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Willian Dunbar, The Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo


1 Well-combed was their gleaming hair and carefully parted

2 With kerchiefs thrown above of fine fabric clear (bright) and thin

3 Of wonderfully fine appearance were their faces (countenances) gentle (of submissive or pliant disposition)

4 A beautiful table covered [with a cloth] was before those fair ladies

5 One was a widow, certainly, of amorous behavior

6 They quaffed at the strong wine and let out words

7 What mirth you found in marriage since you were men's wives

8 That none may undo it in the smallest part except death alone

9 Chains are always to be avoided; and changes are sweet

10 It was but a nuisance to be a longer time (more), unless we so desired

11 Lines 58-59: It is against the law of love, of nature, and of natural law, / Together hearts to force, that contend with each other

12 We should have mates (companions) as fresh to embrace whenever it pleased us

13 And make widely known my beauty abroad, where lovers were many

14 After I had tested his vigor the first pleasant month

15 A vigorous (powerful) man, always up front, and forceful in draftsmanship (tilling, plowing)

16 Lines 89-90: I have a slovenly fellow, a worm, an old hairy rustic, / A used up stray boar, good for nothing but words to clatter (i.e., grunt)

17 A scabby monster, a scorpion, a filthy (shitty) behind

18 When that repulsive wretch kisses me, then kindles all my sorrow

19 With slime his two angry (dirty/ugly) eyes are smeared all about

20 He showers on me his twisted mouth and parts my lips

21 For threatening demeanor of that malignant rascal, shame him beset!

22 Lines 113-14: And when the knave simpers at me with his narrow rogue's mouth, / He dribbles like a diseased horse that leers at a mare (see note)

23 Lines 117-18: When I hear mentioned his name, than I make nine crosses (i.e., the sign of the Cross nine times), / To keep me from the annoyance (trouble) of that imbecilic fool

24 How he shall catch me, by means of some trick, [while I] rendezvous with another

25 Lines 141-43: Or rest of his clumsy (rusty) ride, though he were furiously angry (stark-raving mad): / For all the bribes of Stupid John, when he above climbs, / I think the delay dearly bought, so bungled are his deeds

26 A canker that is so festered it makes me sick

27 Lines 175-76: His instrument is exhausted and lies in [a] swoon: / Was never [a] sojourn (rest period) worse expended than on that sluggard

28 He looks as [if] he were capable of love-making, though he be of little endurance (physical strength)

29 He has a fair shape without force and appearance without power

30 But in secret, at the deed, he shall be drooping discovered

31 And how it becomes him so widely [to boast] to men of such matters

32 I believed I possessed a gem, and I here had gotten an amber jewel (geit=jet: see note)

33 Who bound my bright beauty to such an impotent coward (gloss by Bawcutt 1996)

34 Lines 231-32: I would that a young woman, who might not [the pain of] a thrust (putt) endure, / Who hated men with erect implements because of hurting of flesh

35 She should not flinch at his stroke, a straw's breadth of ground (gloss by Bawcutt 1996)

36 I believe that the girl [with regard to] my [alleged marital] bliss would have cause for laughter

37 And though I was stubborn and haughty, contemptuous, and bold

38 And be as turtledoves in your talk, though you have fragile (readily yielding) tails

39 And when you need it, forthwith, employ both their strength

40 One was a gray-haired, tired-out old man, who coughed out phlegm

41 Lines 275-76: Well could I rub his crooked back (i.e., do his back a favor) and comb his cropped pate, / And with tongue in cheek make a face behind his back (see note)

42 When the churlish one would chide me, with snarling jaws

43 Although the churl had become "chaste" (i.e., impotent) before the child was begotten

44 That low-class person was never of such worth to presume at any time

45 He never once dared disregard my summons, for before a second command

46 But at times it accumulated so huge, till it needed (behooved) to issue out

47 And given his buildings to my child, and tall tenements in the burgh

48 My legal proofs of documents of inheritance before they were all sealed

49 That my anger nearly burst out before the drawing up of the contract (gloss by Bawcutt 1996)

50 But when my legal documents and my denunciations were all amply sealed

51 While after [the] death of that wretched [fellow] who was of no account in the bedchamber

52 When he a whole year was restrained and he needed to take sexual pleasure

53 His equipment is all but fruitless and fails at the climax

54 Are recognized by their dispositions and known by the same

55 My clothes they are mournful in color of black (sable) (i.e., mourning clothes)

56 As if with sexual intercourse I was finished for the remainder of my life

57 In accordance with my black raiment I must have sad manners

58 We direct us all for show to deceive men away from the truth

59 But folk a cooked dish may spoil, who lack understanding

60 That worthless fellows hold in favor and have to do with them so long

61 That he be lost or with me lie (in the carnal sense), his life shall not be endangered


Abbreviations: B1: Priscilla Bawcutt (1996); B2: Priscilla Bawcutt (1998); B&R: Priscilla Bawcutt and Felicity Riddy; C: W. A. Craigie; DOST: Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue; HW: Harriet Harvey Wood; Ki: James Kinsley; Mac: William MacKay MacKenzie; MS: Maitland Folio (Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge MS 2553); Sm: John Small.

Incipit: Here beginnis the tretis of the twa mariit wemen and the wedo, complyit be Maister William Dunbar [found in the Maitland Folio]. The Maitland Folio is a handwritten compilation of 366 pages dated between 1570 and 1586 and owned by Sir Richard Maitland. According to Priscilla Bawcutt, the Folio "was not written by Sir Richard himself, who was blind in old age, but seems to have originated in family piety" (B2, p. 8). The Maitland Folio, now housed in the Pepys Library at Cambridge University, is the most significant repository of Dunbar's work, containing over sixty poems now attributed to him.
1 Midsummer evin. This marks a specific day and time, i.e., St. John's Eve (23 June) which was traditionally celebrated with revelry, hence the mirriest of nichtis. The nativity of John the Baptist was 24 June and because of that date the celebration became associated with festivities connected to the summer solstice. The festivities were later condemned (1577) for promoting superstition.

21-25 Many scholars have suggested that the flowing hair and exquisite clothes worn by the women in the garden point to romance and its heroines. The women are also connected to Nature and in this sense their presence indicates otherworldliness. A. D. Hope sees a parallel to a scene from an earlier Breton lay, Sir Orfeo. See A Midsummer Eve's Dream: Variations on a Theme by William Dunbar (New York: Viking Press, 1970).

26 thair faceis meik. Meik is used here as a courtly term meaning "gentle," "quiet," "obedient," "unaggressive," "kind," "sweet," "demure," "lowly," "humble," "submissive," "docile," "amenable," "soft," "supple," "pliant." (See MED mek adj.) I have glossed the phrase "faces (countenances) gentle (of pliant disposition)" to focus attention on the courtly fantasy of the protagonist as he looks upon the lovely faces of the women, which leads him to his self-indulgent voyeurism. The joke is, of course, how unpliant, ungentle, independent, and disobedient to men these boisterous women are, if seen from the other side of the hedge - hardly "warm wex" that men may "with handes plye," to borrow Januarie's fantastic notion (The Merchant's Tale IV[E]1430).

58-63 agane the law of luf, of kynd, and of nature. Natural law, discussed by scholastics in the thirteenth century, referred to natural phenomena as implanted in Nature by the Creator. The laws of Nature were imagined to be discernible by rational creatures to do good and avoid evil through the "right" use of reason. Ki notes that Dunbar's immediate model for the complaint against the repeal of nature is Lydgate's Floure of Curtesey, but the ultimate source is Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book X, lines 32 ff. (trans. Frank Justus Miller [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1916; rpt. 1984]) and the retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in which Orpheus speaks to Hades:
. . . I beg of you, unravel the fates of my Eurydice, too quickly run. We are totally pledged to you, and though we tarry on earth a little while, slow or swift we speed to one abode. Hither we all make our way; this is our final home; yours is the longest sway over the human race. . . .
60 ff. Birds were said to take mates on St. Valentine's Day as in line 206. Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls makes a narrative of nature's selection process.

67 curage. B&R point out that this word has a range of meaning including "spirit," "vigor," and "courage," as well as "sexual desire." However, its association with male impotence seems most likely to indicate an emphasis on male sexuality.

70-72 I suld at fairis.The peregrinations of the widow are reminiscent of Chaucer's Wife of Bath. Lydgate also mentions such wanderings of women in "Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage":
They hem rejoise to see and to be sayne,
And to seke sondry pilgremages,
At grete gaderynges to walken upon the playne,
And at staracles to sitte on hie stages.
     (Lines 106-09)
plain (open spaces)
plays; raised seats
A "staracle" is a public entertainment, a pageant, spectacle, or play.

85 A forky fure. Mac takes forky to be a variant of forsy. When describing fure, which later means "man," the phrase translates to "forceful man." Ki prefers fortly, meaning "forward," "enterprising," or "bold." Two emendations are possible based on this interpretation: 1) Fortly to fure with fure understood as a verb "to bear, go, fare" or as a noun, "furrow," or 2) Forthy in fure which Ki prefers because of the equine images that follow and the popular medieval metaphor for sexual intercourse as "ploughing." But it might also simply mean one with good legs as in the verbal sense to forken, meaning to stride swiftly or vigorously.

89-92 wallidrag . . . ane scutarde behind. B&R identify this contemptuous portrait of the husband as belonging to the senex amans (elderly lover) tradition. Chaucer's old John the Carpenter or Januarie along with John Gower's Amans in the Confessio Amantis, may be the most explicit sources for Dunbar. But Dunbar is more graphic than either of his predecessors. Scutarde suggests defecation, as B1 observes; thus scutarde behind suggests something like "shitass." Ki glosses the term as "skitterer" (n.b. skit, meaning "shit" as in the expletive Noah hurls at Gill - "We! hold thi tong, ram-skyt" - in the Towneley Noah play, line 313). If this is the gloss, there is perhaps an aroma of incontinence about the old man.

94 carybald. Ki notes the obscurity of this word's origin, though its connotation in the context of the poem is pejorative.

101 Mahowne. A colloquial form of a Saracen god, possibly Mohammed himself. The name also occurs in late medieval English romances, such as Bevis of Hampton, where it is equated with all that is non-Christian and, therefore, considered evil. In the Corpus Christi plays it equates with tyranny and is the god by which Pharaoh, Caesar, Herod, and their minions swear.

111 bogill. Hobgoblin, perhaps the original bogeyman. According to DOST, this term is "of uncertain origin; in northern English dialect as boggle. A supernatural being of an ugly or terrifying aspect; a bugbear" (p. 296).

112 Belzebub. A derogatory form of the Syrian deity, Baal-zebul. He appears as one of the fiends in the cycle plays.

113 smake smolet. For this obscure phrase, E. J. Dobson and Patricia Ingham offer an explanation: "since the context requires the sense 'mouth' for smolet, and since smake is properly a noun meaning 'rogue' . . . it is possible that we should read smake[s] and emend the second word to mol[l]et," a diminutive form of mull or "lip." See "Three Notes on Dunbar's The Tua Maritt Wemen and the Wedo," p. 38.

128 nought . . . worth a bene. I.e., utterly worthless, with some phallic overtones. Compare May's scorn of old Januarie, whose "pleyying" is "nat . . . worth a bene" (CT IV[E]1854). B2 has worght.

132 dangerus. Alluding to the porter of the Roman de la Rose whose name is Danger, this term is taken to mean "resistance." However, recent scholars have questioned this singular meaning particularly in the context of The Wife of Bath's Prologue where it is also found. There it accrues meanings of risk and potential bodily harm. See Elaine Tuttle Hansen, "'Of his love daungerous to me': Liberation, Subversion, and Domestic Violence in the Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale," in Geoffrey Chaucer: The Wife of Bath, ed. Peter G. Beidler (Boston: St. Martin's Press, 1996) and Eve Salisbury, "Chaucer's 'Wife,' the Law, and the Middle English Breton Lays," in Domestic Violence in Medieval Texts, ed. Eve Salisbury, Georgiana Donavin, and Merrall L. Price (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2002).

135-36 pené . . . purse. The sexual economy here is not only similar to that found in Chaucer's The Wife of Bath's Prologue in which Alisoun makes it clear that she has gained financially from having "swynked" (CT III[D]202) her first three elderly husbands to death with her "nether purs" (CT III[D]44b), but it is also a motif found in The Shipman's Tale as well as in "The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse." Both the pené and purse motifs derive from the idea that conjugal debt was a marital obligation to be rendered or "paid" by each spouse. B severs the final -e in pené and points out the "monetary pun on recompense" (B2, p. 289).

139 engranyt claith. A cloth "ingrained" or dyed in scarlet or crimson derived from the berry or grain of a plant. B2 has claight.

141 rousty raid. The OED defines rousty as an obsolete form of "rusty." Ki (p. 267) suggests that this may mean "clumsy" or a "foray with a rusted weapon," particularly when understood in relation to raid (sexual foray, ride; rod), the noun it modifies.

142 Johne Blunt. A pejorative term impugning a man's intellectual capability, social situation, or, perhaps, his sexual ability, if his "instrument" be blunt. Contrast the idiom "kene swerd" as a metaphor for sexual prowess.

185-87 There is a parallel between these lines and a passage in Chaucer's The Parson's Tale. In the section on lechery the Parson uses a similar image of the impotent lover. This may be a common image Bawcutt says, though she has "not encountered its use elsewhere. Dunbar is clearly emulating Chaucer in the construction of The Tretis, and it seems likely that this is an instance of direct indebtedness to one of the more striking (and probably original) passages of the Parson's Tale" (p. 333). See "Dunbar's Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo 185-187, and Chaucer's Parson's Tale," pp. 332-33.

201 geit. Ki glosses as "jet bead"; B1 simply says "jet." Normally the implication is "glossy black" and might imply something or someone gleaming or fashionable like Chaucer's Pardoner, who "thoughte he rood al of the newe jet" (CT I[A]682). Line 202 says the husband "had the glemyng of gold," which might mean that initially he seemed a golden-haired prize (or it might simply mean that he was rich or had the glow of success). But, although the term with reference to gems usually means black, the MED cites a passage in Trevisa which says "Gete . . . is double, that is to seye 3elow and black," to suggest that there might also be "yellow jet, ?amber" (get n. 2[c]). So, given the suggestion of line 202, I have hesitantly glossed the term "amber jewel." On the other hand, if it simply means "fashionable black," haif geit might simply mean "have black hair," while the gleaming gold of the next line signifies that he is wealthy.

206 Sanct Valentynis day. St. Valentine's Day celebrated now in popular culture was once an official feast day commemorating the martyrdom of one of two possible saints - either a Roman priest martyred under Emperor Claudius circa 269 A.D. or a Bishop of Terni martyred at about the same time. It is possible that the legend of St. Valentine conflates both into a singular entity. St. Valentine's Day may also have its origins in the mid-February pre-Christian festival of Lupercalia, a celebration of courtship and fertility. See also explanatory note to lines 60 ff.

231-34 The point is that even if he were trying to copulate with a tender virgin, for whom sex might be painful, she would not wince a bit, since his equipment would be non-functional.

262 turtoris. Turtledoves symbolize marital fidelity and affection. B2 notes a sarcastic use of the turtle dove in Reson and Sensuallyte, lines 6855-90 (p. 291).

269 nought worth a hen. "Not a bit." A hen may be worth more than a bean, but it is still worth very little. Compare Chaucer's monk, who "yaf nat of that text a pulled hen, / That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men" (CT I[A]177-78).

275 keyth. DOST cites keyth as a verb meaning "to do a favour"; hence "rub" his crooked back. B1 and B2 emend to claw, which is glossed as "scratch gently"; that gloss is in keeping with Chaucer's drunken cook who is so pleased with the bawdry of The Reeve's Tale that "he clawed him [the Reeve] on the bak" (CT I[A]4326). One gets the impression that there is nothing particularly "gentle" about his action, however. Ki emends to krych, which he glosses as "scratch." Krych is the emendation proposed by E. J. Dobson and Patricia Ingham, "Three Notes on Dunbar's The Tua Maritt Wemen and the Wedo," p. 38.

290 chuf. "Churlish fellow"; a boor. But perhaps also a pun on "chough," the jackdaw or rook, said to announce adultery. N.b. The Wife of Bath's ability to prove to her jealous husband that "the cow is wood" (III[D]232).

316 For never bot in a gentill hert is generit ony ruth. Compare Chaucer's Knight's "For pitee renneth soone in gentil herte" (CT I[A]1761), the most repeated line in CT. See also The Man of Law's Tale (CT II[B1]660); The Merchant's Tale (CT IV[E]1986); and The Squire's Tale (CT V[F]479).

351 carll. B2 suggests that the "sexual role reversal, latent in the Widow's references to herself (e.g., 326, 371, 379), is here explicit" (p. 293).

384 maid a stalwart staff. B1 suggests an allusion to the proverb: "to make a rod with which to beat oneself (Whiting S652)" (p. 356). Whiting lists Dunbar's line as well as references to use of the proverb in Cursor Mundi, Chaucer, Gower, the Knight of La Tour Landry, Froissart, and many others (see Whiting).

424 my bright buke. B&R suggest that this is an illuminated Book of Hours. Ki notes that this indicates membership in the upper classes.

465 a hunder yeir of eild. B1's gloss is to the point: "May the woman who reaches the age of a hundred, but remains a foolish girl, be publicly derided" (p. 357). She cites J. A. Burrow, The Ages of Man (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 155-56, who suggests a perversion of Isaiah 65:20 (puer centum annorum morietur, et peccator centum annorum maledictus erit) in this "boldly feminized version."

502 sabot. A later hand has inserted sall not. Many editors find this word obscure and disturbing. B1 notes that "the most ingenious but not wholly convincing suggestion [for meaning] is that this means 'God', from the Biblical Dominus Sabaoth, 'Lord of Hosts'"(p. 240). Ki agrees with this interpretation while Catherine Singh offers another possibility, i.e., that sabot is "a sort of shoe rather like a present-day Dr. Scholl's or a wooden clog. They were known as 'sabots' or 'saparts' in Trinidad. . . . What exactly the Middle Scots sabot looked like is a matter for conjecture or further research but it is apparent that it was some form of sandal or shoe and that the Widow in the poem is simply being flippant about her chances of a safe passage to heaven: 'My innocent sole (or soul) shall be safe, when the shoe is judge of all'"(p. 186). See "'Sabot' and 'Saull' in Line 502 of Dunbar's The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo," pp. 185-86. Another possibility is that sabot, or "shoe," has a sexual connotation, like "bele chose" (CT III[D]447) in the Wife of Bath's remarkable vocabulary; see CT III[D]492-94, where she passes judgment on her fourth husband's promiscuity by making the shoe fit ill. See also The Merchant's Tale, CT V[E]1553.

504 legeand. B&R suggest that this term refers to a saint's life, a popular form of narrative written in both Latin and the vernacular in the late Middle Ages.

530 Quhilk wald ye waill to your wif, gif ye suld wed one. B&R suggest that the posing of such a question was "both a literary game and a social pastime" (p. 241). Formally called demande d'amour, this marks a satiric response to the earlier question posed by the Widow. The implicit rhetorical opposition between the narrator and the Widow links this part of the poem to flyting, the informal art of argumentation and debate often associated with the English alliterative tradition, a genre in which Dunbar thrives.


1 Midsummer evin. MS: missummer evin.

2 in meid. MS: in is omitted.

21 war. MS: war. All editors agree, except Mac, who emends to was.
cleir. B2 has clier.

34 cleir. Most editors agree, except Sm, who reads thre, and B2, who has clier. This portion of the MS is faded and difficult to read.

36 twa. MS: wyth tua.

40 ff. Immediately following this line is a Latin directive: Aude viduam iam cum interrogatione sua. ("Hear now the widow with her question.") Latin interjections at various points in the poem appear in the MS: after lines 48, 149, and 244.

48 ff. Responsio prime uxoris ad viduam. ("Response of the first wife to the widow.")

65 we war fre. MS: we war. HW, Ki, Mac: we war fre; B1: we war born. All emendations complete the line, though B1 differs from the others.

66 feiris. MS: freiris.

69 jolie, and gent, richt joyus, and gent. To avoid the repetition, Mac emends to joyus, and gentryce. Others oppose.

98 gor his. MS: gor is his. Ki, B1: gor his. HW: gor is.

104 This is the point where CM begins.

106 schowis on me. MS: chowis me. B1: schowis on me. Ki, HW, Mac: schowis one me.
schedis. MS: scheddis. B2 has schendis, departing from past editors.

109 the. MS: that.

111 bogill. MS: bugill.

113 smake smolet. The phrase appears as smakes molet in Ki's edition. See also explanatory note to this line.

115 sound of. MS: soundis.

123 cacis. MS: cassis. B1, Ki: cacis. HW, Mac: casis.

124 trawe, at trist. MS: trew atryst. From the OE thrawan meaning "turn," "twist," "trick." Catherine Singh suggests an emendation from trawe to traine, "a word used elsewhere by Dunbar in its variant forms trane and trayne." See "Line 124 of William Dunbar's The Tretis of the Tua Maritt Wemen and the Wedo," p. 163.

125 keik. MS: luik.

129 yerne yeild, for. MS: warne 3eild quhair.

131 Ay. MS: And.

135 pené. MS: pen. HW, Mac, Ki read pene, while B1 and C read pen.
in bed. MS: in to bed.

138 have. MS: have ane.
curche. MS: curchef.

139 claith. B2 has claight.

141 wod. MS and CM: wmyod.

149 ff. Hic bibent et inde vidua interrogat alteram mulierem et illa respondet ut sequitur. ("Here they drink and from there the widow questions the other wife and she responds as follows.")

152 man. MS: men.
menskit. MS: mensit; CM: menkit.

155 leill. B1, HW, and Ki emend to lell.

157 dissymyland. MS: dissembland.

160-61 Transposed in MS.

162 fra rute. MS: the rute.

164 so. MS: bein.

166 devoid. MS: avoyd.

167 the swalme. MS: that swalne.

172 as. MS: ane.

177 rap. MS: ryd.

182 kemmyng of his hairis. MS: kemmit his hair is. B1: kemmyng of his haris. HW, Ki, Mac: kemmyng of his hair.

183 As. MS: And. Also occurs in variant forms in lines 186, 187, 263, 457, and 489.

184 semys. MS and CM: sunys.

193 ralis. MS: rail3eis.

196 sege. MS: segis.

197 say. MS: sa.

201 josit. MS: had chosin.
geit. MS: ane geit.

204 and. MS: ot. B1: and. HW, Mac, Ki emend to or.

218 sych. MS: sicht. B1 has syth.

219 Than. MS: That.

221 no betir. MS: nocht betir.

223 Quoth. B1 has Quod.

224 is happinit. MS: hes happinit.

227 e, quhen. MS: and quhen the.

229 warit. MS: waryit.

233 my gud man. MS and CM: man gud my.

237 a beid. MS: beid.

240 Loud lauchand. So B1 and MS. HW, Ki: ludly lauchand. Mac: loudly lauchand. CM: Luly rauthand.

242 bewis. MS: levis.

243 swapit of. MS: swappit at.

244 ff. Nunc bibent et inde prime due interrogant viduam et de sua responsione et quomodo erat. ("Now they drink and then the first two question the widow about her response and what it was [meant].")

249 Sa that. MS: Sa.

251 sisteris in. MS: sisteris in to.

252 innocent. MS: inicrit, an abbreviated form of the word.

258 be forleit. MS: befoir be.

260 kene. MS: kene and.

263 ay. MS: and.

265 angellis. MS: angell.

272 hogeart. MS: hachart.

278 chekis. MS: cheik.

282 be mery. MS: mery.

283 lufsummar. MS: lustiar.

285 sicir. MS: secreit.

286-87 B2 and Ki concur that these lines are defective.

288 litill. MS: lytill.

289 gud. MS: the.

292 chevist. MS: I wist.

295 wichtnes. MS: vertuousnes.

296 marcheand. CM: nichand.

302 furth. B has furtht. Also in line 308.

303 tuichandly. MS: twichand.

309 buthman. MS: bicheman.

310 my rycht. MS: me rycht.

311 severance. MS: soueranis.

315 mercie. CM: nicy.
mekle. MS: greit.

327 subjeit. MS: subiectit.
set. CM: soit.

329 unmerciable. MS: vnmercifull.

331 raip. MS: ane raip.

334 hepit. MS: hapnit.
behud. MS: be hid.

340 throu the. MS: of that.

345 beild. MS: beild and.

347 bauchles. MS: bauchlis. CM: bauthles.

351 carll. Omitted in MS. C omits the term, while Ki, B1, Mac, and HW include it.
werkis. MS: laubouris.

352 laid. MS: laid doun.
mensk. MS: mens.

356 drawis. MS: drew.

360-61 These lines are omitted in MS.

362 my lumbart. MS: lumbart.
me all. MS: all my.

363 fra me. MS: fre.

368 hely. MS: all helie.

373 luf. MS: the luif.

378 honoris. MS: honour.

389 Na. MS: And.

391 had I. MS: I had.
at. MS: of.

396 saw. MS: saw him.

398 weill. Omitted in MS.
that he. MS: for he.

399 valyeandnes. MS: fal3eit anis.

401 effeir. MS: affect.

403 bot. MS: his.

405 held. MS: had. Mac's emendation, followed by Ki and HW. B1 reads MS as heid, glossing heid at feid as "despised." B2 reads MS as had.

408 thir. MS and CM: ther.
thai. Not in MS.

412 dolly. MS: dullit.

417 it makis. MS: makis.

419 ryght. Not in MS.
my corse is. MS: is my corps.

421 I. MS: omits, but supplied by all modern editions.
had done. MS: done had.

423 fleise. MS: flesche.

429 brand or. MS: branit in.

442 This line is not in MS.

449 for. MS: fra.

451 wemen. MS and CM: men.

452 behaip. MS: begaik.

453 convoyis. MS: gydis.

457 As dois. MS: And dois.

461 hir. MS: hir awin.
feyne. MS: fenye.

465 the. MS: that.

466 sobir. B2 reads sovir.

470 quhill. MS: to the.

473 persounis. B2 reads person is.

475 perdoun. B2 reads pardon.

479 And. MS: Sum.

480 rownis. MS and CM: rowis.

488 for. MS: nocht for.
nought. MS: omits.

491 serf. MS: schir.

492 hard on him lene. MS: hard on him.

493 befor. MS: before me.

502 sabot. A later hand has inserted sall not.

503 no lassis. MS: nocht.

506 thai. MS: than.

509 ther. Omitted in MS.

516 in. MS: in the.
schill. MS: still.

517 gladit. MS: glaid.

518 the. MS: thai.

523 thir. MS: ryer.

529 thir. MS: yer.

Colophon MS: Quod maister Williame Dunbar. CM: Quod Dunbar.











































































































Apon the Midsummer evin, mirriest of nichtis,
I muvit furth allane in meid as midnicht wes past,
Besyd ane gudlie grein garth, full of gay flouris,
Hegeit of ane huge hicht with hawthorne treis;
Quhairon ane bird on ane bransche so birst out hir notis
That never ane blythfullar bird was on the beuche hard.
Quhat throw the sugarat sound of hir sang glaid,
And throw the savour sanative of the sueit flouris,
I drew in derne to the dyk to dirkin efter mirthis;
The dew donkit the daill and dynnit the feulis.
I hard, under ane holyn hevinlie grein hewit,
Ane hie speiche at my hand with hautand wourdis:
With that in haist to the hege so hard I inthrang
That I was heildit with hawthorne and with heynd leveis.
Throw pykis of the plet thorne I presandlie luikit,
Gif ony persoun wald approche within that pleasand garding.
I saw thre gay ladeis sit in ane grein arbeir,
All grathit into garlandis of fresche gudlie flouris.
So glitterit as the gold wer thair glorius gilt tressis,
Quhill all the gressis did gleme of the glaid hewis;
Kemmit war thair cleir hair and curiouslie sched,1
Attour thair schulderis doun schyre schyning full bricht,
With curches cassin thair abone of kirsp cleir and thin.2
Thair mantillis grein war as the gres that grew in May sessoun,
Fetrit with thair quhyt fingaris about thair fair sydis.
Of ferliful fyne favour war thair faceis meik,3
All full of flurist fairheid as flouris in June -
Quhyt, seimlie, and soft as the sweit lillies,
Now upspred upon spray, as new spynist rose;
Arrayit ryallie about with mony riche vardour,
That nature full nobillie annamalit with flouris,
Of alkin hewis under hevin that ony heynd knew,
Fragrant, all full of fresche odour, fynest of smell.
Ane cumlie tabil coverit wes befoir tha cleir ladeis,4
With ryalle cowpis apon rawis, full of ryche wynis.
And of thir fair wlonkes twa weddit war with lordis,
Ane wes ane wedow, iwis, wantoun of laitis.5
And as thai talk at the tabill of mony taill sindry,
They wauchtit at the wicht wyne and waris out wourdis;6
And syne thai spak more spedelie and sparit no matiris.
"Bewrie," said the wedo, "ye woddit wemen ying,
Quhat mirth ye fand in maryage sen ye war menis wyffis.7
Reveill gif ye rewit that rakles conditioun,
Or gif that ever ye luffit leyd upone lyf mair
Nor thame that ye your fayth hes festinit for ever,
Or gif ye think, had ye chois, that ye wald cheis better.
Think ye it nocht ane blist band that bindis so fast,
That none undo it a deill may bot the deith ane?"8
Than spak ane lusty belyf with lustie effeiris;
"It, that ye call the blist band that bindis so fast,
Is bair of blis, and bailfull, and greit barrat wirkis.
Ye speir, had I fre chois, gif I wald cheis bettir?
Chenyeis ay ar to eschew; and changeis ar sueit:9
Sic cursit chance till eschew, had I my chois anis,
Out of the chenyeis of ane churle I chaip suld for evir.
God gif matrimony wer made to mell for ane yeir!
It war bot merrens to be mair, bot gif our myndis pleisit:10
It is agane the law of luf, of kynd, and of nature,
Togidder hairtis to strene, that stryveis with uther:11
Birdis hes ane better law na bernis be meikill,
That ilk yeir, with new joy, joyis ane maik,
And fangis thame ane fresche feyr, unfulyeit, and constant,
And lattis thair fulyeit feiris flie quhair thai pleis.
Cryst gif sic ane consuetude war in this kith haldin!
Than weill war us wemen that evir we war fre;
We suld have feiris as fresche to fang quhen us likit,12
And gif all larbaris thair leveis, quhen thai lak curage.
Myself suld be full semlie in silkis arrayit,
Gymp, jolie, and gent, richt joyus, and gent.
I suld at fairis be found new faceis to se;
At playis, and at preichingis, and pilgrimages greit,
To schaw my renone, royaly, quhair preis was of folk,
To manifest my makdome to multitutde of pepill,
And blaw my bewtie on breid, quhair bernis war mony,13
That I micht cheis, and be chosin, and change quhen me lykit.
Than suld I waill ane full weill, ovr all the wyd realme,
That suld my womanheid weild the lang winter nicht;
And quhen I gottin and ane grome ganest of uther,
Yaip, and ying, in the yok ane yeir for to draw;
Fra I had preveit his pitht the first plesand moneth,14
Than suld I cast me to keik in kirk, and in markat,
And all the cuntré about, kyngis court, and uther,
Quhair I ane galland micht get aganis the nixt yeir,
For to perfurneis furth the werk quhen failyeit the tother;
A forky fure, ay furthwart, and forsy in draucht,15
Nother febill, nor fant, nor fulyeit in labour,
But als fresche of his forme as flouris in May;
For all the fruit suld I fang, thocht he the flour burgeoun.
I have ane wallidrag, ane worme, ane auld wobat carle,
A waistit wolroun, na worth bot wourdis to clatter;16
Ane bumbart, ane dron bee, and bag full of flewme,
Ane skabbit skarth, ane scorpioun, ane scutarde behind;17
To see him scart his awin skyn grit scunner I think,
Quhen kissis me that carybald, than kyndillis all my sorow;18
As birs of ane brym bair, his berd is als stif,
Bot soft and soupill as the silk is his sary lume;
He may weill to the syn assent, bot sakles is his deidis.
With gor his tua grym ene ar gladderrit all about,19
And gorgeit lyk twa gutaris that war with glar stoppit;
Bot quhen that glowrand gaist grippis me about,
Than think I hiddowus Mahowne hes me in armes;
Thair ma na sanyne me save fra that auld Sathane;
For, thocht I croce me all cleine, fra the croun doun,
He wil my corse all beclip, and clap me to his breist.
Quhen schaiffyn is that ald schalk with a scharp rasour,
He schowis on me his schevill mouth and schedis my lippis20
And with his hard hurcheone skyn sa heklis he my chekis,
That as a glemand gleyd glowis my chaftis;
I schrenk for the scharp stound, bot schout dar I nought,
For schore of that auld schrew, schame him betide!21
The luf blenkis of that bogill, fra his blerde ene,
As Belzebub had on me blent, abasit my spreit;
And quhen the smy one me smyrkis with his smake smolet,
He fepillis ike a farcy aver that flyrit one a gillot.22
"Quhen that the sound of his saw sinkis in my eris,
Than ay renewis my noy, or he be neir cumand:
Quhen I heir nemmyt his name, than mak I nyne Crocis,
To keip me fra the cummerans of that carll mangit,23
That full of eldnyng is and anger and all evill thewis.
I dar nought luke to my luf for that lene gib,
He is sa full of jelusy and engyne fals;
Ever ymagynyng in mynd materis of evill,
Compasand and castand cacis a thousand
How he sall tak me, with a trawe, at trist of ane othir:24
I dar nought keik to the knaip that the cop fillis,
For eldnyng of that ald schrew that ever one evill thynkis;
For he is waistit and worne fra Venus werkis,
And may nought beit worth a bene in bed of my mystirs.
He trowis that young folk I yerne yeild, for he gane is,
Bot I may huke all this yer, or his yerd help.
"Ay quhen that caribald carll wald clyme one my wambe,
Than am I dangerus and daine and dour of my will;
Yit leit I never that larbar my leggis ga betueene,
To fyle my flesche, na fumyll me, without a fee gret;
And thoght his pené purly me payis in bed,
His purse pays richely in recompense efter:
For, or he clym on my corse, that carybald forlane,
I have conditioun of a curche of kersp allther fynest,
A goun of engranyt claith, right gaily furrit,
A ring with a ryall stane, or other riche jowell,
Or rest of his rousty raid, thoght he wer rede wod:
For all the buddis of Johne Blunt, quhen he abone clymis,
Me think the baid deir aboucht, sa bawch ar his werkis;25
And thus I sell him solace, thoght I it sour think:
Fra sic a syre, God yow saif, my sueit sisteris deir!"
Quhen that the semely had said her sentence to end,
Than all thai leuch apon loft with latis full mery,
And raucht the cop round about full of riche wynis.
And ralyeit lang, or thai wald rest, with ryatus speche.
The wedo to the tothir wlonk warpit thir wordis:
"Now, fair sister, fallis yow but fenyeing to tell,
Sen man ferst with matrimony yow menskit in kirk,
How haif ye farne be your faith? confese us the treuth:
That band to blise or to ban, quhilk yow best thinkis?
Or how ye like lif to leid into leill spousage?
And syne myself ye exeme one the samyn wise,
And I sall say furth the south, dissymyland no word."
The plesand said, "I protest, the treuth gif I schaw,
That of your toungis ye be traist." The tothir twa grantit;
With that sprang up hir spreit be a span hechar.
"To speik," quoth scho, "I sall nought spar; ther is no spy neir:
I sall a ragment reveil fra rute of my hert
A roust that is sa rankild quhill risis my stomok26
Now sall the byle all out brist, that beild has so lang;
For it to beir on my brist wes berdin ovr hevy:
I sall the venome devoid with a vent large,
And me assuage of the swalme, that swuellit wes gret.
"My husband wes a hur maister, the hugeast in erd,
Tharfor I hait him with my hert, sa help me our Lord!
He is a young man ryght yaip, bot nought in youthis flouris;
For he is fadit full far and feblit of strenth:
He wes as flurising fresche within this few yeris,
Bot he is falyeid full far and fulyeid in labour;
He has bene lychour so lang quhill lost is his natur,
His lume is waxit larbar and lyis into swonne:
Wes never sugeorne wer set na one that snaill tyrit,27
For efter seven oulkis rest, it will nought rap anys;
He has bene waistit apon wemen, or he me wif chesit,
And in adultré, in my tyme, I haif him tane oft:
And yit he is als brankand with bonet one syde,
And blenkand to the brichtest that in the burgh duellis,
Alse curtly of his clething and kemmyng of his hairis,
As he that is mare valyeand in Venus chalmer;
He semys to be sumthing worth, that syphry in bour,
He lukis as he wald luffit be, thocht he be litill of valour;28
He dois as dotit dog that damys on all bussis,
And liftis his leg apone loft, thoght he nought list pische;
He has a luke without lust and lif without curage;
He has a borme without force and fessous but vertu,29
And fair wordis but effect, all fruster of dedis;
He is for laydis in luf a right lusty schadow,
Bot into derne, at the deid, he sal be drup fundin;30
He ralis, and makis repet with ryatus wordis,
Ay rusing him of his radis and rageing in chalmer;
Bot God wait quhat I think quhen he so thra spekis,
And how it settis him so syde to sege of sic materis.31
Bot gif himself, of sum evin, myght ane say among thaim,
Bot he nought ane is, bot nane of naturis possessoris.
"Scho that has ane auld man nought all is begylit;
He is at Venus werkis na war na he semys;
I wend I josit a gem, and I haif geit gottin;32
He had the glemyng of gold, and wes bot glase fundin.
Thought men be ferse, wele I fynd, fra falye ther curage,
That is bot eldnyng and anger ther hertis within.
Ye speik of berdis on bewch: of blise may thai sing,
That, on Sanct Valentynis day, ar vacandis ilk yer;
Hed I that plesand prevelege to part quhen me likit,
To change, and ay to cheise agane, than, chastité, adew!
Than suld I haif a fresch feir to fang in myn armes:
To hald a freke, quhill he faynt, may foly be calit.
"Apone sic materis I mus, at mydnyght, full oft,
And murnys so in my mynd I murdris myselfin;
Than ly I walkand for wa, and walteris about,
Warian oft my wekit kyn, that me away cast
To sic a craudoune but curage, that knyt my cler bewté,33
And ther so mony kene kynghtis this kenrik within:
Than think I on a semelyar, the suth for to tell,
Na is our syre, be sic sevin; with that I sych oft:
Than he ful tenderly dois turne to me his tume person,
And with a yoldin yerd dois yolk me in armys,
And said, 'My soverane sueit thing, quhy sleip ye no betir?
Me think ther haldis yow a hete, as ye sum harme alyt.'
Quoth I, 'My hon, hald abak, and handill me nought sair;
A hache is happinit hastely at my hert rut.'
With that I seme for to swoune, thought I na swerf tak;
And thus beswik I that swane with my sueit wordis:
I cast on him a crabit e, quhen cleir day is cummyn,
And lettis it is a luf blenk quhen he about glemys.
I turne it in a tender luke, that I in tene warit,
And him behaldis hamely with hertly smyling.
"I wald a tender peronall, that myght na put thole,
That hatit men with hard geir for hurting of flesch,34
Had my gud man to hir gest; for I dar God suer,
Scho suld not stert for his straik a stray breid of erd.35
And syne I wald that ilk band that ye so blist call
Had bund him so to that bryght, quhill his bak werkit;
And I wer in a beid broght with berne that me likit,
I trow that bird of my blis suld a bourd want."36
Onone, quhen this amyable had endit hir speche,
Loud lauchand, the laif allowit hir mekle:
Thir gay wiffis maid game amang the grene leiffis,
Thai drank and did away dule under derne bewis;
Thai swapit of the sueit wyne, thai swan quhit of hewis,
Bot all the pertlyar, in plane, thai put out ther vocis.
Than said the Weido, "Iwis ther is no way other;
Now tydis me for to talk; my taill it is nixt:
God my spreit now inspir and my speche quykkin,
And send me sentence to say, substantious and noble;
Sa that my preching may pers your perverst hertis,
And mak yow mekar to men in maneris and conditiounis.
"I schaw yow, sisteris in schrift, I wes a schrew evir,
Bot I wes schene in my schrowd, and schew me innocent;
And thought I dour wes and dane, dispitous, and bald,37
I wes dissymblit suttelly in a sanctis liknes:
I semyt sober, and sueit, and sempill without fraud,
Bot I couth sexty dissaif that suttilar wer haldin.
"Unto my lesson ye lyth, and leir at me wit,
Gif you nought list be forleit with losingeris untrew:
Be constant in your governance, and counterfeit gud maneris.
Thought ye be kene, inconstant, and cruell of mynd;
Thought ye as tygris be terne, be tretable in luf,
And be as turtoris in your talk, thought ye haif talis brukill;38
Be dragonis baith and dowis, ay in double forme,
And quhen it nedis yow, onone, note baith ther strenthis;39
Be amyable with humble face, as angellis apperand,
And with a terrebill tail be stangand as edderis;
Be of your luke like innocentis, thoght ye haif evill myndis;
Be courtly ay in clething and costly arrayit,
That hurtis yow nought worth a hen; yowr husband pays for all.
"Twa husbandis I have had, thai held me baith deir,
Thought I dispytit thaim agane, thai spyit it nathing:
Ane wes ane hair hogeart, that hostit out flewme;40
I hatit him like a hund, thought I it hid prevé:
With kissing and with clapping I gert the carill fone;
Weil couth I keyth his cruke bak, and kemm his cowit noddill,
And with a bukky in my cheik bo on him behind,41
And with a bek gang about and bler his ald e,
And with a kynd contynance kys his crynd chekis;
Into my mynd makand mokis at that mad fader,
Trowand me with trew lufe to treit him so fair.
This cought I do without dule and na dises tak,
Bot ay be mery in my mynd and myrth full of cher.
"I had a lufsummar leid my lust for to slokyn,
That couth be secrete and sure and ay saif my honour,
And sew bot at certayne tymes and in sicir placis;
Ay quhen the ald did me anger with akword wordis
Apon the galland for to goif it gladit me agane.
I had sic wit that for wo weipit I litill,
Bot leit the sweit ay the sour to gud sesone bring.
Quhen that the chuf wald me chid, with girnand chaftis,42
I wald him chuk, cheik and chyn, and cheris him so mekill,
That his cheif chymys he had chevist to my sone,
Suppos the churll wes gane chaist or the child wes gottin:43
As wis woman ay I wrought and not as wod fule,
For mar with wylis I wan na wichtnes of handis.
"Syne maryit I a mercheand, myghti of gudis:
He was a man of myd eld and mene statur;
Bot we na fallowis wer in frenschip or blud,
In fredome, na furth bering, na fairnes of persoune,
Quhilk ay the fule did forghet, for febilnes of knawlege,
Bot I sa oft thoght him on, quhill angrit his hert,
And quhilum I put furth my voce and pedder him callit;
I wald ryght tuichandly talk be I wes tuyse maryit,
For endit wes my innocence with my ald husband.
I wes apperand to be pert within perfit eild;
Sa sais the curat of our kirk, that knew me full ying:
He is ovr famous to be fals, that fair worthy prelot;
I sal be laith to lat him le, quhill I may luke furth.
I gert the buthman obey, ther wes no bute ellis;
He maid me ryght hie reverens, fra he my rycht knew;
For, thocht I say it myself, the severance wes mekle
Betuix his bastard blude and my birth noble.
That page wes never of sic price for to presome anys44
Unto my persone to be peir, had peté nought grantit.
Bot mercie into womanheid is a mekle vertu,
For never bot in a gentill hert is generit ony ruth.
I held ay grene into his mynd that I of grace tuk him,
And for he couth ken himself I curtasly him lerit:
He durst not sit anys my summondis, for or the secund charge,45
He wes ay redy for to ryn, so rad he wes for blame.
Bot ay my will wes the war of womanly natur;
The mair he loutit for my luf, the les of him I rakit;
And eik, this is a ferly thing, or I him faith gaif,
I had sic favour to that freke, and feid syne forever.
"Quhen I the cure had all clene and him ourcummyn haill,
I crew abone that craudone, as cok that wer victour;
Quhen I him saw subjeit and set at myn bydding,
Than I him lightlyit as a lowne and lathit his maneris.
Than woxe I sa unmerciable to martir him I thought,
For as a best I broddit him to all boyis laubour:
I wald haif ridden him to Rome with raip in his heid,
Wer not ruffill of my renoune and rumour of pepill.
And yit hatrent I hid within my hert all;
Bot quhilis it hepit so huge, quhill it behud out:46
Yit tuk I nevir the wosp clene out of my wyde throte,
Quhil I oucht wantit of my will or quhat I wald desir.
Bot quhen I severit had that syre of substance in erd,
And gottin his biggingis to my barne, and hie burrow landis,47
Than with a stew stert out the stoppell of my hals,
That he all stunyst throu the stound, as of a stele wappin.
Than wald I, efter lang, first sa fane haif bene wrokin,
That I to flyte wes als fers as a fell dragoun.
I had for flattering of the fule fenyeit so lang,
Mi evidentis of heritagis or thai wer all selit,48
My breist, that wes gret beild, bowdyn wes sa huge,
That neir my baret out brist or the band makin.49
Bot quhen my billis and my bauchles wes all braid selit,50
I wald na langar beir on bridill, bot braid up my heid;
Thar myght na molet mak me moy, na hald my mouth in:
I gert the renyeis rak and rif into sondir;
I maid that wif carll to werk all womenis werkis,
And laid all manly materis and mensk in this eird.
Than said I to my cumaris in counsall about,
"Se how I cabeld yone cout with a kene brydill!
The cappill, that the crelis kest in the caf mydding,
Sa curtasly the cart drawis, and kennis na plungeing,
He is nought skeich, na yit sker, na scippis nought one syd":
And thus the scorne and the scaith scapit he nothir.
"He wes no glaidsum gest for a gay lady,
Tharfor I gat him a game that ganyt him bettir;
He wes a gret goldit man and of gudis riche;
I leit him be my lumbart to lous me all misteris,
And he wes fane for to fang fra me that fair office,
And thoght my favoris to fynd through his feill giftis.
He grathit me in a gay silk and gudly arrayis,
In gownis of engranyt claith and gret goldin chenyeis,
In ringis ryally set with riche ruby stonis,
Quhill hely raise my renoune amang the rude peple.
Bot I full craftely did keip thai courtly wedis,
Quhill efter dede of that drupe that docht nought in chalmir51
Thought he of all my clathis maid cost and expense,
Aneothir sall the worschip haif, that weildis me eftir;
And thoght I likit him bot litill, yit for luf of otheris,
I wald me prein plesandly in precius wedis,
That luffaris myght apone me luke and ying lusty gallandis,
That I held more in daynté and derer be ful mekill
Ne him that dressit me so dink: full dotis wes his heyd.
Quhen he wes heryit out of hand to hie up my honoris,
And payntit me as pako, proudest of fedderis,
I him miskennyt, be Crist, and cukkald him maid;
I him forleit as a lad and laithit him mekle:
I thoght my self a papingay and him a plukit herle;
All thus enforsit he his fa and fortifyit in strenth,
And maid a stalwart staff to strik himselfe doune.
"Bot of ane bowrd into bed I sall yow breif yit:
Quhen he ane hal year wes hanyt and him behuffit rage,52
And I wes laith to be loppin with sic a lob avoir,
Alse lang as he wes on loft, I lukit on him never,
Na leit never enter in my thoght that he my thing persit,
Bot ay in mynd ane other man ymagynit that I haid;
Or ellis had I never mery bene at that myrthles raid.
Quhen I that grome geldit had of gudis and of natur,
Me thoght him gracelese one to goif, sa me God help:
Quhen he had warit all one me his welth and his substance,
Me thoght his wit wes all went away with the laif;
And so I did him dispise, I spittit quhen I saw
That super spendit evill spreit, spulyeit of all vertu.
For, weill ye wait, wiffis, that he that wantis riches
And valyeandnes in Venus play, is ful vile haldin:
Full fruster is his fresch array and fairnes of persoune,
Al is bot frutlese his effeir and falyeis at the up with.53
I buskit up my barnis like baronis sonnis,
And maid bot fulis of the fry of his first wif.
I banyst fra my boundis his brethir ilkane;
His frendis as my fais I held at feid evir;
Be this, ye belief may, I luffit nought himself,
For never I likit a leid that langit till his blude:
And yit thir wisemen, thai wait that all wiffis evill
Ar kend with ther conditionis and knawin with the samin.54
"Deid is now that dyvour and dollin in erd:
With him deit all my dule and my drery thoghtis;
Now done is my dolly nyght, my day is upsprungin,
Adew dolour, adew! my daynté now begynis:
Now am I a wedow, iwise, and weill am at ese;
I weip as I were woful, but wel is me forever;
I busk as I wer bailfull, bot flith is my hert;
My mouth it makis murnyng, and my mynd lauchis;
My clokis thai ar caerfull in colour of sabill,55
Bot courtly and ryght curyus my corse is ther undir:
I drup with a ded luke in my dule habit,
As with manis daill I had done for dayis of my lif.56
"Quhen that I go to the kirk, cled in cair weid,
As foxe in a lambis fleise fenye I my cheir;
Than lay I furght my bright buke one breid one my kne,
With mony lusty letter ellummynit with gold;
And drawis my clok forthwart our my face quhit,
That I may spy, unaspyit, a space be me syd:
Full oft I blenk by my buke, and blynis of devotioun,
To se quhat berne is best brand or bredest in schulderis,
Or forgeit is maist forcely to furnyse a bancat
In Venus chalmer, valyeandly, withoutin vane ruse:
And, as the new mone all pale, oppressit with change,
Kythis quhilis her cleir face through cluddis of sable,
So keik I through my clokis, and castis kynd lukis
To knychtis, and to cleirkis, and cortly personis.
"Quhen frendis of my husbandis behaldis me one fer,
I haif a watter spunge for wa, within my wide clokis,
Than wring I it full wylely and wetis my chekis,
With that watteris myn ene and welteris doune teris.
Than say thai all, that sittis about, "Se ye nought, allace!
Yone lustlese led so lelely scho luffit hir husband:
Yone is a peté to enprent in a princis hert,
That sic a perle of plesance suld yone pane dre!"
I sane me as I war ane sanct, and semys ane angell;
At langage of lichory I leit as I war crabit:
I sich, without sair hert or seiknes in body;
According to my sable weid I mon haif sad maneris,57
Or thai will se all the suth; for certis, we wemen
We set us all for the syght to syle men of treuth:58
We dule for na evill deid, sa it be derne haldin.
"Wise wemen has wayis and wonderfull gydingis
With gret engyne to behaip ther jolyus husbandis;
And quyetly, with sic craft, convoyis our materis
That, under Crist, no creatur kennis of our doingis.
Bot folk a cury may miscuke, that knawledge wantis,59
And has na colouris for to cover thair awne kindly fautis;
As dois thir damysellis, for derne dotit lufe,
That dogonis haldis in dainté and delis with thaim so lang,60
Quhill all the cuntré knaw ther kyndnes and faith:
Faith has a fair name, bot falsheid faris bettir:
Fy one hir that can nought feyne her fame for to saif!
Yit am I wise in sic werk and wes all my tyme;
Thoght I want wit in warldlynes, I wylis haif in luf,
As ony happy woman has that is of hie blude:
Hutit be the halok lase a hunder yeir of eild!
"I have ane secrete servand, rycht sobir of his toung,
That me supportis of sic nedis, quhen I a syne mak:
Thoght he be sympill to the sicht; he has a tong sickir;
Full mony semelyar sege wer service dois mak:
Thought I haif cair, under cloke, the cleir day quhill nyght,
Yit I have solace, under serk, quhill the sone ryse.
"Yit am I haldin a haly wif out all the haill schyre,
I am so peteouse to the pur, quhen ther is persounis mony.
In passing of pilgramagis I pride me full mekle,
Mair for the prese of the peple na ony perdoun wynyng.
"Bot yit me think the best bourd, quhen baronis and knychtis,
And othir bachilleris, blith blumyng in youth,
And all my luffaris lele, my lugeing persewis,
And fyllis me wyne wantonly with weilfair and joy:
Sum rownis; and sum ralyeis; and sum redis ballatis;
Sum raiffis furght rudly with riatus speche:
Sum plenis, and sum prayis; sum prasis mi bewté,
Sum kissis me; sum clappis me; sum kyndnes me proferis;
Sum kerffis to me curtasli; sum me the cop giffis;
Sum stalwardly steppis ben, with a stout curage.
And a stif standand thing staiffis in my neiff;
And mony blenkis ben ovr, that but full fer sittis,
That mai, for the thik thrang, nought thrid as thai wald.
Bot, with my fair calling, I comfort thaim all:
For he that sittis me nixt, I nip on his finger;
I serf him on the tothir syde on the samin fasson;
And he that behind me sittis, I hard on him lene;
And him befor, with my fut fast on his I tramp;
And to the bernis far but sueit blenkis I cast.
To every man in speciall I speik sum wordis,
So wisly and so womanly, quhill warmys ther hertis.
"Thar is no liffand leid so law of degré
That sall me luf unluffit, I am so loik hertit;
And gif his lust be so lent into my lyre quhit,
That he be lost or with me lig, his lif sall nocht danger.61
I am so mercifull in mynd and menys all wichtis,
My sely saull sal be saif, quhen sabot all jugis.
Ladyis leir thir lessonis and be no lassis fundin:
This is the legeand of my lif, thought Latyne it be nane."
Quhen endit had her ornat speche, this eloquent wedow,
Lowd thai lewch all the laif, and loffit hir mekle;
And said thai suld exampill tak of her soverane teching,
And wirk efter hir wordis, that woman wes so prudent.
Than culit thai ther mouthis with confortable drinkis;
And carpit full cummerlik with cop going round.
Thus draif thai ovr that deir nyght with danceis full noble.
Quhill that the day did up daw, and dew donkit flouris;
The morow myld wes and meik, the mavis did sing,
And all remuffit the myst, and the meid smellit;
Silver schouris doune schuke as the schene cristall,
And berdis schoutit in schaw with thair schill notis;
The goldin glitterand gleme so gladit ther hertis,
Thai maid a glorius gle amang the grene bewis.
The soft sowch of the swyr and soune of the stremys,
The sweit savour of the sward and singing of foulis,
Myght confort ony creatur of the kyn of Adam,
And kindill agane his curage, thocht it wer cald slokynt.
Than rais thir ryall rosis, in ther riche wedis,
And rakit hame to ther rest throgh the rise blumys;
And I all prevely past to a plesand arber,
And with my pen did report thair pastyme most mery.
Ye auditoris most honorable, that eris has gevin
Oneto this uncouth aventur, quhilk airly me happinnit;
Of thir thre wantoun wiffis, that I haif writtin heir,
Quhilk wald ye waill to your wif, gif ye suld wed one?
evening; nights; (see note); (t-note)
walked; meadow; (t-note)
beautiful; garden; brightly colored
Hedged; height
Whereupon; poured
more joyful; bough heard
Partly through; sweet
curative; sweet
furtively; wall; lurk; revelry
moistened; valley; sang loudly; birds
heard; holly tree; green hued
loud; haughty words
hedge; pushed in
covered; pleasant
spikes; intertwined thorns; presently
If; pleasant garden
green arbor
arrayed in; goodly
wire; tresses [of hair]
Till; green plants
(see note); (t-note)
Over; glorious

Secured; white
(see note)
flourishing loveliness
White, seemly
stretched up; tree twigs; newly opened
richly; much; greenery
every color; courteous [person]

cups in orderly setting
beautiful creatures two wedded; (t-note)

different stories

then; spoke; spared; matters; (t-note)
Reveal; wedded; young

rue; imprudent contract
living man more
them; fastened
choice; choose
blessed bond
beautiful woman; lively expression

naked; wretched; strife
You ask

Such; for once
boor; escape
grant; copulate

(see note)

than men by far; (see note)
consorts with a mate
embraces; energetic
worn out mates go where; please
such; custom; country held
well [off] were; (t-note)
give impotent men their leave; (see note)
very beautifully; arrayed
Slender, very happy; elegant; (t-note)
faces; (see note)
show; renown; gathering

[So] that; choose
choose; rightly; wide
womanliness use potently
[have] gotten; fellow more fit than
Keen; young; yoke

look about in church
gallant; again; next
perform; weakened; other
(see note)
Neither; faint; weak
take; flower cause to expand
(see note)

lazy fellow; drone; phlegm

scratch; own; great disgust
(see note)
bristles; furious bear
sorry tool
harmless is his performance
choked; gutters; filth
glowering ghost
hideous Mahomet has; (see note)
may; sign [of the Cross]; old Satan
cross myself; completely
body; embrace; press; (t-note)
shaven; aged man
hedgehog skin; scratches
gleaming coal; chin (jaws)
cower; sharp pain; (t-note)

leers; hobgoblin; bleary eyes; (see note); (t-note)
As [if]; looked, cast down; spirit; (see note)
(see note); (t-note)

speech; ears; (t-note)
vexation, before; coming near

jealousy; traits
because of; scrawny tomcat

Contriving; tricks; (t-note)
glance; groom; cup; (t-note)
acts of love
bean; sexual needs; (see note)
believes; eagerly; impotent; (t-note)
itch; before; penis
monstrous man; belly; (t-note)
reluctant; haughty; unwilling; (see note)
allow; impotent wretch
fill; nor fumble with
though; penny/penis poorly; gratifies; (see note); (t-note)

body; worthless monster
kerchief; all the finest fabric; (t-note)
scarlet cloth; trimmed with fur; (see note); (t-note)
royal stone; jewel
(see note); (t-note)
(see note)

From; man; sisters
lovely [one]; speech
laughed aloud; behavior
passed; cup
jested; riotous; (t-note)
widow; lovely [lady] directed
it befalls; without deceit
favored in church; (t-note)
have; fared; confess
bond; curse; to you seems
as a faithful wife; (t-note)
afterwards; examine in; same
truth, dissembling; (t-note)
agreeable [woman]; if
trustworthy; agreed
spirit; about five inches higher; (t-note)
long discourse; depths; (t-note)

bile; burst; swollen [with rage]; (t-note)
endure; breast; burden
cast out; discharge; (t-note)
swelling; swollen; (t-note)
whoremaster; earth
faded; feeble
flourishing; these; (t-note)
failed; weakened
lecher; sexual power

weeks; penetrate once; (t-note)
before; chose
taken (discovered)
as proud; cap
glancing at the fairest; lives
courtly; combing; hair; (t-note)
valiant; bedchamber; (t-note)
cipher in bower; (t-note)
(see note)
stupid; makes; bushes
aloft; unable to piss
look; stamina

without efficacy; worthless

rails; uproar; riotous; (t-note)
boasting; rides; sexual vigor
knows; boldly
evening; (t-note)
nature's possessors
no worse than
(see note); (t-note)
found glass
fierce; after[wards] fails
jealousy; (t-note)
birds; branch
free [to take mates] each; (see note)
Had; privilege; depart
choose; farewell
should; young [man]; clasp
hold a man; foolish
mourning; slay
awake; grief; toss and turn
Cursing; wicked

There [being]; fierce; kingdom
one more attractive (seemlier); truth
Than; by seven times; sigh; (t-note)
Then; feeble; (t-note)
an exhausted; force me to surrender
why; (t-note)
fever; distress suffered
painfully; (t-note)
ache; root; (t-note)
faint; do not swoon
deceive; lowly man
ill-tempered (crabby) eye; (t-note)
feign; love glance; looks
look; anger [had] put on; (t-note)
behold him intimately; warmth
(see note)

as her guest; swear; (t-note)

same bondage
bound; pretty [girl]; ached
bed; lover; pleased; (t-note)

Forthwith; amiable [woman]
laughing; rest praised; greatly; (t-note)
These; made sport; leaves
cast off sorrow; dark boughs; (t-note)
tossed off; those white swans; (t-note)
saucier, frankly; poured out; (t-note)
Widow; indeed
it is time; tale
wisdom; weighty
pierce; wayward (perverse); (t-note)
more meek; dispositions
show; confession; scold; (t-note)
bright; gown; appeared; (t-note)

disguised cleverly in likeness of a saint
seemed meek; simple
could beguile; more crafty
listen; learn from my wisdom
wish; abandoned; flatterers; (t-note)
fierce; (t-note)
tigers; ferocious; tractable
(see note)
dragons both; doves, always; (t-note)

appearing; (t-note)
deadly; stinging; adders

not a whit; (see note)
Two; both dear
despised; in return; observed
hated; hound; secretly
fondling; made; boor foolish
(see note)

curtsy walk; blur his aged eye
countenance; shriveled cheeks; (t-note)
derisive gestures
Believing; love
could; lament; distress
more lovable youth; satisfy; (t-note)
Who; dependable
follow [me]; certain; safe; (t-note)
old [man]; ill-tempered; (t-note)
gallant; gaze
such skill; wept; (t-note)
good relish; (t-note)
(see note)
fondle, cheek; cherish
split manor house; provided; (t-note)

crazy fool
more; wiles; won than strength; (t-note)
Since then married; (t-note)
middle age; low social status
equals; kinship; blood
generosity; conduct
caused him to think of
sometimes; pedlar; (t-note)
affectingly; twice; (t-note)

appearing; clever; maturity
curate (priest); church; young
too reputable; prelate
shall be loath; tell lies; look around
make; shopkeeper; remedy; (t-note)
respect; right (privilege); (t-note)
difference; (t-note)

equal; compassion
in womanhood; great virtue; (t-note)
engendered; pity; (see note)
teach; educated

come running; afraid
humbled himself; esteemed
also; strange; before
man; hostility subsequently
overcome wholly
crowed above; coward
submissive; (t-note)
despised; loon; detested
grew; pitiless; torment; (t-note)
beast; goaded; menial labor
halter; (t-note)
impairment; reputation
anything lacked
deprived; fellow; wealth

stink started; bung; throat
astounded; shock; weapon; (t-note)
[a] delay; gladly; avenged
scold; fierce; cruel
fool feigned

swollen [with rage], inflamed; (t-note)
trouble; bond
be restrained; tossed
curb bit; submissive
made the reins strain; split
womanish man; (see note); (t-note)
buried; dignity; earth; (t-note)
female friends
fastened; colt
horse; baskets; dung heap
knows; violent leaping; (t-note)
spirited; restive; skips
humiliation escaped; neither
happy guest
obtained; sport; suited; (t-note)
Lombard (banker); free; (t-note)
glad; take; (t-note)
many gifts
adorned; clothing
crimson cloth; chains

highly; (t-note)
those; clothes

honor; possesses
lovers; young
esteem; costlier; much
Than; finely; stupid
plundered excessively; raise; (t-note)
adorned; peacock; plumes
disregarded; cuckold; made
rejected; serving man; loathed; greatly
parrot; plucked heron
gave strength to; enemy; enhanced
(see note)
cause for amusement; tell

reluctant; mounted; loutish old horse
on top; looked
vulva pierced; (t-note)
imagined; had
mirthless ride; (t-note)
man; castrated
unattractive; gaze
spat; (t-note)
overspent; despoiled
valor; held; (t-note)
dressed; children; baron's sons
fools; progeny; (t-note)
banished; lands; brethren every one
foes; enmity ever; (t-note)
liked a person; belonged
know; women's; (t-note)

Dead; bankrupt; buried
dies; sorrow
mournful; (t-note)
indeed; well at ease
weep as [if]
dress; sad; blithe
mourning; laughs; (t-note)

very beautiful my body; (t-note)
droop; lifeless appearance; mourning clothes
mourning clothes
fleece; pretend; cheer; (t-note)
forth; book wide open; (see note)
many; illuminated
over; white

glance away from; cease
youth; muscled; broadest; (t-note)
built; muscularly; furnish; banquet
bedchamber; vain boasting
moon; afflicted
Reveals at times; clouds
peep; cast

behold me from afar
water sponge; woe
stealthily; cheeks
eyes; stream down

joyless [creature]; faithfully
pity; imprint; (t-note)
suffering endure
sign myself; saint
lechery; behave; ill-natured
sigh; sore heart; illness

truth; certainly
mourn; so long as it be kept secret
ways of acting; (t-note)
ingenuity; deceive; jealous; (t-note)
conduct our business; (t-note)

disguises; natural defects
young women; secret foolish; (t-note)

Fie on; deceive; reputation; (t-note)

lack; worldly matters; cunning
noble blood
Mocked; guileless girl; hundred; (see note); (t-note)
paramour; trustworthy; (t-note)
innocent; sight; secure
more handsome person; worse
anxiety; until; (t-note)
chemise; until
holy woman throughout; county
compassionate; poor; many; (t-note)
praise; obtaining of pardons; (t-note)
young knights
faithful; lodging enter
pours out for me; (t-note)
whisper; race; read poems; (t-note)
rant forth rudely; riotous
lament; pray; praise
carve [at table]; cup
boldly march within
erect; thrusts; fist
glances; seated far apart
crowd; prosper; (t-note)

serve; same fashion; (t-note)
tread; (t-note)
young men fair; glances

living person; low of status
inclined; face white

take pity on; witches
innocent; so long as shoe (see note); (t-note)
learn; ignorant girls; (t-note)
legend (saint's life); Latin; (see note)

Loud; laughed; others; praised; (t-note)
act according to
cooled; (t-note)
talked like gossips; cup
dawn; drenched
passed away; meadow
fell; shining
birds chirped; wood; shrill; (t-note)
made; melody; boughs; (t-note)
murmuring; valley; sound

extinguished by cold
arose; roses; (t-note)
proceeded; brushwood blossoms
strange; in the early hours
these; (t-note)
choose; (see note)

William Dunbar, The Tretis of the Twa Mariit Wemen and the Wedo, Select Bibliography


Maitland Folio (Pepys Library, Magdalene College, Cambridge MS 2553) (1570-86).

Early Printed Edition

Chepman and Myllar (National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh), pp. 177-89 (c. 1507).


Bawcutt, Priscilla, and Felicity Riddy, eds. Selected Poems of Henryson & Dunbar. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1992.

Bawcutt, Priscilla, ed. William Dunbar: Selected Poems. London: Longman, 1996.

---. The Poems of William Dunbar. 2 vols. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 1998.

Conlee, John. The Works of William Dunbar. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, forthcoming.

Craigie, W. A., ed. The Maitland Folio Manuscript, Containing Poems by Sir Richard Maitland, Dunbar, Douglas, Henryson, and Others. Scottish Text Society n.s. 7. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1919. Pp. 98-115.

Kinsley, James, ed. The Poems of William Dunbar. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979.

Laing, David, ed. The Poems of William Dunbar, Now First Collected. With Notes and a Memoir of His Life. Edinburgh: Laing and Forbes, 1834.

MacKay, Colin Edward. The Poems of William Dunbar: A Descriptive and Critical Analysis. Ph.D. Diss., Brown University, 1957.

MacKay MacKenzie, William, ed. The Poems of William Dunbar. London: Faber & Faber, 1932; rpt. 1966. Pp. 85-97.

Rickly, Patricia. William Dunbar's Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo: A Critical Edition. Ph.D. Diss., University of Rhode Island, 1980.

Schipper, J., ed. The Poems of William Dunbar. Vienna: Kaiserliche Akademie der Wissen-schaften, 1894.

Small, John, ed. The Poems of William Dunbar. Scottish Text Series, first series 2. Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons, 1893.

Wood, Harriet Harvey, ed. William Dunbar: Selected Poems. Manchester: Fyfield Books, 1999. Pp. 68-83.

Related Studies

Bawcutt, Priscilla. "Dunbar's Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo 185-187 and Chaucer's Parson's Tale." Notes and Queries 11 (1964), 332-33.

---. Dunbar the Makar. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Bentsen, Eileen, and S. L. Sanderlin. "The Profits of Marriage in Late Medieval Scotland." Scottish Literary Journal 12.2 (Nov. 1985), 5-18.

Bitterling, Klaus. "The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo: Some Comments on Words, Imagery, and Genre." Scottish Studies 4 (1984), 337-58.

Burness, Edwina. "Female Language in The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Scottish Studies 4 (1984), 359-68.

Dobson, E. J., and Patricia Ingham. "Three Notes on Dunbar's The Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Medium Ævum 36 (1967), 38-39.

Ebin, Lois. "Dunbar's Bawdy." The Chaucer Review 14 (1980), 278-86.

Evans, Deanna Delmar. "Dunbar's Tretis: The Seven Deadly Sins in Carnivalesque Disguise." Neophilologus 73 (1989), 130-41.

Fradenburg, Louise. "Spectacular Fictions: The Body Politic in Chaucer and Dunbar." Poetics Today 5 (1984), 493-517.

Fries, Maureen. "The 'Other' Voice: Woman's Song, Its Satire and Its Transcendence in Late Medieval British Literature." In Vox Feminae: Studies in Medieval Woman's Songs. Ed. John Plummer. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1981. Pp. 155-78.

---. "Medieval Concepts of the Female and Their Satire in the Poetry of William Dunbar." Fifteenth-Century Studies 7 (1983), 55-77.

Hope, A. D. "'The two mariit wemen and the wedo': Protest or Satire?" In Proceedings of the Ninth Congress of the Australasian Universities' Languages and Literature Association, 19-26 August 1964. Ed. Marion Adams. Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press, 1964. P. 48.

Kinsley, James. "The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Medium Ævum 23 (1954), 31-35.

McCarthy, Shaun. "'Syne maryit I a Marchand': Dunbar's Mariit Wemen and Their Audience." Studies in Scottish Literature 18 (1983), 138-53.

Parkinson, David. "Prescriptions for Laughter in Some Middle Scots Poems." In Selected Essays on Scottish Language and Literature. Ed. Steven R. McKenna. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1992. Pp. 27-39.

Pearcy, Roy. "The Genre of William Dunbar's Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Speculum 55 (1980), 58-74.

---. "William Dunbar's Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Studies in Scottish Literature 16 (1981), 235-39.

Reiss, Edmund. "The Ironic Art of William Dunbar." In Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays. Ed. Robert F. Yeager. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1984. Pp. 321-31.

Ridley, Florence. "A Plea for the Middle Scots." In The Learned and the Lewed: Studies in Chaucer and Medieval Literature. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1974. Pp. 175-96.

---. "Studies in Douglas and Dunbar: The Present Situation." In Fifteenth-Century Studies: Recent Essays. Ed. Robert F. Yeager. Hamden, CT: Archon, 1984. Pp. 93-117.

Ross, Ian S. William Dunbar. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981.

Roth, Elizabeth. "Criticism and Taste: Readings of Dunbar's Tretis." Scottish Literary Journal sup. 15 (1981), 57-90.

Singh, Catherine. "The Alliterative Ancestry of Dunbar's The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Leeds Studies in English 7 (1974), 22-54.

---. "Line 124 of William Dunbar's The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo." Notes and Queries 21 (1974), 163.

---. "'Sabot' and 'Saull' in Line 502 of Dunbar's The Tretis of the Tua Maritt Women and the Wedo." Forum-for-Modern-Language Studies 21 (1985), 185-86.