The Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
F.N. Robinson

The Prioress' Tale

Ther was in asye, in a greet citee,
     488
Amonges cristene folk, a jewerye,
     489
Sustened by a lord of that contree
     490
For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
     491
Hateful to crist and to his compaignye;
     492
And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
     493
For it was free and open at eyther ende.
     494
A litel scole of cristen folk ther stood
     495
Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were
     496
Children an heep, ycomen of cristen blood,
     497
That lerned in that scole yeer by yere
     498
Swich manere doctrine as men used there,
     499
This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,
     500
As smale children doon in hire childhede.
     501
Among thise children was a wydwes sone,
     502
A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,
     503
That day by day to scole was his wone,
     504
And eek also, where as he saugh th' ymage
     505
Of cristes mooder, hadde he in usage,
     506
As hym was taught, to knele adoun and seye
     507
His ave marie, as he goth by the weye.
     508
Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught
     509
Oure blisful lady, cristes mooder deere, Page  162
     510
To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,
     511
For sely child wol alday soone leere.
     512
But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,
     513
Seint nicholas stant evere in my presence,
     514
For he so yong to crist dide reverence.
     515
This litel child, his litel book lernynge,
     516
As he sat in the scole at his prymer,
     517
He alma redemptoris herde synge,
     518
As children lerned hire antiphoner;
     519
And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,
     520
And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,
     521
Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.
     522
Noght wiste he what this latyn was to seye,
     523
For he so yong and tendre was of age.
     524
But on a day his felawe gan he preye
     525
T' expounden hym this song in his langage,
     526
Or telle hym why this song was in usage;
     527
This preyde he hym to construe and declare
     528
Ful often tyme upon his knowes bare.
     529
His felawe, which that elder was than he,
     530
Answerde hym thus: this song, I have herd seye,
     531
Was maked of our blisful lady free,
     532
Hire to salue, and eek hire for to preye
     533
Fo been oure help and socour whan we deye.
     534
I kan namoore expounde in this mateere;
     535
I lerne song, I kan but smal grammeere.
     536
And is this song maked in reverence
     537
Of cristes mooder? seyde this innocent.
     538
Now, certes, I wol do my diligence
     539
To konne it al er cristemasse be went.
     540
Though that I for my prymer shal be shent,
     541
And shall be beten thries in an houre,
     542
I wol it konne oure lady for to honoure!
     543
His felawe taughte hym homward prively,
     544
For day to day, til he koude it by rote,
     545
And thanne he song it wel and boldely,
     546
Fro word to word, acordynge with the note.
     547
Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
     548
To scoleward and homward whan he wente;
     549
On cristes mooder set was his entente.
     550
As I have seyd, thurghout the juerie,
     551
This litel child, as he cam to and fro,
     552
Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie
     553
O alma redemptoris everemo.
     554
The swetnesse hath his herte perced so
     555
Of cristes mooder that, to hire to preye,
     556
He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.
     557
Oure firste foo, the serpent sathanas,
     558
That hath in jues herte his waspes nest,
     559
Up swal, and seide, o hebrayk peple, allas!
     560
Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
     561
That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
     562
In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
     563
Which is agayn youre lawes reverence?
     564
Fro thennes forth the jues han conspired
     565
This innocent out of this world to chace.
     566
And homycide therto han they hyred,
     567
That in an aleye hadde a privee place;
     568
And as the child gan forby for to pace,
     569
This cursed jew hym hente, and heeld hym faste,
     570
And kitte his throute, and in a pit hym caste.
     571
I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe
     572
Where as thise jewes purgen hire entraille.
     573
O cursed folk of herodes al newe,
     574
What may youre yvel entente yow availle?
     575
Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,
     576
And namely ther th' onour of God shal sprede;
     577
The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.
     578
O martir, sowded to virginitee,
     579
Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon
     580
The white lamb celestial -- quod she --
     581
Of which the grete evaungelist, seint john,
     582
In pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon
     583
Biforn this lamb, and synge a song al newe,
     584
That nevere, flesshly, wommen they ne knewe.
     585
This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght
     586
After hir litel child, but he cam noght;
     587
For which, as soone as it was dayes lyght,
     588
With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,
     589
She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,
     590
Til finally she gan so fer espie
     591
That he last seyn was in the juerie.
     592
With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,
     593
She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
     594
To every place where she hath supposed
     595
By liklihede hir litel child to fynde; Page  163
     596
And evere on cristes mooder meeke and kynde
     597
She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte:
     598
Among the cursed jues she hym soghte.
     599
She frayneth and she preyeth pitously
     600
To every jew that dwelte in thilke place,
     601
To telle hire if hir child wente oght forby.
     602
They seyde nay; but jhesu, of his grace,
     603
Yaf in hir thoght, inwith a litel space,
     604
That in that place after hir sone she cryde,
     605
Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.
     606
O grete god, that parfournest thy laude
     607
By mouth of innocentz, lo, heere thy myght!
     608
This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,
     609
And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,
     610
Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,
     611
He alma redemptoris gan to synge
     612
So loude that al the place gan to rynge.
     613
The cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente
     614
In coomen for to wondre upon this thyng,
     615
And hastily they for the provost sente;
     616
He cam anon withouten tariyng,
     617
And herieth crist that is of hevene kyng,
     618
And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde,
     619
And after that the jewes leet he bynde.
     620
This child with pitous lamentacioun
     621
Up taken was, syngynge his song alway,
     622
And with honour of greet processioun
     623
They carien hym unto the nexte abbay.
     624
His mooder swownynge by the beere lay;
     625
Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere
     626
This newe rachel brynge fro his beere.
     627
With torment and with shameful deeth echon
     628
This provost dooth thise jewes for to sterve
     629
That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
     630
He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.
     631
Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve;
     632
Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
     633
And after that he heng hem by the lawe.
     634
Upon this beere ay lith this innocent
     635
Biforn the chief auter, whil masse laste;
     636
And after that, the abbot with his covent
     637
Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste;
     638
And whan they hooly water on hym caste,
     639
Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,
     640
And song o alma redemptoris mater!
     641
This abbot, which that was an hooly man,
     642
As monkes been -- or elles oghte be --
     643
This yonge child to conjure he bigan,
     644
And seyde, o deere child, I halse thee,
     645
In vertu of the hooly trinitee,
     646
Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
     647
Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?
     648
My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,
     649
Seyde this child, and, as by wey of kynde,
     650
I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon.
     651
But jesu crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
     652
Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,
     653
And for the worship of his mooder deere
     654
Yet may I synge o alma loude and cleere.
     655
This welle of mercy, cristes mooder sweete,
     656
I loved alwey, as after my konnynge;
     657
And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,
     658
To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
     659
This anthem verraily in my deyynge,
     660
As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,
     661
Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.
     662
Wherfore I synge, and synge moot certeyn,
     663
In honour of that blisful mayden free,
     664
Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn;
     665
And after that thus seyde she to me;
     666
-- My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
     667
Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake.
     668
Be nat agast, I wol thee nat forsake. --
     669
This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,
     670
His tonge out caughte, and took awey the greyn,
     671
And he yaf up the goost ful softely.
     672
And whan this abbot hadde this wonder seyn,
     673
His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,
     674
And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,
     675
And stille he lay as he had ben ybounde.
     676
The covent eek lay on the pavement
     677
Wepynge, and herying cristes mooder deere,
     678
And after that they ryse, and forth been went,
     679
And tooken awey this martir from his beere;
     680
And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere
     681
Enclosen they his litel body sweete.
     682
Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete! Page  164
     683
O yonge hugh of lyncoln, slayn also
     684
With cursed jewes, as it is notable,
     685
For it is but a litel while ago,
     686
Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,
     687
That, of his mercy, God so merciable
     688
On us his grete mercy multiplie,
     689
For reverence of his mooder marie. Amen
     690