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The Canterbury Tales and Other Works of Chaucer (Middle English), by Geoffery Chaucer, [14th cent.], at

The Canterbury Tales

The Manciple's Tale

 Whan Phebus dwelled heere in this erthe adoun,
 As olde bookes maken mencioun,
 He was the mooste lusty bachiler
 In al this world, and eek the beste archer.
 He slow Phitoun, the serpent, as he lay
110 Slepynge agayn the sonne upon a day;
 And many another noble worthy dede
 He with his bowe wroghte, as men may rede.
 Pleyen he koude on every mynstralcie,
 And syngen that it was a melodie
 To heeren of his cleere voys the soun.
 Certes the kyng of Thebes, Amphioun,
 That with his syngyng walled that citee,
 Koude nevere syngen half so wel as hee.
 Therto he was the semelieste man
120 That is or was sith that the world bigan.
 What nedeth it his fetures to discryve?
 For in this world was noon so faire on-lyve.
 He was therwith fulfild of gentillesse,
 Of honour, and of parfit worthynesse.
 This Phebus, that was flour of bachilrie,
 As wel in fredom as in chivalrie,
 For his desport, in signe eek of victorie
 Of Phitoun, so as telleth us the storie,
 Was wont to beren in his hand a bowe.
130 Now hadde this Phebus in his hous a crowe
 Which in a cage he fostred many a day,
 And taughte it speken, as men teche a jay.
 Whit was this crowe as is a snow-whit swan,
 And countrefete the speche of every man
 He koude, whan he sholde telle a tale.
 Therwith in al this world no nyghtyngale
 Ne koude, by an hondred thousand deel,
 Syngen so wonder myrily and weel.
 Now hadde this Phebus in his hous a wyf
140 Which that he lovede moore than his lyf,
 And nyght and day dide evere his diligence
 Hir for to plese and doon hire reverence,
 Save oonly, if the sothe that I shal sayn,
 Jalous he was, and wolde have kept hire fayn.
 For hym were looth byjaped for to be,
 And so is every wight in swich degree;
 But al in ydel, for it availleth noght.
 A good wyf, that is clene of werk and thoght,
 Sholde nat been kept in noon awayt, certayn;
150 And trewely the labour is in vayn
 To kepe a shrewe, for it wol nat bee.
 This holde I for a verray nycetee,
 To spille labour for to kepe wyves:
 Thus writen olde clerkes in hir lyves.
 But now to purpos, as I first bigan:
 This worthy Phebus dooth al that he kan
 To plesen hire, wenynge for swich plesaunce,
 And for his manhede and his governaunce,
 That no man sholde han put hym from hir grace.
160 But God it woot, ther may no man embrace
 As to destreyne a thyng which that nature
 Hath natureelly set in a creature.
 Taak any bryd, and put it in a cage,
 And do al thyn entente and thy corage
 To fostre it tendrely with mete and drynke
 Of alle deyntees that thou kanst bithynke,
 And keep it al so clenly as thou may,
 Although his cage of gold be never so gay,
 Yet hath this brid, by twenty thousand foold,
170 Levere in a forest that is rude and coold
 Goon ete wormes and swich wrecchednesse.
 For evere this brid wol doon his bisynesse
 To escape out of his cage, yif he may.
 His libertee this brid desireth ay.
 Lat take a cat, and fostre hym wel with milk
 And tendre flessh, and make his couche of silk,
 And lat hym seen a mous go by the wal,
 Anon he weyveth milk and flessh and al,
 And every deyntee that is in that hous,
180 Swich appetit hath he to ete a mous.
 Lo, heere hath lust his dominacioun,
 And appetit fleemeth discrecioun.
 A she-wolf hath also a vileyns kynde.
 The lewedeste wolf that she may fynde,
 Or leest of reputacioun, wol she take,
 In tyme whan hir lust to han a make.
 Alle thise ensamples speke I by thise men
 That been untrewe, and nothyng by wommen.
 For men han evere a likerous appetit
190 On lower thyng to parfourne hire delit
 Than on hire wyves, be they never so faire,
 Ne never so trewe, ne so debonaire.
 Flessh is so newefangel, with meschaunce,
 That we ne konne in nothyng han plesaunce
 That sowneth into vertu any while.
 This Phebus, which that thoghte upon no gile,
 Deceyved was, for al his jolitee.
 For under hym another hadde shee,
 A man of litel reputacioun,
200 Nat worth to Phebus in comparisoun.
 The moore harm is, it happeth ofte so,
 Of which ther cometh muchel harm and wo.
 And so bifel, whan Phebus was absent,
 His wyf anon hath for hir lemman sent.
 Hir lemman? Certes, this is a knavyssh speche!
 Foryeveth it me, and that I yow biseche.
 The wise Plato seith, as ye may rede,
 The word moot nede accorde with the dede.
 If men shal telle proprely a thyng,
210 The word moot cosyn be to the werkyng.
 I am a boystous man, right thus seye I:
 Ther nys no difference, trewely,
 Bitwixe a wyf that is of heigh degree,
 If of hir body dishonest she bee,
 And a povre wenche, oother than this --
 If it so be they werke bothe amys --
 But that the gentile, in estaat above,
 She shal be cleped his lady, as in love;
 And for that oother is a povre womman,
220 She shal be cleped his wenche or his lemman.
 And, God it woot, myn owene deere brother,
 Men leyn that oon as lowe as lith that oother.
 Right so bitwixe a titlelees tiraunt
 And an outlawe or a theef erraunt,
 The same I seye: ther is no difference.
 To Alisaundre was toold this sentence,
 That, for the tirant is of gretter myght
 By force of meynee for to sleen dounright,
 And brennen hous and hoom, and make al playn,
230 Lo, therfore is he cleped a capitayn;
 And for the outlawe hath but smal meynee,
 And may nat doon so greet an harm as he,
 Ne brynge a contree to so greet mescheef,
 Men clepen hym an outlawe or a theef.
 But for I am a man noght textueel,
 I wol noght telle of textes never a deel;
 I wol go to my tale, as I bigan.
 Whan Phebus wyf had sent for hir lemman,
 Anon they wroghten al hire lust volage.
240 The white crowe, that heeng ay in the cage,
 Biheeld hire werk, and seyde never a word.
 And whan that hoom was come Phebus, the lord,
 This crowe sang "Cokkow! Cokkow! Cokkow!"
 "What, bryd?" quod Phebus. "What song syngestow?
 Ne were thow wont so myrily to synge
 That to myn herte it was a rejoysynge
 To heere thy voys? Allas, what song is this?"
 "By God," quod he, "I synge nat amys.
 Phebus," quod he, "for al thy worthynesse,
250 For al thy beautee and thy gentilesse,
 For al thy song and al thy mynstralcye,
 For al thy waityng, blered is thyn ye
 With oon of litel reputacioun,
 Noght worth to thee, as in comparisoun,
 The montance of a gnat, so moote I thryve!
 For on thy bed thy wyf I saugh hym swyve."
 What wol ye moore? The crowe anon hym tolde,
 By sadde tokenes and by wordes bolde,
 How that his wyf had doon hire lecherye,
260 Hym to greet shame and to greet vileynye,
 And tolde hym ofte he saugh it with his yen.
 This Phebus gan aweyward for to wryen,
 And thoughte his sorweful herte brast atwo.
 His bowe he bente, and sette therinne a flo,
 And in his ire his wyf thanne hath he slayn.
 This is th' effect; ther is namoore to sayn;
 For sorwe of which he brak his mynstralcie,
 Bothe harpe, and lute, and gyterne, and sautrie;
 And eek he brak his arwes and his bowe,
270 And after that thus spak he to the crowe:
 "Traitour," quod he, "with tonge of scorpioun,
 Thou hast me broght to my confusioun;
 Allas, that I was wroght! Why nere I deed?
 O deere wyf! O gemme of lustiheed!
 That were to me so sad and eek so trewe,
 Now listow deed, with face pale of hewe,
 Ful giltelees, that dorste I swere, ywys!
 O rakel hand, to doon so foule amys!
 O trouble wit, O ire recchelees,
280 That unavysed smyteth gilteles!
 O wantrust, ful of fals suspecion,
 Where was thy wit and thy discrecion?
 O every man, be war of rakelnesse!
 Ne trowe no thyng withouten strong witnesse.
 Smyt nat to soone, er that ye witen why,
 And beeth avysed wel and sobrely
 Er ye doon any execucion
 Upon youre ire for suspecion.
 Allas, a thousand folk hath rakel ire
290 Fully fordoon, and broght hem in the mire.
 Allas! For sorwe I wol myselven slee!"
 And to the crowe, "O false theef!" seyde he,
 "I wol thee quite anon thy false tale.
 Thou songe whilom lyk a nyghtyngale;
 Now shaltow, false theef, thy song forgon,
 And eek thy white fetheres everichon,
 Ne nevere in al thy lif ne shaltou speke.
 Thus shal men on a traytour been awreke;
 Thou and thyn ofspryng evere shul be blake,
300 Ne nevere sweete noyse shul ye make,
 But evere crie agayn tempest and rayn,
 In tokenynge that thurgh thee my wyf is slayn."
 And to the crowe he stirte, and that anon,
 And pulled his white fetheres everychon,
 And made hym blak, and refte hym al his song,
 And eek his speche, and out at dore hym slong
 Unto the devel, which I hym bitake;
 And for this caas been alle crowes blake.
 Lordynges, by this ensample I yow preye,
310 Beth war, and taketh kep what that ye seye:
 Ne telleth nevere no man in youre lyf
 How that another man hath dight his wyf;
 He wol yow haten mortally, certeyn.
 Daun Salomon, as wise clerkes seyn,
 Techeth a man to kepen his tonge weel.
 But, as I seyde, I am noght textueel.
 But nathelees, thus taughte me my dame:
 "My sone, thenk on the crowe, a Goddes name!
 My sone, keep wel thy tonge, and keep thy freend.
320 A wikked tonge is worse than a feend;
 My sone, from a feend men may hem blesse.
 My sone, God of his endelees goodnesse
 Walled a tonge with teeth and lippes eke,
 For man sholde hym avyse what he speeke.
 My sone, ful ofte, for to muche speche
 Hath many a man been spilt, as clerkes teche,
 But for litel speche avysely
 Is no man shent, to speke generally.
 My sone, thy tonge sholdestow restreyne
330 At alle tymes, but whan thou doost thy peyne
 To speke of God, in honour and preyere.
 The firste vertu, sone, if thou wolt leere,
 Is to restreyne and kepe wel thy tonge;
 Thus lerne children whan that they been yonge.
 My sone, of muchel spekyng yvele avysed,
 Ther lasse spekyng hadde ynough suffised,
 Comth muchel harm; thus was me toold and taught.
 In muchel speche synne wanteth naught.
 Wostow wherof a rakel tonge serveth?
340 Right as a swerd forkutteth and forkerveth
 An arm a-two, my deere sone, right so
 A tonge kutteth freendshipe al a-two.
 A jangler is to God abhomynable.
 Reed Salomon, so wys and honurable;
 Reed David in his psalmes; reed Senekke.
 My sone, spek nat, but with thyn heed thou bekke.
 Dissimule as thou were deef, if that thou heere
 A janglere speke of perilous mateere.
 The Flemyng seith, and lerne it if thee leste,
350 That litel janglyng causeth muchel reste.
 My sone, if thou no wikked word hast seyd,
 Thee thar nat drede for to be biwreyd;
 But he that hath mysseyd, I dar wel sayn,
 He may by no wey clepe his word agayn.
 Thyng that is seyd is seyd, and forth it gooth,
 Though hym repente, or be hym nevere so looth.
 He is his thral to whom that he hath sayd
 A tale of which he is now yvele apayd.
 My sone, be war, and be noon auctour newe
360 Of tidynges, wheither they been false or trewe.
 Whereso thou come, amonges hye or lowe,
 Kepe wel thy tonge and thenk upon the crowe."

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