The Prioress’s Tale

From The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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