The Manciple's Tale — A Modernization, The - Part of Canterbury Tales


A Manciple there was, one of a Temple
Of whom all caterers might take example
Wisely to purchase stores, whate'er the amount,
Whether he paid, or took them on account.
So well on every bargain did he wait,
He was beforehand aye in good estate.
Now is not that of God a full fair grace
That one man's natural sense should so surpass
The wisdom of a heap of learned men?

Of masters he had more than three times ten
That were in law expert and curious,
Of which there was a dozen in that house
Fit to be steward over land and rent
For any Lord in England, competent
Each one to make him live upon his own
In debtless honour, were his wits not flown;
Or sparely live, even to his heart's desire;
Men who could give good help to a whole Shire
In any urgent case that might befall,
Yet could this Manciple outwit them all.


When Phoebus took delight on earth to dwell
Among mankind, as ancient stories tell,
He was the blithest bachelor, I trow,
Of all this world, and the best archer too.
He slew the serpent Python as he lay
Sleeping against the sun upon a day,
And many another worthy noble deed
Wrought with his bow as men the same may read.
He played, all music played on earthly ground,
And 'twas a melody to hear the sound
Of his clear voice, so sweetly would he sing.
Certes Amphion, that old Theban king
Who walled a city with his minstrelsy,
Was never heard to sing so sweet as he.
Therewith this Phoebus was the seemliest man
That is or hath been since the world began.
His features to describe I need not strive;
For in this world is none so fair alive.
He was moreover, full of gentleness,
Of honour and of perfect worthiness.

This Phoebus, flower in forest and in court,
This comely Bachelor for his disport
And eke in token of his victory earned
Of Python, as is from the story learned,
Was wont to carry in his hand a bow.
Now had this Phoebus in his house a Crow
Which in a cage he fostered many a day
And taught to speak as men will teach a jay.
White was this Crow as is a snow-white Swan,
And counterfeit the speech of every man
He could, when he had mind to tell a tale;
Besides, in all this world no Nightingale
Could ring out of his heart so blithe a peal;
No, not a hundred thousandth part as well.

Now had this Phoebus in his house a Wife
Whom he loved better than he loved his life;
And, night and day, he strove with diligence
To please her, and to do her reverence,
Save only, for 'tis truth, the noble Elf
Was jealous, and would keep her to himself.
For he was loth a laughing stock to be,
And so is every wight in like degree;
But all for naught, for it availeth naught,
A good Wife that is pure in deed and thought
Should not be kept in watch and ward, — and, do
The best you may, you cannot keep a Shrew.
It will not be — vain labour is it wholly;
Lordings! this hold I for an arrant folly
Labour to waste in custody of wives;
And so old Clerks have written in their lives.

But to my purpose as I first began.
This worthy Phoebus doeth all he can
To please her, weening that through such delight
And of his government and manhood's right
No man should ever put him from her grace,
But Man's best plans, God knoweth, in no case
Shall compass to constrain a thing which nature
Hath naturally implanted in a creature.

Take any bird and put it in a cage
And wait upon this bird as nurse or page
To feed it tenderly with meat and drink
And every dainty whereof thou canst think,
And also keep it cleanly as thou may;
Although the cage of gold be never so gay
Yet hath this bird by twenty thousand fold
Rather in forest that is wild and cold
Go feed on worms and such like wretchedness,
For ever will this Bird do more or less
To escape out of his cage whene'er he may;
His liberty the Bird desireth aye.

Go take a Cat and nourish her with milk
And tender flesh, and make her couch of silk,
And let her see a mouse go by the wall,
Anon she waiveth milk and flesh and all
And every dainty which is in that house,
Such appetite hath she to eat the mouse.
Behold the domination here of kind,
Appetite drives discretion from her mind.

A she-wolf also in her kind is base;
Meets she the sorriest wolf in field or chase
Him will she take — what matters his estate
In time when she hath liking to a mate?

Examples all for men that are untrue.
With women I have nothing now to do:
For men have still a wayward appetite
With lower things to seek for their delight
Than with their wives, albeit women fair
Never so true, never so debonair.
All flesh is so newfangled, plague upon't
That are we pleased with aught on whose clear front
Virtue is stampt, 'tis but for a brief while.

This Phoebus, he that thought upon no guile,
Deceived was for all his jollity;
For under him another one had she,
One of small note and little thought upon,
Naught worth to Phoebus in comparison.
The more harm is, it happeneth often so
Of which there cometh mickle harm and woe.

And so befell as soon as Phoebus went
From home, his wife hath for her Lemman sent,
Her Lemman, certes that's a knavish speech;
Forgive it me and that I you beseech.

Plato the wise hath said, as ye may read,
The word must needs be suited to the deed;
No doubtful meanings in a tale should lurk,
The word must aye be cousin to the work;
I am a bold blunt man, I speak out plain
There is no difference truly, not a grain,
Between a wife that is of high degree
(If of her body she dishonest be)
And every low-born wench no more than this
(If it so be that both have done amiss)
That, as the gentle is in state above,
She shall be called his Lady and his Love
And that the other a poor woman is
She shall be called his harlot and his miss.
And yet, in very truth, mine own dear brother,
Men lay as low that one as lies that other.
Right so betwixt a haughty tyrant chief
And a rough outlaw or an errant thief,
The same I say, no difference I hold,
(To Alexander was this sentence told)
But, for the Tyrant is of greater might
By force of multitudes to slay downright
And burn both house and home, and make all plain,
Lo! therefore Captain is he called; again
Since the other heads a scanty company
And may not do so great a harm as he,
Or lay upon the land such heavy grief
Men christen him an Outlaw or a Thief.

But I'm no man of texts and instances,
Therefore I will not give you much of these
But with my tale go on as I was bent.

When Phoebus' wife had for her Lemman sent
In their loose dalliance they anon engage;
This white Crow, that hung alway in the cage,
Beheld the shame, and did not say one word;
But soon as home was come Phoebus, the Lord,
The Crow sang Cuckow, Cuckow, Cuckow, " How!
What, Bird," quoth Phoebus, " what song singst thou now,
Wert thou not wont to sing as did rejoice
My inmost heart, so merrily thy voice
Greeted my ear, alas, what song is this?"
" So help me Gods, I do not sing amiss,
Phoebus," quoth he, " for all thy worthiness,
For all thy beauty and all thy gentleness,
For all thy song and all thy minstrelsy,
For all thy waiting, hoodwinked is thine eye
By one we know not whom, we know not what,
A man to thee no better than a gnat,
For I full plainly as I hope for life
Saw him in guilty converse with thy wife."

What would you more, the Crow when [he] him told
By serious tokens and words stout and bold
How that his wife had played a wanton game
To his abasement, and exceeding shame,
And told him oft he saw it with his eyes,
Then Phoebus turned away in woeful guise
Him thought his heart would burst in two with sorrow,
His bow he bent, and set therein an arrow,
And in his anger he his wife did slay;
This is the effect, there is no more to say.
For grief of which he brake his minstrelsy
Both lute and harp, guitar and psaltery,
And also brake his arrows and his bow
And after that thus spake he to the Crow.

" Thou Traitor! with thy scorpion tongue," quoth he,
" To my confusion am I brought by thee.
Why was I born, why have I yet a life
O wife, O gem of pleasure, O dear wife,
That wert to me so stedfast and so true,
Now dead thou liest with face pale of hue
Full innocent, that durst I swear, I wis.
O thou rash hand that wrought so far amiss,
O reckless outrage, O disordered wit
That unadvised didst the guiltless smite,
What in my false suspicion have I done,
Why through mistrust was I thus wrought upon?

" Let every Man beware and keep aloof
From rashness, and trust only to strong proof;
Smite not too soon before ye have learnt why,
And be advised well and stedfastly,
Ere ye to any execution bring
Yourselves from wrath or surmise of a thing.
Alas! a thousand folk hath ire laid low
Fully undone and brought to utter woe,
Alas for sorrow I myself will slay."

And to the Crow, " O vile wretch," did he say,
" Now will I thee requite for thy false tale.
Whilom thou sang like any Nightingale,
Henceforth, false thief, thy song from thee is gone
And vanished thy white feathers, every one.
In all thy life thou nevermore shalt speak.
Thus on a traitor I men's wrongs do wreak.
Thou and thy offspring ever shall be black,
Never again sweet noises shall ye make,
But ever cry against the storm and rain
In token that through thee my Wife is slain."

And to the Crow he sprang and that anon
And plucking his white feathers left not one
And made him black, and took from him his song,
And eke his speech, and out of doors him flung
Unto perdition, whither let him go
And for this very reason, you must know,
Black is the colour now of every Crow.

Lordings, by this example you I pray
Beware and take good heed of what you say,
Nor ever tell a man in all your life
That he hath got a false and slippery wife;
His deadly hatred till his life's last day
You will provoke. Dan Solomon, Clerks say,
For keeping well the tongue hath rules good store,
But I'm no textman, as I said before,
Nathless this teaching had I from my Dame.
My son, think of the Crow in God's good name.
My son, full often times hath mickle speech
Brought many a man to ruin, as Clerks teach,
But 'tis not often words bring harm to men
Spoken advisedly, and now and then.
My son be like the wise man who restrains
His tongue at all times, save when taking pains
To speak of God in honour, and in prayer.
'Tis the first virtue, and the one most rare,
My son, to keep the tongue with proper care.
Wouldst thou be told what a rash tongue can do,
Right as a sword cutteth an arm in two
So can a tongue, my child, a friendship sever,
Parted in two to be disjoined for ever.
A babbler is to God abominable.
Read Solomon so wise and honourable,
Read Seneca, the Psalms of David read,
Speak not, dear son, but beckon with thy head,
Make show that thou wert deaf if any prater
Do in thy hearing touch a perilous matter;
The Fleming taught, and learn it if thou list,
That little babbling causeth mickle rest.
My son, if thou no wicked word have said
Then need'st thou have no fear to be betrayed,
But who misspeaks, whatever may befall,
Cannot by any means his word recall.
Thing that is said, is said, goes forth anon,
Howe'er we grieve repenting, it is gone,
The tale-bearer's his slave to whom he said
The thing for which he now is fitly paid.
My son, beware, and be not Author new
Of tidings, whether they be false or true.
Where'er thou travel, among high or low,
Keep well thy tongue, and think upon the Crow.
Rate this poem: 


No reviews yet.