Geoffrey Chaucer

 

The Canterbury Tales

 

 

XIII

 

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Translated by A. S. Kline © 2007 All Rights Reserved

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Contents

 

   

The Shipman’s Tale. 4

The Shipman-Prioress Link. 16

The Prioress’s Prologue. 17

The Prioress’s Tale. 19

 


         

The Shipman’s Tale

 

Here begins the Shipman’s Tale

 

A merchant once there was at Saint-Denis,

Whom men thought wise, for he was wealthy.

A wife he had too, of excellent beauty,

And sociable, and fond of fun was she –

Which is a thing that causes more expense

Than all the close attention and reverence

Is worth, that they receive at feasts and dances.

Such salutations and such countenances

Pass as do the shadows on a wall.

But woe to him then who must pay for all!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

 

The foolish husband always has to pay;

He must clothe us and provide display,

All for his own reputation, richly,

Display amongst which we dance, jollily.

And if he cannot pay, peradventure,

Or else such expense will not endure,

But thinks it wasted, and money lost,

Then must another man pay our cost,

Or lend us gold, and that is perilous.

  This noble merchant ran a worthy house,

Because of which such crowds were always there,

For his largess, and since his wife was fair,

It was a wonder; hearken to my tale!

Amongst his guests, the female and the male,

There was a monk, a handsome man and bold –

I guess he was but thirty winters old –

And constantly attracted to the place.

This young monk, who was so fine of face,

Had become so friendly with the husband,

Since their acquaintance first began,

That he was welcomed as familiarly

In his house, as any friend could be.

  And inasmuch as this good husband,

And the monk whose tale I just began,

Were both of them born in the same village,

The monk would claim him as a relative,

And he the same; he never said him nay,

But was as glad of it as bird of day,

For to his heart it was sweet circumstance,

That thus they forged eternal alliance,

And each of them the other did assure

Of brotherhood while life should so endure.

  Free was monk John, and liberal of expense,

When in that house, and full of diligence

To do what pleases, and so pay his wages.

He never forgot the lowliest of pages,

In all that household, each in his degree

He dowered, the lord and all his company,

Whenever he came, with some generous thing.

So that they were as glad at his arriving

As the birds are when the new sun rises.

No more of that for now, since it suffices.

  It so befell, this merchant one fine day

Was readying all his travelling array,

Towards the town of Bruges for to fare,

To buy there a portion of his wares;

And so to Paris he had sent anon

A messenger, requesting of Sir John

That he should come to Saint Denis, and stay

With him and with his wife, beyond a day,

Before he left for Bruges, as he must do.

  This noble monk, whom I describe to you,

Won from his abbot, as requested, licence,

Because he was a man of great prudence

An abbey officer, appointed so to ride,

To check the barns and granges, far and wide;

And to Saint Denis came he anon.

Who was as welcome as my lord Sir John,

Our dear cousin, full of courtesy?

With him he brought a jar of fine Malmsey,

Another too, a white, Italian vintage,

And wild-fowl as well, as was his usage.

And so leave them to eat and drink and play,

The merchant and the monk, the livelong day.

  On the third day, this merchant rises

And of his duties sadly himself advises,

And up into his counting-house goes he,

To reckon up, himself, as it must be,

How the year had gone with him, and stood,

And how much he’d expended of his goods,

And whether he’d made a profit or made none.

His books, and bags of coin, many a one,

He laid before him on his counting-board.

Full rich was his treasure and his hoard,

And so he kept the counter-door fast shut;

And wished no man to come and interrupt

His casting of the accounts, for some time.

And so he sat there till well after prime.

  Sir John had risen in the morn also,

And walked about the garden to and fro,

While making his devotions all devoutly.

  The good wife came walking covertly

Into the garden where he wandered softly,

And saluted him, as she had frequently.

A maid child came with her for company,

Whom she might govern as she pleased,

For yet under the rod was the maid.

‘O dear cousin mine, Sir John,’ she said,

‘What ails you, so early do you rise?’

  ‘Niece,’ quoth he, ‘really it should suffice

For me to sleep five hours of a night,

Except I were some old enfeebled fright,

As are those married men, who cower there,

As in a form might sit a weary hare

Tormented by the hounds in the vale.

But dear niece, why are you so pale?

I might guess, for sure, that our good man

Had laboured with you so, since night began,

That you have need of rest now, and swiftly.’

And with these words he laughed right merrily,

And with his own thoughts he waxed all red.

  The fair wife began to shake her head,

And said thus: ‘Ah, God knows all,’ quoth she.

Nay, cousin mine, it stands not so with me!

For, by the God that gave me soul and life,

In all the realm of France there is no wife

That finds less pleasure in that sorry play;

For I may sing “alas!” and “well-away

That I was born!” but to no one’, quoth she

‘Dare I tell how things truly stand with me.

So that I think out of this land to wend,

Or else of my own self to make an end,

So full am I of fear and of care.’

  Hearing this, the monk began to stare,

And said: ‘Alas, my niece, God forbid

That you for any sorrow or for dread

Should kill yourself; come, tell me all your grief.

Peradventure I may give you some relief

Or counsel in your trouble, so tell me

All your problems, speak them privately.

For on my breviary I swear an oath,

That never in all my life, to friend or foe,

Any secret of yours shall I betray.’

  ‘The same again to you,’ quoth she, ‘I say.

By God and by this breviary I swear,

Though men me into pieces all would tear,

That I shall never, may I go to Hell,

Betray a single word to me you tell,

Not for our kinship, no, nor alliance,

But truly out of love and affiance.’

So were they sworn, and thereupon they kissed,

And each told the other what they wished.

  ‘Cousin,’ quoth she, ‘if that I had a space

Of time – as I have not, here in this place –

Then would I tell the story of my life,

How I have suffered since I was a wife

With my husband, though he is your cousin.’

  ‘Nay,’ quoth the monk, ‘by God and Saint Martin,

He is no more a cousin unto me

Than is this leaf hanging from the tree!

I call him so, by Saint Denis of France,

To have better reason for acquaintance

With you, whom I love, especially,

Above all women, and so most deeply;

This I swear to you, by my profession.

Tell me your grief, give it full expression,

Lest he come: quick, then go your way anon.’

  ‘My dear love,’ quoth she, ‘O my Sir John,

It were better this secret for to hide,

But it must out; it may no more abide.

My husband is to me the vilest man

There ever was since the world began!

But since I’m his wife, it befits not me

Ever to compromise our privacy,

Neither in bed nor any other place.

God forbid I should tell, by His grace!

A wife should not speak about her husband

Except in honour, as I well understand.

But to tell you this much, well I shall:

So help me God he is worth naught at all,

Not even, I say, the value of a flea.

But what grieves me most, he’s niggardly!

And you know well, that women naturally

Desire six things, indeed, like to me:

They desire their husbands should be

Brave, wise, and rich, and liberally free,

Obedient to their wives, and fresh in bed.

But by the same Lord that for us bled,

For his honour, to dress in fine array,

On Sunday next it’s necessary I pay

A hundred francs, or else I die forlorn.

Yet it were better I had not been born,

Than be subject to slander or villainy.

And if my husband aught of this should see,

I’d be lost; and therefore you I pray,

Lend me the sum, or I must die today.

Sir John, I say, lend me this hundred francs;

In faith, I will not fail of my thanks,

If that you choose to do what I pray.

For on the date you set I will repay,

And do whatever pleasure and service

I may do you, such as you shall request.

And if I do not, God take on me vengeance,

As foul as that earned by Ganelon of France!’

  The noble monk answered in this manner:

‘Now truly, my own lady, and my dear,

I have’ quoth he, ‘such pity for you, my oath

I swear to you, and plight to you my troth

That, when your husband does to Flanders fare,

I will deliver you from all this care,

For I will bring you the hundred francs.’

And with these words he caught her by the flanks,

And embraced her hard, and kissed her fiercely.

‘Go now your way,’ quoth he, still and softly,

‘And let us dine, soon as ever we may,

For by my dial it’s past the prime of day.

Go now, and be as true as I shall be.’

  ‘God forbid it otherwise, sire,’ quoth she;

And forth she went as pert as a magpie,

And bade the cooks be swift, that by and by

Men might sit and dine, and that anon.

Off to her husband then the wife was gone,

And knocked at his counting-house door boldly.

  Qui la?’ quoth he. ‘Why, Peter, it is me’

Quoth she; ‘What, sire! How long now must you fast?

How much longer reckon up and cast

Your sums, and all your books and things?

Devil take all such devilish reckonings!

You have enough, in faith, from God’s own hand;

Come down today, and let your coffers stand.

Aren’t you ashamed now that our good Sir John

Is fasting wretchedly all this day gone?

What! Let’s hear a Mass, and go and dine.’

  ‘Wife,’ quoth the man, ‘little can you divine

The complicated business that we run;

For of us merchants, God save all and one,

And by the lord that is called Saint Ive,

Scarcely two in every twelve may thrive

Continually, and it last to our old age.

We must ever show a cheerful visage,

And seem to take the world as it will be,

And veil our own affairs in secrecy,

Till we are dead, or else we must go play

At pilgrimage, or hide ourselves away,

And therefore it’s a prime necessity

For me to judge this strange world carefully.

For evermore we must live in dread

Of mishap and ill Fortune on our head.

  To Flanders shall I go tomorrow day,

And then return as soon as ever I may.

For which reason, wife, I do beseech,

You to all men be courteous and meek,

And, to guard our property, be zealous,

And govern well and honestly our house.

You have enough of all, in ever wise,

That for a thrifty household should suffice.

You lack nothing here in clothes or victuals;

The silver in your purse too shall not fail.’

And with that his counter-door he shut,

And down he went then, with ready foot.

Then and there a Mass was swiftly said,

And speedily the tables all were spread;

And to break their fast they quickly sped;

And sumptuously this monk the merchant fed.

  After the dinner, Sir John, soberly,

Took the merchant aside, and privately

Spoke to him thus: ‘Cousin, it stands so,

I see indeed to Bruges you mean to go.

God and Augustine speed you then and guide!

I pray you, be careful, cousin, how you ride;

Govern yourself also, in your meat,

Temperately, especially in this heat.

Between us two need nothing formal fare.

Farewell, cousin, and God shield you from care!

And if there’s anything, by day or night,

That lies within my power and my might,

Which you command of me, in any wise,

It shall be done, just as you shall advise!

  One thing, before you go though, indulge me,

I wonder, now, if you might lend me

A hundred francs, for a week, since I

Have certain cattle that I must buy,

To stock a certain farm that is ours –

God help me so, I wish it were yours!

I must not fail to settle on the day,

Not if it were a thousand francs, I say.

But let this thing be hidden from the eye,

For yet tonight these creatures I must buy.

And now farewell, my own cousin dear;

Graunt merci for your loan and good cheer.’

  The noble merchant courteously anon

Answered, saying: ‘O cousin mine, Sir John,

Now this is indeed but a small request!

My gold is yours to do as you think best,

And not only my gold but all my wares;

Take what you wish, don’t leave yourself spare!

  But one thing more, let me remind you now,

That, with merchants, our money is our plough.

We may have credit while we have a name,

But to lack gold, well that’s another game.

So pay it again when you can with ease;

In every way I can I wish to please.

  The hundred francs he fetches forth anon,

And covertly conveys them to Sir John.

No one in all this world knows of the loan,

Save the merchant and Sir John alone.

They drink and speak, walk a while and play,

Till, to his abbey, Sir John rides away.

  The morrow comes, forth does the merchant ride

On Flanders road; his prentice as his guide

Until he reaches Bruges full merrily.

Now goes the merchant fast and busily

About his business, buys, and pays advances.

He neither plays at dice, there, nor dances,

But like a merchant, briefly for to tell,

He leads his life; and there I’ll leave him dwell.

  The very next Sunday after he’d gone,

To Saint-Denis returned the good Sir John,

With his beard and tonsure freshly shaved.

In all that household, from the littlest knave

To every other there, the joy was plain

At seeing my lord Sir John back there again.

And swiftly to the point right for to go,

The fair wife settled with Sir John also

That for the hundred francs he should all night

Hold her in his arms tight, till it was light.

And this accord was acted out in deed;

In mirth all night a busy life they lead

Till it is day, Sir John goes on his way,

Bidding the household all: ‘Farewell, good day!’

– For none of them, no person of that town,

Had of good Sir John the least suspicion.

And forth he rode and homeward to his abbey,

Or where he pleased; no more of him from me.

  The merchant, when he’d finished his affairs,

To Saint Denis rides off, and there repairs;

And with his wife seeks feasting and good cheer,

Tells her the merchandise has proved so dear,

He must negotiate a fresh advance

For he is bound by a recognisance

To pay down twenty thousand crowns anon.

And so the merchant was to Paris gone,

To borrow from certain friends whom he had,

A sum of francs, to those he took to add.

And when that he was come unto the town,

Out of the love and the great affection

He had for Sir John, he went to him that day –

Not to ask gold of him, or borrow, say,

But to enquire there about his welfare,

And tell him of his merchandise and wares,

As friends do, when their friends are near.

John welcomed him with feast and merry cheer,

And he in turn described, with detailed tally,

What wares he’d bought, most successfully

Thanks be to God, and all fine merchandise;

Save that he must, in some manner of wise,

Obtain a loan, for all was of the best,

And joyfully thus set his mind at rest.

   Sir John replied: ‘Well then, I’ll say plain

It’s good that you’re in health, and home again.

And if I were rich, so may I have bliss,

Twenty thousand crowns I’d never miss,

In loans to you, since kindly, the other day,

You lent me gold; and as I can and may

I thank you by God and by Saint James!

Yet nonetheless, I say, I took our dame,

Your wife at home, the same amount again,

Paid on your bench; by certain tokens plain

I could tell you of, she’ll know it well.

Now, by your leave, I may no longer dwell

Upon the matter, our abbot travels anon,

And in his company I must be gone.

Greet our dame for me, my own niece sweet,

And fare thee well, dear cousin, till we meet!’

  The merchant, prudent in affairs like this,

Borrowing money, now paid out in Paris

To certain Lombards, placed it in their hands,

The sum of gold, received his bond as planned,

And home he went, merry as a popinjay,

For he knew he must, in the normal way

Of business, turn a more than average

Profit, a thousand francs or so, he’d gage.

  His wife was there and met him at the gate,

As she was wont to do, early and late,

And all that night long, in mirth they met,

For he was rich, and free of all his debt.

When it was day, the merchant did embrace

His wife afresh, and then he kissed her face,

At her he went, and played a little rough.

  ‘No more!’ quoth she, ‘by God, you have enough!’

And wantonly again with him she played,

Till, at the last, thus the merchant said:

‘I’m angered somewhat’ quoth he, ‘by my oath,

With you, my wife, although as ever loth

To criticise. And why? Well, as I guess,

You’ve brought about a kind of awkwardness

Between me and my cousin good Sir John.

You should have warned me, ere I was gone,

That he a hundred francs to you had paid

By ready tokens, and was quite dismayed

When I spoke about a loan to be advanced –

Or so it seemed from his wry countenance.

Yet, nonetheless, by God, our Heavenly King,

I’d had no wish to ask for anything.

I pray you wife, next time do not do so;

Tell me always, ere that from you I go,

Of any debtor who may in my absence

Have paid you, lest by your negligence

I ask him for what he’s already paid.’

  The wife was unfazed and unafraid,

And boldly she said, and that anon:

‘Marry, I defy the false monk, Sir John!

I care naught for his tokens. It befell

He gave me certain coins, I know it well –

What then? Evil fall on his monk’s snout! –

For, God knows, I thought, without a doubt,

That they were given to me because of you,

To do me honour, and benefit me too,

From cousinship, and also the good cheer

He has so often had when he was here.

But since it seems the thing is all disjoint,

I’ll answer you briefly now, and to the point.

You’ve many a slacker debtor than me,

For I will pay you well and readily

From day to day; and if so ever I fail,

I am your wife, tally it on my tail,

And I will pay as soon as ever I may.

For, by my oath I have, on fine display,

But not extravagance, as thus befell,

Spent every bit, and spent it all so well

For your honour, that, for God’s sake, I say

Do not be angry, let us laugh and play.

You’ll have my sweet body as pledge instead;

By God, I’ll only pay you thus, in bed!

Forgive me then, my own spouse, my dear;

Turn hitherward, and show better cheer.’

  The merchant saw there was no remedy,

And to chide her for it merely folly,

Since the thing could not amended be.

‘Well, wife,’ he said, ‘I forgive it thee;

But by your life, the bills make not so large.

Guard our wealth better; so I you do charge.’

Thus ends my tale now, and may God us send

Tal(ly)ing enough unto our own life’s end! Amen.

 

Here ends the Shipman’s Tale

 


 

The Shipman-Prioress Link

 

 

Behold the merry words of the Host to the Shipman and to the Lady Prioress

 

‘Well said, by Corpus Dominus!’ quoth our Host.

‘Now, long may you sail about our coast,

Sir gentle master, gentle mariner!

God give the monk a cartload of bad years!

Aha, my friends, be wary of such japes!

In the merchant’s hood our monk loosed an ape,

And in his wife’s too, by Saint Augustine;

Ask no more monks to any house you’re in.

  But now, pass on, and let us seek about

For who will next tell, of all this rout,

Another tale’ – and after that he said,

As courteously as if he were a maid:

‘My Lady Prioress, by your leave,

If that I knew it would not truly grieve,

I would judge it fitting that you should

Tell the next tale, if it so be you would.

Now will you agree, my lady dear?’

‘Gladly,’ quoth she, and spoke as you shall hear.

 


 

The Prioress’s Prologue

 

The Prologue to the Prioress’s Tale

 

Domine dominus noster: O Lord, our Lord (Psalm 8)

 

‘O Lord, our Lord, your name how marvellous

It is, far spread in this great world!’ quoth she,

‘For not only is your praise, most precious,

Celebrated by men of dignity,

But in the mouths of children your bounty

Is celebrated too; for at the breast sucking

Sometimes they’ll display their thanksgiving.

 

Wherefore in praise, as best I can or may,

Of Thee and of the white lily flower

Who bore Thee, and is a maid always,

To tell a tale I’ll now turn my labour –

Not that I may thus increase her honour,

For she herself is honour, the fountain

Of worth, next her Son, the soul’s salvation.

 

O mother-maid, O maiden-mother free!

O bush un-burnt, burning in Moses’ sight,

That drew down in joy from the Deity,

Through your humility, in you to alight,

The Holy Ghost, of whose power, your heart-light,

Was conceived the Father’s Sapience,

Help me to speak, and show you reverence.


Lady, your worth, and your magnificence,

Your virtue, and your great humility,

No tongue may express, nor no science.

For often lady, ere men pray to thee,

You go before them, in benignity,

And obtain the light for us of prayer

To guide us towards your Son so dear.

 

My skill’s so weak, O my blissful Queen,

Ever to declare your great worthiness,

That I may not the weight of it sustain,

But like a child but twelve months old or less,

That can scarce a single word express,

So then am I; and therefore I now pray,

Guide my song of you, as on I say.

 


The Prioress’s Tale

 

Here begins the Prioress’s Tale

 

There was in Asia, in a great city

Of Christian folks, a ghetto for Jewry,

Maintained by a lord of that country,

For shameful profit out of foul usury,

Hateful to Christ and all his company.

And through its streets men might ride and wend,

For it was free, and open at either end.

 

A little school of Christian folk there stood

Down at the farther end, in which there were

A crowd of children, born of Christian blood,

Who learned in that school, year by year,

Such manner of doctrine as men used there –

That is to say, to sing and then to read,

As little ones when children do, indeed.

 

Among these children was a widow’s son,

A little schoolboy, seven years of age,

Who day by day off to the school would run,

And also whenever he saw the image

Of Christ’s mother, as was common usage

And taught to him, would kneel down and say

His Ave Maria, as he passed by the way.

 

Thus had the widow her small son taught

Our blissful lady, Christ’s mother dear,

To worship ever; and he’d forgotten naught,

For innocent children are quick to hear

Such things. And I remember in this matter,

Saint Nicholas, who is ever in my presence,

Who though young showed Christ due reverence.


This little child, his little book studying,

As he sat in school over his primer,

Alma redemptoris heard others singing,

Learning the antiphon from their reader;

And close as he dared he drew near and nearer,

And harkened to the word and the notes,

Till he had learnt the first verse by rote.

 

He’d no grasp of what the Latin might say,

Being so young, and of so tender an age;

But one morning he asked a friend, if, pray,

He might expound the song in his language,

And tell him why it was in common usage.

He begged him to construe it and declare

Its meaning, often down on his knees bare.

 

His friend, who was older than was he,

Answered him thus: ‘This song, I have heard say,

Was made about our blissful Lady free,

To salute her, and also to her pray

To be our help and succour always.

I can expound no further of this matter;

I know the song; but have no grasp of grammar.’

 

‘And is this song made in reverence

Of Christ’s mother?’ asked the innocent.

‘Then I’ll employ all my diligence

To learn it all ere Christmastide is spent,

Though from my primer I must be rent,

And shall be beaten thrice in an hour,

I will learn it, Our Lady for to honour.’


His friend taught him it privately

Each day as they went home, till by rote

He knew it, then sang it well and boldly,

Every word, according to the notes.

Twice a day it passed through his throat,

School-ward and homeward as he went;

On Christ’s mother set was his intent.

 

As I have said, among the Jewry,

This little child, as he went to and fro,

Full merrily then would he sing and cry

O alma redemptoris’ and ever so.

The sweetness had pierced his heart, lo,

Of Christ’s mother, so that he must pray

To her, nor leave off singing by the way.

 

Our first foe, Serpent Satan, who has

Made in the Jew’s heart his wasp’s nest,

Swelled up and said, ‘O Hebrew folk, alas!

Is this a thing that seems to you full honest,

That such a boy shall walk by, as if blessed,

In spite of you, and sing out each sentence

That goes against the laws you reverence?’

 

From thenceforth the Jews there conspired

The innocent from out this world to chase.

A murderer, to serve this end, they hired,

Who in an alley had a private place,

And as the child passed by at a pace,

This wretched Jew caught and held him fast,

And cut his throat, and in the pit him cast.


Into a privy-drain him they threw,

Where the Jews purged their entrails.

O cursed folk of Herod, born anew,

How shall your evil intent you avail?

Murder will out, for sure, and shall not fail

God’s honour, there, especially for to speed,

The blood cries out against your cursed deed.

 

O Martyr, bonded to virginity,

Now you may sing, ever following on

The white Lamb celestial – quoth she –

Of which the great evangelist, Saint John

Of Patmos, wrote, who says those who are gone

Sing before the Lamb a song all new,

Who never, in the flesh, women knew.

 

The poor widow waited all that night

For her little child, but he came not.

So, as soon as ever it was light,

Her face pale with dread, in anxious thought,

She, at the school and elsewhere, him sought;

Till this much she discovered, finally,

That he had last been seen among the Jewry.

 

With mother’s pity in her breast enclosed,

She went, and she was half out of her mind,

To every place where she might suppose

It likely that she might her child find;

And ever on Christ’s mother, meek and kind,

She cried, and at the last thus she wrought:

Among the cursed Jews she him sought.


She begged, and she prayed piteously

Of every Jew who dwelt in that place,

To tell her if her child had been by.

They said ‘nay’ but Jesus, of His grace,

Put in her mind, within a little space,

To go from that place, where she cried,

To where he was, in the pit, cast aside.

 

O Great God, that hears Your praise performed

Through innocent mouths, lo, here is Your might!

This gem of chastity, this emerald,

And of martyrdom this ruby bright,

Lay there with his throat cut, upright,

And Alma redemptoris did he sing

So loud that all the place began to ring.

 

The Christian folk who through the streets went

Came crowding for wonder at this thing,

And swiftly for the provost then they sent.

He came anon, without tarrying,

While praising Christ, who is of Heaven king,

His mother also, honour of mankind,

And after that the wretched Jews did bind.

 

The child, with piteous lamentation

Was lifted up, singing his song always;

And with honour in a great procession

Carried to the abbey ere close of day.

His mother, swooning, by his bier lay;

Scarcely could the people with a tear

Drag this second Rachel from his bier.


With torment and shameful death each one

The Provost sentence on the Jews did serve

Who of the murder knew, and that anon.

Death for such wickedness he must observe.

Evil shall have what evil does deserve;

So with wild horses he did them draw,

And hung them then, according to the law.

 

Upon his bier still lay this innocent,

Before the altar while the Mass did last,

And after that the Abbot with his convent,

Hastened them to bury him full fast.

And when they holy water on him cast,

The child spoke, sprinkled with the water,

And sang: ‘O alma redemptis mater’.

 

The abbot then, who was a holy man,

As monks are – or else they ought to be –

The little child to beseech began,

Saying: ‘O, dear child, I entreat thee,

By virtue of the Holy Trinity,

Tell me what allows you thus to sing,

Since your throat is cut, as seems the thing?’

 

‘My throat is cut through to the neck-bone,’

Said the child, ‘in the manner of mankind,

I should have died – and long ago be gone.

But Jesus Christ, as you in books will find,

Wills that His glory last, be kept in mind;

And for the worship of his mother dear,

I may yet sing “O alma” loud and clear.


That well of mercy, Christ’s mother sweet,

I have loved always, after my knowing;

And when my death I was about to meet,

She came to me, and bade me for to sing

This anthem in truth while I was dying,

As you have heard; and when I had sung

She laid a grain of seed upon my tongue.

 

And so I sing, and sing I must again,

In honour of that blissful maiden free,

Till from my tongue is removed that grain.

And after that, thus she spoke to me:

“My little child, I will come to fetch thee

When that the grain from your tongue they take.

Be not afraid; I will not thee forsake.”’

 

The holy monk – the abbot, I mean he –

Touched his tongue, and so removed the grain,

And thus he gave up the ghost full softly.

And when the abbot saw this wonder plain,

His salt tears trickled down like rain,

And down he fell flat upon the ground,

And still he lay, as if he had been bound.

 

The convent of monks lay on the pavement

Weeping, praising Christ’s mother dear.

And after that they rose, and forth they went,

And took up the martyr from his bier.

And in a tomb of marble polished sheer

They enclosed his little body sweet.

There he is now, God grant we may meet!


O young Hugh of Lincoln, slain also

By cursed Jews, a tale still notable,

Since it was but a little while ago,

Pray for us too, we folk to sin so liable,

That, in His mercy, God all merciful

Grant us great mercy, and never vary,

In reverence for his mother Mary. Amen.

 

Here ends the Prioress’s Tale

 

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