Chaucer, CT, Tales of the Nun’s Priest and the Nun

Index to this series

Here is a table of contents for this final reading of our group:





The angel seyde, ‘god lyketh thy requeste,
And bothe, with the palm of martirdom,
Ye shullen come unto his blisful feste.’

The palm of martirdom for to receyve,
Seinte Cecile, fulfild of goddes yifte,
The world and eek hir chambre gan she weyve.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is of Chanticleer the cock and Pertelote the hen, also Russell the Fox. Chanticleer dreams of a beast in the yard. Pertelote says it’s nothing but ill humor, which she can cure with herbs. It’s Russell though, who, recalling the ability of the cock’s father, charms Chanticleer into singing. Caught by the throat, Chanticleer escapes by goading Russell into addressing his pursuers. “Take the morality, good men,” the Priest tells us. Beware of women and your own vanity, apparently; but the moral is not actually spelled out, though there is an obscure (to me) reference to St Paul and an additional command, “Take the fruit and let the chaff be still.”

The Second Nun’s Tale is a hagiography of St Cecilia, “Heaven’s Lily,” martyred in ancient Rome. She is an example against the sin of idleness. The Nun (or whoever it may be), invoking the Virgin, observes that faith without works is dead. Cecilia converts her husband Valerian by leading him to see an angel, if not God the Father himself; Valerian’s brother Tiberuce is converted by the divine smell of two unseen crowns of roses and lilies. Cecilia preaches that there is a better and an eternal life after this one. She explains the Trinity by noting how a single man has memory, “engine,” and intellect. She tells her persecutor Almachius that his own god is only a stone; the real God is in heaven, and images are of no profit. Three strokes cannot sever her head, and she gets three more days to preach.

Beyond the highlighting, I have few comments within the texts below: mostly I raise questions and interpret some obsolete words. Now I engage in longer summary, after a quote concerning this activity from Bruno Bettelheim in The Uses of Enchantment – a book relevant to the banning of certain kinds of fairy tales that Socrates proposed in the Republic:

Here, however, one especially crucial limitation must be noted: The true meaning and impact of a fairy tale can be appreciated, its enchantment can be experienced, only from the story in its original form. Describing the significant features of a fairy tale gives as little feeling for what it is all about as the listing of the events of a poem does for its appreciation. Such a description of main features, however, is all that a book like this one can provide, short of actually reprinting the stories. Since most of these fairy tales are readily available elsewhere, the hope is that this book will be read in conjunction with a re-reading of the tales discussed. Whether it is “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Cinderella,” or any other fairy tale, only the story itself permits an appreciation of its poetic qualities, and with it an understanding of how it enriches a responsive mind.

Prologue of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale follows the Monk’s Tale. In the Prologue, the Knight says he is tired of the Monk’s tragedies; stories of increases of fortune would be better.

The Host tells the Monk he is annoying everybody, and the Host himself could have fallen asleep. What would have been the point of telling stories? Why doesn’t the Monk talk about hunting?

The Monk doesn’t want to.

The Host asks the Nun’s Priest to tell a tale to gladden their hearts.

The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The tale is an animal story. Chanticleer the cock dreams of a deadly beast in the yard. His favorite hen Pertelote tells him his humors are unbalanced, and she can treat this condition with herbs.

Pertelote cannot love a coward. Dreams have no force, as Cato says.

Citing old books of greater authority than Cato, Chanticleer insists that some dreams do come true. He gives examples:

  • Two men on pilgrimage had to sleep separately. One dreamt that the other was murdered. It turned out to be so.
  • Two men awaited favorable winds for a voyage. When they came, one heeded a foreboding dream. The other sailed, and the ship sank.
  • Saint Kenelm, son of Kenulphus, dreamt of his martyrdom at age seven.
  • In writing of Scipio Africanus, Macrobius affirms dreams.
  • In the Bible, see Daniel, Joseph, and the Pharoah.
  • See also Croesus and Andromache.

Nonetheless, the beauty of Pertelote makes Chanticleer forget his dream. He mistranslates Mulier est hominis confusio as “Woman is man’s joy and all his bliss.” He feathers her twenty times.

Our story is as true as that of Lancelot of the Lake.

Russell the Fox comes into the yard. The Priest will not take up the scholastic disputations about free will. Woman’s counsel brought us first to woe, but “I said it in my game.”

The fox says he is friend to Chanticleer, whose father sang beautifully, closing his eyes and stretching out his neck.

Chanticleer takes the bait, and the fox takes him. Humans give chase. Chanticleer invites Russell to taunt them. He says he will, and thus the cock escapes into a tree. The fox wants him to come down to hear an explanation.

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

If you think the tale a folly, still take the morality. “Take the fruit and let the chaff be still.”

Epilogue of the Nun’s Priest’s Tale

The Host says that, big and brawny, the Priest could have been a tread-foul in secular life, needing seven times seventeen hens.

The Second Nun’s Tale

In the Second Nun’s Tale, the Prologue is not treated as a separate chapter, because it is still spoken entirely by her – or by him, since there are some masculine self-references; it says nothing else about the speaker or the context of the speech.

The tale itself will be told to warn us off the sin of idleness. The subject will be the maid and martyr, St Cecilia.

The speaker first invokes the flower of virgins, maid and mother, daughter of her son, Christ’s mother, daughter of Anne. Faith is dead without works. The speaker’s soul is troubled by

  • the contagion of the body,
  • earthly lust and false affection.

The speaker reveals that she or he may not even be that, for we are addressed with, “Pray I you that read what I write, forgive me” – forgive, apparently, for not better telling the story, which is being obtained from another text.

Various supposedly etymological senses of the name of Cecilia are given:

  • heaven’s lily;
  • the way to blind;
  • heaven + Lia, the latter referring to her lasting business;
  • wanting of blindness;
  • heaven + leos, apparently meaning heaven of people.

Here is the story. Cecilia grows up beseeching God to keep her maidenhead. When she is married to Valerian, she wears a hair shirt (I think) under her golden robe. She gets her new husband to swear not to give away her secret. The secret is that she has a guardian angel, who will slay Valerian if he touches or loves Cecilia “in villainy.”

Valerian will obey if he can see the angel; otherwise he will slay Cecilia and the lover he thinks she must have.

Cecilia sends him to poor folks, who will direct him to Pope Urban. With Urban appears an old man with a book that praises God. Valerian declares himself a believer and is Christened.

Back home, Cecilia is with an angel who has two crowns, of roses and lilies respectively. Only the chaste can see them. Valerian is granted a boon. He asks for his brother Tiberuce the grace to know the truth. The angel says the brothers shall come into the blissful feast of God with the palm of martyrdom.

Tiberuce cannot see the crowns, but their smell converts him.

“You shall see them,” says Valerian, “if you believe.”

“Is this a dream?”

“Our earlier life is but a dream, as you shall learn if you renounce idols and be clean.”

The poet refers to the preface of St Ambrose on the miracle of the two crowns.

To receive the palm of martyrdom, Cecilia begins to leave the world and even her room.

Whoever does not trow that idols be dumb is a beast, says Tiberuce, whose breast Cecilia now kisses, calling him an ally and sending him with his brother to be baptized by Urban.

Tiberuce knows that visiting Urban is a capital offense. That’s not a problem, says Cecilia, since there is another life. She names the persons of the Trinity, confusing Tiberuce. As a man has sapiences three, says Cecilia, namely memory, engine, and intellect, so one divinity can have three persons.

Urban Christens Tiberuce, who is given the grace to see every day the angel of God and and to have every boon granted.

Eventually the sergeants of Rome drag the brothers before Almachius the prefect. They must sacrifice to the image of Jupiter or be beheaded.

Maximus takes the brothers to his house, who convert him and the other intended tormenters. Cecilia comes at night with priests, who baptize them all.

Next day, the brothers are beheaded, and Maximus sees their souls ascend to heaven with angels. He himself converts so many a wight that Almachius beats him to death. Cecilia buries him with Valerian and Tiberuce.

Almachius has his ministers fetch Cecilia, who converts them. Hearing of this, again Almachius has Cecilia fetched. Asking her class, she says she is gentle. Asking her religion and her belief, she says he asks lewdly.

“Do you know who I am?” asks Almachius.

“A windbag who can be deflated with a needle.”

“Every Christian shall be punished who does not renounce.”

“You know we are innocent.”

“Sacrifice and renounce, or die.”

“Would you have me renounce innocence?”

“Why are you so proud to me?”

“I am steadfast, and pride is a vice. Your only power is to take life.”

“As a philosopher, I don’t care what you say about me; but you shall respect our gods.”

“You are blind, unable to see that what you call a god is but a stone. These images profit neither you nor almighty God.”

“Burn her in a bath of red flame!”

Flames underneath, day and night, she sits cold in the bath. Almachius sends his son to slay her. He gives her three strokes in the neck, an ordinance banning a fourth; but the head is not severed.

Cecilia survives for the three days that she has asked heaven’s king for, for preaching. She asks Urban to make her home a church, and he hallows it as such.


The prologue of the Nonne Preestes Tale.

‘HO!’ quod the knight,good sir, na-more of this,
That ye han seyd is right y-nough, y-wis,
And mochel more; for litel hevinesse
Is right y-nough to mochel folk, I gesse.  3960
I seye for me, it is a greet disese
Wher-as men han ben in greet welthe and ese,
To heren of hir sodeyn fal, allas!
And the contrarie is Ioie and greet solas,
As whan a man hath been in povre estaat,  3965
And clymbeth up, and wexeth fortunat,  (10)
And ther abydeth in prosperitee,
Swich thing is gladsom,
as it thinketh me,
And of swich thing were goodly for to telle.’
‘Ye,’ quod our hoste, ‘by seint Poules belle,  3970
Ye seye right sooth; this monk, he clappeth loude,
He spak how “fortune covered with a cloude”
I noot never what, and als of a “Tragedie”
Right now ye herde, and parde! no remedie
It is for to biwaille, ne compleyne  3975
That that is doon, and als it is a peyne,  (20)
As ye han seyd, to here of hevinesse.
Sir monk, na-more of this, so god yow blesse!
Your tale anoyeth al this companye;
Swich talking is nat worth a boterflye;  3980
For ther-in is ther no desport ne game.
Wherfor, sir Monk, or dan Piers by your name,
I preye yow hertely, telle us somwhat elles,
For sikerly, nere clinking of your belles,
That on your brydel hange on every syde,  3985
By heven king, that for us alle dyde,  (30)
I sholde er this han fallen doun for slepe,
Although the slough had never been so depe;
Than had your tale al be told in vayn.
For certeinly, as that thise clerkes seyn,  3990
“Wher-as a man may have noon audience,
Noght helpeth it to tellen his sentence.”
And wel I woot the substance is in me,
If any thing shal wel reported be.
Sir, sey somwhat of hunting, I yow preye.’  3995
‘Nay,’ quod this monk, ’I have no lust to pleye;  (40)
Now let another telle, as I have told.’
Than spak our host, with rude speche and bold,
And seyde un-to the Nonnes Preest anon,
‘Com neer, thou preest, com hider, thou sir Iohn,  4000
Tel us swich thing as may our hertes glade,
Be blythe, though thou ryde up-on a Iade.
What though thyn hors be bothe foule and lene,
If he wol serve thee, rekke nat a bene;
Look that thyn herte be mery evermo.’  4005
‘Yis, sir,’ quod he, ‘yis, host, so mote I go,  (50)
But I be mery, y-wis, I wol be blamed:’ –
And right anon his tale he hath attamed,
And thus he seyde un-to us everichon,
This swete preest, this goodly man, sir Iohn.  4010


Here biginneth the Nonne Preestes Tale of the Cok and Hen, Chauntecleer and Pertelote.

APOVRE widwe, somdel stope in age,
Was whylom dwelling in a narwe cotage,
Bisyde a grove, stonding in a dale.
This widwe, of which I telle yow my tale,
Sin thilke day that she was last a wyf,  4015
In pacience ladde a ful simple lyf,
For litel was hir catel and hir rente;
By housbondrye, of such as God hir sente,
She fond hir-self, and eek hir doghtren two.

Three large sowes hadde she, and namo,  4020
Three kyn, and eek a sheep that highte Malle.  (11)
Ful sooty was hir bour, and eek hir halle,
In which she eet ful many a sclendre meel.
Of poynaunt sauce hir neded never a deel.
No deyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte;  4025
Hir dyete was accordant to hir cote.
Repleccioun ne made hir never syk;
Attempree dyete was al hir phisyk,
And exercyse, and hertes suffisaunce.

The goute lette hir no-thing for to daunce,  4030
Napoplexye shente nat hir heed;  (21)
No wyn ne drank she, neither whyt ne reed;
Hir bord was served most with whyt and blak,
Milk and broun breed, in which she fond no lak,
Seynd bacoun, and somtyme an ey or tweye,  4035
For she was as it were a maner deye.


A yerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute
With stikkes, and a drye dich with-oute,
In which she hadde a cok, hight Chauntecleer,
In al the land of crowing nas his peer.  4040
His vois was merier than the mery orgon  (31)
On messe-dayes that in the chirche gon;
Wel sikerer was his crowing in his logge,
Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.
By nature knew he ech ascencioun  4045
Of equinoxial in thilke toun;
For whan degrees fiftene were ascended,
Thanne crew he, that it mighte nat ben amended.
His comb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailed, as it were a castel-wal.  4050
His bile was blak, and as the Ieet it shoon;  (41)
Lyk asur were his legges, and his toon;
His nayles whytter than the lilie flour,
And lyk the burned gold was his colour.
This gentil cok hadde in his governaunce  4055
Sevene hennes,
for to doon al his plesaunce,
Whiche were his sustres and his paramours,
And wonder lyk to him, as of colours.
Of whiche the faireste hewed on hir throte
Was cleped faire damoysele Pertelote.
Curteys she was, discreet, and debonaire,  (51)
And compaignable, and bar hir-self so faire,
Sin thilke day that she was seven night old,
That trewely she hath the herte in hold
Of Chauntecleer loken in every lith;  4065
He loved hir so, that wel was him therwith.
But such a Ioye was it to here hem singe,
Whan that the brighte sonne gan to springe,
In swete accord, ‘my lief is faren in londe.’
For thilke tyme, as I have understonde,  4070
Bestes and briddes coude speke and singe.  (61)


And so bifel, that in a daweninge,
As Chauntecleer among his wyves alle
Sat on his perche, that was in the halle,
And next him sat this faire Pertelote,  4075
This Chauntecleer gan gronen in his throte,
As man that in his dreem is drecched sore.

And whan that Pertelote thus herde him rore,
She was agast, and seyde,
‘O herte dere,
What eyleth yow, to grone in this manere?  4080
Ye been a verray sleper, fy for shame!’  (71)
And he answerde and seyde thus, ‘madame,
I pray yow, that ye take it nat a-grief:
By god, me mette I was in swich meschief
Right now, that yet myn herte is sore afright.  4085
Now god,’ quod he, ‘my swevene recche aright,
And keep my body out of foul prisoun!
Me mette, how that I romed up and doun
Withinne our yerde, wher-as I saugh a beste,
Was lyk an hound, and wolde han maad areste  4090
Upon my body, and wolde han had me deed.  (81)
His colour was bitwixe yelwe and reed;

And tipped was his tail, and bothe his eres,
With blak, unlyk the remenant of his heres;
His snowte smal, with glowinge eyen tweye.  4095
Yet of his look for fere almost I deye;
This caused me my groning, doutelees.’

A sweven is a dream; the Monk used the term in his tale of Croesus.

‘Avoy!’ quod she, ‘fy on yow, hertelees!
Allas!’ quod she, ‘for, by that god above,
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love;  4100
I can nat love a coward, by my feith.  (91)
For certes, what so any womman seith,
We alle desyren, if it mighte be,
To han housbondes hardy, wyse, and free,
And secree, and no nigard, ne no fool,  4105
Ne him that is agast of every tool,
Ne noon avauntour, by that god above!
How dorste ye seyn for shame unto your love,
That any thing mighte make yow aferd?
Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?  4110
Allas! and conne ye been agast of swevenis?  (101)
No-thing, god wot, but vanitee, in sweven is.
Swevenes engendren of replecciouns,
And ofte of fume, and of complecciouns,
Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.  4115
Certes this dreem, which ye han met to-night,
Cometh of the grete superfluitee
Of youre rede colera,
Which causeth folk to dreden in here dremes
Of arwes, and of fyr with rede lemes,  4120
Of grete bestes, that they wol hem byte,  (111)
Of contek, and of whelpes grete and lyte;
Right as the humour of malencolye
Causeth ful many a man, in sleep, to crye,
For fere of blake beres,
or boles blake,  4125
Or elles, blake develes wole hem take.
Of othere humours coude I telle also,
That werken many a man in sleep ful wo;
But I wol passe as lightly as I can.’


Lo Catoun, which that was so wys a man,  4130
Seyde he nat thus, ne do no fors of dremes?
Now, sire,’ quod she, ‘whan we flee fro the bemes,
For Goddes love, as tak som laxatyf;
Up peril of my soule, and of my lyf,
I counseille yow the beste, I wol nat lye,  4135
That bothe of colere and of malencolye
Ye purge yow;
and for ye shul nat tarie,
Though in this toun is noon apotecarie,
I shal my-self to herbes techen yow,
That shul ben for your hele, and for your prow;  4140
And in our yerd tho herbes shal I finde,  (131)
The whiche han of hir propretee, by kinde,
To purgen yow binethe, and eek above.
Forget not this, for goddes owene love!
Ye been ful colerik of compleccioun.  4145
Ware the sonne in his ascencioun
Ne fynde yow nat repleet of humours hote;
And if it do, I dar wel leye a grote,
That ye shul have a fevere terciane,
Or an agu, that may be youre bane.  4150
A day or two ye shul have digestyves  (141)
Of wormes, er ye take your laxatyves,
Of lauriol, centaure, and fumetere,
Or elles of ellebor, that groweth there,
Of catapuce, or of gaytres beryis,  4155
Of erbe yve, growing in our yerd, that mery is;
Pekke hem up right as they growe, and ete hem in.
Be mery, housbond, for your fader kin!
Dredeth no dreem; I can say yow na-more.’


‘Madame,’ quod he, ‘graunt mercy of your lore.  4160
But nathelees, as touching daun Catoun,  (151)
That hath of wisdom such a greet renoun,
Though that he bad no dremes for to drede,
By god, men may in olde bokes rede
Of many a man, more of auctoritee  4165
Than ever Catoun was, so mote I thee,
Than al the revers seyn of his sentence,
And han wel founden by experience,
That dremes ben significaciouns,

As wel of Ioye as tribulaciouns  4170
That folk enduren in this lyf present.  (161)
Ther nedeth make of this noon argument;
The verray preve sheweth it in dede.’


‘Oon of the gretteste auctours that men rede
Seith thus, that whylom two felawes wente  4175
On pilgrimage,
in a ful good entente;
And happed so, thay come into a toun,
Wher-as ther was swich congregacioun
Of peple, and eek so streit of herbergage,
That they ne founde as muche as o cotage,  4180
In which they bothe mighte y-logged be.
Wherfor thay mosten, of necessitee,
As for that night, departen compaignye;
And ech of hem goth to his hostelrye,
And took his logging as it wolde falle.  4185
That oon of hem was logged in a stalle,
Fer in a yerd, with oxen of the plough;
That other man was logged wel y-nough,

As was his aventure, or his fortune,
That us governeth alle as in commune.’  4190


‘And so bifel, that, longe er it were day,  (181)
This man mette in his bed, ther-as he lay,
How that his felawe gan up-on him calle,
And seyde,
“allas! for in an oxes stalle
This night I shal be mordred ther I lye.
Now help me, dere brother, er I dye;
In alle haste com to me,” he sayde.
This man out of his sleep for fere abrayde;
But whan that he was wakned of his sleep,
He turned him, and took of this no keep;  4200
Him thoughte his dreem nas but a vanitee.  (191)
Thus twyes in his sleping dremed he.
And atte thridde tyme yet his felawe
Cam, as him thoughte, and seide,
I am now slawe;
Bihold my blody woundes, depe and wyde!  4205
Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde,
And at the west gate of the toun,” quod he,
A carte ful of donge ther shaltow see,
In which my body is hid ful prively;

Do thilke carte aresten boldely.  4210
My gold caused my mordre, sooth to sayn;”  (201)
And tolde him every poynt how he was slayn,
With a ful pitous face, pale of hewe.
And truste wel, his dreem he fond ful trewe;
For on the morwe, as sone as it was day,  4215
To his felawes in he took the way;
And whan that he cam to this oxes stalle,
After his felawe he bigan to calle.’


The hostiler answered him anon,
And seyde, “sire, your felawe is agon,  4220
As sone as day he wente out of the toun.”  (211)
This man gan fallen in suspecioun,
Remembring on his dremes that he mette,
And forth he goth, no lenger wolde he lette,
Unto the west gate of the toun, and fond  4225
A dong-carte, as it were to donge lond,
That was arrayed in the same wyse
As ye han herd the dede man devyse;
And with an hardy herte he gan to crye
Vengeaunce and Iustice of this felonye: –  4230
“My felawe mordred is this same night,  (221)
And in this carte he lyth gapinge upright.
I crye out on the ministres,” quod he,
“That sholden kepe and reulen this citee;
Harrow! allas! her lyth my felawe slayn!”  4235
What sholde I more un-to this tale sayn?
The peple out-sterte, and caste the cart to grounde,
And in the middel of the dong they founde
The dede man, that mordred was al newe.’


‘O blisful god, that art so Iust and trewe!  4240
Lo, how that thou biwreyest mordre alway!  (231)
Mordre wol out, that see we day by day.
Mordre is so wlatsom and abhominable
To god, that is so Iust and resonable,
That he ne wol nat suffre it heled be;  4245
Though it abyde a yeer, or two, or three,
Mordre wol out, this my conclusioun.
And right anoon, ministres of that toun
Han hent the carter,
and so sore him pyned,
And eek the hostiler so sore engyned,  4250
That thay biknewe hir wikkednesse anoon,  (241)
And were an-hanged by the nekke-boon.

The Prioress too said, “Murder will out.”

‘Here may men seen that dremes been to drede.
And certes, in the same book I rede,
Right in the nexte chapitre after this,  4255
(I gabbe nat, so have I Ioye or blis,)
Two men that wolde han passed over see,
For certeyn cause, in-to a fer contree,
If that the wind ne hadde been contrarie,
That made hem in a citee for to tarie,  4260
That stood ful mery upon an haven-syde.  (251)
But on a day, agayn the even-tyde,
The wind gan chaunge, and blew right as hem leste.
Iolif and glad they wente un-to hir reste,
And casten hem ful erly for to saille;  4265
But to that oo man fil a greet mervaille.
That oon of hem, in sleping as he lay,
Him mette a wonder dreem, agayn the day;
Him thoughte a man stood by his beddes syde,
And him comaunded, that he sholde abyde,
And seyde him thus, “if thou to-morwe wende,  (261)
Thou shalt be dreynt; my tale is at an ende.”
He wook, and tolde his felawe what he mette.
And preyde him his viage for to lette;
As for that day, he preyde him to abyde.  4275
His felawe, that lay by his beddes syde,
Gan for to laughe,
and scorned him ful faste.
“No dreem,” quod he, “may so myn herte agaste,
That I wol lette for to do my thinges.
I sette not a straw by thy dreminges,  4280
For swevenes been but vanitees and Iapes.  (271)
Men dreme al-day of owles or of apes,
And eke of many a mase therwithal;
Men dreme of thing that nevere was ne shal.
But sith I see that thou wolt heer abyde,  4285
And thus for-sleuthen wilfully thy tyde,
God wot it reweth me; and have good day.”
And thus he took his leve, and wente his way.
But er that he hadde halfe his cours y-seyled,
Noot I nat why, ne what mischaunce it eyled,  4290
But casuelly the shippes botme rente,  (281)
And ship and man under the water wente

In sighte of othere shippes it byside,
That with hem seyled at the same tyde.
And therfor, faire Pertelote so dere,  4295
By swiche ensamples olde maistow lere,
That no man sholde been to recchelees
Of dremes, for I sey thee, doutelees,
That many a dreem ful sore is for to drede.’


‘Lo, in the lyf of seint Kenelm, I rede,  4300
That was Kenulphus sone, the noble king  (291)
Of Mercenrike, how Kenelm mette a thing;
A lyte er he was mordred, on a day,
His mordre in his avisioun he say.

His norice him expouned every del  4305
His sweven, and bad him for to kepe him wel
For traisoun; but he nas but seven yeer old,
And therfore litel tale hath he told
Of any dreem, so holy was his herte.
By god, I hadde lever than my sherte  4310
That ye had rad his legende, as have I.  (301)
Dame Pertelote, I sey yow trewely,
Macrobeus, that writ the avisioun
In Affrike of the worthy Cipioun,
Affermeth dremes,
and seith that they been  4315
Warning of thinges that men after seen.’


‘And forther-more, I pray yow loketh wel
In the olde testament, of Daniel,

If he held dremes any vanitee.
Reed eek of Ioseph, and ther shul ye see  4320
Wher dremes ben somtyme (I sey nat alle)  (311)
Warning of thinges that shul after falle.

Loke of Egipt the king, daun Pharao,
His bakere and his boteler also,

Wher they ne felte noon effect in dremes.  4325
Who-so wol seken actes of sondry remes,
May rede of dremes many a wonder thing.’


Lo Cresus, which that was of Lyde king,
Mette he nat that he sat upon a tree,
Which signified he sholde anhanged be?  4330
Lo heer Andromacha, Ectores wyf,  (321)
That day that Ector sholde lese his lyf,
She dremed on the same night biforn,
How that the lyf of Ector sholde be lorn,

If thilke day he wente in-to bataille;  4335
She warned him, but it mighte nat availle;
He wente for to fighte nathelees,
But he was slayn anoon of Achilles.
But thilke tale is al to long to telle,
And eek it is ny day, I may nat dwelle.  4340
Shortly I seye, as for conclusioun,  (331)
That I shal han of this avisioun
and I seye forther-more,
That I ne telle of laxatyves no store,
For they ben venimous, I woot it wel;  4345
I hem defye, I love hem never a del.’

The Monk told of Croesus’s dream.

‘Now let us speke of mirthe, and stinte al this;
Madame Pertelote, so have I blis,
Of o thing god hath sent me large grace;
For whan I see the beautee of your face,  4350
Ye ben so scarlet-reed about your yën,  (341)
It maketh al my drede for to dyen;

For, also siker as In principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio;
Madame, the sentence of this Latin is –  4355
Womman is mannes Ioye and al his blis.

For whan I fele a-night your softe syde,
Al-be-it that I may nat on you ryde,
For that our perche is maad so narwe, alas!
I am so ful of Ioye and of solas  4360
That I defye bothe sweven and dreem.’  (351)
And with that word he fley doun fro the beem,
For it was day, and eek his hennes alle;
And with a chuk he gan hem for to calle,
For he had founde a corn, lay in the yerd.  4365
Royal he was, he was namore aferd;
He fethered Pertelote twenty tyme,
And trad as ofte, er that it was pryme.
He loketh as it were a grim leoun;
And on his toos he rometh up and doun,  4370
Him deyned not to sette his foot to grounde.  (361)
He chukketh, whan he hath a corn y-founde,
And to him rennen thanne his wyves alle.
Thus royal, as a prince is in his halle,
Leve I this Chauntecleer in his pasture;  4375
And after wol I telle his aventure.

Her scarlet-red face: ominous? And does Chaunticleer not quite know Latin?

Whan that the month in which the world bigan,
That highte March, whan god first maked man,
Was complet, and [y]-passed were also,
Sin March bigan, thritty dayes and two,  4380
Bifel that Chauntecleer, in al his pryde,  (371)
His seven wyves walking by his syde,
Caste up his eyen to the brighte sonne,
That in the signe of Taurus hadde y-ronne
Twenty degrees and oon, and somwhat more;  4385
And knew by kynde, and by noon other lore,
That it was pryme, and crew with blisful stevene.
‘The sonne,’ he sayde, ‘is clomben up on hevene
Fourty degrees and oon, and more, y-wis.
Madame Pertelote, my worldes blis,  4390
Herkneth thise blisful briddes how they singe,  (381)
And see the fresshe floures how they springe;
Ful is myn herte of revel and solas.’
But sodeinly him fil a sorweful cas;
For ever the latter ende of Ioye is wo.  4395
God woot that worldly Ioye is sone ago;
And if a rethor coude faire endyte,
He in a cronique saufly mighte it wryte,
As for a sovereyn notabilitee.
Now every wys man, lat him herkne me;  4400
This storie is al-so trewe, I undertake,  (391)
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,
That wommen holde in ful gret reverence.

Now wol I torne agayn to my sentence.

Used also in the Knight’s Tale, a steven is a command or a time.

A col-fox, ful of sly iniquitee,  4405
That in the grove hadde woned yeres three,
By heigh imaginacioun forn-cast,
The same night thurgh-out the hegges brast
Into the yerd, ther Chauntecleer the faire
Was wont, and eek his wyves, to repaire;
And in a bed of wortes stille he lay,  (401)
Til it was passed undern of the day,
Wayting his tyme on Chauntecleer to falle,
As gladly doon thise homicydes alle,
That in awayt liggen to mordre men.  4415
O false mordrer, lurking in thy den!
O newe Scariot, newe Genilon!
False dissimilour, O Greek Sinon,
That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe!
O Chauntecleer, acursed be that morwe,  4420
That thou into that yerd flough fro the bemes!  (411)
Thou were ful wel y-warned by thy dremes,
That thilke day was perilous to thee.
But what that god forwoot mot nedes be,
After the opinioun of certeyn clerkis.
Witnesse on him, that any perfit clerk is,
That in scole is gret altercacioun
In this matere, and greet disputisoun,

And hath ben of an hundred thousand men.
But I ne can not bulte it to the bren,  4430
As can the holy doctour Augustyn,  (421)
Or Boece, or the bishop Bradwardyn,
Whether that goddes worthy forwiting
Streyneth me nedely for to doon a thing,
(Nedely clepe I simple necessitee);  4435
Or elles, if free choys be graunted me
To do that same thing, or do it noght,
Though god forwoot it, er that it was wroght;
Or if his witing streyneth nevere a del
But by necessitee condicionel.  4440
I wol not han to do of swich matere;  (431)
My tale is of a cok, as ye may here,
That took his counseil of his wyf, with sorwe,

To walken in the yerd upon that morwe
That he had met the dreem, that I yow tolde.  4445
Wommennes counseils been ful ofte colde;
Wommannes counseil broghte us first to wo,
And made Adam fro paradys to go,
Ther-as he was ful mery, and wel at ese.
But for I noot, to whom it mighte displese,  4450
If I counseil of wommen wolde blame,  (441)
Passe over, for I seyde it in my game.

Rede auctours, wher they trete of swich matere,
And what thay seyn of wommen ye may here.
Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;  4455
I can noon harm of no womman divyne.


Faire in the sond, to bathe hir merily,
Lyth Pertelote, and alle hir sustres by,
Agayn the sonne; and Chauntecleer so free
Song merier than the mermayde in the see;  4460
For Phisiologus seith sikerly,  (451)
How that they singen wel and merily.
And so bifel that, as he caste his yë,
Among the wortes, on a boterflye,
He was war of this fox that lay ful lowe.  4465
No-thing ne liste him thanne for to crowe,
But cryde anon, ‘cok, cok,’ and up he sterte,
As man that was affrayed in his herte.
For naturelly a beest desyreth flee
Fro his contrarie, if he may it see,  4470
Though he never erst had seyn it with his yë.  (461)


This Chauntecleer, whan he gan him espye,
He wolde han fled, but that the fox anon
‘Gentil sire, allas! wher wol ye gon?
Be ye affrayed of me that am your freend?  4475
Now certes, I were worse than a feend,
If I to yow wolde harm or vileinye.

I am nat come your counseil for tespye;
But trewely, the cause of my cominge
Was only for to herkne how that ye singe.  4480
For trewely ye have as mery a stevene  (471)
As eny aungel hath,
that is in hevene;
Therwith ye han in musik more felinge
Than hadde Boece, or any that can singe.
My lord your fader (god his soule blesse!)  4485
And eek your moder, of hir gentilesse,
Han in myn hous y-been, to my gret ese;
And certes, sire, ful fayn wolde I yow plese.
But for men speke of singing, I wol saye,
So mote I brouke wel myn eyen tweye,  4490
Save yow, I herde never man so singe,  (481)
As dide your fader in the morweninge;

Certes, it was of herte, al that he song.
And for to make his voys the more strong,
He wolde so peyne him, that with bothe his yën  4495
He moste winke,
so loude he wolde cryen,
And stonden on his tiptoon ther-with-al,
And strecche forth his nekke long and smal.

And eek he was of swich discrecioun,
That ther nas no man in no regioun  4500
That him in song or wisdom mighte passe.  (491)
I have wel rad in daun Burnel the Asse,
Among his vers, how that ther was a cok,
For that a preestes sone yaf him a knok
Upon his leg, whyl he was yong and nyce,  4505
He made him for to lese his benefyce.
But certeyn, ther nis no comparisoun
Bitwix the wisdom and discrecioun
Of youre fader, and of his subtiltee.
Now singeth, sire, for seinte charitee,  4510
Let see, conne ye your fader countrefete? (501)
This Chauntecleer his winges gan to bete,
As man that coude his tresoun nat espye,
So was he ravisshed with his flaterye.

What’s the deal with Burnel the Ass?

Allas! ye lordes, many a fals flatour  4515
Is in your courtes,
and many a losengeour,
That plesen yow wel more, by my feith,
Than he that soothfastnesse unto yow seith.
Redeth Ecclesiaste of flaterye;
Beth war, ye lordes, of hir trecherye.  4520

Are there any lords in the company?

This Chauntecleer stood hye up-on his toos,  (511)
Strecching his nekke, and heeld his eyen cloos,
And gan to crowe loude for the nones;
And daun Russel the fox sterte up at ones,
And by the gargat hente Chauntecleer,
And on his bak toward the wode him beer,
For yet ne was ther no man that him sewed.
O destinee, that mayst nat been eschewed!
Allas, that Chauntecleer fleigh fro the bemes!
Allas, his wyf ne roghte nat of dremes!  4530
And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce.  (521)
O Venus,
that art goddesse of plesaunce,
Sin that thy servant was this Chauntecleer,
And in thy service dide al his poweer,
More for delyt, than world to multiplye,  4535
Why woldestow suffre him on thy day to dye?
O Gaufred, dere mayster soverayn,
That, whan thy worthy king Richard was slayn
With shot, compleynedest his deth so sore,
Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy lore,  4540
The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?  (531)
(For on a Friday soothly slayn was he.)
Than wolde I shewe yow how that I coude pleyne
For Chauntecleres drede, and for his peyne.


Certes, swich cry ne lamentacioun  4545
Was never of ladies maad, whan Ilioun
Was wonne,
and Pirrus with his streite swerd,
Whan he hadde hent king Priam by the berd,
And slayn him (as saith us Eneydos),
As maden alle the hennes in the clos,  4550
Whan they had seyn of Chauntecleer the sighte.  (541)
But sovereynly dame Pertelote
Ful louder than dide Hasdrubales wyf,
Whan that hir housbond hadde lost his lyf,
And that the Romayns hadde brend Cartage;  4555
She was so ful of torment and of rage,
That wilfully into the fyr she sterte,
And brende hir-selven with a stedfast herte.
O woful hennes, right so cryden ye,
As, whan that Nero brende the citee  4560
Of Rome, cryden senatoures wyves,  (551)
For that hir housbondes losten alle hir lyves;
Withouten gilt this Nero hath hem slayn.
Now wol I torne to my tale agayn: –


This sely widwe, and eek hir doghtres two,  4565
Herden thise hennes crye and maken wo,
And out at dores sterten they anoon,

And syen the fox toward the grove goon,
And bar upon his bak the cok away;
And cryden, ‘Out! harrow! and weylaway!  4570
Ha, ha, the fox!’ and after him they ran,  (561)
And eek with staves many another man;
Ran Colle our dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,
And Malkin, with a distaf in hir hand;
Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges  4575
So were they fered for berking of the dogges
And shouting of the men and wimmen eke,
They ronne so, hem thoughte hir herte breke.
They yelleden as feendes doon in helle;
The dokes cryden as men wolde hem quelle;  4580
The gees for fere flowen over the trees;  (571)
Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees;
So hidous was the noyse, a! benedicite!
Certes, he Iakke Straw, and his meynee,
Ne made never shoutes half so shrille,  4585
Whan that they wolden any Fleming kille,
As thilke day was maad upon the fox.
Of bras thay broghten bemes, and of box,
Of horn, of boon, in whiche they blewe and pouped,
And therwithal thay shryked and they houped;  4590
It semed as that heven sholde falle.  (581)
Now, gode men, I pray yow herkneth alle!


Lo, how fortune turneth sodeinly
The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy!
This cok,
that lay upon the foxes bak,  4595
In al his drede, un-to the fox he spak,
And seyde, ‘sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet sholde I seyn
(as wis god helpe me),
Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle!
A verray pestilence up-on yow falle!  4600
Now am I come un-to this wodes syde,  (591)
Maugree your heed, the cok shal heer abyde;
I wol him ete in feith, and that anon.’ –
The fox answerde, ‘in feith, it shal be don,’ –
And as he spak that word, al sodeinly  4605
This cok brak from his mouth deliverly,

And heighe up-on a tree he fleigh anon.
And whan the fox saugh that he was y-gon,
‘Allas!’ quod he, ‘O Chauntecleer, allas!
I have to yow,
’ quod he, ‘y-doon trespas,  4610
In-as-muche as I maked yow aferd,  (601)
Whan I yow hente, and broghte out of the yerd;
But, sire, I dide it in no wikke entente;
Com doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente.
I shal seye sooth to yow, god help me so.’  4615
‘Nay than,’ quod he, ‘I shrewe us bothe two,
And first I shrewe my-self, bothe blood and bones,
If thou bigyle me ofter than ones.

Thou shalt na-more, thurgh thy flaterye,
Do me to singe and winke with myn yë.  4620
For he that winketh, whan he sholde see,  (611)
Al wilfully, god lat him never thee!’
‘Nay,’ quod the fox, ‘but god yeve him meschaunce,
That is so undiscreet of governaunce,
That Iangleth whan he sholde holde his pees. 4625


Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees,
And necligent, and truste on flaterye.
But ye that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,
Taketh the moralitee, good men.  4630
For seint Paul seith, that al that writen is,  (621)
To our doctryne it is y-write, y-wis.
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille.

What is this about Paul?

Now, gode god, if that it be thy wille,
As seith my lord, so make us alle good men;  4635
And bringe us to his heighe blisse. Amen.


Here is ended the Nonne Preestes Tale.


Sir Nonnes Preest,’ our hoste seyde anoon,
‘Y-blessed be thy breche, and every stoon!
This was a mery tale of Chauntecleer.  4640
But, by my trouthe, if thou were seculer,
Thou woldest been a trede-foul a-right.

For, if thou have corage as thou hast might,
Thee were nede of hennes, as I wene,
Ya, mo than seven tymes seventene.  4645
See, whiche braunes hath this gentil Preest,  (10)
So greet a nekke, and swich a large breest!

He loketh as a sperhauk with his yën;
Him nedeth nat his colour for to dyen
With brasil, ne with greyn of Portingale.  4650
Now sire, faire falle yow for youre tale!’

And after that he, with ful mery chere,
Seide to another, as ye shullen here.

The Host told the Monk also that he would have been a tread-foul.


The Prologe of the Seconde Nonnes Tale.

THE ministre and the norice un-to vyces,
Which that men clepe in English ydelnesse,

That porter of the gate is of delyces,
To eschue, and by hir contrarie hir oppresse,
That is to seyn, by leveful bisinesse,  5
Wel oghten we to doon al our entente,
Lest that the feend thurgh ydelnesse us hente.


For he, that with his thousand cordes slye
Continuelly us waiteth to biclappe,
Whan he may man in ydelnesse espye,  10
He can so lightly cacche him in his trappe,
Til that a man be hent right by the lappe,
He nis nat war the feend hath him in honde;
Wel oughte us werche, and ydelnes withstonde.


And though men dradden never for to dye,  15
Yet seen men wel by reson doutelees,
That ydelnesse is roten slogardye,
Of which ther never comth no good encrees;
And seen, that slouthe hir holdeth in a lees
Only to slepe, and for to ete and drinke,  20
And to devouren al that othere swinke.

And for to putte us fro swich ydelnesse,
That cause is of so greet confusioun,
I have heer doon my feithful bisinesse,
After the legende,
in translacioun  25
Right of thy glorious lyf and passioun,
Thou with thy gerland wroght of rose and lilie;
Thee mene I, mayde and martir, seint Cecilie!

Inuocacio ad Mariam.

AND thou that flour of virgines art alle,
Of whom that Bernard list so wel to wryte,  30
To thee at my biginning first I calle;
Thou comfort of us wrecches, do me endyte
Thy maydens deeth, that wan thurgh hir meryte
The eternal lyf, and of the feend victorie,

As man may after reden in hir storie.  35


Thou mayde and mooder, doghter of thy sone,
Thou welle of mercy, sinful soules cure,
In whom that god, for bountee, chees to wone,
Thou humble, and heigh over every creature,
Thou nobledest so ferforth our nature,  40
That no desdeyn the maker hadde of kinde,
His sone in blode and flesh to clothe and winde.


Withinne the cloistre blisful of thy sydes
Took mannes shap the eternal love and pees,

That of the tryne compas lord and gyde is,  45
Whom erthe and see and heven, out of relees,
Ay herien; and thou, virgin wemmelees,
Bar of thy body, and dweltest mayden pure,
The creatour of every creature.


Assembled is in thee magnificence  50
With mercy, goodnesse, and with swich pitee
That thou, that art the sonne of excellence,
Nat only helpest hem that preyen thee,
ofte tyme, of thy benignitee,
Ful frely, er that men thyn help biseche,  55
Thou goost biforn, and art hir lyves leche.


Now help, thou meke and blisful fayre mayde,
Me, flemed wrecche, in this desert of galle;
Think on the womman Cananee, that sayde
That whelpes eten somme of the crommes alle  60
That from hir lordes table been y-falle;
And though that I, unworthy sone of Eve,
Be sinful, yet accepte my bileve.

As I recall, that woman was a gentile; does our Nun mean to remind the Blessed Virgin that she (the Nun) too has this status?

And, for that feith is deed with-outen werkes,
So for to werken yif me wit and space,
That I be quit fro thennes that most derk is!
O thou, that art so fayr and ful of grace,
Be myn advocat in that heighe place
Ther-as withouten ende is songe ‘Osanne,’
Thou Cristes mooder, doghter dere of Anne!  70


And of thy light my soule in prison lighte,
That troubled is by the contagioun
Of my body,
and also by the wighte
Of erthly luste and fals affeccioun;
O haven of refut, o salvacioun  75
Of hem that been in sorwe and in distresse,
Now help, for to my werk I wol me dresse.

Is the body itself the problem, or the lust that makes use of the body?

Yet preye I yow that reden that I wryte,
Foryeve me,
that I do no diligence
This ilke storie subtilly to endyte;  80
For both have I the wordes and sentence
Of him that at the seintes reverence
The storie wroot, and folwe hir legende,
And prey yow, that ye wol my werk amende.

Is this now Chaucer addressing us, saying he is only translating?

Interpretacio nominis Cecilie, quam ponit frater Iacobus Ianuensis in Legenda Aurea.

FIRST wolde I yow the name of seint Cecilie  85
Expoune, as men may in hir storie see,
It is to seye in English ‘hevenes lilie,’
For pure chastnesse of virginitee;
Or, for she whytnesse hadde of honestee,
And grene of conscience, and of good fame  90
The sote savour, ‘lilie’ was hir name.


Or Cecile is to seye ‘the wey to blinde,’
For she ensample was by good techinge;
Or elles Cecile,
as I writen finde,
Is ioyned, by a maner conioininge  95
Of ‘hevene’ and ‘Lia’; and heer, in figuringe,
The ‘heven’ is set for thoght of holinesse,
And ‘Lia’ for hir lasting bisinesse.


Cecile may eek be seyd in this manere,
‘Wanting of blindnesse,’ for hir grete light  100
Of sapience,
and for hir thewes clere;
Or elles, lo! this maydens name bright
Of ‘hevene’ and ‘leos’ comth, for which by right
Men mighte hir wel ‘the heven of peple’ calle,
Ensample of gode and wyse werkes alle.  105


For ‘leos’ ‘peple’ in English is to seye,
And right as men may in the hevene see
The sonne and mone and sterres every weye,
Right so men gostly, in this mayden free,
Seyen of feith the magnanimitee,  110
And eek the cleernesse hool of sapience,
And sondry werkes, brighte of excellence.


And right so as thise philosophres wryte
That heven is swift and round and eek brenninge,
Right so was fayre Cecilie the whyte  115
Ful swift and bisy ever in good werkinge,
And round and hool in good perseveringe,
And brenning ever in charitee ful brighte;
Now have I yow declared what she highte.


The Seconde Nonnes Tale

Here biginneth the Seconde Nonnes Tale, of the lyf of Seinte Cecile.

THIS mayden bright Cecilie, as hir lyf seith,  120
Was comen of Romayns, and of noble kinde,
And from hir cradel up fostred in the feith
Of Crist, and bar his gospel in hir minde;
She never cessed, as I writen finde,
Of hir preyere, and god to love and drede,  125
Biseking him to kepe hir maydenhede.


And when this mayden sholde unto a man
Y-wedded be,
that was ful yong of age,
Which that y-cleped was Valerian,
And day was comen of hir mariage,  130
She, ful devout and humble in hir corage,
Under hir robe of gold, that sat ful fayre,
Had next hir flesh y-clad hir in an heyre.

Is an heyre a hair shirt? We are not reading the Pardoner’s Tale, which includes the verses,

Moder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste,
That in my chambre longe tyme hath be,
Ye! for an heyre clout to wrappe me!

And whyl the organs maden melodye,
To god alone in herte thus sang she;  135
‘O lord, my soule and eek my body gye
Unwemmed, lest that I confounded be:’
And, for his love that deyde upon a tree,
Every seconde or thridde day she faste,
Ay biddinge in hir orisons ful faste.  140


The night cam, and to bedde moste she gon
With hir housbonde, as ofte is the manere,
And prively to him she seyde anon,
‘O swete and wel biloved spouse dere,
Ther is a conseil, and ye wolde it here,  145
Which that right fain I wolde unto yow seye,
So that ye swere ye shul me nat biwreye.’


Valerian gan faste unto hir swere,
That for no cas, ne thing that mighte be,
He sholde never-mo biwreyen here;  150
And thanne at erst to him thus seyde she,
I have an angel which that loveth me,
That with greet love, wher-so I wake or slepe,
Is redy ay my body for to kepe.


‘And if that he may felen, out of drede,  155
That ye me touche or love in vileinye,
He right anon wol slee yow with the dede,

And in your yowthe thus ye shulden dye;
And if that ye in clene love me gye,
He wol yow loven as me, for your clennesse,  160
And shewen yow his Ioye and his brightnesse.’


Valerian, corrected as god wolde,
Answerde agayn, ‘if I shal trusten thee,
Lat me that angel se, and him biholde;
And if that it a verray angel be,  165
Than wol I doon as thou hast preyed me;
And if thou love another man, for sothe
Right with this swerd than wol I slee yow bothe.


Cecile answerde anon right in this wyse,
‘If that yow list, the angel shul ye see,  170
So that ye trowe on Crist and yow baptyse.
Goth forth to Via Apia,’ quod she,
‘That fro this toun ne stant but myles three,
And, to the povre folkes that ther dwelle,
Sey hem right thus, as that I shal yow telle.’  175


Telle hem that I, Cecile, yow to hem sente.
To shewen yow the gode Urban the olde,
For secree nedes and for good entente.
And whan that ye seint Urban han biholde,
Telle him the wordes whiche I to yow tolde;
And whan that he hath purged yow fro sinne,
Thanne shul ye see that angel, er ye twinne.’


Valerian is to the place y-gon,
And right as him was taught by his lerninge,
He fond this holy olde Urban anon  185
Among the seintes buriels lotinge.
And he anon, with-outen taryinge,
Dide his message; and whan that he it tolde,
Urban for Ioye his hondes gan up holde.


The teres from his yen leet he falle –  190
‘Almighty lord, o Iesu Crist,’ quod he,
Sower of chast conseil, herde of us alle,
The fruit of thilke seed of chastitee
That thou hast sowe in Cecile, tak to thee!

Lo, lyk a bisy bee, with-outen gyle,  195
Thee serveth ay thyn owene thral Cecile!’


‘For thilke spouse, that she took but now
Ful lyk a fiers leoun, she sendeth here,
As meke as ever was any lamb,
to yow!’
And with that worde, anon ther gan appere  200
An old man,
clad in whyte clothes clere,
That hadde a book with lettre of golde in honde,
And gan biforn Valerian to stonde.


Valerian as deed fil doun for drede
Whan he him saugh, and he up hente him tho,  205
And on his book right thus he gan to rede –
Oo Lord, oo feith, oo god with-outen mo,
Oo Cristendom, and fader of alle also,
Aboven alle and over al everywhere
’ –
Thise wordes al with gold y-writen were.  210


Whan this was rad, than seyde this olde man,
‘Levestow this thing or no? sey ye or nay.’
‘I leve al this thing,’ quod Valerian,
‘For sother thing than this, I dar wel say,
Under the hevene no wight thinke may.’  215
Tho vanisshed the olde man, he niste where,
And pope Urban him cristened right there.


Valerian goth hoom, and fint Cecilie
With-inne his chambre with an angel stonde;

This angel hadde of roses and of lilie  220
Corones two,
the which he bar in honde;
And first to Cecile, as I understonde,
He yaf that oon, and after gan he take
That other to Valerian, hir make.

Cecilia gets the red, Valerian the white?

‘With body clene and with unwemmed thoght  225
Kepeth ay wel thise corones,’ quod he;
Fro Paradys to yow have I hem broght,
Ne never-mo ne shal they roten be,
Ne lese her sote savour, trusteth me;
Ne never wight shal seen hem with his yë,  230
But he be chaast and hate vileinyë.


And thou, Valerian, for thou so sone
Assentedest to good conseil also,
Sey what thee list, and thou shalt han thy bone.’
‘I have a brother,’ quod Valerian tho,  235
‘That in this world I love no man so.
I pray yow that my brother may han grace
To knowe the trouthe,
as I do in this place.’


The angel seyde, ‘god lyketh thy requeste,
And bothe, with the palm of martirdom,  240
Ye shullen come unto his blisful feste.

And with that word Tiburce his brother com.
And whan that he the savour undernom
Which that the roses and the lilies caste,
With-inne his herte he gan to wondre faste,  245


And seyde, ‘I wondre, this tyme of the yeer,
Whennes that sote savour cometh so
Of rose and lilies that I smelle heer.
For though I hadde hem in myn hondes two,
The savour mighte in me no depper go.  250
The sote smel that in myn herte I finde
Hath chaunged me al in another kinde.


Valerian seyde, ‘two corones han we,
Snow-whyte and rose-reed, that shynen clere,
Whiche that thyn yen han no might to see;  255
And as thou smellest hem thurgh my preyere,
So shaltow seen hem, leve brother dere,
If it so be thou wolt, withouten slouthe,
Bileve aright and knowen verray trouthe.


Tiburce answerde, ‘seistow this to me  260
In soothnesse, or in dreem I herkne this?’
In dremes,’ quod Valerian, ‘han we be
Unto this tyme,
brother myn, y-wis.
But now at erst in trouthe our dwelling is.’
‘How woostow this,’ quod Tiburce, ‘in what wyse?’  265
Quod Valerian, ‘that shal I thee devyse.’


‘The angel of god hath me the trouthe y-taught
Which thou shalt seen, if that thou wolt reneye
The ydoles and be clene,
and elles naught.’ –
And of the miracle of thise corones tweye  270
Seint Ambrose in his preface list to seye;

Solempnely this noble doctour dere
Commendeth it, and seith in this manere:


The palm of martirdom for to receyve,
Seinte Cecile, fulfild of goddes yifte,  275
The world and eek hir chambre gan she weyve;
Witnes Tyburces and Valerians shrifte,
To whiche god of his bountee wolde shifte
Corones two of floures wel smellinge,
And made his angel hem the corones bringe:  280

Weyve: abandon, give up.

The mayde hath broght thise men to blisse above;
The world hath wist what it is worth, certeyn,
Devocioun of chastitee to love. –
Tho shewede him Cecile al open and pleyn
That alle ydoles nis but a thing in veyn;  285
For they been dombe, and therto they been deve,
And charged him his ydoles for to leve.

Deve: ?

Who so that troweth nat this, a beste he is,
Quod tho Tiburce, ‘if that I shal nat lye.’
And she gan kisse his brest, that herde this,  290
And was ful glad he coude trouthe espye.
This day I take thee for myn allye,
Seyde this blisful fayre mayde dere;
And after that she seyde as ye may here:


‘Lo, right so as the love of Crist,’ quod she,  295
‘Made me thy brotheres wyf, right in that wyse
Anon for myn allye heer take I thee,
Sin that thou wolt thyn ydoles despyse.
Go with thy brother now, and thee baptyse,
And make thee clene; so that thou mowe biholde  300
The angels face
of which thy brother tolde.’


Tiburce answerde and seyde, ‘brother dere,
First tel me whider I shal, and to what man?’
‘To whom?’ quod he, ‘com forth with right good chere,
I wol thee lede unto the pope Urban. 305
‘Til Urban? brother myn Valerian,’
Quod tho Tiburce, ’woltow me thider lede?
Me thinketh that it were a wonder dede.


Ne menestow nat Urban,’ quod he tho,
That is so ofte dampned to be deed,  310
And woneth in halkes alwey to and fro,
And dar nat ones putte forth his heed?
Men sholde him brennen in a fyr so reed
If he were founde, or that men mighte him spye;
And we also, to bere him companye – 315


‘And whyl we seken thilke divinitee
That is y-hid in hevene prively,
Algate y-brend in this world shul we be!
To whom Cecile answerde boldely,
Men mighten dreden wel and skilfully  320
This lyf to lese,
myn owene dere brother,
If this were livinge only and non other.


But ther is better lyf in other place,
That never shal be lost, ne drede thee noght,
Which goddes sone us tolde thurgh his grace;  325
That fadres sone hath alle thinges wroght;
And al that wroght is with a skilful thoght,
The goost, that fro the fader gan procede,
Hath sowled hem,
withouten any drede.’

Proceeding from the Father, the [Holy] Ghost has ensouled all that is wrought with a skilful thought?

‘By word and by miracle goddes sone,  330
Whan he was in this world, declared here
That ther was other lyf ther men may wone.’
To whom answerde Tiburce, ‘o suster dere,
Ne seydestow right now in this manere,
Ther nis but o god, lord in soothfastnesse;  335
And now of three how maystow bere witnesse?


‘That shal I telle,’ quod she, ‘er I go.
Right as a man hath sapiences three,
Memorie, engyn, and intellect also,
So, in o being of divinitee,  340
Three persones may ther right wel be.

Tho gan she him ful bisily to preche
Of Cristes come and of his peynes teche,


And many pointes of his passioun;
How goddes sone in this world was withholde,  345
To doon mankinde pleyn remissioun,
That was y-bounde in sinne and cares colde:
Al this thing she unto Tiburce tolde.
And after this Tiburce, in good entente,
With Valerian to pope Urban he wente,  350


That thanked god; and with glad herte and light
He cristned him, and made him in that place
Parfit in his lerninge, goddes knight.
And after this Tiburce gat swich grace,
That every day he saugh, in tyme and space,  355
The angel of god; and every maner bone
That he god axed, it was sped ful sone.


It were ful hard by ordre for to seyn
How many wondres Iesus for hem wroghte;
But atte laste, to tellen short and pleyn,  360
The sergeants of the toun of Rome hem soghte,
And hem biforn Almache the prefect broghte,
hem apposed, and knew al hir entente,
And to the image of Iupiter hem sente,


And seyde, ‘who so wol nat sacrifyse,  365
Swap of his heed,
this is my sentence here.’
Anon thise martirs that I yow devyse,
Oon Maximus, that was an officere
Of the prefectes and his corniculere,
Hem hente; and whan he forth the seintes ladde,  370
Him-self he weep, for pitee that he hadde.


Whan Maximus had herd the seintes lore,
He gat him of the tormentoures leve,

And ladde hem to his hous withoute more;
And with hir preching, er that it were eve,  375
They gonnen fro the tormentours to reve,
And fro Maxime, and fro his folk echone
The false feith, to trowe in god allone.


Cecilie cam, whan it was woxen night,
With preestes that hem cristned alle y-fere;  380
And afterward, whan day was woxen light,
Cecile hem seyde with a ful sobre chere,
‘Now, Cristes owene knightes leve and dere,
Caste alle awey the werkes of derknesse,
And armeth yow in armure of brightnesse.’  385


Ye han for sothe y-doon a greet bataille,
Your cours is doon, your feith han ye conserved,
Goth to the corone of lyf that may nat faille;
The rightful Iuge, which that ye han served,
Shall yeve it yow, as ye han it deserved.’  390
And whan this thing was seyd as I devyse,
Men ladde hem forth to doon the sacrifyse.


But whan they weren to the place broght,
To tellen shortly the conclusioun,
They nolde encense ne sacrifice right noght,  395
But on hir knees they setten hem adoun
With humble herte and sad devocioun,
And losten bothe hir hedes in the place.
Hir soules wenten to the king of grace.


This Maximus, that saugh this thing bityde,  400
With pitous teres tolde it anon-right,
That he hir soules saugh to heven glyde
With angels ful of cleernesse and of light,
And with his word converted many a wight;
For which Almachius dide him so to-bete
With whippe of leed, til he his lyf gan lete.


Cecile him took and buried him anoon
By Tiburce and Valerian
Withinne hir burying-place, under the stoon.
And after this Almachius hastily  410
Bad his ministres fecchen openly
Cecile, so that she mighte in his presence
Doon sacrifyce,
and Iupiter encense.


But they, converted at hir wyse lore,
Wepten ful sore,
and yaven ful credence  415
Unto hir word, and cryden more and more,
‘Crist, goddes sone withouten difference,
Is verray god, this is al our sentence,
That hath so good a servant him to serve;
This with o voys we trowen, thogh we sterve!’  420


Almachius, that herde of this doinge,
Bad fecchen Cecile, that he might hir see,
And alderfirst, lo! this was his axinge,
‘What maner womman artow?’ tho quod he.
‘I am a gentil womman born,’ quod she.  425
‘I axe thee,’ quod he, ‘thogh it thee greve,
Of thy religioun and of thy bileve.’


‘Ye han bigonne your question folily,’
Quod she, ‘that wolden two answeres conclude
In oo demande; ye axed lewedly. 430
Almache answerde unto that similitude,
‘Of whennes comth thyn answering so rude?’
‘Of whennes?’ quod she, whan that she was freyned,
‘Of conscience and of good feith unfeyned.’


Almachius seyde, ‘ne takestow non hede  435
Of my power?’ and she answerde him this –
‘Your might,’ quod she, ‘ful litel is to drede;
For every mortal mannes power nis
But lyk a bladdre,
ful of wind, y-wis.
For with a nedles poynt, whan it is blowe,  440
May al the boost of it be leyd ful lowe.


‘Ful wrongfully bigonne thou,’ quod he,
‘And yet in wrong is thy perseveraunce;
Wostow nat how our mighty princes free
Han thus comanded and maad ordinaunce,  445
That every cristen wight shal han penaunce
But-if that he his cristendom withseye,

And goon al quit, if he wol it reneye?’


‘Your princes erren, as your nobley dooth,’
Quod tho Cecile, ’and with a wood sentence  450
Ye make us gilty, and it is nat sooth;
For ye, that knowen wel our innocence,
For as muche as we doon a reverence
To Crist, and for we bere a cristen name,
Ye putte on us a cryme, and eek a blame.  455


But we that knowen thilke name so
For vertuous, we may it nat withseye.’
Almache answerde, ‘chees oon of thise two,
Do sacrifyce, or cristendom reneye,
That thou mowe now escapen by that weye.’  460
At which the holy blisful fayre mayde
Gan for to laughe, and to the Iuge seyde,


‘O Iuge, confus in thy nycetee,
Woltow that I reneye innocence,
To make me a wikked wight?’ quod she;  465
‘Lo! he dissimuleth here in audience,
He stareth and woodeth in his advertence!’
To whom Almachius, ‘unsely wrecche,
Ne woostow nat how far my might may strecche?


‘Han noght our mighty princes to me yeven,  470
Ye, bothe power and auctoritee
To maken folk to dyen or to liven?
Why spekestow so proudly than to me?’
I speke noght but stedfastly,’ quod she,
Nat proudly, for I seye, as for my syde,  475
We haten deedly thilke vyce of pryde.

As those who wish not to swear may affirm, so those who would not be proud may be steadfast.

‘And if thou drede nat a sooth to here,
Than wol I shewe al openly, by right,
That thou hast maad a ful gret lesing here.
Thou seyst, thy princes han thee yeven might  480
Bothe for to sleen and for to quiken a wight;
Thou, that ne mayst but only lyf bireve,
Thou hast non other power ne no leve!


‘But thou mayst seyn, thy princes han thee maked
Ministre of deeth; for if thou speke of mo,  485
Thou lyest, for thy power is ful naked.’
‘Do wey thy boldnes,’ seyde Almachius tho,
‘And sacrifyce to our goddes, er thou go;
I recche nat what wrong that thou me profre,
For I can suffre it as a philosophre;


But thilke wronges may I nat endure
That thou spekest of our goddes here,
’ quod he.
Cecile answerede, ‘o nyce creature,
Thou seydest no word sin thou spak to me
That I ne knew therwith thy nycetee;  495
And that thou were, in every maner wyse,
A lewed officer and a veyn Iustyse.’


‘Ther lakketh no-thing to thyn utter yen
That thou nart blind, for thing that we seen alle
That it is stoon,
that men may wel espyen,  500
That ilke stoon a god thou wolt it calle.
I rede thee, lat thyn hand upon it falle,
And taste it wel, and stoon thou shalt it finde,
Sin that thou seest nat with thyn yen blinde.’

Any allusion to bread and wine?

‘It is a shame that the peple shal  505
So scorne thee, and laughe at thy folye;
For comunly men woot it wel overal,
That mighty god is in his hevenes hye,
And thise images,
wel thou mayst espye,
To thee ne to hem-self mowe nought profyte,  510
For in effect they been nat worth a myte.’

Is Cecilia then an iconoclast?

Thise wordes and swiche othere seyde she,
And he weex wroth, and bad men sholde hir lede
Hom til hir hous, ‘and in hir hous,’ quod he,
Brenne hir right in a bath of flambes rede. 515
And as he bad, right so was doon in dede;
For in a bath they gonne hir faste shetten,
And night and day greet fyr they under betten.


The longe night and eek a day also,
For al the fyr and eek the bathes hete,  520
She sat al cold,
and felede no wo,
It made hir nat a drope for to swete.
But in that bath hir lyf she moste lete;
For he, Almachius, with ful wikke entente
To sleen hir in the bath his sonde sente.  525

Sonde seems to be a variant of sone, or “son”; it is used in the Man of Law’s Tale.

Three strokes in the nekke he smoot hir tho,
The tormentour, but for no maner chaunce
He mighte noght smyte al hir nekke a-two;
And for ther was that tyme an ordinaunce,
That no man sholde doon man swich penaunce  530
The ferthe strook to smyten,
softe or sore,
This tormentour ne dorste do na-more.

What’s the ordinance?

But half-deed, with hir nekke y-corven there,
He lefte hir lye, and on his wey is went.
The cristen folk, which that aboute hir were,  535
With shetes han the blood ful faire y-hent.
Thre dayes lived she in this torment,
And never cessed hem the feith to teche;

That she hadde fostred, hem she gan to preche;


And hem she yaf hir moebles and hir thing,  540
And to the pope Urban bitook hem tho,
And seyde, ‘I axed this at hevene king,
To han respyt three dayes and na-mo,

To recomende to yow, er that I go,
Thise soules, lo! and that I mighte do werche  545
Here of myn hous perpetuelly a cherche.


Seint Urban, with his deknes, prively
The body fette, and buried it by nighte
Among his othere seintes honestly.
Hir hous the chirche of seint Cecilie highte;  550
Seint Urban halwed it,
as he wel mighte;
In which, into this day, in noble wyse,
Men doon to Crist and to his seint servyse.

Here is ended the Seconde Nonnes Tale.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Chaucer, CT, Prologue « Polytropy on September 14, 2021 at 5:28 am

    […] Nun’s Priest Prologue + Tale; Second Nun’s Prologue + Tale […]

  2. By Politics « Polytropy on September 24, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    […] are likened to the three “sapiences” of one human being in the Second Nun’s Tale in my last Chaucer post. The Tale is a hagiography of an early Christian martyr in Rome. To her brother-in-law, Cecilia […]

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