Percy's Reliques - The Wanton Wife of Bath.

The Wanton Wife of Bath.

            [ 1]From an ancient copy in black-print, in the Pepys Collection. Mr. Addison has pronounced this an excellent ballad.-- See the Spectator, No. 248.

In Bath a wanton wife did dwelle,
As Chaucer he doth write,
Who did in pleasure spend her dayes,
And many a fond delight.

Upon a time sore sicke she was,
And at the length did dye ;
And then her soul at Heaven's gate
Did knocke most mightilye.

First Adam came unto the gate:
"Who knocketh there?" quoth hee.
"I am the Wife of Bath," she sayd,
"And faine would come to thee."

"Thou art a sinner," Adam sayd,
"And here no place shalt have;"
"And so art thou, I trowe," quoth shee
"And eke a doting knave."

"I will come in in spight," she sayd,
"Of all such churles as thee;
Thou wert the causer of our woe,
Our paine and misery;

"And first broke God's commandiments,
In pleasure of thy wife:"
When Adam heard her tell this tale,
He ranne away for life.

Then downe came Jacob at the gate,
And bids her packe to hell:
"Thou false deceiving knave," quoth she,
"Thou mayst be there as well.

"For thou deceiv'dst thy father deare,
And thine own brother too:"
Away slunk Jacob presently,
And made no more adoo.

She knockes again with might and maine,
And Lot he chides her straite:
"How now," quoth she, "thou drunken ass,
Who bade thee here to prate?

"With thy two daughters thou didst lye,
On them two bastardes got:"
And thus most tauntingly she chaft
Against poor silly Lot.

"Who calleth there," quoth Judith then,
"With such shrill sounding notes?"
"This fine minkes surely came not here,"
Quoth she, "for cutting throats!"

Good Lord, how Judith blush'd for shame,
When she heard her say soe!
King David hearing of the same,
He to the gate would goe.

Quoth David, "Who knockes there so loud,
And maketh all this strife?"
"You were more kinde, good sir," she sayd,
"Unto Uriah's wife.

"And when thy servant thou didst cause
In battle to be slaine,
Thou causedst far more strife than I,
Who would come here so faine."

"The woman's mad," quoth Solomon,
"That thus doth taunt a king;"
"Not half so mad as you," she sayd,
"I trowe, in manye a thing.

"Thou hadst seven hundred wives at once,
For whom thou didst provide,
And yet, God wot, three hundred whores
Thou must maintain beside.

"And they made thee forsake thy God,
And worship stockes and stones;
Besides the charge they put thee to
In breeding of young bones.

"Hadst thou not bin beside thy wits,
Thou wouldst 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, run-away," quoth she,
"Thou diddest more amiss."

"They say," quoth Thomas, "womens tongues
Of aspen-leaves are made;
"Thou unbelieving wretch," quoth she,
"All is not true that's sayd."

When Mary Magdalen 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 Magdalene. "Then
'Twere ill for you, fair mistress mine,"
She answered her agen.

"You for your honestye," quoth she,
"Had once been ston'd to death,
Had not our Saviour Christ come by,
And written on the earth,

"It was not by your occupation
You are become divine;
I hope my soul, in Christ his passion,
Shall be as safe as thine."

Uprose the good apostle Paul;
And to this wife he cried.
"Except thou shake thy sins away,
Thou here shalt be denyed."

"Remember, Paul, what thou hast done
All through a lewd desire,
How thou didst persecute God's church
With wrath as hot as fire."

Then up starts Peter at the last,
And to the gate he hies;
"Fond fool," quoth he, "knock not so fast,
Thou weariest Christ with cries."

"Peter," said she, "content thyselfe,
For mercye may be won;
I never did deny my Christ
As thou thyselfe 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 mercye she did crave;
Quoth he, "Thou hast refus'd
My profferd grace and mercy both,
And much my name abus'd."

"Sore have I sinned, Lord," she sayd,
"And spent my time in vaine;
But bring me, like a wandring sheepe,
Into thy flocke againe.

"O Lord my God, I will amend
My former wicked vice ;
The thief for one poor silly word,
Past into Paradise."

"My lawes and my commandiments,"
Saith Christ, "were knowne to thee;
But of the same, in any wise,
Not yet one word did yee."

"I 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 sayd,
"Through thy repenting crye ;
Come enter then into my joy,
I will not thee denye."


1 This ballad was admitted by Percy into the earlier editions of the Reliques, though excluded from the revised edition of 1794.-- Editor.

V. 77, I think. P.


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