The Seconde Nonnes Tale

The Prologe of the Seconde Nonnes Tale.

The ministre and the norice un-to vyces,

Which that men clepe in English ydelnesse,

That porter of the gate is of delyces,

T’eschue, and by hir contrarie hir oppresse,

That is to seyn, by leveful bisinesse,

Wei oghten we to doon al our entente,

Lest that the feend thurgh ydelnesse us hente.

For he, that with his thousand cordes slye

Continuelly us waiteth to biclappe,

Whan he may man in ydelnesse espye,

He can so lightly cacche him in his trappe,

Til that a man be hent right by the lappe,

He nis nat war the feend hath him in honde ;

Wei oughte us werche, and ydelnes withstonde.

And though men dradden never for to dye,

Yet seen men wel by reson doutelees,

That ydelnesse is roten slogardye,

Of which ther never comth no good encrees ;

And seen, that slouthe hir holdeth in a lees

Only to slepe, and for to ete and drinke,

And to devouren al that othere swinke.

And for to putte us fro swich ydelnesse,

That cause is of so greet confusioun,

I have heer doon my feithful bisinesse,

After the legende, in translacioun

Right of thy glorious lyf and passioun,

Thou with thy gerland wroght of rose and lilie ;

Thee mene I, mayde and martir, seint Cecilie !

Inuocacio ad Mariam.

And thou that flour of virgines art alle,

Of whom that Bernard list so wel to wryte,

To thee at my biginning first I calle ;

Thou comfort of us wrecches, do me endyte

Thy maydens deeth, than wan thurgh hir meryte

The eternal lyf, and of the feend victorie,

As man may after reden in hir storie.

Thou mayde and mooder, doghter of thy sone,

Thou welle of mercy, sinful soules cure,

In whom that god, for bountee, chees to wone,

Thou humble, and heigh over every creature,

Thou nobledest so ferforth our nature,

That no desdeyn the maker hadde of kinde,

His sone in blode and flesh to clothe and winde.

Withinne the cloistre blisful of thy sydes

Took mannes shap the eternal love and pees,

That of the tryne compas lord and gyde is,

Whom erthe and see and heven, out of relees,

Ay herien ; and thou, virgin wemmelees,

Bar of thy body, and dweltest mayden pure,

The creatour of every creature.

Assembled is in thee magnificence

With mercy, goodnesse, and with swich pitee

That thou, that art the sonne of excellence,

Nat only helpest hem that preyen thee,

But ofte tyme, of thy benignitee,

Ful frely, er that men thyn help biseche,

Thou goost biforn, and art hir lyves leche.

Now help, thou meke and blisful fayre mayde,

Me, flemed wrecche, in this desert of galle ;

Think on the womman Cananee, that sayde

That whelpes eten somme of the crommes alle

That from hir lordes table been y-falle ;

And though that I, unworthy sone of Eve,

Be sinful, yet accepte my bileve.

And, for that feith is deed with-outen werkes,

So for to werken yif me wit and space,

That I be quit fro thennes that most derk is !

O thou, that art so fayr and ful of grace,

Be myn advocat in that heighe place

Ther-as withouten ende is songe ‘ Osanne,’

Thou Cristes mooder, doghter dere of Anne !

And of thy light my soule in prison lighte,

That troubled is by the contagioun

Of my body, and also by the wighte

Of erthly luste and fals affeccioun ;

O haven of refut, o salvacioun

Of hem that been in sorwe and in distresse,

Now help, for to my werk I wol me dresse.

Yet preye I yow that reden that I wryte,

Foryeve me, that I do no diligence

This ilke storie subtilly to endyte ;

For both have I the wordes and sentence

Of him that at the seintes reverence

The storie wroot, and folwe hir legende,

And prey’ yow, that ye wol my werk amende.

Interpretacio nominis Cecilie, quam ponit frater Iacobus

Ianuensis in Legenda Aurea.

Fibst wolde I yow the name of seint Cecilie

Expoune, as men may in hir storie see,

It is to seye in English ‘ hevenes lilie,’

For pure chastnesse of virginitee ;

Or, for she whytnesse hadde of honestee,

And grene of conscience, and of good fame

The sote savour, ‘ lilie ‘ was hir name.

Or Cecile is to seye ‘ the wey to blinde,’

For she ensample was by good techinge ;

Or elles Cecile, as I writen finde,

Is joyned, by a maner conjoininge

Of ‘ hevene ‘ and ‘ Lia ‘ ; and heer, in figuringe,

The ‘ heven ‘ is set for thoght of holinesse,

And ‘ Lia ‘ for hir lasting bisinesse.

Cecile may eek be seyd in this manere,

‘ Wanting of blindnesse,’ for hir grete light

Of sapience, and for hir thewes clere ;

Or elles, lo ! this maydens name bright

Of ‘ hevene ‘ and ‘ leos ‘ comth, for which by right

Men mighte hir wel ‘ the heven of peple ‘ calle,

Ensample of gode and wyse werkes alle.

For ‘ leos ‘ ‘ peple ‘ in English is to seye,

And right as men may in the hevene see

The sonne and mone and sterres every weye,

Right so men gostly, in this mayden free,

Seyen of feith the magnanimitee,

And eek the cleernesse hool of sapience,

And sondry werkes, brighte of excellence.

And right so as thise philosophres wryte

That heven is swift and round and eek brenninge,

Right so was fayre Cecilie the whyte

Ful swift and bisy ever in good werkinge,

And round and hool in good perseveringe,

And brenning ever in charitee ful brighte ;

Now have I yow declared what she highte.


Here biginneth the Seconde Nonnes Tale, of the lyf of Seinte Cecile.

This mayden bright Cecilie, as hir lyf seith,

Was comen of Romayns, and of noble kinde,

And from hir cradel up fostred in the feith

Of Crist, and bar his gospel in hir minde ;

She never cessed, as I writen finde,

Of hir preyere, and god to love and drede,

Biseking him to kepe hir maydenhede.

And when this mayden sholde unto a man

Y-wedded be, that was ful yong of age,

Which that y-cleped was Valerian,

And day was comen of hir mariage,

She, ful devout and humble in hir corage,

Under hir robe of gold, that sat ful fayre,

Had next hir flesh y-clad hir in an heyre.

And whyl the organs maden melodye,

To god alone in herte thus sang she ;

4 lord, my soule and eek my body gye

Unwemmed, lest that I confounded be : ‘

And, for his love that deyde upon a tree,

Every seconde or thridde day she faste,

Ay biddinge in hir orisons ful faste.

The night cam, and to bedde moste she gon

With hir housbonde, as ofte is the manere,

And prively to him she seyde anon,

‘ O swete and wel biloved spouse dere,

Ther is a conseil, and ye wolde it here,

Which that right fain I wolde unto yow seye,

So that ye swere ye shul me nat biwreye.’

Valerian gan faste unto hir swere,

That for no cas, ne thing that mighte be,

He sholde never-mo biwreyen here ;

And thanne at erst to him thus seyde she,

‘ I have an angel which that loveth me,

That with greet love, wher-so I wake or slepe,

Is redy ay my body for to kepe.

And if that he may felen, out of drede,

That ye me touche or love in vileinye,

He right anon wol slee yow with the dede,

And in your yowthe thus ye shulden dye ;

And if that ye in clene love me gye,

He wol yow loven as me, for your clennesse,

And shewen yow his joye and his brightnesse.’

Valerian, corrected as god wolde,

Answerde agayn, ‘ if I shal trusten thee,

Lat me that angel see, and him biholde ;

And if that it a verray angel be,

Than wol I doon as thou hast preyed me ;

And if thou love another man, for sothe

Right with this swerd than wol I slee yow bo the.

Cecile answerde anon right in* this wyse,

‘ If that yow list, the angel shul ye see,

So that ye trowe on Crist and yow baptyse.

Goth forth to Via Apia,’ quod she,

‘ That fro this toun ne stant but myles three,,

And, to the povre f olkes that ther dwelle,

Sey hem right thus, as that I shal yow telle.

Telle hem that I, Cecile, yow to hem sente,

To shewen yow the gode Urban the olde,

For secree nedes and for good entente.

And whan that ye seint Urban han biholde,

Telle him the wordes whiche I to yow tolde ;

And whan that he hath purged yow fro sinne,

Thanne shul ye see that angel, er ye twinne.’

Valerian is to the place y-gon,

And right as him was taught by his lerninge,

He fond this holy olde Urban anon

Among the seintes buriels lotinge.

And he anon, with-outen taryinge,

Dide his message ; and whan that he it tolde,

Urban for joye his hondes gan up holde.

The teres from his yen leet he falle —

‘ Almighty lord, O Jesu Crist,’ quod he,

‘ Sower of chast conseil, herde of us alle,

The fruit of thilke seed of chastitee

That thou hast sowe in Cecile, tak to thee !

Lo, lyk a bisy bee, with-outen gyle,

Thee serveth ay thyn owene thral Cecile !

For thilke spouse, that she took but now

Ful lyk a fiers leoun, she sendeth here,

As meke as ever was any lamb, to yow ! ‘

And with that worde, anon ther gan appere

An old man, clad in whyte clothes clere,

That hadde a book with lettre of golde in honde,

And gan biforn Valerian to stonde.

Valerian as deed fil doun for drede

Whan he him saugh, and he up hente him tho,

And on his book right thus he gan to rede —

‘ Oo Lord, oo feith, oo god with-outen mo,

00 Cristendom, and fader of alle also,

Aboven alle and over al everywhere ‘ —

Thise wordes al with gold y-writen were.

Whan this was rad, than seyde this olde man,

c Levestow this thing or no ? sey ye or nay.’

e I leve al this thing,’ quod Valerian,

‘ For sother thing than this, I dar wel say,

Under the hevene no wight thinke may.’

Tho vanisshed th’olde man, he niste where,

And pope Urban him cristened right there.’

Valerian goth hoom, and fint Cecilie

With-inne his chambre with an angel stonde ;

This angel hadde of roses and of lilie

Corones two, the which he bar in honde ;

And first to Cecile, as I understonde,

He yaf that oon, and after gan he take

That other to Valerian, hir make.

‘ With body clene and with unwemmed thoght

Kepeth ay wel thise corones,’ quod he ;

‘ Fro Paradys to yow have I hem broght,

Ne never-mo ne shal they roten be,

Ne lese her sote savour, trusteth me ;

Ne never wight shal seen hem with his ye,

But he be chaast and hate vileinye. §

And thou, Valerian, for thou so sone

Assentedest to good conseil also,

Sey what thee list, and thou shalt han thy bone.’

‘ I have a brother,’ quod Valerian tho,

‘ That in this world I love no man so.

1 pray yow that my brother may han grace

To knowe the trouthe, as I do in this place.’

The angel seyde, ‘ god lyketh thy requeste,

And bothe, with the palm of martirdom,

Ye shullen come unto his blisful feste.’

And with that word Tiburce his brother com.

And whan that he the savour undernom

Which that the roses and the lilies caste,

With-inne his herte he gan to wondre faste,

And seyde, ‘ I wondre, this tyme of the veer,

Whennes that sote savour cometh so

Of rose and lilies that I smelle heer.

For though I hadde hem in myn hondes two,

The savour mighte in me no depper go.

The sote smel that in myn herte I finde

Hath chaunged me al in another kinde.’

Valerian seyde, ‘ two corones han we,

Snow-whyte and rose-reed, that shynen clere,

Whiche that thyn yen han no might to see ;

And as thou smellest hem thurgh my preyere,

So shaltow seen hem, leve brother dere,

If it so be thou wolt, withouten slouthe,

Bileve aright and knowen verray trouthe.’

Tiburce answerde, ‘ seistow this to me

In soothnesse, or in dreem I herkne this ? ‘

‘ In dremes,’ quod Valerian, ‘ han we be

Unto this tyme, brother myn, y-wis.

But now at erst in trouthe our dwelling is.’

‘ How woostow this,’ quod Tiburce, ‘ in what wyse

Quod Valerian, ‘ that shal I thee devyse.

The angel of god hath me the trouthe y-taught

Which thou shalt seen, if that thou wolt reneye

The ydoles and be clene, and elles naught.’ —

And of the miracle of thise corones tweye

Seint Ambrose in his preface list to seye ;

Solempnely this noble doctour dere

Commendeth it, and seith in this manere :

The palm of martirdom for to receyve,

Seinte Cecile, fulfild of goddes yifte,

The Avorld and eek hir chambre gan she weyve ;

Witnes Tyburces and Valerians shrifte,

To whiche god of his bountee wolde shifte

Corones two of floures wel smellinge,

And made his angel hem the corones bringe :

The mayde hath broght thise men to blisse above ;

The world hath wist what it is worth, certeyn,

Devocioun of chastitee to love. —

Tho shewede him Ceciie al open and pleyn

That alle ydoles nis but a thing in veyn ;

For they been dombe, and therto they been deve,

And charged him his ydoles for to leve.

‘ Who so that troweth nat this, a beste he is,’

Quod tho Tiburce, ‘ if that I shal nat lye.’

And she gan kisse his brest, that herde this,

And was ful glad he coude trouthe espye.

‘ This day I take thee for myn alive,’

Seyde this blisful fayre mayde dere ;

And after that she seyde as ye may here :

‘ Lo, right so as the love of Crist,’ quod she,

1 Made me thy brotheres wyf , right in that wyse

Anon for myn allye heer take I thee,

Sin that thou wolt thyn ydoles despyse.

Go with thy brother now, and thee baptyse,

And make thee clene ; so that thou mowe biholde

The angels face of which thy brother tolde.’

Tiburce answerde and seyde, ‘ brother dere,

First tel me whider I shal, and to what man ? ‘

‘ To whom ? ‘ quod he, ‘ com forth with right good chere,

I wol thee lede unto the pope Urban.’

‘ Til Urban ? brother myn Valerian,’

Quod tho Tiburce, ‘ woltow me thider lede ?

Me thinketh that it were a wonder dede.

Ne menestow nat Urban,’ quod he tho,

‘ That is so ofte dampned to be deed,

And woneth in halkes alwey to and fro,

And dar nat ones putte forth his heed ?

Men sholde him brennen in a fvr so reed

If he were founde, or that men mighte him spye ;

And we also, to bere him companye —

And whyl we seken thilke divinitee

That is y-hid in hevene prively,

Algate y-brend in this world shul we be ! ‘

To whom Cecile answerde boldely,

‘ Men mighten dreden wel and skilfully

This lyf to lese, myn owene dere brother,

If this were livinge only and non other.

But ther is better lyf in other place,

That never shal be lost, ne drede thee noght,

Which goddes sone us tolde thurgh his grace ;

That fadres sone hath alle thinges wroght ;

And al that wroght is with a skilful thoght,

The goost, that fro the fader gan procede,

Hath sowled hem, withouten any drede.

By word and by miracle goddes sone,

Whan he was in this world, declared here

That ther was other lyf ther men may wone.’

To whom answerde Tiburce, ‘ O suster dere,

Ne seydestow right now in this manere,

Ther nis but o god, lord in soothfastnesse ;

And now of three how maystow bere witnesse ? ‘

‘ That shal I telle,’ quod she, ‘ er I go.

Right as a man hath sapiences three,

Memorie, engyn, and intellect also,

So, in o being of divinitee,

Three persones may ther right wel be.’

Tho gan she him ful bisily to preche

Of Cristes come and of his peynes teche,

And many pointes of his passioun ;

How goddes sone in this world was withholde,

To doon mankinde pleyn remissioun,

That was y-bounde in sinne and cares colde :

Al this thing she unto Tiburce tolde.

And after this Tiburce, in good entente,

With Valerian to pope Urban he wente,

That thanked god ; and with glad herte and light

He cristned him, and made him in that place

Parfit in his lerninge, goddes knight.

And after this Tiburce gat swich grace,

That every day he saugh, in tyme and space,

The angel of god ; and every maner bone

That he god axed, it was sped ful sone.

It were ful hard by ordre for to seyn

How many wondres Jesus for hem wroghte ;

But atte laste, to tellen short and pleyn,

The sergeants of the toun of Rome hem sognte,

And hem biforn Almache the prefect broghte,

Which hem apposed, and knew al hir entente,

And to the image of Jupiter hem sente,

And seyde, ‘ who so wol nat sacrifyse,

Swap of his heed, this is my sentence here.’

Anon thise martirs that I yow devyse,

Oon Maximus, that was an officere

Of the prefectes and his corniculere,

Hem hente ; and whan he forth the seintes ladde,

Him-self he weep, for pitee that he hadde.

Whan Maximus had herd the seintes lore,

He gat him of the tormentoures leve,

And ladde hem to his hous withoute more ;

And with hir preching, er that it were eve,

They gonnen fro the tormentours to reve,

And fro Maxime, and fro his folk echone

The false feith, to trowe in god allone.

Cecilie cam, whan it was woxen night,

With preestes that hem cristned alle y-fere ;

And afterward, whan day was woxen light,

Cecile hem seyde with a ful sobre chere,

4 Now, Cristes owene knightes leve and dere,

Caste alle awey the werkes of derknesse,

And armeth yow in armure of brightnesse.

Ye han for sothe y-doon a greet bataille,

Your cours is doon, your feith han ye conserved,

Goth to the corone of lyf that may nat faille ;

The rightful juge, which that ye han served,

Shall yeve it yow, as ye han it deserved.’

And whan this thing was seyd as I devyse,

Men ladde hem forth to doon the sacrifyse.

But whan they weren to the place broght,

To tellen shortly the conclusioun,

They nolde encense ne sacrifice right noght,

But on hir knees they setten hem adoun

With humble herte and sad devocioun,

And losten bothe hir hedes in the place.

Hir soules wenten to the king of grace.

This Maximus, that saugh this thing bityde,

With pitous teres tolde it anon-right,

That he hir soules saugh to heven glyde

With angels ful of cleernesse and of light.

And with his word converted many a wight ;

For which Almachius dide him so to-bete

With whippe of leed, til he his lyf gan lete.

Cecile him took and buried him anoon

By Tiburce and Valerian softely,

Withinne hir burying-place, under the stoon.

And after this Almachius hastily

Bad his ministres fecchen openly

Cecile, so that she mighte in his presence

Doon sacrifyce, and Jupiter encense.

But they, converted at hir wyse lore,

Wepten ful sore, and yaven ful credence

Unto hir word, and cryden more and more,

‘ Crist, goddes sone withouten difference,

Is verray god, this is al our sentence,

That hath so good a servant him to serve ;

This with o voys we trowen, thogh we sterve !

Almachius, that herde of this doinge.

Bad fecchen Cecile, that he might hir see,

And alderfirst, lo ! this was his axinge,

1 What maner womman artow ? ‘ tho quod he.

‘ I am a gentil womman born,’ quod she.

‘ I axe thee,’ quod he, ‘ thogh it thee greve,

Of thy religioun and of thy bileve.’

1 Ye han bigonne your question folily,’

Quod she, ‘ that wolden two answeres conclude

In oo demande ; ye axed lewedly.’

Almache answerde unto that similitude,

‘ Of whennes comth thyn answering so rude ? ‘

‘ Of whennes ? ‘ quod she, whan that she was freyned,

c Of conscience and of good feith unfeyned.’

Almachius seyde, ‘ ne takestow non hede

Of my power ? ‘ and she answerde him this —

‘ Your might,’ quod she, ‘ ful litel is to drede ;

For every mortal mannes power nis

But lyk a bladdre, ful of wind, y-wis.

For with a nedles poynt, whan it is blowe,

May al the boost of it be leyd ful lowe.’

‘ Ful wrongfully bigonne thou,’ quod he,

‘ And yet in wrong is thy perseveraunce ;

Wostow nat how our mighty princes free

Han thus comanded and maad ordinaunce,

That every Cristen wight shal han penaunce

But-if that he his Cristendom withseye,

And goon al quit, if he wol it reneye ? ‘

1 Your princes erren, as your nobley dooth,’

Quod tho Cecile, ‘ and with a wood sentence

Ye make us gilty, and it is nat sooth ;

For ye, that knowen wel our innocence,

For as muche as we doon a reverence

To Crist, and for we bere a Cristen name,

Ye putte on us a cryme, and eek a blame.

But we that knowen thilke name so

For vertuous, we may it nat withseye.’

Almache answerde, ‘ chees oon of thise two,

Do sacrifyce, or Cristendom reneye,

That thou mowe now escapen by that weye.’

At which the holy blisful fayre mayde

Gan for to laughe, and to the juge seyde,

‘ O juge, confus in thy nycetee,

Woltow that I reneye innocence,

To make me a wikked wight ? ‘ quod she ;

‘ Lo ! he dissimuleth here in audience,

He stareth and woodeth in his advertence ! ‘

To whom Almachius, ‘ unsely wrecche,

Ne woostow nat how far my might may strecche ?

Han noght our mighty princes to me yeven,

Ye, bothe power and auctoritee

To maken folk to dyen or to liven ?

Why spekestow so proudly than to me ? ‘

‘ I speke noght but stedfastly,’ quod she,

‘ Nat proudly, for I seye, as for my syde,

We haten deedly thilke vyce of pryde.

And if thou drede nat a sooth to here,

Than wol I shewe al openly, by right,

That thou hast maad a ful gret lesing here.

Thou seyst, thy princes han thee yeven might

Bothe for to sleen and for to quiken a wight ;

Thou, that ne mayst but only lyf bireve,

Thou hast non other power ne no leve !

But thou mayst seyn, thy princes han thee maked

Ministre of deeth ; for if thou speke of mo,

Thou lyest, for thy power is ful naked.’

‘ Do wey thy boldnes,’ seyde Almachius tho,

‘ And sacrifyce to our goddes, er thou go ;

I recche nat what wrong that thou me profre,

For I can suffre it as a philosophre ;

But thilke wronges may I nat endure

That thou spekest of our goddes here,’ quod he,

Cecile answerede, ‘ O nyce creature,

Thou seydest no word sin thou spak to me

That I ne knew therwith thy nycetee ;

And that thou were, in every maner wyse,

A lewed officer and a veyn justyse.

Ther lakketh no-thing to thyn utter yen

That thou nart blind, for thing that we seen alle

That it is stoon, that men may wel espyen,

That ilke stoon a god thou wolt it calle.

I rede thee, lat thyn hand upon it falle,

And taste it wel, and stoon thou shalt it finde,

Sin that thou seest nat with thyn yen blinde.

It is a shame that the peple shal

So scorne thee, and laughe at thy folye ;

For comunly men woot it wel overal,

That mighty god is in his hevenes hye,

And thise images, wel thou mayst espye,

To thee ne to hem -self mowe nought profyte,

For in effect they been nat worth a myte.’

Thise wordes and swiche othere seyde she,

And he weex wroth, and bad men sholde hir lede

Horn til hir hous, ‘ and in hir hous,’ quod he,

* Brenne hir right in a bath of flambes rede.’

And as he bad, right so was doon in dede ;

For in a bath they gonne hir faste shetten,

And night and day greet fyr they under betten.

The longe night and eek a day also,

For al the fyr and eek the bathes hete,

She sat al cold, and felede no wo,

It made hir nat a drope for to swete.

But in that bath hir lyf she moste lete ;

For he, Almachius, with ful wikke entente

To sleen hir in the bath his sonde sente.

Three strokes in the nekke he smoot hir tho,

The tormentour, but for no maner chaunce

He mighte noght smyte al hir nekke a-two ;

And for ther was that tyme an ordinaunce,

That no man sholde doon man swich penaunce

The ferthe strook to smyten, softe or sore,

This tormentour ne dorste do na-more.

But half-deed, with hir nekke y-corven there,

He lefte hir lye, and on his wey is went.

The Cristen folk, which that aboute hir were,

With shetes han the blood ful faire y-hent.

Three dayes lived she in this torment,

And never cessed hem the feith to teche ;

That she hadde fostred, hem she gan to preche ;

And hem she yaf hir moebles and hir thing,

And to the pope Urban bitook hem tho,

And seyde, ‘ I axed this at hevene king,

To han respyt three dayes and na-mo,

To recomende to yow, er that I go,

Thise soules, lo ! and that I mighte do werche

Here of myn hous perpetuelly a cherche.’

Seint Urban, with his deknes, prively

The body fette, and buried it by nighte

Among his othere seintes honestly.

Hir hous the chirche of seint Cecilie highte ;

Seint Urban halwed it, as he wel mighte ;

In which, into this day, in noble wyse,

Men doon to Crist and to his seint servyse.

Here is ended the Seconde Nonnes Tale.