The Canterbury Tales
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007 All Rights Reserved
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The Friar’s Prologue
The Prologue to the Friar’sTale
The worthy Limiter, our noble Friar,
Kept glancing round with a scowl of ire
Towards the Summoner, but from honesty
No villainous word as yet spoke he.
But at last he turned to the Wife:
‘Dame,’ quoth he, ‘God grant you a good life!
You have here touched, I must agree,
On high matters of great difficulty.
You have said many things well, I say.
But, dame, here as we ride by the way,
We are but asked to speak and play a game,
And leave true authority, in God’s name,
To the preachers and the schools of clergy.
But if it’s pleasing to this company,
I’ll tell you of a summoner, the same.
Pardee, you may know just by the name
Of summoner there’s no good to be said –
I pray that none of you will be offended.
A summoner runs up and down the nation
With summonses concerning fornication,
Him people thrash at every town’s end.’
Our Host then spoke: ‘Ah, sire, please extend
Courtesy, as of a man in your estate!
In company we’ll have no such debate.
Tell your tale, and let the Summoner be!’
‘Nay,’ quoth the Summoner, ‘let him call me
Whatever he wishes; when I tune my note
By God, I’ll repay him every groat!
I’ll tell him, then, how great an honour
It is to be a flattering limiter,
And of the many other kinds of crime
That need no rehearsing at this time,
And explain his office to him, as it is!’
Our Host answered: ‘Peace, no more of this!’
And after that he turned to the Friar:
‘Tell forth your tale, now, my good sire.’
The Friar’s Tale
Here begins the Friar’s Tale
Once there was, dwelling in my country,
An archdeacon, a man of high degree,
Who boldly served the law’s execution
In the punishment of fornication,
Of witchcraft, and also of bawdry,
Of defamation, and adultery,
Of church robbery, and of testaments
Of contracts, and neglect of sacraments,
Of usury, and of simony also.
But on the lechers he served greatest woe;
He made them sing, if less than innocent,
And small tithe-payers if they missed the rent,
If any parson should of them complain.
They could not avoid pecuniary pain;
For short tithes and short offerings
He made the people piteously sing.
For ere the bishop caught them with his crook,
They were down in the archdeacon’s book,
And then had he, through his jurisdiction,
Power to administer correction.
He had a summoner ready to his hand;
A slyer lad was none in all England.
For subtly he set spies on the trail
Who showed him his profit without fail.
He would spare the lechers, three or four,
To lead the way to four and twenty more.
For though our man go mad as a hare,
To tell his wickedness I will not spare;
For we are free from his correction.
Over us they have no jurisdiction,
Nor ever shall, throughout their lives.
‘St Peter! Thus the women in the dives,’
Quoth the Summoner, ‘are past our cure!’
‘Peace to mischance and misadventure!’
– So said our Host – ‘and let him tell his tale.
Now tell it forth, though the Summoner pale;
And spare him not, my own good sire.’
This false thief, this summoner – quoth the Friar –
Had pimps always ready to his hand,
As any hawk to lure in all England,
Who told him all the secrets that they knew,
For their acquaintance was nothing new;
They were his private agents, his spies.
He made himself great profits thereby;
His master knew not always what he won.
And without a warrant he would summon
Some lewd man, on pain of Christ’s curse,
And all would be content to fill his purse,
And buy him great feasts at the inn.
And just as Judas had his purse, his sin
Being theft, just such a thief was he.
His master received but half the duty.
He was, if I should praise him and applaud,
A thief, and then a summoner, and a bawd.
And he had wenches in his retinue
That, whether Sir Robert or Sir Hugh,
Or Jack or Ralph, whoever might appear
And lie with them, they told it in his ear.
So were the wench and he of one intent.
And he would fetch a forged writ hence,
And summon both to Chapter Court and so
He’d fleece the man and let the wench go.
Then would he say: ‘Friend, for you, alack,
I’ll strike her name out of our letters black.
You need no more in her cause travail;
I am your friend, in this I may avail.’
Certain he knew of swindles old and new,
More than could be told in a year or two.
For in this world no dog that tracks the bow
Could tell a hurt deer from a whole one so
Well as this summoner could a sly lecher,
Or an adulterer, or yet a lover.
And as that was the bulk of all his rent,
Therefore on that he set his whole intent.
And so befell it once that on a day,
This summoner, ever waiting on his prey,
Rode to summon an old widow of the tribe,
Feigning a cause, expecting a bribe;
And chanced to see before him on the ride
A merry yeoman under a forest side.
A bow he bore, and arrows bright and keen;
He wore a woollen jacket all in green,
A hat upon his head with fringes black.
‘Sire,’ quoth this Summoner, reigning back,
Hail and well met! And every good man more!’
‘Whither ride you under this greenwood shaw?’
Said the yeoman: ‘Go you far today?’
The summoner answered him and said: ‘Nay;
Here close by,’ quoth he, ‘it’s my intent
To ride, and then to summon up a rent
That is owing there to my lord, you see,’
‘You are a bailiff then?’ ‘Yes’ quoth he.
He dare not, for very stain and shame,
Say that he was a summoner, by name.
‘Depardieux,’ quoth the yeoman, ‘dear brother,
You are a bailiff, and I am another.
I am a stranger now to this country;
For your acquaintance I would beg thee,
And brotherhood as well, if you wish.
I have gold and silver in my chest;
If you chance to cross into our shire,
All shall be yours, as much as you desire.’
‘Graunt mercy,’ quoth the summoner, ‘by my faith!’
Each on the other’s hand his truth pledged
To be brothers sworn till their dying day,
And rode chatting pleasantly on their way.
The summoner, who was as full of words
As full of venom are the butcher-birds,
And ever enquiring about everything,
‘Brother,’ quoth he, ‘where is your dwelling,
If I were to seek you out another day?
The yeoman answered in his soft-spoken way:
‘Brother,’ quoth he, ‘far in the north country,
Where I hope some time you’ll visit me.
Ere we part, I’ll tell you where it is,
So my house there you shall never miss.’
‘Now brother,’ quoth the summoner, ‘I pray,
Tell me, while we are riding on our way –
Since you are a bailiff the same as me –
Some subtle trick, and tell me faithfully
In my office how I may most win;
And spare not for conscience or for sin,
But as my brother tell me how do ye.’
‘Now my by troth, dear brother,’ said he,
‘I will tell you then a faithful tale:
My wages are scanty, right small ale,
My lord is hard to me, ungenerous,
And my office is thus laborious,
And therefore by extortion do I live;
Forsooth, I take whatever men will give.
Any way, by tricks or violence,
From year to year I cover my expense.
I can no better tell it, truthfully.’
‘Well, now,’ quoth the summoner, ‘same as me!’
I never hesitate to take, God knows,
Long as it’s not too hot or heavy though.
What I may get in private, secretly,
Is not a question of conscience, to me.
Were it not for extortion, I’d no living.
Nor of such tricks shall I be shriven;
Feeling or conscience know I none.
I curse those confessors ever a one!
Well are we met, by God and by Saint James!
But, dear brother, tell me then your name.’
Quoth the summoner. Now, all the while
The yeoman had displayed a little smile.
‘Brother,’ quoth he, ‘would you have me tell?
I am a fiend; my dwelling is in Hell.
And here I ride about my purchasing
To see if men will give me anything.
My profit is the total, just like rent.
Look how you ride upon the same intent,
To win your profit – you don’t care how –
Well so fare I, for ride I would right now
Unto the world’s end following my prey.’
‘Ah,’ quoth the summoner, ‘benedicite!
What’s this? I thought you were a yeoman, truly;
You have a man’s shape as well as me.
Have you another shape determinate
In Hell, where you are in your own true state?
‘Nay, for sure,’ quoth he, ‘there have we none.
But when we choose, then we can don one,
Or else make you believe we have a shape.
Sometimes we’re like a man, or like an ape,
Or like an angel can I ride and go.
It is no wondrous thing though it be so;
A louse-ridden juggler can deceive thee,
And, pardee, I’ve much more power than he.’
‘Why,’ quoth the summoner, ‘do you ride and run
In sundry shape, and not always in one?’
‘That we,’ quoth he, ‘may such forms awake
As are most useful when our prey we take.’
‘What makes you undertake all this labour?’
‘Many a reason, dear sir summoner,’
Said the fiend, ‘but all things in good time.
The day is short, and it is long past prime,
And yet I’ve gathered nothing all this day.
I must attend to profit if I may,
And our stratagems I’ll not declare;
For, brother mine, your wit is all too bare
To understand, though I should tell them thee.
But as you asked why so labour we:
Sometimes we are God’s own instruments,
The means to execute his commandments,
When he wishes to, upon his creatures,
In various ways and under various features.
Without him we have no power, again,
If he should wish to stand against our aim.
And sometimes at our request we have leave
Only the body, but not the soul, to grieve;
Witness Job, whom we brought such woe.
But sometimes we have power over both:
That is to say of body and soul also.
And sometimes we are allowed to go
Attack a man, and bring his soul unrest,
And not his body, then all is for the best
If he withstands our sore temptation;
Since it is a cause of his salvation,
Albeit that such was never our intent
To save, but rather to have him pent.
And sometimes we are servants to some man,
As to the archbishop Saint Dunstan;
To the Apostles a servant once was I.’
‘Then tell me,’ quoth the summoner, ‘speak no lie,
Make you your new bodies thus always
From the elements?’ The fiend answered: ‘Nay.
Sometimes we’re illusions, sometimes rise
With corpses’ bodies in sundry wise,
And speak as fluently and fair and well
As, to the Witch of Endor, Samuel.
(And yet some men say it was not he –
I grant no worth to your theology.)
But one thing I warn you of, it’s no jape:
You’ll know one day how we find a shape;
You shall hereafter, my brother dear,
Come where you need not lend an ear!
For you will, from your own experience,
Be able to lecture in word and sentence
Better than Virgil when he was alive,
Or Dante. Now let us swiftly ride,
For I will keep company with thee,
Till you may choose to forsake me.’
‘Nay,’ quoth the summoner, ‘let us ride!
I’m a yeoman known both far and wide;
My pledge will I keep, as I have done.
For though you were the devil himself, Satan,
My pledge will I keep to you, my brother,
As I swore, and each swore to the other,
To be a true brother in every case.
And both can go about our purchase;
Take you your share of what men will give,
And I will mine; thus we both may live.
And if either has more than the other,
Let him be true, and share with his brother.’
‘Agreed,’ quoth the devil, ‘by my faith!’
And with that they rode forth on their way,
And right at the start of the town end
To which this summoner planned to wend,
They saw a cart loaded up with hay,
That a carter drove forth on his way.
Deep was the mud, and the cart was stuck;
The carter shouted out like mad, and struck:
‘Hey Brock! Hup, Scot! Mind you the stones?
The fiend,’ quoth he, ‘take you, skin and bones,
As surely as ever that you were foaled,
So much is the woe you bring, all told!
The devil take all, horse, cart and hay!’
The summoner said: ‘Here’s good play!’
And as if naught were doing, he drew near,
And quietly whispered in his friend’s ear:
‘Hearken, my brother, hearken, by my faith!
Do you not hear what the carter says?
Take them anon, for he has given them thee,
Hay and cart, and also his horses three.’
‘Nay,’ quoth the devil, ‘God knows, never a bit!
Trust me well, he’s never a wish for it.
Ask him yourself, if you trust not me,
Or else wait a while and you will see.’
The carter struck his horses on the rump,
And they began to haul, as he thumped.
‘Gee up,’ quoth he, ‘and Jesus Christ bless,
You and all his handiwork, both great and less!
That was well pulled, my own Grey Boy!
I pray God save you, and His Saint Loy.
Now is my cart out of the slough, pardee!’
‘Lo, brother,’ quoth the fiend, ‘what told I thee?
Here you may see, my own dear brother,
The man spoke one thing, but meant another.
Les us sally forth on our voyage;
Here I win nothing, goods or carriage.’
When they were some way out of town,
The summoner softly began to sound:
‘Brother,’ quoth he, ‘here lives an old wreck,
Who would almost as soon lose her neck
As give you a pennyworth of what she has.
I’ll have twelve pence of her, though she wax mad,
Or I’ll have to summon her to our office –
And yet, God knows, of her I know no vice.
But since you have failed in this country
To gain a profit, well then, learn from me.’
The summoner knocked at the widow’s gate.
‘Come out,’ quoth he, ‘you old reprobate!
I swear you’ve some friar or priest with thee.’
‘Who’s knocking?’ cried the wife, ‘benedicitee!
God save you, sire; what is your good will?’
‘I have,’ quoth he, ‘with me a summons-bill.
On pain of excommunication, you shall be
To-morrow at the arch-deacon’s knee
To answer in his court to certain things.’
‘Now, Lord,’ quoth she, ‘Christ Jesus, King of Kings,
Help me, for sure, as only You may!
I have been sick, and that for many a day;
I cannot go so far,’ quoth she,’ nor ride,
Except I die, it pricks so in my side.
May I not have a writ, sir summoner,
And answer there yet through my lawyer
To such charges as men press against me?’
‘Yes,’ quoth the summoner, ‘pay – let’s see –
Twelve pence to me, and I may you acquit.
I shall not profit by it, not a bit.
My master takes the profit, none to me.
Quick now, I must ride on and hurriedly;
Give me twelve pence, for I cannot tarry.’
‘Twelve pence!’ quoth she, ‘Now Lady Saint Mary
Defend me surely from care and sin,
Though this whole wide world I might win,
I have not twelve pence for hand to hold.
You well know that I am poor and old;
Show charity to me, a poor wretch.’
‘Nay, then,’ quoth he, ‘the devil may me fetch,
If I’ll excuse you, though you go to ruin!’
‘Alas!’ quoth she, ‘God knows, I have no coin!’
‘Pay me,’ quoth he, ‘by the sweet Saint Anne,
Or I will carry off your brand new pan
Against the debt you owe to me of old,
When you made your husband cuckold;
I paid back home for your correction.’
‘You lie!’ quoth she, ‘By my salvation,
I was never ere now, widow or wife,
Summoned to your court in all my life,
Nor never was I with my body untrue.
To the devil rough and black of hue
Give I your body, and my pan also!’
And when the devil heard her cursing so
Upon her knees, he spoke in this manner:
‘Now, Mabel, my own mother dear,
Is this your wish in earnest that you say?’
‘The devil, quoth she, ‘come fetch him today,
And pan and all, unless he shall repent!’
‘Nay, old bawd, that is not my intent,’
Quoth the summoner, ‘to repent, not me,
For anything that I have had of thee.
I would I had your smock, rag and cloth!’
‘Now, brother,’ quoth the devil, ‘be not wrath:
Your body and this pan are mine by right.
You yet shall go to Hell with me tonight,
Where you shall know of our mysteries
More than does any master of divinity.’
And with that the foul fiend dragged him hence;
Body and soul he with the devil went
Where summoners receive their heritage.
And God who made, after His own image,
Mankind, save and guide us, all and some,
And let these summoners good men become!
Lordings, I could have told you – said the Friar –
Had I the time, and this Summoner desire,
Drawing on texts of Christ, Paul and John,
And of other teachers, many a one,
Of torments that will freeze hearts, in some wise;
Although the tongue can scarcely devise,
Though for a thousand winters I might tell
Of it, the pain of this cursed house of Hell.
But to defend us from that cursed place,
Watch and pray to Jesus for his grace;
So guard us from the tempter Satan base.
Hark to my word – beware, as in this case:
‘The lion sits in wait for us always
To slay the innocent, if ever he may.
Dispose your hearts always to withstand
The fiend, who would grip you in his hand.’
He may not tempt you beyond your might,
For Christ will be your champion and knight.
And pray that all these summoners repent
Of their misdeeds, before they’re summoned hence!
Here ends the Friar’s Tale
The Summoner’s Prologue
The Prologue to the Summoner’s Tale
The Summoner, up in his stirrups high, stood;
His heart against this Friar filled with blood
And like an aspen leaf he shook, with ire.
‘Lordings,’ quoth he, ‘but one thing I desire:
I beseech you that of your courtesy, I,
Since you have heard this false Friar lie,
May be suffered now my tale to tell!
This Friar boasts that he knows of Hell,
And God knows, that is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far asunder.
For, pardee, you often times heard tell
How that a friar was dragged off to Hell
In the spirit once, and in a vision,
And as an angel led him up and down
To show him all the torments of the fire,
In all the place he never saw a Friar;
Of other folk he saw enough, in woe.
Unto the angel spoke the Friar, though:
“Now sire, ‘quoth he, ‘are Friars in such grace,
That none of them shall ever reach this place?”
“Nay,” quoth the angel, “millions are found
Below! And unto Satan he led him down.
“Now Satan you see” says he, “has a tail
Wider than of a carrack is the sail.
Hols up your tail, now Satan!” quoth he,
“Show us your arse, and let the Friar see
Where is the nest for Friars in this place.”
And in less than half a minute’s space,
Just as bees swarm from out a hive,
Out of the devil’s arse began to drive
Twenty thousand Friars in a rout,
And off through Hell they swarmed about,
And returned again as fast as they had gone
And into his arse they crept everyone;
He clapped his tail again and lay still.
The Friar, when he had looked his fill
On all the torments in this sorry place,
His spirit God restored, of his grace,
To his body again, and he awoke.
But nevertheless for fear he still shook,
The devil’s arse was there yet in his mind;
Such is the heritage of all his kind.
God save you all, save this cursed Friar!
My prologue ends, all that I shall require.’
The Summoner’s Tale
Here begins the Summoner’s Tale
Lordings there lies, in Yorkshire as I guess,
A marshy country known as Holderness,
In which a friar, a limiter, went about
To preach, and to beg as well, no doubt.
And it befell that on a day this friar
He preached at a church as he desired,
And specially, above every other thing,
Excited all the people by his preaching
To buy masses, and give for God’s sake
Coins with which men might holy houses make,
Those where divine service is honoured –
Not where it is wasted and devoured,
Nor where there’s no need for men to give,
As to endowed clergymen, who live,
Thanks be to God, in wealth and abundance!
‘Masses,’ said he, ‘deliver from all penance
Your friends’ souls, whether old or young,
Yes, even when they are quickly sung –
Not to say that a priest has gone astray;
Because he only sings one mass a day.
‘Deliver then, anon’ quoth he, ‘the souls!
Full hard it is with flesh-hooks and with awls
To be clawed, or yet to burn or bake.
Do it swiftly now, for Christ’s sake!’
And when the Friar had shown his intent,
With qui cum patre on his way he went.
When folk in church had given him what he wished,
He went his way – no longer would he rest –
With scrip and pointed staff, his gown tucked high.
Into every house he’d begin to peer and pry,
And begged for meal and cheese, or else corn.
His comrade had a staff, tipped with horn,
A pair of writing-tables, in ivory,
And a stylus, polished all elegantly,
And wrote the names down, as he stood,
Of all the folk that gave him any food,
As if for them he’d pray, by and by.
‘Give us a bushel, wheat, malt, or rye,
A God’s cake, or a little piece of cheese,
Anything you wish; all things do please.
A God’s halfpenny, or a mass-penny,
Or give us of your brawn, if you have any;
A portion of your blanket, dear dame,
Our sister true – lo, here I write your name –
Bacon or beef, or anything you find.’
A sturdy varlet followed them behind,
Who was their inn-servant, and bore a sack,
And what men gave them, carried on his back;
And when he was out of doors, and alone,
He’d scrape away the names, every one
That he had written on his writing-tables;
He served them all with faery-tales and fables.
‘Nay, there you lie, you Summoner!’ quoth the Friar.
‘Peace!’ quoth our Host, ‘for Christ’s mother dear!
Tell us your tale, and spare us not at all.’
‘So thrive I,’ quoth the Summoner, ‘that I shall.
So along he goes from house to house, till he
Comes to a house where he is wont to be
Refreshed better than a hundred other places.
The good man lies sick whose house it is.
Bedridden there on a low couch lay he.
‘Deus hic!’ quoth he, ‘O Thomas, friend, good day!’
Said this friar courteously and full soft.
‘Thomas,’ quoth he, ‘God guard you, full oft
Have I upon this bench eaten full well!
Here have I eaten many a merry meal.’
And from the bench he drove away the cat,
And laid down his pointed staff and hat,
And his scrip too, and sat him quietly down.
His comrade had walked off into town,
Together with his knave, to the hostelry
Where he had thought that night to sleep.
‘O my dear master, ‘quoth the sick man,
‘How are things with you? Since March began
I’ve not seen you for a fortnight or more.’
‘God knows,’ quoth he, ‘I’ve laboured full sore,
And especially for your salvation
Have I said many a precious orison,
And for our other friends, God them bless!
I have today been at your church at Mass,
And given a sermon, used my simple wit –
Not using all the text of holy writ,
Since it’s too hard for you, as I suppose,
And therefore I paraphrase, for those
Who find it so, it’s fine to paraphrase,
For “the letter killeth”, as the Bible says.
In it I told them to be charitable,
And spend their coin, in manner reasonable;
And there I saw your dame – ah, where is she?’
‘Yonder in the yard I think she’ll be.’
Said the man, ‘and she’ll be here anon.’
‘Ey, master, welcome be ye, by Saint John!’
Said the wife: ‘How fair you, heartily?’
The friar rose full of courtesy,
And embraced her in his arms narrow,
And kissed her sweet and chirped like a sparrow
With his lips. ‘Dame,’ quoth he, ‘right well,
As he that is your servant and ever shall
Thank God that gave you soul and life!
Yet saw I not today as fair a wife
In all the church about, God save me!’
‘Yet God amend my faults, sire,’ quoth she.
‘You are welcome at any rate, by my faith!’
‘Graunt mercy, dame, this have I found always.
But in your great goodness, by your leave,
I pray take no offence, and do not grieve,
If I must speak with Thomas a while though.
These curates are full negligent and slow
At groping tenderly after the conscience.
In shriving, preaching, is my diligence,
And studying of Peter’s words and Paul’s.
I walk and fish for Christian men’s souls,
To yield to Jesus Christ his proper rent;
To spread his word is all my true intent.’
‘Now, by your leave, O dear sire,’ quoth she,
‘Scold him well, by the sacred Trinity!
He’s irritable as an ant beside the fire,
Though he has all that he could desire.
Though I cover him at night and keep him warm,
And over him lay my leg or my arm,
He groans like the boar that’s in our sty.
Other sport of him right none have I;
I may not please him any way, alas.’
‘O Thomas, je vous dy, Thomas, Thomas!
This is the fiend’s work, and must be mended!
Anger’s a thing that cannot be defended,
And therefore will I say a word or so.’
‘Now, master,’ quoth the wife, ‘ere I go,
What will you dine on? And then I’ll do it.’
‘Now dame,’ quoth he, ‘now je vous dy sanz doute,
Had I of a capon but the liver,
And of your soft bread just a sliver,
And after that a roasted pig’s head –
Though just for me I’d wish no creature dead –
Then that would be homely munificence.
I am a man needs little sustenance;
My spirit gets its nourishment from the Bible.
The body is so zealous, always so liable
To pray and wake, my appetite is destroyed.
I pray you dame, be not too annoyed,
If I speak frankly and confide in you.
By God, I tell such only to a few!’
‘Now, sire,’ quoth she, ‘one word before I go:
My child died scarcely two weeks ago,
Shortly after you had left the town.’
‘His death I saw in a revelation,’
Said the friar, ‘at home it was in our
Dormitory, I’d say, not half an hour
After his death, I saw him born to bliss
In a vision, God send me not amiss!
So did our sexton and our infirmary friars,
That have been true men these fifty years;
They may now, God be thanked for His loan,
Make their jubilee, and be free to walk alone.
And up I rose and all our convent meek,
With many a tear trickling down my cheek,
Without a noise or clattering of bells.
Te deum was our song, and nothing else,
Save that to Christ I said an orison,
Thanking Him for His revelation.
For, sire and dame, trust to me right well,
Our orisons are more effectual,
We see more into Christ’s secret things
Than laymen do, even though they be kings.
We live in poverty and abstinence,
While laymen live in luxury, expense
On meat and drink, and in their foul delight.
We set this world’s lust beyond our sight.
Lazarus and Dives lived diversely,
And they were rewarded differently.
Whoso will pray must fast and be clean,
And feed his soul, but keep his body lean.
We fare as the Gospel says: clothes and food
Suffice for us, though they be coarse and rude.
The cleanliness and fasting of us friars
Is what makes Jesus Christ accept our prayers.
Lo, Moses forty days and forty nights
Fasted, before the great God in his might
Spoke with him on the summit of Sinai;
With empty stomach, fasting fit to die,
He received the law that was written
By God’s finger; and Elijah, when
On Mount Horeb, before he had speech
With God Almighty, who acts as our leech
Healing us, fasted long, in contemplation.
Aaron too, that had the regulation
Of the Temple, and Levites every one,
Into the Temple when they were gone
To pray for the people, and serve there,
They would take no drink, that is, no manner
Of drink which might them drunken make,
But there in abstinence would pray and wake,
Lest they die. Take heed then of what I say:
Unless they are sober who for people pray,
Beware what I say; enough, that suffices!
‘Our Lord Jesus, as holy writ advises,
Is our example, in fasting and in prayers.
Therefore we mendicants, we simple friars,
Have wedded poverty and continence,
Charity, humility, and abstinence,
Persecution for our righteousness,
Weeping, charity, and cleanliness.
And therefore you can see that our prayers –
I speak of us, we mendicants, we friars –
Are to the high God more acceptable
Than yours, with your feasting at table.
For his gluttony, and I tell no lies,
Man was first driven from Paradise,
And man was chaste in Paradise, for sure.
‘But hearken now, Thomas, I say more:
– I have no text of what I wish to say
But I shall seek it in a paraphrase –
For especially our sweet lord Jesus
Spoke of the friars, when he said thus:
“Blessed be those who poor in spirit be.”
And so in all the Gospel you may see,
Whether it is more like to our profession,
Or theirs who swim in riches and possessions.
Fie on their pomp, and their gluttony! Fie,
And as for sinfulness, I them defy.
I liken them to that Jovinian,
Fat as a whale, and waddling like a swan,
As full of wine as a bottle, what’s the sense
In their saying prayers full of reverence,
And chanting for souls the Psalm of David:
“Lo, burp!” they sing, “cor meum eructavit!”
Who follows Christ’ gospel and his spoor,
But we the humble, the chaste and poor,
Workers of God’s word, not its auditors?
Therefore, right as a hawk that upward soars
Springs up into the air, right so the prayers
Of charitable, chaste and busy friars
Soar upwards towards God’s ears two.
Thomas, Thomas, as I live, say I too,
By that lord who is named Saint Ives,
Who’s not our brother, as you are, never thrives.
In our Chapter pray we day and night,
To Christ, that he send you health and might
To give you use of your body speedily.’
‘God knows, quoth he, ‘none of it I feel!
So help me Christ, in but a few years
I have spent on every manner of friars
Full many a pound, yet never the better.
Indeed, it’s almost left me now a debtor;
Farewell my gold, it is gone long ago!’
The Friar answered: ‘O Thomas, say you so?
What needed you those various friars seek?
What need has he who has a perfect leech
To go seeking other leeches round the town?
Your inconstancy shall bring you down!
Do you maintain that my, or else our convent’s,
Prayers for you have been insufficient?
Thomas, that raillery’s not worth a fiddle!
Your malady’s because we prayed too little.
Ah, give that convent half a quarter of oats!
Ah, give that convent four and twenty groats!
Ah, give that friar a penny and let him go!
Nay, nay, Thomas, it should not be so!
What is a farthing worth that’s cut in twelve?
Lo, each thing that’s united in itself
Is stronger than when it’s widely scattered.
Thomas, by me you shall not be flattered:
You would have all our labour for naught.
The great God, who all this world has wrought,
Says that the workman’s worthy of his hire.
Thomas, naught of your treasure I desire,
For myself, but only that our convent
Should pray for you and be diligent,
And for to build Christ’s own church.
Thomas if you would learn to do good works,
You may find if building, for your sin,
Is good, in the life of Thomas Saint of Inde.
You lie here full of anger and of ire
With which the devil sets your heart afire,
And chide here this foolish innocent
Your wife, who is so meek and so patient.
And therefore Thomas – believe me as you wish –
Strive not with your wife: that’s for the best.
And bear this word away now, by your faith,
Touching all this – hear, what the wise say:
“Within your house act not like a lion;
Against your household raise no oppression,
Nor serve to make your acquaintance flee.”
And Thomas, a second time I charge thee:
Beware of her that in your bosom sleeps!
Beware the serpent that so slyly creeps
Below the grass, and stings with subtlety.
Beware, my son, and listen patiently,
For twenty thousand men have lost their lives
In striving with their lovers and their wives.
Now since you have so holy and meek a wife,
What need have you, Thomas, to make strife?
Truly there is no serpent half so cruel
When man treads on his tail, or half so fell,
As woman is when she is full of fire,
Vengeance then is all that they desire.
Anger is sin, one of the deadly seven,
Abominable to the great God of Heaven,
And to the man himself it is destruction.
This every illiterate vicar or parson
Can tell you, ire engenders homicide.
Ire is, in truth, the executor of pride.
I could of ire tell you so much sorrow
My tale should last until tomorrow;
And therefore I pray God, both day and night,
God send the angry man no power or might!
It does great harm, and brings great misery,
To yield a wrathful man the mastery.
‘One there was a wrathful potentate,
Seneca says, and while he ruled the state,
One fine day out rode there knights two.
And as Fortune willed, as she will do,
One of them came home, the other not.
Anon the knight before the judge was brought,
Who said thus: “You have your fellow slain,
For which I sentence you to death, again.”
And to another knight commanded he:
“Go, lead him to his death, I order thee.”
And so it came to pass as they went by
Towards the place where he should die,
The knight appeared whom men thought dead.
Then it seemed best that both be led
Straight back, returned to the judge again.
They said: “Lord, the knight has not slain
His fellow; here he stands, whole alive.”
“You shall die,” quoth he, “as I thrive!
That is to say, one and two and three.”
And to the first knight thus right spoke he:
“I condemned you; and you shall be dead.
And you, his fellow, also lose your head,
For you are the reason why this man must die.”
And on the third knight he cast his eye:
“You have not done as I commanded thee” –
And thus he had the knights slain, all three.
Wrathful Cambyses was a drunkard too,
And loved to be a villain through and through.
And it so befell a lord of his company,
Who valued virtuous morality,
Said one day in private speech right thus:
“A lord is lost if he is vicious,
And drunkenness is foul to record
Of any man, especially a lord.
There is full many an eye and many an ear
Near to a lord, of which he’s not aware.
For God’s love, drink more temperately!
Wine makes man lose most wretchedly
His mind, and his limbs’ use, every one.”
“The reverse,’ quoth the King, “you’ll see anon,
And prove it by your own experience,
That wine does to folk no such offence.
There is no wine shall rob me of my might
In hand or foot, nor of my own eyesight.”
And at that he drank as much and more
A hundredfold as he had done before.
And right anon this wrathful cursed wretch
Had this knight’s son before him fetched,
Commanding that before him he should stand,
And suddenly he took his bow in hand,
And pulled the string taut towards his ear,
And with an arrow slew the child right there.
“Now do I have a steady hand, or none?”
Quoth he. “Is all my mind and power gone?
Has wine deprived me of my eyesight?”
What answer was there for the sorry knight?
His son was slain; there is no more to say.
Beware, therefore, with lords how you play.
Sing: “Placebo”, and “I shall if I can”,
Unless it be to some poor old man.
To a poor man men should his vices tell,
But not to a lord, though on his way to Hell.
Behold, wrathful Cyrus, the Persian,
Who brought the river Gindes to ruin,
Because a horse of his was drowned therein,
When that he went for Babylon to win.
He ensured the river was left so narrow,
That women might wade across its shallows.
Lo, what Solomon taught, as none can:
“Be not the fellow to a wrathful man,
Nor with an angry man walk by the way
Lest you repent of it; that is all I say.”
Now, Thomas, dear brother, cease your anger.
You’ll find me true as is a joiner’s square.
Hold not the devil’s knife towards your heart –
Your anger causes you a bitter smart –
But make to me your whole confession.’
‘Nay,’ quoth the sick man, ‘by Saint Simon,
I’ve been shriven today by my curate.
I have told him of my whole estate;
There’s no more need to speak of it, said he,
Unless I wish, out of humility.’
‘Give me of your gold then for our cloister,’
Quoth he, ‘for many a mussel and many an oyster,
When others have eaten well, many a day,
Have been our food, our cloister for to raise.
And yet, God knows, the bare foundation
Nor yet our pavement, is scarcely done
There’s not a tile yet been laid,’ he groans,
‘By God, we still owe forty pounds for stones!
Now help, Thomas, for Him that harrowed Hell,
Or else must we our books go and sell.
And if you lacked our true instruction,
Then goes the world to its destruction.
For who would this world of us bereave,
So God me save, Thomas, by your leave,
He would bereave this world of the sun.
For who can teach and work as we can?
And have, for no little time,’ quoth he,
‘For since Elijah, and Elisha, we,
The friars, have, as the books record,
Done charity, and thanks be to our Lord!
Now, Thomas, help, for holy charity!’
And down anon he went on bended knee.
The sick man was well nigh mad with ire;
He wished the friar might be set afire,
With his falsehood and dissimulation.
‘Such as I have in my possession’
Quoth he, ‘that may I give, I have no other.
Did you say to me I am your brother?’
‘Yes, certainly,’ the friar said, ‘trust me;
I gave your dame a letter with our seal.’
‘Well now,’ quoth he, ‘something I shall give
Unto your holy convent while I live.
And in your hand have it you shall anon –
On this and on no other condition:
That you share it out, my dear brother,
So each friar has as much as every other.
This shall you swear, on your profession,
Without fraud or equivocation.’
‘I swear it,’ quoth the friar, ‘on my faith!’
And with that his hand in his he laid.
‘Lo here’s my faith, in me you’ll find no lack.’
‘Now then, put your hand down behind my back,’
Said the man, ‘and grope around behind,
Beneath my buttocks; there you will find
A thing that I have hidden secretly.’
‘Ah!’ thought the friar, ‘that will do for me!’
And down his hand he sank to the cleft,
In hopes of finding there a little gift.
And when the sick man felt the friar
Groping round his arse, here and there,
Into the friar’s hand he let fall a fart.
There was no dray-horse pulling on a cart
That could have farted with a louder sound.
The friar started up like an angry lion.
‘Ah, false churl!’ quoth he, ‘by God’s bones,
This was done for spite!’ The friar moans:
‘You’ll pay dearly for that fart, some day!’
The servants, who heard the whole affray,
Came leaping in and chased him from the place,
And off he went with a full angry face,
And fetched his comrade and all his store
Of goods, and fierce as champs a wild boar,
He ground his teeth, so great was his wrath.
At a swift pace to the manor he strode off,
Where there lived a man of great honour,
To whom he had ever been his confessor;
This worthy man was lord of the village.
The friar came there in a blinding rage
Where the lord sat eating at his board.
The friar could hardly utter a word,
Till at last he said, ‘God be with thee!’
The lord looked up, and said, ‘Benedicitee!
What, Friar John, what in the world is this?
I can see that something’s well amiss.
You look as if the wood was full of thieves!
Sit down anon, and tell me now what grieves,
And it shall be amended, if I may.’
‘I have,’ quoth he, ‘received insult today,
God keep you, down there in your village,
Such that there’s never so lowly a page
But that he would find it an abomination
That which I have received in your town.
And yet nothing grieves me so sore
As that this old churl with locks hoar,
Has blasphemed our holy convent too.’
‘Now master,’ quoth the lord, ‘I beseech you –’
‘Not master,’ quoth he, ‘but your servitor!
Though the schools have done me that honour,
God wishes not that “Rabbi” men should call,
Us, in the market-place, or your great hall.’
‘No matter,’ quoth he, ‘but tell me all your grief.’
‘Sir,’ quoth the friar, ‘an odious mischief
This day befell my order and me,
And so, per consequens, each degree
Of Holy Church, may God amend it soon!’
‘Sire,’ quoth the lord, ‘you know what must be done.
Never upset yourself, you are my confessor.
You are the salt of the earth and the savour;
For God’s love, keep patience and unfold
Your grief to me.’ And he anon him told
What you have heard before – you know what.
The lady of the house all quietly sat
Till she had heard all that the friar said.
‘Ey, God’s mother,’ quoth she, ‘blessed maid!
Is there aught else? Tell me faithfully.’
‘Madame,’ quoth he, ‘what do you think, say free?’
‘What do I think?’ quoth she, ‘So God me speed,
I say a churl has done a churl’s deed.
What should I say? God help such as he!
His sick head is so full of vanity.
I swear he’s in a frenzy of some kind.’
‘Madame,’ quoth he, ‘by God, I shall find
Some means on him vengeance to wreak,
I shall slander him wherever I speak,
The false blasphemer that charged me
With sharing where sharing cannot be,
With each man alike, curse his ignorance!’
The lord sat still as he were in a trance,
And in his thought he rolled up and down:
‘How had this churl the imagination
To set such a problem for the friar?
Never before has ear heard such a matter;
I swear the devil put it in his mind!
In arithmetic no man could find
Before this day such a subtle question.
Who could enact a demonstration
Where every man should have his part
Of the sound and savour of a fart?
O foolish proud churl, I curse his face!
Lo sires,’ quoth the lord, ‘in bad grace,
Who ever heard of such a thing till now?
To every man alike – well tell me how!
It is impossible, it may not be.
Ey, foolish churl, God never prosper thee!
The rumbling of a fart, and every sound,
Is only air reverberating round,
And ever it wastes, bit by bit, away.
There is no man can judge, by my faith,
Whether it has been shared out equally.
What, lo my churl, lo yet how shrewdly
To my confessor today he answered back!
I hold him sure to be a demoniac.
Now eat your meat, and let the churl go play;
Let him go hang himself, and devil away!’
The words of the lord’s squire and his carver for sharing the fart between twelve
Now stood the lord’s squire at the board,
Who carved his meat, and heard every word
Of all the thing I’ve told you, which is true.
‘My lord,’ quoth he, ‘and not to displease you,
But I could tell, for a gown’s worth of cloth,
To you, sir friar, as long as you be not wrath,
How this fart might be divided equally
Among your convent, if it was up to me.’
‘Tell,’ quoth the lord, ‘and thou shall have anon
A gown’s worth, by God and by Saint John!’
‘My lord,’ quoth he, ‘when the weather’s fair,
Without wind or perturbation of the air,
Let them bring a cartwheel here into the hall.
But look that it have its spokes, one and all –
Twelve spokes has a cartwheel generally.
And bring me then twelve friars – why? You’ll see.
For thirteen make a convent, I would guess.
Your confessor here, for his worthiness,
Shall make up the number of this convent.
Then shall they kneel down, with their assent,
And to every spoke’s end in this manner
Full firmly lay his nose there shall a friar.
Your noble confessor, may God him save,
Shall hold his nose up right beneath the nave.
Then the churl, with belly stiff and taut,
As any drum, hither he shall be brought,
And set upon the wheel of the cart,
Upon the nave, the hub, and let him fart.
And you shall see, on peril of my head,
By proof demonstrative, as I have said,
That equally the sound of it will wend,
Just as the stink, to the spokes’ far end.
Save that this worthy man, your confessor,
Because he is a man of great honour,
Shall have the first fruit, as right it is.
The noble custom friars keep is this,
The worthiest of them shall first be served,
And certainly he has it well deserved.
He has taught us today so much good,
Preaching in the pulpit where he stood,
That I shall grant him, if it’s up to me,
The first smell of every fart, say three.
And so would all his convent, certainly;
He bears himself so fair and holily.’
The lord, the lady, and all save the friar,
Said that Jankin’s answer rated higher
Than any man’s but Euclid and Ptolemy.
As for the churl, they said that subtlety
And great wit made him answer back
In such a way, he was no demoniac.
And Jankin has won himself a new gown.
My tale is done; we’re almost in the town.
Here ends the Summoner’s Tale