7.3 The Prioress' Prologue and Tale

The Prologue of The Prioress's Tale

The prologe of the Prioresses Tale

Domine dominus noster
Oh lord, our lord

453        O Lord, oure Lord, thy name how merveillous
                  Oh Lord, our Lord, how marvelous thy name

454        Is in this large world ysprad -- quod she --
                  Is spread in this large world -- said she --

455        For noght oonly thy laude precious
                  For not only thy precious praise

456        Parfourned is by men of dignitee,
                  Is performed by men of dignity,

457        But by the mouth of children thy bountee
                  But by the mouths of children thy goodness

458        Parfourned is, for on the brest soukynge
                  Is made known, for on the breast sucking

459        Somtyme shewen they thyn heriynge.
                  Sometimes they show thy praise.

460        Wherfore in laude, as I best kan or may,
                  Therefore in praise, as I best know how or can,

461        Of thee and of the white lylye flour
                  Of thee and of the white lily flour

462        Which that the bar, and is a mayde alway,
                  That bore thee, and is a maid always,

463        To telle a storie I wol do my labour;
                  To tell a story I will do my labor;

464        Nat that I may encressen hir honour,
                  Not that I may increase her honor,

465        For she hirself is honour and the roote
                  For she herself is honor and the root

466        Of bountee, next hir Sone, and soules boote.
                  Of goodness, next to her Son, and soul's remedy.

467        O mooder Mayde, O mayde Mooder free!
                  Oh mother Maiden, Oh generous maiden and Mother!

468        O bussh unbrent, brennynge in Moyses sighte,
                  Oh bush unburned, burning in Moses' sight,

469        That ravyshedest doun fro the Deitee,
                  That ravished down from the Deity,

470        Thurgh thyn humblesse, the Goost that in th' alighte,
                  Through thy humility, the Ghost that alighted in thee,

471        Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,
                  By whose power, when he illuminated thy heart,

472        Conceyved was the Fadres sapience,
                  The Father's Wisdom was conceived,

473        Help me to telle it in thy reverence!
                  Help me to tell it in thy reverence!

474        Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,
                  Lady, thy goodness, thy magnificence,

475        Thy vertu and thy grete humylitee
                  Thy virtue and thy great humility

476        Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
                  There can no tongue express in (the language of) any science;

477        For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee,
                  For sometimes, Lady, ere men pray to thee,

478        Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee,
                  Thou goest before because of thy kindliness,

479        And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere,
                  And gettest us the light, by thy prayer,

480        To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.
                  To guide us unto thy Son so dear.

481        My konnyng is so wayk, O blisful Queene,
                  My ability is so weak, Oh blissful Queen,

482        For to declare thy grete worthynesse
                  To declare thy great worthiness

483        That I ne may the weighte nat susteene;
                  That I can not sustain the weight;

484        But as a child of twelf month oold, or lesse,
                  But as a child of twelve months old, or less,

485        That kan unnethes any word expresse,
                  That can hardly express any word,

486        Right so fare I, and therfore I yow preye,
                  Right so I do, and therefore I pray to you,

487        Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.
                  Guide my song that I shall say of you.



The Prioress' Tale

Heere bigynneth the Prioresses Tale.

488        Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
                  There was in Asia, in a great city,

489        Amonges Cristene folk a Jewerye,
                  Among Christian folk a Ghetto,

490        Sustened by a lord of that contree
                  Sustained by a lord of that country

491        For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
                  For foul usury and shameful profits,

492        Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye;
                  Hateful to Christ and to his company;

493        And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
                  And through the street men might ride or go,

494        For it was free and open at eyther ende.
                  For it was free and open at either end.

495        A litel scole of Cristen folk ther stood
                  A little school of Christian folk there stood

496        Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were
                  Down at the farther end, in which there were

497        Children an heep, ycomen of Cristen blood,
                  A good many children, descended from Christian blood,

498        That lerned in that scole yeer by yere
                  That learned in that school year by year

499        Swich manere doctrine as men used there,
                  Such sort of doctrine as men used there,

500        This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,
                  This is to say, to sing and to read,

501        As smale children doon in hire childhede.
                  As small children do in their childhood.

502        Among thise children was a wydwes sone,
                  Among these children was a widow's son,

503        A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,
                  A little schoolboy, seven years of age,

504        That day by day to scole was his wone,
                  Whose custom was day by day to go to school,

505        And eek also, where as he saugh th' ymage
                  And in addition, moreover, where he saw the image

506        Of Cristes mooder, hadde he in usage,
                  Of Christ's mother, he had the practice,

507        As hym was taught, to knele adoun and seye
                  As was taught to him, to kneel down and say

508        His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.
                  His `Hail Mary,' as he goes by the way.

509        Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught
                  Thus this widow has taught her little son

510        Oure blisful Lady, Cristes mooder deere,
                  Our blissful Lady, Christ's dear mother,

511        To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,
                  To worship always, and he forgot it not,

512        For sely child wol alday soone leere.
                  For an innocent child will always quickly learn.

513        But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,
                  But always, when I think about this matter,

514        Seint Nicholas stant evere in my presence,
                  Saint Nicholas stands ever in my mind,

515        For he so yong to Crist dide reverence.
                  Because he so young did reverence to Christ.

516        This litel child, his litel book lernynge,
                  This little child, learning his little book,

517        As he sat in the scole at his prymer,
                  As he sat in the school at his primer,

518        He Alma redemptoris herde synge,
                  He heard `Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer' being sung,

519        As children lerned hire antiphoner;
                  As children learned their antiphonal hymns;

520        And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,
                  And as he dared, he drew him nearer and nearer,

521        And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,
                  And listened always to the words and the notes,

522        Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.
                  Until he knew the first verse entirely by heart.

523        Noght wiste he what this Latyn was to seye,
                  He knew not what this Latin meant,

524        For he so yong and tendre was of age.
                  For he was so young and tender of age.

525        But on a day his felawe gan he preye
                  But on one day he did pray his fellow

526        T' expounden hym this song in his langage,
                  To explain to him this song in his language,

527        Or telle hym why this song was in usage;
                  Or tell him why this song was in regular use;

528        This preyde he hym to construe and declare
                  This he prayed him to translate and explain

529        Ful often tyme upon his knowes bare.
                  Very frequently upon his bare knees.

530        His felawe, which that elder was than he,
                  His fellow, who was older than he,

531        Answerde hym thus: "This song, I have herd seye,
                  Answered him thus: "This song, I have heard tell,

532        Was maked of our blisful Lady free,
                  Was composed about our generous blissful Lady,

533        Hire to salue, and eek hire for to preye
                  To salute her, and also to pray her

534        To been oure help and socour whan we deye.
                  To be our help and succour when we die.

535        I kan namoore expounde in this mateere.
                  I can explain no more of this matter.

536        I lerne song; I kan but smal grammeere."
                  I learn song; I know but little grammar."

537        "And is this song maked in reverence
                  "And is this song composed in reverence

538        Of Cristes mooder?" seyde this innocent.
                  Of Christ's mother?" said this innocent.

539        "Now, certes, I wol do my diligence
                  "Now, certainly, I will do my best efforts

540        To konne it al er Cristemasse be went.
                  To learn it all before Christmas is gone.

541        Though that I for my prymer shal be shent
                  Though I for my primer shall be punished

542        And shal be beten thries in an houre,
                  And shall be beaten thrice in an hour,

543        I wol it konne Oure Lady for to honoure!"
                  I will learn it to honor Our Lady!"

544        His felawe taughte hym homward prively,
                  His fellow privately taught him (as they went) homeward,

545        Fro day to day, til he koude it by rote,
                  From day to day, until he knew it by heart,

546        And thanne he song it wel and boldely,
                  And then he sang it well and boldly,

547        Fro word to word, acordynge with the note.
                  From word to word, in harmony with the tune.

548        Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
                  Twice a day it passed through his throat,

549        To scoleward and homward whan he wente;
                  When he went toward school and homeward;

550        On Cristes mooder set was his entente.
                  On Christ's mother his mind was set.

551        As I have seyd, thurghout the Juerie
                  As I have said, throughout the Ghetto

552        This litel child, as he cam to and fro,
                  This little child, as he came to and fro,

553        Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie
                  Very merrily then would he sing and cry

554        O Alma redemptoris everemo.
                   Always `O Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer'

555        The swetnesse his herte perced so
                  So pierced his heart the sweetness

556        Of Cristes mooder that, to hire to preye,
                  Of Christ's mother that, to pray to her,

557        He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.
                  He can not stop singing by the way.

558        Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
                  Our first foe, the serpent Satan,

559        That hath in Jues herte his waspes nest,
                  That has his wasp's nest in Jews' hearts,

560        Up swal, and seide, "O Hebrayk peple, allas!
                  Swelled up, and said, "Oh Hebraic people, alas!

561        Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
                  Is this a thing that is honorable to you,

562        That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
                  That such a boy shall walk as he pleases

563        In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
                  In scorn of you, and sing of such a subject,

564        Which is agayn youre lawes reverence?"
                  Which is against your law's (due) reverence?"

565        Fro thennes forth the Jues han conspired
                  From thenceforth the Jews have conspired

566        This innocent out of this world to chace.
                  To drive this innocent out of this world.

567        An homycide therto han they hyred,
                  For this they have hired a murderer,

568        That in an aleye hadde a privee place;
                  Who in an alley had a secret place;

569        And as the child gan forby for to pace,
                  And as the child began to pass by,

570        This cursed Jew hym hente, and heeld hym faste,
                  This cursed Jew seized him, and held him tightly,

571        And kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste.
                  And cut his throat, and cast him in a pit.

572        I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe
                  I say that they threw him in a privy

573        Where as thise Jewes purgen hire entraille.
                  Where these Jews purge their entrails.

574        O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,
                  Oh cursed folk of new Herods,

575        What may youre yvel entente yow availle?
                  What may your evil intent avail you?

576        Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,
                  Murder will come out, certainly, it will not fail,

577        And namely ther th'onour of God shal sprede;
                  And especially where the honor of God shall spread;

578        The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.
                  The blood cries out on your cursed deed.

579        O martir, sowded to virginitee,
                  Oh martyr, firmly united to virginity,

580        Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon
                  Now canst thou sing, following continuously

581        The white Lamb celestial -- quod she --
                  The white celestial Lamb -- said she --

582        Of which the grete evaungelist, Seint John,
                  Of which the great evangelist, Saint John,

583        In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon
                  In Pathmos wrote, who says that they that go

584        Biforn this Lamb and synge a song al newe,
                  Before this Lamb and sing a song all new,

585        That nevere, flesshly, wommen they ne knewe.
                  (Are) those who never, in a carnal way, knew women.

586        This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght
                  This poor widow waits all that night

587        After hir litel child, but he cam noght;
                  For her little child, but he came not;

588        For which, as soone as it was dayes lyght,
                  For which, as soon as it was daylight,

589        With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,
                  With face pale from dread and intense thought,

590        She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,
                  She has sought him at school and elsewhere,

591        Til finally she gan so fer espie
                  Until finally she got so far as to discover

592        That he last seyn was in the Juerie.
                  That he was last seen in the Ghetto.

593        With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,
                  With mother's pity enclosed in her breast,

594        She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
                  She goes, as if she were half out of her mind,

595        To every place where she hath supposed
                  To every place where she has supposed

596        By liklihede hir litel child to fynde;
                  Most likely to find her little child;

597        And evere on Cristes mooder meeke and kynde
                  And ever on Christ's meek and kind mother

598        She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte:
                  She cried, and at the last thus she acted:

599        Among the cursed Jues she hym soghte.
                  Among the cursed Jews she sought him.

600        She frayneth and she preyeth pitously
                  She asks and she prays piteously

601        To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,
                  To every Jew that dwelt in that same place,

602        To telle hire if hir child wente oght forby.
                  To tell her if her child at all went by there.

603        They seyde "nay"; but Jhesu of his grace
                  They said "nay"; but Jesus of his grace

604        Yaf in hir thoght inwith a litel space
                  Gave it in her thought within a short while

605        That in that place after hir sone she cryde,
                  So that she cried for her son in that place,

606        Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.
                  Where he was cast in a pit near by.

607        O grete God, that parfournest thy laude
                  Oh great God, who performest thy praise

608        By mouth of innocentz, lo, heere thy myght!
                  By mouths of innocents, lo, here is thy power!

609        This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,
                  This gem of chastity, this emerald,

610        And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,
                  And also the bright ruby of martyrdom,

611        Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,
                  Where he with throat carved lay on his back,

612        He Alma redemptoris gan to synge
                  He `Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer' began to sing

613        So loude that al the place gan to rynge.
                  So loud that all the place began to ring.

614        The Cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente
                  The Christian folk who went through the street

615        In coomen for to wondre upon this thyng,
                  Came in to wonder upon this thing,

616        And hastily they for the provost sente;
                  And hastily they sent for the magistrate;

617        He cam anon withouten tariyng,
                  He came quickly without tarrying,

618        And herieth Crist that is of hevene kyng,
                  And praises Christ who is king of heaven,

619        And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde,
                  And also his mother, honor of mankind,

620        And after that the Jewes leet he bynde.
                  And after that he had the Jews bound.

621        This child with pitous lamentacioun
                  This child with piteous lamentation

622        Up taken was, syngynge his song alway,
                  Was taken up, singing his song always,

623        And with honour of greet processioun
                  And with the honor of a great procession

624        They carien hym unto the nexte abbay.
                  They carry him unto the nearby abbey.

625        His mooder swownynge by his beere lay;
                  His mother swooning lay by his bier;

626        Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere
                  The people that were there could hardly

627        This newe Rachel brynge fro his beere.
                  Bring this new Rachel from his bier.

628        With torment and with shameful deeth echon,
                  With torment and with shameful death for each one,

629        This provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve
                  This magistrate had these Jews put to death

630        That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
                  Who knew of this murder, and that immediately.

631        He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.
                  He would not tolerate any such cursedness.

632        "Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve";
                  "Evil shall have what evil will deserve";

633        Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
                  Therefore with wild horses he had them torn apart,

634        And after that he heng hem by the lawe.
                  And after that he hanged them by the law.

635        Upon this beere ay lith this innocent
                  Upon this bier always lies this innocent

636        Biforn the chief auter, whil the masse laste;
                  Before the chief altar, while the masse lasted;

637        And after that, the abbot with his covent
                  And after that, the abbot with his convent

638        Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste;
                  Have hurried to bury him very quickly;

639        And whan they hooly water on hym caste,
                  And when they cast holy water on him,

640        Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,
                  Yet spoke this child, when holy water was sprinkled,

641        And song O Alma redemptoris mater!
                  And sang `O Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer!'

642        This abbot, which that was an hooly man,
                  This abbot, who was a holy man,

643        As monkes been -- or elles oghte be --
                  As monks are -- or else ought to be --

644        This yonge child to conjure he bigan,
                  He began to entreat this young child,

645        And seyde, "O deere child, I halse thee,
                  And said, "Oh dear child, I beseech thee,

646        In vertu of the hooly Trinitee,
                  By power of the holy Trinity,

647        Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
                  Tell me what is thy cause to sing,

648        Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?"
                  Since thy throat is cut as it seems to me?"

649        "My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,"
                  "My throat is cut unto my neck boon,"

650        Seyde this child, "and as by wey of kynde
                  Said this child, "and in the natural course of events

651        I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon.
                  I should have dyed, yea, a long time ago.

652        But Jesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
                  But Jesus Christ, as you find in books,

653        Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,
                  Desires that his glory should last and be in mind,

654        And for the worship of his Mooder deere
                  And for the worship of his Mother dear

655        Yet may I synge O Alma loude and cleere.
                  Yet can I sing `O Gracious (mother)' loud and clear.

656        "This welle of mercy, Cristes mooder sweete,
                  "This well of mercy, Christ's sweet mother,

657        I loved alwey, as after my konnynge;
                  I loved always, according to my ability,

658        And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,
                  And when I had to lose my life,

659        To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
                  She came to me, and told me to sing

660        This anthem verraily in my deyynge,
                  This anthem truly as I was dying,

661        As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,
                  As you have heard, and when I had sung,

662        Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.
                  It seemed to me that she laid a grain upon my tongue.

663        "Wherfore I synge, and synge moot certeyn,
                  "Therefore I sing, and must sing certainly,

664        In honour of that blisful Mayden free
                  In honor of that blissful generous Maiden

665        Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn;
                  Until the grain is taken off my tongue;

666        And after that thus seyde she to me:
                  And after that thus she said to me:

667        `My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
                  `My little child, at that time I will fetch thee,

668        Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake.
                  When the grain is taken from thy tongue.

669        Be nat agast; I wol thee nat forsake.'"
                  Be not afraid; I will not forsake thee.'"

670        This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,
                  This holy monk, this abbot, I mean him,

671        His tonge out caughte, and took awey the greyn,
                  His tongue pulled out, and took away the grain,

672        And he yaf up the goost ful softely.
                  And he gave up the ghost very gently.

673        And whan this abbot hadde this wonder seyn,
                  And when this abbot had seen this wonder,

674        His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,
                  His salt tears trickled down like rain,

675        And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,
                  And face-down he fell all flat upon the ground,

676        And stille he lay as he had ben ybounde.
                  And still he lay as if he had been bound.

677        The covent eek lay on the pavement
                  The convent also lay on the pavement

678        Wepynge, and herying Cristes mooder deere,
                  Weeping, and praising Christ's dear mother,

679        And after that they ryse, and forth been went,
                  And after that they rise, and forth are gone,

680        And tooken awey this martir from his beere;
                  And took away this martyr from his bier;

681        And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere
                  And in a tomb of clear marble stones

682        Enclosen they his litel body sweete.
                  They enclose his sweet little body.

683        Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete!
                  There he is now, God grant us to meet!

684        O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also
                  Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, slain also

685        With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,
                  By cursed Jews, as it is well known,

686        For it is but a litel while ago,
                  For it is but a little while ago,

687        Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,
                  Pray also for us, we sinful folk unstable,

688        That of his mercy God so merciable
                  That of his mercy God so merciful

689        On us his grete mercy multiplie,
                  Multiply his great mercy on us,

690        For reverence of his mooder Marie. Amen
                  For reverence of his mother Mary. Amen 

Heere is ended the Prioresses Tale.