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 401–637
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)
That in awayt liggen to mordre men.
O false mordrer, lurking in thy den!
O newe Scariot, newe Genilon!
False dissimilour, O Greek Sinon,
That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe!        405
O Chauntecleer, acursed be that morwe,
That thou into that yerd flough 1 fro the bemes!
Thou were ful wel y-warned by thy dremes,
That thilke day was perilous to thee.
But what that God forwot 2 mot 3 nedes be,        410
After the opinioun of certeyn clerkis.
Witnesse on him, that any perfit clerk is,
That in scole is gret altercacioun
In this matere, and greet disputisoun,
And hath ben of an hundred thousand men.        415
But I ne can not bulte it to the bren, 4
As can the holy doctour Augustyn,
Or Boece, or the bishop Bradwardyn,
Whether that Goddes worthy forwiting 5
Streyneth 6 me nedely 7 for to doon a thing,        420
(Nedely clepe 8 I simple necessitee);
Or elles, if free choys be graunted me
To do that same thing, or do it noght,
Though God forwoot it, er that it was wroght;
Or if his writing streyneth 9 nevere a del        425
But by necessitee condicionel.
I wol not han to do of swich matere;
My tale is of a cok, as ye may here,
That took his counseil of his wyf, with sorwe,
To walken in the yerd upon that morwe        430
That he had met the dreem, that I yow tolde.
Wommennes counseils been ful ofte colde; 10
Wommannes counseil broghte us first to wo,
And made Adam fro paradys to go,
Ther as he was ful mery, and wel at ese.        435
But for I noot, to whom it mighte displese,
If I counseil of wommen wolde blame,
Passe over, for I seyde it in my game.
Rede auctours, wher they trete of swich matere,
And what thay seyn of wommen ye may here.        440
Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;
I can noon harme of no womman divyne.
  Faire in the sond, to bathe hire merily,
Lyth Pertelote, and alle hir sustres by,
Agayn 11 the sonne; and Chauntecleer so free        445
Song merier than the mermayde in the see;
For Phisiologus seith sikerly,
How that they singen wel and merily.
And so bifel, that as he caste his yë,
Among the wortes, on a boterflye,        450
He was war of this fox that lay ful lowe.
No-thing ne liste him thanne for to crowe,
But cryde anon, ‘cok, cok,’ and up he sterte,
As man that was affrayed in his herte.
For naturelly a beest desyreth flee        455
Fro his contrarie, if he may it see,
Though he never erst had seyn it with his yë.
  This Chauntecleer, whan he gan him espye
He wolde han fled, but that the fox anon
Seyde, ‘Gentil sire, allas! wher wol ye gon?        460
Be ye affrayed of me that am your freend?
Now certes, I were worse than a feend,
If I to yow wolde harm or vileinye.
I am nat come your counseil for tespye;
But trewely, the cause of my cominge        465
Was only for to herkne how that ye singe.
For trewely ye have as mery a stevene, 12
As eny aungel hath, that is in hevene;
Therwith ye han in musik more felinge
Than hadde Boece, or any that can singe.        470
My lord your fader (God his soule blesse!)
And eek your moder, of hir gentilesse,
Han in myn hous y-been, to my gret ese;
And certes, sire, ful fayn wolde I yow plese.
But for men speke of singing, I wol saye,        475
So mote 13 I brouke 14 wel myn eyen tweye,
Save yow, I herde nevere man so singe,
As dide your fader in the morweninge;
Certes, it was of herte, al that he song.
And for to make his voys the more strong,        480
He wolde so peyne him, that with both his yën
He moste winke, so loude he wolde cryen,
And stonden on his tiptoon ther-with-al,
And strecche forth his nekke long and smal.
And eek he was of swich discrecioun,        485
That ther nas no man in no regioun
That him in song or wisdom mighte passe.
I have weel rad in daun 15 Burnel the Asse,
Among his vers, how that ther was a cok,
For that a prestes sone yaf him a knok        490
Upon his leg, whyl he was yong and nyce, 16
He made him for to lese 17 his benefyce.
But certeyn, ther nis no comparisoun
Bitwix the wisdom and discrecioun
Of your fader, and of his subtiltee.        495
Now singeth, sire, for seinte charitee,
Let se, conne ye your fader countrefete?’ 18
This Chauntecleer his winges gan to bete,
As man that coude his tresoun nat espye,
So was he ravisshed with his flaterye.        500
  Allas! ye lordes, many a fals flatour
Is in your courtes, and many a losengeour, 19
That plesen yow wel more, by my feith,
Than he that soothfastnesse unto yow seith.
Redeth Ecclesiaste of flaterye;        505
Beth war, ye lordes, of hir trecherye.
  This Chauntecleer stood hye up-on his toos,
Strecching his nekke, and held his eyen cloos,
And gan to crowe loude for the nones; 20
And daun 21 Russel the fox sterte up at ones,        510
And by the gargat 22 hente 23 Chauntecleer,
And on his bak toward the wode him beer,
For yet ne was ther no man that him sewed. 24
O destinee, that mayst nat ben eschewed!
Allas, that Chauntecleer fleigh 25 fro the bemes!        515
Allas, his wyf ne roghte 26 nat of dremes!
And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce.
O Venus, that art goddesse of plesaunce,
Sin that thy servant was this Chauntecleer,
And in thy service dide al his poweer,        520
More for delyt, than world to multiplye,
Why woldestow suffre him on thy day to dye?
O Gaufred, dere mayster soverayn,
That, whan thy worthy king Richard was slayn
With shot, compleynedest his deth so sore,        525
Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy lore,
The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?
(For on a Friday soothly slayn was he.)
Than wolde I shewe yow how that I coude pleyne
For Chauntecleres drede, and for his peyne.        530
  Certes, swich cry ne lamentacioun
Was nevere of ladies maad, whan Ilioun
Was wonne, and Pirrus with his streite 27 swerd,
Whan he hadde hent 28 king Priam by the berd,
And slayn him (as saith us Eneydos),        535
As maden alle the hennes in the clos, 29
Whan they had seyn of Chauntecleer the sighte.
But sovereynly 30 dame Pertelote shrighte, 31
Ful louder than dide Hasdrubales wyf,
Whan that hir housbond hadde lost his lyf,        540
And that the Romayns hadde brend Cartage,
She was so ful of torment and of rage,
That wilfully into the fyr she sterte,
And brende hir-selven with a stedfast herte.
O woful hennes, right so cryden ye,        545
As, whan that Nero brende the citee
Of Rome, cryden senatoures wyves,
For that hir housbondes losten alle hir lyves;
Withouten gilt this Nero hath hem slayn.
Now wol I torne to my tale agayn:        550
  This sely 32 widwe, and eek hir doghtres two,
Herden thise hennes crye and maken wo,
And out at dores sterten thay anoon,
And syen 33 the fox toward the grove goon,
And bar upon his bak the cok away;        555
And cryden, ‘Out! harrow! and weylaway!
Ha, ha, the fox!’ and after him they ran,
And eek with staves many another man;
Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,
And Malkin, with a distaf in hir hand;        560
Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges
So were they fered for berking of the dogges
And shouting of the men and wimmen eke,
They ronne so, hem thoughte hir herte breke.
They yelleden as feendes doon in helle;        565
The dokes cryden as men wolde hem quelle; 34
The gees for fere flowen over the trees;
Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees;
So hidous was the noyse, a! benedicite!
Certes, he Jakke Straw, and his meynee, 35        570
Ne maden nevere shoutes half so shrille,
Whan that they wolden any Fleming kille,
As thilke day was maad upon the fox.
Of bras thay broghten bemes, 36 and of box,
Of horn, of boon, in whiche they blewe and pouped, 37        575
And therwithal thay shryked and they houped;
It semed as that hevene sholde falle.
Now, gode men, I pray yow herkneth alle!
  Lo, how fortune turneth sodeinly
The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy!        580
This cok, that lay upon the foxes bak,
In al his drede, un-to the fox he spak,
And seyde, ‘sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet sholde I seyn (as wis 38 God helpe me),
Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle!        585
A verray pestilence up-on yow falle!
Now am I come un-to this wodes syde,
Maugree 39 your heed, the cok shal heer abyde;
I wol him ete in feith, and that anon.’—
The fox answerde, ‘In feith, it shal be don,’—        590
And as he spak that word, al sodeinly
This cok brak from his mouth deliverly, 40
And heighe up-on a tree he fleigh anon.
And whan the fox saugh that he was y-gon,
‘Allas!’ quod he, ‘O Chauntecleer, allas!        595
I have to yow,’ quod he, ‘y-doon trespas,
In-as-muche as I maked yow aferd,
Whan I yow hente, 41 and broghte out of the yerd;
But, sire, I dide it in no wikke entente;
Com doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente.        600
I shal seye sooth to yow, God help me so.’
‘Nay than,’ quod he, ‘I shrewe 42 us bothe two,
And first I shrewe my-self, bothe blood and bones,
If thou bigyle me ofter than ones.
Thou shalt namore, thurgh thy flaterye        605
Do me to singe and winke with myn yë.
For he that winketh, whan he sholde see,
Al wilfully, God lat him never thee!’ 43
‘Nay,’ quod the fox, ‘but God yeve him meschaunce,
That is so undiscreet of governaunce,        610
That iangleth whan he sholde holde his pees.’
  Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees,
And necligent, and truste on flaterye.
But ye that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,        615
Taketh the moralitee, good men.
For seint Paul seith, that al that writen is,
To our doctryne it is y-write, y-wis. 44
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille.
  Now, gode God, if that it be thy wille,        620
As seith my lord, so make us alle good men;
And bringe us to his heighe blisse. Amen.
    Here is ended the Nonne Preestes Tale.

‘SIR Nonne Preest,’ our hoste seyde anoon,
‘Y-blessed be thy breche, and every stoon!        625
This was a mery tale of Chauntecleer.
But by my trouthe, if thou were seculer,
Thy woldest been a trede-foul a-right.
For, if thou have corage as thou hast might,
Thee were nede of hennes, as I wene,        630
Ya, mo than seven tymes seventene.
See, whiche braunes hath this gentil Preest,
So greet a nekke, and swich a large breest!
He loketh as a sperhauk with his yën;
Him nedeth not his colour for to dyen        635
With brasil, ne with greyn of Portingale.
Now sire, faire falle yow for youre tale!’
Note 1. Must. [back]
Note 2. Sift it thoroughly. [back]
Note 3. Fore-knowledge. [back]
Note 4. Constraineth. [back]
Note 5. Of necessity. [back]
Note 6. Call. [back]
Note 7. Disastrous. [back]
Note 8. In. [back]
Note 9. Call. [back]
Note 10. Pleasant a voice. [back]
Note 11. May. [back]
Note 12. Enjoy. [back]
Note 13. Sir, Mr. [back]
Note 14. Foolish. [back]
Note 15. Lose. [back]
Note 16. Imitate. [back]
Note 17. Flatterer. [back]
Note 18. Extremely. [back]
Note 19. Throat. [back]
Note 20. Seized. [back]
Note 21. Lose. [back]
Note 22. Pursued. [back]
Note 23. Flew. [back]
Note 24. Recked. [back]
Note 25. Naked. [back]
Note 26. Yard. [back]
Note 27. Especially. [back]
Note 28. Flew. [back]
Note 29. Shrieked. [back]
Note 30. Harmless. [back]
Note 31. Saw. [back]
Note 32. Kill. [back]
Note 33. Followers. [back]
Note 34. Trumpets. [back]
Note 35. Puffed. [back]
Note 36. Surely. [back]
Note 37. In spite of. [back]
Note 38. Nimbly. [back]
Note 39. Seized. [back]
Note 40. Curse. [back]
Note 41. Thrive. [back]
Note 42. Certainly. [back]
Note 43. This and the following ballads are of unknown authorship and of uncertain date. [back]
Note 44. Away. [back]


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