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For this with golden spurs the chiefs are graced,
Which bears the bitter blast, nor shaken falls to
From winter winds it suffers no decay,
For ever fresh and fair, and every month is May.
With humble words, the wisest I could frame,
We parted thus; I homeward sped my way, Bewildered in the wood till dawn of day; And met the merry crew, who danced about the May. Then late refreshed with sleep, I rose to write The visionary vigils of the night.
Blush, as thou may'st, my little book, for shame, Nor hope with homely verse to purchase fame; For such thy maker chose, and so designed Thy simple style to suit thy lowly kind.
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 rhime 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 armour.
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 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 filled the throne,
Her beams they followed, where at full she played, Nor longer than she shed her horns they staid, From thence with airy flight to foreign lands conveyed.
Above the rest our Britain held they dear
* Derrick, glance.
I speak of ancient times; for now the swain,
For priests, with prayers, and other godly gear,
* The disappearance of the Fairies, which Chaucer ascribes to the exercitation of the friars, a latter 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.