Do you know where there stands a little town
That they call by the name Bob-up-and-down
That’s under Blean, down Canterbury way?
That’s where our Host began to joke and play,
Declaring, “What, sirs! Dun is in the mire! 5
Is there no man for charity or hire
Who will awake our friend who lags behind?
With ease a thief might rob and bind him. Mind
The way he naps! For cock’s bones, look at how
He’s almost falling off his horse right now! 10
Is that a London cook, bad luck be sent?
Have him come forth, he knows his punishment;
For, by my faith, he’ll tell for us a tale,
Be it not worth in hay enough to bale.
Wake up, you Cook! May woe come straight from God,” 15
He said. “What’s ailing you, all day to nod?
Did you have fleas all night, or are you boozy?
Or did you labor all night with a floozy
And that’s why now you can’t hold up your head?”
This Cook, completely pale, no trace of red, 20
Said to our Host, “God bless my soul, I don’t
Know why I feel so heavy, but I want
To go to sleep more than I’d want as mine
A gallon drawn from Cheapside’s finest wine.”
“Well,” said the Manciple, “if it will ease 25
You some, Sir Cook, and no one else displease
Who rides along here in this company–
And if our Host should, by his courtesy,
Desire it–I’ll excuse you from your tale.
For in good faith, you’re looking very pale; 30
Your eyes have got a dazed look, too, I think,
And well I know your breath’s a sour stink.
You’ve shown quite well you’re in an unfit way;
You’ll get no praise from me, that’s safe to say.
See how he’s yawning, look, this drunken soul, 35
As though at once he’d swallow us in whole.
Keep shut your mouth, man, by your father’s kin!
The devil of hell stick his foot therein!
Your curst breath will infect us one and all.
Fie, stinking swine! May evil you befall! 40
Consider, sirs, this lusty man before us:
Now, sweet sir, would you do some jousting for us?
For that, I think, the shape you’re in is fine!
You’ve drunk what I believe they call ape-wine,
That’s when a man starts playing with a straw.” 45
This made the Cook so angry that we saw
Him nodding at the Manciple his head
For lack of speech. His horse then threw him, spread
Him out; they had to lift him off the grass.
A fine cook’s show of horsemanship! Alas, 50
He should have stuck to ladling! Before
They got this Cook upon his horse once more,
They had to do much shoving to and fro
To lift him, which entailed much care and woe,
So heavy was this sorry, pallid ghost. 55
And to the Manciple then spoke our Host:
“Because this man is under domination
Of that which he has drunk, by my salvation
I know that he would lewdly tell his tale.
For be it wine or old or newborn ale 60
That he has drunk, he’s speaking nasally,
He’s wheezing too, and has a cold. And he
Will also have more than enough to do
To keep him and his nag out of the slough;
If yet again he tumbles off, adrift, 65
Then we’ll all have enough to do to lift
His heavy, drunken carcass to the mount.
So tell your tale, for he’s of no account.
“Yet, Manciple, in faith, it’s bad advice
So freely to reproach him for his vice. 70
Another day may come along for sure
When he will get you back as with a lure;
He’ll speak, I mean, of what seem little things
Like finding errors in your reckonings,
Which wouldn’t look good if it came to light.” 75
“No, that could cause real trouble! Well he might,”
Said the Manciple, “bring me to the snare.
I’d rather wind up paying for the mare
On which he rides than have him with me strive.
No, I’ll not make him mad, as I may thrive! 80
I only spoke in jest. Do you know what?
It happens that here in this gourd I’ve got
A draught of wine, indeed of ripest grape.
Now right away you’ll see a clever jape,
I’ll have this Cook drink of it if I may. 85
On pain of death he will not tell me nay.”
And certainly, to tell what came to pass,
The Cook drank deeply from this gourd, alas!
Why did he need it, having drunk enough?
And when into this gourd he’d blown a puff, 90
He passed the gourd back to the Manciple.
With that the Cook was happy, fanciful,
And thanked him as much as his wits allowed.
Our Host broke out in laughter great and loud,
And said, “I well can see it’s necessary, 95
Wherever we may go, good drink to carry,
For it will turn both rancor and distress
To peace and love, and many a wrong redress.
“O Bacchus, now may blessed be your name
That you can turn the serious into game! 100
Worship and thanks be to your deity!
Enough on that, no more to hear from me;
Tell us your tale now, Manciple, I pray.”
“Well, sir,” said he, “pay heed to what I say.”
The Manciple’s Tale
When Phoebus dwelt here on the earth below 105
As mentioned in old books of long ago,
No other youth as lusty as was he
Was in this world, none matched his archery.
He slew the serpent Python on a day
When sleeping in the sun he saw it lay; 110
And many another noble, worthy deed
He with his bow performed as men may read.
All instruments of music he could play,
And sing in so melodious a way,
His voice so clear, the sound of it enthralled. 115
Not Amphion, the king of Thebes, who walled
That entire city with his singing, could
Sing half as well as this young Phoebus would.
He also was the most attractive man
There’s ever been since this world first began. 120
To talk about his looks what need is there?
In all this world none living was as fair.
His life was thus fulfilled with nobleness
And honor, one of perfect worthiness.
This Phoebus was of young manhood the flower 125
In charity as well as knightly power,
And for his pleasure (and as sign of glory
Of triumph over Python, goes the story)
He always carried in his hand a bow.
Now in his house this Phoebus had a crow 130
That in a cage he’d fostered many a day
And taught to speak as men may teach a jay.
As white as is a snow-white swan, this crow
Could imitate the speech, exactly so,
Of any man when he would tell a tale. 135
And in this world there was no nightingale
To any hundred-thousandth of degree
Could sing a song so well and merrily.
Now in his house this Phoebus had a wife
For whom he had more love than for his life, 140
And whom both night and day with diligence
He sought to please and show due reverence,
Except (to tell the truth) that he was zealous
To keep her under watch, for he was jealous.
A fellow tricked he didn’t want to be, 145
As any man would feel of his degree;
But it’s in vain, such effort is for naught.
A good wife who is clean in deed and thought
Should surely not be watched continually;
The labor is in vain, it’s plain to see, 150
To guard a shrew, it never will succeed.
I hold that it’s sheer folly, there’s no need,
It’s labor wasted, keeping watch of wives;
Old learneds have so written in their lives.
Now to the purpose as I started out: 155
This worthy Phoebus ever went about
To please her, trying hard to keep her favor
With all his manhood and his good behavior,
That no man might supplant him in her grace.
But God knows well, there’s no man may embrace, 160
As to constrain, a certain thing or feature
That nature by design sets in a creature.
Take any bird and put it in a cage,
And all your good intentions then engage
To raise it tenderly with meat and drink, 165
With all the dainties of which you can think,
And keep it as unspotted as you might;
Although his golden cage be ever bright,
This bird would rather twenty-thousandfold
Be in a forest that is rude and cold, 170
Be eating worms and live in wretchedness.
This bird will always try for nothing less
Than his escape, if any way there be;
This bird will always want his liberty.
Let’s take a cat and raise him well with milk 175
And tender meat, and make his couch of silk,
Then let him see a mouse go by the wall–
At once he’ll leave the milk and meat and all,
And every dainty that is in the house,
Such appetite he has to eat a mouse. 180
Here you may see his lust has domination,
And appetite will rout discrimination.
A she-wolf’s nature, too, is villein’s kind.
The basest wolf that ever she can find,
The one that has the least of reputations, 185
She’ll take when she desires to have relations.
By these examples, that which I’ve in mind
Are men who’ve been untrue, not womankind.
For men are prone to lecherous appetite,
Indulge with lower creatures their delight 190
Rather than with their wives, fair though they be,
So ever true, with all gentility.
Flesh lusts for novelty to such a measure
(A curse upon it!) we can take no pleasure
In virtuous pursuits more than a while. 195
This Phoebus, who had not one thought of guile,
Was soon deceived for all his charm. For she
Another fellow had also, and he
Was unacclaimed, unworthy all around
To be compared with Phoebus. To compound 200
This evil, which would bring much harm and woe,
Their sin was to recur, and often so.
It so befell, with Phoebus gone one day,
His wife sent for her lover right away–
Her lover? Surely this is knavish speech! 205
Forgive me for it, that I do beseech.
But Plato, wise, has said, as you may read,
The word must be accordant with the deed.
If men would speak of something properly, 210
The word must to the deed then cousin be.
Now I’m a plain man, and there is, I say,
No difference, to speak in truthful way,
Between a wife who is of high degree,
If with her body she immoral be,
And some poor wench, unless it should be this 215
(Assuming that they both have gone amiss):
The genteel one, as her estate’s above,
Shall be known as his lady, as in love;
Whereas the other, poor upon her bench,
Will be known as his lover or his wench. 220
But still, as God knows well, my own dear brother,
Men lay the one as low as lies the other.
Just so, between some tyrant or usurper
And some outlaw, some thief out for his supper,
I say the same, there is no difference. 225
To Alexander someone said, with sense,
That as a tyrant is of greater might
By force of arms to go and slay outright
And burn down house and home right to the ground,
Behold, he’s called a captain. Turn around, 230
And as the outlaw has the lesser arms
And may not do as much by way of harms
Nor bring a country to so great a grief,
He’s called by men an outlaw and a thief.
But as I’m not a learned man of writ, 235
I will not talk of texts a single bit;
I’ll to my tale where I was at before.
Phoebus’s wife sent for her paramour,
At once in wanton lust they did engage.
The white crow, there inside his hanging cage, 240
Beheld their work but didn’t say a word.
When Phoebus, though, his lord, came home, the bird
Began to sing “Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!”
“What, bird?” said Phoebus. “What’s that song from you?
Were you not wont so merrily to sing 245
That to my heart it brought rejoicing
To hear your voice? Alas! what song is this?”
“By God,” said he, “I’m singing not amiss!
Phoebus,” he said, “for all your worthiness,
For all your charm, good looks, and nobleness, 250
For all your song and all your minstrelsy,
For all your watch, hoodwinked you’ve come to be,
By one of little reputation who
Does not possess, when he’s compared to you,
The value of a gnat, upon my life! 255
For on your bed I saw him screw your wife.”
Would you hear more? This white crow right away
Then boldly offered proof, began to say
Just how his wife performed her lechery,
To his great shame and hurt, and told how he 260
Had seen with his own eyes what had occurred.
This Phoebus turned away when he had heard
And thought his grieving heart would break in two.
His bow he bent, an arrow set thereto,
And in his ire his wife he soon had slain. 265
That’s how it was, there’s no more to explain.
His instruments he broke then mournfully,
His harp and lute, guitar and psaltery;
He broke as well his arrows and his bow,
And after that he said this to the crow: 270
“You traitor with scorpion’s tongue,” said he,
“You’ve brought me to my ruin and misery!
Alas, that I was born! Why have I life?
O gem of my delight, my dearest wife!
To me you were so constant and so true, 275
Now you lie dead with face so pale of hue,
And guiltless, that’s for sure, I dare to swear!
O rash hand, that so foully you should err!
O troubled mind, O ire so wildly spent,
So recklessly to smite the innocent! 280
Distrust, so full of false suspicion, where
Were your discretion and your wits? Beware
Of being reckless, everyone! Without
Strong witness, don’t believe, there’s room for doubt.
Don’t strike too soon, before you think it through, 285
Be soberly advised on what to do
Before you act, before you give effect
To anger caused by what you may suspect.
Alas, a thousand people reckless ire
Has wholly ruined, brought them to the mire! 290
Alas, that I shall slay myself for grief!”
And to the crow he said, “You lying thief!
I’ll pay you back right now for your false tale.
For you once sang just like a nightingale,
But now, false thief, that song you’ll do without, 295
And your white feathers, too, shall all come out,
And all your life you nevermore shall speak.
Thus vengeance on a traitor men shall wreak.
Henceforth you shall be black, and your offspring,
And no sweet noise you’ll ever make or sing 300
But ever cry against the storm and rain,
As token that through you my wife is slain.”
He sprang upon the crow without delay
And all of his white feathers plucked away;
He turned him black, bereft him evermore 305
Of song and speech, and slung him out the door
To the devil (who needn’t give him back).
And it’s because of this all crows are black.
By this example, lords, you will, I pray,
Beware and take much care in what you say: 310
Don’t ever tell a man in all your life
Another man has bedded with his wife;
He’ll surely hate you in a mortal way.
Lord Solomon, as learned students say,
Taught man to watch his tongue. But as I said, 315
I’m not a learned man, I’m not well read.
Here’s what my mother taught me all the same:
“My son, think of the crow, in our Lord’s name!
Keep well your tongue and keep your friend. My son,
A wicked tongue’s worse than a fiend, for one 320
Can cross himself from fiends and so be blest.
My son, God in his goodness saw it best
To wall the tongue with teeth and lips and cheeks,
For man should always think before he speaks.
My son, so often it’s for too much speech 325
That many a man is wrecked, as scholars teach;
But speaking little and at proper place
Will generally bring no one to disgrace.
My son, your tongue you always should restrain
Except for times when taking special pain 330
To speak of God in honor and in prayer.
The first virtue, if you would learn, is care
In speech, my son, restraining well the tongue;
This children learn when they are very young.
My son, from too much speech with ill advice, 335
Where less had been enough speech to suffice,
Has come much harm; so I was told and taught.
Wherever words abound, sin wants for naught.
A rash tongue serves what purpose, do you know?
For as a sword, my son, with cutting blow 340
Can cleave an arm in half, it’s also true
A tongue can cut a friendship right in two.
A loudmouth is to God abominable.
Read Solomon, so wise and honorable;
Read David’s psalms, let Seneca be read. 345
Don’t speak, my son, but only nod your head.
Pretend that you are deaf when hearing chatter
A jangler makes about some dangerous matter.
The Flemings say, and learn it if you please,
‘The less the jangle, how much more the ease.’ 350
My son, if nothing wicked you have said,
You need not of betrayal have a dread;
But he who speaks amiss, I dare to say,
May not call back his words in any way.
A thing that’s said is said, forth it will go 355
Though he repent and wish it wasn’t so.
He is his thrall to whom a fellow’s told
A tale that he’d much rather now withhold.
My son, be careful, of all tidings do
Not be the author, be they false or true. 360
Where you may go, among the high or low,
Hold well your tongue and think about the crow.”