I found a fascinating, unexpected, and interesting comparison between The Wife of Bath’s Prologue from Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and The Classic of Poetry poem titled “Plums are Falling.” Both of these are tales of women who seek and yearn for more in their lives than what they already have. Although in comparison, their personalities are vastly different, they seem to share common ground as they both long to have a solid man in their life.
In The Canterbury Tales, the wife of bath is depicted as a gap-toothed, promiscuous woman who has had been widowed by multiple husbands. How scandalous! She shares how she married her first three husbands for money and that she teased and taunted them with sex and played games with them in order to get what she wanted. The fourth had a mistress and she was the one always trying to make him jealous, trying to gain that power she used to have with the others back over him. The fifth time, she married a younger man for love, and that turned out horribly. He abused her and he would make it up to her over and over again. In her first three marriages, she was money hungry; that is what she desired. The question is, what changed between her fourth and fifth marriage? She had married for money her entire life and maybe not having that power over someone caused her to want to marry for something else: love. Even though the marriage was abusive, all she was looking for was affection and she might have even been after that the whole time without even knowing it. That even might have been the reason she never seemed satisfied with her marriages.
“Plums are Falling” is about a woman who wants a man but cannot seem to find the right one. The first stanza of the poem says “seven are the fruits” where the fruits represent the many men (seven of them) wanting her. Since she has many, she wants and requests “a fine one” which I felt was a man among men who could only be the best. The second stanza only has three fruits and she asks for “a steady one” which I felt was synonymous with the idea of infidelity and being faithful. In between these two stanzas, four men have disappeared. Either they are deceased, have found a bride and no longer want her or she has eliminated them as options due to her request for a fine man. In any case, she has changed her expectations or added a standard that she seeks in a companion. After all, there are fewer fruits to choose from and because many men want her, she has standards. The third and final stanza has no number and instead says “catch them in the basket.” This feels like fruit falling from a tree and that she is scraping together any fruit or men she can find. She once again says that many men want her, but if many men want her, why does she have to catch them in a basket? I feel like she is saying this because she is still in the past and is telling herself that many men want her, but they, in fact, do not. She has taken too long to chose and it seems that she has been too picky that she has ended up with none. This is also confirmed but the last line “let me be the bride of one” as now some time has passed between the first two stanzas; she is getting older and all she wishes now is to be married.
Both of these works have very interesting women as the narrator. They are both completely different as I imagine the “Plums are Falling” woman narrator to be virginal, pure, as well as a very calm and passive person. However, when I paint an image of the wife of bath, I see her being quite the opposite displaying traits such as expressiveness, outspokenness and being overtly and openly sexual. Even though these characters are seeming polar opposite, they are both looking for essentially the same thing: love and happiness in their marriage. They both have standards as the wife of bath begins lusting after rich men and then later, she desires a young man whom she marries for love and the “Plums are Falling” woman wants someone fine and steady, but as time passes, she grows to just want someone who will marry her. It is honestly so intriguing to see two very different women depicted so differently and have the same problem and want the same things in life.