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From The Canterbury Tales:
The Reeve's Prologue
lines 1-44: The Reeve's sermonising


The Prologe of the Reves Tale

       Whan folk hadde laughen at this nyce cas
Of Absolon and hende Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they seyde,
But for the moore part they loughe and pleyde.
5Ne at this tale I saugh no man hym greve,
But it were oonly Osewold the Reve.
Bycause he was of carpenteres craft,
A litel ire is in his herte ylaft;
He gan to grucche, and blamed it a lite.
       When all had laughed their fill at this nice pass
Of Absalon and clever Nicholas,
Various people made various comment after;
But most of them dissolved in laughter
5Nor at this tale did I see one man grieve,
Unless it were only old Oswald the Reeve,
Because he was a carpenter by trade.
A little anger in his heart was made,
And he began to grouse and grumble a bit.
10        "So theek," quod he, "ful wel koude I thee quite
With bleryng of a proud milleres eye,
If that me liste speke of ribaudye.
But ik am oold, me list no pley for age,
Gras-tyme is doon, my fodder is now forage,
15This white top writeth myne olde yeris,
Myn herte is also mowled as myne heris,
But if I fare as dooth an open-ers, -
That ilke fruyt is ever lenger the wers,
Til it be roten in mullok or in stree.
20We olde men, I drede, so fare we,
Til we be roten kan we nat be rype.
We hoppen ay whil that the world wol pype,
For in oure wyl ther stiketh evere a nayl,
To have an hoor heed and a grene tayl,
25As hath a leek, for thogh oure myght be goon,
Oure wyl desireth folie evere in oon.
For whan we may nat doon, than wol we speke,
Yet in oure asshen olde is fyr yreke.
10       "As I am," said he, "very well could I thee quit
With blearing of a haughty miller's eye,
If I but chose to speak of ribaldry
But I am old; I will not play, for age;
Grass time is done, my fodder is rummage,
15This white top reveals my old years,
My heart, too, is as mouldy as my hairs,
Unless I be like medlar, all perverse.
That same fruit increasingly grows worse,
Until it's rotten in mullock or straw.
20We old men, I fear, obey this law:
Until we're rotten, we cannot be ripe;
We always hop along, while the world will pipe.
Our will is always catching on the nail,
To have, if hoary head, a verdant tail,
25As has the leek; for though our strength be gone,
Our wish is yet for folly till life's done.
For when we may not act, then will we speak;
Yet in our ashes is there fire to reek
       "Foure gleedes han we whiche I shal devyse, -
30Avauntyng, liyng, anger, coveitise;
Thise foure sparkles longen unto eelde.
Oure olde lemes mowe wel been unweelde,
But wyl ne shal nat faillen, that is sooth.
And yet ik have alwey a coltes tooth,
35As many a yeer as it is passed henne
Syn that my tappe of lif bigan to renne.
For sikerly, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lyf, and leet it gon,
And ever sithe hath so the tappe yronne,
40Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lyf now droppeth on the chymbe;
The sely tonge may wel rynge and chymbe
Of wrecchednesse that passed is ful yoore.
With olde folk, save dotage, is namoore!"
       "Four embers have we, which I shall confess:
30Boasting and lying, anger, covetousness;
These four sparks belong to old age.
Our old limbs may no longer be able to rage,
But lust will never fail us, that is truth.
And yet I have had always a colt's tooth,
35As many years as now are past and done
Since first my tap of life began to run.
For certainly, when I was born, so long ago,
Death turned my tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task
40Till now, there's little left, an empty flask.
The stream of life now drips upon the chime;
The silly tongue may well ring out the time
Of wretchedness that passed so long before;
For old people, except for dotage, there's no more."




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From The Reeve's Prologue, lines 45-66:
The Host's intervention
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