The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Freres Tale

This worthy preacher, I mene this noble Frere,

He made always a maner of angry cheere

Upon the Somnour, but for honestee

No vileyn worde yit to him spak he.

But atte last he sayd unto the wyf,

“Dame,” quoth he, “God yive you al good lyf!

Ye have here touchid, so God prosper me,

Upon a mater of gret difficulté.

Ye have sayd moche thing right wel, I say;

But, dame, right as we ryden by the way,

We neede nought but for to speke of game,

And leeve auctorités, in Goddes name,

To preching and to scoles of clergie.

But if it like to this good companye,

I wil you of a somnour telle a game;

In faith, ye may wel knowe by the name,

That of a somnour may no good be sayd;

I pray that noon be wroth with that is seyd;

A somnour is a runner up and doun

Wyth licenses for fornicacioun,

And is y-bete at every tounes ende.”

Our hoste spak, “A! sir, ye sholde amende
Your wordes, as a man of your estate,
In company we wil have no debat;
Tell on your tale, and let the Somnour be.”
“Nay,” quoth the Somnour, “let him say to me
What so him list; whan it cometh to my lot,
By God! I shal him quyten every grote.
I shal him tellen, what a gret honoúr
It is to be a false flatteryng frere.
And his offis I shal him telle i-wis.”
Our host answerde, “Pees, no more of this.”
And after this he sayd unto the Frere,
“Tell forth your tale, my leve maister deere.”

Whilom there was dwellyng in my countree
And archedeken, a man of gret degree,
That boldely did execucioún,
In punyshyng of fornicacioún,
Of witchecraft, and eek of bauderye,
Of diffamacioun, and adultery,
Of chirche- plunder, and of testamentes,
Of contractes, and of lak of sacraments,
And eek of many another maner cryme,
Which need not be rehersèd at this tyme;
Of usury, and of symony also;
But most to lecchours did he grettest wo;
Thay shulde syng, to be discoverèd;
And smale tythers thay were punisshèd,
If eny persoun wold on them compleyne,
Ther might astert him no pecunial peyne.
For smale tythes and for smal offrynge,
He made the peple piteously to synge.
For ere the bisshop caught to them in his hook,
They weren in the archedeknes book:
And he hadde thurgh his jurediccioún
Power to do to them correccioún.
He had a somnour redy to his hand,
A slyer boy was noon in Engeland;
Ful prively he had his spyes aboute,
That taughte him wher he might get many a grote.
He coude spare the wicked one or tuo,
To fine and punish four and twenty mo.
For though this somnour fierce were as an hare,
To telle his wickednesse I will not spare;
For we be out of there correccioún,
They have of us no jurediccioún,
And never shal until thay al be gon.
“Peter! so be the wommen of the toun,”
Quod this Somnour, “i-put out of oure care.”
“Pees! mischief on thee, wolt thou not him spare?”
Thus sayd our host, “to tellen forth his tale.
Hold not thy tong, although the Somnour rail,
Spare not a word, myn owne maister deere.”

This false theef, the somnour, quoth the frere,
Had alway bawdes redy to his hond,
As eny hauk to lure in Engelond,
That told him al the secrets up and doun,
For there acqueintaunce was in al the toun;
Thay were his own informers prively.
He took himself a gret profyt therby;
His maister knew nat alway what he won.
Withoute permission, a poore man
He coude summon, on peyne of Cristes curs,
And thay were glad to fille wel his purs,
And make him grete festis at the ale.
And right as Judas he hadde a purse smale
And was a theef, right such a theef was he,
His maister had not half his duetee;
He was (if I shal given him his due)
A theef, a somnour, and eek a shrew.
And he had wenches at his retenue,
That whethir that sir Robert or sir Hughe,
Or Jak, or Rauf, or who-so that it were,
That lay by them, thay told it in his eere.
Thus were the wenche and he of one assent.
And he wold fecche a feyned commaundement,
And somne them to chapitre both tuo,
And fine the man, and let the wenche go.
Than wold he say, “I shal, frend, for thy sake,
Do strike thy name out of oure lettres blake;
Thou shalt no more as in this cas traváyle;
I am thy frend where I thee may avayle.”
And certeynly he knew of bribours mo
Than possible is to telle in yeres tuo;
For in this world no dogge for the bowe,
That can an hurt deer from an whole knowe,
Better than this somnour knew a leccheour,
Or adulterer, or else a paramour;
And for that was the fruyt of al his rent,
Therfore, theron he set al his entent.

And so bifel, that once upon a day
This somnour, ever watchyng for his pray,
Rode forth to somne a widew, lean and olde,
Feynyng a cause, for he wolde winne golde.
And happede that he saw bifore him ryde
A gay yeoman under a forest syde;
A bow he bar, and arrows bright and kene,
He had upon a short cote al of grene,
An hat upon his hed, with fringes blake.
“Sir,” quod this somnour, “heyl and wel overtake!”
“Welcome,” quoth he, “and every felawe good;
Whider ridest thou under this grene wood?”
Sayde this yeoman, “Wilt thou go far to day?
This somnour answered him, and sayde, “Nay
Her faste by,” quoth he, “is myn entent
To ryden, for to reysen up a rent
That longith to my lordes duetee.”
“Art thou a bailif then?” “I am,” quoth he.
He durste not for verray filth and shame
Say that he was a somnour, for the name.
De par dieux!” quod the yeoman, “lieve brother,
Thou art a bailif and I am another.
I am unknowen, as in this contree;
Of thin acqueintance I wil praye the,
And eek of brotherhood, if it you list.
I have gold and silver in my chest;
If that thee happe to come into oure shire,
Al shal be thin, right as thou wolt desire.”
Graunt mercy,” quoth this sommour, “by my faith!”
Each in the others hand his trothe laith,
For to be sworne bretheren til thay dey.
In daliaúnce forth thay ride and pley.

This somnour, which was as ful of questioún,
As ful of venym is the adder broun,
And ever enquéring upon every thing,
“Brother,” quoth he, “wher now is your dwellyng,
Another day if that I shuld you seeche?”
This yeoman him answered in softe speche:
“Brother,” quoth he, “fer in the north contré
Wheras I hope somtyme I shal thee see
Ere we depart I shal the so wel say,
That to myn hous thou shalt not misse the wey.”
“Now, brother,” quoth this somnour, “I you pray,
Teche me, whil that we ryden by the way,
Since that ye be a baily as am I,
Som subtiltee, and tel me faithfully
In myn office how I may golde wynne.
And spare not for consciens or for synne,
But, as my brother, tel me how do ye.”

“Now, by my trothe, brothir myn,” sayd he,
“As I shal telle thee a faithful tale.
My wages be ful streyt and eek ful smale;
My lord to me is hard and dangerous,
And myn office is ful laborious;
And therfor by extorcioúns I lyve,
Forsoth I take al that men wil me give,
Either by sleight or else by violence
Fro yer to yer I wynne my expense;
I can no better telle faithfully.”

“Now certes,” quoth this somnour, “so fare I;
I spare not to take, God it wot,
Unlesse it be too hevy or too hot.
What I may get in counseil privily,
No more consciens of that have I.
Withoute extorcións, I might not lyven,
And of such japes I wil not be shriven.
Stomak or conscience know I never noon;
I curse thes shrifte-fadres every one.
Wel be we met, by God and by seint Jame!
But, leve brother, telle me thy name,”
Quoth this somnour. And in this mene-while
This yeoman gan a litel for to smyle.
“Brothir,” quoth he, “wolt thou that I thee telle?
I am a feend, my dwellyng is in helle,
And here I ryde about my wandering,
To wite if men wol give me eny thing.
My gathering on erthe is al my rent.
Loke how thou ridest for the same entent
To wynne good, thou rekkist never how,
Right so fare I, for ryde I wolde now
Unto the worldes ende for a prey.”

“A!” quoth the somnour, “bencite, what ye say?
I thought ye were a yeoman trewely.
Ye have a mannes shape as wel as I,
Have ye a figure then determinate
In helle, when ye be in your estate?”

“Nay, certeynly,” quoth he, “ther have we non,
But whan we plesen we can take one on,
Or else we make it seme that we be shape
Som tyme like a man, or like an ape;
Or lik an aungel can I ryde or go;
It is no wonder thing though it be so
A lousy juggelour can decyve thee,
And, parfay, yit know I more craft than he.”

“Why,” quoth this somnour, “ryde ye then or gon
In sondry wyse, and nought alway in one?”
“For,” quoth he, “we wil us in such forme make,
As moste fit oure pray is for to take.”
“What makith you to have al this laboúr?”
“Ful many a cause, lieve sir somnour,”
Sayde this feend. “But al thing hath a tyme;
The day is short, and it is passèd prime,
And yit have I won nothing in this day;
I wol wynne somwhat now and if I may,
And not entende oure thinges to declare;
For, brother myn, thy wit is al too bare
To understond, although I told them thee.
Yet, as thou axid whi laboúre we;
Som tyme we be Goddis instrumentes
And menes to don al his comaundementes,
Whan that he list, upon his créatúres,
In divers acts and in divérs figúres.
Withouten him we have no might certéyn,
If that he pleseth to sende us back agayn.
And som tyme at our prayer have we leeve,
Only the body, and not the soule to greve;
Witnes on Job, to whom we dide ful wo.
And som tyme have we might on bothe tuo,
This is to say on body and soule eeke.
And som tyme be we suffred for to wreak
Upon a man, and do his soule unrest
And not his body, and al is for the best.
When he withstondith oure temptacioún,
It is a cause of his salvacioún,
Al be it so it was nought oure thought
He safe is though we fayn wold have him caughte.
And som tyme we be servaunt unto man,
As to the erchebisshop seynt Dunstán,
And to the apostolis, servaunt eek was I.”

“Yit tel me,” quoth the somnour, “faithfully,
Make ye newe bodies for you alway
Of elements?” The fend him answerde, “Nay;
Som tyme we feyne, and som tyme we aryse
With dede bodies, in ful wonder wyse,
And speke resonably, and as fair and wel
As to the Pythonesse dede Samuel;
And yit wol somme say, it was not he.
I know but lytel of your divinitee.
But one thing warne I thee, I wol not jape,
Thou woldest fully know how we be shape:
Thou shalt herafter-ward, my brother deere,
Com, wher thee nedith nothing to enqueere,
For thou shalt by thin own experience
Here from a throne read al thy sentence
Better than Virgile, whils he was on erthe,
Or Dante also. Now let us ryde forthe,
For I wil holde company with thee,
Til it be so that thou forsake me.”

“Nay,” quoth the somnour, “that shal nought betyde.
I am a yeoman that knowen is ful wyde;
My trothe wil I holde, as in this case.
For though thou be the devyl Sathanas,
My trothe wil I holde to thee, my brother,
As I am swore, and ech of us to other,
For to be trewe bretheren in intent;
For bothe we go aboute to get oure rent.
Tak thou thi part, and that men wil the gyven,
And I shal myn, thus may we bothe lyven.
And if ech one of us have more than other,
Let him be trewe, and part it with his brother.”
“I graunte,” quod the devel, “by my fay!”
And with that word thay riden forth there way;
And right at the entryng of a townes ende,
To which this somnour shaped him for to wende,
Thay saw a cart, that chargid was with hay,
Which that a carter drof forth in his way.
Deep was the way, for which the carte stood;

This carter smote, and cryde as he wer wood,
“Hayt, brok; hayt, scot; why care ye for the stones?
The fend,” quoth he, “you fetch body and bones,
As true as ever in stable ye were foled!
So moche wo I have with you y-tholed!
The devyl have al, both cart and hors and hay!”
This somnour sayde, “Her shal we see som play.”
And nere the feend he drough, in secret wyse,
Ful privily, and softe did him avyse,
“Herke, my brother, herke, by thi faith!
Herest thou not that which the carter saith?
Take it anon, for he hath given it the,
Bothe hay and hors, and eek his cart, pardé!”
“Nay,” quoth the devyl, “God wot, never a whit,
It is nought his entente, trust me yit,
Ask it thiself, if thou not trowist me,
Or else stint a while and thou shalt see.”
This carter smiteth his hors upon the croupe,
And thay bygonne to drawen and to stowpe.
“Hayt now,” quoth he, “where Jhesu Crist you blesse,
And al his hondwerk, bothe more and lesse!
That was wel pulled, myn oune brave boy,
I pray God save thy body and seint Loy!
Now is my cart out of the sloo parfay!”
“Lo! brother,” quoth the feend, “what told I thee?
Her may ye see, myn owne deere brother,
The carter spak one thing, and thought another.
Let us go forth abouten our viáge;
Hier wynne I nothing from this cariáge.”

Whan that thay comen somwhat on the way,
This somnour to his brothir gan to say;
“Brothir,” quoth he, “her dwelleth an old wife,
That had almost as lief to lose hir lif,
As for to give a peny of hir good.
I wil have twelf pens though that she go wood,
Or I wil summon hir to oure office;
And yit, God wot, I know of hir no vice.
But for thou canst not, as in this countree,
Wynne thy rent, tak here ensample from me.”
This somnour clappèd at the widowes gate;
“Com out,” quothe he, “thou olde reprobate;
I trowe thou hast som frere or priest with thee.”
“Who clappith?” sayd this widow, “bencité,
God save you, sir! what is your swete wille?”
“I have,” quoth he, “a summons in a bille,
On payne of cursyng, loke that thou be
To morwe biforn our archedeknes knee,
To answer to the court of certeyn thinges.”
“Nou,” quoth she, “Jesu Crist, and king of kinges,
So wisly helpe me, as I not may.
I have ben seek, and that ful many a day.
I may not go so fer;” quoth she, “nor ryde,
But I be deed, so prikith me my syde.
May I nat aske excuse, sir somnour,
And answer ther by my procúratoúr
To suche thing as men wol charge to me?”
“Yis,” quoth this somnour, “pay anon, let see,
Twelf pens to me, and I thee wil acquite.
I shal no profyt have therby or lite;
My mayster hath the profyt and not I.
Com out, and let me ryden hastily;
Gif me my twelf pens, I may no lenger tary.”
“Twelf pens?” quoth she, “now lady seinte Mary
So wisly help me out of care and synne,
This wyde worlde though that I shulde wynne,
Lo, have I not twelf pens withinne myn hold.
Ye knowen wel that I am pore and old;
Give of youre almes to me a pore wretche.”
“Nay then,” quoth he, “the foule fend me fetche!
If I thee excuse, though thou shalt be spilt.”
“Allas!” quoth she, “God wot, I have no gilt.”
“Pay me,” quoth he, “or by the swete seint Anne
As I wol bere away thy newe panne
For dette, which thou owest me of old,
Whan that thou madest thin housbond cuckold,
I payd at hom for thy correccioún.”
“Thou liest,” quoth she, “by my salvacioun,
Nor was I never ere now, wydow ne wyf,
Summond unto your court in al my lyf;
Nor never I was of my body untrewe.
Unto the devel rough and blak of hiewe
Give I thy body and the panne also!”
And when the devyl herd hir curse so
Upon hir knees, he sayd in this manére:
“Now, Mabely, myn owne modir deere,
Is this your wil in ernest that ye seye?”
“The devel,” quoth she, “fetche him ere he deye,
And panne and al, unless he wol repente!”

“Nay, olde dame, that is not myn entente,”
Quoth this somnour, “for to repente me
For eny thing that I have had of thee;
I wold I had thy smok and every cloth.”

“Now brothir,” quoth the devyl, “be not wroth;
Thy body and this panne is myn by right.
Thou shalt with me to helle yit to night,
Wher thou shalt knowen of our privitee
More than a maister of divinitee.”

And with that word the foule fend him hente;
Body and soule, he with the devyl wente,
Wher al the somnours have their heritage;
And God that makèd after his ymáge
Mankynde, save and gyde us alle and some,
And teche this somnour good man to bycome.

“Lordyngs, I coud have told you,” quoth the frere,
“Had I had leysir for this somnour here,
After the text of Crist, and Powel, and Jon,
And of oure other doctours many a one,
Such peynes that our herte might affrighte,
Al be it so, no tonge may tell aright,
Though that I might a thousand wynter telle,
The peyn of that same cursèd hous of helle.
But for to kepe us from that cursèd place,
Watch we and pray to Jesu for his grace,
So kepe us fro the temptour Sathanas.
Herken this word, be war as in this case.
The lyoun sitteth watching al the day
To slay the innocent, if that he may.
Dispose then youre hertes to withstonde
The feend, that wolde make you thral and bonde;
He may not tempte yow beyond your might,
For Crist wil be your champioun and knight;
And praye, that oure Somnour him repente
Of his mysdede, ere that the feend him hente.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52