The Canterbury tales
Geoffrey Chaucer
F.N. Robinson

The Second Nun's Tale

This mayden bright cecilie, as hir lif seith,
     120
Was comen of romayns, and of noble kynde,
     121
And from hir cradel up fostred in the feith
     122
Of crist, and bar his gospel in hir mynde.
     123
She nevere cessed, as I writen fynde,
     124
Of hir preyere, and God to love and drede,
     125
Bisekynge hym to kepe hir maydenhede.
     126
And whan this mayden sholde unto a man
     127
Ywedded be, that was ful yong of age,
     128
Which that ycleped was valerian,
     129
And day was comen of hir marriage,
     130
She, ful devout and humble in hir corage,
     131
Under hir robe of gold, that sat ful faire,
     132
Hadde next hire flessh yclad hire in an haire.
     133
And whil the organs maden melodie,
     134
To God allone in herte thus sang she:
     135
O lord, my soule and eek my body gye
     136
Unwemmed, lest that it confounded be.
     137
And, for his love that dyde upon a tree, Page  209
     138
Every seconde and thridde day she faste,
     139
Ay biddynge in hire orisons ful faste.
     140
The nyght cam, and to bedde moste she gon
     141
With hire housbonde, as ofte is the manere,
     142
And pryvely to hym she seyde anon,
     143
O sweete and wel biloved spouse deere,
     144
Ther is a conseil, and ye wolde it heere,
     145
Which that right fayn I wolde unto yow seye,
     146
So that ye swere ye shul it nat biwreye.
     147
Valerian gan faste unto hire swere
     148
That for no cas, ne thyng that myghte be,
     149
He sholde nevere mo biwreyen here;
     150
And thanne at erst to hym thus seyde she:
     151
I have an aungel which that loveth me,
     152
That with greet love, wher so I wake or sleepe,
     153
Is redy ay my body for to kepe.
     154
And if that he may feelen, out of drede,
     155
That ye me touche, or love in vileynye,
     156
He right anon wol sle yow with the dede,
     157
And in youre yowthe thus ye shullen dye;
     158
And if that ye in clene love me gye,
     159
He wol yow loven as me, for youre clennesse,
     160
And shewen yow his joye and his brightnesse.
     161
Valerian, corrected as God wolde,
     162
Answerde agayn, if I shal trusten thee,
     163
Lat me that aungel se, and hym biholde;
     164
And if that it a verray angel bee,
     165
Thanne wol I doon as thou hast prayed me;
     166
And if thou love another man, for sothe
     167
Right with this swerd thanne wol I sle yow bothe.
     168
Cecile answerde anon-right in this wise:
     169
If that yow list, the angel shul ye see,
     170
So that ye trowe on crist and yow baptize.
     171
Gooth forth to via apia, quod shee,
     172
That fro this toun ne stant but miles three,
     173
And to the povre folkes that ther dwelle,
     174
Sey hem right thus, as that I shal yow telle.
     175
Telle hem that I, cecile, yow to hem sente,
     176
To shewen yow the goode urban the olde,
     177
For secree nedes and for good entente.
     178
And whan that ye seint urban han biholde,
     179
Telle hym the wordes whiche I to yow tolde;
     180
And whan that he hath purged yow fro synne,
     181
Thanne shul ye se that angel, er ye twynne.
     182
Valerian is to the place ygon,
     183
And right as hym was taught by his lernynge,
     184
He foond this hooly olde urban anon
     185
Among the seintes buryeles lotynge.
     186
And he anon, withouten tariynge,
     187
Dide his message; and whan that he it tolde,
     188
Urban for joye his handes gan up holde.
     189
The teeris from his eyen leet he falle.
     190
Almyghty lord, o jhesu crist, quod he,
     191
Sower of chaast conseil, hierde of us alle,
     192
The fruyt of thilke seed of chastitee
     193
That thou hast sowe in cecile, taak to thee!
     194
Lo, lyk a bisy bee, withouten gile,
     195
Thee serveth ay thyn owene thral cecile.
     196
For thilke spouse that she took but now
     197
Ful lyk a fiers leoun, she sendeth heere,
     198
As meke as evere was any lomb, to yow!
     199
And with that word anon ther gan appeere
     200
An oold man, clad in white clothes cleere,
     201
That hadde a book with lettre of gold in honde,
     202
And gan bifore valerian to stonde.
     203
Valerian as deed fil doun for drede
     204
Whan he hym saugh, and he up hente hym tho,
     205
And on his book right thus he gan to rede:
     206
O lord, o feith, o god, withouten mo,
     207
O cristendom, and fader of alle also,
     208
Aboven alle and over alle everywhere.
     209
Thise wordes al with gold ywriten were.
     210
Whan this was rad, thanne seyde this olde man,
     211
Leevestow this thyng or no? sey ye or nay.
     212
I leeve al this thyng, quod valerian,
     213
For sother thyng than this, I dar wel say,
     214
Under the hevene no wight thynke may.
     215
Tho vanysshed the olde man, he nyste where,
     216
And pope urban hym cristned right there.
     217
Valerian gooth hoom and fynt cecilie
     218
Withinne his chambre with an angel stonde.
     219
This angel hadde of roses and of lilie
     220
Corones two, the which he bar in honde;
     221
And first to cecile, as I understonde,
     222
He yaf that oon, and after gan he take
     223
That oother to valerian, hir make.
     224
With body clene and with unwemmed though
     225
Kepeth ay wel thise corones, quod he;
     226
Fro paradys to yow have I hem broght,
     227
Ne nevere mo ne shal they roten bee,
     228
Ne lese hir soote savour, trusteth me; Page  210
     229
Ne nevere wight shal seen hem with his ye,
     230
But he be chaast and hate vileynye.
     231
And thow, valerian, for thow so soone
     232
Assentedest to good conseil also,
     233
Sey what thee list, and thou shalt han thy boone.
     234
I have a brother,quod valerian tho,
     235
That in this world I love no man so.
     236
I pray yow that my brother may han grace
     237
To knowe the trouthe, as I do in this place.
     238
The angel seyde,god liketh thy requeste,
     239
And bothe, with the palm of martirdom,
     240
Ye shullen come unto his blisful feste.
     241
And with that word tiburce his brother coom.
     242
And whan that he the savour undernoom,
     243
Which that the roses and the lilies caste,
     244
Withinne his herte he gan to wondre faste,
     245
And seyde,i wondre, this tyme of the yeer
     246
Whennes that soote savour cometh so
     247
Of rose and lilies that I smelle heer.
     248
For though I hadde hem in myne handes two.
     249
The savour myghte in me no depper go.
     250
The sweete smel that in myn herte I fynde
     251
Hath chaunged me al in another kynde.
     252
Valerian seyde: two corones han we,
     253
Snow white and rose reed, that shynen cleere,
     254
Whiche that thyne eyen han no myght to see;
     255
And as thou smellest hem thurgh my preyere,
     256
So shaltow seen hem,leeve brother deere,
     257
If it so be thou wolt, withouten slouthe,
     258
Bileve aright and knowen verray troughe,
     259
Tiburce answerde, seistow this to me
     260
In soothnesse, or in dreem I herkne this?
     261
In dremes, quod valerian, han we be
     262
Unto this tyme, brother myn, ywis.
     263
But now at erst in trouthe oure dwellyng is.
     264
How woostow this? quod tiburce, and in what wyse?
     265
Quod valerian, that shal I thee devyse.
     266
The aungel of God hath me the trouthe ytaught
     267
Which thou shalt seen, if that thou wolt reneye
     268
The ydoles and be clene, and elles naught.
     269
And of the myracle of thise corones tweye
     270
Seint ambrose in his preface list to seye;
     271
Solempnely this noble doctour deere
     272
Commendeth it, and seith in this manere:
     273
The palm of martirdom for to receyve,
     274
Seinte cecile, fulfild of goddes yifte,
     275
The world and eek hire chambre gan she weyve;
     276
Witnesse tyburces and valerians shrifte,
     277
To whiche God of his bountee wolde shifte
     278
Corones two of floures wel smellynge,
     279
And make his angel hem the corones brynge.
     280
The mayde hath broght thise men to blisse above;
     281
The world hath wist what it is worth, certeyn,
     282
Devocioun of chastitee to love.
     283
Tho shewed hym cecile al open and pleyn
     284
That alle ydoles nys but a thyng in veyn,
     285
For they been dombe, and therto they been deve,
     286
And charged hym his ydoles for to leve.
     287
Whoso that troweth nat this, a beest he is,
     288
Quod tho tiburce, if that I shal nat lye.
     289
And she gan kisse his brest, that herde this,
     290
And was ful glad he koude trouthe espye.
     291
This day I take thee for myn allye,
     292
Seyde this blisful faire mayde deere,
     293
And after that, she seyde as ye may heere:
     294
Lo, right so as the love of crist, quod she,
     295
Made me thy brotheres wyf, right in that wise
     296
Anon for myn allye heer take I thee,
     297
Syn that thou wolt thyne ydoles despise.
     298
Go with thy brother now, and thee baptise,
     299
And make thee clene, so that thou mowe biholde
     300
The angels face of which thy brother tolde.
     301
Tiburce answerde and seyde, brother deere,
     302
First el me whider I shal, and to what man?
     303
To whom? quod he, com forth with right good cheere,
     304
I wol thee lede unto the pope urban.
     305
Til urban?brother myn valerian,
     306
Quod tho tiburce, woltow me thider lede?
     307
Me thynketh that it were a wonder dede.
     308
Ne menestow nat urban,quod he tho,
     309
That is so ofte dampned to be deed,
     310
And woneth in halkes alwey to and fro,
     311
And dar nat ones putte forth his heed?
     312
Men sholde hym brennen in a fyr so reed
     313
If he were founde, or that men myghte hym spye,
     314
And we also, to bere hym compaignye; Page  211
     315
And whil we seken thile divinitee
     316
That is yhid in hevene pryvely,
     317
Algate ybrend in this world shul we bel
     318
To whom cecile answerde boldely,
     319
Men myghten dreden wel and skilfully
     320
This lyf to lese, myn owene deere brother,
     321
If this were lyvynge oonly and noon oother.
     322
But ther is bettre lif in oother place,
     323
That nevere shal be lost, ne drede thee noght,
     324
Which goddes sone us tolde thurgh his grace.
     325
That fadres sone hath alle thyng ywroght,
     326
And al that wroght is with a skilful though,
     327
The goost, that fro the fader gan procede,
     328
Hath sowled hem, withouten any drede.
     329
By word and by myracle heigh goodes sone
     330
Whan he was in this world, declared heere
     331
That ther was oother lyf ther men may wone.
     332
To whom answerde tiburce,o suster deere,
     333
Ne seydestow right now in this manere,
     334
Ther nys but o god, lord in soothfastnesse?
     335
And now of three how maystow bere witnesse?
     336
That shal I telle,quod she, er I go.
     337
Right as a man hath sapiences three,
     338
Memorie, engyn, and intellect also,
     339
So in o beynge of divinitee,
     340
Thre persones may ther wright wel bee.
     341
Tho gan she hym ful bisily to preche
     342
Of cristes come, and of his peynes teche,
     343
And manye pointes of his passioun;
     344
How goddes sone in this world was withholde
     345
To doon mankynde pleyn remissioun,
     346
That was ybounde in synne and cares colde,
     347
Al this thyng she unto tiburce tolde.
     348
And after this, tiburce in good entente
     349
With valerian to pope urban he wente,
     350
That thanked god, and with glad herte light
     351
He cristned hyn, and made hym in that place
     352
Parfit in his lernynge, goddes knyght.
     353
And after this, tiburce gat swich grace
     354
That every day he saugh, in tyme and space,
     355
The aungel of god; and every maner boone
     356
That he God axed, it was sped ful soone.
     357
If were ful hard by ordre for to seyn
     358
How manye wondres jhesus for hem wroghte;
     359
But atte laste, to tellen short and pleyn,
     360
The sergeantz of the toun of rome hem soghte,
     361
And hem biforn almache, the prefect, broghte,
     362
Which hem apposed, and knew al hire entente,
     363
And to the ymage of juppiter hem sente,
     364
And seyde, whoso wol nat sacrifise,
     365
Swape of his heed; this my sentence heer.
     366
Anon thise martirs that I yow devyse,
     367
Oon maximus, that was an officer
     368
Of the prefectes, and his corniculer,
     369
Hem hente, and whan he forth the seintes ladde,
     370
Hymself he weep for pitee that he hadde.
     371
Whan maximus had herd the seintes loore,
     372
He gat hym of the tormentoures leve,
     373
And ladde hem to his hous withoute moore,
     374
And with hir prechyng, er that it were eve,
     375
They gonnen fro the tormentours to reve,
     376
And fro maxime, and fro his fold echone,
     377
The false feith, to trowe in God allone.
     378
Cecile cam, whan it was woxen nyght,
     379
With preestes that hem cristned alle yfeere;
     380
And afterward, whan day was woxen light,
     381
Cecile hem seyde with a ful stedefast cheere,
     382
Now, christes owene knyghtes leeve and deere,
     383
Cast alle awey the werkes of derknesse,
     384
And armeth yow in armure of brightnesse.
     385
Ye han for sothe ydoon a greet bataille,
     386
Youre cours is doon, youre feith han ye conserved.
     387
Gooth to the corone of lif that may nat faille;
     388
The rightful juge, which that ye han served,
     389
Shal yeve it yow, as ye han it deserved.
     390
And whan this thyng was seyd as I devyse,
     391
Men ledde hem forth to doon the sacrefise.
     392
But whan they weren to the place broght
     393
To tellen shortly the conclusioun,
     394
They nolde encense ne sacrifise right noght,
     395
But on hir knees they setten hem adoun
     396
With humble herte and sad devocioun,
     397
And losten bothe hir hevedes in the place.
     398
Hir soules wenten to the kyng of grace.
     399
This maximus, that saugh this thyng bityde,
     400
With pitous teeris tolde it anonright,
     401
That he hir soules saugh to hevene glyde
     402
With aungels ful of cleernesse and of light,
     403
And with his word converted many a wight;
     404
For which almachius dide hym so tobete
     405
With whippe of leed, til he his lif gan lete. Page  212
     406
Cecile hym took and buryed hym anon
     407
By tiburce and valerian softely
     408
Withinne hire buriyng place, under the stoon;
     409
And after this, almachius hastily
     410
Bad his ministres fecchen openly
     411
Cecile, so that she myghte in his presence
     412
Doon sacrifice, and juppiter encense.
     413
But they, converted at hir wise loore,
     414
Wepten ful soore, and yaven ful credence
     415
Unto hire word, and cryden moore and moore,
     416
Crist, goddes sone, withouten difference,
     417
Is verray God -- this is al oure sentence --
     418
That hath so good a servant hym to serve.
     419
This with o voys we trowen, thogh we sterve!
     420
Almachius, that herde of this doynge,
     421
Bad fecchen cecile, that he myghte hire see,
     422
And alderfirst, lo! this was his axynge.
     423
What maner womman artow? tho quod he.
     424
I am a gentil womman born, quod she.
     425
I axe thee, quod he, though it thee greeve,
     426
Of thy religioun and of thy bileeve.
     427
Ye han bigonne youre questioun folily,
     428
Quod she, that wolden two answers conclude
     429
In o demande; ye axed lewedly.
     430
Almache answerde unto that similitude,
     431
Of whennes comth thyn answeryng so rude?
     432
Of whennes? quod she, whan that she was freyned,
     433
Of conscience and of good feith unfeyned.
     434
Almachius seyde, ne takestow noon heede
     435
Of my power? and she answerde hym this:
     436
Youre myght, quod she, ful litel is to dreede.
     437
For every mortal mannes power nys
     438
But lyk a bladdre ful of wynd ywys.
     439
For with nedles poynt, whan it is blowe,
     440
May al the boost of it be leyd ful lowe.
     441
Ful wrongfully bigonne thow, quod he,
     442
And yet in wrong is thy perserveraunce.
     443
Wostow nat how oure myghty princes free
     444
Han thus comanded and maad ordinaunce,
     445
That every cristen wight shal han penaunce
     446
But if that he his cristendom withseye,
     447
And foon al quit, if he wole it reneye?
     448
Yowre princes erren, as youre nobleye dooth,
     449
Quod tho cecile, and with a wood sentence
     450
Ye make us gilty, and it is nat sooth.
     451
For ye, that knowen wel oure innocence,
     452
For as muche as we doon a reverence
     453
To crist, and for we berre a cristen name,
     454
Ye putte on us a cryme, and eek a blame.
     455
But we that knowen thilke name so
     456
For vertuous, we may it nat withseye.
     457
Almache answerde, chees oon of thise two:
     458
Do sacrifice, or cristendom reneye,
     459
That thou mowe now escapen by that weye.
     460
At which the hooly blisful faire mayde
     461
Gan for to laughe, and to juge sayde:
     462
O juge, confus in thy nycetee,
     463
Woltow that I reneye innocence,
     464
To make me a wikked wight? quod shee.
     465
Lo, he dissymuleth heere in audience;
     466
He stareth, and woodeth in his advertence!
     467
To whom almachius, unsely wrecche,
     468
Ne woostow nat how fer my myght may strecche?
     469
Han noght oure myghty princes to me yiven,
     470
Ye, bothe power and auctoritee
     471
To maken folk to dyen or to lyven?
     472
Why spekestow so proudly thanne to me?
     473
I speke noght but stedfastly, quod she;
     474
Nat prudly, for I seye, as for my syde,
     475
We haten deedly thilke vice of pryde.
     476
And if thou drede nat a sooth to heere,
     477
Thanne wol I shewe al openly, by right,
     478
That thou hast maad a ful gret lesyng heere.
     479
Thou seyst thy princes han thee yeven myght
     480
Bothe for to sleen and for to quyken a wight;
     481
Thou, that ne mayst but oonly lyf bireve,
     482
Thou hast noon oother power ne no leve.
     483
But thou mayst seyn thy princes han thee maked
     484
Ministre of deeth; for if thou speke of mo,
     485
Thou lyest, for thy power is ful naked.
     486
Do wey thy booldnesse, seyde almachius tho,
     487
And sacrifice to oure goddes, er thou go!
     488
Irecche nat what wrong that thou me profre,
     489
For I kan suffre it as a philosophre;
     490
But thilke wronges may I nat endure
     491
That thou spekest of oure goddes heere, quod
     492
Cecile answerde, o nyce creature!
     493
Thou seydest no word syn thou spak to me
     494
That I ne knew therwith thy nycetee;
     495
And that thou were, in every maner wise,
     496
A lewed officer and a veyn justise. Page  213
     497
Ther lakketh no thyng to thyne outer yen
     498
That thou n' art blynd; for thyng that we seen alle
     499
That it is stoon, -- that men may wel espyen, --
     500
That ilke stoon a God tho wolt it calle.
     501
I rede thee, lat thyn hand upon it falle,
     502
And taste it wel, and stoon thou shalt it fynde,
     503
Syn that thou seest nat with thyne eyen blynde.
     504
It is a shame that the peple shal
     505
So scorne thee, and laughe at thy folye;
     506
For communly men woot it wel overal
     507
That myghty God is in his hevenes hye;
     508
And thise ymages, wel thou mayst espye,
     509
To thee ne to hemself mowen noght profite,
     510
For in effect thy been nat worth a myte.
     511
Thise wordes and swiche othere seyde she,
     512
And he weex wroth, and bad men sholde hir lede
     513
Hom til hir hous, and in hire hous, quod he,
     514
Brenne hire right in a bath of flambes rede.
     515
And as he bad, right so was doon the dede;
     516
For in a bath they gonne hire faste shetten,
     517
And nyght and day greet fyr they under betten.
     518
The longe nyght, and eek a day also,
     519
For al the fyr, and eek the bathes heete,
     520
She sat al coold, and feelede no wo.
     521
It made hire nat a drope for to sweete.
     522
But in that bath hir lyf she moste lete,
     523
For he almachius, with ful wikke entente,
     524
To sleen hire in the bath his sonde sente.
     525
Thre strokes in the nekke he smoot hire tho,
     526
The tormentour, but for no maner chaunce
     527
He myghte noght smyte al hir nekke atwo;
     528
And for ther was that tyme an ordinaunce
     529
That no man sholde doon man swich penaunce
     530
The ferthe strook to smyten, softe or soore,
     531
This tormentour ne dorste do namoore,
     532
But half deed, with hir nekke ycorven there,
     533
He lefte hir lye, and on his wey is went.
     534
The cristen folk, which that aboute hire were,
     535
With sheetes han the blood ful faire yhent.
     536
Thre dayes lyved she in this torment,
     537
And nevere cessed hem the feithe to teche
     538
That she hadde fostred; hem she gan to preche,
     539
And hem she yaf hir moebles and hir thyng,
     540
And to the pope urban bitook hem tho,
     541
And seyde, I axed this of hevene kyng,
     542
To han respit thre dayes and namo,
     543
To recomende to yow, er that I go,
     544
Thise soules, lo! and that I myghte do werche
     545
Heere of myn hous perpetuilly a cherche.
     546
Seint urban, with his deknes, prively
     547
The body fette, and buryed it by nyghte
     548
Among his othere seintes honestly.
     549
Hir hous the chirche of seint cecilie highte;
     550
Seint urban halwed it, as he wel myghte;
     551
In which, into this day, in noble wyse,
     552
Men doon to crist and to his seint servyse.
     553