Thursday, 23 August 2012

Anti-marriage - Anna Bijns
(Antwerp, mid-15th century)


To be a woman’s fine, a man far better.
You maids, you widows keep this to the letter:
Don’t haste or fret to see yourselves soon wed.
It’s said that manless you are honour’s debtor;
If finding food and clothes though does not fetter,
Let no man master both your house and bed.
Take my advice: Be wary where you tread
It seems to me, where’er I cast my gaze,
That if a woman choose – though nobly bred
And rich in goods – to wed she all her days
Will spend short-tethered; if alone she stays
Instead both pure and chaste she’ll, I profess,
Be mistress of a life excelling praise.
With marriage I’ve no quarrel, nonetheless
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

Maids fair of face make wives plain to behold,
Poor frumps, poor drudges; take care, young and old!
From wedlock’s hold I thus should clearly sheer.
Alas, once they are wed they’ve soon extolled
A love which they believe cannot grow cold;
This they will rue within just half a year:
The yoke of marriage makes life far too drear!
Of this all those who’ve wed are well aware!
And women make much clamour out of fear
When husbands seek distraction here and there,
Spend nights and days in inn and gambling lair;
Then wives swear that they rue their foolishness,
But friends and family can’t ease their care.
So stay on guard, and hear what I profess:
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

The man comes home at times drunk as a lord,
Pesters his wife, exhausted by her chores;
No time to pause if she the house shall run.
And should she feel like countering his roars,
He strikes her in the face or to the floor;
That drink-logged vat’s commands she may not shun.
For all he’ll do is rant and rave at one,
So are things done; poor wife who such must bear!
And if with other women he’s begun,
What joy to rule the home when he’s not there.
You maids, you women, quench your thirst elsewhere
Ere you would hitch yourself up to distress.
Though you a view opposed to mine all share,
I simply do not care, but still profess:
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

Unkept, a woman must man’s wealth forgo;
His will though likewise she need never know.
And freedom, I maintain, is of great worth.
Without account she’s free to come and go;
Though she must spin to earn her bread, all know
To feed one mouth it takes a lesser purse.
Not tied, she’s envied everywhere on earth,
And though a husband’s income is denied,
As mistress she is master of her hearth.
To freely move is joy none can deride.
To sleep or wake at will she may decide,
With none to chide – so stay untied, don’t rest.
Lost freedom is the worst ill ever tried.
Wives everywhere, though good blokes line your nest,
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.


Though women may have wealth none can deny,
They’re viewed as slaves by men both low and high.
Should they with fine words ply, then stop them short
And tell them to push off if they should try;
In number good men with white ravens vie.
Away from all gifts shy that they have brought,
As soon as in their mesh the woman’s caught,
Love is as nought, its seen repeatedly.
In marriage man’s deception’s grimly taught,
With sorrows fraught, she suffers constantly;
He squanders all her wealth, won’t let her be.
No game for free, but heavy curse no less.
Oft money rules not love when you can see
Such men run till their lungs burst out their chest.
Not tied by husbands women prosper best.

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