The Prioresses Tale

Bihold the mery wordes of the Host to the Shipman and

to the lady Prioresse.


‘ Wel seyd, by corpus dominies,’ quod our hoste,

‘ Now longe moot thou sayle by the coste,

Sir gentil maister, gentil marineer !

God yeve this monk a thousand last quad yeer !

A ha ! felawes ! beth ware of swiche a jape !

The monk putte in the mannes hood an ape,

And in his wyves eek, by seint Austin !

Draweth no rnOnkes more un-to your in.

But now passe over, and lat us seke aboute,

Who shal now telle first, of al this route,

Another tale ;’ and with that word he sa} T de,

As curteisly as it had been a mayde,

‘ My lady Prioresse, by your leve,

So that I wiste I sholde yow nat greve,

I wolde demen that ye tellen sholde

A tale next, if so were that ye wolde.

Now wol ye vouche-sauf, my lady dere ? ‘

‘ Gladly,’ quod she, and seyde as ye shal here.



The Prologe of the Prioresses Tale.


Domine, dominus noster.

O Lord our lord, thy name how merveillous

Is in this large worlde y-sprad — quod she : —

For noght only thy laude precious

Parfourned is by men of dignitee,

But by the mouth of children thy bountee

Parfourned is, for on the brest soukinge

Som tyme shewen they thyn heryinge.

Wherfor in laude, as I best can or may,

Of thee, and of the whyte lily flour

Which that thee bar, and is a mayde alway,

To telle a storie I wol do my labour ;

Not that I may encresen hir honour ;

For she hir-self is honour, and the rote

Of bountee, next hir sone, and soules bote. —

O moder mayde ! o mayde moder free !

O bush unbrent, brenninge in Moyses sighte,

That ravisedest doun fro the deitee,

Thurghthyn humblesse, the goost that in th’alighte,

Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,

Conceived was the fadres sapience,

Help me to telle it in thy reverence !

Lady ! thy bountee, thy magnificence,

Thy vertu, and thy grete humilitee

Ther may no tonge expresse in no science ;

For som-tyme, lady, er men praye to thee,

Thou goost biforn of thy benignitee,

And getest us the light, thurgh thy preyere,

To gyden us un-to thy sone so dere.

My conning is so wayk, o blisful quene,

For to declare thy grete worthinesse,

That I ne may the weighte nat sustene,

But as a child of twelf monthe old, or lesse,

That can unnethes any word expresse,

Right so fare I, and therfor I yow preye,

Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.



Here biginneth the Prioresses Tale.

Ther was in Asie, in a greet citee,

Amonges Cristen folk, a Jewerye,

Sustened by a lord of that contree

For foule usure and lucre of vilanye,

Hateful to Crist and to his companye ;

And thurgh the strete men mighte ryde or wende,

For it was free, and open at either ende.

A litel scole of Cristen folk ther stood

Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were

Children an heep, y-comen of Cristen blood,

That lerned in that scole yeer by yere

Swich maner doctrine as men used there,

This is to seyn, to singen and to rede,

As smale children doon in hir childhede.

Among thise children was a widwes sone,

A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,

That day by day to scole was his wone,

And eek also, wher-as he saugh th’image

Of Cristes moder, hadde he in usage,

As him was taught, to knele adoun and seye

His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.

Thus hath this widwe hir litel sone y-taught

Our blisful lady, Cristes moder dere,

To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,

For sely child wol alday sone lere ;

But ay, whan I remembre on this matere,

Seint Nicholas stant ever in my presence,

For he so yong to Crist did reverence.

This litel child, his litel book lerninge,

As he sat in the scole at his prymer,

He Alma redemptoris herde singe,

As children lerned hir antiphoner ;

And, as he dorste, he drough him ner and ner,

And herkned ay the wordes and the note,

Til he the firste vers coude al by rote.

Noght wiste he what this Latin was to seye,

For he so yong and tendre was of age ;

But on a day his felaw gan he preye

T’expounden him this song in his langage,

Or telle him why this song was in usage ;

This preyde he him to construe and declare

Ful ofte tyme upon his knowes bare.

His felaw, which that elder was than he,

Answerde him thus : ‘ this song, I have herd seye,

Was maked of our blisful lady free,

Hir to salue, and eek hir for to preye

To been our help and socour whan we deye.

I can no more expounde in this matere ;

I lerne song, I can but smal grammere.’

‘And is this song maked in reverence

Of Cristes moder ? ‘ seyde this innocent ;

‘ Now certes, I wol do my diligence

To conne it al, er Cristemasse is went ;

Though that I for my prymer shal be shent,

And shal be beten thryes in an houre,

I wol it conne, our lady for to honoure.’

His felaw taughte him homward prively,

Fro day to day, til he coude it by rote,

And than he song it wel and boldely

Fro word to word, acording with the note ;

Twyes a day it passed thurgh his throte,

To scoleward and homward whan he wente ;

On Cristes moder set was his entente.

As I have seyd, thurgh-out the Jewerye

This litel child, as he cam to and fro,

Ful merily than wolde he singe, and crye

O Alma redemptoris ever-mo.

The swetnes hath his herte perced so

Of Cristes moder, that, to hir to preye,

He can nat stinte of singing by the weye.

Our firste fo, the serpent Sathanas,

That hath in Jewes herte his waspes nest,

Up swal, and seide, ‘ O Hebraik peple, allas /

Is this to yow a thing that is honest,

That swich a boy shal walken as him lest

In your despyt, and singe of swich sentence,

Which is agayn your lawes reverence ?’

Fro thennes forth the Jewes han conspyred

This innocent out of this world to chace ;

An homicyde ther-to han they hyred,

That in an aley hadde a privee place ;

And as the child gan for-by for to pace,

This cursed Jew him hente and heeld him faste,

And kitte his throte, and in a pit him caste.

I seye that in a wardrobe they him threwe

Wher-as these Jewes purgen hir entraille.

cursed folk of Herodes al newe,

What may your yvel entente yow availle ?

Mordre wol out, certein, it wol nat faille,

And namely ther th’onour of god shal sprede,

The blood out cryeth on your cursed dede.

‘ O martir, souded to virginitee,

Now maystou singen, folwing ever in oon

The whyte lamb celestial,’ quod she,

‘ Of which the grete evangelist, seint John,

In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon

Biforn this lamb, and singe a song al newe,

That never, fleshly, wommen they ne knewe.’

This povre widwe awaiteth al that night

After hir litel child, but he cam noght ;

For which, as sone as it was dayes light,

With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,

She hath at scole and elles-wher him soght,

Til finally she gan so fer espye

That he last seyn was in the Jewerye.

With modres pitee in hir brest enclosed,

She gooth, as she were half out of hir minde,

To every place wher she hath supposed

By lyklihede hir litel child to finde ;

And ever on Cristes moder meke and kinde

She cryde, and atte laste thus she wroghte,

Among the cursed Jewes she him soghte.

She frayneth and she preyeth pitously

To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,

To telle hir, if hir child wente oght for-by.

They seyde, ‘ nay ‘; but Jesu, of his grace,

Yaf in hir thought, inwith a litel space,

That in that place after hir sone she cryde,

Wher he was casten in a pit bisyde.

O grete god, that parfournest thy laude

By mouth of innocents, lo heer thy might !

This gemme of chastitee, this emeraude,

And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,

Ther he with throte y-corven lay upright,

He ‘Alma redemptoris ‘ gan to singe

So loude, that al the place gan to ringe.

The Cristen folk, that thurgh the strete wente,

In coomen, for to wondre up-on this thing,

And hastily they for the provost sente ;

He cam anon with-outen tarying,

And herieth Crist that is of heven king,

And eek his moder, honour of mankinde,

And after that, the Jewes leet he binde.

This child with pitous lamentacioun

Up-taken was, singing his song alway ;

And with honour of greet processioun

They carien him un-to the nexte abbay.

His moder swowning by the bere lay ;

Unnethe might the peple that was there

This newe Rachel bringe fro his bere.

With torment and with shamful deth echon

This provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve

That of this mordre wiste, and that anon ;

He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.

Yvel shal have, that yvel wol deserve.

Therfor with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,

And after that he heng hem by the lawe.

Up-on his bere ay lyth this innocent

Biforn the chief auter, whyl masse laste,

And after that, the abbot with his covent

Han sped hem for to burien him ful faste ;

And whan they holy water on him caste,

Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was holy water,

And song — ‘ Alma redemptoris mater ! ‘

This abbot, which that was an holy man

As monkes been, or elles oghten be,

This yonge child to conjure he bigan,

And seyde, ‘ o dere child, I halse thee,

In vertu of the holy Trinitee,

Tel me what is thy cause for to singe,

Sith that thy throte is cut, to my seminge ? ‘

‘ My throte is cut un-to my nekke-boon,’

Seyde this child, ‘ and, as by wey of kinde,

I sholde have deyed, ye, longe tyme agoon,

But Jesu Crist, as ye in bokes finde,

Wil that his glorie laste and be in minde ;

And, for the worship of his moder dere,

Yet may I singe ‘ O Alma ‘ ‘ loude and clere.

This welle of mercy, Cristes moder swete,

I lovede alwey, as after my conninge ;

And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,

To me she cam, and bad me for to singe

This antem verraily in my deyinge,

As ye han herd, and, whan that I had songe,

Me thoughte, she leyde a greyn up-on my tonge.

Wherfor I singe, and singe I moot certeyn

In honour of that blisful mayden free.

Til fro my tonge of-taken is the greyn ;

And afterward thus seyde she to me,

” My litel child, now wol I fecche thee

Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge y-take :

Be nat agast, I wol thee nat forsake.”

This holy monk, this abbot, him mene I,

Him tonge out-caughte, and took a-wey the greyn,

And he yaf up the goost ful softely.

And whan this abbot had’ this wonder seyn,

His salte teres trikled doun as reyn,

And gruf he fil al plat up-on the grounde,

And stille he lay as he had been y-bounde.

The covent eek lay on the pavement

Weping, and herien Cristes moder dere,

And after that they ryse, and forth ben went,

And toke awey this martir fro his bere,

And in a tombe of marbul-stones clere

Enclosen they his litel body swete ;

Ther he is now, god leve us for to mete.

O yonge Hugh of Lincoln, slayn also

With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,

For it nis but a litel whyle ago ;

Preye eek for us, we sinful folk unstable,

That, of his mercy, god so merciable

On us his grete mercy multiplye,

For reverence of his moder Marye. Amen.

Here is ended the Prioresses Tale.