Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
The Canterbury Tales
The Maunciples Tale
Here biginneth the Maunciples Tale of the Crowe.

WHAN Phebus dwelled here in this erthe adoun,
As olde bokes maken mencioun,
He was the moste lusty bachiler
In al this world, and eek the beste archer;
He slow Phitoun, the serpent, as he lay        5
Slepinge agayn the sonne upon a day;
And many another noble worthy dede
He with his bowe wroghte, as men may rede.
  Pleyen he coude on every minstralcye,
And singen, that it was a melodye,        10
To heren of his clere vois the soun.
Certes the king of Thebes, Amphioun,
That with his singing walled that citee,
Coude never singen half so wel as he.
Therto he was the semelieste man        15
That is or was, sith that the world bigan.
What nedeth it his fetures to discryve?
For in this world was noon so fair on lyve.
He was ther-with fulfild of gentillesse,
Of honour, and of parfit worthinesse.        20
  This Phebus, that was flour of bachelrye,
As wel in fredom as in chivalrye,
For his desport, in signe eek of victorie
Of Phitoun, so as telleth us the storie,
Was wont to beren in his hand a bowe.        25
  Now had this Phebus in his hous a crowe,
Which in a cage he fostred many a day,
And taughte it speken, as men teche a Iay.
Whyt was this crowe, as is a snow-whyt swan,
And countrefete the speche of every man        30
He coude, whan he sholde telle a tale.
Ther-with in al this world no nightingale
Ne coude, by an hondred thousand deel,
Singen so wonder merily and weel.
  Now had this Phebus in his hous a wyf,        35
Which that he lovede more than his lyf,
And night and day dide ever his diligence
Hir for to plese, and doon hir reverence,
Save only, if the sothe that I shal sayn,
Ialous he was, and wolde have kept hir fayn;        40
For him were looth by-iaped for to be.
And so is every wight in swich degree;
But al in ydel, for it availleth noght.
A good wyf, that is clene of werk and thoght,
Sholde nat been kept in noon await, certayn;        45
And trewely, the labour is in vayn
To kepe a shrewe, for it wol nat be.
This holde I for a verray nycetee,
To spille labour, for to kepe wyves;
Thus writen olde clerkes in hir lyves.        50
  But now to purpos, as I first bigan:
This worthy Phebus dooth all that he can
To plesen hir, weninge by swich plesaunce,
And for his manhede and his governaunce,
That no man sholde han put him from hir grace.        55
But god it woot, ther may no man embrace
As to destreyne a thing, which that nature
Hath naturelly set in a creature.
  Tak any brid, and put it in a cage,
And do al thyn entente and thy corage        60
To fostre it tendrely with mete and drinke,
Of alle deyntees that thou canst bithinke,
And keep it al-so clenly as thou may;
Al-though his cage of gold be never so gay,
Yet hath this brid, by twenty thousand fold,        65
Lever in a forest, that is rude and cold,
Gon ete wormes and swich wrecchednesse.
For ever this brid wol doon his bisinesse
To escape out of his cage, if he may;
His libertee this brid desireth ay.        70
  Lat take a cat, and fostre him wel with milk,
And tendre flesh, and make his couche of silk,
And lat him seen a mous go by the wal;
Anon he weyveth milk, and flesh, and al,
And every deyntee that is in that hous,        75
Swich appetyt hath he to ete a mous.
Lo, here hath lust his dominacioun,
And appetyt flemeth discrecioun.
  A she-wolf hath also a vileins kinde;
The lewedeste wolf that she may finde,        80
Or leest of reputacion wol she take,
In tyme whan hir lust to han a make.
  Alle thise ensamples speke I by thise men
That been untrewe, and no-thing by wommen.
For men han ever a likerous appetyt        85
On lower thing to parfourne hir delyt
Than on hir wyves, be they never so faire,
Ne never so trewe, ne so debonaire.
Flesh is so newefangel, with meschaunce,
That we ne conne in no-thing han pleasaunce        90
That souneth in-to vertu any whyle.
  This Phebus, which that thoghte upon no gyle,
Deceyved was, for al his Iolitee;
For under him another hadde she,
A man of litel reputacioun,        95
Noght worth to Phebus in comparisoun.
The more harm is; it happeth ofte so,
Of which ther cometh muchel harm and wo.
  And so bifel, whan Phebus was absent,
His wyf anon hath for hir lemman sent,        100
Hir lemman? certes, this is a knavish speche!
Foryeveth it me, and that I yow biseche.
  The wyse Plato seith, as ye may rede,
The word mot nede accorde with the dede.
If men shal telle proprely a thing,        105
The word mot cosin be to the werking.
I am a boistous man, right thus seye I,
Ther nis no difference, trewely,
Bitwixe a wyf that is of heigh degree,
If of hir body dishonest she be,        110
And a povre wenche, other than this—
If it so be, they werke bothe amis—
But that the gentile, in estaat above,
She shal be cleped his lady, as in love;
And for that other is a povre womman,        115
She shal be cleped his wenche, or his lemman.
And, god it woot, myn owene dere brother,
Men leyn that oon as lowe as lyth that other.
  Right so, bitwixe a titlelees tiraunt
And an outlawe, or a theef erraunt,        120
The same I seye, ther is no difference.
To Alisaundre told was this sentence;
That, for the tyrant is of gretter might,
By force of meynee for to sleen doun-right,
And brennen hous and hoom, and make al plain,        125
Lo! therfor is he cleped a capitain;
And, for the outlawe hath but smal meynee,
And may nat doon so greet an harm as he,
Ne bringe a contree to so greet mescheef,
Men clepen him an outlawe or a theef.        130
But, for I am a man noght textuel,
I wol noght telle of textes never a del;
I wol go to my tale, as I bigan.
Whan Phebus wyf had sent for hir lemman,
Anon they wroghten al hir lust volage.        135
  The whyte crowe, that heng ay in the cage,
Biheld hir werk, and seyde never a word.
And whan that hoom was come Phebus, the lord,
This crowe sang ‘cokkow! cokkow! cokkow!’
  ‘What, brid?’ quod Phebus, ‘what song singestow?        140
Ne were thow wont so merily to singe
That to myn herte it was a reioisinge
To here thy vois? allas! what song is this?’
  ‘By god,’ quod he, ‘I singe nat amis;
Phebus,’ quod he, ‘for al thy worthinesse,        145
For al thy beautee and thy gentilesse,
For al thy song and al thy minstralcye,
For al thy waiting, blered is thyn yë
With oon of litel reputacioun,
Noght worth to thee, as in comparisoun,        150
The mountance of a gnat; so mote I thryve!
For on thy bed thy wyf I saugh him swyve.’
  What wol ye more? the crowe anon him tolde,
By sadde tokenes and by wordes bolde,
How that his wyf had doon hir lecherye,        155
Him to gret shame and to gret vileinye;
And tolde him ofte, he saugh it with his yën.
This Phebus gan aweyward for to wryen,
Him thoughte his sorweful herte brast a-two;
His bowe he bente, and sette ther-inne a flo,        160
And in his ire his wyf thanne hath he slayn.
This is theffect, ther is na-more to sayn;
For sorwe of which he brak his minstralcye,
Bothe harpe, and lute, and giterne, and sautrye;
And eek he brak his arwes and his bowe.        165
And after that, thus spak he to the crowe:
  ‘Traitour,’ quod he, ‘with tonge of scorpioun,
Thou hast me broght to my confusioun!
Allas! that I was wroght! why nere I deed?
O dere wyf, o gemme of lustiheed,        170
That were to me so sad and eek so trewe,
Now lystow deed, with face pale of hewe,
Ful giltelees, that dorste I swere, y-wis!
O rakel hand, to doon so foule amis!
O trouble wit, o ire recchelees,        175
That unavysed smytest giltelees!
O wantrust, ful of fals suspecioun,
Where was thy wit and thy discrecioun?
O every man, be-war of rakelnesse,
Ne trowe no-thing with-outen strong witnesse;        180
Smyt nat to sone, er that ye witen why,
And beeth avysed wel and sobrely
Er ye doon any execucioun,
Up-on your ire, for suspecioun.
Allas! a thousand folk hath rakel ire        185
Fully fordoon, and broght hem in the mire.
Allas! for sorwe I wol my-selven slee!’
  And to the crowe, ‘o false theef!’ seyde he,
‘I wol thee quyte anon thy false tale!
Thou songe whylom lyk a nightingale;        190
Now shaltow, false theef, thy song forgon,
And eek thy whyte fetheres everichon,
Ne never in al thy lyf ne shaltou speke.
Thus shal men on a traitour been awreke;
Thou and thyn of-spring ever shul be blake,        195
Ne never swete noise shul ye make,
But ever crye agayn tempest and rayn,
In tokeninge that thurgh thee my wyf is slayn.’
And to the crowe he stirte, and that anon,
And pulled his whyte fetheres everichon,        200
And made him blak, and refte him al his song,
And eek his speche, and out at dore him slong
Un-to the devel, which I him bitake;
And for this caas ben alle crowes blake.—
  Lordings, by this ensample I yow preye,        205
Beth war, and taketh kepe what I seye:
Ne telleth never no man in your lyf
How that another man hath dight his wyf;
He wol yow haten mortally, certeyn.
Daun Salomon, as wyse clerkes seyn,        210
Techeth a man to kepe his tonge wel;
But as I seyde, I am noght textuel.
But nathelees, thus taughte me my dame:
‘My sone, thenk on the crowe, a goddes name;
My sone, keep wel thy tonge and keep thy freend.        215
A wikked tonge is worse than a feend.
My sone, from a feend men may hem blesse;
My sone, god of his endelees goodnesse
Walled a tonge with teeth and lippes eke,
For man sholde him avyse what he speke.        220
My sone, ful ofte, for to muche speche,
Hath many a man ben spilt, as clerkes teche;
But for a litel speche avysely
Is no men shent, to speke generally.
My sone, thy tonge sholdestow restreyne        225
At alle tyme, but whan thou doost thy peyne
To speke of god, in honour and preyere.
The firste vertu, sone, if thou wolt lere,
Is to restreyne and kepe wel thy tonge.—
Thus lerne children whan that they ben yonge.—        230
My sone, of muchel speking yvel-avysed,
Ther lasse speking hadde y-nough suffysed,
Comth muchel harm, thus was me told and taught.
In muchel speche sinne wanteth naught.
Wostow wher-of a rakel tonge serveth?        235
Right as a swerd forcutteth and forkerveth
An arm a-two, my dere sone, right so
A tonge cutteth frendship al a-two.
A Iangler is to god abhominable;
Reed Salomon, so wys and honurable;        240
Reed David in his psalmes, reed Senekke.
My sone, spek nat, but with thyn heed thou bekke.
Dissimule as thou were deef, if that thou here
A Iangler speke of perilous matere.
The Fleming seith, and lerne it, if thee leste,        245
That litel Iangling causeth muchel reste.
My sone, if thou no wikked word hast seyd,
Thee thar nat drede for to be biwreyd;
But he that hath misseyd, I dar wel sayn,
He may by no wey clepe his word agayn.        250
Thing that is seyd, is seyd; and forth it gooth,
Though him repente, or be him leef or looth.
He is his thral to whom that he hath sayd
A tale, of which he is now yvel apayd.
My sone, be war, and be non auctour newe        255
Of tydinges, whether they ben false or trewe.
Wher-so thou come, amonges hye or lowe,
Kepe wel thy tonge, and thenk up-on the crowe.

Here is ended the Maunciples Tale of the Crowe.

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