THE LEGEND OF GOOD WOMEN
V. THE LEGEND OF LUCRETIA.
Incipit Legenda Lucrecie Rome, martiris.
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #25
1680 Now moot I seyn the exiling of kinges Of Rome, for hir horrible doinges, And of the laste king Tarquinius, As saith Ovyde and Titus Livius. But for that cause telle I nat this storie, But for to preise and drawen to memorie The verray wyf, the verray trewe Lucressel, That, for her wyfhood and her stedfastnesse, Nat only that thise payens her comende, (10) But he, that cleped is in our legende 1690 The grete Austin, hath greet compassioun Of this Lucresse, that starf at Rome toun; And it what wyse, I wol but shortly trete, And of this thing I touche but the grete.
Whan Ardea beseged was aboute With Romains, that ful sterne were and stoute, Ful longe lay the sege, and litel wroghte, So that they were half ydel, as hem thoghte; And in his pley Tarquinius the yonge (20) Gan for to iape, for he was light of tonge, 1700 And seyde, that "it was an ydel lyf; No man did ther no more that his wyf; And lat us speke of wyves, that is best; Praise every man his owne, as him lest, And with our speche lat us ese our herte."
A knight, that highte Colatyne, up sterte, And seyde thus, "nay, for hit is no nede To trowen on the word, but on the dede. I have a wyf," quod he, "that, as I trowe, (30) Is holden good of alle that ever her knowe; 1710 Go we to-night to Rome, and we shul see."
Tarquinius answerde, "that lyketh me." To Rome be they come, and faste hem dighte To Colatynes hous, and doun they lighte, Tarquinius, and eek this Colatyne. The husbond knew the estres wel and fyne, And privly into the hous they goon; Nor at the gate porter was ther noon; And at the chambre-dore they abyde. (40) This noble wyf sat by her beddes syde 1720 Dischevele, for no malice she ne thoghte; And softe wolle our book seith that she wroghte To kepen her fro slouthe and ydelnesse; And bad her servants doon hir businesse, And axeth hem, "what tydings heren ye? How seith men of the sege, how shal hit be? God wolde the walles weren falle adoun; Myn husbond is so longe out of this toun, For which the dreed doth me so sore smerte, (50) Right as a swerd hit stingeth to myn herte 1730 What I think on the sege or of that place; God save my lord, I preye him for his grace:" -- And ther-with-al ful tenderly she weep, And of her werk she took no more keep, But mekely she leet her eyen falle; And thilke semblant sat her wel with-alle. And eek her teres, ful of honestee, Embelisshed her wyfly chastitee; Her countenaunce is to her herte digne, (60) For they acordeden in dede and signe. 1740 And with that word her husbond Colatyn, Or she of him was war, com sterting in, And seide, "dreed thee noght, for I am here!" And she anoon up roos, with blisful chere, And kiste him, as of wyves is the wone.
Tarquinius, this proude kinges sone, Conceived hath her beautee and her chere, Her yelow heer, her shap, and manere, Her hew, her wordes that she hath compleynded, (70) And by no crafte her beautee nas nat feyned; 1750 And caughte to this lady swich desyr, That in his herte brende as any fyr So woodly, that his wit was al forgeten. For wel, thoghte he, she sholde nat be geten And ay the more that he was in dispair, The more he coveteth and thoghte her fair. His blinde lust was al his covetinge.
A-morwe, whan the brid bragan to singe, Unto the sege he comth ful privily, (80) And by himself he walketh sobrely, 1760 Thimage of her recording alwey newe; "Thus lay her heer, and thus fresh was her hewe; Thus sat, thus spak, thus span; this was her chere, Thus fair she was, and this was her manere." Al this conceit his herte hath now y-take. And, as the see, with tempest al to-shake, That, after whan the storm is al ago, Yet wol the water quappe a day or two, Right so, thogh that her forme wer absent, (90) The plesaunce of her forme was present; 1770 But natheles, nat plesaunce, but delyt, Or an unrightful talent with despyt; "For, maugre her, she shal my lemman be; Hap helpeth hardy man alday," quod he; "What ende that I make, hit shal be so;" And girt him with his swerde, and gan to go; And forth he rit til he to Rome is come, And al aloon his wey than hath he nome. Unto the house of Colatyn ful right. (100) Doun was the sonne, and day hath lost his light; 1780 And in he com un-to privy halke, And in the night ful theefly gan he stalke, Whan every night was to his reste broght, Ne no wight had of tresoun swich a thoght. Were hit by window or by other gin, With swerde y-drawe, shortly he comth in Ther as she lay, this noble wyf Lucresse. And, as she wook, her bed she felte presse. "What beste is that," quod she, "that weyeth thus?" (110) "I am the kinges sone, Tarquinius," 1790 Quod he, "but and thou crye, or noise make, Or if thou any creature awake, By thilke god that formed man on lyve, This swerd through-out thyn herte shal I ryve." And ther-withal unto her throte he sterte, And sette the point al sharp upon her herte. No word she spak, she hath no might therto. What shal she sayn? her wit is al ago. Right as a wolf that fynt a lomb aloon, (120) To whom shal she compleyne, or make moon? 1800 What! shal she fighte with an hardy knight? Wel wot men that a woman hath no might. What! shal she crye, or how shal she asterte That hath her by the throte, with swerde at herte? She axeth grace, and seith al that she can. "Ne wolt thou nat," quod he, this cruel man, "As wisly Iupiter my soule save, As I shal in the stable slee thy knave, And leye him in thy bed, and loude crye, (130) That I thee finde in suche avouterye; 1810 And thus thou shalt be deed, and also lese Thy name, for thou shalt non other chese."
Thise Romain wyves loveden so hir name At thilke tyme, and dredden so the shame, That, what for fere of slaundre and drede of deeth, She loste bothe at-ones wit and breeth, And in a swough she lay and wex so deed, Men mighte smyten of her arm or heed; She feleth no-thing, neither foul ne fair.
(140) Tarquinas, that art a kinges eyr, 1820 And sholdest, as by linage and by right, Doon as a lord and as a verray knight, Why hastow doon dispyt to chivalrye? Why hastow doon this lady vilanye? Allas! of thee this was a vileins dede!
But now to purpos; in the story I rede, Whan he was goon, al this mischaunce is falle. This lady sente after her frendes alle, Fader, moder, husbond, al y-fere; (150) And al dischevele, with her heres clere, 1830 In habit swich as women used tho Unto the burying of her frendes go, She sit in halle with a sorweful sighte. Her frendes axen what her aylen mighte, And who was deed? And she sit ay wepinge, A word for shame ne may she forth out-bringe, Ne upon hem she dorste nat beholde. But atte laste of Tarquiny she hem tolde, This rewful cas, and al this thing horrible. (160) The wo to tellen hit were impossible, 1840 That she and alle her frendes made atones. Al hadde folkes hertes been of stones, Hit mighte have maked hem upon her rewe, Her herte was so wyfly and so trewe. She seide, that, for her gilt ne for her blame, He husbond sholde nat have the foule name, That wolde she nat suffre, by no wey. And they answerden alle, upon hir fey, That they foryeve hit her, for hit was right; (170) Hit was no gilt, hit lay nat in her might; 1850 And seiden her ensamples many oon. But al for noght; for thus she seide anoon, "Be as be may," quod she, "of forgiving, I wol nat have no forgift for no-thing." But prively she caughte forth a knyf, And therwith-al she rafte her-self her lyf; And as she fel adoun, she caste her look, And of her clothes yit she hede took; For in her falling yit she hadde care (180) Lest that her feet or swiche thing lay bare; 1860 So wel she loved clennesse and eek trouthe.
Of her had al the toun of Rome routhe, And Brutus by her chaste blode hath swore That Tarquin sholde y-banisht be ther-fore, And al his kin; and let the peple calle, And openly the tale he tolde hem alle, And openly let carie her on a bere Through al the toun, that men may see and here The horrible deed of her oppressioun. (190) Ne never was ther king in Rome toun 1870 Sin thilke day; and she was holden there A seint, and ever her day y-halwed dere As in hir lawe: and thus endeth Lucresse, The noble wyf, as Titus bereth witnesse.
I tell hit, for she was of love so trewe, Ne in her wille she chaunged for no newe. And for the stable herte, sad and kinde, That in these women men may alday finde; Ther as they caste hir herte, ther hit dwelleth. (200) For wel I wot, that Crist him-selve telleth, 1880 That in Israel, as wyd as is the lond, That so gret feith in al the lond he ne fond As in a woman; and this is no lye. And as of men, loketh which tirannye They doon alday; assay hem who so liste, The trewest is ful brotel for to triste.
Explicit Legenda Lucrecie Rome, Martiris.