Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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God help thee, maid, and send thee some fair boon.


Now it is time I should an end make soon.
This Tereus to his wife is come, and when
He in his arms had taken her again,
Most piteously he w T ept, and shook his head,
And swore to her he found her sister dead ;
For which the credulous Progne had such woe,
That nigh her sorrowful heart was burst in two.
And thus in tears must I let Progne dwell,
And of her now dumb sister w T ill I tell.

This woeful lady had well learned in youth,
So that she work'd and broider'd upon cloth,
And thus she wove and wrought in tapestry,
As 'twas of vore by women wont to be ;
For trulv for to speak, she had her fill
Of meat and drink, and clothing at her will ;
And she could read, and also well indite,
But with a pen I say she could not write ;
Yet silken letters she could weave right well,
And therefore ere the year to winter fell,
She had quite woven in a framework large
How she was brought from Athens in a barge,
And how into a cavern she was brought,
And all the evil things that Tereus wrought ;
She wove it well, and wrote the tale above,


What she had suffered for her sister's love ;
And to a man a ring she gave right soon,
And prayed him by her dumb signs to be gone
Unto the Queen, and give to her that cloth ;
And then by signs she dumbly swore an oath
She would reward him to his heart's content.

This man eftsoons to the Queen Progne went,
And took it her, and all the manner told :
And lo ! when Progne did this work behold,
She never spoke a word for grief and rage,
But feign'd she went upon a pilgrimage
To Bacchus' temple ; and upon a stone
Her poor dumb sister sitting all alone
She found, within her castle weeping sore,
And praying for deliverance evermore.
Alas ! the woe, the solitude, the moan,
The weeping in a castle all alone !
Such ruth o'er her dumb sister Progne maketh,
And each the other in her arms now taketh ;
And thus I let them in their sorrow dwell.

The remnant of the tale I shall not tell :
But sooth to say, thus were these sisters served
That in them had no guilt, nor wrong deserved.


But all ye gentle maids, beware of men
"Who swear they love — yet never love again ;
For though he may not venture, for his shame,
To act like Tereus, thus to lose his name,
Nor prove an equal murderer and knave,
Full little while ye shall his true heart have.
This will I say, that were he born my brother,
I'd prav to heaven never to have another.



By proof, as well as by authority,
That wicked fruit cometh of wicked tree,
Which ye may find if that it liketh you ;
But for this end, I speak of nothing new,
To tell you of the false knight Demophon.
In love a falser I have never known,
Except it were his father Theseus —
God, with his grace, from such deliver us.
Thus should all women pray, in doubt and fear,
But now I must relate my story here.

When Troy was laid in ashes utterly,
This Demophon came sailing in the sea
Tow'rds Athens, where he had a palace large.
With him came many a ship and many a barge,


All full of people, of which many a one

Is wounded sore, and sick, and woe begone,

And they have at the siege ten long years lain.

Behind him came a wind, and eke a rain,

That drove so sore, his sails they would not stand

Above the whole world's worth he long'd for land

The tempest hunted him so, to and fro.

So dark it was, he wist not where to go :

And by a wave that struck his vessel's side,

'Twas split adown, and that so low and wide

The carpenter stood still in his affright.

At times the sea flash'd like a torch by night,

Madly, and tosseth Demophon up and down ;

Till Neptune hath his great compassion shown,

And guided the frail barque upon a land

Full fair to view, which own'd the mild command

Of Phillis, who was lady there and queen,

Daughter of great Lycurgus, who, I ween,

Was fairer than the flower against the sun.

Soon as the ship upon the sands had run,

Demophon lands all sick and woe begone,

And with his wretched people every one,

Nigh dead with famine and with weariness,

And groaning for their very sore distress ;

Yea, nearly unto death they all were driven.


When his old men hath this wise counsel given
To seek for help and succour from the Queen,
And crave her grace when she his need had seen.
Sick was he, and he lay almost at death ;
Scarce could he speak, or even draw his breath ;
Till having slept and got a little rest,
When he could walk, he thought it would be best
To seek for succour. In the country he
Was known, and honoured for his ancestry ;
For of rich Athens duke and lord was he,
As Theseus was, great in his chivalry.

This Demophon who was of like renown,
There was no greater in his region known ;
Was like his father in his face and stature,
And false in love — it came to him by nature ;
As of fox Renard, the old fox's son,
Who knows by instinct how to rob, and run,
Without his teaching ; as a drake can swim
When it is hatched and carried to the brim.

This honourable Queen doth give him cheer,
She liked so well his speech and manners fair.
But I must hasten me with my legende,
Which to perform may God his grace me send.



And I shall therefore pass on in this wise :

Ye all have heard of Theseus, his guise.

To make a sad tale short, this Demophon,

By the same way, the self-same path hath gone,

As did his faithless father Theseus ;

For unto Phillis hath he sworn right thus,

To wed her ; and to this his troth did plight,

When he had stolen all the love he might ;

And he was hale and sound and had his rest,

In grove and garden toying as he list.

Eut I refrain to tell you all their joy,

Or else I could a summer's day employ.

At length he said he must return to where

His kingdom was, her bridal to prepare

Right regally for her becoming state ;

And then he took his leave with weepings great,

Swearing to her he would not long sojourn,

But in a month he would again return.

Forthwith his ships were ready-made to sail,
And home he goeth right before the gale ;
But unto Phillis came he ne'er again.
She watch* d for him, and wept, but all in vain !
Till wearied out, as ancient books record,
She wrought her own death witli a silken cord.


But, when she first found out she was betrayed,
She wrote to the false Demophon, and prayed
That he would come and save her from her woe ;
As I shall e'en rehearse a word or two.
But, as for him, he is not worth, I think,
To have upon him spent one drop of ink :
For false in love was he, like to his sire,
So may the devil set both their souls on fire.
But of this letter which she wrote, I ween
It is as well a few words should be seen.

" Thy hostess (quoth she) oh ! dear Demophon,
Thy Phillis, she that is so woe begone,
Pining alone in Thrace, must now complain
That you have not returned to her again,
True to the promise made upon that day
When that your anchor in our haven lay.
For thus you said, you would return, no doubt,
Ere that the moon had but once gone about ;
But now four times the moon hath hid her face
Since the sad day you sailed from this place;
And four times has it lit the world again.
I count the days, and look for you in vain ;
I cannot find your vessel on the sea,
Coming from Athens, back to carry me.
g 2


Oh ! if you would but reckon, as a lover,
The time since last we met, you would discover
How much more than a month has past away : —
God wot, I don't complain before my dav."

But I have neither time nor space, I wot,
To tell the whole of what the lady wrote.
The letter was right long, and written fair —
I merely take a sentence here and there ;
When as methinks she did express it well,
Therefore another extract will I tell.

She said — "The white sail cometh not again,
And I am left to weep in love and pain ;
But well, too well I know the cause, (quoth she)
For 1 was of my love to you too free.
Of all the gods in whose great names you swore,
Their vengeance will upon you fall the more,
Till that you are not strong enough to bear
The anguish, bui must perish in despair.
Too much, alas ! I trusted to your tongue,
And to your lineage ; to the tears you wrung
From eyes that wept so craftily (quoth she) :
Oh that such tears as those could feigned be !
And certes if you ever think on me,


This will add nothing to your memory,

That you have thus a loving heart betrayed.

To God pray I, and often have so prayed,

That of your deeds be painted chief of all,

And most in honour, those which now befall ;

And when thine ancestors shall painted be,

In which all men their worthiness may see,

Then pray I God that thou be painted so

As I have said, that folks may say, I trow —

' Lo ! this is he that with his flattery

Betrayed this maid, and did her villany

Who was his own true love, in thought and deed.'

And in this point they will moreover read

That you are like your father in your smile,

For Ariadne did he thus beguile,

With just such art, and just such subtlety,

Right even as thou hast beguiled me ;

For in that point, altho' it be not fair,

Thou followest closely, and thou art his heir.

But since thus sinful to me in my faith,

Beguiling me until I wish for death,

My body soon before your sight will be,

Floating all dead and cold upon the sea,

Right in the port of Athens, where you 're king !

There, without sepulture or burying,


'Twill float about, and make the people moan.
Ah ! could it touch your heart, which harder is than
stone !"

And when this letter she sent over sea,
And found how brutal and how false was he,
Despairing, round her neck the thong she cast ;
Such grief was hers, bewilder'd by the past.

Ye pitying maidens, while your salt tears flow,
Beware of faithless man, your natural foe !
For even now you may such samples see —
So henceforth trust in love no man but me.





The reader is to understand, that all the persons previously
described in the " Prologue to the Canterbury Tales," are now-
riding on their way to that city, and each of them telling his tale
respectively, which is preceded by some little bit of incident or
conversation on the road. The agreement, suggested by the Host
of the Tabard, was, first, that each pilgrim should tell a couple of
tales while going to Canterbury, and another couple during the
return to London ; secondly, that the narrator of the best one of
all should sup at the expense of the whole party ; and thirdly, that
the Host himself should be gratuitous guide on the journey, and
arbiter of all differences by the way, with power to inflict the
payment of travelling expenses upon any one who should gain-
say his judgment. During the intervals of the stories he is ac-
cordingly the most prominent person.



Wottest thou, reader, of a little town.
Which thereabouts they call Bob-up-and-down,
Under the Blee, in Canterbury way * ?
Well, there our host began to jest and play,
And said, Hush, hush now : Dun is in the mire.
What, Sirs ? will nobody, for prayer or hire,
Wake our good gossip, sleeping here behind ?
Here were a bundle for a thief to find.

* The Blee, " a forest in Kent," says the Glossary in Anderson's British
Poets. The same authority says, it cannot find Bob-up-and-down in the
maps. Probably it was only a nick-name in the neighbourhood, arising
either from the uneven nature of the ground, and its jolting, or from the
sudden appearance of the houses, now up above one another, and now


See, how he noddeth ! by St. Peter, see !

He'll tumble off his saddle presently.

Is that a Cook of London, red flames take him !

He knoweth the agreement — wake him, wake him :

We'll have his tale, to keep him from his nap,

Although the drink turn out not worth the tap.

Awake, thou cook, quoth he ; God say thee nay ;

What aileth thee to sleep thus in the day ?

Hast thou had fleas all night ? or art thou drunk ?

Or didst thou sup with my good lord the monk,

And hast a jolly surfeit in thine head ?

This cook that was full pale, and nothing red,
Stared up, and said unto the host, God bless
My soul, I feel such wondrous heaviness,
I know not why, that I would rather sleep
Than drink of the best gallon- wine in Cheap.

Well, quoth the Manciple, if it might ease
Thine head, Sir Cook, and also none displease
Of all here riding in this company,
And mine Host grant it, I would pass thee by,
Till thou art better, and so tell my Tale ;
For in good faith thy visage is full pale ;


Thine eyes grow dull, methinks ; and sure I am,
Thy breath resembleth not sweet marjoram,
Which showeth thou canst utter no good matter :
Nay, thou mayst frown forsooth, but I'll not natter.
See, how he gapeth, lo ! this drunken wight ;
He'll swallow us all up before he'll bite ;
Hold close thy mouth, man, by thy father's kin ;
The fiend himself now set his foot therein,
And stop it up, for 'twill infect us all ;
Fie, hog ; fie, pigsty; foul thy grunt befall.
Ah — see, he bolteth ! there, Sirs* was a swing ;
Take heed — he 's bent on tilting at the ring :
He's the shape, isn't he ? to tilt and ride !
Eh, you mad fool ! go to your straw, and hide.

Now with this speech the cook for rage grew black,
And would have storm'd, but could not speak, alack !
So mumbling something, from his horse fell he,
And where he fell, there lay he patiently,
Till pity on his shame his fellows took.
Here was a pretty horseman of a cook !
Alas ! that he had held not by his ladle !
And ere again they got him on his saddle,
There was a mighty shoving to and fro


To lift him up, and muckle care and woe,

So heavy was this carcase of a ghost.

Then to the Manciple thus spake our Host : —

Since drink upon this man hath domination,

By nails ! and as I reckon my salvation,

I trow he would have told a sorry tale ;

For whether it be wine, or it be ale,

That he hath drank, he speaketh through the nose,

And sneezeth much, and he hath got the pose *,

And also hath giv'n us business enow

To keep him on his horse, out of the slough ;

He '11 fall again, if he be driven to speak,

And then, where are we, for a second week ?

Why, lifting up his heavy drunken corse !

Tell on thy Tale, and look we to his horse.

Yet, Manciple, in faith thou art too nice

Thus openly to chafe him for his vice.

Perchance some day he'll do as much for thee,

And bring thy baker's bills in jeopardy,

Thy black jacks also, and thy butcher's matters,

And whether they square nicely with thy platters.

Mine, quoth the Manciple, were then the mire !

* A sort of rheumatic aiIWt ion.


Much rather would I pay his horse's hire,
And that will be no trifle, mud and all,
Than risque the peril of so sharp a fall.
I did but jest. Score not, ye'll be not scored.
And guess ye what ? I have here, in my gourd,
A draught of wine, better was never tasted,
And with this cook's ladle will I be basted,
If he don't drink of it, right lustily.
Upon my life he'll not say nay. Now see.

And tine it was, the cook drank fast enough ;
Down went the drink out of the gourd, fluff, fluff:
Alas ! the man had had enough before :
And then, betwixt a trumpet and a snore,
His nose said something, — grace for what he had ;
And of that drink the cook was wondrous glad.

Our Host nigh burst with laughter at the sight,
And sigh'd and wiped his eyes for pure delight,
And said, Well, I perceive it 's necessary,
Where'er we go, good wine with us to cam-.
What needeth in this world more strifes befall ?
Good wine 's the doctor to appease them all.
O, Bacchus, Bacchus ! blessed be thv name,


That thus canst turn our earnest into game.
Worship and thanks be to thy deity.
So on this head ye get no more from me.
Tell on thy tale, Manciple, I thee pray.

Well, Sire, quoth he, now hark to what 1 say.



When Phoebus dwelt with men, in days of yore,

He was the very lustiest bachelor

Of all the world ; and shot in the best bow.

Twas he, as the old books of stories show,

That shot the serpent Python, as he lay

Sleeping against the sun, upon a day :

And many another noble worthy deed

He did with that same bow, as men may read.

He play'd all kinds of music : and so clear
His singing was, and such a heaven to hear,

96 the manciple's tale ; OR,

Men might not speak daring his madrigal.

Amphion, king of Thebes, that put a wall

About the city with his melody,

Certainly sang not half so well as he.

And add to this, he was the seemliest man

That is, or has been, since the world began.

What needs describe his beauty ? since there 's none

With which to make the least comparison.

In brief, he was the flower of gentilesse * ,

Of honour, and of perfect worthiness :

And yet, take note, for all this master}',

This Phcebus was of cheer so frank and free,

That for his sport, and to commend the glory

He gat him o'er the snake (so runs the story),

He used to carry in his hand a bow.

Now this same god had in his house a crow,
Which in a cage he foster'd many a day,
And taught to speak, as folks will teach a jay.
White was the crow, as is a snow-white swan.
And could repeat a tale told by a man,

* This old French and Anglo-Norman word, answering to the Italian
gentilezxa, and signifying the possession of every species of refinement,
has been retained as supplying a want which there is no modem word to
(ill nj).


And sing. No nightingale, down in a dell,
Could sing one hundred-thousandth part so well.

Now had this Phoebus in his house a wife
Which that he loved beyond his very life :
And night and day did all his diligence
To please her well, and do her reverence ;
Save only, to speak truly, inter nos,
Jealous he was, and would have kept her close :
He wish'd not to be treated monstrously :
Neither does any man, no more than he ;
Only to hinder wives, it serveth nought ; —
A good wife, that is clean of work and thought,
No man would dream of hind'ring such a wav.
And just as bootless is it, night or day,
Hind'ring a shrew ; for it will never be.
I hold it for a very foppery,
Labour in vain, this toil to hinder wives.
Old writers always say so, in their Lives.

But to my story, as it first began.
This worthy Phoebus doeth all he can
To please his wife, in hope, so pleasing her,
That she, for her part, would herself bestir


Discreetly, so as not to lose his grace ;
But, Lord he knows, there's no man shall embrace
A thing so close, as to restrain what Nature
Hath naturally set in any creature.

Take any bird, and put it in a cage,
And do thy best and utmost to engage
The bird to love it ; give it meat and drink,
And every dainty housewives can bethink,
And keep the cage as cleanly as you may,
And let it be with gilt never so gay,
Yet had this bird, by twenty-thousand fold,
Rather be in a forest wild and cold,
And feed on worms and such like wretchedness ;
Yea, ever will he tax his whole address
To get out of the cage, when that he may : —
His liberty the bird desireth aye.

So, take a cat, and foster her with milk
And tender meat, and make her bed of silk,
Yet let her see a mouse go by the wall,
The devil may take, for her, silk, milk, and all,
And every dainty that is in the house ;
Such appetite hath she to eat the mouse.


Lo, here hath Nature plainly domination,
And appetite renounceth education.

A she-wolf likewise hath a villain's kind :
The worst and roughest wolf that she can find,
Or least of reputation, will she wed,
When the time comes to make her marriage-bed.

But misinterpret not my speech, I pray ;
All this of men, not women, do I say ;
For men it is, that come and spoil the lives
Of such, as but for them, would make good wives.
They leave their own wives, be they never so fair,
Never so true, never so debonaire,
And take the lowest they may find, for change.
Flesh, the fiend take it, is so given to range,
Tt never will continue, long together,
Contented with good, steady, virtuous weather.

This Phoebus, while on nothing ill thought he,
Jilted he was, for all his jollity ;
For under him, his wife, at her heart's root,
Another had,' a man of small repute,
Not worth a blink of Phoebus ; more's the pitv ;
Too oft it falleth so, in court and city.
h 2


This wife, when Phcebus was from home one day
Sent for her lemman then, without delay.
Her lemman ! — a plain word, I needs must own ;
Forgive it me ; for Plato hath laid down,
The word must suit according- with the deed ;
Word is work's cousin-german, ye may read :
I'm a plain man, and what I say is this :
Wife high, wife low, if bad, both do amiss :
But because one man's wench sitteth above,
She shall be call'd his Lady and his Love ;
And because t' other's sitteth low and poor,
She shall be call'd, — Well, well, I say no more ;
Only God knoweth, man, mine own dear brother,
One wife is laid as low, just, as the other.

Right so betwixt a lawless, mighty chief
And a rude outlaw, or an arrant thief,
Knight arrant or thief arrant, all is one ;
Diffrence, as Alexander learnt, there 's none ;
But for the chief is of the greater might,
By force of numbers, to slay all out-right,
And burn, and waste, and make as flat as floor,
Lo, therefore is he clept a Conqueror ;
And for the other hath his numbers less,
And cannot work such mischief and distress,



Nor be by half so wicked as the chief,
Men clepen him an outlaw and a thief.

However, I am no text- spinning man ;
So to my tale I go, as I began.

Now with her lemman is this Phoebus' wife ;
The crow he sayeth nothing, for his life ;
Cag'd hangeth he, and sayeth not a word ;
But when that home was come Phoebus the lord,
He singeth out, and saith, — Cuckoo ! cuckoo !
Hey ! crieth Phoebus ; here be something new ;
Thy song was wont to cheer me. What is this ?
By Jove ! quoth Corvus, I sing not amiss.
Phoebus, quoth he, for all thy worthiness,
For all thy beauty and all thy gentilesse,
For all thy song and all thy minstrelsy,
And all thy watching, bleared is thine eye ;
Yea, and by one no worthier than a gnat,
Compar'd with him should boast to wear thine hat.

What would you more ? the crow hath told him all ;
This woeful god hath turn'd him to the wall
To hide his tears : he thought 'twould burst his heart ;
He bent his bow, and set therein a dart,


And in his ire he hath his wife yslain ;
He hath ; he felt such anger and such pain ;
For sorrow of which he brake his minstrelsy,
Both harp and lute, gittern and psaltery,
And then he brake his arrows and his bow,
And after that, thus spake he to the crow : —

Traitor, quoth he, behold what thou hast done ;
Made me the saddest wretch beneath the sun :
Alas ! why was I born ! O dearest wife,
Jewel of love and joy, my only life,
That wert to me so stedfast and so true,
There liest thou dead ; why am not I so too r
Full innocent thou wert, that durst I swear ;
O hasty hand, to bring me to despair !
troubled wit, O anger without thought,
That unadvised smitest, and for nought :
O heart of little faith, full of suspicion,
Where was thy handsomeness and thy discretion ?
O every man, hold hastiness in loathing ;
Believe, without strong testimony, nothing ;
Smite not too soon, before ye well know why ;
And be advised well and soberly
Before ye trust yourselves to the commission
Of any ireful deed upon suspicion.


Alas ! a thousand folk hath hasty ire
Foully foredone, and brought into the mire.
Alas ! I '11 kill myself for misery.

And to the crow, O thou false thief ! said he,
I '11 quit thee, all thy life, for thy false tale ;
Thou shalt no more sing like the nightingale,
Nor shalt thou in those fair white feathers go,
Thou silly thief, thou false, black-hearted crow ;
Nor shalt thou ever speak like man again ;
Thou shalt not have the power to give such pain ;
Nor shall thy race wear any coat but black,
And ever shall their voices crone and crack
And be a warning against wind and rain,
In token that by thee my wife was slain.

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 10 of 18)