Medieval English Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer: Canterbury Tale of the Man of Law
14th century, Middle English. Numerous printed copies.
Constance drifted throughout the Aegean Sea and on through the Straits of Gibraltar, waiting for death to claim her; for she harboured no hope of surviving to see her small boat cast onto a shore.
To cut a long story short, the Christians and the Sultan, everybody, were hacked to pieces and stabbed at the table; and only Constance alone was spared. Not one of those who had received Christianity managed to get to his feet before he was cut down. Constance was quickly bundled out of the hall and put into a ship without a rudder –
and in a shippe al sterelees, god woot , they haf hir set – and told to learn quickly how to sail if she wished to get back to Italy again!
With a little money and some clothes they had given her, she was cast upon the salty sea. Oh Constance! Daughter of an emperor and the very model of virtue. May he who is the lord of fortune guide you.
"Yeres and dayes fleet this creature thurghout the see... – Years and days passed. Years! This sorry creature drifted throughout the Aegean Sea and on through the Straits of Gibraltar, waiting for death to claim her; for she harboured no hope of surviving to see her boat cast onto a shore.
At last she was washed ashore on the coast of Northumberland. The constable of the castle there came down onto the shore to view the wreck and found the weary woman on board. She begged for mercy, in her own language – begged that her life might be spared and that he might help her. She spoke a corrupt form of Latin, but it was possible for them to understand her a little and when the constable had finished inspecting the vessel he brought her up into the castle. She knelt in thanks to God. But who she was, she would not say, not to anybody. She told them that she had been traumatised by her voyage and that she had forgotten everything that had happened to her before setting out. The constable and his wife wept out of pity for her. And she was so hardworking and willing to serve and to please everybody in the castle that soon everybody grew to love her.