Learn how False-Seeming, traitor vile,
Men's hearts doth readily beguile,
When grey and black he clothes him in,
With saintly visage pale and thin.
DISGUISES well I know to don,
Now this one off, now that one on,
Now knight am I, and now a monk,
A prelate, then to canon shrunk
Or simple clerk, or priest at mass,
And next as master do I pass,
Disciple, captain, forester,
In short, whatever I prefer
Sometimes a prince, sometimes a page,
And every language I engage
To patter; sometimes old and grey,
At others sprightly, young and gay,
And now Robert and now Robin,
Now friar, now a Jacobin.
I show me, company to keep
With her from whom I joyance reap,
(She hight Constrainèd-Abstinence)
'Neath many a guilement and pretence,
Her fickle fancies to fulfil,
And work her every wish and will
Sometimes a woman's robe I wear,
As matron staid or damsel fair,
And oft assume religious dress,
As anchorite or prioress,
An abbess who with life hath done,
Or novice who would fain be nun
As through the world I walk about,
I turn each credence inside out,
And whatsoever may be their law,
I take the grain and leave the straw;
For I but live to cozen folk,
And laugh at all beneath my cloak.
What more to tell? In suchlike way
As serves me best I play my play.
My mode I change unendingly
And ne'er my words and deeds agree,
But through my privileges snare
Full many a man all unaware.
Good shrift I give when I confess
(Laughing at prelates' helplessness)
All sinners whom I hap to meet;
No prelate dare my work defeat,
Saving our lord the Pope alone,
From whom this privilege was won
For our most holy brotherhood.
Whatever prelate hath withstood
Or dared to speak against my men,
I soon have closed his mouth again.
But out, alas! the people now
Too well my ways and manners trow,
And nought am I received so well,
Since ugly tales of me men tell.
But what care I? I'm none the worse,
With silver have I stored my purse
And goods have heaped; so well I've striven,
That foolish folk have freely given
Abundance, and I lead my life
In ease, all undisturbed by strife,
Thanks to the easy prelates who
Fear to say aught whate'er I do.
Not one of them dares make essay
Against me, or he'd roundly pay.
And thus I live as pleaseth me
By fraud, deceit, and trickery.
Though all should once a year at least
Confession make before a priest,
As scripture saith, that they may have
A houseling good their souls to save
(For this our lord the Pope decrees)
We shelve the statute as we please.
To penitents we give advice
But claim exemptions which suffice,
For many a privilege have we,
Which cause our burdens light to be.
On this point we nought silent are,
But vaunt our dispensations far
Beyond the Pope's decree; so may
Unto his priest each sinner say:
"Father, I lately have confessed
To such in one, and he my breast
Hath clean absolved from ever sin
That might the wrath of heaven win,
My conscience suffers no such pain
As pricks me to confess again.
Herein, I pray you, make me quit,
Nor further hold discourse of it,
No matter what you say thereof,
And you may spare to scold and scoff;
For though a thousand oaths you swore,
Prelate or curate now no more
I fear; my will would you constrain,
There's one to whom I can complain
Forthwith, you cannot make me twin
Confession, for new shrift of sin,
The first doth well enough for me,
A second would but wasted be.
For one whose powers are full and wide
Hath all my bonds of sin untied
And so I warn you once again,
That if you would my will constrain,
I know of one will right my cause,
Holding me free of kings and laws
And provosts, for among them all,
Though royal or imperial,
Not one dare 'gainst me judgment give,
Exempted from their rule I live.
To my new father should I go,
(No cubling he who hight Louveteau,)
But friar Wolf, who doth devour
Whate'er he will, nor can his power
By aught be stayed or hindered, but
If I complain, your mouth he'll shut.
If he should catch you in his net,
Thereout not lightly will you get
Without disgrace and shame, unless
He shows unwonted gentleness.
He's not so foolish, weak or dull,
But he can get from Rome a bull
If so he will, and forthwith cite
You fore the court in dread despite,
And ruin you in two short days.
And he possesseth briefs, he says,
Much stricter and more strong by far
Than any common parchments are,
Which have no power at all to touch
More than eight persons, while his, much
More wide and fell in their intent,
May pass when law itself is spent:
And for your rights nought careth he,
From law he hath immunity.
Thus all his power he'll put in force,
Nor deign to stay or change his course
For prayers, or tears, nor any kind
Of gift, his coffers well are lined.
For seneschal, Sir Schemer he
Hath got, who gathers wondrously,
And Sir Solicitor, his brother,
These two will outvie many another
In piling wealth, and 'twixt the pair
Their hoard might buy St. Peter's chair.
Now help me God and good St. James,
If you deny my lawful claims
(When spring toward Easter-tide hath trod)
To have the holy body of God,
I shall not grieve thereat, but go
To that good man who well I know
Will give it me, and vainly spent
On me were threats of punishment."
Thuswise may every carl confess
Whereso it suits his wiliness;
And if the priest refuse his rights,
My hand his stubbornness requites,
And soon he finds him in the lurch,
With loss of honour, goods, and church.
Whither do such confessions tend?
And who shall know the bitter end?
In suchlike case no priest can e'er
Know aught of his parishioner,
Whose soul should be his constant cure.
At nought such practice sets the pure
And holy Scripture, which doth teach
Pastors to know the voice of each
Sheep of their flock. But willingly
I leave both priests and prelates free
Poor men and women to confess,
Who for most part are penniless;
But little guerdon thence were got.
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