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THE WIFE OF BATH.
BEHOLD the woes of matrimonial life,
But let them read, and solve me, if they can, The words address’d to the Samaritan : Five times in lawful wedlock she was join'd : 15 And sure the certain stint was ne'er defin'd.
“ Increase and multiply," was Heav'n's command, And that's a text I clearly understand. This too, “Let men their sires and mothers leave, And to their dearer wives for ever cleave.” 20 More wives than one by Solomon were try'd, Or else the wisest of mankind's bely'd. I've had myself full many a merry fit; And trust in Heav'n I may have many yet.
For when my transitory spouse, unkind,
25 Shall die, and leave his woful wife behind, I'll take the next good Christian I can find.
Paul, knowing one could never serve our turn, Declar'd 'twas better far to wed than burn. There's danger in assembling fire and tow; 30 I grant 'em that, and what it means you know. The same apostle too has elsewhere own’d, No precept for virginity he found : "Tis but a counsel--and we women still Take which we like, the counsel, or our will. 35
I envy not their bliss, if he or she Think fit to live in perfect chastity ; Pure let them be, and free from taint or vice; I, for a few slight spots, am not so nice. Heav'n calls us diff'rent ways, on these bestows 40 One proper gift, another grants to those : Not every man's oblig'd to sell his store, And give up all his substance to the
poor; Such as are perfect, may, I can't deny : But, by your leaves, divines, so am not I.
45 Full many a saint, since first the world began, Liv'd an unspotted maid, in spite of man : Let such (a God's name) with fine wheat be fed, And let us honest wives eat barley-bread. For me, I'll keep the post assign’d by Heav'n, 50 And use the copious talent it has giv’n: Let my good spouse pay tribute, do me right, And keep an equal reck’ning ev'ry night His proper body is not his, but mine; For so said Paul, and Paul's a sound divine. 55
Know then, of those five husbands I have had, Three were just tolerable, two were bad. The three were old, but rich and fond beside, And toild most piteously to please their bride : 59 But since their wealth (the best they had) was mine, The rest, without much loss, I could resign. Sure to be lov'd I took no pains to please, Yet had more Pleasure far than they had Ease.
Presents flow'd in apace: with show'rs of gold,
Ye sov'reign wives ! give ear, and understand,
Hark, old Sir Paul ! ('twas thus I us’d to say) Whence is our neighbour's wife so rich and gay ? 75 Treated, caress'd where'er she's pleas'd to roamI sit in tatters, and immur'd at home. Why to her house dost thou so oft repair? Art thou so am'rous ? and is she so fair? If I but see a cousin or a friend,
80 Lord! how you swell,
If poor (you say), she drains her husband's purse; If rich, she keeps her priest, or something worse;
If highly born, intolerably vain,
Horses (thou say’st) and asses men may try, 100
On Jenkin too you cast a squinting eye:
Fresh are his ruddy cheeks, his forehead fair, 120
die to-morrow. Why are thy chests all lock'd ? on what design? Are not thy worldly goods and treasure mine? 125 Sir, I'm no fool; nor shall you, by St. John, Have goods and body to yourself alone. One you
shall quit, in spite of both your eyesI heed not, I, the bolts, the locks, the spies. If
you had wit, you'd say, "Go where you will, 130 Dear spouse,
I credit not the tales they tell :
Lord ! when you have enough, what need you care How merrily soever others fare?
135 Tho' all the day I give and take delight, Doubt not, sufficient will be left at night. 'Tis but a just and rational desire, To light a taper at a neighbour's fire. There's danger too, you think, in rich array,
140 And none can long be modest that are gay: The Cat, if you but singe her tabby skin, The chimney keeps, and sits content within ; But once grown sleek, will from her corner run, Sport with her tail and wanton in the sun! 145 She licks her fair round face, and frisks abroad, To shew her fur, and to be catterwaw'd.
Lo thus, my friends, I wrought to my desires These three right ancient venerable sires. I told 'em, Thus you say,"and thus you do, 150 And told 'em false, but Jenkin swore 'twas true.