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English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Geoffrey Chaucer

2. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Lines 1–200 Here biginneth the Nonne Preestes Tale
of the Cok and Hen, Chauntecleer and Pertelote.

A POVRE widwe somdel stope in age,

Was whylom dwelling in a narwe cotage,

Bisyde a grove, stondyng in a dale.

This widwe, of which I telle yow my tale,

Sin thilke day that she was last a wyf,

In pacience ladde a ful simple lyf,

For litel was hir catel and hir rente;

By housbondrye, of such as God hir sente,

She fond hir-self, and eek hir doghtren two.

Three large sowes hadde she, and namo,

Three kyn, and eek a sheep that highte Malle.

Ful sooty was hir bour, and eek hir halle

In which she eet ful many a sclendre meel.

Of poynaunt sauce hir neded never a deel.

No deyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte;

Hir dyete was accordant to hir cote.

Repleccioun ne made hir nevere syk;

Attempree dyete was al hir phisyk,

And exercyse, and hertes suffisaunce.

The goute lette hir no-thing for to daunce,

Ne poplexye shente nat hir heed;

No wyn ne drank she, neither whyt ne reed;

Hir bord was served most with whyt and blak,

Milk and broun breed, in which she fond no lak,

Seynd bacoun, and somtyme an ey or tweye,

For she was as it were a maner deye.

A yerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute

With stikkes, and a drye dich with-oute,

In which she hadde a cok, hight Chauntecleer,

In al the land of crowing nas his peer.

His vois was merier than the merye orgon

On messe-dayes that in the chirche gon;

Wel sikerer was his crowing in his logge,

Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.

By nature knew he ech ascencioun

Of equinoxial in thilke toun;

For whan degrees fiftene were ascended,

Thanne crew he, that it mighte nat ben amended.

His comb was redder than the fyn coral,

And batailed, as it were a castel-wal.

His bile was blak, and as the jeet it shoon;

Lyk asur were his legges, and his toon;

His nayles whytter than the lilie flour,

And lyk the burned gold was his colour.

This gentil cok hadde in his governaunce

Sevene hennes, for to doon al his plesaunce,

Whiche were his sustres and his paramours,

And wonder lyk to him, as of colours.

Of whiche the faireste hewed on hir throte

Was cleped faire damoysele Pertelote.

Curteys she was, discreet, and debonaire,

And compaignable, and bar hir-self so faire,

Sin thilke day that she was seven night old,

That trewely she hath the herte in hold

Of Chauntecleer loken in every lith;

He loved hir so, that wel was him therwith.

But such a joye was it to here hem singe,

Whan that the brighte sonne gan to springe,

In swete accord, ‘My lief is faren in londe.’

For thilke tyme, as I have understonde,

Bestes and briddes coude speke and singe.

And so bifel, that in a dawenynge,

As Chauntecleer among his wyves alle

Sat on his perche, that was in the halle,

And next him sat this faire Pertelote,

This Chauntecleer gan gronen in his throte,

As man that in his dreem is drecched sore.

And whan that Pertelote thus herde him rore,

She was agast, and seyde, ‘O herte deere,

What eyleth yow, to grone in this manere?

Ye ben a verray sleper, fy for shame!’

And he answerde and seyde thus, ‘Madame,

I pray yow, that ye take it nat a-grief:

By God, me mette I was in swich meschief

Right now, that yet myn herte is sore afright.

Now God,’ quod he, ‘my swevene rede aright,

And keep my body out of foul prisoun!

Me mette, how that I romed up and doun

Withinne our yerde, wher-as I saugh a beste,

Was lyk an hound, and wolde han maad areste

Upon my body, and wolde han had me deed.

His colour was bitwixe yelwe and reed;

And tipped was his tail, and bothe his eres

With blak, unlyk the remenant of his heres;

His snowte smal, with glowinge eyen tweye.

Yet of his look for fere almost I deye;

This caused me my groning, douteles.’

‘Avoy!’ quod she, ‘fy on yow, herteles!

Allas!’ quod she, ‘for, by that God above,

Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love;

I can nat love a coward, by my feith.

For certes, what, so any womman seith,

We alle desyren, if it mighte be,

To han housebondes hardy, wyse, and free,

And secree, and no nigard, ne no fool,

Ne him that is agast of every tool,

Ne noon avauntour, by that God above!

How dorste ye sayn for shame unto youre love,

That any thing mighte make yow aferd?

Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?

Allas! and conne ye been agast of swevenis?

No-thing, God wot, but vanitee, in sweven is.

Swevenes engendren of replecciouns,

And ofte of fume, and of complecciouns,

Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.

Certes this dreem, which ye han met to-night,

Cometh of the grete superfluitee

Of youre rede colera, pardee,

Which causeth folk to dreden in here dremes

Of arwes, and of fyr with rede lemes,

Of grete bestes, that they wol hem byte,

Of contek, and of whelpes grete and lyte;

Right as the humour of malencolye

Causeth ful many a man, in sleep, to crye,

For fere of blake beres, or boles blake,

Or elles, blake develes wole him take.

Of othere humours coude I telle also,

That werken many a man in sleep ful wo;

But I wol passe as lightly as I can.

Lo Catoun, which that was so wys a man,

Seyde he nat thus, ne do no fors of dremes?

Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘whan we flee fro the bemes,

For Goddes love, as tak som laxatyf;

Up peril of my soule, and of my lyf,

I counseille yow the beste, I wol nat lye,

That both of colere, and of malencolye

Ye purge yow; and for ye shul nat tarie

Though in this toun is noon apotecarie,

I shal my-self to herbes techen yow,

That shul ben for your hele, and for your prow;

And in our yerd tho herbes shal I fynde,

The whiche han of here propretee, by kynde,

To purgen yow binethe, and eek above.

Forget not this, for Goddes owene love!

Ye been ful colerik of compleccioun.

Ware the sonne in his ascencioun

Ne fynde yow nat repleet of humours hote;

And if it do, I dar wel leye a grote,

That ye shul have a fevere terciane,

Or an agu, that may be youre bane.

A day or two ye shul have digestyves

Of wormes, er ye take your laxatyves,

Of lauriol, centaure, and fumetere,

Or elles of ellebor, that groweth there,

Of catapuce, or of gaytres beryis,

Of erbe yve, growing in our yerd, that mery is;

Pekke hem up right as they growe, and ete hem in.

Be mery, housbond, for your fader kyn!

Dredeth no dreem; I can say yow na-more.’

‘Madame,’ quod he, ‘graunt mercy of your lore.

But natheles, as touching daun Catoun,

That hath of wisdom such a gret renoun,

Though that he bad no dremes for to drede,

By God, men may in olde bokes rede

Of many a man, more of auctoritee

Than evere Catoun was, so moot I thee,

That al the revers seyn of this sentence,

And han wel founden by experience,

That dremes ben significaciouns,

As wel of joye as tribulaciouns

That folk enduren in this lyf present.

Ther nedeth make of this noon argument;

The verray preve sheweth it in dede.

Oon of the gretteste auctours that men rede

Seith thus, that whylom two felawes wente

On pilgrimage, in a ful good entente;

And happed so, thay come into a toun,

Wher-as ther was swich congregacioun

Of peple, and eek so streit of herbergage,

That they ne founde as muche as O cotage,

In which they bothe mighte y-logged be.

Wherfor thay mosten, of necessitee,

As for that night, departen compaignye;

And ech of hem goth to his hostelrye,

And took his logging as it wolde falle.

That oon of hem was logged in a stalle,

Fer in a yerd, with oxen of the plough;

That other man was logged wel y-nough,

As was his aventure, or his fortune,

That us governeth alle as in commune.

And so bifel, that, longe er it were day,

This man mette in his bed, ther-as he lay,

How that his felawe gan up-on him calle,

And seyde, ‘allas! for in an oxes stalle

This night I shal be mordred ther I lye.

Now help me, dere brother, or I dye;

In alle haste com to me,’ he sayde.

This man out of his sleep for fere abrayde;

But whan that he was wakned of his sleep,

He turned him, and took of this no keep;

Him thoughte his dreem nas but a vanitee.

Thus twyes in his sleping dremed he.

And atte thridde tyme yet his felawe

Com, as him thoughte, and seide, ‘I am now slawe;

Bihold my bloody woundes, depe and wyde!

Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde,

And at the west gate of the toun,’ quod he,

‘A carte ful of donge ther shaltow see,

In which my body is hid ful prively;

Do thilke carte arresten boldely.