Home  »  English Poetry I  »  2. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

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

Geoffrey Chaucer

2. The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

Lines 401–637

That in awayt liggen to mordre men.

O false mordrer, lurking in thy den!

O newe Scariot, newe Genilon!

False dissimilour, O Greek Sinon,

That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe!

O Chauntecleer, acursed be that morwe,

That thou into that yerd flough fro the bemes!

Thou were ful wel y-warned by thy dremes,

That thilke day was perilous to thee.

But what that God forwot mot nedes be,

After the opinioun of certeyn clerkis.

Witnesse on him, that any perfit clerk is,

That in scole is gret altercacioun

In this matere, and greet disputisoun,

And hath ben of an hundred thousand men.

But I ne can not bulte it to the bren,

As can the holy doctour Augustyn,

Or Boece, or the bishop Bradwardyn,

Whether that Goddes worthy forwiting

Streyneth me nedely for to doon a thing,

(Nedely clepe I simple necessitee);

Or elles, if free choys be graunted me

To do that same thing, or do it noght,

Though God forwoot it, er that it was wroght;

Or if his writing streyneth nevere a del

But by necessitee condicionel.

I wol not han to do of swich matere;

My tale is of a cok, as ye may here,

That took his counseil of his wyf, with sorwe,

To walken in the yerd upon that morwe

That he had met the dreem, that I yow tolde.

Wommennes counseils been ful ofte colde;

Wommannes counseil broghte us first to wo,

And made Adam fro paradys to go,

Ther as he was ful mery, and wel at ese.

But for I noot, to whom it mighte displese,

If I counseil of wommen wolde blame,

Passe over, for I seyde it in my game.

Rede auctours, wher they trete of swich matere,

And what thay seyn of wommen ye may here.

Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;

I can noon harme of no womman divyne.

Faire in the sond, to bathe hire merily,

Lyth Pertelote, and alle hir sustres by,

Agayn the sonne; and Chauntecleer so free

Song merier than the mermayde in the see;

For Phisiologus seith sikerly,

How that they singen wel and merily.

And so bifel, that as he caste his yë,

Among the wortes, on a boterflye,

He was war of this fox that lay ful lowe.

No-thing ne liste him thanne for to crowe,

But cryde anon, ‘cok, cok,’ and up he sterte,

As man that was affrayed in his herte.

For naturelly a beest desyreth flee

Fro his contrarie, if he may it see,

Though he never erst had seyn it with his yë.

This Chauntecleer, whan he gan him espye

He wolde han fled, but that the fox anon

Seyde, ‘Gentil sire, allas! wher wol ye gon?

Be ye affrayed of me that am your freend?

Now certes, I were worse than a feend,

If I to yow wolde harm or vileinye.

I am nat come your counseil for tespye;

But trewely, the cause of my cominge

Was only for to herkne how that ye singe.

For trewely ye have as mery a stevene,

As eny aungel hath, that is in hevene;

Therwith ye han in musik more felinge

Than hadde Boece, or any that can singe.

My lord your fader (God his soule blesse!)

And eek your moder, of hir gentilesse,

Han in myn hous y-been, to my gret ese;

And certes, sire, ful fayn wolde I yow plese.

But for men speke of singing, I wol saye,

So mote I brouke wel myn eyen tweye,

Save yow, I herde nevere man so singe,

As dide your fader in the morweninge;

Certes, it was of herte, al that he song.

And for to make his voys the more strong,

He wolde so peyne him, that with both his yën

He moste winke, so loude he wolde cryen,

And stonden on his tiptoon ther-with-al,

And strecche forth his nekke long and smal.

And eek he was of swich discrecioun,

That ther nas no man in no regioun

That him in song or wisdom mighte passe.

I have weel rad in daun Burnel the Asse,

Among his vers, how that ther was a cok,

For that a prestes sone yaf him a knok

Upon his leg, whyl he was yong and nyce,

He made him for to lese his benefyce.

But certeyn, ther nis no comparisoun

Bitwix the wisdom and discrecioun

Of your fader, and of his subtiltee.

Now singeth, sire, for seinte charitee,

Let se, conne ye your fader countrefete?’

This Chauntecleer his winges gan to bete,

As man that coude his tresoun nat espye,

So was he ravisshed with his flaterye.

Allas! ye lordes, many a fals flatour

Is in your courtes, and many a losengeour,

That plesen yow wel more, by my feith,

Than he that soothfastnesse unto yow seith.

Redeth Ecclesiaste of flaterye;

Beth war, ye lordes, of hir trecherye.

This Chauntecleer stood hye up-on his toos,

Strecching his nekke, and held his eyen cloos,

And gan to crowe loude for the nones;

And daun Russel the fox sterte up at ones,

And by the gargat hente Chauntecleer,

And on his bak toward the wode him beer,

For yet ne was ther no man that him sewed.

O destinee, that mayst nat ben eschewed!

Allas, that Chauntecleer fleigh fro the bemes!

Allas, his wyf ne roghte nat of dremes!

And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce.

O Venus, that art goddesse of plesaunce,

Sin that thy servant was this Chauntecleer,

And in thy service dide al his poweer,

More for delyt, than world to multiplye,

Why woldestow suffre him on thy day to dye?

O Gaufred, dere mayster soverayn,

That, whan thy worthy king Richard was slayn

With shot, compleynedest his deth so sore,

Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy lore,

The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?

(For on a Friday soothly slayn was he.)

Than wolde I shewe yow how that I coude pleyne

For Chauntecleres drede, and for his peyne.

Certes, swich cry ne lamentacioun

Was nevere of ladies maad, whan Ilioun

Was wonne, and Pirrus with his streite swerd,

Whan he hadde hent king Priam by the berd,

And slayn him (as saith us Eneydos),

As maden alle the hennes in the clos,

Whan they had seyn of Chauntecleer the sighte.

But sovereynly dame Pertelote shrighte,

Ful louder than dide Hasdrubales wyf,

Whan that hir housbond hadde lost his lyf,

And that the Romayns hadde brend Cartage,

She was so ful of torment and of rage,

That wilfully into the fyr she sterte,

And brende hir-selven with a stedfast herte.

O woful hennes, right so cryden ye,

As, whan that Nero brende the citee

Of Rome, cryden senatoures wyves,

For that hir housbondes losten alle hir lyves;

Withouten gilt this Nero hath hem slayn.

Now wol I torne to my tale agayn:

This sely widwe, and eek hir doghtres two,

Herden thise hennes crye and maken wo,

And out at dores sterten thay anoon,

And syen the fox toward the grove goon,

And bar upon his bak the cok away;

And cryden, ‘Out! harrow! and weylaway!

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

And eek with staves many another man;

Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,

And Malkin, with a distaf in hir hand;

Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges

So were they fered for berking of the dogges

And shouting of the men and wimmen eke,

They ronne so, hem thoughte hir herte breke.

They yelleden as feendes doon in helle;

The dokes cryden as men wolde hem quelle;

The gees for fere flowen over the trees;

Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees;

So hidous was the noyse, a! benedicite!

Certes, he Jakke Straw, and his meynee,

Ne maden nevere shoutes half so shrille,

Whan that they wolden any Fleming kille,

As thilke day was maad upon the fox.

Of bras thay broghten bemes, and of box,

Of horn, of boon, in whiche they blewe and pouped,

And therwithal thay shryked and they houped;

It semed as that hevene sholde falle.

Now, gode men, I pray yow herkneth alle!

Lo, how fortune turneth sodeinly

The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy!

This cok, that lay upon the foxes bak,

In al his drede, un-to the fox he spak,

And seyde, ‘sire, if that I were as ye,

Yet sholde I seyn (as wis God helpe me),

Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle!

A verray pestilence up-on yow falle!

Now am I come un-to this wodes syde,

Maugree your heed, the cok shal heer abyde;

I wol him ete in feith, and that anon.’—

The fox answerde, ‘In feith, it shal be don,’—

And as he spak that word, al sodeinly

This cok brak from his mouth deliverly,

And heighe up-on a tree he fleigh anon.

And whan the fox saugh that he was y-gon,

‘Allas!’ quod he, ‘O Chauntecleer, allas!

I have to yow,’ quod he, ‘y-doon trespas,

In-as-muche as I maked yow aferd,

Whan I yow hente, and broghte out of the yerd;

But, sire, I dide it in no wikke entente;

Com doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente.

I shal seye sooth to yow, God help me so.’

‘Nay than,’ quod he, ‘I shrewe us bothe two,

And first I shrewe my-self, bothe blood and bones,

If thou bigyle me ofter than ones.

Thou shalt namore, thurgh thy flaterye

Do me to singe and winke with myn yë.

For he that winketh, whan he sholde see,

Al wilfully, God lat him never thee!’

‘Nay,’ quod the fox, ‘but God yeve him meschaunce,

That is so undiscreet of governaunce,

That iangleth whan he sholde holde his pees.’

Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees,

And necligent, and truste on flaterye.

But ye that holden this tale a folye,

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

Taketh the moralitee, good men.

For seint Paul seith, that al that writen is,

To our doctryne it is y-write, y-wis.

Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille.

Now, gode God, if that it be thy wille,

As seith my lord, so make us alle good men;

And bringe us to his heighe blisse. Amen.

Here is ended the Nonne Preestes Tale.


‘SIR Nonne Preest,’ our hoste seyde anoon,

‘Y-blessed be thy breche, and every stoon!

This was a mery tale of Chauntecleer.

But by my trouthe, if thou were seculer,

Thy woldest been a trede-foul a-right.

For, if thou have corage as thou hast might,

Thee were nede of hennes, as I wene,

Ya, mo than seven tymes seventene.

See, whiche braunes hath this gentil Preest,

So greet a nekke, and swich a large breest!

He loketh as a sperhauk with his yën;

Him nedeth not his colour for to dyen

With brasil, ne with greyn of Portingale.

Now sire, faire falle yow for youre tale!’