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◈ The Canterbury Tales ◈

◇ The Physician’s Tale, the Physician-Pardoner Link, and The Pardoner’s Prologue a ◇

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 1. The Physician’s Tale
 2. The Physician-Pardoner Link
 3. The Pardoner’s Prologue
 4. The Pardoner’s Tale

1. The Physician’s Tale

0 Here follows the Physician’s Tale
 
1 There was, or so says Titus Livius,
2 A knight, who was named Virginius,
3 Filled with all honour and nobility,
4 Rich in friends he was, and as wealthy.
 
5 This knight had a daughter by his wife;
6 He’d had no other child throughout his life.
7 Fair was this maid, of outstanding beauty
8 Beyond all others whom a man might see;
9 For Nature had with sovereign diligence
10 Created her of such great excellence
11 As if to say: ‘Behold how, I, Nature,
12 Thus can form and tint a living creature
13 When I so choose! Who can this counterfeit?
14 Not Pygmalion, though he forge and beat,
15 And carve and paint, nor, I would maintain,
16 Apelles, Zeuxis who would work in vain
17 If they should carve, and paint, and forge, and beat,
18 Presuming to create a counterfeit.
19 For the Maker, and the Principal,
20 Appointed me his Vicar-General
21 To form and fashion earthly creatures
22 As I wish: all things are in my power
23 Under the moon that doth wane and wax,
24 And for my work no payment do I ask;
25 My Lord and I are both of one accord.
26 I made her to the honour of my Lord;
27 So I do with all my other creatures,
28 Whatever hue they have, or features.’
29 Thus it seems to me Nature should say.
 
30 Fourteen years of age was then this maid,
31 In whom Nature took such great delight;
32 For just as she can paint the lily white,
33 And red the rose, just then such a picture
34 Had she painted in this noble creature,
35 Ere she was born, tinting her limbs free,
36 Wherever the colour should rightly be.
37 And Phoebus dyed her tresses all complete,
38 Like to the streams of his burnished heat.
39 And if she was excellent in beauty,
40 A thousand times more virtuous was she.
41 Within her there was lacking no condition
42 To draw praise from people of discretion.
43 As much in soul as body chaste was she,
44 So that she flowered in her virginity
45 With true humility and abstinence,
46 With true temperance and with patience,
47 Restrained in her behaviour and array.
48 Discreet she was in answering, always,
49 Though she was wise as Pallas, I dare say;
50 Her eloquence womanly, without display;
51 No affected language ever did she
52 Employ to seem wise, but in her degree
53 She spoke, and all her words, great and less,
54 Conducive were to virtue and gentleness.
55 Modest she was, in her maiden chasteness,
56 Constant in heart, and in action tireless
57 Not wishing to be thought idle, lazy.
58 Bacchus had of her mouth no mastery;
59 For wine and youth do Venusworks increase,
60 Like a fire on which men cast oil or grease.
61 And of her own virtue, unconstrained,
62 She had many times an illness feigned,
63 So that she might flee the company
64 When there was likelihood of foolery,
65 As at a feast, a revel, or a dance
66 Which are occasions oft for dalliance.
67 Such things indeed may make our daughters be
68 Ripe and bold too soon, as men may see,
69 Dangerously so, as has been known before;
70 For all too soon they practice more and more
71 Their boldness, when they seek to play the wife.
 
72 And you fair mistresses, in later life,
73 Who have lordsdaughters in your governance
74 Be not offended by my words, perchance
75 Consider, youve been set to governing
76 Lordsdaughters for one of two things:
77 Either because you kept your chastity,
78 Or else because you fell, from frailty,
79 And know it well enough, the ancient dance,
80 And have forsaken fully such mischance
81 For evermore; therefore, for Christ’s sake,
82 Teach them virtue now, and make no mistake.
 
83 A poacher of venison who is long past
84 His guilty acts, and leaves off his old craft
85 Makes the best gamekeeper of any man.
86 So guard them well, for if you wish you can.
87 Be careful that to no vice you assent,
88 Lest you be dammed for your foul intent;
89 For one who shall, a traitor is, for certain.
90 And take good note of all that I shall say:
91 Of all treasons, the crowning pestilence
92 Is when an act betrays pure innocence.
 
93 You fathers, and you mothers too, also,
94 Whether you have one child or more, know
95 Youre responsible for their surveillance
96 While they remain within your governance.
97 Beware then, lest, by your mode of living,
98 Or by your negligence in chastising,
99 They perish by your example; I dare say
100 If they do so, then shall you dearly pay.
101 Under a shepherd slack and negligent
102 The wolf will many a sheep and lamb have rent.
103 Let that one example suffice me here,
104 For I must turn again to my true matter.
 
105 This maid, the tale of whom I now express,
106 Governing herself, needed no mistresses.
107 In her mode of life, maidens might read,
108 As in a book, every good word or deed
109 That belongs to such a maiden virtuous,
110 So prudent she, so meritorious,
111 Such that her fame was known on every side,
112 That of her beauty and her goodness, wide
113 Throughout the land, praised by everyone
114 Who loved virtue, save the envious alone,
115 For Envy is grieved by other men’s wealth,
116 And glad of their sorrow, and of their ill-health
117 Augustine is the source of that description.
 
118 This maid upon a day went into town
119 Towards a temple, with her mother dear,
120 As is the manner of young maidens here.
121 Now, there was then a justice in that town
122 Governor of the region all around;
123 And it befell, that the judge his eyes cast
124 Upon this maid, his gaze there held fast,
125 As she passed the place in which he stood.
126 Anon his heart changed and his mood.
127 So caught was he by the beauty of this maid.
128 And to himself all secretly he said:
129 This maid shall be mine, before any man!’
 
130 Anon the devil into his heart now ran,
131 And taught him swiftly that by some sleight
132 Of hand, he the maid to his purpose might
133 Win, for through force or bribery indeed
134 He saw no way in which he might succeed,
135 For she was rich in friends, and also she
136 Was so confirmed in her virtuous duty,
137 That he knew well he might never win
138 Her mind or body to indulge in sin.
139 So after deliberating, casting round,
140 He sent for a rogue living in the town,
141 Whom he knew was subtle and was bold.
142 The justice to this rogue his tale told,
143 In secrecy, and told him to be sure
144 Never to tell it to another creature,
145 For if he did, he would lose his head.
146 When the cursed reed had thus assented,
147 The judge was glad, and gave him good cheer,
148 And gifts as well, gifts both precious and dear.
 
149 When shaped was all their conspiracy
150 In every detail, how his lechery
151 Was to be satisfied full subtly
152 As you shall hear soon, and openly
153 Home went the rogue, his name was Claudius.
154 The false judge, whose name was Appius
155 Such was his name, for this is no fable,
156 But is known to history, and notable;
157 The substance of it, true, without a doubt
158 This false judge now went fast about
159 To hurry on his crime as best he may.
160 And it befell, soon after, on a day,
161 The false justice, for so says the story,
162 As was his right, playing judge and jury,
163 Was giving his judgement in another case.
164 The false rogue rushed in on him apace,
165 And said: ‘Lord, if it might be your will,
166 Grant me my rights regarding this true bill,
167 A bill of complaint against Virginius.
168 And if he denies that things are thus,
169 I will prove them so, and find good witness
170 The truth is as my bill doth here express
 
171 The judge replied: ‘In the defendant’s absence
172 I cannot bring this new case to sentence.
173 Summon him, then you I’ll gladly hear;
174 You shall have justice, not injustice here.’
 
175 Virginius came, to learn the judge’s will,
176 And right anon was read the cursed bill.
177 The content of it was as you shall hear:
178 To you, my lord Sir Appius so dear,
179 Declares your humble servant Claudius
180 That a knight, named here, Virginius,
181 Against the law, against all equity,
182 Holds, and against my will, most expressly,
183 My servant, one who is my thrall by right,
184 One that was stolen from my house by night
185 When she was very young; this will I prove
186 By witnesses, my lord, if you approve.
187 She’s not his child, whatever he may say.
188 Wherefore to you, my lord the judge, I say,
189 Yield me my thrall now, if it be your will!’
190 Lo, this was all the content of his bill.
 
191 Virginius stared in horror at the rogue;
192 But swiftly, before his tale could be told,
193 And he reveal the truth, as a knight,
194 Call witnesses to demonstrate his right,
195 And show the falseness of his adversary,
196 The cursed judge who would no longer tarry,
197 Nor hear a word more from Virginius,
198 Issued his judgement and declared it thus:
199 This man shall have his servant, I rule so.
200 You shall no longer keep her, you must go
201 And bring her forth, and make her now our ward.
202 The man shall have his thrall, so I award.’
 
203 And when this worthy knight Virginius,
204 Heard the decree of this judge, Appius,
205 That he by force must his dear daughter give
206 Up to the judge, in lechery to live,
207 He went back home, and sat down in his hall,
208 And anon had them his daughter call;
209 And with a face dead as ashes cold
210 Her humble face did silently behold,
211 A father’s pity striking through his heart,
212 Yet from his purpose he could not depart.
 
213 Daughter,’ quoth he, ‘Virginia, by thy name,
214 There are two ways before you, death or shame,
215 One you must sufferalas, that I was born!
216 For you have not deserved this evil morn,
217 Yet must you die by sword or by the knife.
218 O dear daughter, ender of my life,
219 Whom I have nurtured with such joyous glance
220 You were never out of my remembrance,
221 O daughter, you who are my final woe,
222 And of my life are my last joy also,
223 O gem of chastity, with quiet patience
224 Embrace your death: such is my sentence.
225 For love, not hate, I would have you dead;
226 My pitying hand must strike off your head.
227 Alas, that ever Appius saw your face!
228 That is why he falsely judged the case’ –
229 He told her all the tale youve heard before.
230 No need for me to tell you of it more.
 
231 ‘O mercy, dear father!’ quoth the maid,
232 And with that both her arms she laid
233 About his neck, as she was wont to do.
234 The tears burst from her eyes, anew,
235 Good father,’ she cried, ‘is it death for me?
236 Is there no grace? Is there no remedy?’
237 No, none, dear daughter mine,’ quoth he.
 
238 Then give me time, father mine,’ quoth she.
239 To lament my death a little space.
240 For Jephtha he gave his daughter grace,
241 To lament before he slew her, alas!
242 And God knows she committed no trespass,
243 But ran, the first her father chanced to see,
244 To welcome him with great solemnity.’
245 And with these words she swooned anon.
246 And after, when her faintness was all gone,
247 She arose, and to her father said:
248 Blessed be God that I shall die a maid!
249 Grant me death, before I come to shame.
250 Do with your child as you will, in God’s name!’
 
251 After those words she begged him full oft,
252 That with his sword he would smite soft;
253 And then again she fainted and lay still.
254 Her father with a sorrowful heart and will,
255 Struck off her head, gripped the hair, and went
256 To seek the judge, so as to present
257 Her head to him, being judge and jury,
258 And when the judge saw it, says the story,
259 He bade men to take and hang him fast.
260 But right anon a thousand people passed
261 Into the yard, to save the knight, for pity,
262 Since all was known of this false iniquity.
263 The people had suspicions that the thing,
264 From the way in which the rogue sought to bring
265 His charge, had the consent of Appius;
266 They knew too that he was lecherous.
267 And so to seek this Appius had they gone,
268 To throw him into prison right anon,
269 Where he slew himself; and Claudius,
270 Who was the servant to this Appius,
271 Was sentenced to hang upon a tree,
272 But Virginius, out of clemency,
273 Prayed that instead he might be exiled;
274 Or else for sure he would have died reviled.
275 The rest were hanged, the greater and the less,
276 Who were accessories to this wickedness.
 
277 Here may men see how sin receives its due!
278 Beware, no man knows what rank or who
279 God will smite, nor in what manner or wise;
280 The worm of conscience may yet arise
281 Against the wicked life, though secretly
282 So no man knows of it but God and he.
283 For be he illiterate or be he learned,
284 He knows not how soon the blow is earned.
285 Therefore I advise you this counsel take:
286 Forsake sin, before sin may you forsake.
 
287 Here ends the Physician’s Tale
 

2. The Physician-Pardoner Link

0 The words of the Host to the Physician and the Pardoner
 
1 Our Host began to swear as he were mad;
2 By nails and blood,’ quoth he, ‘your tale is sad!
3 This was a false rogue and a false assize!
4 As shameful a death as heart may devise
5 Come to these judges and their advocates!
6 And yet this faultless maid has met her fate!
7 Alas, too dearly did she buy her beauty!
8 Wherefore I always say that men may see
9 That the gifts of Fortune and of Nature
10 Have caused the death of many a creature.
11 From both the gifts that I spoke of now
12 Man often has more harm than good I vow.
 
13 But truly now, my own master dear,
14 That was indeed a piteous tale to hear!
15 And to pass on, now, is scarce a curse.
16 I pray, God bless your noble person, first,
17 Your glass urinals, and sundry vessels,
18 Your hippocras too, and your cordials,
19 And every box of your apothecary’s –
20 God bless them, and our Lady Saint Mary!
21 For, may I prosper, youre a proper man,
22 And like a prelate, by Saint Ronian!
23 Say I not well? I cannot use your terms
24 But I know you gave my heart such a turn,
25 That I have almost caught a cardiacle.
26 By God’s bones, unless I dose a little,
27 Or drink a draught of moist and malted ale,
28 Or hear anon a somewhat merrier tale,
29 My heart is lost for pity of this maid!
30 You bel ami, you, Pardoner,’ he said,
31 Give us some mirth or jest now, right anon.’
 
32 It shall be done,’ quoth he, ‘by Saint Ronian.
33 Yet first,’ quoth he, ‘here at this inn’s ale-stake,
34 I will both drink and eat a piece of cake.’
35 But now from the gentlefolk there rose a plea:
36 Nay let him tell us no obscenities!
37 Tell us some moral thing, let there appear
38 Some wisdom, and then we will gladly hear.’
 
39 Granted, indeed,’ quoth he, ‘but I must think
40 Of some decorous thing while I go drink.’
 

3. The Pardoner’s Prologue

0 Here follows the Prologue to the Pardoner’s Tale
 
1 Radix malorum est Cupiditas:
2 For the love of money is the root of all evil.
3 (1 Timothy 6:10)
 
4 Lordings,’ quoth he, ‘in churches when I preach,
5 I take great pains to make a forceful speech,
6 And ring it out as soundly as a bell,
7 For I know all by rote, the tale I tell.
8 My theme is ever one, and always was:
9 Radix malorum est cupiditas.”
 
10 First I pronounce from whence it is I come,
11 And then my bulls I show them, all and some.
12 Our liege lord’s seal is upon my patent
13 That I show first, as my bodily warrant,
14 So that none’s so bold, priest nor clerk,
15 As to disturb me in Christ’s holy work,
16 And after that, then I tell forth my tales.
17 Bulls of the popes and of cardinals,
18 Of patriarchs and bishops too, they view,
19 And in Latin I speak a word or two,
20 To season, as with saffron, declamation,
21 And stir them to reveal all their devotion.
22 Then I show forth my large crystal flagons,
23 Crammed full to the top with rags and bones;
24 Relics they are, adored by everyone.
25 Then I have in brass a shoulder-bone,
26 Belong to a holy Jew’s dead sheep.
27 Good men,” say I, “note of my words now keep:
28 If that this bone be washed in any well,
29 If cow, or calf, or sheep, or ox should swell
30 That any worm has eat, or snake has stung,
31 Take water from that well and wash its tongue,
32 It will be whole anon; and furthermore,
33 Of pox and scabs and every other sore
34 Shall every sheep be whole that of this well
35 Drinks a draught. Take note of what I tell:
36 If the good man that the beasts do follow
37 Shall every week, before the cockerels crow,
38 Fasting too, drink of this well a draught,
39 As this holy Jew our elders taught,
40 His beasts and his stock will fruitful be.
 
41 And, sires, also it heals the jealousy;
42 For though a man descend to jealous rage,
43 Let him add this water to his pottage,
44 And nevermore shall he mistrust his wife,
45 Though the truth of all her sin be rife,
46 And even though she’s had a priest or three.
 
47 Here is a mitten too, as you can see;
48 He that his hand will put inside this mitten,
49 His grain shall multiply, as it were written,
50 Where he has sown, whether it’s wheat or oats,
51 If he makes offering of pence or groats.
 
52 Good men and women, one thing though I vow;
53 If anyone is in this church right now
54 Who has done dreadful things, that he
55 Dare not, for shame of it, confess to me,
56 Or any woman, be she young or old,
57 Who has made of her husband a cuckold,
58 Such folk shall have no power and no grace
59 To make offering to my relics in this place.
60 And whoever’s free of all such blame,
61 May come and make an offering, in God’s name,
62 And I absolve them, by the authority
63 This papal bull has granted unto me.”
 
64 By this trick have I gained, year on year,
65 A hundred marks since I made Pardoner.
66 I stand like a cleric in my pulpit,
67 And after the unlettered people sit,
68 I preach thus as you have heard before,
69 And tell a hundred false stories more.
70 Then I take to stretching forth my neck,
71 And east and west nod with due effect,
72 Just like a dove sitting on a barn.
73 My hands and tongue then work so hard
74 That it is a joy to view the business.
75 Of avarice and all such wickedness
76 Is all my preaching, thus to set them free
77 To give their pence, and namely, unto me.
78 For my intent is only gain to win,
79 Not to correct them when they chance to sin.
80 For I care nothing, at their burying,
81 Whether their souls have gone blackberrying!
82 And certainly, many a declamation
83 Arises oftentime from ill intention:
84 Sometime to pleasure folk with flattery,
85 And gain advantage through hypocrisy,
86 Sometimes for vainglory, sometimes hate.
87 For when I dare not otherwise debate,
88 I’ll sting him with my tongue and sharp
89 Preaching, so that hell not flee far
90 From false slander, if it seems that he
91 Has offended my brethren now, or me.
92 For though I never speak his proper name,
93 Men shall know the person, all the same,
94 By signs and by other circumstances.
95 Thus I pay out folk who lead us dances;
96 Thus I spit out my venom with the hue
97 Of holiness, to seem holy still and true.
 
98 But briefly my intent I here confess:
99 I preach, but only out of covetousness.
100 Therefore my theme is now, and ever was:
101 Radix malorum est cupiditas.”
102 Thus do I preach against the very vice
103 I too indulge in, which is avarice.
104 Though I myself am guilty of that sin,
105 Yet I have power these other folk to win
106 From avarice, and bitterly to repent.
107 Yet that is not my principal intent;
108 I preach only out of covetousness.
109 Enough now of that subject, I suggest.
 
110 Then I give examples many a one
111 Out of old stories from the times long gone.
112 For unlettered people love the tales of old;
113 Such things they can repeat, their minds can hold.
114 What! Think you, that while I can preach,
115 And gain gold and silver as I teach,
116 I would live in poverty wilfully?
117 Nay, nay, I’ve never thought so, truly!
118 For I can preach and beg in sundry lands.
119 I need never labour with my hands,
120 Nor make baskets, just to make a living,
121 Since not un-fruitfully I can go begging;
122 None of the apostles shall I counterfeit.
123 I must have money, wool, cheese and wheat,
124 Though it were given by the poorest page
125 Or the poorest widow in some village,
126 Though her children starve from famine.
127 Nay, I must drink the liquor of the vine,
128 And have a jolly wench in every town!
 
129 But hearken, lordings, in conclusion now:
130 Your pleasure is that I should tell a tale.
131 Now I have drunk a draught of malted ale,
132 By God, I hope to tell you of a thing
133 That shall with reason be to your liking!
134 For though myself I am a sinful man,
135 Tell you a moral tale? Well, that I can:
136 One that I am wont to preach for gain.
137 Now hold your peace; and I’ll begin again.’
 
 

4. The Pardoner’s Tale

0 Here begins the Pardoner’s Tale
 
1 In Flanders once there was a company
2 Of younger folk given all to folly,
3 Such as riot, gambling, brothels, taverns,
4 Where to the harps and lutes, and to citherns,
5 They danced, and played at dice both day and night,
6 And ate and drank more than wise men might,
7 Offering thereby the devil sacrifice
8 Within that devil’s temple of cursed vice,
9 With superfluity abominable.
10 Their oaths were so great and damnable
11 That it was terrible to hear them swear;
12 Our blessed Lord’s body thus they’d tear
13 As though the Jews had not torn him enough
14 And each of them at other sinners laughed.
15 And then anon came female tumblers,
16 Slender and elegant, young fruiterers,
17 Singers with harps, bawds, wafer-sellers,
18 Who are the devil’s very own officers,
19 To kindle and blow the fire of lechery,
20 Which is annexed indeed to gluttony.
21 The Holy Writ I take now as my witness
22 There’s lechery in wine and drunkenness.
 
23 See, how your drunken Lot unnaturally
24 Lay with his two daughters, unknowingly;
25 So drunk was he, he knew not what he wrought.
26 Herod, whoever of the tale knows aught,
27 When he was replete with wine at a feast,
28 At his own table ordered, like any beast,
29 The slaying of John the Baptist, guiltless.
30 Seneca too says a good thing, doubtless:
31 He says, there’s no difference he can find
32 Between some fellow who has lost his mind
33 And one who is a drunkard through and through,
34 But says that madness, when it overcomes you
35 Lasts longer than does ever drunkenness.
36 O gluttony, so full of wickedness!
37 O thou reason for our first confusion!
38 O original cause of our damnation,
39 Till Christ bought us with his blood again!
40 See, how costly, briefly to explain,
41 The payment for that cursed villainy;
42 Corrupted was this world by gluttony.
 
43 Adam our father, and his wife also,
44 From Paradise, to labour and to woe,
45 Were driven for that vice, it’s so indeed.
46 For while Adam fasted, as I read,
47 He was in Paradise, and when he
48 Ate the forbidden fruit from the tree,
49 Then he was cast out to woe and pain.
50 O gluttony, of whom we should complain!
51 O, if men knew how many maladies
52 Follow from excess and gluttony,
53 They would be more temperate and careful
54 In their diet, when they sit at table.
55 Alas, the narrow throat, the tender mouth
56 Mean men east and west, and north and south,
57 In earth, air, water, labour, as I think,
58 Simply to bring a glutton food and drink!
59 Of this matter, O Paul, you also treat:
60 Meat for the belly, and the belly for the meat,
61 But God shall destroy both.’ So Paul says.
62 Alas, a foul thing it is, by my faith,
63 To speak the word, and fouler is the deed,
64 When man so drinks of white and red indeed,
65 That of his throat he makes his privy
66 By reason of cursed superfluity.
67 The Apostle says, whom weeping softens:
68 For many walk, of whom I’ve told you often,
69 And now tell you, even weeping, that they
70 Are enemies of the cross of Christ always:
71 Whose ending is destruction, and whose God
72 Is their belly!’ O womb, O stinking pod,
73 Filled full with dung and with corruption,
74 At either end, foul is the eruption!
75 What labour and cost it is your meat to find!
76 These cooks, how they stamp and strain and grind,
77 To turn God’s substance into accident,
78 To quench your avid lust, by their talent.
79 Out of the hard bone the marrow they
80 Knock, for nothing of it is thrown away
81 That softly, sweetly may the gullet suit.
82 Spices of every leaf, and bark, and root
83 Shall help to make the sauces of delight
84 That feed again a newer appetite.
85 And surely he who lives on such spices
86 Is dead, while he lives among these vices.
 
87 A lecherous thing is wine, and drunkenness
88 Is full of strife and of wretchedness.
89 O drunken man, disfigured is your face,
90 Sour is your breath, and foul is your embrace!
91 And through your nose issues a dull tone
92 As though you said: ‘Sampson, Sampson’.
93 And yet, God knows, Sampson drank no wine.
94 You fall to the ground like a fresh-stuck swine;
95 Your tongue is lost, and every decent care,
96 For drunkenness is the very sepulchre
97 Of a man’s reason and discretion.
98 He, over whom drink has domination,
99 Can keep no counsel, as is truly said.
100 So keep you from the white and from the red,
101 The white from Lepé, Spain, then, set aside
102 That they sell in Fish Street and Cheapside!
103 That wine of Spain creeps most subtly, ay,
104 Into the other wines they cask nearby,
105 From which there rises such fumosity
106 That when a man has drunk of glasses three,
107 And thinks himself at home in Cheapside,
108 Yet he in Spain, in Lepé town, will abide
109 Not at La Rochelle, nor in Bordeaux’s sun
110 And then he will drone out: ‘Sampson, Sampson.’
 
111 But hearken, lordings, one word more I pray,
112 Know the sovereign acts, all, I dare say,
113 Of victory in the entire Old Testament,
114 Won through God who is omnipotent,
115 Were won in abstinence and prayer.
116 Look to your Bible, and find it there.
 
117 Look at Attila, the great conqueror,
118 Dead in his sleep, in shame and dishonour,
119 Bleeding from his nose in drunkenness;
120 A general should be sober, I’d suggest!
121 Moreover, consider now right well,
122 What was commanded of Lemuel
123 Not Samuel, but Lemuel say I –
124 Read your Bible, see there if I lie,
125 On wining those with whom justice lies.
126 No more of this, let my words suffice.
 
127 And now that I have spoken of gluttony,
128 Now will I warn you about gambling’s lottery.
129 Gambling’s the very mother of lying,
130 And of deceit and cursed forswearing,
131 Blaspheming Christ, manslaughter, waste also
132 Of property and time, and further know,
133 It is shame and contrary to honour,
134 To be known as a common gambler,
135 And ever the higher his estate,
136 The more is he shunned and desolate.
137 If a prince choose to play the lottery,
138 In all his governance and policy,
139 He is held, by common opinion,
140 As the last of all in reputation.
 
141 Stilbon, who was a wise ambassador,
142 Was sent to Corinth, with all honour,
143 From Lacadaemon, to make alliance,
144 And on arrival, it occurred by chance
145 That all the greatest men of that land
146 He found gambling, with the die in hand.
147 So, as soon as might reasonably be,
148 He stole home again to his own country,
149 And said: ‘There I’ll not lose my name,
150 Nor will I take on me so great a shame
151 As to ally you with all these gamblers.
152 Send some other wise ambassadors;
153 For, in truth, indeed, I’d rather die
154 Than I should you to gamblers ally.
155 You who are so glorious in honours
156 Shall not ally yourselves with gamblers
157 By any will of mine, nor any treaty.’
158 That wise philosopher, so said he.
 
159 Look also to that King Demetrius:
160 The King of Parthia, as books tell us,
161 Sent him a pair of golden dice in scorn,
162 Since he’d shown as a gambler before;
163 For which reason his glory and renown
164 He valued naught, nor his reputation.
165 Lords can find other, better ways to play
166 Honest enough to pass the day away.
 
167 Now will I speak of oaths false and great
168 A word or two, as the old books treat.
169 Swearing is a thing abominable,
170 And perjury is even more objectionable.
171 God on high forbade swearing at all;
172 Witness Matthew, but you may recall
173 That to which Jeremiah gave breath:
174 And thou shalt swear, as the Lord liveth,
175 In truth, in judgement, and in righteousness.’
176 But idle swearing is pure wickedness.
177 Behold and see, how in the first table
178 Of God’s commandments honourable,
179 The third commandment was written plain:
180 Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.’
181 See how He rather forbade such swearing
182 Before homicide, and other cursed things!
183 I say that higher in the list it stands;
184 This they know who know His commands,
185 That God’s third commandment is that.
186 And moreover, I will tell you flat
187 That vengeance shall fall on all his house
188 Whose oaths and swearing are outrageous.
189 By God’s precious heart, and by his nails,
190 And by the blood of Christ that is at Hailes,
191 Seven’s my number, yours is five and three!
192 By God’s arms, if you play false with me,
193 This sharp dagger through your heart shall go!’
194 Such is the fruit of those two cursed bones:
195 Perjury, anger, cheating, homicide.
196 Now, for the love of Jesus Christ who died
197 For us, leave off your oaths, great or small.
198 But sires, now of my tale will I tell all.
 
199 These three profligates of whom I tell,
200 Long before prime rang out from any bell,
201 Had sat down in a tavern for a drink.
202 And as they sat, they heard a bell clink
203 Before a coffin carried to the grave.
204 Then one of them called to his knave:
205 Go quickly,’ quoth he, ‘and ask reply
206 As to whose corpse this is passing by;
207 And remember the name aright, as well.’
 
208 Sire,’ quoth the boy, ‘no need that they tell;
209 I heard it before you came these two hours,
210 He was, in truth, an old friend of yours,
211 Who was suddenly slain the other night,
212 Drunk, as he lay upon his bench upright.
213 There came a sly thief whom men call Death,
214 Who in this country steals people’s breath,
215 And with his spear his heart he smote so,
216 And on his way without a word did go.
217 He slew a thousand with the pestilence.
218 And, master, ere you reach his presence,
219 I think it very wise and necessary
220 To be wary of such an adversary.
221 Be ready to meet him at every door
222 So my mother taught me; now, no more.’
 
223 By Saint Mary!’ said the innkeeper,
224 The child is right, for he has slain this year,
225 Barely a mile from here, in a large village,
226 Men and women, children, serfs at tillage.
227 I think his habitation must be there.
228 It would be wise indeed to take care,
229 Lest he should do a man dishonour.’
 
230 What, God’s arms,’ quoth the reveller,
231 Is it so perilous then with him to meet?
232 I’ll seek him on the highway, in the street,
233 I make this vow by God’s noble bones!
234 Hearken, friends, we three are all as one:
235 Let each man hold his hand up to the others,
236 And each to each become as brothers.
237 And we shall slay this false traitor Death!
238 He shall be slain, who steals men’s breath,
239 By God’s dignity, ere it be night!’
 
240 Together the three their troth did plight,
241 To live and die each of them for the other,
242 As though he were his own born brother,
243 And up they leapt, all drunk and in a rage,
244 And forth they went towards the village
245 Of which the innkeeper had told before.
246 And many a grisly oath then they swore,
247 And Christ’s blessed body tore and rent;
248 Death shall die: to catch him their intent!
 
249 When they had gone barely half a mile,
250 Just as they were about to leap a stile,
251 An old man, a poor man, there they met.
252 The old man humbly paid them his respects,
253 And spoke thus: ‘Now lords, may God protect ye!’
 
254 The proudest then of these profligates three
255 Answered again: What, knave of sorry grace!
256 Why are you all cloaked save for your face?
257 Why have you lived so long, in your old age?’
 
258 The old man stared hard into his visage,
259 And spoke thus: ‘Because I cannot find
260 Any man, though I have walked to Inde,
261 Neither in city, nor in distant village,
262 Who will exchange his youth for my age.
263 And therefore have I all my years still,
264 As long as it may further the Lord’s will.
265 No death, alas, will take away my life!
266 So I wander on, wretched, and in strife,
267 And at the ground, which is my mother’s gate,
268 I knock with my staff, both early and late,
269 Crying: “Dear mother, please let me in!
270 See, how I waste, flesh and blood and skin!
271 Alas, when shall my bones be at rest?
272 Mother, with you I would exchange the chest
273 That in my chamber has a long time been
274 Yea, for a hair-shirt to wrap round me!”
275 But yet to me she will not show that grace,
276 And so all pale and wrinkled is my face.
 
277 But sires, you show a lack of courtesy
278 In speaking to an aged man, so harshly,
279 Unless he’s trespassed in word or deed.
280 In holy writ, too, you yourself may read:
281 Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head”,
282 Therefore I give you my advice, ‘tis said,
283 Unto an old man no harm should you do,
284 More than you would have men do unto you
285 In age, if here it chance you long abide.
286 And God be with you, where you go or ride!
287 I must go thither where I have to go.’
 
288 Nay, old churl, by God, you shall not so!’
289 Cried the other profligate, anon.
290 You leave us not so lightly, by Saint John!
291 You spoke just now of that traitor Death,
292 Who in this country steals away men’s breath;
293 You have my word, as you are his spy,
294 Say where he is or youll pay by and by,
295 By God, and by the Holy Sacrament!
296 For truly you are both joined in consent
297 To slay us younger folk, you false thief!’
 
298 Now, sires,’ quoth he, ‘if it is your chief
299 Wish to find Death, take this crooked way,
300 For in that grove I left him, by my faith,
301 Under a tree, and there he will abide;
302 No bluster of yours will make him hide.
303 See you that oak? Just there you shall him find.
304 God save you, He that redeemed all mankind,
305 And amend you!’ – So said the aged man.
306 And every one of the profligates then ran
307 Till they came to the tree, and there they found
308 Of florins fine, of gold new-coined and round,
309 Well nigh eight bushels, was what they thought.
310 No longer then after Death they sought,
311 But each of them was pleased so at the sight,
312 Since the florins gleamed so fair and bright,
313 That down they sat beside the precious hoard.
 
314 The wickedest of them spoke the first word:
315 Brethrenquoth he, ‘take note of what I say;
316 My wit is great, though I may jest and play.
317 This treasure now to us has Fortune given,
318 In mirth and jollity our life to live: then,
319 Lightly as it comes, so shall we spend.
320 By God’s precious dignity, this day’s end,
321 Who’d have thought it would bring so fair a grace?
322 Now might this gold be carried from this place,
323 Home to my houseor else to yours
324 For now you see that all this gold is ours
325 Then would we be in high felicity.
326 Yet certainly, by day that may not be.
327 Men would say we were thieves all along,
328 And for our own treasure have us hung.
329 This treasure must be carried off by night,
330 As carefully and cunningly as we might.
331 So I suggest that lots among us all
332 We draw, and see how the lots may fall;
333 And he of the short straw, with heart blithe
334 Shall run to the town, and swift and lithe,
335 And bring us bread and wine secretly.
336 And two of us will guard cunningly
337 This treasure well, and, if he not tarry,
338 When it is night we shall this treasure carry,
339 By our consent, wherever we think best.’
 
340 Then one of them held the straws in his fist,
341 And bade them draw, see how the lots might fall;
342 The shortest fell to the youngest of them all,
343 And forth towards the town he ran anon.
344 And as soon as ever he was gone,
345 One of them spoke thus to the other:
346 You know that you are my sworn brother;
347 I’ll tell you where you profit lies anon.
348 You know that our fellow is clean gone,
349 And here is gold, and that in great plenty,
350 Which is to be shared among us three.
351 Yet if it seemed that I could shape it so
352 That it were only shared between us, though,
353 Would I not show myself a friend to thee?’
 
354 The other answered him: ‘How can that be?
355 He knows the gold is here, while he’s away;
356 What could we do? What could we hope to say?’
 
357 Shall it be secret?’ said the worst of the two,
358 And in a few words I’ll explain it you,
359 What we shall do to bring it all about.’
360 ‘I agree,’ said the other, ‘have no doubt,
361 You, by my oath, will I not betray.’
 
362 Now,’ quoth the first, ‘we be two, I say,
363 And two of us then are stronger than one.
364 Look, when he is seated, then right anon
365 Rise as though with him you would play;
366 And I will stab him through the side, this way,
367 While you are struggling with him, as in game,
368 And with your dagger look you do the same.
369 And then this gold shall be shared, you see,
370 My dear friend, just between you and me.
371 Then we can both our wishes thus fulfil,
372 And play at dice according to our will.’
373 And so the two rogues agreed, and they
374 Planned to slay the third, as you heard say.
 
375 The youngest, while he ran towards the town,
376 Often in his thoughts rolled up and down
377 The beauty of those florins new and bright.
378 ‘O Lord,’ quoth he, ‘if only that I might
379 Have all this treasure for myself alone,
380 There is no man that lives beneath the throne
381 Of God who would live as merry as me!’
382 And at last the fiend, our deadly enemy,
383 Put in his thoughts, that he should poison buy,
384 With which to slay his fellows by and by,
385 Because the fiend found his way of living
386 Was such he’d power to set him sorrowing.
387 For this was wholly his complete intent:
388 To kill them both, and never to repent.
389 And off he wentno longer would he tarry
390 Into the town to an apothecary,
391 And requested of him that he sell
392 Him poison, a host of rats to quell,
393 And also there was a polecat in his yard,
394 That, so he said, had pressed his chickens hard,
395 And he would take revenge, if he might,
396 On vermin that stole from him at night.
 
397 The apothecary answered: ‘Youll take away
398 A compound that, as God my soul may save,
399 Is such that in all this world there’s no creature
400 That has eaten or drunk of this mixture
401 Merely the quantity of a grain of wheat,
402 Who did not his life at once forfeit.
403 Yes, die he must, and in a shorter while
404 Than it would take you to walk a mile,
405 The poison is so strong and violent.’
 
406 The cursed wretch then swiftly went,
407 With this poison in a box, in his hand,
408 Into the neighbouring street to a man,
409 From whom he borrowed large bottles three,
410 And into two the poison then poured he;
411 The third he left empty for his drink,
412 For a full night’s labour he did think
413 To spend transporting gold from that place.
414 And when this profligate, with sorry grace,
415 Had filled with wine his large bottles three,
416 To his fellows he returned and swiftly.
 
417 Why make a longer sermon of it more?
418 Exactly as they’d planned his death before,
419 Right so they slew him and that anon.
420 And when it was done, thus spoke the one:
421 Now let us sit and drink, and be merry,
422 And afterwards we will his body bury.’
423 And with those words, he chanced, alas,
424 To seize a bottle where the poison was,
425 And drank, and poured his friend a drink too,
426 So that they died, both of them, the two.
 
427 Surely, I must suppose, Avicenna
428 In no chapter of his Canon, ever
429 Wrote of more wondrous signs of poisoning
430 Than these wretches showed, ere their ending.
431 Thus died both these homicides, we know,
432 And then the traitorous poisoner also.
 
433 O cursed sin above all cursedness!
434 O treacherous homicide, O wickedness!
435 O gluttony, gambling, and lechery!
436 You blasphemers of Christ, in villainy
437 Swearing out of habit and of pride!
438 Alas, mankind, how may this betide,
439 That to your Creator, He who first wrought
440 You, and with his precious heart’s blood bought
441 You again, youre so false, unkind, alas?
 
442 Now good men, God forgive you your trespass,
443 And shield you from the sin of avarice!
444 My holy pardon will save you from vice,
445 So long as you offer up gold and sterling,
446 Or else silver brooches, spoons and rings.
447 Bow your head beneath this holy bull.
448 Come forward wives, make offerings of wool;
449 Your name I enter here in my roll anon.
450 Into the bliss of heaven will you be gone;
451 I absolve you by my sovereign power
452 You that offer woolmade pure as the hour
453 When you were bornAnd lo, sires, thus I preach.
454 And Jesus Christ, our healer, our soul’s leech,
455 May He grant you His pardon to receive,
456 For that is best, I will not you deceive.
 
457 Sires, one thing was forgotten in my tale:
458 I have relics, pardons in my bale,
459 As fair as does any man in England,
460 Which were given me by the Pope’s hand.
461 If any of you would, out of devotion,
462 Make offering and have my absolution,
463 Come forth anon, and kneel you here adown,
464 And humbly receive my sovereign pardon;
465 Or else receive it as your way you wend,
466 All new and fresh at every mile’s end
467 As long as you offer, new and new,
468 Nobles or pence, that are both good and true.
469 It is an honour to everyone that’s here,
470 To have found a competent pardoner,
471 To absolve you, through the country as you ride,
472 From any accidents that may betide.
473 Peradventure there may fall one of you
474 Down from his horse, and break his neck in two.
475 Look, what a safeguard it is to you all
476 That I am of your fellowship, on call,
477 Who can absolve you, the first and last,
478 When the soul shall from