The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Prioresses Tale.

The Prologe of the Prioresses Tale.

Domine, dominus noster.

O Lord our lord, thy name how merveillous

Is in this large worlde y-sprad — quod she:—

1645

For noght only thy laude precious

Parfourned is by men of dignitee,

But by the mouth of children thy bountee

Parfourned is, for on the brest soukinge

Som tyme shewen they thyn heryinge.

Heading. From E. Hn. (Hn. proheme, for prologe). Cp. has — Here begynneth the tale of Alma redemptoris, the prioresses Tale. Prolog. Domine Dominus noster.

1650

Wherfor in laude, as I best can or may,

Of thee, and of the whyte lily flour

(10)

Which that thee bar, and is a mayde alway,

To telle a storie I wol do my labour;

Not that I may encresen hir honour;

1655

For she hir-self is honour, and the rote

Of bountee, next hir sone, and soules bote. —

1651. E. om. whyte.

O moder mayde! o mayde moder free!

O bush unbrent, brenninge in Moyses sighte,

That ravisedest doun fro the deitee,

1660

Thurgh thyn humblesse, the goost that in thalighte,

Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,

(20)

Conceived was the fadres sapience,

Help me to telle it in thy reverence!

1660. Hl. Cp. the alight.

Lady! thy bountee, thy magnificence,

1665

Thy vertu, and thy grete humilitee

Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;

For som-tyme, lady, er men praye to thee,

Thou goost biforn of thy benignitee,

And getest us the light, thurgh thy preyere,

1670

To gyden us un-to thy sone so dere.

1669. Hn. Slo. Ln. Hl. the] E. thurgh; Cp. Pt. to.   E. Hn. of; but the rest thurgh.

My conning is so wayk, o blisful quene,

(30)

For to declare thy grete worthinesse,

That I ne may the weighte nat sustene,

But as a child of twelf monthe old, or lesse,

1675

That can unnethes any word expresse,

Right so fare I, and therfor I yow preye,

Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.

Explicit.

1675. Cp. Pt. Hl. vnnethes. E. Hn. vnnethe.

Here biginneth the Prioresses Tale.

Ther was in Asie, in a greet citee,

Amonges cristen folk, a Iewerye,

1680

Sustened by a lord of that contree

For foule usure and lucre of vilanye,

(40)

Hateful to Crist and to his companye;

And thurgh the strete men mighte ryde or wende,

For it was free, and open at either ende.

Heading. From E. Hn. has — Here biggynneth the Prioresse tale of Alma redemptoris mater.

1685

A litel scole of cristen folk ther stood

Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were

Children an heep, y-comen of cristen blood,

That lerned in that scole yeer by yere

Swich maner doctrine as men used there,

1690

This is to seyn, to singen and to rede,

As smale children doon in hir childhede.

(50)

Among thise children was a widwes sone,

A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,

That day by day to scole was his wone,

1695

And eek also, wher-as he saugh thimage

Of Cristes moder, hadde he in usage,

As him was taught, to knele adoun and seye

His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.

1695. Cp. Pt. Ln. the ymage.   1696. E. he hadde.

Thus hath this widwe hir litel sone y-taught

1700

Our blisful lady, Cristes moder dere,

To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,

(60)

For sely child wol alday sone lere;

But ay, whan I remembre on this matere,

Seint Nicholas stant ever in my presence,

1705

For he so yong to Crist did reverence.

1701. E. Pt. forgate.   1702. Hn. Hl. alwey.

This litel child, his litel book lerninge,

As he sat in the scole at his prymer,

He Alma redemptoris herde singe,

As children lerned hir antiphoner;

1710

And, as he dorste, he drough him ner and ner,

And herkned ay the wordes and the note,

(70)

Til he the firste vers coude al by rote.

Noght wiste he what this Latin was to seye,

For he so yong and tendre was of age;

1715

But on a day his felaw gan he preye

Texpounden him this song in his langage,

Or telle him why this song was in usage;

This preyde he him to construe and declare

Ful ofte tyme upon his knowes bare.

1719. E. Hl. often.

1720

His felaw, which that elder was than he,

Answerde him thus: ‘this song, I have herd seye,

(80)

Was maked of our blisful lady free,

Hir to salue, and eek hir for to preye

To been our help and socour whan we deye.

1725

I can no more expounde in this matere;

I lerne song, I can but smal grammere.’

1725. E. Hn. na.

‘And is this song maked in reverence

Of Cristes moder?’ seyde this innocent;

‘Now certes, I wol do my diligence

1730

To conne it al, er Cristemasse is went;

Though that I for my prymer shal be shent,

(90)

And shal be beten thryës in an houre,

I wol it conne, our lady for to honoure.’

1733. Cp. Pt. Hl. omit for.

His felaw taughte him homward prively,

1735

Fro day to day, til he coude it by rote,

And than he song it wel and boldely

Fro word to word, acording with the note;

Twyës a day it passed thurgh his throte,

To scoleward and homward whan he wente;

1740

On Cristes moder set was his entente.

As I have seyd, thurgh-out the Iewerye

(100)

This litel child, as he cam to and fro,

Ful merily than wolde he singe, and crye

O Alma redemptoris ever-mo.

1745

The swetnes hath his herte perced so

Of Cristes moder, that, to hir to preye,

He can nat stinte of singing by the weye.

1741. E. Iuerie.   1743. Slo. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. than; E. Hn. omit.   1745. Slo. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. hath; E. Hn. omit.

Our firste fo, the serpent Sathanas,

That hath in Iewes herte his waspes nest,

1750

Up swal, and seide, ‘o Hebraik peple, allas!

Is this to yow a thing that is honest,

(110)

That swich a boy shal walken as him lest

In your despyt, and singe of swich sentence,

Which is agayn your lawes reverence?’

1754. Hl. your; Pt. Ln. ȝoure; E. Hn. Cm. Cp. oure.

1755

Fro thennes forth the Iewes han conspyred

This innocent out of this world to chace;

An homicyde ther-to han they hyred,

That in an aley hadde a privee place;

And as the child gan for-by for to pace,

1760

This cursed Iew him hente and heeld him faste,

And kitte his throte, and in a pit him caste.

(120)

I seye that in a wardrobe they him threwe

Wher-as these Iewes purgen hir entraille.

O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,

1765

What may your yvel entente yow availle?

Mordre wol out, certein, it wol nat faille,

And namely ther thonour of god shal sprede,

The blood out cryeth on your cursed dede.

1767. thonour] Cp. Pt. Ln. honour.

‘O martir, souded to virginitee,

1770

Now maystou singen, folwing ever in oon

The whyte lamb celestial,’ quod she,

(130)

‘Of which the grete evangelist, seint Iohn,

In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon

Biforn this lamb, and singe a song al newe,

1775

That never, fleshly, wommen they ne knewe.’

This povre widwe awaiteth al that night

After hir litel child, but he cam noght;

For which, as sone as it was dayes light,

With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,

1780

She hath at scole and elles-wher him soght,

Til finally she gan so fer espye

(140)

That he last seyn was in the Iewerye.

With modres pitee in hir brest enclosed,

She gooth, as she were half out of hir minde,

1785

To every place wher she hath supposed

By lyklihede hir litel child to finde;

And ever on Cristes moder meke and kinde

She cryde, and atte laste thus she wroghte,

Among the cursed Iewes she him soghte.

1790

She frayneth and she preyeth pitously

To every Iew that dwelte in thilke place,

(150)

To telle hir, if hir child wente oght for-by.

They seyde, ‘nay’; but Iesu, of his grace,

Yaf in hir thought, inwith a litel space,

1795

That in that place after hir sone she cryde,

Wher he was casten in a pit bisyde.

1794. inwith] Cm. Cp. Hl. withinne.

O grete god, that parfournest thy laude

By mouth of innocents, lo heer thy might!

This gemme of chastitee, this emeraude,

1800

And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,

Ther he with throte y-corven lay upright,

(160)

He ’Alma redemptoris‘ gan to singe

So loude, that al the place gan to ringe.

The Cristen folk, that thurgh the strete wente,

1805

In coomen, for to wondre up-on this thing,

And hastily they for the provost sente;

He cam anon with-outen tarying,

And herieth Crist that is of heven king,

And eek his moder, honour of mankinde,

1810

And after that, the Iewes leet he binde,

1805. Cp. Pt. wondren on; Ln. wonderne of; E. Hn. wondre vpon; Hl. wonder vpon; Cm. wonderyn vp-on.

This child with pitous lamentacioun

(170)

Up-taken was, singing his song alway;

And with honour of greet processioun

They carien him un-to the nexte abbay.

1815

His moder swowning by the bere lay;

Unnethe might the peple that was there

This newe Rachel bringe fro his bere.

1815. E. Hn. his; rest the; see l. 1817.   1817. Cm. Hl. the; rest his.

With torment and with shamful deth echon

This provost dooth thise Iewes for to sterve

1820

That of this mordre wiste, and that anon;

He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.

(180)

Yvel shal have, that yvel wol deserve.

Therfor with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,

And after that he heng hem by the lawe.

1819. E. the; rest thise, these.   1822. E. Cm. shal he; Pt. he shal; rest omit he.

1825

Up-on his here ay lyth this innocent

Biforn the chief auter, whyl masse laste,

And after that, the abbot with his covent

Han sped hem for to burien him ful faste;

And whan they holy water on him caste,

1830

Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was holy water,

And song —’O Alma redemptoris mater!’

1825. Hn. Hl. his; the rest this.   1826. E. Hn. Cm. Hl. the masse; Cp. Pt. Ln. omit the.   1827. Hl. thabbot.

(190)

This abbot, which that was an holy man

As monkes been, or elles oghten be,

This yonge child to coniure he bigan,

1835

And seyde, ‘o dere child, I halse thee,

In vertu of the holy Trinitee,

Tel me what is thy cause for to singe,

Sith that thy throte is cut, to my seminge?’

‘My throte is cut un-to my nekke-boon,’

1840

Seyde this child, ‘and, as by wey of kinde,

I sholde have deyed, ye, longe tyme agoon,

(200)

But Iesu Crist, as ye in bokes finde,

Wil that his glorie laste and be in minde,

And, for the worship of his moder dere,

1845

Yet may I singe “O Alma“ loude and clere.

This welle of mercy, Cristes moder swete,

I lovede alwey, as after my conninge;

And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,

To me she cam, and bad me for to singe

1850

This antem verraily in my deyinge,

As ye han herd, and, whan that I had songe,

(210)

Me thoughte, she leyde a greyn up-on my tonge.

1850. Cm. Cp. Pt. anteme; Ln. antime; Hl. antym; Hn. antheme; E. Anthephen.

Wherfor I singe, and singe I moot certeyn

In honour of that blisful mayden free,

1855

Til fro my tonge of-taken is the greyn;

And afterward thus seyde she to me,

“My litel child, now wol I fecche thee

Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge y-take;

Be nat agast, I wol thee nat forsake."’

1860

This holy monk, this abbot, him mene I,

His tonge out-caughte, and took a-wey the greyn,

(220)

And he yaf up the goost ful softely.

And whan this abbot had this wonder seyn,

His salte teres trikled doun as reyn,

1865

And gruf he fil al plat up-on the grounde,

And stille he lay as he had been y-bounde.

1864. E. Hn. Cm. trikled; Cp. Pt. stryked; Ln. strikled; Hl. striken.   1866. Cp. Hl. ben; Pt. Ln. bene; E. Hn. Cm. Ieyn.

The covent eek lay on the pavement

Weping, and herien Cristes moder dere,

And after that they ryse, and forth ben went,

1870

And toke awey this martir fro his bere,

And in a tombe of marbul-stones clere

(230)

Enclosen they his litel body swete;

Ther he is now, god leve us for to mete.

1869. Hl. thay went; rest been, ben, bene went.   1870. E. tooken; Hl. took; rest toke.   1871. E. temple; rest tombe, toumbe.   1873. E. alle for; rest omit alle.

O yonge Hugh of Lincoln, slayn also

1875

With cursed Iewes, as it is notable,

For it nis but a litel whyle ago;

Preye eek for us, we sinful folk unstable,

That, of his mercy, god so merciable

(237)

On us his grete mercy multiplye,

1880

For reverence of his moder Marye. Amen.

Here is ended the Prioresses Tale.

1876. Cp. Pt. Ln. Hl. nys; E. Hn. Cm. is.   Colophon. From E.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37