by Geoffrey Chaucer
PROLOGUE TO THE CHANOUNS YEMANNES TALE
The prologe of the Chanouns yemannes tale.
Whan ended was the lyf of seinte Cecile,
Er we hadde riden fully fyve mile,
At Boghtoun under Blee us gan atake
A man, that clothed was in clothes blake,
And undernethe he wered a whyt surplys.
His hakeney, which that was al pomely grys,
So swatte, that it wonder was to see,
It wemed as he had priked miles thre.
The hors eek that his yeman rood upon
So swatte, that unnethe myghte it gon.
Aboute the peytrel stood the foom ful hye,
He was of fome al flekked as a pye.
A male tweyfoold upon his croper lay,
It semed that he caried lite array.
Al light for somer rood this worthy man,
And in myn herte wondren I bigan
What that he was, til that I understood
How that his cloke was sowed to his hood;
For which, whan I hadde longe avysed me,
I demed hym som Chanoun for to be.
His hat heeng at his bak doun by a laas,
For he hadde riden moore than trot or paas;
He hadde ay priked lik as he were wood.
A clote-leef he hadde under his hood
For swoot, and for to kepe his heed from heete.
But it was joye for to seen hym swete!
His forheed dropped as a stillatorie
Were ful of plantayne and of paritorie.
And whan that he was come, he gan to crye,
"God save," quod he, "this joly compaignye!
Faste have I priked," quod he, "for youre sake,
By cause that I wolde yow atake,
To riden in this myrie compaignye."
His Yeman eek was ful of curteisye,
And seyde, "Sires, now in the morwe tyde
Out of youre hostelrie I saugh yow ryde,
And warned heer my lord and my soverayn
Which that to ryden with yow is ful fayn
For his desport; he loveth daliaunce."
"Freend, for thy warnyng God yeve thee good chaunce,"
Thanne seyde oure Hoost, "for certein, it wolde seme
Thy lord were wys, and so I may wel deme.
He is ful jocunde also, dar I leye.
Can he oght telle a myrie tale or tweye
With which he glade may this compaignye?"
"Who, sire, my lord? ye, ye, with-outen lye!
He kan of murthe and eek of jolitee
Nat but ynough, also, sire, trusteth me.
And ye hym knewen as wel as do I,
Ye wolde wondre how wel and craftily
He koude werke, and that in sondry wise.
He hath take on hym many a greet emprise,
Which were ful hard for any that is heere
To brynge aboute, but they of hym it leere.
As hoomly as he rit amonges yow,
If ye hym knewe, it wolde be for youre prow,
Ye wolde nat forgoon his aqueyntaunce
For muchel good, I dar leye in balaunce
Al that I have in my possessioun.
He is a man of heigh discrecioun,
I warne yow wel, he is a passyng man."
"Wel," quod oure Hoost, "I pray thee, tel em than,
Is he a clerk, or noon? telle what he is?"
"Nay, he is gretter than a clerk, ywis,"
Seyde this Yeman, "and in wordes fewe,
Hoost, of his craft somwhat I wol yow shewe.
I seye my lord kan swich subtilitee-
But al his craft ye may nat wite for me,
And somwhat helpe I yet to his wirkyng-
That al this ground on which we been rydyng
Til that we come to Caunterbury toun,
He koude al clene turne it up so doun
And pave ti al of silver and of gold."
And whan this Yeman hadde this tale ytold
Unto oure Hoost, he seyde, "Benedicitee,
This thyng is wonder merveillous to me,
Syn that thy lord is of so heigh prudence,
By cause of which men sholde hym reverence,
That of his worship rekketh he so lite.
His overslope nys nat worth a myte
As in effect to hym, so moot I go.
It is al baudy and to-tore also,
Why is thy lord so sluttissh, I the preye,
And is of power bettre clooth to beye,
If that his dede accorde with thy speche?
Telle me that, and that I thee biseche."
"Why," quod this Yeman, "wherto axe ye me?
God help me so, for he shal nevere thee!
But I wol nat avowe that I seye,
And therfore keepe it secree, I yow preye;
He is to wys, in feith, as I bileeve!
That that is overdoon, it wol nat preeve
Aright; as clerkes seyn, it is a vice.
Wherfore in that I holde hym lewed and nyce;
For whan a man hath over-greet a wit,
Ful oft hym happeth to mysusen it.
So dooth my lord, and that me greveth soore.
God it amende, I kan sey yow namoore."
"Therof no fors, good Yeman," quod oure Hoost,
"Syn of the konnyng of thy lord thow woost,
Telle how he dooth, I pray thee hertely,
Syn that he is so crafty and so sly.
Wher dwelle ye, if it to telle be?"
"In the suburbes of a toun," quod he,
"Lurkynge in hernes and in lanes blynde,
Where as thise robbours and thise theves by kynde
Holden hir pryvee fereful residence,
As they that dar nat shewen hir presence.
So faren we if I shal seye the sothe."
"Now," quod oure Hoost, "yit lat me talke to the,
Why artow so discoloured of thy face?"
"Peter," quod he, "God yeve it harde grace,
I am so used in the fyr to blowe,
That it hath chaunged my colour, I trowe.
I am nat wont in no mirrour to prie,
But swynke soore, and lerne multiplie.
We blondren evere, and pouren in the fir,
And, for al that, we faille of oure desir.
For evere we lakke of oure conclusioun;
To muchel folk we doon illusioun,
And borwe gold, be it a pound or two,
Or ten, or twelve, or manye sommes mo,
And make hem wenen at the leeste weye
That of a pound we koude make tweye.
Yet is it fals, but ay we han good hope
It for to doon, and after it we grope.
But that science is so fer us biforn,
We mowen nat, although we hadden sworn,
It over-take, it slit awey so faste.
It wole us maken beggars atte laste."
Whil this yeman was thus in his talkyng,
This Chanoun drough hym neer, and herde al thyng
Which this Yeman spak, for suspecioun
Of mennes speche evere hadde this Chanoun.
For Catoun seith, that he that gilty is
Demeth alle thyng be spoke of hym, ywis.
That was the cause he gan so ny hym drawe
To his yeman, to herknen al his sawe.
And thus he seyde unto his yeman tho,
"Hoold thou thy pees, and spek no wordes mo,
For it thou do, thou shalt it deere abye.
Thou sclaundrest me heere in this compaignye,
And eek discoverest that thou sholdest hyde."
"Ye," quod oure Hoost, "telle on, what so bityde,
Of al his thretyng rekke nat a myte."
"In feith," quod he, "namoore I do but lyte."
And whan this Chanoun saugh it wolde nat bee,
But his Yeman wolde telle his pryvetee,
He fledde awey for verray sorwe and shame.
"A!" quod the Yeman, "heere shal arise game.
Al that I kan, anon now wol I telle,
Syn he is goon, the foule feend hym quelle!
For nevere heer after wol I with hym meete,
For peny ne for pound, I yow biheete.
He that me broghte first unto that game,
Er that he dye, sorwe have he and shame.
For it is ernest to me, by my feith,
That feele I wel, what so any man seith.
And yet, for al my smert and al my grief,
For al my sorwe, labour, and meschief,
I koude never leve it in no wise.
Now wolde God, my wit myghte suffise
To tellen al that longeth to that art,
And nathelees yow wol I tellen part.
Syn that my lord is goon, I wol nat spare,
Swich thyng as that I knowe, I wol declare.
Heere endeth the prologe of the Chanouns yemannes tale.
(After a lengthy account of the practice of alchemy by
his master, the yeoman tells how a priest is beguiled of
his money by a certain canon through trickery of a hollow
Last updated January 14, 2019