The Nun's Priest's Tale

A poore widow, somedeal stape in age,
Was whilom dwelling in a narrow cottage,
Beside a grove, standing in a dale.
This widow, of which I tell you my tale,
Since thilke day that she was last a wife,
In patience led a full simple life,
For little was her cattle and her rent.
By husbandry of such as God her sent
She found herself and eek her daughtren two.
Three large sowes had she, and na mo,
Three kine, and eek a sheep that highte Mall.
Full sooty was her bower and eek her hall,
In which she eat full many a slender meal.
Of poignant sauce her needed never a deal.
No dainty morsel passed through her throat;
Her diet was accordant to her coat.
Repletion ne made her never sick;
A temperate diet was all her physic,
And exercise, and heartes suffisance.
The goute let her nothing for to dance,
Ne apoplexy shente not her head.
No wine ne drank she, neither white ne red;
Her board was served most with white and black--
Milk and brown bread, in which she found no lack--
Seynd bacon, and sometime an egg or tway;
For she was, as it were, a manner dey.
A yard she had, enclosed all about
With stickes, and a drye ditch without,
In which she had a cock, hight Chanticleer.
In all the land, of crowing n'as his peer;
His voice was merrier than the merry organ
On masse-days that in the churche gone.
Well sikerer was his crowing in his lodge
Than is a clock or an abbey horologe.
By nature knew he each ascension
Of the equinoxial in thilke town;
For when degrees fifteen weren ascended,
Then crew he, that it might not ben amended.
His comb was redder than the fine coral,
And batailled, as it were a castle wall;
His bill was black, and as the jet it shone;
Like azure were his legges, and his toon;
His nailes whiter than the lily flower,
And like the burned gold was his colour.
This gentle cock had in his governance
Seven hennes for to doon all his pleasance,
Which were his sisters and his paramours,
And wonder like to him, as of colours;
Of which the fairest hued on her throat
Was cleped fair damoiselle Pertelote.
Courteous she was, discreet, and debonair,
And compaignable, and bore herself so fair,
Since thilke day that she was seven night old,
That truely she hath the heart in hold
Of Chanticleer, locken in every lith;
He loved her so, that well was him therewith.
But such a joy was it to hear them sing,
When that the brighte sunnee gan to spring,
In sweet accord, "My lief is faren in land.'
For thilke time, as I have understood,
Beastes and birdes coulde speak and sing.
And so befell that in a dawening,
As Chanticleer among his wives all
Sat on his perche, that was in the hall,
And next him sat this faire Pertelote,
This Chanticleer gan groanen in his throat
As man that in his dream is dretched sore.
And when that Pertelote thus heard him roar,
She was aghast, and said, "O hearte dear,
What aileth you, to groan in this manner?
Ye been a very sleeper; fie, for shame!'
And he answered, and saide thus: "Madame,
I pray you that ye take it not agrief.
By God, me met I was in such mischief
Right now, that yet mine heart is sore afright.
Now God,' quod he, "my sweven reck aright,
And keep my body out of foul prison!
Me met how that I roamed up and down
Within our yard, where as I saw a beast
Was like an hound, and would han made arrest
Upon my body, and would han had me dead.
His colour was betwix yellow and red,
And tipped was his tail and both his ears
With black, unlike the remnant of his hairs;
His snoute small, with glowing eyen tway.
Yet of his look for fear almost I die;
This caused me my groaning, doubteless.'
"Avoy!' quod she, "fie on you, hearteless!
Alas,' quod she, "for, by that God above,
Now han ye lost mine heart and all my love.
I can not love a coward, by my faith!
For certes, what so any woman saith,

We all desiren, if it mighte be,
To han husbandes hardy, wise, and free,
And secret, and no niggard, ne no fool,
Ne him that is aghast of every tool,
Ne none avaunter, by that God above!
How durst ye say, for shame, unto your love
That any thing might make you afeared?
Have ye no mannes heart, and han a beard?
Alas! and can ye been aghast of swevenis?
Nothing, God wot, but vanity in sweven is.
Swevens engendren of repletions,
And oft of fume and of complexions,
When humours been too abundant in a wight.

Certes this dream, which ye han met tonight,
Cometh of the great superfluity
Of your redde colera, pardie,
Which causeth folk to dreaden in their dreams
Of arrows, and of fire with redde leams,
Of redde beastes, that they will them bite,
Of conteck, and of whelpes, great and lite;

Right as the humour of melancholy
Causeth full many a man in sleep to cry
For fear of blacke bears, or bulles black,
Or elles blacke devils will them take.
Of other humours could I tell also
That wirken many a man in sleep full woe;
But I will pass as lightly as I can.
"Lo Cato, which that was so wise a man,
Said he not thus, "Ne do no force of dreams"?
"Now sire,' quod she, "when we fly from the beams,
For Goddes love, as take some laxative.
Up peril of my soul and of my life,
I counsel you the best, I will not lie,
That both of colere and of melancholy
Ye purge you; and for ye shall not tarry,
Though in this town is none apothecary,
I shall myself to herbes teachen you
That shall be for your heal and for your prow;
And in our yard those herbes shall I find
The which han of their property, by kind,
To purge you beneath and eek above.
Forget not this, for Goddes owen love!
Ye been full coleric of complexion.
Ware the sun in his ascension
Ne find you not replete of humours hot;
And if it do, I dare well lay a groat,
That ye shall have a fever terciane,
Or an ague, that may be your bane.
A day or two ye shall have digestives
Of wormes, ere ye take your laxatives
Of laureole, centaury, and fumitory,
Or else of hellebore, that groweth there,
Of catapuce, or of goat-tree's berries,
Of herb ivy, growing in our yard, there merry is;
Peck them up right as they grow, and eat them in.
Be merry, husband, for your father kin!
Dreadeth no dream; I can say you no more.'
"Madame,' quod he, "gramercy of your lore.
But natheless, as touching Don Cato,
That hath of wisdom such a great renown,
Though that he bad no dreames for to dread,
By God, men may in olde bookes read
Of many a man more of authority
Than ever Cato was, so moot I thee,
That all the reverse sayen of this sentence,
And han well founden by experience
That dreames been significations
As well of joye as of tribulations
That folk enduren in this life present.
There needeth make of this none argument;
The very proofe showeth it indeed.
"One of the greatest authors that men read
Saith thus: that whilom two fellowes went
On pilgrimage, in a full good intent;
And happened so, they comen in a town
Where as there was such congregation
Of people, and eek so strait of harbourage,
That they ne found as much as one cottage
In which they bothe might y-lodged be.
Wherefore they mosten of necessity,
As for that night, departen company;
And each of them goeth to his hostelry,
And took his lodging as it woulde fall.
That one of them was lodged in a stall,
Far in a yard, with oxen of the plough;
That other man was lodged well enough,
As was his aventure or his fortune,
That us governeth all as in commune.
"And so befell that, long ere it were day,
This man met in his bed, there as he lay,
How that his fellow gan upon him call,
And said, "Alas, for in an oxes stall
This night I shall be murdered there I lie.
Now help me, deare brother, or I die.
In alle haste come to me!" he said.
This man out of his sleep for fear abraid;
But when that he was wakened of his sleep,
He turned him, and took of this no keep.
Him thought his dream n'as but a vanity.
Thus twies in his sleeping dreamed he;
And at the third time yet his fellow
Came, as him thought, and said, "I am now slawe.
Behold my bloody woundes deep and wide!
Arise up early in the morning-tide,
And at the west gate of the town," quod he,
"A carte full of dung there shalt thou see,
In which my body is hid full privily;
Do thilke cart arresten boldely.
My gold caused my murder, sooth to sayn."
And told him every point how he was slain,
With a full piteous face, pale of hue.
And truste well, his dream he found full true;
For on the morrow, as soon as it was day,
To his fellowes inn he took the way;
And when that he came to this oxes stall,
After his fellow he began to call.
"The hosteler answered him anon,
And saide, "Sire, your fellow is a-gone;
As soon as day he went out of the town."
"This man gan fallen in suspicion,
Remembering on his dreames that he met,
And forth he goeth--no longer would he let--
Unto the west gate of the town, and found
A dung-cart, as it were to dunge land,
That was arrayed in the same wise
As ye han heard the deade man devise.
And with an hardy heart he gan to cry
Vengeance and justice of this felony.
"My fellow murdered is this same night,
And in this cart he lieth gaping upright.
I cry out on the ministers," quod he,
"That shoulden keep and rulen this city.
Harrow! alas! here lieth my fellow slain!"
What should I more unto this tale sayn?
The people out start and cast the cart to ground,
And in the middle of the dung they found
The deade man, that murdered was all new.
"O blissful God, that art so just and true,
Lo, how that thou bewrayest murder alway!
Murder will out, that see we day by day.
Murder is so wlatsom and abominable
To God, that is so just and reasonable,
That he ne will not suffer it heled be,
Though it abide a year, or two, or three.

Murder will out, this my conclusion.
And right anon, ministers of that town
Han hent the carter and so sore him pyned,
And eek the hosteler so sore engyned,
That they biknewe their wickedness anon,
And were anhanged by the necke-bone.
"Here may men seen that dreames been to dread.
And certes in the same book I read,
Right in the nexte chapter after this--
I gabbe not, so have I joy or bliss--
Two men that would han passed over sea,
For certain cause, into a far country,
If that the wind ne had been contrary,
That made them in a city for to tarry
That stood full merry upon an haven-side.
But on a day, again the eventide,
The wind gan change, and blew right as them lest.
Jolif and glad they went unto their rest,
And casten them full early for to sail.
But to that one man fell a great marvel:
That one of them, in sleeping as he lay,
Him met a wonder dream again the day.
Him thought a man stood by his beddes side,
And him commanded that he should abide,
And said him thus: "If thou tomorrow wend,
Thou shall be drowned; my tale is at an end."
He woke, and told his fellow what he met,
And prayed him his voyage for to let;
As for that day, he prayed him to bide.
His fellow, that lay by his beddes side,
Gan for to laugh, and scorned him full fast.
"No dream," quod he, "may so mine heart aghast
That I will lette for to do my things.
I sette not a straw by thy dreamings,
For swevens been but vanities and japes.
Men dream all day of owles and of apes,
And eek of many a maze therewithal;
Men dream of thing that never was ne shall.
But sith I see that thou wilt here abide,
And thus forslewthen wilfully thy tide,
God wot, it rueth me; and have good day!"
And thus he took his leave, and went his way.
But ere that he had half his course y-sailed,
Noot I not why, ne what mischance it ailed,
But casually the shippes bottom rent,
And ship and man under the water went
In sight of other shippes it beside,
And with them sailed at the same tide.
And therefore, faire Pertelote so dear,
By such examples olde mayst thou lear
That no man shoulde been too reckeless
Of dreames; for I say thee, doubteless,
That many a dream full sore is for to dread.
"Lo, in the life of Saint Kenelm I read,
That was Kenulphus' son, the noble king
Of Mercia, how Kenelm met a thing.
A little ere he was murdered, on a day,
His murderer in his avision he say.
His norice him expounded every deal
His sweven, and bad him for to keep him well
For treason; but he n'as but seven year old,
And therefore little tale hath he told
Of any dream, so holy was his heart.
By God! I hadde liefer than my shirt
That you had read his legend, as have I.
"Dame Pertelote, I say you truely,

Macrobius, that writ the avision
In Afrique of the worthy Scipio,
Affirmeth dreams, and sayeth that they been
Warning of thinges that men after seen.
And furthermore, I pray you, looketh well
In the old testament, of Daniel,
If he held dreames any vanity.

Read eek of Joseph, and there shall ye see
Where dreames ben sometime--I say not all--
Warning of thinges that shall after fall.
Look of Egypt the king, Don Pharaoh,
His baker and his butiller also,
Where they ne felte no effect in dreams?

Whoso will seeken acts of sundry realms
May read of dreames many a wonder thing.
Lo Croesus, which that was of Lydia king,
Met he not that he sat upon a tree,
Which signified he should anhanged be?
Lo here Andromache, Hectores wife,
That day that Hector shoulde lose his life,
She dreamed on the same night beforn
How that the life of Hector should be lorn,
If thilke day he went into bataille.
She warned him, but it might not avail;
He wente for to fighte natheless,
But he was slain anon of Achilles.
But thilke tale is all too long to tell,
And eek it is nigh day, I may not dwell.
Shortly I say, as for conclusion,
That I shall han of this avision
Adversity; and I say furthermore,
That I ne tell of laxatives no store,
For they been venomous, I wot it well;
I them defy, I love them never a deal.
"Now let us speak of mirth and stint all this.
Madame Pertelote, so have I bliss,
Of one thing God hath sent me large grace;
For when I see the beauty of your face,
Ye been so scarlet red about your eyen,
It maketh all my dreade for to dyen;
For all so siker as In principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio--
Madame, the sentence of this Latin is,

"Woman is mannes joy and all his bliss."
For when I feel a-night your softe side,
Albeit that I may not on you ride,
For that our perch is made so narrowe, alas!
I am so full of joy and of solace
That I defye bothe sweven and dream.'
And with that word he flew down from the beam,
For it was day, and eek his hennes all;
And with a chuck he gan them for to call,
For he had found a corn, lay in the yard.
Royal he was, he was no more afeard.
He feathered Pertelote twenty time,
And trod her eek as oft, ere it was prime.
He looketh as it were a grim lion,
And on his toes he roameth up and down;
Him deigned not to set his foot to ground.
He chucketh when he hath a corn y-found,
And to him runnen then his wives all.
Thus royal, as a prince is in his hall,
Leave I this Chanticleer in his pasture;
And after will I tell his aventure.
When that the month in which the world began,
That highte March, when God first maked man,
Was complete, and passed were also,
Since March beganne, thirty days and two,
Befell that Chanticleer in all his pride,
His seven wives walking by his side,
Cast up his eyen to the brighte sun,
That in the sign of Taurus had y-run
Twenty degrees and one, and somewhat more,
And knew by kind, and by none other lore,
That it was prime, and crew with blissful steven.
"The sun,' he said, "is clomben up on heaven
Forty degrees and one, and more ywis.

Madame Pertelote, my worldes bliss,
Harkneth these blissful birdes how they sing,
And see the freshe flowers how they spring;
Full is mine heart of revel and solace!'
But suddenly him fell a sorrowful case,
For ever the latter end of joy is woe.
God wot that worldly joy is soon ago;
And if a rhetor coulde fair indite,
He in a chronique safely might it write
As for a sovereign notability.
Now every wise man, let him harken me;
This story is all so true, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,
That women hold in full great reverence.
Now will I turn again to my sentence.
A coal-fox, full of sly iniquity,
That in the grove had woned yeares three,
By high imagination forncast,
The same night throughout the hedges brast
Into the yard there Chanticleer the fair
Was wont, and eek his wives, to repair;
And in a bed of wortes still he lay,
Till it was passed undren of the day,
Waiting his time on Chanticleer to fall,
As gladly doon these homicides all
That in await liggen to murder men.
O false murderer, lurking in thy den!
O new Iscariot, newe Ganelon!
False dissimuler, O Greek Sinon,
That broughtest Troy all utterly to sorrow!
O Chanticleer, accursed be that morrow
That thou into that yard flew from the beams!
Thou were full well y-warned by thy dreams
That thilke day was perilous to thee;
But what that God forwoot must needes be,
After the opinion of certain clerkes.
Witness on him that any perfect clerk is,
That in school is great altercation
In this matter, and great disputation,
And hath been of an hundred thousand men.
But I ne can not bult it to the bren
As can the holy doctor Augustine,
Or Boethius, or the Bishop Bradwardine,
Whether that Goddes worthy forwitting
Straineth me needly for to doon a thing--
"Needly' clepe I simple necessity;
Or elles, if free choice be granted me
To do that same thing, or do it nought,
Though God forwoot it ere that it was wrought;
Or if his witting straineth never a deal
But by necessity conditional.
I will not han to do of such matter;

My tale is of a cock, as ye may hear,
That took his counsel of his wife, with sorrow,
To walken in the yard upon that morrow
That he had met the dream that I you told.
Womenes counsels been full ofte cold;
Womenes counsel brought us first to woe,
And made Adam from Paradise to go,
There as he was full merry and well at ease.
But for I noot to whom it might displease,
If I counsel of women woulde blame,
Pass over, for I said it in my game.
Read authors, where they treat of such matter,
And what they sayn of women ye may hear.
These been the cockes wordes, and not mine;
I can none harm of no woman divine.
Fair in the sand, to bathe her merrily,
Lay Pertelote, and all her sisters by,
Again the sun, and Chanticleer so free
Sang merrier than the mermaid in the sea;
For Physiologus saith sikerly
How that they singen well and merrily.
And so befell that, as he cast his eye
Among the wortes on a butterfly,
He was ware of this fox that lay full low.
Nothing ne list him thenne for to crow,
But cried anon, "Cok! cok!' and up he start
As man that was affrayed in his heart.
For naturally a beast desireth flee
From his contrary, if he may it see,
Though he never erst had seen it with his eye.
This Chanticleer, when he gan him espy,
He would han fled, but that the fox anon
Said, "Gentle sire, alas! where will ye gon?
Be ye afraid of me that am your friend?
Now certes, I were worse than a fiend,
If I to you would harm or villainy!
I am not come your council for t'espy,
But truely, the cause of my coming
Was only for to harken how that ye sing.
For truely, ye have as merry a steven
As any angel hath that is in heaven;
Therewith ye han in music more feeling
Than had Boethius, or any that can sing.
My lord your father--God his soule bless!--
And eek your mother, of here gentleness,
Han in mine house y-been, to my great ease;
And certes, sire, full fain would I you please.
But, for men speak of singing, I will say--
So moot I brooke well mine eyen tway--
Save you, I hearde never man so sing
As did your father in the morwening.
Certes, it was of heart, all that he sung.
And for to make his voice the more strong,
He would so peyn him that with both his eyen
He moste wink, so loude he would cryen,
And standen on his tiptoon therewithal,
And stretche forth his necke long and small.
And eek he was of such discretion
That there n'as no man in no region
That him in song or wisdom mighte pass.
I have well read in "Don Burnel the Ass",
Among his verse, how that there was a cock,
For that a priestes son gave him a knock
Upon his leg while he was young and nice,
He made him for to lose his benefice.
But certain, there n'is no comparison
Betwixt the wisdom and discretion
Of your father, and of his subtlety.
Now singeth, sire, for Sainte Charity;
Let see, can ye your father counterfeit?'
This Chanticleer his winges gan to beat,
As man that could his treason not espy,
So was he ravished with his flattery.
Alas! ye lordes, many a false flatterer
Is in your courts, and many a losenger,
That pleasen you well more, by my faith,
Than he that soothfastness unto you saith.
Readeth Ecclesiasticus of flattery;
Beeth ware, ye lordes of her treachery.
This Chanticleer stood high upon his toes,
Stretching his neck, and held his eyen close,
And gan to crowe loude for the nonce;
And Don Russell the fox start up at once,
And by the garget hente Chanticleer
And on his back toward the wood him bare,
For yet ne was there no man that him 'sued,
O destiny, that mayst not been eschewed!
Alas, that Chanticleer flew from the beams!
Alas, his wife ne recked not of dreams!
And on a Friday fell all this mischance.
O Venus, that art goddess of pleasance,
Since that thy servant was this Chanticleer,
And in thy service dide all his power,
More for delight than world to multiply,
Why wouldst thou suffer him on thy day to die?
O Geoffrey, dear master sovereign,
That, when thy worthy king Richard was slain
With shot, complainedest his death so sore,
Why ne had I now thy sentence and thy lore,
The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?
For on a Friday, soothly, slain was he.
Then would I show you how that I could 'plain
For Chanticleeres dread and for his pain.
Certes, such cry ne lamentation
Was never of ladies made when Ilium
Was won, and Pyrrhus with his straighte sword,
When he had hent king Priam by the beard,
And slain him, as saith us Aeneid,
As maden all the hennes in the close,
When they had seen of Chanticleer the sight.
But sovereignly Dame Pertelote shright
Full louder than did Hasdrubales wife,
When that her husband hadde lost his life,
And that the Romans hadde burnt Carthage.
She was so full of torment and of rage
That wilfully into the fire she start,
And burned herselfen with a steadfast heart.
O woeful hennes, right so cryden ye,
As, when that Nero burned the city
Of Rome, cryden senatores wives
For that their husbands losten all their lives--
Withouten guilt this Nero hath them slain.
Now will I turne to my tale again.
This silly widowe and eek her daughters two
Hearden these hennes cry and maken woe,
And out at doores starten they anon,
And seen the fox toward the grove gone,
And bore upon his back the cock away,
And cryden, "Out! harrow! and well-away!
Ha! ha! the fox!' and after him they ran,
And eek with staves many another man.
Ran Coll our dog, and Talbot and Garland,
And Malkin, with a distaff in her hand;
Ran cow and calf, and eek the very hogs,
So feared for the barking of the dogs
And shouting of the men and women eek,
They ranne so them thought their hearte break.

They yelleden as fiendes doon in hell;
The duckes cryden as men would them quell;
The geese for feare flewen over the trees;
Out of the hive came the swarm of bees.

So hideous was the noise, ah! benedicite!
Certes, he Jacke Straw and his meinie
Ne made never shoutes half so shrill
When that they woulden any Fleming kill,
As thilke day was made upon the fox.
Of brass they broughten bemes, and of box,
Of horn, of bone, in which they blew and pooped,
And therewithal they skriked and they whooped;
It seemed as that heaven shoulde fall.
Now, goode men, I pray you harkneth all:
Lo, how Fortune turneth suddenly
The hope and pride eek of her enemy!
This cock, that lay upon the foxes back,
In all his dread unto the fox he spake,
And saide, "Sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet should I sayen, as wise God helpe me,
"Turneth again, ye proude churles all!
A very pestilence upon you fall!
Now am I come unto this woodes side;
Maugre your heed, the cock shall here abide.
I will him eat, in faith, and that anon!" '
The fox answered, "In faith, it shall be done.'
And as he spoke that word, all suddenly
This cock brake from his mouth deliverly,
And high upon a tree he flew anon.
And when the fox saw that the cock was gone,
"Alas,' quod he, "O Chanticleer, alas!
I have to you,' quod he, 'y-done trespass,
In as much as I maked you afeard
When I you hent and brought out of the yard.
But, sire, I did it in no wikke intent;
Come down, and I shall tell you what I meant.
I shall say sooth to you, God help me so!'
"Nay then,' quod he, "I shrew us bothe two.
And first I shrew myself, both blood and bones,
If thou beguile me ofter than once.
Thou shalt no more, through thy flattery,
Do me to sing and winke with mine eye;
For he that winketh, when he shoulde see,
All wilfully, God let him never thee!'
"Nay,' quod the fox, "but God give him mischance,
That is so indiscreet of governance
That jangleth when he shoulde hold his peace.'
Lo, such it is for to be reckeless,
And negligent, and trust on flattery.
But yet that holden this tale a folly,
As of a fox, or of a cock and hen,
Taketh the morality, good men.
For Saint Paul saith that all that written is,
To our doctrine it is y-writ, ywis;
Taketh the fruit, and let the chaff be still.
Now, goode God, if that it be thy will,
As saith my Lord, so make us all good men,
And bring us to his highe bliss! Amen.
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