The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Seconde Nonnes Tale

The nurse and minister to evil within,

Which that men clepe in English ydelnesse,

She is the porter at the gates of sin,

Eschew her, and by her contrary her oppresse,

That is to say, by lawful besynesse,

Wel oughte we our business to fulfil,

Lest that the Fiend thurgh ydelnesse us spill.

For he that with his thousand cordes slye
Continuelly wayteth us to get,
When he may man in ydelnes espye,
He can so lightly catche him in his net,
Til that a man be caught and sure beset,
He is nought ware the fend hath him in honde;
Wel oughte we werk, and ydelnes withstonde.

And though men dredde never for to deye,
Yet see men wel by resoun douteless,
That ydelnes is roten sloggardye,
Of which ther cometh never good increase;
But sin that sloth ay holdeth in a leash,
Only to sleep, and for to drink and ete,
And to devouren al that others get.

And for to put from us such ydleness,
That cause is of so gret confusioún,
I have here don my faithful busyness
After the legende in translacioún
Right of this glorious lif and passioún,
Thou with thi garland, wrought with rose and lylye,
Thee mene I, mayde and martir Cecilie;

And thou, that flour of holy virgines alle,
Of whom that Bernard loved so wel to write,
To thee at my bygynnyng first I calle;
Thou comfort of us wretches, make me endite
Thy mayden deth, that won thurgh hir merite
Theternal lif, and of the fiend victórie,
As man may after reden in her storie.

Thou mayde and moder, doughter of thi sone,
Thou welle of mercy, synful soules cure,
Whom that heigh God in bountee chose allone;
Humblest and best of every créatúre,
Thou didst enoble so far our natúre,
That no disdeyn the maker had of kynde
His son in blood and flessh to clothe and wind.

Withinne the cloyster of thi blisful sydes,
Took mannes shape the eternal love and peace,
That of the triple compas lord and guyde is,
The lord whom erthe and heven, land and seas
Ay praisen; and thou, virgine spotteless,
Bare of thy body, and dwellest mayden pure,
The créatoúr of every créatúre.

Assembled is in thee magnificence
With mercy, goodnes, and with such pitee,
That thou, that art the summe of excellence,
Not only helpist them that prayen thee,
But ofte tyme of thy benignitee
Ful frely, ere that men thin help beseech.
Thou goest bifore, and art their lives leech.

Now help, thou meke and blisful faire mayde,
Me exile wrecche, in this desert of galle;
Thenk on the womman Canaanite, that sayde
That whelpes ete some of the crumbes alle
That from their lordes table be i-falle;
And though that I, unworthy son of Eve,
Be synful, yet accepte my bileve.
And for that faith is deth withoute werks,
So for to werken give me wit and space,
That I be quit fro alle that most derk is;
O thou, that art so fair and ful or grace,
Be myn advócat in that hihe place,
There where withouten ende is sung Osanne,
Thou Cristes mother, doughter deere of Anne.

And with thi light my soule in prisoun light,
That troubled is by the contagioún
Of my bodý, and also by the weight
Of every lust and fals affeccioún;
O haven of refuge, o salvacioún
Of them that be in sorrow and in destresse,
Now help, for to my werk I wil me addresse.

Yet pray I you who reden that I write,
Forgeve me, that I do no diligence
This same story subtly to endite.
For both have I the wordes and the sense
Of him, that in the seintes reverence
The story wrote, and follow her legende,
And pray you that ye wil my werk amende

First wil I you the name of seint Cecilie
Expound, as men may in her story see;
It is to say on English, hevens lilie,
For pure chastenesse of virginitee;
Or that she witnesse hadde of honestee
And clean of conscience was and of good fame
The sweete savour, lilie was her name.

Or Cecile meneth this, the way of the blynde,
For she ensample was by way of techyng;
Or elles Cecily, as I writen fynde,
Is joynèd by a maner of conjoynynge
O heven and Lia, and here in figurynge
The heven is sette for thought of holynesse,
And Lia, for hir lastyng besynesse.

Cecili may eek be meant in this manére,
Wantyng of blyndnes, for hir grete light
Of sapience, and of all those graces cleere.
Or elles lo, this maydenes name bright
Of heven and Laos comes, of which by right
Men might her wel the heven of peple calle,
Ensample of goode and wise werkes alle.

For Laos peple in Englissh is to say;
And right as men may in the heven see
The sonne and moone, and sterres every way,
Right so men holy in this mayden free
See of true faith the magnanimitee,
And eek the clernes whole of sapience,
And sondry werkes, bright of excellence.

And right so as these philosófres wryte,
That heven is swyft and round, and eek burníng,
Right so was faire Cecily the whyte
Ful swyft and besy ever in good werkýnge,
And round and whole in good perséverynge,
And burning ever in charitee ful flame;
Now have I you declarèd all her name.

This mayden bright Cecilie, as her lyf saith,
Was comen of Romayns and of noble kynde,
And from her cradel fostred in the faith
Of Crist, and bare his Gospel in her mynde;
She never cessèd, as I writen fynde,
From here prayer, and God to love and drede,
Byseching him to kepe her maydenhede.

And when this mayde shuld unto a man
Y-wedded be, that was ful yong of age,
Which that i-namèd was Valirian,
And day was comen of her mariáge,
She ful devout and humble in hir corráge,
Under hir robe of gold, that sat ful faire,
Hadde next hir flessh a schirt al made of heire.

And whil the organs made melodie,
To God allone in herte thus sang she;
“O Lord, my soule and eek my body be
Unspotted, lest that I confounded be.”
And for his love that deyde upon a tree,
Every secónd or thirdde day she faste,
Ay biddyng in her orisouns ful faste.

The nyght cam, and to bedde most she goon
With her housbond, as oft is the manere,
And privily to him she sayde anon;
“O swete and wel bilovèd spouse deere,
Ther is a counseil, if ye wold it heere,
Which that right fayn I wold unto you saye,
So that ye swere ye shul it not bytraye.”

Valirian gan fast unto hir swere,
That for no case or thing that mighte be,
He sholde never for nothing bytreye her;
And thenne at erst thus to him sayde she;
“I have an aungel which that loveth me,
That with gret love, whether I wake or slepe,
Is redy ay my body for to kepe;
“And if that he may knowen, by my hede,
That ye me touche or love in vilonye,
He right anon wil slay you with the dede,
And in youre youthe thus ye shulde dye.

And if that ye with clene love me eye,
He wol you love as me, for your clennesse,
And shewe to you his joye and his brightnesse.”

Valirian, corrected as God wolde,
Answerde agayn: “If I shal truste thee,
Let me that aungel see and him biholde;
And if that it a very aungel be,
Than wil I do as thou hast prayèd me;
And if thou love another man forsothe
Right with this swerd than wil I slee you bothe.”

Cecilie answerd anon right in this wise;
“If that you list, the aungel shul ye see,
So that ye trust on Crist, and you baptise;
Go forth to Via Apia,” quoth she,
“That from this toun standeth but myles three,
And to the pore folkes that there duelle
Say them right thus, as that I shal you telle.

“Telle them, I Cecilie you unto them sent,
To shewen you the good Urbán the olde,
For secret needes, and for good entent;
And when that ye seint Urban have byholde,
Tel him the wordes which that I yow tolde;
And when that he fro sinne hath purged you free,
Than shul ye se that aungel guardyng me.”

Valirian is to the place y-gon,
And right as him was taught by his lernynge,
He found this holy old Urbán anon
Among the seyntes tombes there livinge;
And he anon withoute taryinge
Did his messáge, and when that he it tolde,
Urban for joye his handes gan upholde.

The teres from his eyen let he falle;
“Almyghty Lord, O Jhesu Crist,” quoth he,
“Sower of chaste counseil, shepherd of alle,
The fruyt of that same seed of chastitee
That thou hast sown in Cecilie, tak to thee;
Loo, lik a busy bee withouten gyle
Thee serveth ay thin owne thral Cecile.

“For this same spouse, that she took righte now
Ful lyk a fiers lyoun, she sendeth here
As meek as ever was eny lamb to you.”
And with that word anon ther gan appere
An old man, clad in white clothes clere,
That had a book with lettres of gold in honde,
And gan bifore Valirian to stonde.

Valirian, as deed, fel doun for drede,
Whan he him saw; and he him up caught so,
And on his book right thus he gan to rede;

“One Lord, one feith, one God withouten mo,
One Christendom, and one father of alle also,
Aboven alle, and over alle every where;”
These wordes al with golde ywriten were.

When this was redde, than sayde this olde man.
“Bileevest thou this or no? say ye or naye.”
“I bileeve al this thyng,” quoth Valerian,
“For truer thyng than this, I dare wel say,
Under the hevene no wighte thynken maye.”
Then vanysshed the olde man, he knew not where,
And pope Urban him cristenede right there.

Valirian goth, and findeth Cecilie
Withinne his chambre with an aungel stonde
This aungel had of roses and of lilie
Coroúnes two, the which he bare in honde.
And first to Cecilie, as I understonde,
He gave the one, and after gave straighte
That other to Valerian hir mate.

“With body clene, and with unspotted thought,
Kepe ye ay wel these córounes,” quothe he,
“Fro paradys to you I have them brought,
Ne never more shal they withered be,
Ne lose their sweete savour, truste me,
Ne never wight shal see them with his eye,
Save he be chast, and hate vilonye.

“And thou, Valirian, for thou so soon
Assentedist to good counseil, also
Say what thee list, and thou shalt have thi boone.”
“I have a brother,” quoth Valirian,
“More in this world I love no other man,
I pray you that my brother may have grace
To knowe the truthe, as I do in this place.”

The aungel sayde, “God liketh thy request,
And bothe with the palme of martirdom
Ye shallen come unto his blisful feste.”
And with that word, Tiburce his brother he broughte,
And whan that he the savour sweete had caught,
Which that the roses and the lilies cast,
Withinne his hert he gan to wonder fast.

And sayde, “I wondre this tyme of the yeer,
From whence that sweete savour cometh so
Of rose and lilies, that I smelle here;
For though I had them in myn hondes two,
The savour might in me no deeper go.
The swete smel, that in myn hert I fynde,
Hath chaungèd me al in another kynde.”

Valirian sayd, “Two coroúns have we,
Snow-whyt and rose-reed, that shinen cleere,
Whiche that thine eyen have no might to see;
And as thou smellest them thurgh my prayere,
So shalt thou see them, lieve brothere deere,
If it so be thou wilt withouten slouthe
Bilieven aright, and knowen very truthe.”

Tyburce answerde, “Sayst thou thus to me?
In sotheness, or in dream I herken this?”
“In dreames,” quoth Valirian, “have we be
Unto this tyme, brother myn, I wis,
But now at first in truthe oure duellyng is.”
“How knowst thou this,” quoth Tyburce, “and in what wise?”
Quoth Valirian, “That shal I thee devyse.

“The aungel of God hath me the truthe y-taught,
Which thou shalt see, if that thou wilt deneye
The ydols, and be clene, and else not.”
And of the miracles of these córones tweye
Seynt Ambrose in his preface list to seye;
Solemnely this noble doctour deere
Comendeth it, and saith in this maneére.

The palme of martirdom for to receyve,
Seynt Cecilie, fulfilled of God in heven,
The world and eek her marriage gan she leave;
For when Tiburce and Valerian were shriven,
God of his bountee to them two hath geven
Coroúnes two, of floures wel smellýnge,
And made his aungel them the crounes brynge.

The mayde hath brought these men to blisse above;
The world hath wist what it is worth certeyn,
Devocioún of chastitee to love —
Then shewed him Cecilie al open and pleyn,
That alle ydóles are but things in veyn;
For thay be doumb, and therto they be deaf,
And chargeth him his ydoles for to leve.

“Who-so that troweth not this, a beast he is,”
Quoth then Tyburce, “if that I shal not lye.”
And she gan kisse his brest that herde this,
And was ful glad he coude the truthe espye;
“This day I take thee for myn allye,”
Sayde this blisful mayde faire and deere;
And after that she sayde as ye may heere.

“Lo, right so as the love of Crist,” quoth she,
“Made me thy brotheres wyf, right in that wyse
Anon for myn allye heer take I thee,
Since that thou wilt thyne ydoles al despise.
Go with thy brother now and thee baptise,
And make thee clene, so that thou may biholde
The aungeles face, of which thy brother tolde.”

Tyburce answerde, and sayde, “Brother dere,
First tel me whither I go, and to what man.”
“To whom?” quoth he, “com forth with right good chere,
I wil thee lede unto the pope Urbán.”
“Til Urban? brother myn Valirian,”
Quoth Tiburce, “wilt thou me thither lede?
Me thenketh that it were a wondrous dede.

“Meanest thou not that Urban,” quoth he tho,
“That is so ofte damnèd to be deed,
And is in secret hidyng to and fro,
And dare nought ever once putte forth his heed?
Men shold him burnen in a fire so red,
If he were founde, or if men might him spye,
And us also to bere him companye.

“And while we seken this divinitee,
That is i-hyd in heven privily,
Doubtles i-burnt in this world thal we be.”
To whom Cecilie answerde boldely,
“Men mighten dreden wel and skilfully
This lyf to lose, myn oune dere brother,
If here were lyvyng only and no other.

“But ther is better lif in other place,
That never shal be lost, drede thee nought;
Which Goddes sone us tolde thurgh his grace,
The Fathers sone that alle thing hath wrought;
And al that wrought is with a skilful thought,
The ghost that from the father gan procede,
Hath quickened all withouten eny drede.

“By word and miracle high Goddes sone,
When he was in this world, declarèd heere,
That ther was other lyf for meny a one.”
To whom answerde Tyburce, “O sister deere,
Ne seydest thou right now in this manére,
Ther is but one God, one Lord, in sothfastnesse,
And now of three how mayst thou bere witnésse?”

“That shal I telle,” quoth she, “ere that I go.
Right as a man hath sapiences three,
Memorie, skil, and intellect also,
So in one being in divinitee
Three persones doubteless may ther right wel be.”
Then gan she him ful besily to preche
Of Cristes coming, and of his peynes teche,

And many pointes of his passioún;
How Goddes sone in this world long was holde
To do mankynde pleyn remissioún,
That was i-bounde in synne and cares colde.
Al this thing she unto Tyburce tolde,
And after this Tyburce in good entent,
With Valirian to pope Urban he went,

That thankèd God, and with glad hert and light
He cristened him, and made him in that place
Parfyt in al his lernynge, Goddes knyght.
And after this Tiburce gat such grace,
That every day he saw in time and space
The aungel of God, and every maner boon
That he God askèd, it was sped ful soon.

It were ful hard by ordre for to explayne
How many wondres Jhesus for them wroughte;
But atte last, to tellen short and playn,
The sergeants of the toun of Rome them soughte,
And them byfore Almache the perfect broughte,
Which questioned them, and knew alle their entente,
And to the ymage of Jupiter them sente;

And saide, “Who-so wil not here sacrifise,
Swop off his hed, this is my sentence heere.”
Anon these martires, that I you devyse,
One Maximus, that was an officere
Of the prefectes, and his corniculere,
Them took, and when he forth the seyntes ladde,
Himself he wept for pité that he hadde.

Whan Maximus had herd the seintes lore,
He gat him to his jailers fulle leve,
And bad them to his hous withouten more;
And with their preching, ere that it were eve,
They have y-made the jailers to bileeve,
And took from Maxime, and his folk each one,
The false faith, to trust in God allone.

Cecilie cam, when it was waxen night,
With prestes, that them cristened alle in feere;
And afterward, when day was waxen light,
Cecilie them sayde with a ful stedefast chere;
“Now, Cristes owne knyghtes leef and deere,
Cast al away the werkes of derknéss,
And arm you al in armur of brightnéss.

“Ye have forsothe y-don a greet batayle;
Youre cours is don, youre faith have ye conserved!
Go to the coroun of lyf that may not fayle;
The rightful judge, which that ye have served,
Shal geve it you, as ye have it deserved.”
And when this thing was sayd, as I devyse,
Men ladde them forth to do the sacrifise.

But when they were to the place y-brought,
To telle shortly the conclusioún,
They wold incense or sacrifice right nought,
But on their knees they setten them adoun,
With humble hert and sad devocioún,
And leften bothe their heedes in the place;
Their soules wenten to the king of grace.

This Maximus, that saw this thing betyde,
With piteous teeres tolde it anon right,
That he their soules saw to heven glyde
With aungels, ful of clerness and of light;
And with his word converted many a wight.
For which Almachius hath hys body torn
With whippes of lead til he hys lif hath lorn.

Cecilie him took, and buried him anon
By Tiburce and Valirian softely,
Withinne her berieng place, under the stone.
And after this Almachius hastily
Bad his ministres fetchen openly
Cecilie, so that she might in his presence
Do sacrifice, and Jupiter incense.

But they, converted by her wise lore,
Wepten ful sore, and gaven ful credénce
Unto her word, and cryden more and more;
“Crist, Goddes sone, withouten difference,
Is very God, this is al oure sentence,
That hath so good a servaunt him to serve;
Thus with one vois we trowen, though we sterve.”

Almachius, that herd of this doynge,
Bad fetchen Cecilie, that he might her see,
And at the first, lo, this was his axinge;
“What maner womman art thou then?” quoth he.
“I am a gentil-womman born,” quoth she.
“I axe thee,” quoth he, “though thee it greve,
Of thi religioún and of thi byleve.”

“Ye have bygonne your questioun foolishly,”
Quoth she, “that wolden two answers conclude
In one demaunde; ye axen ignorantly.”
Almache answerde to that similitude,
“Of whens then cometh thin answering so rude?”
“Of whens?” quoth she, when she was constreyned,
“Of conscience, and of good faith unfeyned.”

Almachius sayde, “Takest thou then no heede
Of my powér?” and she answerede him this;
“Youre might,” quoth she, “ful litel is to drede;
For every mortal mannes power is
But lyk a bladder ful of wynd, I wis;
For with a nedels poynt, when it is blown,
May al the boast of it be layd adoun.”

“Ful wrongfully byganne thou,” quoth he,
“And yet in wrong is thy perséveraúnce.
Knowest thou not oure mighty princes free
Have thus comaunded and made ordinaunce,
That every cristen wight shal pay penaunce,
Save that he his Cristendom withsay,
And go al quyt, if he wil it deneye?”

“Youre princes erre, and eek youre nobles doth,”
Quoth then Cecilie; “and with a mad sentence
Ye make us guilty, and it is nought sooth;
For ye that knowen wel oure innocence,
Forásmoche as we do ay reverence
To Crist, and for we bere a Cristen name,
Ye putten on us a cryme and eek a blame.

“But we that knowen Cristes name so
For vertuous, we may it not withseye.”
Almache sayde, “Choose one of these two,
Do sacrifice or Cristendom deneye,
That thou may now escapen by that weye.”
At which the holy blisful faire mayde
Gan for to laughe, and to the judge sayde;

“O judge confusèd in this great follý,
Wilt thou that I deny my innocence?
To make me a wikked wight,” quoth she.
“Lo, he dissimuleth here in audience,
He starith and is mad in his sentence.”
To whom Almachius sayde, “Unholy wretche,
Knowest thou nought how far my might may stretche?

“Have nought our mighty princes to me y-given,
Yea bothe power and eek auctoritee
To make folk to deyen or to lyven?
Why spekest thou so proudly then to me?”
“I speke not but stedefastly,” quoth she,
“Nought proudly, for I say, as for my syde,
We haten deedly that same vice of pryde.

“And if thou drede nought a sooth to heere,
Then wil I shewe al openly by right,
That thou hast made a ful greet lying heere.
Thou saist, thy princes have i-give thee might
Bothe for to slay and make alive a wight,
Thou that canst not but only lif bereve,
Thou hast no other power nor no leve.

“But thou maist say, thi princes have thee makèd
Minister of deth: for if thou speke of mo,
Thou liest; for thy power is ful naked.”
“Do way thy ignorance,” sayd Almachius tho,
“And sacrifice to oure goddes, ere thou go.
I recke nought what wrong that thou me profre,
For I can suffre it as a philosóphre.

“But these wronges may I not endure,
That thou here spekist of oure gods,” quoth he.
Cecilie answered, “O nice créatúre,
Thou saydest no word since thou spake to me,
In which I knew not al thy great folie,
And that thou were in every maner wise
A silly officer, a vein justice.

“Ther lakketh no thing to thin outer eyne
That thou art blynd; for things that we see alle
That it is stone, that men may wel espien,
That same stone a god thou wilt it calle.
I axe the, let thin hond upon it falle,
And tast it wel, and stoon thou shalt it fynde;
Since that thou seest not with thin eyen blynde.

“It is a shame that the people shal
So scorne thee, and laughe at thy folýe;
For comunly men wot it one and al,
That mighty God is in his heven hye;
And these ymáges, wel thou mayst espie,
To thee nor to themself may nought profyte,
For in effect they be nought worth a myte.”

Thise wordes and such other then sayde she;
And he wax worth, and bad men shold hir lede
Hom to her hous; “And in her hous,” quoth he,
“Burne her right in a bath of flammes red,”
And as he bad, right so was don the dede;
For in a bath thay gonne her faste shut,
And nyght and day greet fire they under put.

The longe night, and eek a day also,
For al the fire, and eek the bathes hete,
She sat al cold, and felte of it no wo,
Hit made her not one drope for to swete.
But in that bath her deth she moste get;
For he Almachius, with ful wikked entente,
To slay hir in the bath his men he sente.

Three strokes in the nek he smote her tho
The tormentour, but for no maner chance
He might nought smyte her faire necke in two.
And for ther was that tyme an ordinaunce
That no man sholde do eny such penaúnce
The fourthe strok to smyten, softe or sore,
This tormentour ne durste do no more;

But half deed, with hir nek y-carven there,
He on hys way is gone and lete her lye.
The cristen folk, which that about her were,
With sheetes wrappèd have her faire bodye;
Thre dayes lyved she in this miserie,
And never cessèd them the faith to teche.
Al that she taughte them first, she gan to preche.

And them she gaf her welth and everything,
And in pope Urbans care she putte them tho,
And sayde thus, “I axe this of heven kyng,
To have respite thre dayes and no mo,
To recomende to you, ere that I go,
These soules lo, and that there mighte be
Heer in myn hous a chirche perpetuelly.”

Seynt Urban, with his dekenes privily
The body took and buried it by nighte
Among his other seyntes honestely.
Her hous the chirch of seynt Cecily yet highte;
Seynt Urban hallowed it, as he wel mighte;
In which into this day in noble wyse
Men do to Crist and to his seint servise.

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