentil hous,
1154 And hadde his eldres noble and vertuous,
1155 And nel hymselven do no gentil dedis,
1156 Ne folwen his gentil auncestre that deed is,
1157 He nys nat gentil, be he duc or erl;
1158 For vileyns synful dedes make a cherl.
1159 For gentillesse nys but renomee
1160 Of thyne auncestres, for hire heigh bountee,
1161 Which is a strange thyng to thy persone.
1162 Thy gentillesse cometh fro God allone.
1163 Thanne comth oure verray gentillesse of grace;
1164 It was no thyng biquethe us with oure place.
1165 Thenketh how noble, as seith valerius,
1166 Was thilke tullius hostillius,
1167 That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
1168 Reedeth senek, and redeth eek boece;
1169 Ther shul ye seen expres that it no drede is
1170 That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
1171 And therfore, leeve housbonde, thus conclude:
1172 Al were it that myne auncestres were rude,
1173 Yet may the hye god, and so hope I,
1174 Grante me grace to lyven vertuously.
1175 Thanne am I gentil, whan that I bigynne
1176 To lyven vertuously and weyve synne.
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