Verse > Anthologies > Harvard Classics > English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray
   English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
2. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
Lines 1–200
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)
Here biginneth the Nonne Preestes Tale
of the Cok and Hen, Chauntecleer and Pertelote.
A POVRE widwe somdel stope 1 in age,
Was whylom 2 dwelling in a narwe cotage,
Bisyde a grove, stondyng in a dale.
This widwe, of which I telle yow my tale,
Sin thilke 3 day that she was last a wyf,        5
In pacience ladde a ful simple lyf,
For litel was hir catel 4 and hir rente;
By housbondrye, of such as God hir sente,
She fond 5 hir-self, and eek hir doghtren two.
Three large sowes hadde she, and namo,        10
Three kyn, and eek a sheep that highte 6 Malle.
Ful sooty was hir bour, 7 and eek hir halle
In which she eet ful many a sclendre meel.
Of poynaunt sauce hir neded never a deel.
No deyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte;        15
Hir dyete was accordant to hir cote.
Repleccioun ne made hir nevere syk;
Attempree dyete was al hir phisyk,
And exercyse, and hertes suffisaunce.
The goute lette 8 hir no-thing for to daunce,        20
Ne poplexye 9 shente 10 nat hir heed;
No wyn ne drank she, neither whyt ne reed;
Hir bord was served most with whyt and blak,
Milk and broun breed, in which she fond no lak,
Seynd 11 bacoun, and somtyme an ey 12 or tweye,        25
For she was as it were a maner deye. 13
  A yerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute
With stikkes, and a drye dich with-oute,
In which she hadde a cok, hight Chauntecleer,
In al the land of crowing nas 14 his peer.        30
His vois was merier than the merye orgon
On messe-dayes that in the chirche gon;
Wel sikerer 15 was his crowing in his logge, 16
Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge. 17
By nature knew he ech ascencioun        35
Of equinoxial in thilke toun;
For whan degrees fiftene were ascended, 18
Thanne crew he, that it mighte nat ben amended.
His comb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailed, 19 as it were a castel-wal.        40
His bile was blak, and as the jeet it shoon;
Lyk asur were his legges, and his toon; 20
His nayles whytter than the lilie flour,
And lyk the burned 21 gold was his colour.
This gentil cok hadde in his governaunce        45
Sevene hennes, for to doon al his plesaunce,
Whiche were his sustres and his paramours,
And wonder lyk to him, as of colours.
Of whiche the faireste hewed on hir throte
Was cleped 22 faire damoysele Pertelote.        50
Curteys she was, discreet, and debonaire,
And compaignable, and bar hir-self so faire,
Sin thilke day that she was seven night old,
That trewely she hath the herte in hold
Of Chauntecleer loken in every lith; 23        55
He loved hir so, that wel was him therwith.
But such a joye was it to here hem singe,
Whan that the brighte sonne gan to springe,
In swete accord, ‘My lief is faren in londe.’ 24
For thilke 25 tyme, as I have understonde,        60
Bestes and briddes coude speke and singe.
  And so bifel, that in a dawenynge,
As Chauntecleer among his wyves alle
Sat on his perche, that was in the halle,
And next him sat this faire Pertelote,        65
This Chauntecleer gan gronen in his throte,
As man that in his dreem is drecched 26 sore.
And whan that Pertelote thus herde him rore,
She was agast, and seyde, ‘O herte deere,
What eyleth yow, to grone in this manere?        70
Ye ben a verray sleper, fy for shame!’
And he answerde and seyde thus, ‘Madame,
I pray yow, that ye take it nat a-grief: 27
By God, me mette 28 I was in swich meschief
Right now, that yet myn herte is sore afright.        75
Now God,’ quod he, ‘my swevene 29 rede 30 aright,
And keep my body out of foul prisoun!
Me mette, 31 how that I romed up and doun
Withinne our yerde, wher-as I saugh a beste,
Was lyk an hound, and wolde han maad areste 32        80
Upon my body, and wolde han had me deed.
His colour was bitwixe yelwe and reed;
And tipped was his tail, and bothe his eres
With blak, unlyk the remenant of his heres;
His snowte smal, with glowinge eyen tweye.        85
Yet of his look for fere almost I deye;
This caused me my groning, douteles.’
  ‘Avoy!’ quod she, ‘fy on yow, herteles!
Allas!’ quod she, ‘for, by that God above,
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love;        90
I can nat love a coward, by my feith.
For certes, what, so any womman seith,
We alle desyren, if it mighte be,
To han housebondes hardy, wyse, and free,
And secree, and no nigard, ne no fool,        95
Ne him that is agast of every tool, 33
Ne noon avauntour, 34 by that God above!
How dorste ye sayn for shame unto youre love,
That any thing mighte make yow aferd?
Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?        100
Allas! and conne ye been agast of swevenis? 35
No-thing, God wot, but vanitee, in sweven is.
Swevenes engendren of 36 replecciouns,
And ofte of fume, 37 and of complecciouns, 38
Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.        105
Certes this dreem, which ye han met to-night,
Cometh of the grete superfluitee
Of youre rede colera, 39 pardee, 40
Which causeth folk to dreden in here dremes
Of arwes, and of fyr with rede lemes, 41        110
Of grete bestes, that they wol hem byte,
Of contek, 42 and of whelpes grete and lyte; 43
Right 44 as the humour of malencolye
Causeth ful many a man, in sleep, to crye,
For fere of blake beres, or boles 45 blake,        115
Or elles, blake develes wole him take.
Of othere humours coude I telle also,
That werken many a man in sleep ful wo;
But I wol passe as lightly as I can.
  Lo Catoun, which that was so wys a man,        120
Seyde he nat thus, ne do no fors of 46 dremes?
Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘whan we flee fro the bemes, 47
For Goddes love, as tak som laxatyf;
Up peril of my soule, and of my lyf,
I counseille yow the beste, I wol nat lye,        125
That both of colere, and of malencolye
Ye purge yow; and for ye shul nat tarie
Though in this toun is noon apotecarie,
I shal my-self to herbes techen 48 yow,
That shul ben for your hele, 49 and for your prow; 50        130
And in our yerd tho herbes shal I fynde,
The whiche han of here propretee, by kynde, 51
To purgen yow binethe, and eek above.
Forget not this, for Goddes owene love!
Ye been ful colerik of compleccioun.        135
Ware 52 the sonne in his ascencioun
Ne fynde yow nat repleet 53 of humours hote;
And if it do, I dar wel leye 54 a grote,
That ye shul have a fevere terciane,
Or an agu, that may be youre bane. 55        140
A day or two ye shul have digestyves
Of wormes, er ye take your laxatyves,
Of lauriol, 56 centaure, 57 and fumetere, 58
Or elles of ellebor, that groweth there,
Of catapuce, 59 or of gaytres 60 beryis,        145
Of erbe yve, 61 growing in our yerd, that mery 62 is;
Pekke hem up right as they growe, and ete hem in.
Be mery, housbond, for your fader kyn! 63
Dredeth no dreem; I can say yow na-more.’
  ‘Madame,’ quod he, ‘graunt mercy 64 of your lore.        150
But natheles, as touching daun Catoun,
That hath of wisdom such a gret renoun,
Though that he bad no dremes for to drede,
By God, men may in olde bokes rede
Of many a man, more of auctoritee        155
Than evere Catoun was, so moot I thee, 65
That al the revers seyn of this sentence,
And han wel founden by experience,
That dremes ben significaciouns,
As wel of joye as tribulaciouns        160
That folk enduren in this lyf present.
Ther nedeth make of this noon argument;
The verray preve 66 sheweth it in dede.
  Oon of the gretteste auctours that men rede 67
Seith thus, that whylom two felawes wente        165
On pilgrimage, in a ful good entente;
And happed so, thay come into a toun,
Wher-as ther was swich congregacioun
Of peple, and eek so streit of herbergage, 68
That they ne founde as muche as O 69 cotage,        170
In which they bothe mighte y-logged 70 be.
Wherfor thay mosten, of necessitee,
As for that night, departen 71 compaignye;
And ech of hem goth to his hostelrye,
And took his logging as it wolde falle. 72        175
That oon of hem was logged in a stalle,
Fer in a yerd, with oxen of the plough;
That other man was logged wel y-nough,
As was his aventure, 73 or his fortune,
That us governeth alle as in commune.        180
  And so bifel, that, longe er it were day,
This man mette 74 in his bed, ther-as 75 he lay,
How that his felawe gan up-on him calle,
And seyde, ‘allas! for in an oxes stalle
This night I shal be mordred ther 76 I lye.        185
Now help me, dere brother, or I dye;
In alle haste com to me,’ he sayde.
This man out of his sleep for fere abrayde; 77
But whan that he was wakned of his sleep,
He turned him, and took of this no keep; 78        190
Him thoughte his dreem nas but a vanitee.
Thus twyes in his sleping dremed he.
And atte thridde tyme yet his felawe
Com, as him thoughte, and seide, ‘I am now slawe; 79
Bihold my bloody woundes, depe and wyde!        195
Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde,
And at the west gate of the toun,’ quod he,
‘A carte ful of donge ther shaltow see,
In which my body is hid ful prively;
Do thilke carte arresten boldely.        200
Note 1. That. [back]
Note 2. Property. [back]
Note 3. Supported. [back]
Note 4. Was called. [back]
Note 5. Inner room. [back]
Note 6. Hindered. [back]
Note 7. Apoplexy. [back]
Note 8. Harmed. [back]
Note 9. Broiled. [back]
Note 10. Egg. [back]
Note 11. A kind of dairy-woman. [back]
Note 12. Was not. [back]
Note 13. More certain. [back]
Note 14. Lodge. [back]
Note 15. Clock. [back]
Note 16. I. e., every hour. [back]
Note 17. Indented. [back]
Note 18. Toes. [back]
Note 19. Burnished. [back]
Note 20. Called. [back]
Note 21. Locked in every limb. [back]
Note 22. ‘My dear is gone away’™a line from a popular song. [back]
Note 23. That. [back]
Note 24. Troubled. [back]
Note 25. Amiss. [back]
Note 26. I dreamed. [back]
Note 27. Dream. [back]
Note 28. Interpret. [back]
Note 29. Seized. [back]
Note 30. Weapon. [back]
Note 31. Interpret. [back]
Note 32. Boaster. [back]
Note 33. Dreams. [back]
Note 34. Are produced by. [back]
Note 35. Vapours rising from the stomach. [back]
Note 36. Particular combinations of humors. [back]
Note 37. Red choler was one of the four humors, the proportionate amounts of which were supposed to determine the individual temperament of “complexion.” [back]
Note 38. An oath. [back]
Note 39. Flames. [back]
Note 40. Strife. [back]
Note 41. Little. [back]
Note 42. Just. [back]
Note 43. Bulls. [back]
Note 44. Pay no attention to. [back]
Note 45. Perch. [back]
Note 46. Direct. [back]
Note 47. Health. [back]
Note 48. Profit. [back]
Note 49. Nature. [back]
Note 50. Beware. [back]
Note 51. Too full. [back]
Note 52. Bet. [back]
Note 53. Death. [back]
Note 54. Spurge-laurel. [back]
Note 55. Centaury. [back]
Note 56. Fumitory. [back]
Note 57. Caper-spurge. [back]
Note 58. Buck-thorn. [back]
Note 59. Herb ivy. [back]
Note 60. Pleasant. [back]
Note 61. Father’s kin. [back]
Note 62. Many thanks. [back]
Note 63. So may I thrive. [back]
Note 64. True proof. [back]
Note 65. Cicero. [back]
Note 66. Such crowding in the inns. [back]
Note 67. One. [back]
Note 68. Lodged. [back]
Note 69. Part. [back]
Note 70. Happen. [back]
Note 71. Chance. [back]
Note 72. Dreamed. [back]
Note 73. Where. [back]
Note 74. Started. [back]
Note 75. Heed. [back]
Note 76. Heed. [back]
Note 77. Slain. [back]
Note 78. Dreamed. [back]
Note 79. Delay. [back]


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