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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Prioress's Tale

Heere bigynneth the Prioresses Tale.

       Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
Amonges Cristene folk, a Jewerye,
Sustened by a lord of that contree
For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
40Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye,
And thurgh this strete men myghte ride or wende,
For it was free and open at eyther ende.

A litel scole of cristen folk ther stood
Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were
45Children an heep, ycomen of Cristen blood,
That lerned in that scole yeer by yeer
Swich manere doctrine as men used there,
This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,
As smale children doon in hir childhede.

50 Among thise children was a wydwes 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' ymage
Of Cristes mooder, he hadde in usage
55As hym was taught, to knele adoun, and seye
His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.

Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught
Oure blisful Lady, Cristes mooder deere,
To worshipe ay; and he forgate it naught,
60For sely child wol alday soone leere.
But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,
Seint Nicholas stant evere in my presence,
For he so yong to Crist dide reverence.

This litel child, his litel book lernynge,
65As he sat in the scole at his prymer,
He Alma redemptoris herde synge
As children lerned hir anthiphoner;
And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,
And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,
70Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.

Noght wiste he what this Latyn was to seye,
For he so yong and tendre was of age,
But on a day his felawe gan he preye
T'expounden hym this song in his langage,
75Or telle hym why this song was in usage;
This preyde he hym to construe and declare
Ful often tyme upon hise knowes bare.

His felawe, which that elder was than he,
Answerde hym thus, "This song, I have herd seye,
80Was maked of oure blisful Lady free,
Hir to salue, and eek hir for to preye
To been our help, and socour whan we deye.
I kan namoore expounde in this mateere,
I lerne song, I kan but smal grammere."

85        "And is this song maked in reverence
Of Cristes mooder?" seyde this innocent.
"Now, certes, I wol do my diligence
To konne it al, er Cristemasse is went;
Though that I for my prymer shal be shent
90And shal be beten thries in an houre,
I wol it konne, oure lady for to honoure."

His felawe taughte hym homward prively
Fro day to day, til he koude it by rote;
And thanne he song it wel and boldely
95Fro word to word acordynge with the note.
Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
To scoleward, and homward whan he wente;
On Cristes mooder set was his entente.

       As I have seyd, thurghout the Juerie
100This litel child, as he cam to and fro,
Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie
"O Alma redemptoris" evere-mo.
The swetnesse hath his herte perced so
Of Cristes mooder, that to hir to preye
105He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.

       Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
That hath in Jewes herte his waspes nest,
Up swal, and seyde, "O Hebrayk peple, allas,
Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
110That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
Which is agayn oure lawes reverence?"

Fro thennes forth the Jewes han conspired
This innocent out of this world to chace.
115An homycide therto han they hyred
That in an aleye hadde a privee place;
And as the child gan forby for to pace,
This cursed Jew hym hente and heeld hym faste,
And kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste.

120 I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe,
Where as this Jewes purgen hire entraille.
O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,
What may youre yvel entente yow availle?
Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,
125And namely ther thonour of God shal sprede,
The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.

       O martir, sowded to virginitee,
Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon
The white lamb celestial -quod she-
130Of which the grete evaungelist Seint John
In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon
Biforn this lamb and synge a song al newe,
That never, fleshly, wommen they ne knewe.

       This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght
135After hir litel child, but he cam noght;
For which, as soone as it was dayes light,
With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,
She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,
Til finally she gan so fer espie,
140That he last seyn was in the Jewerie.

With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,
She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
To every place where she hath supposed
By liklihede hir litel child to finde;
145And evere on Cristes mooder, meeke and kynde
She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte,
Among the cursed Jewes she hym soghte.

She frayneth, and she preyeth pitously
To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,
150To telle hir if hir child wente oght forby.
They seyde "nay"; but Jhesu, of his grace,
Yaf in hir thoght, inwith a litel space,
That in that place after hir sone she cryde,
Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.

155        O grete God, that parfournest thy laude
By mouth of innocentz, lo, heer thy myght!
This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,
And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,
Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,
160He Alma redemptoris gan to synge
So loude, that al the place gan to rynge.

       The cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente
In coomen, for to wondre upon this thyng,
And hastily they for the provost sente.
165He cam anon withouten tariyng,
And herieth Crist that is of hevene kyng,
And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde;
And after that, the Jewes leet he bynde.

       This child, with pitous lamentacioun,
170Uptaken was, syngynge his song alway,
And with honour of greet processioun
They carien hym unto the nexte abbay;
His mooder swownynge by his beere lay,
Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere
175This newe Rachel brynge fro his beere.

       With torment and with shameful deeth echon
This provost dooth the Jewes for to sterve,
That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
He nolde no swich cursednesse observe;
180"Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve";
Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
And after that he heng hem, by the lawe.

       Upon this beere ay lith this innocent
Biforn the chief auter, whil masse laste,
185And after that, the abbot with his covent
Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste,
And whan they hooly water on hym caste,
Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,
And song O Alma redemptoris mater!

190        This abbot, which that was an hooly man,
As monkes been - or elles oghte be -
This yonge child,to conjure he bigan,
And seyde, "O deere child, I halse thee,
In vertu of the hooly Trinitee,
195Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?"

       "My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,"
Seyde this child, "and, as by wey of kynde,
I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon,
200But Jesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,
And for the worship of his mooder deere,
Yet may I synge O Alma loude and cleere.

       "This welle of mercy, Cristes mooder swete,
205I loved alwey as after my konnynge;
And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,
To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
This antheme, verraily, in my deyynge,
As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,
210Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.

"Wherfore I synge, and synge 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,
215`My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake;
Be nat agast, I wol thee nat forsake.'"

       This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,
His tonge out-caughte, and took awey the greyn,
220And he yaf up the goost ful softely;
And whan this Abbot hadde this wonder seyn,
His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,
And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,
And stille he lay, as he had been ybounde.

225 The covent eek lay on the pavement,
Wepynge, and heryen Cristes mooder deere.
And after that they ryse, and forth been went,
And tooken awey this martir from his beere,
And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere
230Enclosen they his litel body sweete.
Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete!

       O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also
With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,
For it nis but a litel while ago,
235Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,
That of his mercy God so merciable
On us his grete mercy multiplie,
For reverence of his mooder Marie. Amen.


Heere is ended the Prioresses Tale.




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