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The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

RESERVATIONS The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer – COLLECTION  
  1. The Manciple's Prologue
  2. The Manciple's Tale of the Crow

49. The Manciple's Prologue

Do you not know where stands a little town
That's called by all about Bob-up-and-down,
Under the Blean, down Canterbury way?
There did our host begin to jape and play,
And he said: "Sirs, what! Dun is in the mire!
Is there no man, then, who, for prayer or hire,
Will wake our comrade who's so far behind?
A thief might easily rob him and bind.
See how he's nodding! See, now, by Cock's bones,
As if he'd fall down from his horse at once.
Is that a cook of London, with mischance?
Make him come forward, he knows his penance,
For he shall tell a tale here, by my fay,
Although it be not worth a bunch of hay.
Awake, you cook," cried he, "God give you sorrow!
What ails you that you sleep thus? It's good morrow!
Have you had fleas all night, or are you drunk?
Or did you toil all night in some quean's bunk?
So that you cannot now hold up your head?"
The cook, who was all pale and nothing red,
Said to our host: "So may God my soul bless,
As there is on me such a drowsiness,
I know not why, that I would rather sleep
Than drink a gallon of best wine in Cheap."
"Well," said the manciple, "if 'twill give ease
To you, sir cook, and in no way displease
The folk that ride here in this company,
And if our host will, of his courtesy,
I will, for now, excuse you from your tale.
For in good faith, your visage is full pale,
Your eyes are bleary also, as I think,
And I know well your breath right sour does stink,
All of which shows that you are far from well;
No flattering lies about you will I tell.
See how he yawns. Just look, the drunken wight,
As if he'd swallow all of us outright.
Now close your mouth, man, by your father's kin;
Ah, may Hell's devil set his foot therein!
Your cursed breath will soon infect us all;
Fie, stinking swine, fie! Evil you befall!
Ah, take you heed, sirs, of this lusty man.
Now, sweet sir, would you like to ride at fan?
It seems to me you're in the proper shape!
You've drunk the wine that makes a man an ape,
And that is when a man plays with a straw."
The cook grew wroth, for this had touched the raw,
And at the manciple he nodded fast
For lack of speech, and him his horse did cast,
And there he lay till up the rest him took,
Which was a feat of riding for a cook!
Alas! That he had kept not to his ladle!
For ere he was again within his saddle,
There was a mighty shoving to and fro
To lift him up, and hugeous care and woe,
So all unwieldy was this sorry ghost.
And to the manciple then spoke our host:
"Since drink has got such utter domination
Over this fellow here, by my salvation,
I think that badly he would tell his tale.
For whether wine or old or musty ale
Is what he's drunk, he speaks all through his nose;
He snorts hard and with cold he's lachrymose.
Also he has more than enough to do
To keep him and his nag out of the slough;
And if he fall down off his horse again,
We'll all have quite enough of labour then
In lifting up his heavy drunken corse.
Tell on your tale, he matters not, of course.
"Yet, manciple, in faith, you are not wise
Thus openly to chide him for his vice.
Some day he'll get revenge, you may be sure,
And call you like a falcon to the lure;
I mean he'll speak of certain little things,
As, say, to point out in your reckonings
Things not quite honest, were they put to proof."
"Nay," said the manciple, "that were ill behoof!
So might he easily catch me in his snare.
Yet would I rather pay him for the mare
Which he rides on than have him with me strive;
I will not rouse his rage, so may I thrive!
That which I said, I said as jesting word;
And know you what? I have here, in a gourd,
A draught of wine, yea, of a good ripe grape,
And now anon you shall behold a jape.
This cook shall drink thereof, sir, if I may;
On pain of death he will not say me nay!"
And certainly, to tell it as it was,
Out of this gourd the cook drank deep, alas!
What need had he? He'd drunk enough that morn
And when he had blown into this said horn,
He gave the manciple the gourd again;
And of that drink the cook was wondrous fain,
And thanked him then in such wise as he could.
Then did our host break into laughter loud,
And said: "I see well it is necessary,
Where'er we go, good drink with us we carry;
For that will turn rancour and all unease
To accord and love, and many a wrong appease.
"O Bacchus, thou, all blessed be thy name
Who canst so turn stern earnest into game!
Honour and thanks be to thy deity!
Concerning which you'll get no more from me.
Tell on your tale, good manciple, I pray."
"Well, sir," said he, "now hear what I will say."


50. The Manciple's Tale of the Crow

When Phoebus once on earth was dwelling, here,
As in the ancient books it is made clear,
He was the lustiest of bachelors
In all this world, and even the best archer;
He slew Python, the serpent, as he lay
Sleeping within the sunlight, on a day;
And many another noble, worthy deed
He with his bow wrought, as all men may read.
He played all instruments of minstrelsy,
And sang so that it made great harmony
To hear his clear voice in the joyous sun.
Truly the king of Thebes, that Amphion
Who, by his singing, walled that great city,
Could never sing one half so well as he.
Therewith he was the handsomest young man
That is or was since first the world began.
What needs it that his features I revive?
For in the world was none so fair alive.
Compact of honour and of nobleness,
Perfect he was in every worthiness.
This Phoebus, of all youthful knights the flower,
Whom generous chivalry did richly dower,
For his amusement (sign of victory
Over that Python, says the old story),
Was wont to bear in hand a golden bow.
Now Phoebus had within his house a crow,
Which in a cage he'd fostered many a day,
And taught to speak, as men may teach a jay.
White was this crow as is a snow white swan,
And counterfeit the speech of any man
He could, when he desired to tell a tale.
Therewith, in all this world, no nightingale
Could, by a hundred-thousandth part, they tell,
Carol and sing so merrily and well.
Now had this Phoebus in his house a wife,
Whom he loved better than he loved his life,
And night and day he used much diligence
To please her and to do her reverence,
Save only, if it's truth that I shall say,
Jealous he was and so did guard her aye;
For he was very loath befooled to be.
And so is everyone in such degree;
But all in vain, for it avails one naught.
A good wife, who is clean in deed and thought,
Should not be kept a prisoner, that's plain;
And certainly the labour is in vain
That guards a slut, for, sirs, it just won't be.
This hold I for an utter idiocy,
That men should lose their labour guarding wives;
So say these wise old writers in their lives.
But now to purpose, as I first began:
This worthy Phoebus did all that a man
Could do to please, thinking that by such pleasures,
And by his manhood and his other measures
To make her love him and keep faithful, too.
But God knows well that nothing man may do
Will ever keep restrained a thing that nature
Has made innate in any human creature.
Take any bird and put it in a cage
And do your best affection to engage
And rear it tenderly with meat and drink
Of all the dainties that you can bethink,
And always keep it cleanly as you may;
Although its cage of gold be never so gay,
Yet would this bird, by twenty thousand-fold,
Rather, within a forest dark and cold,
Go to eat worms and all such wretchedness.
For ever this bird will do his business
To find some way to get outside the wires.
Above all things his freedom he desires.
Or take a cat, and feed him well with milk
And tender flesh, and make his bed of silk,
And let him see a mouse go by the wall;
Anon he leaves the milk and flesh and all
And every dainty that is in that house,
Such appetite has he to eat a mouse.
Desire has here its mighty power shown,
And inborn appetite reclaims its own.
A she-wolf also has a vulgar mind;
The wretchedest he-wolf that she may find,
Or least of reputation, she'll not hate
Whenever she's desirous of a mate.
All these examples speak I of these men
Who are untrue, and not of sweet women.
For men have aye a lickerish appetite
On lower things to do their base delight
Than on their wives, though they be ne'er so fair
And ne'er so true and ne'er so debonair.
Flesh is so fickle, lusting beyond measure,
That we in no one thing can long have pleasure
Or virtuous keep more than a little while.
This Phoebus, who was thinking of no guile,
He was deceived, for all his quality;
For under him a substitute had she,
A man of little reputation, one
Worth naught to Phoebus, by comparison.
The more harm that; it often happens so,
Whereof there come so much of harm and woe.
And so befell, when Phoebus was absent,
His wife has quickly for her leman sent.
Her leman? Truly, 'tis a knavish speech!
Forgive it me, I do indeed beseech.
The wise old Plato says, as you may read,
The word must needs accord well with the deed.
And if a man tell properly a thing,
The word must suited be to the acting.
But I'm a vulgar man, and thus say I,
There is no smallest difference, truly,
Between a wife who is of high degree,
If of her body she dishonest be,
And a poor unknown wench, other than this-
If it be true that both do what's amiss-
The gentlewoman, in her state above,
She shall be called his lady, in their love;
And since the other's but a poor woman,
She shall be called his wench or his leman.
And God knows very well, my own dear brother,
Men lay the one as low as lies the other.
Between a tyrant or usurping chief
And any outlawed man or errant thief,
It's just the same, there is no difference.
One told to Alexander this sentence:
That, since the tyrant is of greater might,
By force of numbers, to slay men outright
And burn down house and home even as a plane,
Lot for that he's a captain, that's certain;
And since the outlaw has small company
And may not do so great a harm as he,
Nor bring a nation into such great grief,
Why, he's called but an outlaw or a thief.
But since I'm not a man the texts to spell,
Nothing at all from texts now will I tell;
I'll go on with my tale as I began.
When Phoebus' wife had sent for her leman,
At once they wrought all of their libertinage.
And the white crow, aye hanging in the cage,
Saw what they did, and never said a word.
And when again came Phoebus home, the lord,
This crow sang loud "Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"
"What, bird?" asked Phoebus, "What song now sing you?
Were you not wont so merrily to sing
That in my heart it was a joyful thing
To hear your voice? Alas! What song is this?"
"By God," said he, "I do not sing amiss;
Phoebus," said he, "for all your worthiness,
For all your beauty and your nobleness,
For all your song and all your minstrelsy,
For all your watching, bleared is your bright eye
By one of small repute, as well is known,
Not worth, when I compare it with your own,
The value of a gnat, as I may thrive.
For on your bed your wife I saw him swive."
What will you more? The crow thereafter told,
In sober fashion, giving witness bold,
How that his wife had done her lechery
To his great shame and with great villainy;
Repeating that he'd seen it with his eyes.
Then Phoebus turned away in sad surprise;
He thought his wretched heart would break for woe;
His bow he bent and set there an arrow,
And in his angry mood his wife did slay.
This the result; there is no more to say;
For grief of which he ceased his minstrelsy,
Broke harp and lute, gittern and psaltery;
And, too, he broke his arrows and his bow.
And after that he spoke thus to the crow.
"Traitor," cried he, "with tongue of scorpion,
You have brought me to ruin, treacherous one!
Alas, that I was born! Why died I not?
O my dear wife, jewel of joy, God wot,
Who were to me so trusty and so true,
Now you lie dead, with face all pale of hue,
And you were guiltless, I dare swear to this!
O hasty hand, to do so foul amiss!
O stupid brain, O anger all reckless,
That unadvisedly struck the guiltless!
O ill distrust that jealousy had sown!
Where were your thought and your discretion flown?
O every man, beware of hastiness,
Do not believe without a strong witness;
Strike not too soon, before you reason why,
And be advised full well and soberly
Ere you do any execution thus
In your wild anger when it is jealous.
Alas! A thousand folk has hasty ire
Ruined, and left them bleeding in the mire.
Alas! I'll slay myself forthwith for grief!"
And to the crow he said, "O you false thief!
I will anon requite you that false tale!
You sang but lately like a nightingale;
Now, you false thief, your songs are over and done,
And you'll all those white feathers lose, each one,
Nor ever in your life more shall you speak.
Thus men on traitors shall their justice wreak;
You and your offspring ever shall be black,
Nor evermore sweet noises shall you make,
But you shall cry in tempest and in rain
In token that through you my wife was slain."
And on the crow he leaped, and that anon,
And plucked out his white feathers, every one,
And made him black, and stilled for evermore
His song and speech, and flung him out the door
Unto the devil, where I leave this jack;
And for this reason, now all crows are black.
Masters, by this example, I do pray
You will beware and heed what I shall say:
Never tell any man, through all your life,
How that another man has humped his wife;
He'll hate you mortally, and that's certain.
Dan Solomon, as these wise clerks explain,
Teaches a man to keep his tongue from all;
But, as I said, I am not textual.
Nevertheless, thus taught me my good dame:
"My son, think of the crow, in high God's name;
My son, keep your tongue still, and keep your friend.
A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend.
My son, from devils men themselves may bless;
My son, high God, of His endless goodness,
Walled up the tongue with teeth and lips and cheeks
That man should speak advisedly when he speaks.
My son, full oftentimes, for too much speech,
Has many a man been killed, as clerics teach;
But, speaking little and advisedly,
Is no man harmed, to put it generally.
My son, your foolish tongue you should restrain
At all times, save those when your soul is fain
To speak of God, in honour and in prayer.
The first of virtues, son, if you'll but hear,
Is to restrain and to guard well your tongue-
Thus teach the children while they yet are young-
My son, of too much speaking, ill advised,
Where less had been enough and had sufficed,
Much harm may come; thus was I told and taught.
In fluent speaking evil wants for naught.
Know you of where a rash tongue has well served?
Just as a sword has cut deep and has carved
A many an arm in two, dear son, just so
A tongue can cut a friendship, well I know.
A gossip is to God abominable.
Read Solomon, so wise and honourable,
Or David's Psalms, what Seneca has said.
My son, speak not, but merely bow your head.
Dissemble like one deaf, if you but hear
A chatterer speak what's dangerous in your ear.
The Fleming says, and learn it, for it's best,
That little prattle gives us all much rest.
My son, if you no wicked word have said,
To be betrayed you need not ever dread;
But he that has missaid, I dare explain,
He may not aye recall his words again.
That which is said, is said, and goes, in truth,
Though he repent, and be he lief or loath.
A man's the slave of him to whom he's told
A tale to which he can no longer hold.
My son, beware and be not author new
Of tidings, whether they be false or true.
Where'er you come, among the high or low,
Guard well your tongue, and think upon the crow."

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer 
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