17. THE PRIORESS’ TALE - GEOFFREY CHAUCER

Prologue

453 O Lord, oure Lord, thy name how merveillous
454 Is in this large world ysprad — quod she —
455 For noght oonly thy laude precious
456 Parfourned is by men of dignitee,
457 But by the mouth of children thy bountee
458 Parfourned is, for on the brest soukynge
459 Somtyme shewen they thyn heriynge.
460 Wherfore in laude, as I best kan or may,
461 Of thee and of the white lylye flour
462 Which that the bar, and is a mayde alway,
463 To telle a storie I wol do my labour;
464 Nat that I may encressen hir honour,
465 For she hirself is honour and the roote
466 Of bountee, next hir Sone, and soules boote.
467 O mooder Mayde, O mayde Mooder free!
468 O bussh unbrent, brennynge in Moyses sighte,
469 That ravyshedest doun fro the Deitee,
470 Thurgh thyn humblesse, the Goost that in th’ alighte,
471 Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,
472 Conceyved was the Fadres sapience,
473 Help me to telle it in thy reverence!
474 Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,
475 Thy vertu and thy grete humylitee
476 Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
477 For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee,
478 Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee,
479 And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere,
480 To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.
481 My konnyng is so wayk, O blisful Queene,
482 For to declare thy grete worthynesse
483 That I ne may the weighte nat susteene;
484 But as a child of twelf month oold, or lesse,
485 That kan unnethes any word expresse,
486 Right so fare I, and therfore I yow preye,
487 Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.

The Tale

488 Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
489 Amonges Cristene folk a Jewerye,
490 Sustened by a lord of that contree
491 For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
492 Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye;
493 And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
494 For it was free and open at eyther ende.
495 A litel scole of Cristen folk ther stood
496 Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were
497 Children an heep, ycomen of Cristen blood,
498 That lerned in that scole yeer by yere
499 Swich manere doctrine as men used there,
500 This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,
501 As smale children doon in hire childhede.
502 Among thise children was a wydwes sone,
503 A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,
504 That day by day to scole was his wone,
505 And eek also, where as he saugh th’ ymage
506 Of Cristes mooder, hadde he in usage,
507 As hym was taught, to knele adoun and seye
508 His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.
509 Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught
510 Oure blisful Lady, Cristes mooder deere,
511 To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,
512 For sely child wol alday soone leere.
513 But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,
514 Seint Nicholas stant evere in my presence,
515 For he so yong to Crist dide reverence.
516 This litel child, his litel book lernynge,
517 As he sat in the scole at his prymer,
518 He Alma redemptoris herde synge,
519 As children lerned hire antiphoner;
520 And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,
521 And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,
522 Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.
523 Noght wiste he what this Latyn was to seye,
524 For he so yong and tendre was of age.
525 But on a day his felawe gan he preye
526 T’ expounden hym this song in his langage,
527 Or telle hym why this song was in usage;
528 This preyde he hym to construe and declare
529 Ful often tyme upon his knowes bare.
530 His felawe, which that elder was than he,
531 Answerde hym thus: “This song, I have herd seye,
532 Was maked of our blisful Lady free,
533 Hire to salue, and eek hire for to preye
534 To been oure help and socour whan we deye.
535 I kan namoore expounde in this mateere.
536 I lerne song; I kan but smal grammeere.”
537 ” And is this song maked in reverence
538 Of Cristes mooder?” seyde this innocent.
539 “Now, certes, I wol do my diligence
540 To konne it al er Cristemasse be went.
541 Though that I for my prymer shal be shent
542 And shal be beten thries in an houre,
543 I wol it konne Oure Lady for to honoure!”
544 His felawe taughte hym homward prively,
545 Fro day to day, til he koude it by rote,
546 And thanne he song it wel and boldely,
547 Fro word to word, acordynge with the note.
548 Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
549 To scoleward and homward whan he wente;
550 On Cristes mooder set was his entente.
551 As I have seyd, thurghout the Juerie
552 This litel child, as he cam to and fro,
553 Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie
554 O Alma redemptoris everemo.
555 The swetnesse his herte perced so
556 Of Cristes mooder that, to hire to preye,
557 He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.
558 Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
559 That hath in Jues herte his waspes nest,
560 Up swal, and seide, “O Hebrayk peple, allas!
561 Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
562 That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
563 In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
564 Which is agayn youre lawes reverence?”
565 Fro thennes forth the Jues han conspired
566 This innocent out of this world to chace.
567 An homycide therto han they hyred,
568 That in an aleye hadde a privee place;
569 And as the child gan forby for to pace,
570 This cursed Jew hym hente, and heeld hym faste,
571 And kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste.
572 I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe
573 Where as thise Jewes purgen hire entraille.
574 O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,
575 What may youre yvel entente yow availle?
576 Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,
577 And namely ther th’ onour of God shal sprede;
578 The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.
579 O martir, sowded to virginitee,
580 Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon
581 The white Lamb celestial — quod she —
582 Of which the grete evaungelist, Seint John,
583 In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon
584 Biforn this Lamb and synge a song al newe,
585 That nevere, flesshly, wommen they ne knewe.
586 This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght
587 After hir litel child, but he cam noght;
588 For which, as soone as it was dayes lyght,
589 With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,
590 She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,
591 Til finally she gan so fer espie
592 That he last seyn was in the Juerie.
593 With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,
594 She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
595 To every place where she hath supposed
596 By liklihede hir litel child to fynde;
597 And evere on Cristes mooder meeke and kynde
598 She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte:
599 Among the cursed Jues she hym soghte.
600 She frayneth and she preyeth pitously
601 To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,
602 To telle hire if hir child wente oght forby.
603 They seyde “nay”; but Jhesu of his grace
604 Yaf in hir thoght inwith a litel space
605 That in that place after hir sone she cryde,
606 Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.
607 O grete God, that parfournest thy laude
608 By mouth of innocentz, lo, heere thy myght!
609 This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,
610 And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,
611 Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,
612 He Alma redemptoris gan to synge
613 So loude that al the place gan to rynge.
614 The Cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente
615 In coomen for to wondre upon this thyng,
616 And hastily they for the provost sente;
617 He cam anon withouten tariyng,
618 And herieth Crist that is of hevene kyng,
619 And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde,
620 And after that the Jewes leet he bynde.
621 This child with pitous lamentacioun
622 Up taken was, syngynge his song alway,
623 And with honour of greet processioun
624 They carien hym unto the nexte abbay.
625 His mooder swownynge by his beere lay;
626 Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere
627 This newe Rachel brynge fro his beere.
628 With torment and with shameful deeth echon,
629 This provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve
630 That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
631 He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.
632 “Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve”;
633 Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
634 And after that he heng hem by the lawe.
635 Upon this beere ay lith this innocent
636 Biforn the chief auter, whil the masse laste;
637 And after that, the abbot with his covent
638 Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste;
639 And whan they hooly water on hym caste,
640 Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,
641 And song O Alma redemptoris mater!
642 This abbot, which that was an hooly man,
643 As monkes been — or elles oghte be —
644 This yonge child to conjure he bigan,
645 And seyde, “O deere child, I halse thee,
646 In vertu of the hooly Trinitee,
647 Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
648 Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?”
649 “My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,”
650 Seyde this child, “and as by wey of kynde
651 I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon.
652 But Jesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
653 Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,
654 And for the worship of his Mooder deere
655 Yet may I synge O Alma loude and cleere.
656 “This welle of mercy, Cristes mooder sweete,
657 I loved alwey, as after my konnynge;
658 And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,
659 To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
660 This anthem verraily in my deyynge,
661 As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,
662 Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.
663 “Wherfore I synge, and synge moot certeyn,
664 In honour of that blisful Mayden free
665 Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn;
666 And after that thus seyde she to me:
667 ‘My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
668 Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake.
669 Be nat agast; I wol thee nat forsake.'”
670 This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,
671 His tonge out caughte, and took awey the greyn,
672 And he yaf up the goost ful softely.
673 And whan this abbot hadde this wonder seyn,
674 His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,
675 And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,
676 And stille he lay as he had ben ybounde.
677 The covent eek lay on the pavement
678 Wepynge, and herying Cristes mooder deere,
679 And after that they ryse, and forth been went,
680 And tooken awey this martir from his beere;
681 And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere
682 Enclosen they his litel body sweete.
683 Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete!
684 O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also
685 With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,
686 For it is but a litel while ago,
687 Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,
688 That of his mercy God so merciable
689 On us his grete mercy multiplie,
690 For reverence of his mooder Marie. Amen.

17. THE PRIORESS’ TALE