The Wanton Wife of Bath

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The Wanton Wife of Bath

To the Tune of, Flying Fame, &c.


I need not acquaint my Readers that the following Story is borrow’d from old Chaucer.  The Ballad itself has always been esteemed, and even Mr Addison has commended it, whose Judgement in Poetry, I believe never was disputed.  In one of his Spectators he has recourse to the Authority of this Song to prove something he asserts, and does it in these Words.  That excellent old Ballad of the wanton Wife of Bath, has the following Lines.  And I should think it a Piece of Injustice to the Memory of our English Bard, if I did not observe that this great Man having occasion to give us some Lines of Ovid upon the same Subject, has first quoted our Song Enditer, and then the Roman.

IN Bath a wanton Wife did dwell,
   As Chaucer he doth write;
Who did in Pleasure spend her Days,
   In many a fond Delight.
 
Upon a time sore sick she was,
   And at the length did dye;
Her Soul at last at Heaven’s Gate,
   Did knock most mightily.
 
Then Adam came unto the Gate,
   Who knocketh there? quoth he,
I am the Wife of Bath, she said,
   And fain would come to thee.
 
Thou art a Sinner, Adam said,
   And here no place shall have.
Alas, for you, good Sir, she said,
   Now gip you doting Knave.
 
I will come in, in spight she said,
   Of all such Churles as thee;
Thou wert the Causer of our Woe,
   Our Pain and Misery.
 
And first broke God’s Commandments,
   In pleasure of thy Wife:
When Adam heard her tell this Tale,
   He run away for Life.
 
Then down came Jacob at the Gate,
   And bids her pack to Hell,
Thou false Deceiver! why, said she,
   Thou may’st be there as well.
 
For thou deceiv’d’st thy Father dear,
   And thine own Brother too.
Away went Jacob presently,
   And made no more ado.
 
She knocks again with might and main,
   And Lot he chides her strait:
Why then, quoth she, thou drunken Ass,
   Who bids thee here to wait.
 
With thy two Daughters thou did’st lye,
   On them two Bastards got;
And thus most tauntingly she chaft
   Against poor silly Lot.

Who knocks there, quoth Judith then
   With such shrill sounding Notes?
This fine Minks you cannot hear,
   Quoth she, for cutting Throats.
 
Good Lord, how Judith blush’d for shame
   When she heard her say so; 
King David hearing of the same,
   He to the Gate did go.
 
Quoth David, who knocks there so loud,      
   And maketh all this Strife!
You were more kind, good Sir, she said,
   Unto Uriah’s Wife.
 
And when thou caused’st thy Servant
   In Battle to be slain,
Thou caused’st then more Strife than I,
   Who would come here so fain.
 
The Woman’s mad, said Solomon,
   That thus doth taunt a King.
Not half so mad as you, she said,
   I know in many a thing.
 
Thou had’st seven Hundred Wives,
   For whom thou did’st provide,
Yet for all this, three hundred Whores,
   Thou did’st maintain beside.
 
And those made thee forsake thy God,
   And worship Stocks and Stones,
Besides the charge they put thee to
   In breeding of young Bones.          
 
Had’st thou not been besides thy Wits,
   Thou would’st not thus have ventur’d;
And therefore I do marvel much,
   How thou this Place hast enter’d.
 
I never heard, quoth Jonas then,
   So vile a Scold as this,
Thou Whore-son Runaway, quoth she,
   Thou diddest more amiss.

I think, quoth Thomas, Women’s Tongues
   Of Aspen-Leaves are made.
Thou unbelieving Wretch, quoth she,
   All is not true that’s said.
 
When Mary Magd’len heard her then,
   She came unto the Gate,
Quoth she, Good-Woman, you must think
   Upon your former State.
 
No Sinner enters in this Place,
   Quoth Mary Magdalen then.          
’Twere ill for you, fair Mistress mild,
   She answer’d her again.
 
You for your Honesty, quoth she,
   Should once be ston’d to Death,
Had not our Saviour Christ come by,
   And written on the Earth.
 
It was not your Occupation,
   You are become divine,
I hope my Soul in Christ’s Passion
   Shall be as safe as thine.
 
Then rose the good Apostle Paul,
   Unto this Wife he cry’d,
Except thou shake thy Sins away,
   Thou here shalt be deny’d.
 
Remember Paul, what thou hast done,
   All thro’ a lewd Desire,
How thou did’st persecute God’s Church,    
   With Wrath as hot as fire.
 
Then up starts Peter, at the last,
   And to the Gate he highs,
Fond Fool, quoth he, knock not so fast,
   Thou weariest Christ with Cries.
 
Peter, said she, content thy self,
   For Mercy may be won,
I never did deny my Christ,
   As thou thy self hast done.
 
When as our Saviour Christ heard this,
   With heavenly Angels bright,
He comes unto this sinful Soul,
   Who trembled at his Sight.
 
Of him for Mercy she did crave,
   Quoth he, thou hast refus’d,
My proffer’d Grace, and Mercy both,
   And much my Name abus’d.
 
Sore have I sinn’d, O Lord, she said,
   And spent my time in vain,
But bring me like a wand’ring Sheep,
   Into thy Flock again:

O Lord my God, I will amend
   My former wicked Vice.
The Thief at these poor silly Words,
   Past into Paradice.
 
My Laws and my Commandments,
   Saith Christ, were known to thee,
But of the same in any wise,
   Not yet one Word did ye.
 
Grant the same, O Lord, quoth she,
   Most lewdly did I live,
But yet the loving Father did
   His prodigal Son forgive.
 
So I forgive thy Soul, he said,           
  Through thy repenting Cry,
Come you therefore into my Joy,
  I will not thee deny.