The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale
by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales: The Wife of Bath's Tale Poverty Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used the line numbering found on Librarius's online edition.
Thenketh hou noble, as seith Valerius,
Was thilke Tullius Hostillius,
That out of poverte roos to heigh noblesse.
Reedeth Senek, and redeth eek Boece,
Ther shul ye seen epres that it no drede is,
That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis.
(1169 – 1167)
Just as she has sought to detach the origin of gentility from one's ancestry, the lady here attempts to detach it from one's wealth. This part of her discussion on gentility provides a transition into the next section of her speech, a defense of poverty.
And ther as ye of poverte me repreeve,
The hye God, on whom that we bileeve,
In willful poverte chees to lyve his lyf.
And certes, every man, mayden or wyf,
May understonde that Jesus, hevene kyng,
Ne wolde nat chesen vicious lyvyng.
(1183 – 1188)
The lady's point that Jesus chose to live a life of poverty, therefore it is not a dishonorable lifestyle, is well taken. However, her argument here is a little bit weak; just because Jesus chose a life of poverty does not necessarily make a poor woman a desirable marriage partner for a man, which is what the lady is kind of implying.
Glad poverte is an honeste thyng, certeyne,
This wole Senec and othere clerkes seyn.
(1189 – 1190)
By saying poverty is honest, the lady probably means that there's no dishonor in it. It's less clear what she means by "glad" poverty; perhaps poverty endured without bitterness? The implication may be that it would be dishonorable to be bitter about one's poverty because that would be raging against the fate chosen for you by God. The idea that God had ordained for some people to be poor and they ought not to struggle against it was a popular one at this time period.