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◈ The Canterbury Tales ◈

◇ The Monk’s Prologue and Tale ◇

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 1. The Monk’s Prologue
 2. The Monk’s Tale

1. The Monk’s Prologue

0 The merry words of the Host to the Monk
1 When ended was my tale of Melibee
2 And of Prudence and her benignity,
3 Our Host said: ‘As a true Christian,
4 And by the precious corpus Madrian,
5 I’d rather my wife had heard this tale
6 Dear God, than have a barrelful of ale!
7 For she has never shown such patience
8 As did this Melibeuswife Prudence.
9 By God’s bones, when I beat my knaves,
10 She brings me the great knobbed staves,
11 And cries out: “Slay the dogs, every one,
12 And break their backs and every bone!”
13 And if there’s any neighbour of mine
14 Who fails in church his head to incline,
15 Or is so bold as to commit trespass,
16 When she comes home she rages in my face,
17 And shouts: “False coward, avenge your wife!
18 By corpus bones, I’ll go wield your knife,
19 And you shall have my distaff and go spin!”
20 Day and night that’s how shell first begin.
21 Alas!” shell say, ‘that ever it was my fate
22 To wed a milksop, and a cowardly ape
23 Who sees himself outfaced, who never fights,
24 And daren’t stand up, to honour his wife’s rights!”
25 Such is my life, unless I choose to fight,
26 And out at door anon I must go, alright,
27 Or else I am but lost, I must bear me
28 Like a wild lion, and as foolhardily.
29 I expect some day shell make me slay
30 A neighbour, and then I’ll be on my way,
31 For I am dangerous with knife in hand,
32 Albeit that I dare not her withstand,
33 For she can heft an arm, by my faith;
34 As hell find out who minds not what he sayeth!
35 But let us pass on now from all this matter.
36 My lord the Monk,’ quoth he, ‘be merry of cheer,
37 For you shall tell a tale, by my eye.
38 Lo, Rochester is here, the town fast by!
39 Ride forth, my lord, don’t break off the game.
40 Yet, by my troth, I know not your true name;
41 Whether I should call you my lord Sir John,
42 Or Sir Thomas now, or else Sir Alban?
43 Of what house are you, by your father’s kin?
44 I swear to God you have a full fair skin!
45 Theyll be gentle pastures to which you post;
46 You look not like a penitent or ghost.
47 Upon my faith, you are some officer,
48 Some worthy sexton, or some cellarer.
49 And by my father’s soul, I’ll have it known,
50 Youll be the master when you are at home
51 No poor cloister-dweller, nor a novice,
52 But an official, a wily man and wise,
53 And, at that, not short of brawn and bone,
54 A fine looking person I must own.
55 I pray God, bring that man confusion
56 Who first taught you to seek religion!
57 You would have trodden the hens all right;
58 Had you licence as you have the might
59 To satisfy the need that is in nature,
60 You’d have begotten many a fine creature.
61 Alas, who draped you in so broad a cope?
62 God give me sorrow, but if I were Pope,
63 Not only you, but every mighty man,
64 Though he were tonsured when he first began,
65 Should have a wife: for all the world’s forlorn!
66 Religion’s cornered the market, all the corn
67 Of treading, and we laymen are but shrimps.
68 From feeble trees there come but wretched imps;
69 This makes our heirs, so feeble, so tender,
70 That feebleness they can scarce engender.
71 That is what prompts our wives to make assay
72 Of you religious folk, who can better pay
73 The debts that are due Venus than may we.
74 God knows, in no base coinage pay ye!
75 But be not wrath, my lord, this is but play;
76 Full oft there’s truth in jest, so I’ve heard say.’
77 The worthy Monk heard all with patience,
78 And said: ‘I will with all due diligence,
79 As far as may conform with decency,
80 Tell you a tale now, or two or three.
81 And if you care to hearken, hitherward,
82 I’ll tell you of the life of Saint Edward
83 Or else, first, of some tragedy I’ll tell,
84 Of which I have a hundred in my cell.
85 Tragedyis to say a kind of story,
86 Of which old books present the memory,
87 Of those who stood in great prosperity,
88 And fell then sadly from a high degree
89 Into misery, ending wretchedly.
90 And such are versified most commonly
91 With six feet, in hexameters are done,
92 In prose too is written many a one,
93 And other metres: many a sundry wise.
94 Lo, this explanation should suffice.
95 Now hearken, if you wish for to hear!
96 But first I beseech in this matter, here,
97 If I should chance to speak of these things,
98 Whether of popes, emperors, or kings,
99 Out of the written order, that men find,
100 Telling some before and some behind,
101 As first they come to my remembrance,
102 Accept my excuses for my ignorance.’

2. The Monk’s Tale

0 Here begins the Monk’s Tale
1 De casibus virorum illustrium: of the fall of famous men
2 I will bewail, in style of tragedy,
3 The fall of those who stood in high degree,
4 And fell such that there was no remedy
5 To raise them out of their adversity.
6 For when Fortune chooses us to flee,
7 There is no man her course can stay, I hold.
8 Let no man blindly trust prosperity!
9 Be warned by these examples true and old.
10 Lucifer
11 With Lucifer, though he an angel were,
12 And not a man, with him I shall begin;
13 For though Fortune no angel can impair,
14 From high degree yet fell he, for his sin,
15 Down into Hell, and he is still therein,
16 O Lucifer, brightest of angels all,
17 Now you are Satan, and may never win
18 Out of the misery that was your fall!
19 Adam
20 Lo, Adam in the field, Damascene,
21 With God’s own finger wrought was he,
22 And not begot of man’s sperm unclean,
23 And ruled all Paradise, save for one tree.
24 Never had worldly man such high degree
25 As Adam, till through his bad governance
26 He was driven from his prosperity
27 To labour, and to Hell, and to mischance.
28 Samson
29 Lo, Samson, his birth annunciated
30 By the angel, long ere his nativity,
31 Was to Almighty God consecrated,
32 And stood forth nobly while he could see:
33 There was never another such as he,
34 As regards his strength, and hardiness.
35 But to his wives his secret told he,
36 And so he slew himself from wretchedness.
37 Samson, this noble all-conquering champion,
38 Without weapon save his hands, I say,
39 Slew, and then rent to pieces, a lion,
40 While walking to his wedding, by the way.
41 His wife would please him so, and pray
42 Till she his counsel knew; and she untrue
43 Unto his foes his counsel did betray,
44 And forsook him, and took another new.
45 Three hundred foxes Samson took, in ire,
46 And all their tails he tied up in a band,
47 And set the foxestails all on fire,
48 For he to every tail attached a brand;
49 And they burned all the corn in the land,
50 And all the olive-trees, and vines also.
51 A thousand men he slew with his hand,
52 With nothing but an ass’s jaw-bone.
53 When they were dead, so thirsted him that he
54 Was near to death himself, and then did pray
55 That God would on his pain now take pity
56 And send him drink, or he must die that day.
57 And from the ass’s jaw-bone, dry, I say,
58 Out of a back tooth, sprang anon a well,
59 Of which he drank enough, and was saved.
60 Thus God helped him, as Judges will tell.
61 By strength alone, at Gaza, then, one night,
62 Despite the Philistines in that city,
63 The town gates he tore up, in his might,
64 And carried them on his back, did he,
65 To a high hill, so anyone might see.
66 O noble all-conquering Samson, loved and dear,
67 Had you not told your secret, privately,
68 In all this world you would have had no peer!
69 Samson, he never cider drank nor wine,
70 Nor to his hair came shears or razor there,
71 By precept of the messenger divine,
72 For all of his great strength lay in his hair.
73 And fully twenty winters, year by year,
74 He had of Israel the governance.
75 But soon he had to weep many a tear,
76 For woman would bring him to mischance.
77 To Delilah, his lover, thus he told
78 How in his hair all his great strength lay,
79 And falsely to his foes she him sold;
80 And sleeping in a barn there, on a day,
81 She clipped and sheared his hair away,
82 And let his enemies all this trick espy.
83 And when he was weakened in this way,
84 They bound him fast, and quenched each eye.
85 And ere she did his hair both clip and shave,
86 There was no bond with which men might him bind.
87 Yet once he was imprisoned in a cave
88 They made him labour at the quern and grind.
89 O noble Samson, strongest of mankind,
90 O sometime Judge, in glory and in richness!
91 Now may you weep with eyes stone blind,
92 Since you are fallen to such wretchedness.
93 The end of this poor wretch was as I say:
94 His enemies made a feast, one fine day,
95 And made him as their fool before them play;
96 And this was in a temple, with great display.
97 But at the last, he made a fierce affray,
98 For two pillars he shook and made them fall;
99 And down fell temple and all, and there it lay,
100 And he slew himself and his enemies all.
101 That is, the Magistrates every one,
102 Three thousand others too, were there slain
103 Buried beneath the great temple of stone.
104 Of Samson’s tale no more will I explain.
105 Be warned by this example old and plain
106 That none should tell his secrets to his wife,
107 Such things that he’d in secrecy retain,
108 Touching the safety of his limbs and life.
109 Hercules
110 Of Hercules, the sovereign conqueror,
111 His works sing his praise and high renown,
112 For, in his time, of strength he was the flower.
113 He slew and took the skin from the lion;
114 The Centaursvaunted pride he brought down.
115 The Harpies he slew, those cruel birds fell;
116 He stole the golden apples from the dragon;
117 And dragged Cerberus the hound from Hell.
118 He slew the tyrant, Diomede the vicious,
119 And made his horses eat him, flesh and bone;
120 He slew the fiery serpent venomous;
121 Of Acheloustwo horns he broke one,
122 And he slew Cacus in his cave of stone;
123 He slew the giant Antaeus the strong;
124 He slew the grisly boar, and that anon,
125 And bore the heavens, on his neck, long.
126 Was never hero since the world began,
127 Who slew as many monsters as did he.
128 Through the whole wide world his name ran,
129 For both his strength and his great bounty,
130 And every realm he travelled for to see;
131 He was so strong no man might him fret.
132 At both the world’s ends, says Trophee,
133 Instead of boundaries he a pillar set.
134 A lover had this noble champion,
135 She was Deianira, fresh as May;
136 And, as the scholars make mention,
137 She sent him a shirt, fresh and gay.
138 Alas! This shirtalas, and well away! –
139 Envenomed was so subtly withal
140 That ere he had worn it half a day,
141 It made his flesh all from his bones fall.
142 But nonetheless, some writers make excuse
143 For her, saying it was Nessusshirt in fact.
144 That being the case, I shall not her accuse;
145 But he wore this shirt on his naked back,
146 Till his flesh from the venom was all black.
147 And when he found no other remedy nigh,
148 On hot coals he lay down, since on the rack
149 Of venomous torment he scorned to die.
150 Thus fell the mighty, noble Hercules.
151 Lo, who of Fortune’s dice may trust the throw?
152 For he that follows all this world, at ease,
153 Ere he’s aware, is often laid full low.
154 Full wise is he that seeks himself to know!
155 Beware, for when Fortune shall dispose,
156 Then she waits her man to overthrow
157 By such means as he might least suppose.
158 Nebuchadnezzar
159 The mighty throne, the precious treasure,
160 The glorious sceptre, and royal majesty
161 That this King possessed, Nebuchadnezzar,
162 By human tongue can scarce described be.
163 He twice took Jerusalem the city;
164 The vessels of the Temple he then bade
165 Men take to Babylon his Sovereign See,
166 Where he his glory and his pleasure had.
167 The fine male children of the blood royal
168 Of Israel he gelded them anon,
169 Making every one of them his thrall.
170 Amongst others Daniel was one,
171 Who was the wisest child of anyone;
172 For he the dreams of the king expounded,
173 While in Chaldea wise man was there none
174 Who knew what end his dreams had sounded.
175 The proud king had a statue made of gold,
176 Sixty cubits long and seven in breadth,
177 To which image both the young and old
178 Were ordered to bow down, and bow in dread,
179 Or in a fiery furnace, burning red,
180 Be burnt if they chose to disobey.
181 But Daniel would not assent, instead
182 He and his two companions went their way.
183 The king of kings, was so proud and great
184 He thought that God who sits in majesty
185 Could never strip him of his high estate.
186 Yet suddenly he fell from dignity,
187 And like a beast then he seemed to be,
188 And ate hay like an ox, and all about,
189 In the rain, with wild beasts walked he,
190 Until all God’s allotted time was out.
191 And like an eagle’s feathers was his hair;
192 His nails like a bird’s claws did appear,
193 Till God released him from his madness there,
194 Restored his wits; and then with many a tear
195 He thanked God, and lived his life in fear
196 Of acting thus amiss, of more disgrace;
197 And till the day he laid was on his bier,
198 He paid witness to God’s might and grace.
199 Belshazzar
200 Now, his son, who was named Belshazzar,
201 And reigned there after his father’s day,
202 Learned nothing himself from all that matter,
203 For proud he was of heart, and loved display.
204 And an idolater he was always.
205 His high estate filled his heart with pride;
206 But Fortune cast him down, and there he lay,
207 And his kingdom others did divide.
208 A feast he made once for his lords all
209 On a day, and they were blithe and merry,
210 And then to his officers he did call:
211 Go, bring forth the vessels now,’ quoth he,
212 That my father in his prosperity
213 Out of the Temple in Jerusalem reft,
214 And to our gods give thanks must we
215 For the trophies our ancestors left.’
216 His wife, his lords, and his concubines
217 Drank on, while their appetites did last,
218 Out of those noble vessels, sundry wines.
219 And on a wall the king his eyes did cast,
220 And saw a hand, armless, that wrote full fast,
221 For fear of which he quaked and sighed full sore.
222 The hand that made Belshazzar all aghast
223 Wrote Mene, Tekel, Peres, and no more.
224 In all that land magician was there none
225 Who could expound what the letters meant.
226 But Daniel expounded it anon
227 Saying: ‘King, God to your father lent
228 Glory and honour, kingdom, treasure, rent;
229 And he was proud, ignoring what God bade,
230 And therefore God His punishment He sent,
231 And bereft him of the kingdom that he had.
232 He was cast out of human company;
233 With asses was all his habitation,
234 In wet and dry, he ate like any beast,
235 Till he understood, by grace and reason,
236 That the God of Heaven has domination
237 Over every kingdom and every creature.
238 And then indeed God showed him compassion,
239 And restored his kingdom and his power.
240 And you, who are his son, are proud also,
241 And know all these things, certainly,
242 And are a rebel, and to God a foe.
243 You drink now from his vessels boldly
244 Your wife as well, and wenches, sinfully
245 Drink from the same vessels sundry wines
246 And worship the false gods wickedly;
247 Thus punishment will fall, this is the sign.
248 The hand was sent from God, that on the wall
249 Wrote Mene, Tekel, Peres, for, trust me,
250 Your reign is done; you weigh naught at all.
251 Divided is your kingdom, and shall be
252 To Medes and Persians given,’ thus quoth he.
253 And that same night the King he was no more,
254 And Darius occupied his degree,
255 Though he thereto had neither right nor law.
256 Lordings, from this a moral you may take
257 That lordship none securely may possess.
258 For when Fortune shall a man forsake,
259 She strips him of his kingdom and success,
260 His friends as well, the greater and the less.
261 For he whose friends are friends of Fortune too,
262 Mishap will make them enemies, I guess;
263 This proverb is both widely known and true.
264 Zenobia
265 Zenobia, of Palmyra was the queen,
266 As the Persians write, in nobleness
267 So worthy, and in arms so passing keen,
268 None could match her in courageousness,
269 Nor her lineage, nor her other greatness.
270 Of the Persian royal blood descended.
271 I do not say she was the loveliest,
272 But her beauty could not be amended.
273 From her childhood, I find she fled
274 The offices of women, to nature went,
275 And many a wild hart’s blood she shed
276 With swift arrows that through them she sent;
277 She was so fleet of foot they soon were spent.
278 And when she grew older she would kill
279 Lions, leopards, bears, so all were rent,
280 And in her arms contain them there at will.
281 She dared the wild creaturesdens to seek,
282 And ran about the mountains in the night,
283 And slept beneath a bush; and nothing meek
284 Would wrestle by main force and main might
285 With any man, however strong in fight;
286 None to withstand her arms could be found.
287 She kept her maidenhead, her honour bright,
288 Nor deigned that she by any man be bound.
289 But at last her friends all saw her married
290 To Odenathus, prince of that country,
291 Albeit that she had for so long tarried.
292 For you must understand now that he
293 Had the same inclinations as had she.
294 And yet when they were knit together,
295 They lived in joy and in felicity,
296 For each loved, and each held dear, the other.
297 Save one thing; she never would assent
298 At any time that he might with her lie
299 Except but once, for it was her intent
300 To have a child, the race to multiply.
301 And so as soon as she did espy
302 That she was not with child by the deed,
303 She suffered him once more, by and by,
304 But only once, and then no more, indeed.
305 And if she was with child at the last,
306 No longer would she let him play the game
307 Till the full forty weeks were past;
308 Then once more did she allow the same.
309 And Odenathus, be he wild or tame,
310 He got no more of her, for thus she said:
311 It was for wives mere lechery, and shame
312 If men for other reasons with them played.
313 Two sons by Odenathus thus had she,
314 Whom she raised in virtue and the law.
315 But now unto our tale again turn we:
316 I say so worshipful a creature,
317 And wise therewith, and keeping measure,
318 So zealous in the wars, and courteous too,
319 None could more labour in the wars endure,
320 Though men indeed should seek the whole world through.
321 Her richness of display cannot be told,
322 Whether in treasure or in her clothing;
323 She was all clad in jewellery and gold.
324 And she neglected naught, for her hunting,
325 Having in sundry tongues great learning,
326 When she had leisure; and she did intend
327 To study books deeply, as was her liking,
328 And learn how in true virtue life to spend.
329 And briefly of this story to relate,
330 So brave was her husband and was she,
331 That they conquered many kingdoms great
332 In the Orient, many a fair city
333 Appertaining unto the majesty
334 Of Rome, and with strong hand held them fast.
335 And never might their foes make them flee
336 While King Odenathusdays did last.
337 As for her battles, if of them you’d read,
338 Against Shapur the King, who was her foe,
339 And others too, and all that passed indeed,
340 How she conquered, what title had, and so
341 Afterwards of her trouble and her woe,
342 How she was besieged through her mistake
343 Then you shall to my master Petrarch go,
344 Who wrote the most of it, I’ll undertake.
345 When Odenathus died, she mightily
346 Held all his kingdoms in her own hand
347 Against her foes she fought so cruelly
348 There was no prince or king in all that land
349 That was not glad if he should understand
350 That she’d not treat him as an enemy.
351 With her they made alliance, and did stand
352 In peace with her and quiet, and let her be.
353 The Emperor, one Claudius Gothicus,
354 And before him Gallienus, the Roman,
355 Were never in their reign so courageous,
356 Nor the Armenian, nor the Egyptian,
357 Nor the Arabian, nor the Syrian,
358 To dare to take the field with her and fight
359 Lest she should slay them by her own hand,
360 Or with her army put them all to flight.
361 In royal robes her sons were wont to go,
362 Both heirs to their father’s kingdoms all,
363 Herennianus, Timolaus, so
364 Were they named, the Persians thus did them call.
365 But Fortune with her honey mixes gall:
366 This mighty queen’s power could not endure.
367 Fortune from her kingdom saw her fall,
368 Into wretchedness, through misadventure.
369 Aurelian, when that the governance
370 Of Rome fell into his hands, I say,
371 He set himself on her to wreak vengeance,
372 And with his legions he made his way
373 Towards Zenobia; and on a day
374 He made her flee, and as was his intent,
375 Took and fettered her, and her children they
376 Were taken too, and home to Rome he went.
377 Amongst the other trophies that he won,
378 Her chariot all of gold, her jewellery,
379 This great Roman, this Aurelian,
380 Brought back with him, for all the world to see.
381 The vanguard of his Triumph there walked she,
382 With golden chains about her neck hanging;
383 Crowned she was, according to degree,
384 And full of gems was charged her clothing.
385 Alas, Fortune! She that but lately was
386 The terror of high kings and emperors,
387 All the people gazed on her, alas!
388 And she that was all helmeted in the wars,
389 And by force won strong towns and towers,
390 Shall on her head now wear a veil light;
391 And she that bore a sceptre wreathed with flowers,
392 Shall bear a distaff, thus her costs requite.
393 King Pedro the First of Spain
394 O noble, O worthy Pedro, glory of Spain,
395 Whom Fortune held in such high majesty,
396 Of your piteous death should men complain!
397 Out of your land your brother made you flee;
398 And afterwards, through siege and subtlety
399 You were betrayed and led unto his tent.
400 Where with his own hand he slew thee,
401 Succeeding to your kingdom and your rent.
402 The silver field with eagle black therein,
403 Caught with a limed rod, stained red, indeed,
404 He brewed this wickedness and all this sin!
405 Mauny, theevil nest’, he worked this deed
406 No Oliver, to Charlemagne, who took heed
407 Of truth and honour, but from Armorica
408 A Ganelon, corrupted by his greed,
409 He brought this worthy king to disaster.
410 King Peter of Cyprus
411 O worthy Peter, King of Cyprus, also,
412 Who won Alexandria by high mastery,
413 On full many a heathen you wrought woe,
414 At which your own liegemen felt great envy,
415 And for no other cause but your chivalry
416 They in your bed slew you on the morrow.
417 So does Fortune guide her wheel, you see,
418 And out of joy brings men to sorrow.
419 Bernarbò Visconti of Lombardy
420 Of Milan great Bernarbò Visconti,
421 God of delight, and scourge of Lombardy,
422 Why should I not of your misfortune speak,
423 Since in estate you climbed so highly?
424 Your brother’s son, doubly bound to thee,
425 For he your nephew was and son-in-law,
426 Within his prison slew you in misery.
427 But of why, or how, I know no more.
428 Ugolino Count of Pisa
429 What Ugolino of Pisa did endure
430 No tongue may tell of it for pity.
431 A little outside Pisa stands a tower,
432 In which tower imprisoned once was he,
433 And with him his little children three;
434 The eldest scarcely five years was in age.
435 Alas, Fortune! It was great cruelty
436 To lock up birds like this in such a cage!
437 Condemned he was to die in that prison,
438 For Ruggieri, Pisa’s Bishop, lies
439 Told, false charges made at his suggestion,
440 Through which the people did up-rise,
441 And cast him in prison, in such wise
442 As you have heard; and meat and drink he had
443 So little, that it might scarcely suffice,
444 And it was also poor in kind and bad.
445 And on a day it befell, in that hour
446 When that his meat was wont to be brought,
447 The gaoler shut the doors of the tower.
448 He heard it right enough, but he spoke naught,
449 And to his mind there came anon a thought,
450 That they from hunger would let him die.
451 Alas!’ quoth he, ‘alas that I was wrought!’
452 And at that the tear fell from his eye.
453 His young son, that was three years of age,
454 Unto him: ‘Father,’ said, ‘why do you weep?
455 When will the gaoler bring our pottage?
456 Is there a morsel of that bread you keep?
457 I am so hungry that I cannot sleep.
458 Now would God that I might sleep forever!
459 Then would no hunger through my stomach creep;
460 There is naught but bread shall aid me ever.’
461 Thus day after day the child did cry,
462 Till in his father’s lap adown he lay,
463 And said: ‘Farewell, father, I must die!’
464 Kissed his father, and died that very day.
465 And when the woeful father saw this, pray,
466 For woe he started his two arms to bite,
467 And said: ‘Alas, Fortune, and well-away!
468 False wheel, for my woe, I blame you outright.’
469 His children thought from hunger thus it was
470 That he his arms gnawed, and not from woe,
471 And said: ‘Dear father, do not so, alas,
472 But rather eat the flesh that on us grows.
473 Our flesh you gave us, take the flesh we owe,
474 And eat your fill.’ – Right thus they to him said.
475 And after that, within a day or so,
476 They lay in his lap and they were dead.
477 He himself despairs, from hunger starved.
478 Thus this mighty Earl of Pisa dies!
479 From high estate Fortune has him carved.
480 Of tragedy these words should now suffice;
481 Who desires it in a longer wise,
482 May read the great poet of Italy
483 Dante, that is, for he did it devise
484 Point by point; and every word there see.
485 Nero
486 Although this Nero was as vicious
487 As any fiend that is beneath the ground,
488 Yet he, as so says Suetonius,
489 Had in subjection this great world, all found,
490 From East to West, South to North around.
491 With rubies, sapphires and with pearls pure white
492 Were all his clothes embroidered up and down,
493 For in gemstones he did greatly delight.
494 More delicate, more pompous in display,
495 More proud was never Emperor than he.
496 The same clothes that he had worn a day,
497 After that time he never more must see.
498 Nets of gold thread had he in great plenty,
499 To fish the Tiber when he wished to play.
500 His desires were all made law by decree,
501 For Fortune as his friend did him obey.
502 He burnt Rome for his own pleasure, ay,
503 The Senators he slew upon a day,
504 To hear how those men would weep and cry,
505 Slew his brother, and by his sister lay.
506 Of his mother made piteous display,
507 For he cut up her womb, to behold
508 Where he was conceived; oh, well-away,
509 In such disdain did he his mother hold.
510 No tears fell from his eyes at the sight
511 He only said: ‘A fair woman was she!’
512 A wonder is it how he could or might
513 Be the judge concerning her dead beauty.
514 The wine to be brought commanded he,
515 And drank anon; no other grief displayed.
516 When great power is joined to cruelty,
517 Alas, too deep in venom men must wade!
518 In youth a teacher had this Emperor,
519 To teach him literature and courtesy,
520 For of morality he was the flower
521 At that time, unless the books deceive,
522 And while this teacher had the mastery,
523 He made him so learned and so supple
524 That it was long before his tyranny
525 Or any vice did mind from heart uncouple.
526 This Seneca, of whom I now advise,
527 Because Nero held him in such dread,
528 Since for vice he would him thus chastise,
529 Privately, not by word but deed, I’ve read
530 Sire,’ would he say, ‘an Emperor instead
531 Should love virtue and loath tyranny
532 For which in a bath Seneca lay and bled
533 From both his arms, till his life did flee.
534 This Nero had acquired a habit once;
535 In youth against his master so to rise,
536 That afterward with him became a grievance;
537 Therefore he made him die in this wise.
538 But nonetheless this Seneca the wise
539 Chose in a bath to die in this manner,
540 Rather than face death in some other guise.
541 And thus did Nero slay his master dear.
542 Now it befell, that Fortune wished no longer
543 To cherish Nero in his soaring pride,
544 For, though he was strong, she was stronger.
545 She thought thus: ‘By God, how ill advised
546 To raise a man so filled with every vice
547 To high degree and Emperor him call!
548 By God, I’ll pull him down in a trice;
549 When he least expects it, then hell fall.’
550 The people rose upon him in the night
551 Against his wickedness, when this he spied,
552 Out of his doors anon he rushed in flight
553 Alone, and there he though he’d find allied
554 Old friends, knocked hard, but the more he sped
555 The swifter they shut the doors and all.
556 Then he knew he had himself misled,
557 And went his way; no longer dare he call.
558 The people cried and muttered up and down,
559 So that it reached his ears how they said:
560 Where’s the tyrant false, Nero the clown?’
561 For fear indeed he almost lost his head,
562 And to his gods piteously he prayed
563 For succour but none was there beside.
564 In dread of all, he thought that he was dead,
565 And ran into a garden him to hide.
566 And in the garden two churls on that day
567 Were sitting by a fire, great and red,
568 And these two churls he began to pray
569 To slay him, by striking off his head,
570 And guard his body, when that he was dead,
571 From mutilation, and from acts of shame.
572 Himself he slew, last remedy, instead;
573 At which Fortune laughed, as if in game.
574 Holofernes
575 There was never general to a king
576 That held more kingdoms in subjection,
577 None stronger in the field in everything
578 In his time, or higher in distinction,
579 Nor more vainglorious in his presumption
580 Than Holofernes, whom Fortune had kissed
581 So amorously, and led him up and down,
582 Till that his head was off, before he list.
583 Not only did the world hold him in awe
584 For fear of losing wealth and liberty,
585 But he made every man abjure God’s law.
586 Nebuchadnezzar is your god’, said he;
587 No other god shall there worshipped be.’
588 Against his order no man dare trespass,
589 Save in Bethulia, a powerful city,
590 Where Eliachim, the high priest was.
591 But take note of the death of Holofernes:
592 Amidst his host he lies there drunk one night,
593 In his tent, like a barn, to sleep he turns;
594 And yet, for all his pomp and all his might,
595 Judith, a woman, as he lay upright
596 Sleeping, his head smote off, and from his tent
597 Full secretly she stole, ere morning light,
598 And with his head off to her home she went.
599 King Antiochus the Illustrious
600 What need to tell of King Antiochus,
601 Or to describe his royal majesty,
602 His high pride, his deeds so venomous?
603 There was not such another one as he.
604 Read what is said of him in Maccabee,
605 And read the proud words that he said,
606 And why he fell from high prosperity,
607 And on a hillside wretchedly lay dead.
608 Fortune had advanced him so in pride
609 That truly he thought he might attain
610 Unto the stars, upon every side,
611 And weigh in the balance every mountain,
612 And all the waves of the sea restrain.
613 And God’s people held he most in hate;
614 Them would he slay in torment and in pain,
615 Thinking that God would not his pride abate.
616 And because Nicanor and Timothy
617 Had by the Jews been conquered easily,
618 For those same Jews such hatred showed he
619 That he bade his chariot readied swiftly,
620 And swore an oath, and said wrathfully
621 That Jerusalem would dance to his tune,
622 And he’d wreak vengeance on it cruelly
623 But of his purpose he was foiled full soon.
624 God for his threats smote him and so sore
625 With an invisible wound, incurable,
626 That in his guts it carved so, and did gnaw,
627 That his pain proved insupportable.
628 And that was a vengeance all rational,
629 For many a man’s guts he rent in pain.
630 Yet from his purpose cursed and damnable,
631 For all his hurt, could not himself restrain.
632 But gave the word to summon all his host,
633 And swiftly, ere he was of it aware,
634 God dented all his pride and all his boast;
635 For he fell sorely from his chariot there,
636 So that his limbs and skin began to tear,
637 And he might no longer walk or ride,
638 But men bore him about in a chair
639 All bruised severely, both back and side.
640 God’s vengeance smote him so cruelly
641 That through his body evil worms crept,
642 And therewithal he stank so terribly
643 That none of all his company that kept
644 By him then, whether he woke or slept,
645 Could the very stink of him endure.
646 In this troubling he wailed and wept,
647 And knew God the lord of every creature.
648 To all his host, and to himself also,
649 Full loathsome was the stink of his frame;
650 No man could bear to carry him to and fro.
651 And gripped by this stench and deadly pain
652 He starved full wretchedly, on a mountain.
653 Thus had this robber and this homicide,
654 Who made many men weep and complain,
655 The reward that is earned by excess pride.
656 Alexander
657 Alexander’s story is so well known
658 That all who reach the age of discretion
659 Have heard some or all of his fortune.
660 This wide world, indeed, in conclusion,
661 He’d won by strength, or by his high renown,
662 Men sued for peace and to him did send.
663 The pride of man and beast he brought down,
664 Wherever he went, unto the world’s end.
665 And comparison might no man make
666 Between him and any other conqueror;
667 For all this world for dread of him did quake.
668 Of knighthood and freedom he was the flower;
669 Fortune made him heir to all her honour.
670 Save wine and women, nothing might assuage
671 His high intent on warfare and its labour,
672 So filled was he with a lion’s courage.
673 What praise were it to him then, if I told
674 Of Darius, and a hundred thousand foes,
675 Of kings, princes, dukes, and earls bold,
676 How he conquered them, and swelled their woes?
677 I say, as far as men may ride or go,
678 The world was his; what more can I advise?
679 For though I wrote and wandered, to and fro,
680 About his chivalry, it would not suffice.
681 Twelve years he reigned, as says Maccabee;
682 And Philip’s son, of Macedon, was he,
683 The first who was king in Greece’s country.
684 O worthy noble Alexander, alas,
685 That you should ever come to such a pass!
686 Poisoned were you by your folk I fear.
687 Fortune your sixes aces made, at last,
688 And yet for you she wept never a tear.
689 Who shall give me tears to complain
690 Of the death of nobility’s franchise,
691 Who counted all the world as his domain,
692 And yet considered it could not suffice,
693 So full was his mind of high enterprise?
694 Alas, who shall help me to indict
695 False Fortune, and poison to despise?
696 Of whose blame for all this woe I write.
697 Julius Caesar
698 By wisdom, manliness, and great labour,
699 From humble bed to royal majesty
700 Up rose Julius the Conqueror,
701 Who won the Occident by land and sea,
702 By strength of hand, or else by treaty,
703 And unto Rome made them tributary;
704 And then of Rome the Emperor was he,
705 Till Fortune rose as his adversary.
706 O mighty Caesar, who in Thessaly
707 Fought against Pompey, your son-in-law,
708 Who of the Orient ruled the chivalry
709 As far as the dawn of day and more,
710 Through your power they their death’s day saw,
711 Save a few folk that with Pompey fled,
712 And thus of you the Orient stood in awe;
713 Thank Fortune that stood you in such stead!
714 But for a little while let me bewail
715 That Pompey, that noble governor
716 Of Rome, who in this war did fail.
717 I say, one of his men, a false traitor,
718 Smote off his head, to win great favour
719 From Julius, and him the head he brought.
720 Alas, Pompey, of the Orient conqueror,
721 That Fortune to such an end you brought!
722 To Rome again returned our Julius
723 In triumph crowned with laurel for to be.
724 But one day, Brutus and Cassius,
725 Who ever showed for his estate envy,
726 Brought to fruition their conspiracy
727 Against this Julius in subtle wise,
728 And chose the very place where die must he
729 Beneath their daggers, as I shall advise.
730 Thus Julius to the Capitol went
731 One day, where he was wont to go,
732 In the Capitol they seized him then,
733 That false Brutus and his other foes,
734 And struck him with their daggers so
735 That he had many a wound, there he did lie,
736 But groaned he at no stroke but one, I know,
737 Or else at two, unless the stories lie.
738 So manly was this Julius at heart,
739 And so in love with honest dignity,
740 That though his wounds gave him sore smart,
741 His mantle about his hips cast he,
742 That no man should steal his privacy.
743 And as he lay dying in a trance,
744 And knew that in truth dead was he,
745 Of dignity he still kept remembrance.
746 In Lucan this tale I recommend,
747 And Suetonius, Valerius also,
748 Who this story wrote from end to end,
749 How that to these great conquerors so
750 Fortune was first friend, and then their foe.
751 We may not trust in her great favour long,
752 But watch her with suspicion as we go;
753 Witness all these conquerors so strong.
754 Croesus
755 This rich Croesus, king of Lydia,
756 Croesus whom Cyrus held in dread,
757 Was captured still, midst of all his pride there,
758 And to be burnt men to the fire him led;
759 But such a rain down from the heavens shed
760 The fire was doused, and he made his escape.
761 But to beware it no thought had he had,
762 Till Fortune on the gallows made him gape.
763 When he escaped, he was still intent
764 On starting on another war again.
765 He believed that fortune had it sent,
766 The manner in which he escaped by rain,
767 And that by his foes he might not be slain;
768 And then with a dream one night he met,
769 Of which he was so proud and so vain
770 That on vengeance all his heart he set.
771 Upon a tree he perched, or so he thought,
772 Where Jupiter bathed him, back and side,
773 While Phoebus a fair towel then him brought
774 To dry him with, and so increased his pride.
775 And so his daughter, who stood beside,
776 Whom he knew with wisdom did abound,
777 He bade her tell him what it signified,
778 And she his dream began thus to expound:
779 The tree,’ she said the gallows-tree does mean,
780 And Jupiter betokens snow and rain,
781 And Phoebus, with his towel so clean,
782 There as the sun beams, that is plain.
783 You shall be hanged father: I say again
784 Rain shall wash you, and the sun shall dry.’
785 Thus she warned him fully, but in vain:
786 His daughter, she was Phanya, say I.
787 Hanged was Croesus then, the proud king;
788 His royal sceptre was of no avail.
789 Tragedy no other manner of thing
790 Can in its singing cry for or bewail
791 Than how Fortune always shall assail
792 With sudden stroke the kingdom of the proud;
793 For when men trust in her then she shall fail,
794 And cover her bright features with a cloud……..
【 】The Monk’s Prologue and Tale
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