The Prioress' Prologue and Tale

Interlinear (Original and Literal Translation)


The translation of The Prioress's Prologue and Tale, printed here along with the original, is for occasional reference for those beginning the study of Chaucer's language. It is merely a pony and by no means a substitute for the original, nor even for a good translation. Use the "find" on your browser (and search for the line numbers) of the words you want to see. You may find some lines still obscure, since more explanation may be needed than a bare translation can supply. In such cases, consult the Explanatory Notes in an edition such as The Riverside Chaucer, or The Canterbury Tales Complete.


The Prologue of The Prioress's Tale

453        O Lord, oure Lord, thy name how merveillous
453               Oh Lord, our Lord, how marvelous thy name
454        Is in this large world ysprad -- quod she --
454               Is spread in this large world -- said she --
455        For noght oonly thy laude precious
455               For not only thy precious praise
456        Parfourned is by men of dignitee,
456               Is performed by men of dignity,
457        But by the mouth of children thy bountee
457               But by the mouths of children thy goodness
458        Parfourned is, for on the brest soukynge
458               Is made known, for on the breast sucking
459        Somtyme shewen they thyn heriynge.
459               Sometimes they show thy praise.

460        Wherfore in laude, as I best kan or may,
460               Therefore in praise, as I best know how or can,
461        Of thee and of the white lylye flour
461               Of thee and of the white lily flour
462        Which that the bar, and is a mayde alway,
462               That bore thee, and is a maid always,
463        To telle a storie I wol do my labour;
463               To tell a story I will do my labor;
464        Nat that I may encressen hir honour,
464               Not that I may increase her honor,
465        For she hirself is honour and the roote
465               For she herself is honor and the root
466        Of bountee, next hir Sone, and soules boote.
466               Of goodness, next to her Son, and soul's remedy.

467        O mooder Mayde, O mayde Mooder free!
467               Oh mother Maid, Oh generous maid and Mother!
468        O bussh unbrent, brennynge in Moyses sighte,
468               Oh bush unburned, burning in Moses' sight,
469        That ravyshedest doun fro the Deitee,
469               That ravished down from the Deity,
470        Thurgh thyn humblesse, the Goost that in th' alighte,
470               Through thy humility, the Ghost that alighted in thee,
471        Of whos vertu, whan he thyn herte lighte,
471               By whose power, when he illuminated thy heart,
472        Conceyved was the Fadres sapience,
472               The Father's Wisdom was conceived,
473        Help me to telle it in thy reverence!
473               Help me to tell it in thy reverence!

474        Lady, thy bountee, thy magnificence,
474               Lady, thy goodness, thy magnificence,
475        Thy vertu and thy grete humylitee
475               Thy virtue and thy great humility
476        Ther may no tonge expresse in no science;
476               There can no tongue express in (the language of) any science;
477        For somtyme, Lady, er men praye to thee,
477               For sometimes, Lady, ere men pray to thee,
478        Thou goost biforn of thy benyngnytee,
478               Thou goest before because of thy kindliness,
479        And getest us the lyght, of thy preyere,
479               And gettest us the light, by thy prayer,
480        To gyden us unto thy Sone so deere.
480               To guide us unto thy Son so dear.

481        My konnyng is so wayk, O blisful Queene,
481               My ability is so weak, Oh blissful Queen,
482        For to declare thy grete worthynesse
482               To declare thy great worthiness
483        That I ne may the weighte nat susteene;
483               That I can not sustain the weight;
484        But as a child of twelf month oold, or lesse,
484               But as a child of twelve months old, or less,
485        That kan unnethes any word expresse,
485               That can hardly express any word,
486        Right so fare I, and therfore I yow preye,
486               Right so I do, and therefore I pray to you,
487        Gydeth my song that I shal of yow seye.
487               Guide my song that I shall say of you.


The Prioress's Tale

488        Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,
488               There was in Asia, in a great city,
489        Amonges Cristene folk a Jewerye,
489               Among Christian folk a Ghetto,
490        Sustened by a lord of that contree
490               Sustained by a lord of that country
491        For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,
491               For foul usury and shameful profits,
492        Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye;
492               Hateful to Christ and to his company;
493        And thurgh the strete men myghte ride or wende,
493               And through the street men might ride or go,
494        For it was free and open at eyther ende.
494               For it was free and open at either end.

495        A litel scole of Cristen folk ther stood
495               A little school of Christian folk there stood
496        Doun at the ferther ende, in which ther were
496               Down at the farther end, in which there were
497        Children an heep, ycomen of Cristen blood,
497               A good many children, descended from Christian blood,
498        That lerned in that scole yeer by yere
498               That learned in that school year by year
499        Swich manere doctrine as men used there,
499               Such sort of doctrine as men used there,
500        This is to seyn, to syngen and to rede,
500               This is to say, to sing and to read,
501        As smale children doon in hire childhede.
501               As small children do in their childhood.

502        Among thise children was a wydwes sone,
502               Among these children was a widow's son,
503        A litel clergeon, seven yeer of age,
503               A little schoolboy, seven years of age,
504        That day by day to scole was his wone,
504               Whose custom was day by day to go to school,
505        And eek also, where as he saugh th' ymage
505               And in addition, moreover, where he saw the image
506        Of Cristes mooder, hadde he in usage,
506               Of Christ's mother, he had the practice,
507        As hym was taught, to knele adoun and seye
507               As was taught to him, to kneel down and say
508        His Ave Marie, as he goth by the weye.
508               His `Hail Mary,' as he goes by the way.

509        Thus hath this wydwe hir litel sone ytaught
509               Thus this widow has taught her little son
510        Oure blisful Lady, Cristes mooder deere,
510               Our blissful Lady, Christ's dear mother,
511        To worshipe ay, and he forgat it naught,
511               To worship always, and he forgot it not,
512        For sely child wol alday soone leere.
512               For an innocent child will always quickly learn.
513        But ay, whan I remembre on this mateere,
513               But always, when I think about this matter,
514        Seint Nicholas stant evere in my presence,
514               Saint Nicholas stands ever in my mind,
515        For he so yong to Crist dide reverence.
515               Because he so young did reverence to Christ.

516        This litel child, his litel book lernynge,
516               This little child, learning his little book,
517        As he sat in the scole at his prymer,
517               As he sat in the school at his primer,
518        He Alma redemptoris herde synge,
518               He heard `Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer' being sung,
519        As children lerned hire antiphoner;
519               As children learned their antiphonal hymns;
520        And as he dorste, he drough hym ner and ner,
520               And as he dared, he drew him nearer and nearer,
521        And herkned ay the wordes and the noote,
521               And listend always to the words and the notes,
522        Til he the firste vers koude al by rote.
522               Until he knew the first verse entirely by heart.

523        Noght wiste he what this Latyn was to seye,
523               He knew not what this Latin meant,
524        For he so yong and tendre was of age.
524               For he was so young and tender of age.
525        But on a day his felawe gan he preye
525               But on one day he did pray his fellow
526        T' expounden hym this song in his langage,
526               To explain to him this song in his language,
527        Or telle hym why this song was in usage;
527               Or tell him why this song was in regular use;
528        This preyde he hym to construe and declare
528               This he prayed him to translate and explain
529        Ful often tyme upon his knowes bare.
529               Very frequently upon his bare knees.

530        His felawe, which that elder was than he,
530               His fellow, who was older than he,
531        Answerde hym thus: "This song, I have herd seye,
531               Answered him thus: "This song, I have heard tell,
532        Was maked of our blisful Lady free,
532               Was composed about our generous blissful Lady,
533        Hire to salue, and eek hire for to preye
533               To salute her, and also to pray her
534        To been oure help and socour whan we deye.
534               To be our help and succour when we die.
535        I kan namoore expounde in this mateere.
535               I can explain no more of this matter.
536        I lerne song; I kan but smal grammeere."
536               I learn song; I know but little grammar."

537        "And is this song maked in reverence
537               "And is this song composed in reverence
538        Of Cristes mooder?" seyde this innocent.
538               Of Christ's mother?" said this innocent.
539        "Now, certes, I wol do my diligence
539               "Now, certainly, I will do my diligence
540        To konne it al er Cristemasse be went.
540               To learn it all before Christmas is gone.
541        Though that I for my prymer shal be shent
541               Though I for my primer shall be punished
542        And shal be beten thries in an houre,
542               And shall be beaten thrice in an hour,
543        I wol it konne Oure Lady for to honoure!"
543               I will learn it to honor Our Lady!"

544        His felawe taughte hym homward prively,
544               His fellow privately taught him (as they went) homeward,
545        Fro day to day, til he koude it by rote,
545               From day to day, until he knew it by heart,
546        And thanne he song it wel and boldely,
546               And then he sang it well and boldly,
547        Fro word to word, acordynge with the note.
547               From word to word, in harmony with the tune.
548        Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte,
548               Twice a day it passed through his throat,
549        To scoleward and homward whan he wente;
549               When he went toward school and homeward;
550        On Cristes mooder set was his entente.
550               On Christ's mother his mind was set.

551        As I have seyd, thurghout the Juerie
551               As I have said, throughout the Ghetto
552        This litel child, as he cam to and fro,
552               This little child, as he came to and fro,
553        Ful murily than wolde he synge and crie
553               Very merrily then would he sing and cry
554        O Alma redemptoris everemo.
554                Always `O Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer'
555        The swetnesse his herte perced so
555               So pierced his heart the sweetness
556        Of Cristes mooder that, to hire to preye,
556               Of Christ's mother that, to pray to her,
557        He kan nat stynte of syngyng by the weye.
557               He can not stop singing by the way.

558        Oure firste foo, the serpent Sathanas,
558               Our first foe, the serpent Satan,
559        That hath in Jues herte his waspes nest,
559               That has his wasp's nest in Jews' hearts,
560        Up swal, and seide, "O Hebrayk peple, allas!
560               Swelled up, and said, "Oh Hebraic people, alas!
561        Is this to yow a thyng that is honest,
561               Is this a thing that is honorable to you,
562        That swich a boy shal walken as hym lest
562               That such a boy shall walk as he pleases
563        In youre despit, and synge of swich sentence,
563               In scorn of you, and sing of such a subject,
564        Which is agayn youre lawes reverence?"
564               Which is against your law's (due) reverence?"

565        Fro thennes forth the Jues han conspired
565               From thenceforth the Jews have conspired
566        This innocent out of this world to chace.
566               To drive this innocent out of this world.
567        An homycide therto han they hyred,
567               For this they have hired a murderer,
568        That in an aleye hadde a privee place;
568               Who in an alley had a secret place;
569        And as the child gan forby for to pace,
569               And as the child began to pass by,
570        This cursed Jew hym hente, and heeld hym faste,
570               This cursed Jew seized him, and held him tightly,
571        And kitte his throte, and in a pit hym caste.
571               And cut his throat, and cast him in a pit.

572        I seye that in a wardrobe they hym threwe
572               I say that they threw him in a privy
573        Where as thise Jewes purgen hire entraille.
573               Where these Jews purge their entrails.
574        O cursed folk of Herodes al newe,
574               Oh cursed folk of new Herods,
575        What may youre yvel entente yow availle?
575               What may your evil intent avail you?
576        Mordre wol out, certeyn, it wol nat faille,
576               Murder will come out, certainly, it will not faille,
577        And namely ther th' onour of God shal sprede;
577               And especially where the honor of God shall spread;
578        The blood out crieth on youre cursed dede.
578               The blood cries out on your cursed deed.

579        O martir, sowded to virginitee,
579               Oh martyr, firmly united to virginity,
580        Now maystow syngen, folwynge evere in oon
580               Now canst thou sing, following continuously
581        The white Lamb celestial -- quod she --
581               The white Lamb celestial -- said she --
582        Of which the grete evaungelist, Seint John,
582               Of which the great evangelist, Saint John,
583        In Pathmos wroot, which seith that they that goon
583               In Pathmos wrote, who says that they that go
584        Biforn this Lamb and synge a song al newe,
584               Before this Lamb and sing a song all new,
585        That nevere, flesshly, wommen they ne knewe.
585               (Are) those who never, in a carnal way, knew women.

586        This poure wydwe awaiteth al that nyght
586               This poor widow waits all that night
587        After hir litel child, but he cam noght;
587               For her little child, but he came not;
588        For which, as soone as it was dayes lyght,
588               For which, as soon as it was daylight,
589        With face pale of drede and bisy thoght,
589               With face pale from dread and intense thought,
590        She hath at scole and elleswhere hym soght,
590               She has sought him at school and elsewhere,
591        Til finally she gan so fer espie
591               Until finally she got so far as to discover
592        That he last seyn was in the Juerie.
592               That he was last seen in the Ghetto.

593        With moodres pitee in hir brest enclosed,
593               With mother's pity enclosed in her breast,
594        She gooth, as she were half out of hir mynde,
594               She goes, as if she were half out of her mind,
595        To every place where she hath supposed
595               To every place where she has supposed
596        By liklihede hir litel child to fynde;
596               Most likely to find her little child;
597        And evere on Cristes mooder meeke and kynde
597               And ever on Christ's meek and kind mother
598        She cride, and atte laste thus she wroghte:
598               She cried, and at the last thus she acted:
599        Among the cursed Jues she hym soghte.
599               Among the cursed Jews she sought him.

600        She frayneth and she preyeth pitously
600               She asks and she prays piteously
601        To every Jew that dwelte in thilke place,
601               To every Jew that dwelt in that same place,
602        To telle hire if hir child wente oght forby.
602               To tell her if her child at all went by there.
603        They seyde "nay"; but Jhesu of his grace
603               They said "nay"; but Jesus of his grace
604        Yaf in hir thoght inwith a litel space
604               Gave it in her thought within a short while
605        That in that place after hir sone she cryde,
605               So that she cried for her son in that place,
606        Where he was casten in a pit bisyde.
606               Where he was cast in a pit near by.

607        O grete God, that parfournest thy laude
607               Oh great God, who performest thy praise
608        By mouth of innocentz, lo, heere thy myght!
608               By mouths of innocents, lo, here is thy power!
609        This gemme of chastite, this emeraude,
609               This gem of chastity, this emerald,
610        And eek of martirdom the ruby bright,
610               And also the bright ruby of martyrdom,
611        Ther he with throte ykorven lay upright,
611               Where he with throat carved lay on his back,
612        He Alma redemptoris gan to synge
612               He `Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer' began to sing
613        So loude that al the place gan to rynge.
613               So loud that all the place began to ring.

614        The Cristene folk that thurgh the strete wente
614               The Christian folk who went through the street
615        In coomen for to wondre upon this thyng,
615               Came in to wonder upon this thing,
616        And hastily they for the provost sente;
616               And hastily they sent for the provost;
617        He cam anon withouten tariyng,
617               He came quickly without tarrying,
618        And herieth Crist that is of hevene kyng,
618               And praises Christ who is king of heaven,
619        And eek his mooder, honour of mankynde,
619               And also his mother, honor of mankind,
620        And after that the Jewes leet he bynde.
620               And after that he had the Jews bound.

621        This child with pitous lamentacioun
621               This child with piteous lamentation
622        Up taken was, syngynge his song alway,
622               Was taken up, singing his song always,
623        And with honour of greet processioun
623               And with the honor of a great procession
624        They carien hym unto the nexte abbay.
624               They carry him unto the next abbey.
625        His mooder swownynge by his beere lay;
625               His mother swooning lay by his bier;
626        Unnethe myghte the peple that was theere
626               The people that were there could hardly
627        This newe Rachel brynge fro his beere.
627               Bring this new Rachel from his bier.

628        With torment and with shameful deeth echon,
628               With torment and with shameful death for each one,
629        This provost dooth thise Jewes for to sterve
629               This provost had these Jews put to death
630        That of this mordre wiste, and that anon.
630               Who knew of this murder, and that immediately.
631        He nolde no swich cursednesse observe.
631               He would not tolerate any such cursedness.
632        "Yvele shal have that yvele wol deserve";
632               "Evil shall have what evil will deserve";
633        Therfore with wilde hors he dide hem drawe,
633               Therefore with wild horses he had them torn apart,
634        And after that he heng hem by the lawe.
634               And after that he hanged them by the law.

635        Upon this beere ay lith this innocent
635               Upon this bier always lies this innocent
636        Biforn the chief auter, whil the masse laste;
636               Before the chief altar, while the masse lasted;
637        And after that, the abbot with his covent
637               And after that, the abbot with his convent
638        Han sped hem for to burien hym ful faste;
638               Have hurried to bury him very quickly;
639        And whan they hooly water on hym caste,
639               And when they cast holy water on him,
640        Yet spak this child, whan spreynd was hooly water,
640               Yet spoke this child, when holy water was sprinkled,
641        And song O Alma redemptoris mater!
641               And sang `O Gracious (mother) of the Redeemer!'

642        This abbot, which that was an hooly man,
642               This abbot, who was a holy man,
643        As monkes been -- or elles oghte be --
643               As monks are -- or else ought to be --
644        This yonge child to conjure he bigan,
644               He began to entreat this young child,
645        And seyde, "O deere child, I halse thee,
645               And said, "Oh dear child, I beseech thee,
646        In vertu of the hooly Trinitee,
646               By power of the holy Trinity,
647        Tel me what is thy cause for to synge,
647               Tell me what is thy cause to sing,
648        Sith that thy throte is kut to my semynge?"
648               Since thy throat is cut as it seems to me?"

649        "My throte is kut unto my nekke boon,"
649               "My throat is cut unto my neck boon,"
650        Seyde this child, "and as by wey of kynde
650               Said this child, "and in the natural course of events
651        I sholde have dyed, ye, longe tyme agon.
651               I should have dyed, yes, a long time ago.
652        But Jesu Crist, as ye in bookes fynde,
652               But Jesus Christ, as you find in books,
653        Wil that his glorie laste and be in mynde,
653               Desires that his glory should last and be in mind,
654        And for the worship of his Mooder deere
654               And for the worship of his Mother dear
655        Yet may I synge O Alma loude and cleere.
655               Yet can I sing `O Gracious (mother)' loud and clear.

656        "This welle of mercy, Cristes mooder sweete,
656               "This well of mercy, Christ's sweet mother,
657        I loved alwey, as after my konnynge;
657               I loved always, according to my ability,
658        And whan that I my lyf sholde forlete,
658               And when I had to lose my life,
659        To me she cam, and bad me for to synge
659               She came to me, and told me to sing
660        This anthem verraily in my deyynge,
660               This anthem truly as I was dying,
661        As ye han herd, and whan that I hadde songe,
661               As you have heard, and when I had sung,
662        Me thoughte she leyde a greyn upon my tonge.
662               It seemed to me that she laid a grain upon my tongue.

663        "Wherfore I synge, and synge moot certeyn,
663               "Therefore I sing, and must sing certainly,
664        In honour of that blisful Mayden free
664               In honor of that blissful generous Maiden
665        Til fro my tonge of taken is the greyn;
665               Until the grain is taken off my tongue;
666        And after that thus seyde she to me:
666               And after that thus she said to me:
667        `My litel child, now wol I fecche thee,
667               `My little child, now I will fetch thee,
668        Whan that the greyn is fro thy tonge ytake.
668               When the grain is taken from thy tongue.
669        Be nat agast; I wol thee nat forsake.'"
669               Be not afraid; I will not forsake thee.'"

670        This hooly monk, this abbot, hym meene I,
670               This holy monk, this abbot, I mean him,
671        His tonge out caughte, and took awey the greyn,
671               His tongue pulled out, and took away the grain,
672        And he yaf up the goost ful softely.
672               And he gave up the ghost very gently.
673        And whan this abbot hadde this wonder seyn,
673               And when this abbot had seen this wonder,
674        His salte teeris trikled doun as reyn,
674               His salt tears trickled down like rain,
675        And gruf he fil al plat upon the grounde,
675               And face-down he fell all flat upon the ground,
676        And stille he lay as he had ben ybounde.
676               And still he lay as if he had been bound.

677        The covent eek lay on the pavement
677               The convent also lay on the pavement
678        Wepynge, and herying Cristes mooder deere,
678               Weeping, and praising Christ's dear mother,
679        And after that they ryse, and forth been went,
679               And after that they rise, and forth are gone,
680        And tooken awey this martir from his beere;
680               And took away this martyr from his bier;
681        And in a tombe of marbul stones cleere
681               And in a tomb of clear marble stones
682        Enclosen they his litel body sweete.
682               They enclose his sweet little body.
683        Ther he is now, God leve us for to meete!
683               There he is now, God grant us for to meet!

684        O yonge Hugh of Lyncoln, slayn also
684               Oh young Hugh of Lincoln, slain also
685        With cursed Jewes, as it is notable,
685               By cursed Jews, as it is well known,
686        For it is but a litel while ago,
686               For it is but a little while ago,
687        Preye eek for us, we synful folk unstable,
687               Pray also for us, we sinful folk unstable,
688        That of his mercy God so merciable
688               That of his mercy God so merciful
689        On us his grete mercy multiplie,
689               Multiply his great mercy on us,
690        For reverence of his mooder Marie. Amen
690               For reverence of his mother Mary. Amen


Last modified: Descember 28, 2000
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Gold Texts on this page prepared and maintained by L. D. Benson (