Chaucer, CT, Miller’s and Reeve’s Tales

Index to this series

When I read the Miller’s Tale for high school, I thought it was supposed to show how titillation was possible through learning (in this case, learning Middle English). We didn’t read the Reeve’s ensuing tale (it was not in the selection that we had).

The two tales are comedies. Chaucer bases them on existing plots, as far as I know, but tries to make them fit his pilgrims. Though the Reeve may derive the lesson, “A gylour shal him-self bigyled be” (line 4321), I see no reason to think Chaucer is trying to teach this or any other lesson. He portrays corruption in the Church, but does not seem to be a Luther in the making.

There are many more tales to come. Meanwhile, I wonder how Chaucer came to describe the mote and beam of Matthew 7:3 as a stalk and a balk; see lines 3919–20.

Before passing to the text itself, I try to summarize, highlighting the comedy.

The Host invites the Monk to speak next after the Knight, but the Miller, who is drunk, insists on speaking out of turn about a carpenter, his wife, and a clerk who sets the former’s cap. The Reeve calls this a sin.

In the Miller’s tale, an old carpenter, John, lives in Oxford with his young wife Alison and a border, the clerk called “Handy” Nicholas. Nicholas gropes Alison, who agrees to sleep with him. Alison has another admirer in the parish-clerk, Absolon. Nicholas tricks John into tying a boat in the rafters and sitting in it, waiting for a flood. This allows Alison and Nicholas to slip off to bed. Now there is a chain of three surprises.

  1. Absolon comes to the window. Alison gives him her arse to kiss.

  2. Absolon fetches a red-hot iron from the blacksmith. This time Nicholas sticks his arse out the window.

  3. When Nicholas cries for water, this wakes John, who takes a hatchet to the rope holding his boat.

That’s the story, and the Reeve is offended, since he too is an old carpenter. Old folks are like bletted fruit: best when rotten.

In the Reeve’s tale, clerks Allan and John of Cambridge want to keep the miller from cheating them when they bring grist themselves in place of the sick manciple. The miller distracts them by freeing their horse. Catching him takes the rest of the day, so the clerks have the miller put them up. There are three beds:

  • for the miller and his wife (who is the parson’s daughter);
  • for their twenty-year-old daughter;
  • for Allan and John.

The first bed has a crib at the foot for an infant child.

  1. When the married couple are snoring and farting, Allen is welcomed into their daughter’s bed.

  2. When the miller’s wife gets up to piss, John moves the crib to the foot of his own bed. Therefore the miller’s wife gets into bed with him.

  3. John now goes to what he thinks is his own bed and tells his adventure to the miller.

Like people on Facebook today, or Chaucer himself, Allan and John seem interested mainly in having a good story to tell later.


Here folwen the wordes bitwene the Host and the Millere.

WHAN that the Knight had thus his tale y-told,
 3110In al the route nas ther yong ne old
That he ne seyde it was a noble storie,
And worthy for to drawen to memorie;
And namely the gentils everichoon.
Our Hoste lough and swoor, ‘so moot I goon,
 3115This gooth aright; unbokeled is the male;
Lat see now who shal telle another tale:
For trewely, the game is wel bigonne.
 (10)Now telleth ye, sir Monk, if that ye conne,
Sumwhat, to quyte with the Knightes tale.

 3120The Miller, that for-dronken was al pale,
So that unnethe up-on his hors he sat,
He nolde avalen neither hood ne hat,
Ne abyde no man for his curteisye,
But in Pilates vois he gan to crye,
 3125And swoor by armes and by blood and bones,
I can a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quyte the Knightes tale.


 (20)Our Hoste saugh that he was dronke of ale,
And seyde: ‘abyd, Robin, my leve brother,
 3130Som bettre man shal telle us first another:
Abyd, and lat us werken thriftily.’


‘By goddes soul,’ quod he, ‘that wol nat I;
For I wol speke, or elles go my wey.’
Our Hoste answerde: ‘tel on, a devel wey!
 3135Thou art a fool, thy wit is overcome.’


‘Now herkneth,’ quod the Miller, ‘alle and some!
But first I make a protestacioun
 (30)That I am dronke, I knowe it by my soun;
And therfore, if that I misspeke or seye,
 3140Wyte it the ale of Southwerk, I yow preye;
For I wol telle a legende and a lyf
Bothe of a Carpenter, and of his wyf,
How that a clerk hath set the wrightes cappe.


The Reve answerde and seyde, ‘stint thy clappe,
 3145Lat be thy lewed dronken harlotrye.
It is a sinne and eek a greet folye
To apeiren any man, or him diffame,
 (40)And eek to bringen wyves in swich fame.

Thou mayst y-nogh of othere thinges seyn.’


 3150This dronken Miller spak ful sone ageyn,
And seyde, ‘leve brother Osewold,
Who hath no wyf, he is no cokewold.
But I sey nat therfore that thou art oon;
 3154Ther been ful gode wyves many oon,
And ever a thousand gode ayeyns oon badde, [T. om.
That knowestow wel thy-self, but-if thou madde. [T. om.
Why artow angry with my tale now?
 (50)I have a wyf, pardee, as well as thou,
Yet nolde I, for the oxen in my plogh,
 3160Taken up-on me more than y-nogh,
As demen of my-self that I were oon;
I wol beleve wel that I am noon.
An housbond shal nat been inquisitif
Of goddes privetee, nor of his wyf.

 3165So he may finde goddes foyson there,
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere.’

The carpenter in the story will say part of this at 3454: “Men sholde nat knowe of goddes privetee.”

What sholde I more seyn, but this Millere
 (60)He nolde his wordes for no man forbere,
But tolde his cherles tale in his manere;
 3170Me thinketh that I shal reherce it here.
And ther-fore every gentil wight I preye,
For goddes love, demeth nat that I seye
Of evel entente, but that I moot reherce
Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse,
 3175Or elles falsen som of my matere.
And therfore, who-so list it nat y-here,
Turne over the leef,
and chese another tale;
 (70)For he shal finde y-nowe, grete and smale,
Of storial thing that toucheth gentillesse,
 3180And eek moralitee and holinesse;
Blameth nat me if that ye chese amis.
The Miller is a cherl, ye knowe wel this;
So was the Reve, and othere many mo,
And harlotrye they tolden bothe two.

 3185Avyseth yow and putte me out of blame;
And eek men shal nat make ernest of game.


Here endeth the prologe.


Here biginneth the Millere his tale.

WHYLOM ther was dwellinge at Oxenford
A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord,
And of his craft he was a Carpenter.
 3190With him ther was dwellinge a povre scoler,
Had lerned art, but al his fantasye
Was turned for to lerne astrologye,
And coude a certeyn of conclusiouns
To demen by interrogaciouns,
 3195If that men axed him in certein houres,
 (10)Whan that men sholde have droghte or elles shoures,
Or if men axed him what sholde bifalle
Of every thing, I may nat rekene hem alle.


This clerk was cleped hende Nicholas;
 3200Of derne love he coude and of solas;
And ther-to he was sleigh and ful privee,
And lyk a mayden meke for to see.
A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye
Allone, with-outen any companye,
 3205Ful fetisly y-dight with herbes swote;
 (20)And he him-self as swete as is the rote
Of licorys, or any cetewale.
His Almageste and bokes grete and smale,
His astrelabie, longinge for his art,
 3210His augrim-stones layen faire a-part
On shelves couched at his beddes heed:
His presse y-covered with a falding reed.
And al above ther lay a gay sautrye,
On which he made a nightes melodye
 3215So swetely, that al the chambre rong;
 (30)And Angelus ad virginem he song;
And after that he song the kinges note;
Ful often blessed was his mery throte.
And thus this swete clerk his tyme spente
 3220After his freendes finding and his rente.

Derne = secret.

This Carpenter had wedded newe a wyf
Which that he lovede more than his lyf;
Of eightetene yeer she was of age.
Ialous he was, and heeld hir narwe in cage,
 3225For she was wilde and yong, and he was old
 (40)And demed him-self ben lyk a cokewold.
He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude,
That bad man sholde wedde his similitude.
Men sholde wedden after hir estaat,
 3230For youthe and elde is often at debaat.
But sith that he was fallen in the snare,
He moste endure, as other folk, his care.


Fair was this yonge wyf, and ther-with-al
As any wesele hir body gent and smal.
 3235A ceynt she werede barred al of silk,
 (50)A barmclooth eek as whyt as morne milk
Up-on hir lendes, ful of many a gore.
Whyt was hir smok, and brouded al bifore
And eek bihinde, on hir coler aboute,
 3240Of col-blak silk, with-inne and eek with-oute.
The tapes of hir whyte voluper
Were of the same suyte of hir coler;
Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye:
And sikerly she hadde a likerous yë.
 3245Ful smale y-pulled were hir browes two,
 (60)And tho were bent, and blake as any sloo.
She was ful more blisful on to see
Than is the newe pere-ionette tree;
And softer than the wolle is of a wether.
 3250And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether
Tasseld with silk, and perled with latoun.
In al this world, to seken up and doun,
There nis no man so wys, that coude thenche
So gay a popelote, or swich a wenche.
 3255Ful brighter was the shyning of hir hewe
 (70)Than in the tour the noble y-forged newe.
But of hir song, it was as loude and yerne
As any swalwe sittinge on a berne.
Ther-to she coude skippe and make game,
 3260As any kide or calf folwinge his dame.
Hir mouth was swete as bragot or the meeth,
Or hord of apples leyd in hey or heeth.
Winsinge she was, as is a Ioly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
 3265A brooch she baar up-on hir lowe coler,
 (80)As brood as is the bos of a bocler.
Hir shoes were laced on hir legges hye;
She was a prymerole, a pigges-nye
For any lord to leggen in his bedde,
 3270Or yet for any good yeman to wedde.

Lendes = loins.

Now sire, and eft sire, so bifel the cas,
That on a day this hende Nicholas
Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye,
Whyl that hir housbond was at Oseneye,
 3275As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte;
 (90)And prively he caughte hir by the queynte,

And seyde, ‘y-wis, but if ich have my wille,
For derne love of thee, lemman, I spille.’
And heeld hir harde by the haunche-bones,
 3280And seyde, ‘lemman, love me al at-ones,
Or I wol dyen, also god me save!’
And she sprong as a colt doth in the trave,
And with hir heed she wryed faste awey,
And seyde, ‘I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey,
 3285Why, lat be,’ quod she, ‘lat be, Nicholas,
 (100)Or I wol crye out “harrow” and “allas.”
Do wey your handes for your curteisye!’


This Nicholas gan mercy for to crye,
And spak so faire, and profred hir so faste,
 3290That she hir love him graunted atte laste,

And swoor hir ooth, by seint Thomas of Kent,
That she wol been at his comandement,
Whan that she may hir leyser wel espye.
‘Myn housbond is so ful of Ialousye,
 3295That but ye wayte wel and been privee,
 (110)I woot right wel I nam but deed,’ quod she.
‘Ye moste been ful derne, as in this cas.’

Saint Thomas of Kent is presumably Thomas Becket.

‘Nay ther-of care thee noght,’ quod Nicholas,
‘A clerk had litherly biset his whyle,
 3300But-if he coude a Carpenter bigyle.’
And thus they been acorded and y-sworn
To wayte a tyme, as I have told biforn.
Whan Nicholas had doon thus everydeel,
And thakked hir aboute the lendes weel,
 3305He kist hir swete, and taketh his sautrye,
 (120)And pleyeth faste, and maketh melodye.


Than fil it thus, that to the parish-chirche,
Cristes owne werkes for to wirche,
This gode wyf wente on an haliday;
 3310Hir forheed shoon as bright as any day,
So was it wasshen whan she leet hir werk.


Now was ther of that chirche a parish-clerk,
The which that was y-cleped Absolon.
Crul was his heer, and as the gold it shoon,
 3315And strouted as a fanne large and brode;
 (130)Ful streight and even lay his Ioly shode.
His rode was reed, his eyen greye as goos;
With Powles window corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly.
 3320Y-clad he was ful smal and proprely,
Al in a kirtel of a light wachet;
Ful faire and thikke been the poyntes set.
And ther-up-on he hadde a gay surplys
As whyt as is the blosme up-on the rys.
 3325A mery child he was, so god me save,
 (140)Wel coude he laten blood and clippe and shave,
And make a chartre of lond or acquitaunce.
In twenty manere coude he trippe and daunce
After the scole of Oxenforde tho,
 3330And with his legges casten to and fro,
And pleyen songes on a small rubible;
Ther-to he song som-tyme a loud quinible;
And as wel coude he pleye on his giterne.
In al the toun nas brewhous ne taverne
 3335That he ne visited with his solas,
 (150)Ther any gaylard tappestere was.
But sooth to seyn, he was somdel squaymous
Of farting, and of speche daungerous.

Chaucer warns us of Absolon’s weak point.

This Absolon, that Iolif was and gay,
 3340Gooth with a sencer on the haliday,
Sensinge the wyves of the parish faste;
And many a lovely look on hem he caste,
And namely on this carpenteres wyf.
To loke on hir him thoughte a mery lyf,
 3345She was so propre and swete and likerous.
 (160)I dar wel seyn, if she had been a mous,
And he a cat, he wolde hir hente anon.


This parish-clerk, this Ioly Absolon,
Hath in his herte swich a love-longinge,
 3350That of no wyf ne took he noon offringe;
For curteisye, he seyde, he wolde noon.
The mone, whan it was night, ful brighte shoon,
And Absolon his giterne hath y-take,
For paramours, he thoghte for to wake.
 3355And forth he gooth, Iolif and amorous,
 (170)Til he cam to the carpenteres hous
A litel after cokkes hadde y-crowe;
And dressed him up by a shot-windowe
That was up-on the carpenteres wal.
 3360He singeth in his vois gentil and smal,
‘Now, dere lady, if thy wille be,
I preye yow that ye wol rewe on me,’
Ful wel acordaunt to his giterninge.
This carpenter awook, and herde him singe,
 3365And spak un-to his wyf, and seyde anon,
 (180)‘What! Alison! herestow nat Absolon
That chaunteth thus under our boures wal?’
And she answerde hir housbond ther-with-al,
‘Yis, god wot, Iohn, I here it every-del.’


 3370This passeth forth; what wol ye bet than wel?
Fro day to day this Ioly Absolon
So woweth hir, that him is wo bigon.
He waketh al the night and al the day;
He kempte hise lokkes brode, and made him gay;
 3375He woweth hir by menes and brocage,
 (190)And swoor he wolde been hir owne page;
He singeth, brokkinge as a nightingale;
He sente hir piment, meeth, and spyced ale,
And wafres, pyping hote out of the glede;
 3380And for she was of toune, he profred mede.
For som folk wol ben wonnen for richesse,
And som for strokes, and som for gentillesse.


Somtyme, to shewe his lightnesse and maistrye,
He pleyeth Herodes on a scaffold hye.
 3385But what availleth him as in this cas?
 (200)She loveth so this hende Nicholas,
That Absolon may blowe the bukkes horn;
He ne hadde for his labour but a scorn;
And thus she maketh Absolon hir ape,
 3390And al his ernest turneth til a Iape.
Ful sooth is this proverbe, it is no lye,
Men seyn right thus, ‘alwey the nye slye
Maketh the ferre leve to be looth
For though that Absolon be wood or wrooth,
 3395By-cause that he fer was from hir sighte,
 (210)This nye Nicholas stood in his lighte.


Now bere thee wel, thou hende Nicholas!
For Absolon may waille and singe ‘allas.’
And so bifel it on a Saterday,
 3400This carpenter was goon til Osenay;
And hende Nicholas and Alisoun
Acorded been to this conclusioun,
That Nicholas shal shapen him a wyle
This sely Ialous housbond to bigyle;
 3405And if so be the game wente aright,
 (220)She sholde slepen in his arm al night,
For this was his desyr and hir also.
And right anon, with-outen wordes mo,
This Nicholas no lenger wolde tarie,
 3410But doth ful softe un-to his chambre carie
Bothe mete and drinke for a day or tweye,
And to hir housbonde bad hir for to seye,
If that he axed after Nicholas,
She sholde seye she niste where he was,
 3415Of al that day she saugh him nat with ye;
 (230)She trowed that he was in maladye,
For, for no cry, hir mayde coude him calle;
He nolde answere, for no-thing that mighte falle.


This passeth forth al thilke Saterday,
 3420That Nicholas stille in his chambre lay,
And eet and sleep, or dide what him leste,
Til Sonday, that the sonne gooth to reste.


This sely carpenter hath greet merveyle
Of Nicholas, or what thing mighte him eyle,
 3425And seyde, ’I am adrad, by seint Thomas,
 (240)It stondeth nat aright with Nicholas.
God shilde that he deyde sodeynly!
This world is now ful tikel, sikerly;
I saugh to-day a cors y-born to chirche
 3430That now, on Monday last, I saugh him wirche.


Go up,’ quod he un-to his knave anoon,
‘Clepe at his dore, or knokke with a stoon,
Loke how it is, and tel me boldely.’


This knave gooth him up ful sturdily,
 3435And at the chambre-dore, whyl that he stood,
 (250)He cryde and knokked as that he were wood:—
‘What! how! what do ye, maister Nicholay?
How may ye slepen al the longe day?’


But al for noght, he herde nat a word;
 3440An hole he fond, ful lowe up-on a bord,
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe;
And at that hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the laste he hadde of him a sighte.
This Nicholas sat gaping ever up-righte,
 3445As he had kyked on the newe mone.
 (260)Adoun he gooth, and tolde his maister sone
In what array he saugh this ilke man.


This carpenter to blessen him bigan,
And seyde, ‘help us, seinte Frideswyde!
 3450A man woot litel what him shal bityde.
This man is falle, with his astromye,
In som woodnesse or in som agonye;
I thoghte ay wel how that it sholde be!
Men sholde nat knowe of goddes privetee.
 3455Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man,
 (270)That noght but oonly his bileve can!
So ferde another clerk with astromye;
He walked in the feeldes for to prye
Up-on the sterres, what ther sholde bifalle,
 3460Til he was in a marle-pit y-falle;
He saugh nat that. But yet, by seint Thomas,
Me reweth sore of hende Nicholas.
He shal be rated of his studying,
If that I may, by Iesus, hevene king!’


 3465‘Get me a staf, that I may underspore,
 (280)Whyl that thou, Robin, hevest up the dore.
He shal out of his studying, as I gesse’—
And to the chambre-dore he gan him dresse.
His knave was a strong carl for the nones,
 3470And by the haspe he haf it up atones;
In-to the floor the dore fil anon.
This Nicholas sat ay as stille as stoon,
And ever gaped upward in-to the eir.
This carpenter wende he were in despeir,
 3475And hente him by the sholdres mightily,
 (290)And shook him harde, and cryde spitously,
‘What! Nicholay! what, how! what! loke adoun!
Awake, and thenk on Cristes passioun;
I crouche thee from elves and fro wightes!’
 3480Ther-with the night-spel seyde he anon-rightes
On foure halves of the hous aboute,
And on the threshfold of the dore with-oute:—
‘Iesu Crist, and seynt Benedight,
Blesse this hous from every wikked wight,
 3485For nightes verye, the white pater-noster!
 (300)Where wentestow, seynt Petres soster?’


And atte laste this hende Nicholas
Gan for to syke sore, and seyde, ‘allas!
Shal al the world be lost eftsones now?’


 3490This carpenter answerde, ‘what seystow?
What! thenk on god, as we don, men that swinke.’


This Nicholas answerde, ‘fecche me drinke;
And after wol I speke in privetee
Of certeyn thing that toucheth me and thee;
 3495I wol telle it non other man, certeyn.’


 (310)This carpenter goth doun, and comth ageyn,
And broghte of mighty ale a large quart;
And whan that ech of hem had dronke his part,
This Nicholas his dore faste shette,
 3500And doun the carpenter by him he sette.


He seyde, ‘Iohn, myn hoste lief and dere,
Thou shalt up-on thy trouthe swere me here,
That to no wight thou shalt this conseil wreye;
For it is Cristes conseil that I seye,
 3505And if thou telle it man, thou are forlore;

 (320)For this vengaunce thou shalt han therfore,
That if thou wreye me, thou shalt be wood!’
‘Nay, Crist forbede it, for his holy blood!’
Quod tho this sely man, ‘I nam no labbe,
 3510Ne, though I seye, I nam nat lief to gabbe.
Sey what thou wolt, I shal it never telle
To child ne wyf, by him that harwed helle!’

Why should Christ’s counsel be secret?

‘Now John,’ quod Nicholas, ‘I wol nat lye;
I have y-founde in myn astrologye,
 3515As I have loked in the mone bright,
 (330)That now, a Monday next, at quarter-night,
Shal falle a reyn and that so wilde and wood,
That half so greet was never Noës flood.
This world,’ he seyde, ‘in lasse than in an hour
 3520Shal al be dreynt, so hidous is the shour;
Thus shal mankynde drenche and lese hir lyf.’


This carpenter answerde, ‘allas, my wyf!
And shal she drenche? allas! myn Alisoun!’
For sorwe of this he fil almost adoun,
 3525And seyde, ‘is ther no remedie in this cas?’


 (340)‘Why, yis, for gode,’ quod hende Nicholas,
‘If thou wolt werken after lore and reed;
Thou mayst nat werken after thyn owene heed.
For thus seith Salomon, that was ful trewe,
 3530“Werk al by conseil, and thou shalt nat rewe.”
And if thou werken wolt by good conseil,
I undertake, with-outen mast and seyl,
Yet shal I saven hir and thee and me
Hastow nat herd how saved was Noe,
 3535Whan that our lord had warned him biforn
 (350)That al the world with water sholde be lorn?’

Ecclesiasticus 32:19 “Do nothing without advice; and when thou hast once done, repent not.”

‘Yis,’ quod this carpenter, ‘ful yore ago.’


Hastow nat herd,’ quod Nicholas, ‘also
The sorwe of Noë with his felawshipe,
 3540Er that he mighte gete his wyf to shipe?
Him had be lever,
I dar wel undertake,
At thilke tyme, than alle hise wetheres blake,
That she hadde had a ship hir-self allone.
And ther-fore, wostou what is best to done?
 3545This asketh haste, and of an hastif thing
 (360)Men may nat preche or maken tarying.’


‘Anon go gete us faste in-to this in
A kneding-trogh, or elles a kimelin,
For ech of us, but loke that they be large,
 3550In whiche we mowe swimme as in a barge,
And han ther-inne vitaille suffisant
But for a day; fy on the remenant!
The water shal aslake and goon away
Aboute pryme up-on the nexte day.
 3555But Robin may nat wite of this, thy knave,
 (370)Ne eek thy mayde Gille I may nat save;
Axe nat why, for though thou aske me,
I wol nat tellen goddes privetee.

Suffiseth thee, but if thy wittes madde,
 3560To han as greet a grace as Noë hadde.
Thy wyf shal I wel saven, out of doute,
Go now thy wey, and speed thee heer-aboute.’


’But whan thou hast, for hir and thee and me,
Y-geten us thise kneding-tubbes three,
 3565Than shaltow hange hem in the roof ful hye,
 (380)That no man of our purveyaunce spye.
And whan thou thus hast doon as I have seyd,
And hast our vitaille faire in hem y-leyd,
And eek an ax, to smyte the corde atwo
 3570When that the water comth, that we may go,
And broke an hole an heigh, up-on the gable,
Unto the gardin-ward, over the stable,
That we may frely passen forth our way
Whan that the grete shour is goon away—
 3575Than shaltow swimme as myrie, I undertake,
 (390)As doth the whyte doke after hir drake.

Than wol I clepe, “how! Alison! how! John!
Be myrie, for the flood wol passe anon.”
And thou wolt seyn, “hayl, maister Nicholay!
 3580Good morwe, I se thee wel, for it is day.”
And than shul we be lordes al our lyf
Of al the world, as Noë and his wyf.


But of o thyng I warne thee ful right,
Be wel avysed, on that like night
 3585That we ben entred in-to shippes bord,
 (400)That noon of us ne speke nat a word,

Ne clepe, ne crye, but been in his preyere;
For it is goddes owne heste dere.


Thy wyf and thou mote hange fer a-twinne,
 3590For that bitwixe yow shal be no sinne
No more in looking than ther shal in dede;
This ordinance is seyd, go, god thee spede!
Tomorwe at night, whan men ben alle aslepe,
In-to our kneding-tubbes wol we crepe,
 3595And sitten ther, abyding goddes grace.
 (410)Go now thy wey, I have no lenger space
To make of this no lenger sermoning.
Men seyn thus, “send the wyse, and sey no-thing;”
Thou art so wys, it nedeth thee nat teche;
 3600Go, save our lyf, and that I thee biseche.’


This sely carpenter goth forth his wey.
Ful ofte he seith ‘allas’ and ‘weylawey,’
And to his wyf he tolde his privetee;
And she was war, and knew it bet than he,
 3605What al this queynte cast was for to seye.
 (420)But nathelees she ferde as she wolde deye,
And seyde, ‘allas! go forth thy wey anon,
Help us to scape, or we ben lost echon;
I am thy trewe verray wedded wyf;
 3610Go, dere spouse, and help to save our lyf.’


Lo! which a greet thyng is affeccioun!
Men may dye of imaginacioun,
So depe may impressioun be take.
This sely carpenter biginneth quake;
 3615Him thinketh verraily that he may see
 (430)Noës flood come walwing as the see
To drenchen Alisoun, his hony dere.
He wepeth, weyleth, maketh sory chere,
He syketh with ful many a sory swogh.
 3620He gooth and geteth him a kneding-trogh,
And after that a tubbe and a kimelin,
And prively he sente hem to his in,
And heng hem in the roof in privetee.
His owne hand he made laddres three,
 3625To climben by the ronges and the stalkes
 (440)Un-to the tubbes hanginge in the balkes,
And hem vitailled, bothe trogh and tubbe,
With breed and chese, and good ale in a Iubbe,
Suffysinge right y-nogh as for a day.
 3630But er that he had maad al this array,
He sente his knave, and eek his wenche also,
Up-on his nede to London for to go.
And on the Monday, whan it drow to night,
He shette his dore with-oute candel-light,
 3635And dressed al thing as it sholde be.
 (450)And shortly, up they clomben alle three;
They sitten stille wel a furlong-way.


‘Now, Pater-noster, clom!’ seyde Nicholay,
And ‘clom,’ quod John, and ‘clom,’ seyde Alisoun.
 3640This carpenter seyde his devocioun,
And stille he sit, and biddeth his preyere,
Awaytinge on the reyn, if he it here.


The dede sleep, for wery bisinesse,
Fil on this carpenter right, as I gesse,
 3645Aboute corfew-tyme, or litel more;
 (460)For travail of his goost he groneth sore,
And eft he routeth, for his heed mislay.
Doun of the laddre stalketh Nicholay,
And Alisoun, ful softe adoun she spedde;
 3650With-outen wordes mo, they goon to bedde
Ther-as the carpenter is wont to lye.
Ther was the revel and the melodye;
And thus lyth Alison and Nicholas,
In bisinesse of mirthe and of solas,
 3655Til that the belle of laudes gan to ringe,
 (470)And freres in the chauncel gonne singe.


This parish-clerk, this amorous Absolon,
That is for love alwey so wo bigon,
Up-on the Monday was at Oseneye
 3660With companye, him to disporte and pleye,
And axed up-on cas a cloisterer
Ful prively after Iohn the carpenter;
And he drough him a-part out of the chirche,
And seyde, ‘I noot, I saugh him here nat wirche
 3665Sin Saterday; I trow that he be went
 (480)For timber, ther our abbot hath him sent;
For he is wont for timber for to go,
And dwellen at the grange a day or two;
Or elles he is at his hous, certeyn;
 3670Wher that he be, I can nat sothly seyn.’


This Absolon ful Ioly was and light,
And thoghte, ‘now is tyme wake al night;
For sikirly I saugh him nat stiringe
Aboute his dore sin day bigan to springe.
 3675So moot I thryve, I shall, at cokkes crowe,
 (490)Ful prively knokken at his windowe
That stant ful lowe up-on his boures wal.
To Alison now wol I tellen al
My love-longing, for yet I shal nat misse
 3680That at the leste wey I shal hir kisse.
Som maner confort shal I have, parfay,
My mouth hath icched al this longe day;
That is a signe of kissing atte leste.
Al night me mette eek, I was at a feste.
 3685Therfor I wol gon slepe an houre or tweye,
 (500)And al the night than wol I wake and pleye.’


Whan that the firste cok hath crowe, anon
Up rist this Ioly lover Absolon,
And him arrayeth gay, at point-devys.
 3690But first he cheweth greyn and lycorys,
To smellen swete, er he had kembd his heer.
Under his tonge a trewe love he beer,
For ther-by wende he to ben gracious.
He rometh to the carpenteres hous,
 3695And stille he stant under the shot-windowe;
 (510)Un-to his brest it raughte, it was so lowe;
And softe he cogheth with a semi-soun—
‘What do ye, hony-comb, swete Alisoun?
My faire brid, my swete cinamome,
 3700Awaketh, lemman myn, and speketh to me!
Wel litel thenken ye up-on my wo,
That for your love I swete ther I go.
No wonder is thogh that I swelte and swete;
I moorne as doth a lamb after the tete.
 3705Y-wis, lemman, I have swich love-longinge,
 (520)That lyk a turtel trewe is my moorninge;
I may nat ete na more than a mayde.’


‘Go fro the window, Iakke fool,’ she sayde,
‘As help me god, it wol nat be “com ba me,”
 3710I love another, and elles I were to blame,
Wel bet than thee, by Iesu, Absolon!
Go forth thy wey, or I wol caste a ston,
And lat me slepe, a twenty devel wey!’


‘Allas,’ quod Absolon, ‘and weylawey!
 3715That trewe love was ever so yvel biset!
 (530)Than kisse me, sin it may be no bet,
For Iesus love and for the love of me.’


‘Wiltow than go thy wey ther-with?’ quod she.


‘Ye, certes, lemman,’ quod this Absolon.


 3720‘Thanne make thee redy,’ quod she, ‘I come anon;’
And un-to Nicholas she seyde stille, [T. om.
‘Now hust, and thou shalt laughen al thy fille.’ [T. om.


This Absolon doun sette him on his knees,
And seyde, ‘I am a lord at alle degrees;
 3725For after this I hope ther cometh more!
 (540)Lemman, thy grace, and swete brid, thyn ore!’


The window she undoth, and that in haste,
‘Have do,’ quod she, ‘com of, and speed thee faste,
Lest that our neighebores thee espye.’


 3730This Absolon gan wype his mouth ful drye;
Derk was the night as pich, or as the cole,
And at the window out she putte hir hole,
And Absolon, him fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers

 3735Ful savourly, er he was war of this.


 (550)Abak he sterte, and thoghte it was amis,
For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd;
He felte a thing al rough and long y-herd,
And seyde, ‘fy! allas! what have I do?’


 3740‘Tehee!’ quod she, and clapte the window to;
And Absolon goth forth a sory pas.


‘A berd, a berd!’ quod hende Nicholas,
‘By goddes corpus, this goth faire and weel!’


This sely Absolon herde every deel,
 3745And on his lippe he gan for anger byte;
 (560)And to him-self he seyde, ‘I shal thee quyte!’


Who rubbeth now, who froteth now his lippes
With dust, with sond, with straw, with clooth, with chippes,
But Absolon, that seith ful ofte, ‘allas!
 3750My soule bitake I un-to Sathanas,
But me wer lever than al this toun,’ quod he,
‘Of this despyt awroken for to be!
Allas!’ quod he, ‘allas! I ne hadde y-bleynt!’
His hote love was cold and al y-queynt;
 3755For fro that tyme that he had kiste hir ers,
 (570)Of paramours he sette nat a kers,
For he was heled of his maladye;

Ful ofte paramours he gan deffye,
And weep as dooth a child that is y-bete.
 3760A softe paas he wente over the strete
Un-til a smith men cleped daun Gerveys,
That in his forge smithed plough-harneys;
He sharpeth shaar and culter bisily.
This Absolon knokketh al esily,
 3765And seyde, ‘undo, Gerveys, and that anon.’


 (580)‘What, who artow?’ ‘It am I, Absolon.’
‘What, Absolon! for Cristes swete tree,
Why ryse ye so rathe, ey, benedicite!
What eyleth yow? som gay gerl, god it woot,
 3770Hath broght yow thus up-on the viritoot;
By sëynt Note, ye woot wel what I mene.’


This Absolon ne roghte nat a bene
Of al his pley, no word agayn he yaf;
He hadde more tow on his distaf
 3775Than Gerveys knew, and seyde, ‘freend so dere,
 (590)That hote culter in the chimenee here,
As lene it me, I have ther-with to done,
And I wol bringe it thee agayn ful sone.’


Gerveys answerde, ‘certes, were it gold,
 3780Or in a poke nobles alle untold,
Thou sholdest have, as I am trewe smith;
Ey, Cristes foo! what wol ye do ther-with?’


‘Ther-of,’ quod Absolon, ‘be as be may;
I shal wel telle it thee to-morwe day’—
 3785And caughte the culter by the colde stele.
 (600)Ful softe out at the dore he gan to stele,
And wente un-to the carpenteres wal.
He cogheth first, and knokketh ther-with-al
Upon the windowe, right as he dide er.


 3790This Alison answerde, ‘Who is ther
That knokketh so? I warante it a theef.’


‘Why, nay,’ quod he, ‘god woot, my swete leef,
I am thyn Absolon, my dereling!
Of gold,’ quod he, ‘I have thee broght a ring;
 3795My moder yaf it me, so god me save,
 (610)Ful fyn it is, and ther-to wel y-grave;
This wol I yeve thee, if thou me kisse!’


This Nicholas was risen for to pisse,
And thoghte he wolde amenden al the Iape,
 3800He sholde kisse his ers er that he scape.
And up the windowe dide he hastily,
And out his ers he putteth prively
Over the buttok, to the haunche-bon;
And ther-with spak this clerk, this Absolon,
 3805‘Spek, swete brid, I noot nat wher thou art.’


 (620)This Nicholas anon leet flee a fart,
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the strook he was almost y-blent;
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
 3810And Nicholas amidde the ers he smoot.


Of gooth the skin an hande-brede aboute,
The hote culter brende so his toute,
And for the smert he wende for to dye.
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye—
 3815‘Help! water! water! help, for goddes herte!’


 (630)This carpenter out of his slomber sterte,
And herde oon cryen ‘water’ as he were wood,
And thoughte, ‘Allas! now comth Nowelis flood!’
He sit him up with-outen wordes mo,
 3820And with his ax he smoot the corde a-two,
And doun goth al; he fond neither to selle,
Ne breed ne ale, til he cam to the selle
Up-on the floor; and ther aswowne he lay.


Up sterte hir Alison, and Nicholay,
 3825And cryden ‘out’ and ‘harrow’ in the strete.
 (640)The neighebores, bothe smale and grete,
In ronnen, for to gauren on this man,
That yet aswowne he lay, bothe pale and wan;
For with the fal he brosten hadde his arm;
 3830But stonde he moste un-to his owne harm.
For whan he spak, he was anon bore doun
With hende Nicholas and Alisoun.
They tolden every man that he was wood,
He was agast so of ‘Nowelis flood’
 3835Thurgh fantasye, that of his vanitee
 (650)He hadde y-boght him kneding-tubbes three,
And hadde hem hanged in the roof above;
And that he preyed hem, for goddes love,
To sitten in the roof, par companye.


 3840The folk gan laughen at his fantasye;
In-to the roof they kyken and they gape,
And turned al his harm un-to a Iape.
For what so that this carpenter answerde,
It was for noght, no man his reson herde;
 3845With othes grete he was so sworn adoun,
 (660)That he was holden wood in al the toun;
For every clerk anon-right heeld with other.
They seyde, ‘the man is wood, my leve brother;’
And every wight gan laughen of this stryf.


 3850Thus swyved was the carpenteres wyf,
For al his keping and his Ialousye;
And Absolon hath kist hir nether yë;
 (667)And Nicholas is scalded in the toute.
 3854This tale is doon, and god save al the route!

Here endeth the Millere his tale.


The prologe of the Reves tale.

 3855WHAN folk had laughen at this nyce cas
Of Absolon and hende Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they seyde;
But, for the more part, they loughe and pleyde,
Ne at this tale I saugh no man him greve,
 3860But it were only Osewold the Reve,
By-cause he was of carpenteres craft.

A litel ire is in his herte y-laft,
He gan to grucche and blamed it a lyte.


 (10)‘So theek,’ quod he, ‘ful wel coude I yow quyte
 3865With blering of a proud milleres yë,

If that me liste speke of ribaudye.
But ik am old, me list not pley for age;
Gras-tyme is doon, my fodder is now forage,
This whyte top wryteth myne olde yeres,
 3870Myn herte is al-so mowled as myne heres,
But-if I fare as dooth an open-ers;
That ilke fruit is ever leng the wers,
Til it be roten in mullok or in stree.
 (20)We olde men, I drede, so fare we;
 3875Til we be roten, can we nat be rype;

We hoppen ay, whyl that the world wol pype.
For in oure wil ther stiketh ever a nayl,
To have an hoor heed and a grene tayl,
As hath a leek;
for thogh our might be goon,
 3880Our wil desireth folie ever in oon.
For whan we may nat doon, than wol we speke;
Yet in our asshen olde is fyr y-reke.’

Open-ars = fruit of the medlar, eaten when bletted, and:

In the southwest of England it historically had a number of vulgar nicknames, such as open-arse and monkey’s bottom, due to the appearance of its large calyx.

Mullok = heap of refuse.

Foure gledes han we, whiche I shal devyse,
 (30)Avaunting, lying, anger, coveityse;

 3885Thise foure sparkles longen un-to elde.
Our olde lemes mowe wel been unwelde,
But wil ne shal nat faillen, that is sooth.

And yet ik have alwey a coltes tooth,
As many a yeer as it is passed henne
 3890Sin that my tappe of lyf bigan to renne.
For sikerly, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drogh the tappe of lyf and leet it gon;
And ever sith hath so the tappe y-ronne,
 (40)Til that almost al empty is the tonne.
 3895The streem of lyf now droppeth on the chimbe;
The sely tonge may wel ringe and chimbe
Of wrecchednesse that passed is ful yore;
With olde folk, save dotage, is namore.’

Related to “glow,” “gleed,” meaning live coal or ember, is archaic or dialectical in the OED, where the very passage above illustrates the figurative usage.

“Mowe” must be some form of the verb whose infinitive was “mowen,” now lost; we know it as “may.”

Colt’s tooth: “youthful wantonness : concupiscent desire”

Whan that our host hadde herd this sermoning,
 3900He gan to speke as lordly as a king;
He seide, ‘what amounteth al this wit?
What shul we speke alday of holy writ?
The devel made a reve for to preche,
 (50)And of a souter a shipman or a leche.
 3905Sey forth thy tale, and tarie nat the tyme,
Lo, Depeford! and it is half-way pryme.
Lo, Grenewich, ther many a shrewe is inne;
It were al tyme thy tale to biginne.’

“Souter” (Scottish and northern in the OED) is from the Latin sutor (shoemaker), from suere, which is cognate with our “sew.”

‘Now, sires,’ quod this Osewold the Reve,
 3910‘I pray yow alle that ye nat yow greve,
Thogh I answere and somdel sette his howve;
For leveful is with force force of-showve.’

Howve = cap. Compare the General Prologue, 586: “And yit this maunciple sette hir aller cappe.”

‘This dronke millere hath y-told us heer,
 (60)How that bigyled was a carpenteer,
 3915Peraventure in scorn, for I am oon.
And, by your leve, I shal him quyte anoon;
Right in his cherles termes wol I speke.
I pray to god his nekke mote breke;
He can wel in myn yë seen a stalke,
 3920But in his owne he can nat seen a balke.

How did Matthew 7:3 come to Chaucer? Here are some versions:


To hwi gesihst þu þæt mot on þines broðer eagen. & þu ne ge-sihst þanne beam on þinen agenen eagen.


But what seest thou a litil mote in the iye of thi brother, and seest not a beem in thin owne iye?

King James

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

John Wyclif was born in the 1320s (Chaucer around 1340); “his” Bible appeared, 1382–95 (dramatic date for the Canterbury Tales, perhaps 1387), and begins Matthew 7 with:

1 Nile ye deme, that ye be not demed; for in what doom ye demen,
2 ye schulen be demed, and in what mesure ye meten, it schal be meten ayen to you.
3 But what seest thou a litil mote in the iye of thi brother, and seest not a beem in thin owne iye?
4 Or hou seist thou to thi brothir, Brothir, suffre I schal do out a mote fro thin iye, and lo! a beem is in thin owne iye?
5 Ipocrite, do thou out first the beem of thin iye, and thanne thou schalt se to do out the mote of the iye of thi brothir.

There is also Luke 6:

37 Nyle ye deme, and ye schulen not be demed. Nyle ye condempne, and ye schulen not be condempned; foryyue ye, and it schal be foryouun to you.
38 Yyue ye, and it schal be youun to you. Thei schulen yyue in to youre bosum a good mesure, and wel fillid, and schakun togidir, and ouerflowynge; for bi the same mesure, bi whiche ye meeten, it schal be metun ayen to you.
39 And he seide to hem a liknesse, Whether the blynde may leede the blynde? ne fallen thei not bothe in to the diche?
40 A disciple is not aboue the maistir; but eche schal be perfite, if he be as his maister.
41 And what seest thou in thi brotheris iye a moot, but thou biholdist not a beem, that is in thin owne iye?
42 Or hou maist thou seie to thi brother, Brothir, suffre, Y schal caste out the moot of thin iye, and thou biholdist not a beem in thin owne iye? Ipocrite, first take out the beem of thin iye, and thanne thou schalt se to take the moot of thi brotheris iye.

Compare the King James Matthew 7:

1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Wessex Matthew 7:

1 Note: Nolite iudicare ut non iudicabimini. R. Nellen ge demen. þæt ge ne syen fordemde.
2 Witodlice þam ilcan dome. þe ge demeð. eow beoð ge-demed. & on þam ylcan gemette þe ge meteð. eow beð ge-meten.
3 To hwi gesihst þu þæt mot on þines broðer eagen. & þu ne ge-sihst þanne beam on þinen agenen eagen.
4 Oððe hu-mæte cwæðst þu to þine breðer. broðer þafe þæt ic ut do þæt mot of þinen eagen. þonne se beam beoð on þinen agenen eagen.
5 Læt þu liketere. ä-do ærest ut þanne beam of þinen agenen eagen. & be-hawe þanne þæt þu ut do þæt mot of þines broðer eagen.


Here biginneth the Reves tale.

At Trumpington, nat fer fro Cantebrigge,
Ther goth a brook and over that a brigge,
Up-on the whiche brook ther stant a melle;
And this is verray soth that I yow telle.
 3925A Miller was ther dwelling many a day;
As eny pecok he was proud and gay.
Pypen he coude and fisshe, and nettes bete,
And turne coppes, and wel wrastle and shete;
And by his belt he baar a long panade,
 3930And of a swerd ful trenchant was the blade.
 (11)A Ioly popper baar he in his pouche;
Ther was no man for peril dorste him touche.
A Sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose;
Round was his face, and camuse was his nose.
 3935As piled as an ape was his skulle.
He was a market-beter atte fulle.
Ther dorste no wight hand up-on him legge,
That he ne swoor he sholde anon abegge.
A theef he was for sothe of corn and mele,
 3940And that a sly, and usaunt for to stele.
 (21)His name was hoten dëynous Simkin.
A wyf he hadde, y-comen of noble kin;
The person of the toun hir fader was.

With hir he yaf ful many a panne of bras,
 3945For that Simkin sholde in his blood allye.
She was y-fostred in a nonnerye;
For Simkin wolde no wyf, as he sayde,
But she were wel y-norissed and a mayde,
To saven his estaat of yomanrye.
 3950And she was proud, and pert as is a pye.
 (31)A ful fair sighte was it on hem two;
On haly-dayes biforn hir wolde he go
With his tipet bounden about his heed,
And she cam after in a gyte of reed;
 3955And Simkin hadde hosen of the same.
Ther dorste no wight clepen hir but ‘dame.’
Was noon so hardy that wente by the weye
That with hir dorste rage or ones pleye,
But-if he wolde be slayn of Simkin
 3960With panade, or with knyf, or boydekin.
 (41)For Ialous folk ben perilous evermo,
Algate they wolde hir wyves wenden so.
And eek, for she was somdel smoterlich,
She was as digne as water in a dich;
 3965And ful of hoker and of bisemare.

Hir thoughte that a lady sholde hir spare,
What for hir kinrede and hir nortelrye
That she had lerned in the nonnerye.

Camois, camus (obsolete): having a short and flat nose (OED). The word camus is French, from the pejorative prefix ca- and the root of museau “muzzle,” according to the Larousse dictionnaire d’étymologie.

“Deynous” is a form of “deignous,” apparently from “disdainous,” all obsolete.

Because she was illegitimate, it seems, the parson had to pay a dowry with his daughter. The parson of the prologue is a good Christian, but the friar pays a lot of dowries: for his lovers or their daughters?

Simkin’s wife is as pert as a magpie. Has humanity always been comparing itself to animals?

Here is the oldest use of “gyte” in the OED (under “gite”): “A kind of dress or gown,” apparently from Old French guite.

Hoker = scorn. Bisemare = shame, mockery. Mrs Simkin is making up for illegitimacy?

A doghter hadde they bitwixe hem two
 3970Of twenty yeer, with-outen any mo,
 (51)Savinge a child that was of half-yeer age;
In cradel it lay and was a propre page.
This wenche thikke and wel y-growen was,
With camuse nose and yën greye as glas;
 3975With buttokes brode and brestes rounde and hye,
But right fair was hir heer, I wol nat lye.

What should we make of the twenty-year gap in the children’s ages? Did some die in between, or did the woman conceive the infant with a lover?

The person of the toun, for she was feir,
In purpos was to maken hir his heir

Bothe of his catel and his messuage,
 3980And straunge he made it of hir mariage.
 (61)His purpos was for to bistowe hir hye
In-to som worthy blood of auncetrye;
For holy chirches good moot been despended
On holy chirches blood, that is descended.
 3985Therfore he wolde his holy blood honoure,
Though that he holy chirche sholde devoure.

“Messuage”: possibly a corruption, in French, of mesnage, whence ménage.

The Reformation is brewing!

Gret soken hath this miller, out of doute,
With whete and malt of al the land aboute;
And nameliche ther was a greet collegge,
 3990Men clepen the Soler-halle at Cantebregge,
 (71)Ther was hir whete and eek hir malt y-grounde.
And on a day it happed, in a stounde,
Sik lay the maunciple on a maladye;
Men wenden wisly that he sholde dye.
 3995For which this miller stal bothe mele and corn
An hundred tyme more than biforn;

For ther-biforn he stal but curteisly,
But now he was a theef outrageously,
For which the wardeyn chidde and made fare.
 4000But ther-of sette the miller nat a tare;
 (81)He craketh boost, and swoor it was nat so.

The passage above illustrates “soken” in the OED in the sense of a right to the custom of the tenants.

Than were ther yonge povre clerkes two,
That dwelten in this halle, of which I seye.
Testif they were, and lusty for to pleye,
 4005And, only for hir mirthe and revelrye,
Up-on the wardeyn bisily they crye,
To yeve hem leve but a litel stounde
To goon to mille and seen hir corn y-grounde;

And hardily, they dorste leye hir nekke,
 4010The miller shold nat stele hem half a pekke
 (91)Of corn by sleighte, ne by force hem reve;
And at the laste the wardeyn yaf hem leve.
Iohn hight that oon, and Aleyn hight that other;
Of o toun were they born, that highte Strother,
 4015Fer in the north, I can nat telle where.


This Aleyn maketh redy al his gere,
And on an hors the sak he caste anon.
Forth goth Aleyn the clerk, and also Iohn,
With good swerd and with bokeler by hir syde.
 4020Iohn knew the wey, hem nedede no gyde,
 (101)And at the mille the sak adoun he layth.
Aleyn spak first, ’al hayl, Symond, y-fayth;
How fares thy faire doghter and thy wyf?


‘Aleyn! welcome,’ quod Simkin, ‘by my lyf,
 4025And Iohn also, how now, what do ye heer?’


‘Symond,’ quod Iohn, ‘by god, nede has na peer;
Him boes serve him-selve that has na swayn,
Or elles he is a fool, as clerkes sayn.
Our manciple, I hope he wil be deed,
 4030Swa werkes ay the wanges in his heed.
 (111)And forthy is I come, and eek Alayn,
To grinde our corn and carie it ham agayn;
I pray yow spede us hethen that ye may.’

“Hope” apparently means expect here. Wang = molar tooth; the OED has the quote. To die of toothache is a hard lot. “Hethen” here must mean hence rather than heathen.

‘It shal be doon,’ quod Simkin, ‘by my fay;
 4035What wol ye doon whyl that it is in hande?’


‘By god, right by the hoper wil I stande,’
Quod Iohn, ‘and se how that the corn gas in;
Yet saugh I never, by my fader kin,
How that the hoper wagges til and fra.’


 4040Aleyn answerde, ‘Iohn, and wiltow swa,
 (121)Than wil I be bynethe, by my croun,
And se how that the mele falles doun
In-to the trough; that sal be my disport.
For Iohn, in faith, I may been of your sort;
 4045I is as ille a miller as are ye.


This miller smyled of hir nycetee,
And thoghte, ‘al this nis doon but for a wyle;
They wene that no man may hem bigyle;
But, by my thrift, yet shal I blere hir ye
 4050For al the sleighte in hir philosophye.

 (131)The more queynte crekes that they make,
The more wol I stele whan I take.
In stede of flour, yet wol I yeve hem bren.
“The gretteste clerkes been noght the wysest men,”
 4055As whylom to the wolf thus spak the mare;

Of al hir art I counte noght a tare.’

“The mare told the wolf, who wanted to buy her foal, that the price was written on her hind foot. When he tried to read it she kicked him” – Richardson’s note.

Out at the dore he gooth ful prively,
Whan that he saugh his tyme, softely;
He loketh up and doun til he hath founde
 4060The clerkes hors, ther as it stood y-bounde
 (141)Bihinde the mille, under a levesel;
And to the hors he gooth him faire and wel;
He strepeth of the brydel right anon.
And whan the hors was loos, he ginneth gon
 4065Toward the fen, ther wilde mares renne,

Forth with wehee, thurgh thikke and thurgh thenne.

Leefsel, levesel, the bush used as a sign of a tavern; leafy arbor.” The clerks have a single horse, for carrying the grist? The horse runs to the mares, as men to women.

This miller gooth agayn, no word he seyde,
But dooth his note, and with the clerkes pleyde,
Til that hir corn was faire and wel y-grounde.
 4070And whan the mele is sakked and y-bounde,
 (151)This Iohn goth out and fynt his hors away,
And gan to crye ‘harrow’ and ‘weylaway!
Our hors is lorn! Alayn, for goddes banes,
Step on thy feet, com out, man, al at anes!
 4075Allas, our wardeyn has his palfrey lorn.’
This Aleyn al forgat, bothe mele and corn,
Al was out of his mynde his housbondrye.
‘What? whilk way is he geen?’ he gan to crye.


The wyf cam leping inward with a ren,
 4080She seyde, ‘allas! your hors goth to the fen
 (161)With wilde mares, as faste as he may go.
Unthank come on his hand that bond him so,
And he that bettre sholde han knit the reyne.’


‘Allas,’ quod Iohn, ‘Aleyn, for Cristes peyne,
 4085Lay doun thy swerd, and I wil myn alswa;
I is ful wight, god waat, as is a raa;
By goddes herte he sal nat scape us bathe.
Why nadstow pit the capul in the lathe?
Il-hayl, by god, Aleyn, thou is a fonne!’

Are they laying down their swords, not to be “full weight”?

 4090This sely clerkes han ful faste y-ronne
 (171)To-ward the fen, bothe Aleyn and eek Iohn.


And whan the miller saugh that they were gon,
He half a busshel of hir flour hath take,
And bad his wyf go knede it in a cake.

 4095He seyde, ‘I trowe the clerkes were aferd;
Yet can a miller make a clerkes berd
For al his art; now lat hem goon hir weye.
Lo wher they goon, ye, lat the children pleye;
They gete him nat so lightly, by my croun!’


 4100Thise sely clerkes rennen up and doun
 (181)With ‘keep, keep, stand, stand, Iossa, warderere,
Ga whistle thou, and I shal kepe him here!’
But shortly, til that it was verray night,
They coude nat,
though they do al hir might,
 4105Hir capul cacche, he ran alwey so faste,
Til in a dich they caughte him atte laste.


Wery and weet, as beste is in the reyn,
Comth sely Iohn, and with him comth Aleyn.
‘Allas,’ quod Iohn, ‘the day that I was born!
 4110Now are we drive til hething and til scorn.
 (191)Our corn is stole, men wil us foles calle,
Bathe the wardeyn and our felawes alle,
And namely the miller; weylaway!’


Thus pleyneth Iohn as he goth by the way
 4115Toward the mille, and Bayard in his hond.
The miller sitting by the fyr he fond,
For it was night, and forther mighte they noght;
But, for the love of god, they him bisoght
Of herberwe and of ese, as for hir peny.

The horse is called Bayard! The clerks readily offer money for room and board.

 4120The miller seyde agayn, ‘if ther be eny,
 (201)Swich as it is, yet shal ye have your part.
Myn hous is streit, but ye han lerned art;
Ye conne by argumentes make a place
A myle brood of twenty foot of space.

 4125Lat see now if this place may suffyse,
Or make it roum with speche, as is youre gyse.’

Where does it come from, this notion of the power of argument?

‘Now, Symond,’ seyde Iohn, ‘by seint Cutberd,
Ay is thou mery, and this is faire answerd.
I have herd seyd, man sal taa of twa thinges
 4130Slyk as he fyndes, or taa slyk as he bringes.

 (211)But specially, I pray thee, hoste dere,
Get us som mete and drinke, and make us chere,
And we wil payen trewely atte fulle.
With empty hand men may na haukes tulle;
 4135Lo here our silver, redy for to spende.’

Men shall take of two things such as he finds, or take such as he brings?

Tollen (2), tullen, attract, allure.”

This miller in-to toun his doghter sende
For ale and breed, and rosted hem a goos,
And bond hir hors, it sholde nat gon loos;
And in his owne chambre hem made a bed
 4140With shetes and with chalons faire y-spred,
 (221)Noght from his owne bed ten foot or twelve.
His doghter hadde a bed, al by hir-selve,
Right in the same chambre, by and by;
It mighte be no bet, and cause why,
 4145Ther was no roumer herberwe in the place.

They soupen and they speke, hem to solace,
And drinken ever strong ale atte beste.
Aboute midnight wente they to reste.

Chalons, blankets.” Would sheets be a luxury?

Wel hath this miller vernisshed his heed;
 4150Ful pale he was for-dronken, and nat reed.
 (231)He yexeth, and he speketh thurgh the nose
As he were on the quakke, or on the pose.
To bedde he gooth, and with him goth his wyf.
As any Iay she light was and Iolyf,
 4155So was hir Ioly whistle wel y-wet.
The cradel at hir beddes feet is set,
To rokken, and to yeve the child to souke.
And whan that dronken al was in the crouke,
To bedde went the doghter right anon;
 4160To bedde gooth Aleyn and also Iohn;
 (241)Ther nas na more, hem nedede no dwale.
This miller hath so wisly bibbed ale,
That as an hors he snorteth in his sleep,
Ne of his tayl bihinde he took no keep.
 4165His wyf bar him a burdon, a ful strong,
Men mighte hir routing here two furlong;
The wenche routeth eek par companye.

Crouke, jug, pitcher.” As the miller takes from the meal he grinds, so it seems do he and his family partake of the clerks’ repast.

Aleyn the clerk, that herd this melodye,
He poked Iohn, and seyde, ‘slepestow?
 4170Herdestow ever slyk a sang er now?
 (251)Lo, whilk a compline is y-mel hem alle!
A wilde fyr up-on thair bodyes falle!
Wha herkned ever slyk a ferly thing?
Ye, they sal have the flour of il ending.
 4175This lange night ther tydes me na reste;
But yet, na fors; al sal be for the beste.
For Iohn,’ seyde he, ‘als ever moot I thryve,
If that I may, yon wenche wil I swyve.
Som esement has lawe y-shapen us;
 4180For Iohn, ther is a lawe that says thus,
 (261)That gif a man in a point be y-greved,
That in another he sal be releved.

Our corn is stoln, shortly, it is na nay,
And we han had an il fit al this day.
 4185And sin I sal have neen amendement,
Agayn my los I wil have esement.
By goddes saule, it sal neen other be!’


This Iohn answerde, ‘Alayn, avyse thee,
The miller is a perilous man,’ he seyde,
 4190‘And gif that he out of his sleep abreyde,
 (271)He mighte doon us bathe a vileinye.’


Aleyn answerde, ‘I count him nat a flye;’
And up he rist, and by the wenche he crepte.
This wenche lay upright, and faste slepte,
 4195Til he so ny was, er she mighte espye,
That it had been to late for to crye,
And shortly for to seyn, they were at on;
Now pley, Aleyn! for I wol speke of Iohn.


This Iohn lyth stille a furlong-wey or two,
 4200And to him-self he maketh routhe and wo:
 (281)‘Allas!’ quod he, ‘this is a wikked Iape;
Now may I seyn that I is but an ape.
Yet has my felawe som-what for his harm;
He has the milleris doghter in his arm.
 4205He auntred him, and has his nedes sped,
And I lye as a draf-sek in my bed;
And when this Iape is tald another day,
I sal been halde a daf, a cokenay!

I wil aryse, and auntre it, by my fayth!
 4210“Unhardy is unsely,” thus men sayth.’
 (291)And up he roos and softely he wente
Un-to the cradel,
and in his hand it hente,
And baar it softe un-to his beddes feet.

Auntren, adventure, risk (sometimes refl.).” We may think there are no “social media” here, but John is still worried about how things will look to others.

Sone after this the wyf hir routing leet,
 4215And gan awake, and wente hir out to pisse,
And cam agayn, and gan hir cradel misse,
And groped heer and ther, but she fond noon.
‘Allas!’ quod she, ‘I hadde almost misgoon;
I hadde almost gon to the clerkes bed.
 4220Ey, benedicite! thanne hadde I foule y-sped:’
 (301)And forth she gooth til she the cradel fond.
She gropeth alwey forther with hir hond,
And fond the bed, and thoghte noght but good,
By-cause that the cradel by it stood,
 4225And niste wher she was, for it was derk;
But faire and wel she creep in to the clerk,
And lyth ful stille, and wolde han caught a sleep.
With-inne a whyl this Iohn the clerk up leep,
And on this gode wyf he leyth on sore.
 4230So mery a fit ne hadde she nat ful yore;
 (311)He priketh harde and depe as he were mad.

This Ioly lyf han thise two clerkes lad
Til that the thridde cok bigan to singe.


Aleyn wex wery in the daweninge,
 4235For he had swonken al the longe night;
And seyde, ‘far wel, Malin, swete wight!
The day is come, I may no lenger byde;
But evermo, wher so I go or ryde,
I is thyn awen clerk, swa have I seel!

Seel: bliss, joy.

 4240‘Now dere lemman,’ quod she, ‘go, far weel!
 (321)But er thou go, o thing I wol thee telle,
Whan that thou wendest homward by the melle,
Right at the entree of the dore bihinde,
Thou shalt a cake of half a busshel finde
 4245That was y-maked of thyn owne mele,

Which that I heelp my fader for to stele.
And, gode lemman, god thee save and kepe!’
And with that word almost she gan to wepe.


Aleyn up-rist, and thoughte, ‘er that it dawe,
 4250I wol go crepen in by my felawe’;
 (331)And fond the cradel with his hand anon,
‘By god,’ thoghte he, ‘al wrang I have misgon;
Myn heed is toty of my swink to-night,
That maketh me that I go nat aright.
 4255I woot wel by the cradel, I have misgo,
Heer lyth the miller and his wyf also.’
And forth he goth, a twenty devel way,
Un-to the bed ther-as the miller lay.
He wende have cropen by his felawe Iohn;
 4260And by the miller in he creep anon,
 (341)And caughte hym by the nekke, and softe he spak:
He seyde, ‘thou, Iohn, thou swynes-heed, awak
For Cristes saule, and heer a noble game.
For by that lord that called is seint Iame,
 4265As I have thryes, in this shorte night,
Swyved the milleres doghter bolt-upright,
Whyl thow hast as a coward been agast.

Allan too cares what somebody else thinks.

‘Ye, false harlot,’ quod the miller, ‘hast?
A! false traitour! false clerk!’ quod he,
 4270‘Thou shalt be deed, by goddes dignitee!
 (351)Who dorste be so bold to disparage
My doghter, that is come of swich linage?’
And by the throte-bolle he caughte Alayn.
And he hente hym despitously agayn,
 4275And on the nose he smoot him with his fest.
Doun ran the blody streem up-on his brest;
And in the floor, with nose and mouth to-broke,
They walwe as doon two pigges in a poke.

And up they goon, and doun agayn anon,
 4280Til that the miller sporned at a stoon,
 (361)And doun he fil bakward up-on his wyf,
That wiste no-thing of this nyce stryf;
For she was falle aslepe a lyte wight
With Iohn the clerk, that waked hadde al night.
 4285And with the fal, out of hir sleep she breyde—
‘Help, holy croys of Bromeholm,’ she seyde,
In manus tuas! lord, to thee I calle!
Awak, Symond! the feend is on us falle,
Myn herte is broken, help, I nam but deed;
 4290There lyth oon up my wombe and up myn heed;
 (371)Help, Simkin, for the false clerkes fighte.’


This Iohn sterte up as faste as ever he mighte,
And graspeth by the walles to and fro,
To finde a staf; and she sterte up also,
 4295And knew the estres bet than dide this Iohn.
And by the wal a staf she fond anon,
And saugh a litel shimering of a light,
For at an hole in shoon the mone bright;
And by that light she saugh hem bothe two,
 4300But sikerly she niste who was who,
 (381)But as she saugh a whyt thing in hir yë.
And whan she gan the whyte thing espye,
She wende the clerk hadde wered a volupeer.
And with the staf she drough ay neer and neer,
 4305And wende han hit this Aleyn at the fulle,
And smoot the miller on the pyled skulle,

That doun he gooth and cryde, ‘harrow! I dye!’
Thise clerkes bete him weel and lete him lye;
And greythen hem, and toke hir hors anon,
 4310And eek hir mele, and on hir wey they gon.
 (391)And at the mille yet they toke hir cake
Of half a busshel flour, ful wel y-bake.

She went to have hit this Allan at the full, and smote the miller on the piled skull?

Thus is the proude miller wel y-bete,
And hath y-lost the grinding of the whete,
 4315And payed for the soper every-deel
Of Aleyn and of Iohn, that bette him weel.
His wyf is swyved, and his doghter als;
Lo, swich it is a miller to be fals!
And therfore this proverbe is seyd ful sooth.
 4320Him thar nat wene wel that yvel dooth;
 (401)A gylour shal him-self bigyled be.

And God, that sitteth heighe in magestee,
Save al this companye grete and smale!
Thus have I quit the miller in my tale.

Will the clerks then be beguiled?

Here is ended the Reves tale.

One Trackback

  1. By Chaucer, CT, Prologue « Polytropy on July 20, 2021 at 10:05 am

    […] Miller’s Prologue & Tale; Reeve’s Prologue + Tale […]

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