Playful Poems
by Henry Morley
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The last volume of these "Companion Poets" contained some of Chaucer's Tales as they were modernised by Dryden. This volume contains more of his Tales as they were modernised by later poets. In 1841 there was a volume published entitled, "The Poems of Geoffrey Chaucer Modernized." Of this volume, when it was first projected, Wordsworth wrote to Moxon, his publisher, on the 24th of February 1840: "Mr. Powell, my friend, has some thought of preparing for publication some portion of Chaucer modernised, as far and no farther than is done in my treatment of 'The Prioress' Tale.' That would, in fact, be his model. He will have coadjutors, among whom, I believe, will be Mr. Leigh Hunt, a man as capable of doing the work well as any living writer. I have placed at my friend Mr. Powell's disposal three other pieces which I did long ago, but revised the other day. They are 'The Manciple's Tale,' 'The Cuckoo and the Nightingale,' and twenty-four stanzas of 'Troilus and Cressida.' This I have done mainly out of my love and reverence for Chaucer, in hopes that, whatever may be the merits of Mr. Powell's attempt, the attention of other writers may be drawn to the subject; and a work hereafter produced, by different persons, which will place the treasures of one of the greatest of poets within the reach of the multitude, which now they are not. I mention all this to you because, though I have not given Mr. Powell the least encouragement to do so, he may sound you as to your disposition to undertake the publication. I have myself nothing further to do with it than I have stated. Had the thing been suggested to me by any number of competent persons twenty years ago, I would have undertaken the editorship and done much more myself, and endeavoured to improve the several contributions where they seemed to require it. But that is now out of the question."

Wordsworth had made his versions of Chaucer in the year 1801. "The Prioress's Tale" had been published in 1820, so that only the three pieces he had revised for his friend's use were available, and of these the Manciple's Tale was withdrawn, the version by Leigh Hunt (which is among the pieces here reprinted) being used. The volume was published in 1841, not by Moxon but by Whitaker. Wordsworth's versions of "The Cuckoo and the Nightingale" (here reprinted), and of a passage taken from "Troilus and Cressida," were included in it. Leigh Hunt contributed versions of the Manciple's Tale and the Friar's Tale (both here reprinted), and of the Squire's Tale. Elizabeth A. Barrett, afterwards Mrs. Browning, contributed a version of "Queen Annelida and False Arcite." Richard Hengist Horne entered heartily into the venture, modernised the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the Reve's Tale, and the Franklin's, and wrote an Introduction of more than a hundred pages, to which Professor Leonhard Schmitz added thirty-two pages of a Life of Chaucer. Robert Bell, to whom we were afterwards indebted for an "Annotated Edition of the English Poets," modernised the Complaint of Mars and Venus. Thomas Powell, the editor, contributed his version of the Legends of Ariadne, Philomene, and Phillis, and of "The Flower and the Leaf," and a friend, who signed only as Z. A. Z, dealt with "The Rime of Sir Thopas."

After the volume had appeared, Wordsworth thus wrote of it to Professor Henry Reed of Philadelphia: "There has recently been published in London a volume of some of Chaucer's tales and poems modernised; this little specimen originated in what I attempted with 'The Prioress' Tale,' and if the book should find its way to America you will see in it two further specimens from myself. I had no further connection with the publication than by making a present of these to one of the contributors. Let me, however, recommend to your notice the Prologue and the Franklin's Tale. They are both by Mr. Horne, a gentleman unknown to me, but are—the latter in particular—very well done. Mr. Leigh Hunt has not failed in the Manciple's Tale, which I myself modernised many years ago; but though I much admire the genius of Chaucer as displayed in this performance, I could not place my version at the disposal of the editor, as I deemed the subject somewhat too indelicate for pure taste to be offered to the world at this time of day. Mr. Horne has much hurt this publication by not abstaining from the Reve's Tale. This, after making all allowance for the rude manners of Chaucer's age, is intolerable; and by indispensably softening down the incidents, he has killed the spirit of that humour, gross and farcical, that pervades the original. When the work was first mentioned to me, I protested as strongly as possible against admitting any coarseness and indelicacy, so that my conscience is clear of countenancing aught of that kind. So great is my admiration of Chaucer's genius, and so profound my reverence for him. . . for spreading the light of Literature through his native land, that, notwithstanding the defects and faults in this publication, I am glad of it, as a means for making many acquainted with the original, who would otherwise be ignorant of everything about him but his name."

Wordsworth's objection to the Manciple's Tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses was an afterthought. He had begun by offering his version of it for publication in this volume. His objection to Horne's treatment of the Reve's Tale was reasonable enough. The original tale was the sixth novel in the ninth day of the Decameron, and probably was taken by Chaucer from a Fabliau by Jean de Boves, "De Gombert et des Deux Clercs." The same story has been imitated in the "Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles," and in the "Berceau" of La Fontaine. Horne's removal from the tale of everything that would offend a modern reader was designed to enable thousands to find pleasure in an old farcical piece that would otherwise be left unread.

Chaucer's "Rime of Sir Thopas" was a playful jest on the long-winded story-telling of the old romances, and had specially in mind Thomas Chestre's version of Launfal from Marie of France, and the same rhymer's romance of "Ly Beaus Disconus," who was Gingelein, a son of Gawain, called by his mother, for his beauty, only Beaufis (handsome son); but when he offered himself in that name to be knighted by King Arthur, he was knighted and named by him Li Beaus Disconus (the fair unknown). This is the method of the tediousness, in which it showed itself akin to many a rhyming tale.

"And for love of his fair vis His mother cleped him Beaufis, And none other name; And himselve was full nis, He ne axed nought y-wis What he hight at his dame.

"As it befel upon a day, To wood he went on his play Of deer to have his game; He found a knight, where he lay In armes that were stout and gay, Y-slain and made full tame.

"That child did off the knightes wede, And anon he gan him schrede In that rich armour. When he hadde do that dede, To Glastenbury he gede, There lay the King Arthour.

"He knelde in the hall Before the knightes all, And grette hem with honour, And said: 'Arthour, my lord, Grant me to speak a word, I pray thee, par amour.

"'I am a child uncouth, And come out of the south, And would be made a knight, Lord, I pray thee nouthe, With thy merry mouthe, Grant me anon right.'

"Then said Arthour the king, 'Anon, without dwelling, Tell me thy name aplight! For sethen I was ybore, Ne found I me before None so fair of sight.'

"That child said, 'By Saint Jame, I not what is my name; I am the more nis; But while I was at hame My mother, in her game, Cleped me Beaufis.'

"Then said Arthour the king, 'This is a wonder thing By God and Saint Denis! When he that would be knight Ne wot not what he hight, And is so fair of vis.

"'Now will I give him a name Before you all in same, For he is so fair and free, By God and by Saint Jame, So cleped him ne'er his dame, What woman so it be.

"'Now clepeth him all of us, Li Beaus Disconus, For the love of me! Then may ye wite a rowe, "'The Faire Unknowe,' Certes, so hatte he"

John Gower's "Confessio Amantis" was a story book, like the Canterbury Tales, with a contrivance of its own for stringing the tales together, and Gower was at work on it nearly about the time when his friend Chaucer was busy with his Pilgrims. The story here extracted was an old favourite. It appeared in Greek about the year 800, in the romance of Barlaam and Josaphat. It was told by Vincent of Beauvais in the year 1290 in his "Speculum Historiale;" and it was used by Boccaccio for the first tale of the tenth day of his "Decameron."

Chaucer, Gower, Lydgate were the old poetical triumvirate, though Lydgate, who was about thirty years old when Chaucer died, has slipped much out of mind. His verses on the adventures of the Kentish rustic who came to London to get justice in the law courts, and his words set to the action of an old piece of rustic mumming, "Bicorn and Chichevache," here represent his vein of playfulness. He was a monk who taught literature at Bury St. Edmunds, and was justly looked upon as the chief poet of the generation who lived after Chaucer's death.

Next follows in this volume a scrap of wise counsel to take life cheerfully, from the Scottish poet, William Dunbar. He lived at the Scottish Court of James the Fourth when Henry the Seventh reigned in England, and who was our greatest poet of the north country before Burns.

Next we come to the poets "who so did please Eliza and our James," and represent their playfulness by Drayton's "Dowsabell," and that most exquisite of fairy pieces, his "Nymphidia," where Oberon figures as the mad Orlando writ small, and Drayton earned his claim to be the Fairies' Laureate, though Herrick, in the same vein, followed close upon him. Michael Drayton, nearly of an age with Shakespeare, was, like Shakespeare, a Warwickshire man. Empty tradition says that Shakespeare died of a too festive supper shared with his friend Drayton, who came to visit him.

Then follows in this volume the playful treatment of a quarrel between friends, in Pope's "Rape of the Lock." Lord Petre, aged twenty, audaciously cut from the head of Miss Arabella Fermor, daughter of Mr. Fermor of Tusmore, a lock of her hair while she was playing cards in the Queen's rooms at Hampton Court. Pope's friend, Mr. Caryll, suggested to him that a mock heroic treatment of the resulting quarrel might restore peace, and Pope wrote a poem in two cantos, which was published in a Miscellany in 1712, Pope's age then being twenty-four. But as epic poems required supernatural machinery, Pope added afterwards to his mock epic the machinery of sylphs and gnomes, suggested to him by the reading of a French story, "Le Comte de Gabalis," by the Abbe Villars. Here there were sylphs of the air and gnomes of the earth, little spirits who would be in right proportion to the substance of his poem, which was refashioned into five cantos, and republished as we have it now in February 1714.

"John Gilpin" was written by William Cowper in the year 1782, when Lady Austin was lodging in the Vicarage at Olney, and spent every evening with Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, cheering Cowper greatly by her liveliness. One evening she told the story of John Gilpin's ride in a way that tickled the poet's fancy, set him laughing when he woke up in the night, and obliged him to turn it next day into ballad rhyme. Mrs. Unwin's son sent it to the Public Advertiser, for the poet's corner. It was printed in that newspaper, and thought no more of until about three years later. Then it was suggested to a popular actor named Henderson, who gave entertainments of his own, that this piece would tell well among his recitations. He introduced it into his entertainments, and soon all the town was running after John Gilpin as madly as the six gentlemen and the post-boy.

John Gilpin's flight is followed in this volume by the flight of Tam o' Shanter. Burns wrote "Tam o' Shanter" at Elliesland, and himself considered it the best of all his poems. He told the story to Captain Grose, as it was current among the people in his part of the country, its scene laid almost on the spot where he was born. Captain Grose, the antiquary, who was collecting materials for his "Antiquities of Scotland," published in 1789-91, got Burns to versify it and give it to him. The poem made its first appearance, therefore, in Captain Grose's book. Mrs. Burns told of it that it was the work of a day. Burns was most of the day on his favourite walk by the river, where his wife and some of the children joined him in the afternoon. Mrs. Burns saw that her husband was busily engaged "crooning to himsell," and she loitered behind with the little ones among the broom. Presently she was attracted by the poet's strange and wild gesticulations; he seemed agonised with an ungovernable joy. He was reciting very loud. Every circumstance suggested to heighten the impression of fear in the lines following,

"By this time he was 'cross the ford Where in the snaw the chapman smoored," etc.,

was taken from local tradition. Shanter was the real name of a farm near Kirkoswald, then occupied by a Douglas Grahame, who was much of Tam's character, and was well content to be called by his country neighbours Tam o' Shanter for the rest of his life, after Burns had made the name of the farm immortal.

Our selection ends with two pieces by Thomas Hood, whose "Tale of a Trumpet" is luxuriant with play of wit that has its earnest side. Hood died in 1845.

A Note upon the Game of Ombre is added, which is founded upon the description of the game in a little book—"The Court Gamester"— which instructed card-players in the reigns of the first Georges. In the "Rape of the Lock" there is a game of ombre played through to the last trick. That note will enable any reader to follow Belinda's play. It will also enable any one who may care to do so to restore to a place among our home amusements a game which carried all before it in Queen Anne's day, and which is really, when cleared of its gambling details, as good a domestic game for three players as cribbage or piquet is for two. My "Court Gamester," which was in its fifth edition in 1728, after devoting its best energies to ombre, contented its readers in fewer pages with the addition only of piquet and chess.

Obsolete words and words of Scottish dialect, with a few more as to the meaning of which some readers might be uncertain, will be found explained in the Glossary that ends this volume.



The reader is to understand, that all the persons previously described in the "Prologue to the Canterbury Tales" are now riding on their way to that city, and each of them telling his tale respectively, which is preceded by some little bit of incident or conversation on the road. The agreement, suggested by the Host of the Tabard, was, first, that each pilgrim should tell a couple of tales while going to Canterbury, and another couple during the return to London; secondly, that the narrator of the best one of all should sup at the expense of the whole party; and thirdly, that the Host himself should be gratuitous guide on the journey, and arbiter of all differences by the way, with power to inflict the payment of travelling expenses upon any one who should gainsay his judgment. During the intervals of the stories he is accordingly the most prominent person.—LEIGH HUNT.


Wottest thou, reader, of a little town, {17} Which thereabouts they call Bob-up-and-down, Under the Blee, in Canterbury way? Well, there our host began to jest and play, And said, "Hush, hush now: Dun is in the mire. What, sirs? will nobody, for prayer or hire, Wake our good gossip, sleeping here behind? Here were a bundle for a thief to find. See, how he noddeth! by St. Peter, see! He'll tumble off his saddle presently. Is that a cook of London, red flames take him! He knoweth the agreement—wake him, wake him: We'll have his tale, to keep him from his nap, Although the drink turn out not worth the tap. Awake, thou cook," quoth he; "God say thee nay; What aileth thee to sleep thus in the day? Hast thou had fleas all night? or art thou drunk? Or didst thou sup with my good lord the monk, And hast a jolly surfeit in thine head?"

This cook that was full pale, and nothing red, Stared up, and said unto the host, "God bless My soul, I feel such wondrous heaviness, I know not why, that I would rather sleep Than drink of the best gallon-wine in Cheap."

"Well," quoth the Manciple, "if it might ease Thine head, Sir Cook, and also none displease Of all here riding in this company, And mine host grant it, I would pass thee by, Till thou art better, and so tell MY tale; For in good faith thy visage is full pale; Thine eyes grow dull, methinks; and sure I am, Thy breath resembleth not sweet marjoram, Which showeth thou canst utter no good matter: Nay, thou mayst frown forsooth, but I'll not flatter. See, how he gapeth, lo! this drunken wight; He'll swallow us all up before he'll bite; Hold close thy mouth, man, by thy father's kin; The fiend himself now set his foot therein, And stop it up, for 'twill infect us all; Fie, hog; fie, pigsty; foul thy grunt befall. Ah—see, he bolteth! there, sirs, was a swing; Take heed—he's bent on tilting at the ring: He's the shape, isn't he? to tilt and ride! Eh, you mad fool! go to your straw, and hide."

Now with this speech the cook for rage grew black, And would have stormed, but could not speak, alack! So mumbling something, from his horse fell he, And where he fell, there lay he patiently, Till pity on his shame his fellows took. Here was a pretty horseman of a cook! Alas! that he had held not by his ladle! And ere again they got him on his saddle, There was a mighty shoving to and fro To lift him up, and muckle care and woe, So heavy was this carcase of a ghost. Then to the Manciple thus spake our host:- "Since drink upon this man hath domination, By nails! and as I reckon my salvation, I trow he would have told a sorry tale; For whether it be wine, or it be ale, That he hath drank, he speaketh through the nose, And sneezeth much, and he hath got the POSE, {19} And also hath given us business enow To keep him on his horse, out of the slough; He'll fall again, if he be driven to speak, And then, where are we, for a second week? Why, lifting up his heavy drunken corse! Tell on thy tale, and look we to his horse. Yet, Manciple, in faith thou art too nice Thus openly to chafe him for his vice. Perchance some day he'll do as much for thee, And bring thy baker's bills in jeopardy, Thy black jacks also, and thy butcher's matters, And whether they square nicely with thy platters."

"Mine," quoth the Manciple, "were then the mire! Much rather would I pay his horse's hire, And that will be no trifle, mud and all, Than risk the peril of so sharp a fall. I did but jest. Score not, ye'll be not scored. And guess ye what? I have here, in my gourd, A draught of wine, better was never tasted, And with this cook's ladle will I be basted, If he don't drink of it, right lustily. Upon my life he'll not say nay. Now see.

And true it was, the cook drank fast enough; Down went the drink out of the gourd, FLUFF, FLUFF: Alas! the man had had enough before: And then, betwixt a trumpet and a snore, His nose said something,—grace for what he had; And of that drink the cook was wondrous glad.

Our host nigh burst with laughter at the sight, And sighed and wiped his eyes for pure delight, And said, "Well, I perceive it's necessary, Where'er we go, good wine with us to carry. What needeth in this world more strifes befall? Good wine's the doctor to appease them all. O, Bacchus, Bacchus! blessed be thy name, That thus canst turn our earnest into game. Worship and thanks be to thy deity. So on this head ye get no more from me. Tell on thy tale, Manciple, I thee pray."

"Well, sire," quoth he, "now hark to what I say."


When Phoebus dwelt with men, in days of yore, He was the very lustiest bachelor Of all the world; and shot in the best bow. 'Twas he, as the old books of stories show, That shot the serpent Python, as he lay Sleeping against the sun, upon a day: And many another noble worthy deed He did with that same bow, as men may read.

He played all kinds of music: and so clear His singing was, and such a heaven to hear, Men might not speak during his madrigal. Amphion, king of Thebes, that put a wall About the city with his melody, Certainly sang not half so well as he. And add to this, he was the seemliest man That is, or has been, since the world began. What needs describe his beauty? since there's none With which to make the least comparison. In brief, he was the flower of gentilesse, {21} Of honour, and of perfect worthiness: And yet, take note, for all this mastery, This Phoebus was of cheer so frank and free, That for his sport, and to commend the glory He gat him o'er the snake (so runs the story), He used to carry in his hand a bow.

Now this same god had in his house a crow, Which in a cage he fostered many a day, And taught to speak, as folks will teach a jay. White was the crow; as is a snow-white swan, And could repeat a tale told by a man, And sing. No nightingale, down in a dell, Could sing one-hundred-thousandth part so well.

Now had this Phoebus in his house a wife Which that he loved beyond his very life: And night and day did all his diligence To please her well, and do her reverence; Save only, to speak truly, inter nos, Jealous he was, and would have kept her close: He wished not to be treated monstrously: Neither does any man, no more than he; Only to hinder wives, it serveth nought; - A good wife, that is clean of work and thought, No man would dream of hindering such a way. And just as bootless is it, night or day, Hindering a shrew; for it will never be. I hold it for a very foppery, Labour in vain, this toil to hinder wives, Old writers always say so, in their Lives.

But to my story, as it first began. This worthy Phoebus doeth all he can To please his wife, in hope, so pleasing her, That she, for her part, would herself bestir Discreetly, so as not to lose his grace; But, Lord he knows, there's no man shall embrace A thing so close, as to restrain what Nature Hath naturally set in any creature.

Take any bird, and put it in a cage, And do thy best and utmost to engage The bird to love it; give it meat and drink, And every dainty housewives can bethink, And keep the cage as cleanly as you may, And let it be with gilt never so gay, Yet had this bird, by twenty-thousand-fold, Rather be in a forest wild and cold, And feed on worms and suchlike wretchedness; Yea, ever will he tax his whole address To get out of the cage when that he may:- His liberty the bird desireth aye.

So, take a cat, and foster her with milk And tender meat, and make her bed of silk, Yet let her see a mouse go by the wall, The devil may take, for her, silk, milk, and all, And every dainty that is in the house; Such appetite hath she to eat the mouse. Lo, here hath Nature plainly domination, And appetite renounceth education.

A she-wolf likewise hath a villain's kind: The worst and roughest wolf that she can find, Or least of reputation, will she wed, When the time comes to make her marriage-bed.

But misinterpret not my speech, I pray; All this of men, not women, do I say; For men it is, that come and spoil the lives Of such, as but for them, would make good wives. They leave their own wives, be they never so fair, Never so true, never so debonair, And take the lowest they may find, for change. Flesh, the fiend take it, is so given to range, It never will continue, long together, Contented with good, steady, virtuous weather.

This Phoebus, while on nothing ill thought he, Jilted he was, for all his jollity; For under him, his wife, at her heart's-root, Another had, a man of small repute, Not worth a blink of Phoebus; more's the pity; Too oft it falleth so, in court and city. This wife, when Phoebus was from home one day, Sent for her lemman then, without delay. Her lemman!—a plain word, I needs must own; Forgive it me; for Plato hath laid down, The word must suit according with the deed; Word is work's cousin-german, ye may read: I'm a plain man, and what I say is this: Wife high, wife low, if bad, both do amiss: But because one man's wench sitteth above, She shall be called his Lady and his Love; And because t'other's sitteth low and poor, She shall be called,—Well, well, I say no more; Only God knoweth, man, mine own dear brother, One wife is laid as low, just, as the other.

Right so betwixt a lawless, mighty chief And a rude outlaw, or an arrant thief, Knight arrant or thief arrant, all is one; Difference, as Alexander learnt, there's none; But for the chief is of the greater might, By force of numbers, to slay all outright, And burn, and waste, and make as flat as floor, Lo, therefore is he clept a conqueror; And for the other hath his numbers less, And cannot work such mischief and distress, Nor be by half so wicked as the chief, Men clepen him an outlaw and a thief.

However, I am no text-spinning man; So to my tale I go, as I began.

Now with her lemman is this Phoebus' wife; The crow he sayeth nothing, for his life; Caged hangeth he, and sayeth not a word; But when that home was come Phoebus the lord, He singeth out, and saith,—"Cuckoo! cuckoo!" "Hey!" crieth Phoebus, "here be something new; Thy song was wont to cheer me. What is this?" "By Jove!" quoth Corvus, "I sing not amiss. Phoebus," quoth he; "for all thy worthiness, For all thy beauty and all thy gentilesse, For all thy song and all thy minstrelsy, And all thy watching, bleared is thine eye; Yea, and by one no worthier than a gnat, Compared with him should boast to wear thine hat."

What would you more? the crow hath told him all; This woful god hath turned him to the wall To hide his tears: he thought 'twould burst his heart; He bent his bow, and set therein a dart, And in his ire he hath his wife yslain; He hath; he felt such anger and such pain; For sorrow of which he brake his minstrelsy, Both harp and lute, gittern and psaltery, And then he brake his arrows and his bow, And after that, thus spake he to the crow:-

"Traitor," quoth he, "behold what thou hast done; Made me the saddest wretch beneath the sun: Alas! why was I born! O dearest wife, Jewel of love and joy, my only life, That wert to me so steadfast and so true, There liest thou dead; why am not I so too? Full innocent thou wert, that durst I swear; O hasty hand, to bring me to despair! O troubled wit, O anger without thought, That unadvised smitest, and for nought: O heart of little faith, full of suspicion, Where was thy handsomeness and thy discretion? O every man, hold hastiness in loathing; Believe, without strong testimony, nothing; Smite not too soon, before ye well know why; And be advised well and soberly Before ye trust yourselves to the commission Of any ireful deed upon suspicion. Alas! a thousand folk hath hasty ire Foully foredone, and brought into the mire. Alas! I'll kill myself for misery."

And to the crow, "O thou false thief!" said he, I'll quit thee, all thy life, for thy false tale; Thou shalt no more sing like the nightingale, Nor shalt thou in those fair white feathers go, Thou silly thief, thou false, black-hearted crow; Nor shalt thou ever speak like man again; Thou shalt not have the power to give such pain; Nor shall thy race wear any coat but black, And ever shall their voices crone and crack And be a warning against wind and rain, In token that by thee my wife was slain."

So to the crow he started, like one mad, And tore out every feather that he had, And made him black, and reft him of his stores Of song and speech, and flung him out of doors Unto the devil; whence never come he back, Say I. Amen. And hence all crows are black.

Lordings, by this example I you pray Take heed, and be discreet in what you say; And above all, tell no man, for your life, How that another man hath kissed his wife. He'll hate you mortally; be sure of that; Dan Solomon, in teacher's chair that sat, Bade us keep all our tongues close as we can; But, as I said, I'm no text-spinning man, Only, I must say, thus taught me my dame; {26} My son, think on the crow in God his name; My son, keep well thy tongue, and keep thy friend; A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend; My son, a fiend's a thing for to keep down; My son, God in his great discretion Walled a tongue with teeth, and eke with lips, That man may think, before his speech out slips. A little speech spoken advisedly Brings none in trouble, speaking generally. My son, thy tongue thou always shouldst restrain, Save only at such times thou dost thy pain To speak of God in honour and in prayer; The chiefest virtue, son, is to beware How thou lett'st loose that endless thing, thy tongue; This every soul is taught, when he is young: My son, of muckle speaking ill-advised, And where a little speaking had sufficed, Com'th muckle harm. This was me told and taught, - In muckle speaking, sinning wanteth nought. Know'st thou for what a tongue that's hasty serveth? Right as a sword forecutteth and forecarveth An arm in two, my dear son, even so A tongue clean-cutteth friendship at a blow. A jangler is to God abominable: Read Solomon, so wise and honourable; Read David in his Psalms, read Seneca; My son, a nod is better than a say; Be deaf, when folk speak matter perilous; Small prate, sound pate,—guardeth the Fleming's house. My son, if thou no wicked word hast spoken, Thou never needest fear a pate ybroken; But he that hath missaid, I dare well say, His fingers shall find blood thereon, some day. Thing that is said, is said; it may not back Be called, for all your "Las!" and your "Alack!" And he is that man's thrall to whom 'twas said; Cometh the bond some day, and will be paid. My son, beware, and be no author new Of tidings, whether they be false or true: Go wheresoe'er thou wilt, 'mongst high or low, Keep well thy tongue, and think upon the crow.



1. Now when the Prioress had done, each man So serious looked, 'twas wonderful to see! Till our good host to banter us began, And then at last he cast his eyes on me, And jeering said, "What man art thou?" quoth he, "That lookest down as thou wouldst find a hare, For ever upon the ground I see thee stare.

2. "Approach me near, and look up merrily! Now make way, sirs! and let this man have place. He in the waist is shaped as well as I: This were a poppet in an arm's embrace, For any woman, small and fair of face. He seemeth elf-like by his countenance, For with no wight holdeth he dalliance.

3. "Say somewhat now, since other folks have said; Tell us a tale o' mirth, and that anon." "Host," quoth I then, "be not so far misled, For other tales except this know I none; A little rime I learned in years agone." "Ah! that is well," quoth he; "now we shall hear Some dainty thing, methinketh, by thy cheer."



1. Listen, lordlings, in good intent, And I will tell you verament Of mirth and chivalry, About a knight on glory bent, In battle and in tournament; Sir Thopas named was he.

2. And he was born in a far countrey, In Flanders, all beyond the sea, At Popering in the place; His father was a man full free, And of that country lord was he, Enjoyed by holy grace.

3. Sir Thopas was a doughty swain, Fair was his face as pain de Maine, His lips were red as rose; His ruddy cheeks like scarlet grain; And I tell you in good certaine, He had a seemly nose.

4. His hair and beard like saffron shone, And to his girdle fell adown; His shoes of leather bright; Of Bruges were his hose so brown, His robe it was of ciclatoun - He was a costly wight:

5. Well could he hunt the strong wild deer, And ride a hawking for his cheer With grey goshawk on hand; His archery filled the woods with fear, In wrestling eke he had no peer, - No man 'gainst him could stand.

6. Full many a maiden bright in bower Was sighing for him par amour Between her prayers and sleep, But he was chaste, beyond their power, And sweet as is the bramble flower That beareth the red hip.

7. And so it fell upon a day, Forsooth, as I now sing and say, Sir Thopas went to ride; He rode upon his courser grey, And in his hand a lance so gay, A long sword by his side.

8. He rode along a forest fair, Many a wild beast dwelling there; (Mercy in heaven defend!) And there was also buck and hare; And as he went, he very near Met with a sorry end.

9. And herbs sprang up, or creeping ran; The liquorice, and valerian, Clove-gillyflowers, sun-dressed; And nutmeg, good to put in ale, Whether it be moist or stale, - Or to lay sweet in chest,

10. The birds all sang, as tho' 'twere May; The spearhawk, and the popinjay, {32} It was a joy to hear; The throstle cock made eke his lay, The wood-dove sung upon the spray, With note full loud and clear.

11. Sir Thopas fell in love-longing All when he heard the throstle sing, And spurred his horse like mad, So that all o'er the blood did spring, And eke the white foam you might wring: The steed in foam seemed clad.

12. Sir Thopas eke so weary was Of riding on the fine soft grass, While love burnt in his breast, That down he laid him in that place To give his courser some solace, Some forage and some rest.

13. Saint Mary! benedicite! What meaneth all this love in me, That haunts me in the wood? This night, in dreaming, did I see An elf queen shall my true love be, And sleep beneath my hood.

14. An elf queen will I love, I wis, For in this world no woman is Worthy to be my bride; All other damsels I forsake, And to an elf queen will I take, By grove and streamlet's side.

15. Into his saddle be clomb anon, And pricketh over stile and stone, An elf queen to espy; Till he so long had ridden and gone, That he at last upon a morn The fairy land came nigh.

16. Therein he sought both far and near, And oft he spied in daylight clear Through many a forest wild; But in that wondrous land I ween, No living wight by him was seen, Nor woman, man, nor child.

17. At last there came a giant gaunt, And he was named Sir Oliphaunt, A perilous man of deed: And he said, "Childe, by Termagaunt, If thou ride not from this my haunt, Soon will I slay thy steed With this victorious mace; For here's the lovely Queen of Faery, With harp and pipe and symphony, A-dwelling in this place."

18. Childe Thopas said right haughtily, "To-morrow will I combat thee In armour bright as flower; And then I promise 'par ma fay' That thou shalt feel this javelin gay, And dread its wondrous power. To-morrow we shall meet again, And I will pierce thee, if I may, Upon the golden prime of day; - And here you shall be slain."

19. Sir Thopas drew aback full fast; The giant at him huge stones cast, Which from a staff-sling fly; But well escaped the Childe Thopas, And it was all through God's good grace, And through his bearing high.

20. Still listen, gentles, to my tale, Merrier than the nightingale; - For now I must relate, How that Sir Thopas rideth o'er Hill and dale and bright sea-shore, E'en to his own estate.

21. His merry men commandeth he To make for him the game and glee; For needs he must soon fight With a giant fierce, with strong heads three, For paramour and jollity, And chivalry so bright.

22. "Come forth," said he, "my minstrels fair, And tell me tales right debonair, While I am clad and armed; Romances, full of real tales, Of dames, and popes, and cardinals, And maids by wizards charmed."

23. They bore to him the sweetest wine In silver cup; the muscadine, With spices rare of Ind; Fine gingerbread, in many a slice, With cummin seed, and liquorice, And sugar thrice refined.

24. Then next to his white skin he ware A cloth of fleecy wool, as fair, Woven into a shirt; Next that he put a cassock on, And over that an habergeon, {35} To guard right well his heart.

25. And over that a hauberk went Of Jews' work, and most excellent; Full strong was every plate; And over that his coat armoure, As white as is the lily flower, In which he would debate.

26. His shield was all of gold so red, And thereon was a wild boar's head, A carbuncle beside; And then he swore on ale and bread, How that the giant should be dead, Whatever should betide!

27. His boots were glazed right curiously, His sword-sheath was of ivory, His helm all brassy bright; His saddle was of jet-black bone, His bridle like the bright sun shone, Or like the clear moons light,

28. His spear was of the cypress tree, That bodeth battle right and free; The point full sharp was ground; His steed it was a dapple grey, That goeth an amble on the way, Full softly and full round.

29. Lo! lordlings mine, here ends one fytte Of this my tale, a gallant strain; And if ye will hear more of it, I'll soon begin again.


1. Now hold your speech for charity, Both gallant knight and lady free, And hearken to my song Of battle and of chivalry, Of ladies' love and minstrelsy, All ambling thus along.

2. Men speak much of old tales, I know; Of Hornchild, Ipotis, also Of Bevis and Sir Guy; Of Sire Libeaux, and Pleindamour; But Sire Thopas, he is the flower Of real chivalry.

3. Now was his gallant steed bestrode, And forth upon his way he rode, As spark flies from a brand; Upon his crest he bare a tower, And therein stuck a lily flower: Save him from giant hand.

4. He was a knight in battle bred, And in no house would seek his bed, But laid him in the wood; His pillow was his helmet bright, - His horse grazed by him all the night On herbs both fine and good.

5. And he drank water from the well, As did the knight Sir Percival, So worthy under weed; Till on a day -

[Here Chaucer is interrupted in his Rime.]


"No more of this, for Heaven's high dignity!" Quoth then our Host, "for, lo! thou makest me So weary of thy very simpleness, That all so wisely may the Lord me bless, My very ears, with thy dull rubbish, ache. Now such a rime at once let Satan take. This may be well called 'doggrel rime,'" quoth he. "Why so?" quoth I; "why wilt thou not let me Tell all my tale, like any other man, Since that it is the best rime that I can?" "Mass!" quoth our Host, "if that I hear aright, Thy scraps of rhyming are not worth a mite; Thou dost nought else but waste away our time:- Sir, at one word, thou shalt no longer rhyme."


There lived, sirs, in my country, formerly, A wondrous great archdeacon,—who but he? Who boldly did the work of his high station In punishing improper conversation, And all the slidings thereunto belonging; Witchcraft, and scandal also, and the wronging Of holy Church, by blinking of her dues In sacraments and contracts, wills and pews; Usury furthermore, and simony; But people of ill lives most loathed he: Lord! how he made them sing if they were caught. And tithe-defaulters, ye may guess, were taught Never to venture on the like again; To the last farthing would he rack and strain. For stinted tithes, or stinted offering, He made the people piteously to sing. He left no leg for the good bishop's crook; Down went the black sheep in his own black book; For when the name gat there, such dereliction Came, you must know, sirs, in his jurisdiction.

He had a Sumner ready to his hand; A slyer bully filched not in the land; For in all parts the villain had his spies To let him know where profit might arise. Well could he spare ill livers, three or four, To help his net to four-and-twenty more. 'Tis truth. Your Sumner may stare hard for me; I shall not screen, not I, his villainy; For heaven be thanked, laudetur Dominus, They have no hold, these cursed thieves, on us; Nor never shall have, let 'em thieve till doom.

["No," cried the Sumner, starting from his gloom, "Nor have we any hold, Sir Shaven-crown, On your fine flock, the ladies of the town." "Peace, with a vengeance," quoth our Host, "and let The tale be told. Say on, thou marmoset, Thou lady's friar, and let the Sumner sniff."]

"Well," quoth the Friar; "this Sumner, this false thief, Had scouts in plenty ready to his hand, Like any hawks, the sharpest in the land, Watching their birds to pluck, each in his mew, Who told him all the secrets that they knew, And lured him game, and gat him wondrous profit; Exceeding little knew his master of it. Sirs, he would go, without a writ, and take Poor wretches up, feigning it for Christ's sake, And threatening the poor people with his curse, And all the while would let them fill his purse, And to the alehouse bring him by degrees, And then he'd drink with them, and slap his knees For very mirth, and say 'twas some mistake. Judas carried the bag, sirs, for Christ's sake, And was a thief; and such a thief was he; His master got but sorry share, pardie. To give due laud unto this Satan's imp, He was a thief, a Sumner, and a pimp.

Wenches themselves were in his retinue; So whether 'twas Sir Robert, or Sir Hugh, Or Jack, or Ralph, that held the damsel dear, Come would she then, and tell it in his ear: Thus were the wench and he of one accord; And he would feign a mandate from his lord, And summon them before the court, those two, And pluck the man, and let the mawkin go. Then would he say, "Friend, for thine honest look, I save thy name, this once, from the black book; Thou hear'st no further of this case."—But, Lord! I might not in two years his bribes record. There's not a dog alive, so speed my soul, Knoweth a hurt deer better from a whole Than this false Sumner knew a tainted sheep, Or where this wretch would skulk, or that would sleep, Or to fleece both was more devoutly bent; And reason good; his faith was in his rent.

And so befell, that once upon a day, This Sumner, prowling ever for his prey, Rode forth to cheat a poor old widowed soul, Feigning a cause for lack of protocol, And as he went, he saw before him ride A yeoman gay under the forest side. A bow he bare, and arrows bright and keen; And he was clad in a short cloak of green, And wore a hat that had a fringe of black.

"Sir," quoth this Sumner, shouting at his back, "Hail, and well met."—"Well met," like shouteth he; "Where ridest thou under the greenwood tree? Goest thou far, thou jolly boy, to-day?" This bully Sumner answered, and said, "Nay, Only hard-by, to strain a rent."—"Hoh! hoh! Art thou a bailiff then?"—"Yea, even so." For he durst not, for very filth and shame, Say that he was a Sumner, for the name. "Well met, in God's name," quoth black fringe; "why, brother, Thou art a bailiff then, and I'm another; But I'm a stranger in these parts; so, prythee, Lend me thine aid, and let me journey with thee. I've gold and silver, plenty, where I dwell; And if thou hap'st to come into our dell, Lord! how we'll do our best to give thee greeting!" "Thanks," quoth the Sumner; "merry be our meeting." So in each other's hand their troths they lay, And swear accord: and forth they ride and play.

This Sumner then, which was as full of stir, And prate, and prying, as a woodpecker, And ever inquiring upon everything, Said, "Brother, where is thine inhabiting, In case I come to find thee out some day?"

This yeoman dropped his speech in a soft way, And said, "Far in the north. But ere we part, {42} I trow thou shalt have learnt it so by heart, Thou mayst not miss it, be it dark as pitch."

"Good," quoth the Sumner. "Now, as thou art rich, Show me, dear brother, riding thus with me, Since we are bailiffs both, some subtlety, How I may play my game best, and may win: And spare not, pray, for conscience or for sin, But, as my brother, tell me how do ye."

"Why, 'faith, to tell thee a plain tale," quoth he, "As to my wages, they be poor enough; My lord's a dangerous master, hard and chuff; And since my labour bringeth but abortion, I live, so please ye, brother, by extortion, I take what I can get; that is my course; By cunning, if I may; if not, by force; So cometh, year by year, my salary." "Now certes," quote the Sumner, "so fare I. I lay my hands on everything, God wot, Unless it be too heavy or too hot. What I may get in counsel, privily, I feel no sort of qualm thereon, not I. Extortion or starvation;—that's my creed. Repent who list. The best of saints must feed. That's all the stomach that my conscience knoweth. Curse on the ass that to confession goeth. Well be we met, 'Od's heart! and by my dame! But tell me, brother dear, what is thy name?"

Now ye must know, that right in this meanwhile, This yeoman 'gan a little for to smile. "Brother," quoth he, "my name, if I must tell - I am a fiend: my dwelling is in hell: And here I ride about my fortuning, To wot if folk will give me anything. To that sole end ride I, and ridest thou; And, without pulling rein, will I ride now To the world's end, ere I will lose a prey."

"God bless me," quoth the Sumner, "what d'ye say? I thought ye were a yeoman verily. Ye have a man's shape, sir, as well as I. Have ye a shape then, pray, determinate In hell, good sir, where ye have your estate?"

"Nay, certainly," quoth he, "there have we none; But whoso liketh it, he taketh one; And so we make folk think us what we please. Sometimes we go like apes, sometimes like bees, Like man, or angel, black dog, or black crow:- Nor is it wondrous that it should be so. A sorry juggler can bewilder thee; And 'faith, I think I know more craft than he."

"But why," inquired the Sumner, "must ye don So many shapes, when ye might stick to one?" "We suit the bait unto the fish," quoth he. "And why," quoth t'other, "all this slavery?" "For many a cause, Sir Sumner," quoth the fiend; "But time is brief—the day will have an end; And here jog I, with nothing for my ride; Catch we our fox, and let this theme abide: For, brother mine, thy wit it is too small To understand me, though I told thee all; And yet, as toucheth that same slavery, A devil must do God's work, 'twixt you and me; For without Him, albeit to our loathing, Strong as we go, we devils can do nothing; Though to our prayers, sometimes, He giveth leave Only the body, not the soul, to grieve. Witness good Job, whom nothing could make wrath; And sometimes have we power to harass both; And, then again, soul only is possest, And body free; and all is for the best. Full many a sinner would have no salvation, Gat it he not by standing our temptation: Though God He knows, 'twas far from our intent To save the man:- his howl was what we meant. Nay, sometimes we be servants to our foes: Witness the saint that pulled my master's nose; And to the apostle servant eke was I." "Yet tell me," quoth this Sumner, "faithfully, Are the new shapes ye take for your intents Fresh every time, and wrought of elements?" "Nay," quoth the fiend, "sometimes they be disguises; And sometimes in a corpse a devil rises, And speaks as sensibly, and fair, and well, As did the Pythoness to Samuel: And yet will some men say, it was not he! Lord help, say I, this world's divinity. Of one thing make thee sure; that thou shalt know, Before we part, the shapes we wear below. Thou shalt—I jest thee not—the Lord forbid! Thou shalt know more than ever Virgil did, Or Dante's self. So let us on, sweet brother, And stick, like right warm souls, to one another: I'll never quit thee, till thou quittest me."

"Nay," quoth the Sumner, "that can never be; I am a man well known, respectable; And though thou wert the very lord of hell, Hold thee I should as mine own plighted brother: Doubt not we'll stick right fast, each to the other: And, as we think alike, so will we thrive: We twain will be the merriest devils alive. Take thou what's given; for that's thy mode, God wot; And I will take, whether 'tis given or not. And if that either winneth more than t'other, Let him be true, and share it with his brother."

"Done," quoth the fiend, whose eyes in secret glowed; And with that word they pricked along the road: And soon it fell, that entering the town's end, To which this Sumner shaped him for to wend, They saw a cart that loaded was with hay, The which a carter drove forth on his way. Deep was the mire, and sudden the cart stuck: The carter, like a madman, smote and struck, And cried, "Heit, Scot; heit, Brock! What! is't the stones? The devil clean fetch ye both, body and bones: Must I do nought but bawl and swinge all day? Devil take the whole—horse, harness, cart, and hay."

The Sumner whispered to the fiend, "I' faith, We have it here. Hear'st thou not what he saith? Take it anon, for he hath given it thee, Live stock and dead, hay, cart, and horses three!"

"Nay," quoth the fiend, "not so;—the deuce a bit. He sayeth; but, alas! not meaneth it: Ask him thyself, if thou believ'st not me; Or else be still awhile, and thou shalt see."

Thwacketh the man his horses on the croup, And they begin to draw now, and to stoop. "Heit there," quoth he; "heit, heit; ah, matthywo. Lord love their hearts! how prettily they go! That was well twitched, methinks, mine own grey boy: I pray God save thy body, and Saint Eloy. Now is my cart out of the slough, pardie."

"There," quoth the fiend unto the Sumner; "see, I told thee how 'twould fall. Thou seest, dear brother, The churl spoke one thing, but he thought another. Let us prick on, for we take nothing here."

And when from out the town they had got clear, The Sumner said, "Here dwelleth an old witch, That had as lief be tumbled in a ditch And break her neck, as part with an old penny. Nathless her twelve pence is as good as any, And I will have it, though she lose her wits; Or else I'll cite her with a score of writs: And yet, God wot, I know of her no vice. So learn of me, Sir Fiend: thou art too nice."

The Sumner clappeth at the widow's gate. "Come out," he saith, "thou hag, thou quiver-pate: I trow thou hast some friar or priest with thee." "Who clappeth?" said this wife; "ah, what say ye? God save ye, masters: what is your sweet will?" "I have," said he, "of summons here a bill: Take care, on pain of cursing, that thou be To-morrow morn, before the Archdeacon's knee, To answer to the court of certain things."

"Now, Lord," quoth she, "sweet Jesu, King of kings, So help me, as I cannot, sirs, nor may: I have been sick, and that full many a day. I may not walk such distance, nay, nor ride, But I be dead, so pricketh it my side. La! how I cough and quiver when I stir! - May I not ask some worthy officer To speak for me, to what the bill may say?"

"Yea, certainly," this Sumner said, "ye may, On paying—let me see—twelve pence anon. Small profit cometh to myself thereon: My master hath the profit, and not I. Come—twelve pence, mother—count it speedily, And let me ride: I may no longer tarry."

"Twelve pence!" quoth she; "now may the sweet Saint Mary So wisely help me out of care and sin, As in this wide world, though I sold my skin, I could not scrape up twelve pence, for my life. Ye know too well I am a poor old wife: Give alms, for the Lord's sake, to me, poor wretch."

"Nay, if I quit thee then," quoth he, "devil fetch Myself, although thou starve for it, and rot." "Alas!" quoth she, "the pence I have 'em not." "Pay me," quoth he, "or by the sweet Saint Anne, I'll bear away thy staff and thy new pan For the old debt thou ow'st me for that fee, Which out of pocket I discharged for thee, When thou didst make thy husband an old stag." "Thou liest," quoth she; "so leave me never a rag, As I was never yet, widow nor wife, Summonsed before your court in all my life, Nor never of my body was untrue. Unto the devil, rough and black of hue, Give I thy body, and the pan to boot."

And when this devil heard her give the brute Thus in his charge, he stooped into her ear, And said, "Now, Mabily, my mother dear, Is this your will in earnest that ye say?" "The devil," quoth she, "so fetch him cleanaway, Soul, pan, and all, unless that he repent." "Repent!" the Sumner cried; "pay up your rent, Old fool; and don't stand preaching here to me. I would I had thy whole inventory, The smock from off thy back, and every cloth."

"Now, brother," quoth the devil, "be not wroth; Thy body and this pan be mine by right, And thou shalt straight to hell with me to-night, Where thou shalt know what sort of folk we be, Better than Oxford university."

And with that word the fiend him swept below, Body and soul. He went where Sumners go.



When all had laughed at this right foolish case Of Absalom and credulous Nicholas, {49} Diverse folk diversely their comments made. But, for the most part, they all laughed and played, Nor at this tale did any man much grieve, Unless indeed 'twas Oswald, our good Reve. Because that he was of the carpenter craft, In his heart still a little ire is left. He gan to grudge it somewhat, as scarce right; "So aid me!" quoth he; "I could such requite By throwing dust in a proud millers eye, If that I chose to speak of ribaldry. But I am old; I cannot play for age; Grass-time is done—my fodder is now forage; This white top sadly writeth mine old years; Mine heart is also mouldy'd as mine hairs: And since I fare as doth the medlar tree, That fruit which time grows ever the worse to be Till it be rotten in rubbish and in straw.

"We old men, as I fear, the same lot draw; Till we be rotten can we not be ripe. We ever hop while that the world will pipe; For in our will there sticketh ever a nail, To have a hoary head and a green tail, As hath a leek; for though our strength be lame, Our will desireth folly ever the same; For when our climbing's done, our words aspire; Still in our ashes old is reeking fire. {50}

"Four hot coals have we, which I will express: Boasting, lying, anger, and covetousness. These burning coals are common unto age, Our old limbs well may stumble o'er the stage, But will shall never fail us, that is sooth. Still in my head was always a colt's tooth, As many a year as now is passed and done, Since that my tap of life began to run. For certainly when I was born, I trow, Death drew the tap of life, and let it flow; And ever since the tap so fast hath run, That well-nigh empty now is all the tun. The stream of life but drips from time to time; The silly tongue may well ring out and chime Of wretchedness, that passed is of yore: With aged folk, save dotage, there's nought more."

When that our Host had heard this sermoning, He gan to speak as lordly as a king; And said, "Why, what amounteth all this wit? What! shall we speak all day of Holy Writ? The devil can make a steward fit to preach, Or of a cobbler a sailor, or a leech. Say forth thy tale; and tarry not the time. Lo Deptford! and the hour is half-way prime: Lo Greenwich! there where many a shrew loves sin - It were high time thy story to begin."

"Now, fair sirs," quoth this Oswald, the old Reve, "I pray you all that you yourselves ne'er grieve, Though my reply should somewhat fret his nose; For lawful 'tis with force, force to oppose. This drunken Miller hath informed us here How that some folks beguiled a carpenter - Perhaps in scorn that I of yore was one. So, by your leave, him I'll requite anon. In his own churlish language will I speak, And pray to Heaven besides his neck may break. A small stalk in mine eye he sees, I deem, But in his own he cannot see a beam.


At Trumpington, near Cambridge, if you look, There goeth a bridge, and under that a brook, Upon which brook there stood a flour-mill; And this is a known fact that now I tell. A Miller there had dwelt for many a day; As any peacock he was proud and gay. He could pipe well, and fish, mend nets, to boot, Turn cups with a lathe, and wrestle well, and shoot. A Norman dirk, as brown as is a spade, Hung by his belt, and eke a trenchant blade. A jolly dagger bare he in his pouch: There was no man, for peril, durst him touch. A Sheffield clasp-knife lay within his hose. Round was his face, and broad and flat his nose. High and retreating was his bald ape's skull: He swaggered when the market-place was full. There durst no wight a hand lift to resent it, But soon, this Miller swore, he should repent it.

A thief he was, forsooth, of corn and meal, A sly one, too, and used long since to steal. Disdainful Simkin was he called by name. A wife he had; of noble kin she came: The rector of the town her father was. With her he gave full many a pan of brass, That Simkin with his blood should thus ally. She had been brought up in a nunnery; For Simkin ne'er would take a wife, he said, Unless she were well tutored and a maid, To carry on his line of yeomanry: And she was proud and pert as is a pie. It was a pleasant thing to see these two: On holidays before her he would go, With his large tippet bound about his head; While she came after in a gown of red, And Simkin wore his long hose of the same. There durst no wight address her but as dame: None was so bold that passed along the way Who with her durst once toy or jesting play, Unless he wished the sudden loss of life Before Disdainful Simkin's sword or knife. (For jealous folk most fierce and perilous grow; And this they always wish their wives to know.) But since that to broad jokes she'd no dislike She was as pure as water in a dyke, And with abuse all filled and froward air. She thought that ladies should her temper bear, Both for her kindred and the lessons high That had been taught her in the nunnery.

These two a fair and buxom daughter had, Of twenty years; no more since they were wed, Saving a child, that was but six months old; A little boy in cradle rocked and rolled. This daughter was a stout and well-grown lass, With broad flat nose, and eyes as grey as glass. Broad were her hips; her bosom round and high; But right fair was she here—I will not lie.

The rector of the town, as she was fair, A purpose had to make her his sole heir, Both of his cattle and his tenement; But only if she married as he meant. It was his purpose to bestow her high, Into some worthy blood of ancestry: For holy Church's good must be expended On holy Church's blood that is descended; Therefore he would his holy Church honour, Although that holy Church he should devour.

Great toll and fee had Simkin, out of doubt, With wheat and malt, of all the land about, And in especial was the Soler Hall - A college great at Cambridge thus they call - Which at this mill both wheat and malt had ground. And on a day it suddenly was found, Sick lay the Manciple of a malady; And men for certain thought that he must die. Whereon this Miller both of corn and meal An hundred times more than before did steal; For, ere this chance, he stole but courteously, But now he was a thief outrageously. The Warden scolded with an angry air; But this the Miller rated not a tare: He sang high bass, and swore it was not so!

There were two scholars young, and poor, I trow, That dwelt within the Hall of which I say. Headstrong they were and lusty for to play; And merely for their mirth and revelry, Out to the Warden eagerly they cry, That be should let them, for a merry round, Go to the mill and see their own corn ground, And each would fair and boldly lay his neck The Miller should not steal them half a peck Of corn by sleight, nor by main force bereave.

And at the last the Warden gave them leave: One was called John, and Allen named the other; From the same town they came, which was called Strauther, Far in the North—I cannot tell you where.

This Allen maketh ready all his gear, And on a horse the sack he cast anon: Forth go these merry clerks, Allen and John, With good sword and with buckler by their side. John knew the way, and needed not a guide; And at the mill the sack adown he layeth.

Allen spake first:- "Simon, all hail! in faith, How fares thy daughter, and thy worthy wife?" "Allen," quoth Simkin, "welcome, by my life; And also John:- how now! what do ye here?" "Simon," quoth John, "compulsion has no peer. They who've nae lackeys must themselves bestir, Or else they are but fools, as clerks aver. Our Manciple, I think, will soon be dead, Sae slowly work the grinders in his head; And therefore am I come with Allen thus, To grind our corn, and carry it hame with us: I pray you speed us, that we may be gone."

Quoth Simkin, "By my faith it shall be done; What will ye do while that it is in hand?" "Gude's life! right by the hopper will I stand," (Quoth John), "and see how that the corn goes in. I never yet saw, by my father's kin, How that the hopper waggles to and fro."

Allen continued,—"John, and wilt thou so? Then will I be beneath it, by my crown, And see how that the meal comes running down Into the trough—and that shall be my sport. For, John, like you, I'm of the curious sort; And quite as bad a miller—so let's see!"

This Miller smiled at their 'cute nicety, And thought,—all this is done but for a wile; They fancy that no man can them beguile: But, by my thrift, I'll dust their searching eye, For all the sleights in their philosophy. The more quaint knacks and guarded plans they make, The more corn will I steal when once I take: Instead of flour, I'll leave them nought but bran: The greatest clerks are not the wisest men. As whilom to the wolf thus spake the mare: Of all their art I do not count a tare.

Out at the door he goeth full privily, When that he saw his time, and noiselessly: He looketh up and down, till he hath found The clerks' bay horse, where he was standing bound Under an ivy wall, behind the mill: And to the horse he goeth him fair and well, And strippeth off the bridle in a trice.

And when the horse was loose he 'gan to race Unto the wild mares wandering in the fen, With WEHEE! WHINNY! right through thick and thin! This Miller then returned; no word he said, But doth his work, and with these clerks he played, Till that their corn was well and fairly ground. And when the meal is sacked and safely bound John goeth out, and found his horse was gone, And cried aloud with many a stamp and groan, "Our horse is lost! Allen, 'od's banes! I say, Up on thy feet!—come off, man—up, away! Alas! our Warden's palfrey, it is gone!"

Allen at once forgot both meal and corn - Out of his mind went all his husbandry - "What! whilk way is he gone?" he 'gan to cry.

The Miller's wife came laughing inwardly, "Alas!" said she, "your horse i' the fens doth fly After wild mares as fast as he can go! Ill-luck betide the man that bound him so, And his that better should have knit the rein."

"Alas!" quoth John, "good Allen, haste amain; Lay down thy sword, as I will mine also; Heaven knoweth I am as nimble as a roe; He shall not 'scape us baith, or my saul's dead! Why didst not put the horse within the shed? By the mass, Allen, thou'rt a fool, I say!"

Those silly clerks have scampered fast away Unto the fen; Allen and nimble John: And when the Miller saw that they were gone, He half a bushel of their flour doth take, And bade his wife go knead it in a cake. He said, "I trow these clerks feared what they've found; Yet can a miller turn a scholar round For all his art. Yea, let them go their way! See where they run! yea, let the children play: They get him not so lightly, by my crown."

The simple clerks go running up and down, With "Soft, soft!—stand, stand!—hither!—back ! take care! Now whistle thou, and I shall keep him here!" But, to be brief, until the very night They could not, though they tried with all their might, The palfrey catch; he always ran so fast: Till in a ditch they caught him at the last.

Weary and wet as beasts amid the rain, Allen and John come slowly back again. "Alas," quoth John, "that ever I was born! Now are we turned into contempt and scorn. Our corn is stolen; fools they will us call; The Warden, and our college fellows all, And 'specially the Miller—'las the day!"

Thus plaineth John while going by the way Toward the mill, the bay nag in his hand. The Miller sitting by the fire they found, For it was night: no further could they move; But they besought him, for Heaven's holy love, Lodgment and food to give them for their penny.

And Simkin answered, "If that there be any, Such as it is, yet shall ye have your part. My house is small, but ye have learned art; Ye can, by arguments, well make a place A mile broad, out of twenty foot of space! Let's see now if this place, as 'tis, suffice; Or make more room with speech, as is your guise." "Now, Simon, by Saint Cuthbert," said this John, "Thou'rt ever merry, and that's answered soon. I've heard that man must needs choose o' twa things; Such as he finds, or else such as he brings. But specially I pray thee, mine host dear, Let us have meat and drink, and make us cheer, And we shall pay you to the full, be sure: With empty hand men may na' hawks allure. Lo! here's our siller ready to be spent!"

The Miller to the town his daughter sent For ale and bread, and roasted them a goose; And bound their horse; he should no more get loose; And in his own room made for them a bed, With blankets, sheets, and coverlet well spread: Not twelve feet from his own bed did it stand. His daughter, by herself, as it was planned, In a small passage closet, slept close by: It might no better be, for reasons why, - There was no wider chamber in the place. They sup, and jest, and show a merry face, And drink of ale, the strongest and the best. It was just midnight when they went to rest.

Well hath this Simkin varnished his hot head; Full pale he was with drinking, and nought red. He hiccougheth, and speaketh through the nose, As with the worst of colds, or quinsy's throes. To bed he goeth, and with him trips his wife; Light as a jay, and jolly seemed her life, So was her jolly whistle well ywet. The cradle at her bed's foot close she set To rock, or nurse the infant in the night. And when the jug of ale was emptied quite, To bed, likewise, the daughter went anon: To bed goes Allen; with him also John. All's said: they need no drugs from poppies pale, This Miller hath so wisely bibbed of ale; But as an horse he snorteth in his sleep, And blurteth secrets which awake he'd keep. His wife a burden bare him, and full strong: Men might their routing hear a good furlong. The daughter routeth else, par compagnie.

Allen, the clerk, that heard this melody, Now poketh John, and said, "Why sleepest thou? Heardest thou ever sic a song ere now? Lo, what a serenade's among them all! A wild-fire red upon their bodies fall! Wha ever listened to sae strange a thing? The flower of evil shall their ending bring. This whole night there to me betides no rest. But, courage yet, all shall be for the best; For, John," said he, "as I may ever thrive, To pipe a merrier serenade I'll strive In the dark passage somewhere near to us; For, John, there is a law which sayeth thus, - That if a man in one point be aggrieved, Right in another he shall be relieved: Our corn is stolen—sad yet sooth to say - And we have had an evil bout to-day; But since the Miller no amends will make, Against our loss we should some payment take. His sonsie daughter will I seek to win, And get our meal back—de'il reward his sin! By hallow-mass it shall no otherwise be!"

But John replied, "Allen, well counsel thee: The Miller is a perilous man," he said, "And if he wake and start up from his bed, He may do both of us a villainy." "Nay," Allen said, "I count him not a flie!" And up he rose, and crept along the floor Into the passage humming with their snore: As narrow was it as a drum or tub. And like a beetle doth he grope and grub, Feeling his way with darkness in his hands, Till at the passage-end he stooping stands.

John lieth still, and not far off, I trow, And to himself he maketh ruth and woe. "Alas," quoth he, "this is a wicked jape! Now may I say that I am but an ape. Allen may somewhat quit him for his wrong: Already can I hear his plaint and song; So shall his 'venture happily be sped, While like a rubbish-sack I lie in bed; And when this jape is told another day, I shall be called a fool, or a cokenay! I will adventure somewhat, too, in faith: 'Weak heart, worse fortune,' as the proverb saith."

And up he rose at once, and softly went Unto the cradle, as 'twas his intent, And to his bed's foot bare it, with the brat. The wife her routing ceased soon after that, And woke, and left her bed; for she was pained With nightmare dreams of skies that madly rained. Eastern astrologers and clerks, I wis, In time of Apis tell of storms like this. Awhile she stayed, and waxeth calm in mind; Returning then, no cradle doth she find, And gropeth here and there—but she found none. "Alas," quoth she, "I had almost misgone! I well-nigh stumbled on the clerks a-bed: Eh benedicite! but I am safely sped. And on she went, till she the cradle found, While through the dark still groping with her hand.

Meantime was heard the beating of a wing, And then the third cock of the morn 'gan sing. Allen stole back, and thought, "Ere that it dawn I will creep in by John that lieth forlorn." He found the cradle in his hand, anon. "Gude Lord!" thought Allen, "all wrong have I gone! My head is dizzy with the ale last night, And eke my piping, that I go not right. Wrong am I, by the cradle well I know: Here lieth Simkin, and his wife also." And, scrambling forthright on, he made his way Unto the bed where Simkin snoring lay! He thought to nestle by his fellow John, And by the Miller in he crept, anon, And caught him by the neck, and 'gan to shake, And said, "Thou John! thou swine's head dull, awake! Wake, by the mass! and hear a noble game, For, by St. Andrew! to thy ruth and shame, I have been trolling roundelays this night, And won the Miller's daughter's heart outright, Who hath me told where hidden is our meal: All this—and more—and how they always steal; While thou hast as a coward lain aghast!"

"Thou slanderous ribald!" quoth the Miller, "hast? A traitor false, false lying clerk!" quoth he, "Thou shalt be slain by heaven's dignity, Who rudely dar'st disparage with foul lie My daughter that is come of lineage high!" And by the throat he Allen grasped amain; And caught him, yet more furiously, again, And on his nose he smote him with his fist! Down ran the bloody stream upon his breast, And on the floor they tumble, heel and crown, And shake the house—it seemed all coming down. And up they rise, and down again they roll; Till that the Miller, stumbling o'er a coal, Went plunging headlong like a bull at bait, And met his wife, and both fell flat as slate. "Help, holy cross of Bromeholm!" loud she cried, "And all ye martyrs, fight upon my side! In manus tuas—help!—on thee I call! Simon, awake! the fiend on me doth fall: He crusheth me—help!—I am well-nigh dead: He lieth along my heart, and heels, and head. Help, Simkin! for the false clerks rage and fight!"

Now sprang up John as fast as ever he might, And graspeth by the dark walls to and fro To find a staff: the wife starts up also. She knew the place far better than this John, And by the wall she caught a staff anon. She saw a little shimmering of a light, For at an hole in shone the moon all bright, And by that gleam she saw the struggling two, But knew not, as for certain, who was who, Save that she saw a white thing in her eye. And when that she this white thing 'gan espy, She thought that Allen did a nightcap wear, And with the staff she drew near, and more near, And, thinking 'twas the clerk, she smote at full Disdainful Simkin on his bald ape's skull. Down goes the Miller, crying, "Harow, I die!" These clerks they beat him well, and let him lie. They make them ready, and take their horse anon, And eke their meal, and on their way are gone; And from behind the mill-door took their cake, Of half a bushel of flour—a right good bake.


1. The God of Love—ah, benedicite! How mighty and how great a Lord is he! For he of low hearts can make high, of high He can make low, and unto death bring nigh; And hard hearts he can make them kind and free.

2. Within a little time, as hath been found, He can make sick folk whole and fresh and sound; Them who are whole in body and in mind He can make sick,—bind can he and unbind All that he will have bound, or have unbound.

3. To tell his might my wit may not suffice; Foolish men he can make them out of wise; - For he may do all that he will devise; Loose livers he can make abate their vice, And proud hearts can make tremble in a trice.

4. In brief, the whole of what he will, he may; Against him dare not any wight say nay; To humble or afflict whome'er he will, To gladden or to grieve, he hath like skill; But most his might he sheds on the eve of May.

5. For every true heart, gentle heart and free, That with him is, or thinketh so to be, Now against May shall have some stirring—whether To joy, or be it to some mourning; never At other time, methinks, in like degree.

6. For now when they may hear the small birds' song, And see the budding leaves the branches throng. This unto their remembrance doth bring All kinds of pleasure mixed with sorrowing, And longing of sweet thoughts that ever long.

7. And of that longing heaviness doth come, Whence oft great sickness grows of heart and home; Sick are they all for lack of their desire; And thus in May their hearts are set on fire, So that they burn forth in great martyrdom.

8. In sooth, I speak from feeling, what though now Old am I, and to genial pleasure slow; Yet have I felt of sickness through the May, Both hot and cold, and heart-aches every day, - How hard, alas! to bear, I only know.

9. Such shaking doth the fever in me keep, Through all this May that I have little sleep; And also 'tis not likely unto me, That any living heart should sleepy be In which love's dart its fiery point doth steep.

10. But tossing lately on a sleepless bed, I of a token thought which lovers heed; How among them it was a common tale, That it was good to hear the nightingale, Ere the vile cuckoo's note be uttered.

11. And then I thought anon as it was day, I gladly would go somewhere to essay If I perchance a nightingale might hear, For yet had I heard none, of all that year, And it was then the third night of the May.

12. And soon as I a glimpse of day espied, No longer would I in my bed abide, But straightway to a wood, that was hard by, Forth did I go, alone and fearlessly, And held the pathway down by a brook-side;

13. Till to a lawn I came all white and green, I in so fair a one had never been. The ground was green, with daisy powdered over; Tall were the flowers, the grove a lofty cover, All green and white; and nothing else was seen.

14. There sate I down among the fresh fair flowers, And saw the birds come tripping from their bowers, Where they had rested them all night; and they, Who were so joyful at the light of day, Began to honour May with all their powers.

15. Well did they know that service all by rote, And there was many and many a lovely note; Some singing loud, as if they had complained; Some with their notes another manner feigned; And some did sing all out with the full throat.

16. They pruned themselves, and made themselves right gay, Dancing and leaping light upon the spray; And ever two and two together were, The same as they had chosen for the year, Upon Saint Valentine's returning day.

17. Meanwhile the stream, whose bank I sate upon, Was making such a noise as it ran on Accordant to the sweet birds' harmony; Methought that it was the best melody Which ever to man's ear a passage won.

18. And for delight, but how I never wot, I in a slumber and a swoon was caught, Not all asleep, and yet not waking wholly; And as I lay, the Cuckoo bird unholy Broke silence, or I heard him in my thought.

19. And that was right upon a tree fast by, And who was then ill-satisfied but I? "Now, God," quoth I, "that died upon the rood, From thee and thy base throat, keep all that's good, Full little joy have I now of thy cry."

20. And, as I with the Cuckoo thus 'gan chide, In the next bush that was me fast beside, I heard the lusty Nightingale so sing, That her clear voice made a loud rioting, Echoing thorough all the green wood wide.

21. "Ah! good sweet Nightingale! for my heart's cheer, Hence hast thou stayed a little while too long; For we have heard the sorry Cuckoo here, And she hath been before thee with her song; Evil light on her! she hath done me wrong."

22. But hear you now a wondrous thing, I pray; As long as in that swooning fit I lay, Methought I wist right well what these birds meant, And had good knowing both of their intent, And of their speech, and all that they would say.

23. The Nightingale thus in my hearing spake: "Good Cuckoo, seek some other bush or brake And, prithee, let us that can sing dwell here; For every wight eschews thy song to hear, Such uncouth singing verily dost thou make."

24. "What!" quoth she then, "what is't that ails thee now? It seems to me I sing as well as thou; For mine's a song that is both true and plain, - Although I cannot quaver so in vain As thou dost in thy throat, I wot not how.

25. "All men may understanding have of me, But, Nightingale, so may they not of thee; For thou hast many a foolish and quaint cry:- Thou say'st OSEE, OSEE; then how may I Have knowledge, I thee pray, what this may be?"

26. "Ah, fool!" quoth she, "wist thou not what it is? Oft as I say OSEE, OSEE, I wis, Then mean I, that I should be wondrous fain That shamefully they one and all were slain, Whoever against Love mean aught amiss.

27. "And also would I that they all were dead Who do not think in love their life to lead; For who is loth the God of Love to obey Is only fit to die, I dare well say, And for that cause OSEE I cry; take heed!"

28. "Ay," quoth the Cuckoo, "that is a quaint law, That all must love or die; but I withdraw, And take my leave of all such company, For mine intent it neither is to die, Nor ever while I live Love's yoke to draw.

29. "For lovers of all folk that be alive, The most disquiet have and least do thrive; Most feeling have of sorrow's woe and care, And the least welfare cometh to their share; What need is there against the truth to strive?"

30. "What!" quoth she, "thou art all out of thy mind, That in thy churlishness a cause canst find To speak of Love's true Servants in this mood; For in this world no service is so good To every wight that gentle is of kind.

31. "For thereof comes all goodness and all worth; All gentleness and honour thence come forth; Thence worship comes, content and true heart's pleasure, And full-assured trust, joy without measure, And jollity, fresh cheerfulness, and mirth:

32. "And bounty, lowliness, and courtesy, And seemliness, and faithful company, And dread of shame that will not do amiss; For he that faithfully Love's servant is, Rather than be disgraced, would choose to die.

33. "And that the very truth it is which I Now say—in such belief I'll live and die; And Cuckoo, do thou so, by my advice." "Then," quoth she, "let me never hope for bliss, If with that counsel I do e'er comply.

34. "Good Nightingale! thou speakest wondrous fair, Yet, for all that, the truth is found elsewhere; For Love in young folk is but rage, I wis; And Love in old folk a great dotage is; Whom most it useth, him 'twill most impair.

35. "For thereof come all contraries to gladness; Thence sickness comes, and overwhelming sadness, Mistrust and jealousy, despite, debate, Dishonour, shame, envy importunate, Pride, anger, mischief, poverty and madness.

36. "Loving is aye an office of despair, And one thing is therein which is not fair; For whoso gets of love a little bliss, Unless it alway stay with him, I wis He may full soon go with an old man's hair.

37. "And, therefore, Nightingale! do thou keep nigh, For trust me well, in spite of thy quaint cry, If long time from thy mate thou be, or far, Thou'lt be as others that forsaken are; Then shalt thou raise a clamour as do I."

38. "Fie," quoth she, "on thy name, Bird ill beseen! The God of Love afflict thee with all teen, For thou art worse than mad a thousandfold; For many a one hath virtues manifold Who had been nought, if Love had never been.

39. "For evermore his servants Love amendeth, And he from every blemish them defendeth; And maketh them to burn, as in a fire, In loyalty and worshipful desire, And when it likes him, joy enough them sendeth."

40. "Thou Nightingale!" the Cuckoo said, "be still; For Love no reason hath but his own will; - For to th' untrue he oft gives ease and joy; True lovers doth so bitterly annoy, He lets them perish through that grievous ill.

41. "With such a master would I never be, For he, in sooth, is blind, and may not see, And knows not when he hurts and when he heals; Within this court full seldom truth avails, So diverse in his wilfulness is he."

42. Then of the Nightingale did I take note, How from her inmost heart a sigh she brought, And said, "Alas! that ever I was born, Not one word have I now, I am so forlorn," - And with that word, she into tears burst out.

43. "Alas, alas! my very heart will break," Quoth she, "to hear this churlish bird thus speak Of Love, and of his holy services; Now, God of Love! thou help me in some wise, That vengeance on this Cuckoo I may wreak."

44. And so methought I started up anon, And to the brook I ran, and got a stone, Which at the Cuckoo hardily I cast, And he for dread did fly away full fast; And glad, in sooth, was I when he was gone.

45. And as he flew, the Cuckoo ever and aye Kept crying, "Farewell!—farewell, popinjay!" As if in scornful mockery of me; And on I hunted him from tree to tree, Till he was far, all out of sight, away.

46. Then straightway came the Nightingale to me, And said, "Forsooth, my friend, do I thank thee, That thou wert near to rescue me; and now, Unto the God of Love I make a vow, That all this May I will thy songstress be."

47. Well satisfied, I thanked her, and she said, "By this mishap no longer be dismayed, Though thou the Cuckoo heard, ere thou heard'st me; Yet if I live it shall amended be, When next May comes, if I am not afraid.

48. "And one thing will I counsel thee also, The Cuckoo trust not thou, nor his Love's saw; All that she said is an outrageous lie." "Nay, nothing shall me bring thereto," quoth I, "For Love, and it hath done me mighty woe."

49. "Yea, hath it? Use," quoth she, "this medicine, This May-time, every day before thou dine, Go look on the fresh daisy; then say I, Although for pain thou may'st be like to die, Thou wilt be eased, and less wilt droop and pine.

50. "And mind always that thou be good and true, And I will sing one song, of many new, For love of thee, as loud as I may cry;" And then did she begin this song full high, "Beshrew all them that are in love untrue."

51. And soon as she had sung it to the end, "Now farewell," quoth she, "for I hence must wend; And, God of Love, that can right well and may, Send unto thee as mickle joy this day As ever he to lover yet did send."

52. Thus takes the Nightingale her leave of me; I pray to God with her always to be, And joy of love to send her evermore; And shield us from the Cuckoo and her lore, For there is not so false a bird as she.

53. Forth then she flew, the gentle Nightingale, To all the birds that lodged within that dale, And gathered each and all into one place; And them besought to hear her doleful case, And thus it was that she began her tale:-

54. "The Cuckoo—'tis not well that I should hide How she and I did each the other chide, And without ceasing, since it was daylight; And now I pray you all to do me right Of that false Bird whom Love can not abide."

55. Then spake one Bird, and full assent all gave: "This matter asketh counsel good as grave, For birds we are—all here together brought; And, in good sooth, the Cuckoo here is not; And therefore we a parliament will have.

56. "And thereat shall the Eagle be our Lord, And other Peers whose names are on record; A summons to the Cuckoo shall be sent, And judgment there be given; or that intent Failing, we finally shall make accord.

57. "And all this shall be done, without a nay, The morrow after Saint Valentine's day, Under a maple that is well beseen, Before the chamber-window of the Queen, At Woodstock, on the meadow green and gay."

58. She thanked them; and then her leave she took, And flew into a hawthorn by that brook; And there she sate and sung—upon that tree, - "For term of life Love shall have hold of me!" So loudly, that I with that song awoke.

Unlearned Book and rude, as well I know, For beauty thou hast none, nor eloquence, Who did on thee the hardiness bestow To appear before my Lady? but a sense Thou surely hast of her benevolence, Whereof her hourly bearing proof doth give; For of all good, she is the best alive.

Alas, poor Book! for thy unworthiness, To show to her some pleasant meanings writ In winning words, since through her gentleness, Thee she accepts as for her service fit; Oh! it repents me I have neither wit Nor leisure unto thee more worth to give; For of all good, she is the best alive.

Beseech her meekly with all lowliness, Though I be far from her I reverence, To think upon my truth and steadfastness, And to abridge my sorrow's violence, Caused by the wish, as knows your sapience, She of her liking, proof to me would give; For of all good, she is the best alive.


Pleasure's Aurora, Day of gladsomeness! Lucerne, by night, with heavenly influence Illumined! root of beauty and goodness, Write, and allay, by your beneficence, My sighs breathed forth in silence,—comfort give! Since of all good, you are the best alive.



In ancient Chronicle I read:- About a King, as it must need, There was of Knights and of Squiers Great rout, and eke of Officers. Some for a long time him had served, And thought that they had well deserved Advancement, but had gone without; And some also were of the Rout That only came the other day And were advanced without delay. Those Older Men upon this thing, So as they durst, against the King Among themselves would murmur oft. But there is nothing said so soft That it shall not come out at last, The King soon knew what Words had passed. A King he was of high Prudence, He shaped therefore an Evidence Of them that plained them in that case, To know of whose Default it was. And all within his own intent, That not a man knew what it meant, He caused two Coffers to be made Alike in Shape, and Size, and Shade, So like that no man, by their Show, The one may from the other know. They were into his Chamber brought, But no man knew why they were wrought; Yet from the King Command hath come That they be set in private Room, For he was in his Wisdom keen. When he thereto his time had seen, Slily, away from all the rest, With his own hands he filled one Chest, Full of fine Gold and Jewelry The which out of his Treasury Was taken; after that he thrust Into the other Straw and Dust, And filled it up with Stones also; Full Coffers are they, both the two.

And early then upon a day He bade within doors where he lay That there should be before his Bed A Board set up and fairly spread. The Coffers then he let men get, And on the Board he had them set. Full well he knew the Names of those Whose Murmurings against him rose, Both of his Chamber and his Hall, And speedily sent for them all, And said unto them in this wise:

"There shall no man his Hap despise; I know well that ye long have served, And God knows what ye have deserved. Whether it is along of me That ye still unadvanced be, Or whether it belong of you, The Sooth is to be proved now, Wherewith to stop your Evil Word. Lo here two Coffers on the Board, Of both the two choose which you will, And know that ye may have your fill Of Treasure heaped and packed in one, That if ye happen thereupon Ye shall be made Rich Men for ever. Now choose and take which you is liever. But be well ware, ere that ye take, - For of the one I undertake There is no manner good therein Whereof ye might a Profit win. Now go together of one assent And take your own Advisement. Whether I you this day advance Stands only on your Choice and Chance. No question here of Royal Grace, It shall be showed in this place Upon you all, and well and fine, If Fortune fails by Fault of mine."

They all kneel down, and with one voice They thank the King for this free Choice; And after this they up arise And go aside and them advise, And at the last they all accord; Whereof their Finding to record To what Issue their Voices fall, A Knight shall answer for them all.

He kneeleth down unto the King And saith, that they upon this thing Or for to win or for to lose Are all decided how to choose. Then took this Knight a Rod in hand And goes to where the Coffers stand, And with the Assent of every one He layeth his Rod upon one, And tells the King they only want Him that for their Reward to grant, And pray him that they might it have. The King, who would his Honour save, When he hath heard the common Voice, Hath granted them their own free Choice, And gave them thereupon the Key. But as he would that men might see What Good they got, as they suppose, He bade anon the Coffer unclose, - Which was filled full with Straw and Stone; Thus are they served, the Luck's their own.

"Lo," saith the King, "now may ye see That there is no Default in me; Therefore myself I will acquit, Bear ye the Blame now, as is fit, For that which Fortune you refused." Thus was this wise old King excused, And they left off their evil Speech, And Mercy of their King beseech.

Touching like matter to the quick, I find a Tale how Frederick, At that time Emperor of Rome, Heard, as he went, a Clamour come From two poor Beggars on the way. The one of them began to say, "Ha, Lord, the man is rich indeed To whom a King's Wealth brings his Speed!" The other said, "It is not so, But he is rich and well-to-do To whom God pleases Wealth to send." And thus their Words went without end, Whereto this Lord hath given ear And caused both Beggars to appear Straight at his Palace, there to eat; And bade provide them for their Meat Two Pasties which men were to make, And in the one a Capon bake, And in the other, Wealth to win, Of Florins all that may within He bade them put a great Richesse, And just alike, as one may guess, Outward they were, to Sight of Men.

This Beggar was commanded then, He that had held him to the King, That he first choose upon this thing. He saw them, but he felt them not, So that upon his single Thought He chose the Capon, and forsook That other, which his Fellow took.

But when he wist how that it fared, He said aloud, that men it heard: "Now have I certainly conceived That he may lightly be deceived Who puts his trust in Help of Man. He's rich whom God helps, for he can Stand ever on the safer side That else on Vain Hope had relied. I see my Fellow well supplied, And still a Poor Man I abide." Thus spake the Beggar his intent, And poor he came, and poor he went; Of all the Riches that he sought His evil Fortune gave him nought.

And right as it with those men stood, Of evil Hap in worldly Good, As thou hast heard me tell above, Right so, full oft, it stands by Love; Though thou desire it evermore Thou shalt not have a whit the more, But only what is meant for thee, Of all the rest not worth a Pea. And yet a long and endless Row There be of Men who covet so That whereas they a Woman see, To ten or twelve though there may be, The Love is now so little wise That where the Beauty takes his Eyes Anon the Man's whole Heart is there And whispers Tales into her Ear, And says on her his Love is set, And thus he sets him to covet. A hundred though he saw a day, So would he have more than he may; In each of them he finds somewhat That pleaseth him, or this or that. Some one, for she is white of skin, Some one, for she is noble of kin, Some one, for she hath a ruddy cheek, Some one, for that she seemeth meek, Some one, for that her eyes are gray, Some one, for she can laugh and play, Some one, for she is long and small, Some one, for she is lithe and tall, Some one, for she is pale and bleach, Some one, for she is soft of speech, Some one, for that her nose turns down, Some one, for that she hath a frown, Some one, for she can dance and sing; So that of what he likes something He finds, and though no more he feel But that she hath a little heel, It is enough that he therefore Her love; and thus an hundred score While they be new he would he had, Whom he forsakes, she shall be bad. So the Blind Man no Colour sees, All's one to take as he may please; And his Desire is darkly minded Whom Covetise of Love hath blinded.


To London once my steps I bent, Where truth in nowise should be faint; To Westminster-ward I forthwith went, To a man of law to make complaint, I said, "For Mary's love, that holy saint, Pity the poor that would proceed!" But for lack of Money I could not speed.

And as I thrust the press among, By froward chance my hood was gone, Yet for all that I stayed not long Till to the King's Bench I was come. Before the judge I kneeled anon, And prayed him for God's sake to take heed. But for lack of Money I might not speed.

Beneath them sat clerks a great rout, Which fast did write by one assent, There stood up one and cried about, "Richard, Robert, and John of Kent!" I wist not well what this man meant, He cried so thickly there indeed. But he that lacked Money might not speed

Unto the Common Pleas I yode tho, {81} Where sat one with a silken hood; I did him reverence, for I ought to do so, And told my case as well as I could, How my goods were defrauded me by falsehood. I got not a mum of his mouth for my meed, And for lack of Money I might not speed.

Unto the Rolls I gat me from thence, Before the clerks of the Chancerie, Where many I found earning of pence, But none at all once regarded me. I gave them my plaint upon my knee; They liked it well when they had it read, But lacking Money I could not be sped.

In Westminster Hall I found out one Which went in a long gown of ray, {82a} I crouched and kneeled before him anon, For Mary's love of help I him pray. "I wot not what thou mean'st," gan he say; To get me thence he did me bede: For lack of Money I could not speed.

Within this Hall, neither rich nor yet poor Would do for me aught although I should die. Which seeing, I got me out of the door Where Flemings began on me for to cry, "Master, what will you copen or buy? {82b} Fine felt hats, or spectacles to read? Lay down your silver, and here you may speed."

Then to Westminster Gate I presently went, When the sun was at highe prime; Cooks to me they took good intent, And proffered me bread with ale and wine, Ribs of beef, both fat and full fine; A fair cloth they gan for to sprede, But wanting Money I might not then speed.

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