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Chaucer translation

Due date:Friday 19 September

A translation of a short passage from the "Wife of Bath's Tale."

The passage:

Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Middle Ages, page 280, lines 1213-47.
Your objective in the assignment is to rewrite the passage in good modern English. You may retain the original lines if you wish, or may turn the passage into prose.

Two good translations, one in prose, the other, freer, in verse.

1. Prose

"Sir, you may reproach me for my old age, but even if this isn't written in a book anywhere, a truly genteel man proves his gentility by respecting those older than himself.

"You may regard me as foul and old, but the fact that I am so means that you won't be the husband of an unfaithful wife. After all, filth and oldness are excellent protectors of chastity. Nonetheless, knowing your desires, I will satisfy your worldly appetites.

"You may choose," she said, "between the following options. You can have me foul and old, but I will be a true and dutiful wife who will never displease you. Or, you can choose to have me young and fair, but with that beauty will come the chance that men will seek to see me, both in our home and possibly elsewhere. It is your decision; make it as you wish."

The knight pondered this at length, and with a sigh, said, "My dear wife, my love, I am leaving this decision to your discretion. Make this choice yourself; whichever option you feel to be the best and most honourable will satisfy me."

She said, "Does this mean that I have achieved dominion over you, since you are allowing me to choose and govern at my own will?"

"Certainly," the knight said. "I think it's best."

"Kiss me," she said. "From now on, we won't live in wrath. I will be both a fair wife and a true wife to you."

(Chelsea Herman)

2. Verse

"Now sir, because of old age you rebuke me:
And certainly sir, though no authority
Is in a book, you honourable gentlemen
Say that men should be kind to an old person,
And call him father because of your nobility-
And authorities shall I find, I guess."

"Now if you say that I am foul and old,
Then dread you not to be a cuckold,
For filth and old age, God bless me,
Are great guardians of chastity.
But nonetheless, since I know your delight,
I shall fulfill your worldly appetite."

"Choose now," she said, "one of these to cherish:
To have me foul and old until I perish,
To be to you a true humble wife,
And to never displease you in all my life.
Or else, would you have me fair and young,
And take your chance of the visits from everyone
That shall come to your house because of me--
Or in some other place, it may well be.
Now choose yourself which one you desire."

The knight considered and let out a groan,
But at last he said in this thoughtful tone:
"My lady and my love, and my wife so dear,
I give you the reins so that you may steer.
Choose yourself that which is the most pleasant
And most honourable for us in the future and in the present.
I do not care which of the two,
Because if it pleases you then it pleases me too."

"Then have I gotten the mastery of you," she said,
"Since I may choose and govern you until you are dead?"
"Yes, certainly wife," said he. "I think it best."
"Kiss me," she said. "We are no longer angry, let it rest.
For by my truth, both choices I shall be:
Both fair and good for eternity...
Chris Devauld
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This page last updated on 11 September 2003. © Michael Best, 2003.