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For this with golden spurs the chiefs are graced, With pointed rowels arm’d, to mend their haste; For this with lasting leaves their brows are bound; For laurel is the sign of labour crown'd,
" Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to
ground: From winter winds it suffers no decay, For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May. Even when the vital sap retreats below, Even when the hoary head' is hid in snow, The life is in the Leaf, and still between The fits of falling snows appears the streaky green. Not so the Flower, which lasts for little space, A short-lived good, and an uncertain grace : This way and that the feeble stem is driven, Weak to sustain the storms and injuries of heaven. Propp'd by the spring, it lifts aloft the head, But of a sickly beauty, soon to shed; In summer living, and in winter dead. For things of tender kind, for pleasure made, Shoot up with swift increase, and sudden are de
cay_d.With humble words, the wisest I could frame, And proffer'd service, I repaid the dame; That, of her grace, she gave her maid to know The secret meaning of this moral show. And she, to prove what profit I had made Of mystic truth, in fables first convey'd, Demanded till the next returning May, Whether the Leaf or Flower I would obey ? I chose the Leaf; she smiled with sober cheer, And wish'd me fair adventure for the
year, And gave me charms and sigils, for defence Against ill tongues that scandal innocence :But I, said she, my fellows must pursue, Already past the plain, and out of view.
We parted thus; I homeward sped my way,
Blush, as thou may’st, my little book, for shame,
THE WIFE OF BATH.
The original of this tale should probably be sought in some ancient metrical romance. At least, we know, that there exists a ballad connected with the Round Table romances, entitled “ The Marriage of Sir Gawain,” which seems to have been taken, not from Chaucer, but some more ancient and romantic legend. Gower also had seized upon this subject, and wrought it into the tale, entitled “ Florent,” which is the most pleasing in his dull Confessio Amantis. But what was a mere legendary tale of wonder in the rhyme of the minstrel, and a vehicle for trite morality in that of Gower, in the verse of Chaucer reminds us of the resurrection of a skeleton, reinvested by miracle with flesh, complexion, and powers of life and motion. Of all Chaucer's multifarious powers, none is more wonderful than the humour, with which he touched upon natural frailty, and the truth with which he describes the inward feelings of the human heart; at a time when all around were employed in composing romantic legends, in which the real character of their heroes was as effectually disguised by the stiffness of their manners, as their shapes by the sharp angles and unnatural projections of their plate ar
Dryden, who probably did not like the story worse, that it contained a passing satire against priests and women, has bestowed considerable pains upon his version. It is, perhaps, not to be regretted, that he left the Prologue to Pope, who has drawn a veil
a over the coarse nakedness of Father Chaucer. The tale is characteristically placed by the original author, in the mouth of the buxom Wife of Bath, whose mode of governing her different husbands is so ludicrously described in the Prologue.
WIFE OF BATH
In days of old, when Arthur fill’d the throne,
the night. Her beams they follow'd, where at full she play'd, Nor longer than she shed her horns they staid, From thence with airy flight to foreign lands
convey'd. Above the rest our Britain held they dear; More solemnly they kept their Sabbaths here, And made more spacious rings, and revell’d half
* Derrick, glance.
I speak of ancient times; for now the swain,
* The disappearance of the Fairies, which Chaucer ascribes to the exercitation of the friars, a later bard, in the same vein of irony, imputes to the Reformation :
By which we note the fairies,
Were of the old profession ;
Their dances were procession.