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Till their wise husbands, gull'd by arts like these, Grow gentle, tractable, and tame as geese.
'What though this slanderous Jew, this Solomon, Call'd women fools, and knew full many a one; The wiser wits of later times declare How constant, chaste, and virtuous, women are: Witness the martyrs, who resign'd their breath, Serene in torments, unconcern'd in death; And witness next what Roman authors tell, How Arria, Porcia, and Lucretia fell.
But since the sacred leaves to all are free,
But grant the worst; shall women then be weigh'd
Well, I'm a woman, and as such must speak; Silence would swell me, and my heart would break. Know then, I scorn your dull authorities, Your idle wits, and all their learned lies: By Heaven, those authors are our sex's foes, Whom, in our right, I must and will oppose.'
Nay, (quoth the king) dear madam, be not
I yield it up; but since I gave my oath,
We leave them here in this heroic strain, And to the knight our story turns again; Who in the garden, with his lovely May, Sung merrier than the cuckoo or the jay: This was his song, O kind and constant be, Constant and kind I'll ever prove to thee.'
Thus singing as he went, at last he drew By easy steps to where the pear-tree grew : The longing dame look'd up, and spied her love Full fairly perch'd among the boughs above. She stopp'd, and sighing, 'O good gods! (she cried) What pangs, what sudden shoots distend my side? O for that tempting fruit, so fresh, so green; Help, for the love of Heaven's immortal queen! Help, dearest lord, and save at once the life Of thy poor infant, and thy longing wife!'
Sore sigh'd the knight to hear his lady's cry, But could not climb, and had no servant nigh: Old as he was, and void of eyesight too, What could, alas! a helpless husband do?— ' And must I languish then (she said) and die, Yet view the lovely fruit before my eye?
At least, kind sir, for Charity's sweet sake, Vouchsafe the trunk between your arms to take ; Then from your back I might ascend the tree; Do you but stoop, and leave the rest to me.'
With all my soul, (he thus replied again)
Now prove your patience, gentle ladies all!
In that nice moment, lo! the wondering knight Look'd out, and stood restored to sudden sight. Straight on the tree his eager eyes he bent, As one whose thoughts were on his spouse intent; But when he saw his bosom-wife so dress'd, His rage was such as cannot be express'd. Not frantic mothers when their infants die, With louder clamours rend the vaulted sky: He cried, he roar'd, he storm'd, he tore his hair 'Death! hell! and furies! what dost thou do there?'
'What ails my lord? (the trembling dame replied) I thought your patience had been better tried: Is this your love, ungrateful and unkind, This my reward for having cured the blind? Why was I taught to make my husband see, By struggling with a man upon a tree? Did I for this the power of magic prove? Unhappy wife, whose crime was too much love!'
If this be struggling, by this holy light,
'Tis struggling with a vengeance: (quoth the knight)
'Guard me, good angels! (cried the gentle May)
'What I have said (quoth he) I must maintain, For by the' immortal powers it seem'd too plain-' 'By all those powers, some frenzy seized your mind,
(Replied the dame) are these the thanks I find?
The knight was touch'd; and in his looks appear'd
Thus, when from sleep we first our eyes display, The balls are wounded with the piercing ray, And dusky vapours rise, and intercept the day; So, just recovering from the shades of night, Your swimming eyes are drunk with sudden light, Strange phantoms dance around, and skim before your sight.
Then, sir, be cautious, nor too rashly deem; Heaven knows how seldom things are what they seem!
Consult your reason, and you soon shall find 'Twas you were jealous, not your wife unkind:' Jove ne'er spoke oracle more true than this, None judge so wrong as those who think amiss. With that she leap'd into her lord's embrace, With well dissembled virtue in her face.
He hugg'd her close, and kiss'd her o'er and o'er,
THE WIFE OF BATH
BEHOLD the woes of matrimonial life,