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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)

Chanticleer and the Fox

From “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” in “The Canterbury Tales”

WHEN that the month in which the world began,

That highté March, when God first makéd man,

Was cómplete, and ypasséd were also

Sithen March ended thirty days and two,

Befell that Chanticleer in all his pride,

His seven wivés walking him beside,

Cast up his eyen to the brighté sun,

That in the sign of Taurus had yrun

Twenty degrees and one, and somewhat more:

He knew by kind, and by no other lore,

That it was prime, and crew with blissful steven.

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

Twenty degrees and one, and more ywis;

Madamé Partelote, my worldés bliss,

Hearkeneth these blissful briddés how they sing,

And see the freshé flow’rés how they spring;

Full is mine heart of revel and solace.”

But suddenly him fell a sorr’ful case,

For ever the latter end of joy is woe;

God wot that worldly joy is soon ago;

And if a rethor couldé fair indite,

He in a chronicle might it safely write

As for a sov’reign notability.

Now every wise man let him hearken me:

This story is all so true, I undertake,

As is the book of Lancelot du Lake,

That women hold in full great reverence.

Now will I turn again to my senténce.

A col fox, full of sly iniquity,

That in the grove had wonnéd yearés three,

By high imaginatión forecast,

The samé night throughout the hedges brast

Into the yard there Chanticleer the fair

Was wont, and eke his wivés, to repair,

And in a bed of wortés still he lay

Till it was passéd undern of the day,

Waiting his time on Chanticleer to fall,

As gladly do these homicidés all

That in await liggen to murder men.

O falsé murderer! rucking in thy den,

O newé Scariot, newé Ganelon!

O false dissimuler, O Greek Sinon!

That broughtest Troy all utterly to sorrow.

O Chanticleer! accurséd be the morrow

That thou into thy yard flew from the beams;

Thou were full well ywarnéd by thy dreams

That thilké day was perilous to thee:

But what that God forewot must needés be,

After the opinión of certain clerkés,

Witness on him that any perfect clerk is,

That in schoolé is great altercatión

In this mattére and great disputison,

And hath been of a hundred thousand men:

But I ne cannot boult it to the bren,

As can the holy Doctor Augustin,

Or Boece, or the Bishop Bradwardin,

Whether that Goddés worthy foreweeting

Straineth me needly for to do a thing,

(Needély clepe I simple necessity)

Or ellés if free choice be granted me

To do that samé thing or do it naught,

Though God forewot it ere that it was wrought,

Or if his weeting straineth never a deal

But by necessity conditional.

I will not have to do of such mattere;

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 the morrow

That he had met the dream, as I you told.

Womennés counsels be full often cold;

Womennés 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 n’ot to whom I might displease

If I counsél of women wouldé blame—

Pass over, for I said it in my game.

Read authors where they treat of such mattere,

And what they say of women ye may hear;

These be the cockés wordés and not mine;

I can none harm of no womán devine.

Fair in the sand, to bathe her merrily,

Li’th Partelote, and all her sisters by,

Against the sun, and Chanticleer so free

Sang merrier than the mermaid in the sea,

(For Phisiologus sayeth sikerly

How that they singen well and merrily.)

And so befell that as he cast his eye

Among the wortés on a butterfly,

He was ’ware of this fox that lay full low:

Nothing ne list him thenné for to crow,

But cried anon, “Cok! cok!” and up he start

As man that was affrayed 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! what will ye done?

Be ye afraid of me, that am your friend?

Now certés I were worse than any fiend

If I to you would harm or villainy.

I am not come your counsel to espy,

But truély the cause of my coming

Was only for to hearken how ye sing,

For truély ye have as merry a steven

As any angel hath that is in heaven;

Therwith ye have of music more feeling

Than had Boece, or any that can sing.

My Lord, your father, (God his soulé bless!)

And eke your mother of her gentleness,

Have in my house ybeen, to my great ease,

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

But for men speak of singing, I will say,

(So may I brouken well mine eyen tway,)

Save you, ne heard I never man so sing

As did your father in the morrowning;

Certés it was of heart all that he sung;

And for to make his voice the moré strong,

He would so pain him, that with both his eyen

He musté wink, so loud he wouldé crien,

And standen on his tiptoes therewithal,

And stretchen forth his necké long and small.

And eke he was of such discretión,

That there was no man in no región

That him in song or wisdom mighté pass.

I have well read in Dan Burnel the ass

Among his vers, how that there was a cok,

That, for a priestés son gave him a knock

Upon his leg, while he was young and nice,

He made him for to lose his benefice;

But certain there is no comparison

Betwixt the wisdom and discretión

Of youré father and his subtilty.

Now singeth, sir, for Sainté Charity:

Let see, can ye your father counterfeit?”

This Chanticleer his wingés ’gan to beat,

As man that could not his treasón espy,

So was he ravish’d with his flattery.

Alas! ye lordés, many a false flatóur

Is in your court, and many a losengeour,

That pleaseth you well moré, by my faith,

Than he that sóthfastness unto you saith.

Readeth Ecclesiast of flattery:

Beware, ye lordés, of their treachery.

This Chanticleer stood high upon his toes,

Stretching his neck, and held his eyen close,

And ’gan to crowen loudé for the nones;

And Dan Russéll the fox start up at once,

And by the throat did seizen Chanticleer,

And on his back towárd the wood him bear,

For yet ne was there no man that him sued.

O destiny! that may’st not be eschew’d,

Alas, that Chanticleer flew from the beams!

Alas, his wife ne raughté not of dreams!

And on a Friday fell all this mischance.


Now, goodé men, I pray you, hearkeneth all:

Lo, how Fortúné 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 saidé: “Sir, if that I were as ye,

Yet would I sain, (as wisly God help me)

‘Turneth again, ye proudé churlés all,

A very pestilence upon you fall;

Now I am come unto the woodés side,

Maugre your head the cock shall here abide;

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

The fox answer’d: “In faith it shall be done!”

And as he spake the word, all suddenly

The cock broke from his mouth deliverly,

And high upon a tree he flew anon.

And when the fox saw that the cock was gone,

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

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

In as much as I makéd you afeard

When I you seized and brought out of your yard;

But, sir, I did it in no wick’ intent;

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

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

“Nay, then,” quod he, “I shrew us bothé two;

And first I shrew myself both blood and bones

If thou beguile me oftener than once:

Thou shalt no moré through thy flattery

Do me to sing and winken with my eye,

For he that winketh when he shouldé see,

All wilfully, God let him never the.”

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

That is so indiscreet of governance

That jangleth when that he should hold his peace.”

Lo, which it is for to be reckéless

And negligent, and trust on flattery.

But ye that holden this Tale a folly,

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

Take the morality thereof, good men;

For Saint Paulé saith that “all that written is,

to our doctrine it is ywritten ywis.”

Taketh the fruit, and let the chaff be still.

Now, goodé God, if that it be thy will,

As saith my Lord, so make us all good men,

And bring us to thy highé bliss.—Amen.