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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)

A POORÈ widow somedeal stope in age,

Was whilom dwelling in a narrow cottàge,

Beside a grovè, standing in a dale.

This widow, of which I tellè you my tale,

Since thilkè day that she was last a wife,

In patìénce led a full simple life.

For little was her cattel and her rent:

By husbandry of such as God her sent

She found herself, and eke her daughtren two.

Three largè sowès had she, and no mo;

Three kine, and eke a sheep that hightè Mall.

Full sooty was her bower, and eke her hall,

In which she ate full many a slender meal.

Of poignant sauce her needed never a deal.

No dainty morsel passèd through her throat;

Her diet was accordant to her cote.

Repletìón ne made her never sick;

Attemper diet was all her physíc,

And exercise, and heartès súffisánce.

The goutè let her nothing for to dance,

N’ apoplexy ne shentè not her head.

No wine ne drank she, neither white ne red:

Her board was servèd most with white and black,

Milk and brown bread, in which she found no lack,

Seind bacon, and sometime an egg or twey;

For she was as it were a manner dey.

A yard she had, enclosèd all about

With stickès, and a dryè ditch without,

In which she had a cock hight Chanticleer,

In all the land of crowing was none his peer.

His voice was merrier than the merry orgón,

On massè days that in the churchè gon.

Well sikerer was his crowing in his lodge,

Than is a clock, or an abbéy horloge.

By nature he knew each ascensìón

Of the equinoctìál in thilkè town;

For when degrees fifteenè were ascended,

Then crew he, that it might not be amended.

His comb was redder than the fine corál,

And battled, as it were a castle wall.

His bill was black, and as the jet it shone;

Like azure were his leggès and his ton;

His nailès whiter than the lily flower,

And like the burnèd gold was his colóur.

This gentle cock had in his governánce

Seven hennès, for to do all his pleasánce,

Which were his sisters and his paramours,

And wonder like to him, as of coloúrs;

Of which the fairest huèd on her throat

Was clepèd fairè Damosel Partelote.

Courteous she was, discreet, and debonair,

And cómpanáble, and bare herself so fair,

Sin thilkè day that she was sevennight old,

That truèly she hath the heart in hold

Of Chanticleer, locken in every lith;

He loved her so, that well was him therewith.

But such a joy was it to hear hem sing,

When that the brightè sunnè gan to spring,

In sweet accord, ‘My lief is faren on land.’

For thilkè time, as I have understande,

Beastès and birdès couldè speak and sing.

And so befell, that in a dawèning,

As Chanticleer among his wivès all

Sat on his perchè, that was in the hall,

And next him sat this fairè Partèlote,

This Chanticleer gan groanen in his throat,

As man that in his dream is drecchèd sore,

And when that Partèlote thus heard him roar,

She was aghast, and said, “O heartè dear,

What aileth you to groan in this mannére?

Ye be a very sleeper, fie, for shame!”

And he answéred and saidè thus: “Madáme,

I pray you that ye take it not agrief;

By God, me met I was in such mischiéf

Right now, that yet mine heart is sore affright.

Now God,” quoth he, “my sweven read aright,

And keep my body out of foul prisón.

Me met how that I roamèd up and down

Within our yard, where-as I saw a beast

Was like an hound, and would have made arrest

Upon my body, and have had me dead.

His colour was betwixè yellow and red;

And tippèd was his tail, and both his ears

With black, unlike the remnant of his hairs.

His snoutè small, with glowing eyen twey;

Yet of his look for fear almost I dey:

This causèd me my groaning doubtèless.”

“Avoy!” quoth she, “fie on you heartèless!

Alas!” quoth she, “for by that God above

Now have ye lost mine heart and all my love;

I cannot love a coward, by my faith.

For certes, what so any woman saith,

We all desiren, if it mightè be,

To have husbándès, hardy, wise, and free,

And secre, and no niggard ne no fool,

Ne him that is aghast of every tool,

Ne none avantour by that God above.

How durst ye say for shame unto your love,

That anything might maken you afeard?

Have ye no mannès heart, and have a beard?

Alas! and can ye be aghast of swevenès?

Nothing but vanity, God wot, in sweven is.

Swevens engender of repletìóns,

And oft of fume, and of complexìóns,

When humours be too abundant in a wight.

Certes this dream, which ye have met to-night,

Cometh of the greatè superfluity

Of yourè redè colera, pardié,

Which causeth folk to dreamen in hir dreams

Of arrows, and of fire with redè leames,

Of greatè beastès, that they will hem bite,

Of contek and of whelpès great and lite;

Right as the humour of meláncholy

Causeth full many a man in sleep to cry,

For fear of blackè beares or bullès blake,

Or ellès blackè devils will hem take.

Of other humours could I tell also,

That worken many a man in sleep full woe:

But I will pass as lightly as I can.

Lo Cato, which that was so wise a man,

Said he not thus? ‘Ne do no force of dreams.’”

“Now, Sir,” quoth she, “when ye fly from the beams,

For Godès love, as take some laxative:

Up peril of my soul, and of my live,

I counsel you the best, I will not lie,

That both of choler, and of meláncholy

Ye purgè you; and for ye shall not tarry,

Though in this town is none apothecary,

I shall myself to herbès teachen you,

That shall be for your heal and for your prow;

And in our yard tho herbès shall I find,

The which have of hir property by kind

To purgen you beneath, and eke above.

Forget not this for Godès owen love;

Ye be full choleric of complexìón;

Ware the sun in his ascensìón

Ne find you not replete of humours hot:

And if it do, I dare well lay a groat,

That ye shall have a fever tertìán,

Or an agúe, that may be yourè bane.

A day or two ye shall have dígestíves

Of wormès, ere ye take your laxatíves,

Of lauriol, centaury, and fumetere,

Or else of hellebore, that groweth there,

Of catapucè, or of gaitres-berríès,

Of herb ivy growing in our yard, that merry is:

Pick hem up right as they grow, and eat hem in.

Be merry, husband, for your father kin

Dreadeth no dream; I can say you no more.”

“Madame,” quoth he, “grand mercy of your lore.

But nathèless, as touching Dan Caton,

That hath of wisdom such a great renown,

Though that he bade no dreamès for to drede,

By God, men may in oldè bookès read,

Of many a man, more of authority

Than ever Cato was, so mote I the,

That all the réverse say of this senténce,

And have well founden by experiénce,

That dreamès be significatìóns

As well of joy, as of tribulatìóns,

That folk enduren in this life presént.

There needeth make of this none argument;

The very prevè sheweth it indeed.

“One of the greatest authors that men read,

Saith thus, that whilom two fellówès went

On pilgrimage in a full good intent;

And happèd so, they came into a town,

Where-as there was such congregatìón

Of people, and eke so strait of herbergage,

That they ne found as much as one cottáge,

In which they bothè might ylodgèd be:

Wherefore they musten of necessity,

As for that night, departen company;

And each of hem goeth to his hostelry,

And took his lodging as it wouldè fall.

That one of hem was lodgèd in a stall,

Far in a yard, with oxen of the plow;

That other man was lodgèd well enow,

As was his áventúre, or his fortúne,

That us govérneth all, as in commúne.

And so befell, that, long ere it were day,

This man met in his bed, there-as he lay,

How that his fellow gan upon him call,

And said, ‘Alas! for in an oxès stall

This night I shall be murdered, there I lie.

Now help me, dearè brother, or I die;

In allè hastè come to me,’ he said.

This man out of his sleep for fear abraid;

But when that he was wakened of his sleep,

He turnèd him, and took of this no keep;

Him thought his dream nas but a vanity.

Thus twiès in his sleeping dreamèd he.

And at the thirdè time yet his felláw

Came, as him thought, and said, ‘I am now slawe.

Behold my bloody woundès, deep and wide.

Arise up early, in the morrow tide,

And at the west gate of the town,’ quoth he,

‘A cartè full of dung there shalt thou see,

In which my body is hid full privily.

Do thilkè cart arresten boldèly.

My gold causèd my murder, sooth to sayn.’

And told him every point how he was slain

With a full piteous facè, pale of hue.

And trusteth well, his dream he found full true;

For on the morrow, as soon as it was day,

To his fellówès inn he took his way:

And when that he came to this oxès stall,

After his fellow he began to call.

The hostèler answérèd him anon,

And saidè, ‘Sir, your fellow is agone,

As soon as day he went out of the town.’

“This man gan fallen in suspicìón

Remembering on his dreamès that he met,

And forth he goeth, no lenger would he let,

Unto the west gate of the town, and found

A dung cart, as it were to dungè lond,

That was arrayèd in that samè wise

As ye have heard the deadè man devise:

And with an hardy heart he gan to cry,

‘Vengeance and justice of this felony:

My fellow murdered is this samè night,

And in this cart he lieth, gaping upright.

I cry out on the ministers,’ quoth he,

‘That shouldè keep and rulen this city:

Harow! alas! here lieth my fellow slain.’

What should I more unto this talè sayn?

The people out start, and cast the cart to ground,

And in the middle of the dung they found

The deadè man, that murdered was all new.

O blissful God! that art so just and true,

Lo, how that thou bewrayest murder alway.

Murder will out, that see we day by day.

Murder is so wlatsom and abomináble

To God, that is so just and reasonáble,

That he ne will not suffer it helèd be,

Though it abide a year, or two, or three;

Murder will out, this is my conclusìón.

“And right anon, minísters of that town

Have hent the carter, and so sore him pined,

And eke the hostèler so sore engíned,

That they beknew hir wickedness anon,

And were anhangèd by the neckè bone.

“Here may men see that dreamès be to dread.

And certes in the samè book I read,

Right in the nextè chapter after this,

(I gabbè not, so have I joy and bliss,)

Two men that would have passèd over sea

For certain cause into a far country,

If that the wind ne haddè been contráry,

That made hem in a city for to tarry,

That stood full merry upon an haven side.

But on a day, again the even tide,

The wind gan change, and blew right as hem lest.

Jolly and glad they went unto hir rest,

And casten hem full early for to sail;

But to that one man fell a great marvail.

That one of them in sleeping as he lay,

He met a wonder dream, again the day:

Him thought a man stood by his beddès side,

And him commanded that he should abide,

And said him thus: ‘If thou to-morrow wend,

Thou shalt be dreynt; my tale is at an end.’

He woke, and told his fellow what he met,

And prayèd him his voyagè to let;

As for that day, he prayed him for to abide.

His fellow, that lay by his beddès side,

Gan for to laugh, and scornèd him full fast.

‘No dream,’ quoth he, ‘may so my heart aghast,

That I will letten for to do my things.

I settè not a straw by thy dreamíngs,

For swevens be but vanities and japes.

Men dream all day of owlès or of apes,

And eke of many a masè therewithal;

Men dream of thing that never was, ne shall.

But sith I see that thou wilt here abide,

And thus forslothen wilfully thy tide,

God wot it rueth me, and have good day.’

And thus he took his leave, and went his way.

But ere that he had half his course ysailed,

Nought I not why, ne what mischance it ailed,

But casually the shippès bottom rent,

And ship and man under the water went

In sight of other shippès there beside,

That with hem sailèd at the samè tide.

“And therefore, fairè Partèlote so dear,

By such ensamples old yet mayst thou lere,

That no man shouldè be too reckèless

Of dreamès, for I say thee doubtèless,

That many a dream full sore is for to dread.

“Lo, in the life of Saint Kenelm I read,

That was Kenulphus son, the noble king

Of Mercenrike, how Kenelm met a thing.

A little ere he was murdered, on a day,

His murder in his ávisión he say.

His norice him expounded every del

His sweven, and bade him for to keep him well

For treason; but he nas but seven year old,

And therefore little talè hath he told

Of any dream, so holy was his heart.

By God, I haddè liefer than my shirt,

That ye had read his legend, as have I.

“Dame Partèlote, I say you truèly,

Macrobius, that writ the ávisión

In Afric of the worthy Scipion,

Affirmeth dreamès, and saith that they be

Warning of thingès that men after see.

And furthermore, I pray you looketh well

In the Oldè Testament, of Danìél,

If he held dreamès any vanity.

Read eke of Joseph, and there shall ye see

Where dreamès be sometime (I say not all)

Warning of thingès that shall after fall.

Look of Egypt the king, Dan Pharao,

His baker and his butèler also,

Whether they ne felten none effect in dreams.

Whoso will seeken acts of sundry remes,

May read of dreamès many a wonder thing.

Lo Crœsus, which that was of Lydia king,

Met he not that he sat upon a tree,

Which signified he should anhangèd be?

“Lo here, Andromache, Hectórès wife,

That day that Hector shouldè lese his life,

She dreamèd on the samè night beforn,

How that the life of Hector should be lorn,

If thilkè day he went into battáil:

She warnèd him, but it might not avail;

He wentè for to fighten nathèless,

And he was slain anon of Achillés.

But thilkè tale is all too long to tell,

And eke it is nigh day, I may not dwell.

“Shortly I say, as for conclusìón,

That I shall have of this avisìón

Adversity: and I say furthermore,

That I ne tell of laxatives no store,

For they be venomous, I wot it well:

I hem defy, I love hem never a del.

“Now let us speak of mirth, and stint all this;

Madamè Partèlote, so have I bliss,

Of one thing God hath sent me largè grace:

For when I see the beauty of your face,

Ye be so scarlet red about your eyen,

It maketh all my dreadè for to dien,

For, also sicker as In principio,

Mulier est hominis confusio,

Madam, the sentence of this Latin is,

Woman is mannès joy and all his bliss—

For when I feel a-night your softè side,


I am so full of joy and of soláce,

That I defyè bothè sweven and dream.”

And with that word he flew down from the beam,

For it was day, and eke his hennès all;

And with a chuck he gan hem for to call,

For he had found a corn, lay in the yard.

Royal he was, he was no more afeard;


He looketh as it were a grim lión;

And on his toes he roameth up and down,

Him deignèd not to set his feet to ground:

He chucketh, when he hath a corn yfound,

And to him rennen then his wivès all.

Thus royal, as a prince is in his hall,

Leave I this Chanticleer in his pastúre;

And after will I tell his áventúre.

When that the month in which the world began,

That hightè March, when God first makèd man,

Was cómplete, and ypassèd were also,

Sithen March began, thirty dayès and two,

Befell that Chanticleer in all his pride,

His seven wivès walking by his side,

Cast up his eyen to the brightè sun,

That in the sign of Taurus had yrun

Twenty degrees and one, and somewhat more:

He knew by kind, and by none other lore,

That it was prime, and crew with blissful steven,

“The sun,” he said, “is clomben up on heaven

Forty degrees and one, and more ywis.

Madamè Partèlote, my worldès bliss,

Hearkeneth these blissful birdès how they sing,

And see the freshè flowers how they spring;

Full is mine heart of revel and soláce.”

But suddenly him fell a sorrowful case;

For ever the latter end of joy is woe:

God wot that worldly joy is soon ago;

And if a rethor couldè fair indite,

He in a chronique safely might it write,

As for a sovereign notability.

Now every wise man, let him hearken me:

This story is also true, I undertake,

As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,

That women hold in full great reverénce.

Now will I turn again to my senténce.

A col fox, full of sly iniquity,

That in the grove had wonèd yearès three,

By high imaginatìón forncast,

The samè night throughout the hedges brast

Into the yard, there Chanticleer the fair

Was wont, and eke his wivès, to repair:

And in a bed of wortès still he lay,

Till it was passèd undern of the day,

Waiting his time on Chanticleer to fall:

As gladly do these homicidès all,

That in awaitè lie to murder men.

O falsè murderer! lurking in thy den!

O newè ’Scariot, newè Genelon!

Falsè dissimulour, O Greek Sinon,

That broughtest Troy all utterly to sorrow!

O Chanticleer! accursèd be that morrow,

That thou into that yard flew from the beams,

Thou were full well ywarnèd by thy dreams,

That thilkè day was perilous to thee.

But what that God forewot mote needès be,

After the opinìón of certain clerkès.

Witness on him that any perfect clerk is,

That in school is great altercatìón

In this mattér, and great disputison,

And hath been of an hundred thousand men.

But I ne cannot bolt it to the bren,

As can the holy doctor Augustin,

Or Boece, or the bishop Bradwardin,

Whether that Godès worthy forewïtíng

Straineth me needly for to do a thing,—

Needly clepe I simple necessity—

Or ellès if free choice be granted me

To do that samè thing, or do it nought,

Though God forewot it ere that it was wrought;

Or if his witing straineth never a del,

But by necessity conditionèl.

I will not have to do of such mattère;

My tale is of a cock, as ye may hear,

That took his counsel of his wife with sorrow

To walken in the yard upon that morrow

That he had met the dream, that I of told.

Womenès counsels be full often cold;

Womanès counsel brought us first to woe,

And made Adám from Paradise to go,

There as he was full merry, and well at ease.

But for I not, to whom it might displease,

If I counsél of women wouldè blame,

Pass over, for I said it in my game.

Read authors, where they treat of such mattére,

And what they say of women ye may hear.

These be the cockès wordès, and not mine;

I can none harm of no woman divine.

Fair in the sand, to bathe her merrily,

Lieth Partelote, and all her sisters by,

Again the sun; and Chanticleer so free

Sang merrier than the mermaid in the sea;

For Physiologus saith sikerly,

How that they singen well and merrily.

And so befell that as he cast his eye

Among the wortès on a butterfly,

He was ware of this fox that lay full low.

Nothing ne list him thennè for to crow,

But cried anon “Cock! cock!” and up he start,

As man that was affrayèd in his heart.

For naturally a beast desireth flee

From his contráry, if he may it see,

Though he ne’er erst had seen it with his eye.

This Chanticleer, when he gan him espy,

He would have fled, but that the fox anon

Said, “Gentle Sir, alas! why will ye gon?

Be ye afraid of me that am your friend?

Now certes, I were worsè than a fiend,

If I to you would harm or villainy.

I am not come your counsel for to espy,

But truèly the cause of my comíng

Was only for to hearken how that ye sing:

For truèly ye have as merry a steven,

As any angel hath that is in heaven;

Therewith ye have in music more feelíng,

Than had Boece, or any that can sing.

My lord your father! God his soulè bless

And eke your mother of her gentillesse,

Have in mine house ybeen, to my great ease:

And certes, sir, full fain would I you please.

But for men speak of singing, I will say,

So mote I brooken well my eyen tway,

Save you, I heardè never man so sing,

As did your father in the morwening.

Certes it was of heart all that he sung.

And for to make his voice the morè strong,

He would so pain him, that with both his eyen

He mustè wink, so loud he wouldè crien,

And standen on his tipton therewithal,

And stretchen forth his neckè long and small.

And eke he was of such discretìón,

That there nas no man in no regìón,

That him in song or wisdom mightè pass.

I have well read in Dan Burnel the ass

Among his verse, how that there was a cock,

For that a priestès son gave him a knock

Upon his leg, while he was young and nice,

He made him for to lese his benefice.

But certain there nis no comparisón

Betwix the wisdom and discretìón

Of your fathèr, and of his subtilty.

Now singeth, sir, for saintè Charity,

Let see, can ye your father counterfeit?”

This Chanticleer his wingès gan to beat,

As man that could his treason not espy,

So was he ravished with his flattery.

Alas! ye lordès, many a false flatour

Is in your courts, and many a losengeour,

That pleasen you well morè, by my faith,

Than he that soothfastness unto you saith.

Readeth Ecclesiast of flattèry,

Beware, ye lordès, of hir treachery.

This Chanticleer stood high upon his toes

Stretching his neck, and held his eyen close,

And gan to crowen loudè for the nonce:

And Dan Russèl the fox start up at once,

And by the garget hentè Chanticleer,

And on his back toward the wood him bare.

For yet ne was there no man that him sued.

O destiny, that mayst not be eschewed!

Alas, that Chanticleer flew from the beams!

Alas, his wife ne raughtè not of dreams!

And on a Friday fell all this mischance.

O Venus, that art goddess of pleasánce,

Sin that thy servant was this Chanticleer,

And in thy service did all his powér,

More for delight, than world to multiply,

Why wouldst thou suffer him on thy day to die?

O Gaufrid, dearè master sovèreígn,

That, when thy worthy king Richárd was slain

With shot, complainedest his death so sore,

Why nad I now thy sentence and thy lore,

The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?—

For on a Friday soothly slain was he,—

Then would I shew you how that I could plain

For Chanticleerès dread, and for his pain.

Certes such cry, ne lamentatìón

Was ne’er of ladies made, when Ilión

Was won, and Pyrrhus with his streitè swerd,

When he had hent king Priam by the beard,

And slain him, as saith us Ænéidós,

As maden all the hennès in the close,

When they had seen of Chanticleer the sight.

But sovereignly Dame Partèlotè shright,

Full louder than did Hasdrubalès wife,

When that her husband haddè lost his life,

And that the Romans haddè burnt Cartháge.

She was so full of torment and of rage,

That willfully into the fire she start,

And brent herselven with a steadfast heart.

O woful hennès! right so crieden ye,

As when that Nero brentè the city

Of Romè, crieden senatorès wives

For that their husbands losten all hir lives;

Withouten guilt this Nero hath hem slain.

Now will I turnè to my tale again;

This sely widow, and eke her daughters two,

Hearden these hennès cry and maken woe,

And out at doorès starten they anon,

And saw the fox toward the grovè gon,

And bare upon his back the cock away:

They crieden, “Out! harow and welawa!

Ha, ha! the fox!” and after him they ran,

And eke with stavès many another man;

Ran Coll our dog, and Talbot, and Garland,

And Malkin with a distaff in her hand;

Ran cow and calf, and eke the very hoggès,

So were they feared for barking of the doggès,

And shouting of the men and women eke,

They rannen so, hem thought hir heartè breke.

They yellèden as fiendès do in hell:

The duckès crieden as men would hem quell:

The geese for fearè flewen o’er the trees,

Out of the hivè came the swarm of bees,

So hideous was the noise, a! ben’cite!

Certes he Jackè Straw, and his meyné,

Ne maden never shoutès half so shrill,

When that they woulden any Fleming kill,

As thilkè day was made upon the fox.

Of brass they broughten beamès and of box,

Of horn and bone, in which they blew and poopèd,

And therewithal they shriekèd and they hoopèd,

It seemèd as that heaven shouldè fall.

Now, goodè men, I pray you hearkeneth all;

Lo, how Fortunè turneth suddenly

The hope and pride eke of her enemy.

This cock that lay upon the fox’s back,

In all his dread, unto the fox he spake,

And saidè, “Sir, if that I were as ye,

Yet would I say, as wis God helpè me,

‘Turneth again, ye proudè churlès all;

A very pestilence upon you fall!

Now am I come unto the woodès side,

Maugre your head, the cock shall here abide:

I will him eat in faith, and that anon.’”

The fox answéred, “In faith, it shall be done:”

And as he spake that word, all suddenly

This cock brake from his mouth deliverly,

And high upon a tree he flew anon.

And when the fox saw that he was ygone,

“Alas!” quoth he, “O Chanticleer, alas!

I have to you,” quoth he, “ydone trespáss,

Inasmuch as I makèd you afeard,

When I you hent, and brought out of the yard;

But, sir, I did it of no wicke intent:

Come down, and I shall tell you what I meant.

I shall say sooth to you, God help me so.”

“Nay then,” quoth he, “I shrew us bothè two,

And first I shrew myself, both blood and bonès,

If thou beguile me any ofter than onès.

Thou shalt no morè through thy flattery

Do me to sing and winken with mine eye.

For he that winketh when he shouldè see,

All willfully, God let him never the!”

“Nay,” quoth the fox, “but God give him mischance,

That is so indiscreet of governánce,

That jangleth when he shouldè hold his peace.”

Lo, such it is for to be reckèless

And negligent, and trust on flattery.

But ye that holden this tale a folly,

As of a fox, or of a cock and hen,

Take the morality thereof, good men.

For Saint Paul saith, That all that written is,

To our doctríne it is ywrit ywis,

Taketh the fruit, and let the chaff be still.

Now goodè God, if that it be thy will,

As saith my lord, so make us all good men;

And bring us to his highè bliss.—Amen.