The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Prioresses Tale

“Wel sayd, by corpus bones!” quoth oure Host,

“Now longe may thou sayle by the coast,

Sir gentil master, gentil mariner!

(God give the monk a thousand evil years,

Haha! felaws, be ware for such a jape.

The monk put in the mannes hood an ape,

And in his wyves eek, by seint Austyn.

Bring ye no monkes more unto your in.)

But now pas over, and let us loke aboute,

Who shal now telle first of al this route

Another tale;” and with that word he sayde,

As curteisly as it had ben a mayde,

“My lady Prioresse, by your leve,

So that I wist I sholde you not greve,

I wolde deme, that ye telle sholde

A tale next, if so were that ye wolde.

Now wil ye vouche sauf, my lady deere?”

“Gladly,” quoth she, and sayd in this manére.

O Lord, oure Lord, thy name how marveylous
Is in this large world y-spread (quoth she)
For nought only thy laude precious
Performèd is by men of high degree,
But by the mouthes of children thy bountee
Is glorified, for on the moders breste
They praise Thee and thy glorie they manifeste.

Wherfore in laude, as I best can or may,
Of Thee and of thy white lily flour,
Which that thee bare, and is a madye alway,
To telle a story I wil do my laboúr,
Not that I may increasen her honoúr,
For next her Sone she is herself the whole
Of honour and the helpe of every soule.

O moder mayde, o mayde moder free!
O bussh unburnt, burning in Moses sight,
Thou that didst bring doun from the deitee,
Thurgh thin humblesse, the spirit to alight;
Of whose vertu, in thy pure herte aright,
Conceyvèd was the Fadres sapience;
Help me to telle it in thy reverence.

Lady, thy bountee, and thy magnificence,
Thy vertu and thi gret humilitee,
Ther may no tonge expres in no science;
For often, lady, ere men pray to thee,
Thou goest bifore of thy benignitee,
And gettest us the light, through thy prayère
To gyden us unto thy Sone deere.

My cunnyng is so weak, o blisful queen,
For to declare thy grete worthinesse.
That I may not this in my wit sustaine;
But as a child of twelf month old or lesse,
That scarce can a word or two expresse,
Right so fare I, and therfore I you praye,
Guide my song, that I shal of you saye.

Ther was in Asia, in a greet citee,
Among the Cristen folk a Jewerye,
Sustainèd by a lord of that contree,
For usury, and lucre of felonye,
Hateful to Crist, and to His compaignye;
And through the strete men mighte ride and wende,
For it was free, and open at every ende.

A litel school of Cristen folk ther stood
Doun at the further end, in which ther were
Children an heep comen of Cristen blood,
That lernèd in that schoole, yere by yere,
Such maner doctrine as men usèd there;
That is to sey, to syng and eke to rede,
As smale childer do in their childhede.

Among these children was a windows sone,
A litel clerk but seven year of age,
That day by day to schoole went alone;
And eek also, wherso he saw the imáge
Of Cristes moder, had he in uságe,
As him was taught, to knele adoun, and say
His Ave Mary, as he goeth his way.

Thus hath this widow her litel child y-taught
Oure blisful lady, Cristes moder deere,
To worship ay, and he forgat it not;
For simple child wil alway rémembér.
But ay when I bethinke me of this matére,
Seint Nicholas stands ever in my presénce,
For he so young to Crist did reverence.

This litel child, his litel book lernynge.
As he sat in the schoole with his primér,
He Alma redemptoris herde synge,
When children lerned to sing that high prayér;
And as he durst, he drew him ever near,
And herknèd ever the wordes and the note,
Til he the firste vers knew al by rote.

Nought wist he what his Latyn meant to say,
For he so yong and tender was of age;
But on a day his felaw gan he pray
To expound to him the song in his langáge,
Or telle him what this song was in uságe;
This prayd he him to construe and declare,
Ful often tyme upon his kneës bare.

His felaw, which that elder was than he,
Answerd him thus: “This song, I have herd seye,
Was makèd of our blisful lady free,
Hire to salute, and eke her for to pray.
To be our help and socour whan we die.
I can no more expound in this matér;
I lerne song, I can no more gramér.”

“And is this song y-made in reverence
Of Cristes moder?” sayde this innocent;
“Now certes I wol do my diligence
To conne it al, ere Cristemasse has went;
Though that my spelling shal be al for went,
And I shal be thrice beaten in an hour,
I wol it conne, our lady to honoúre.”

His felaw taught him home-ward privily
From day to day, til he it knew by rote,
And then he sang it wel and boldely;
Twice on the day it passèd through his throte,
From word to word accordyng to the note,
To school-ward and to home-ward when he went;
On Cristes moder set was his entent.

As I have sayd, throughout the Jewerye
This litel child as he cam to and fro,
Ful merily than wold he synge and crie,
O alma redemptoris, evermo;
The swetness hath his herte piercèd so
Of Cristes moder, that to hir to pray
He can not stynt of syngyng by the way.

Oure firste foe, the serpent Sáthanás,
That hath in Jewes hert his waspes nest,
Upswelled and sayde: “O Hebrew peple, allas!
Is this a thing to you that is honést,
That such a boy shal walken as he list
In youre despyt, and synge of such sentence,
Which is against your lawes reverence?”

From thennesforth the Jewes have conspirèd
This innocent out of this world to chase:
An homicide therto, yea, have thay hiréd.
That in an alley had a privy place;
And as the childe gan forth for to pace,
This false Jewe him caught and held ful faste,
And kitte his throte, and in a pit him caste.

I say that in a pitte they him threw,
Wher as the Jewes purgen their entraile.
O cursed folk! O Herodes al new
What may your evil entente you availe?
Morther wil out, certeyn it wil nought faile,
And chiefly where the honoúr of God shulde spreade,
The blood out crieth on your cursed dede.

O martir servaunt to virginitee,
Now mayst thou synge, folowyng ever alone
The white lamb celestial, quoth she,
Of which the grete evaungelist saint John
In Patmos wrote, which seith that thay have gone
Bifore the Lamb, and synge a song al newe,
That never in this worlde wommen knewe.

This pore widowe wayteth al this night,
After this litel child, but he cometh nought;
For which as soone as it was dayes light,
With face pale, in drede and busy thoughte,
She hath at schoole and every-wher him soughte;
Til fynally she gan so far espýe,
That he was last seen in the Jeweire.

With modres pitee in hir brest enclosèd,
She goeth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
To every place, wher she hath supposèd.
By liklihoode her childe for to fynde;
And ever on Cristes moder meke and kynde
She cried, and at the laste thus she wroughte,
Among the cursed Jewes she him soughte.

She axeth, and she prayeth piteously
To every Jew that dwellèd in that place,
To telle hir, if her child is went ther by;
They sayden “nay”; but Jhesu of his grace
Put in her thought, withinne a litel space,
That in that place after her sone she cryde,
Wher he was casten in a pit bysyde.

O grete God, that pérformest thy laude
By mouth of innocents, lo, here thy might;
This gemme of chastitee, this emeralde,
And eke of martirdom the ruby bright,
Where he with throte y-carven lay upright,
He Alma redemptoris gan to synge.
So loude, that al the place bigan to rynge.

The Cristen folk, that through the strete went,
In comen, for to wonder upon this thing;
And hastily for the provóst they sent.
He cam anon, withoute tarying,
And prayséd Crist, that is of heven Kyng,
And eke His moder, honour of mankynde,
And after that the Jewes did he bynde.

This child with piteous lamentacioún
Up taken was, syngyng his song alway;
And with honoúr of grete processioún,
Thay caried him unto the next abbáy.
His moder swoonyng by the biere lay;
And scarcely mighte the peple that was there
This newe Rachel bringe fro the biere.

With torment and with shameful deth each one
This provost made these Jewes for to die,
That of this morder wist, and that anon;
He wolde allowe no such crueltie;
Evel shal have, that evyl doth alway.
Therefore with wilde hors he did them drawe,
And after that he hung them by the lawe.

Upon his biere ay lieth this innocent
Bifore the chief altar whiles masse laste;
And after that, thabbot with his convént
Hath sped him for to burie him ful faste;
And when they holywater on him caste,
Yet spak this child, when sprinkled was the water,
And sang O alma redemptoris mater.

This abbot, which that was an holy man,
As monkes be, or as they oughten be,
This younge child to cónjure he bigan,
And sayd: “O deere child, I bidde the,
In vertu of the holy Trinitee,
Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
Since that thy throte is kit to my thinkyng.”

“My throte is kit unto my nekke-bone,”
Sayde this child, “and as by way of kinde
I shulde be dead a longe tyme agone;
But Jhesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
Wil that His glorie laste and be in mynde;
And for the worship of His moder deere,
Yet may I synge O alma loude and cleere.

“This welle of mercy, Cristes moder deere,
I loved alway, after my small connynge;
And when that I my lyf shulde forbear,
To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
This anthem verrily in my deyinge,
As ye have herd; and, whan that I had sunge,
Me thought she layde a grayn under my tunge.

“Wherfor I synge, and synge must certeyne
In honour of that blisful mayden free,
Til from my tunge taken is the greyne.
And after that thus saide she to me:
“My litel child, now wil I fetche thee,
Whan that the grayn is from thi tunge y-take;
Be not aghast, I wil thee not forsake.”

This holy monk, this abbot him mene I,
His tunge out caught, and took awey the greyn;
And he gaf up the gost ful softely.
And when the abbot hath this wonder seen,
His salte teres trikled doun as reyn;
And gruf he fel adoun unto the grounde,
And stille he lay, as he had been y-bounde.

The convent eke lay on the pavyment
Wepyng and praysing Cristes moder deere.
And after that they rise, and forth thay went,
And took away this martir from his biere,
And in a tombe of marble stones cleere
Enclosed they this litel body sweete;
Ther he is now, God grant us him to meete

O younge Hugh of Lyncoln; slayn also
Wi h cursed Jewes as it is notáble,
For it is but a litel while ago,
Pray eke for us, we synful folk unstáble,
That of his mercy God so merciable
On us his grete mercy multiplie,
For reverence of his modir Marie. Amen.

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