The Middle English text is from Larry D. Benson., Gen. ed., The Riverside Chaucer,
Houghton-Mifflin Company; used with permission of the publisher.
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?"
To test your knowledge of the Middle English, take a quiz.
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.
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Last modified: , Jan 23, 2002
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