The Miller’s Prologue and Tale

Geoffrey Chaucer

Edited by Jack Lynch

I’m emphatically not an authority on textual criticism of Middle English texts. The text itself is cobbled together from a number of public domain sources and minimally edited. I’ve regularized the use of uppercase letters a bit to aid comprehension, and have added quotation marks where appropriate.

The annotations come in two flavors. Simple glosses — explanations of single words or very short phrases — appear opposite the line of text. They come with no links or symbols; it should be easy enough to glance at the righthand column to fill in words likely to be unfamiliar to modern readers. (To make it easier to read across the screen, hover the mouse over a line of text and the whole thing, including the glosses, will be highlighted.) These glosses are usually rough approximations of meaning, not carefully constructed definitions; for that, check out the Middle English Compendium and the Oxford English Dictionary. The purpose of the glosses isn’t to provide smooth translations, but to help beginners read the Middle English, and if sometimes that requires close-enough-for-government-work definitions, so be it. In general I gloss single words rather than explaining the syntax of phrases, but occasionally I break that rule when something is unusually complicated.

Things that can’t be explained in a word or two get fuller treatment in the ‘Notes’ section at the bottom of the text.

The Miller’s Prologue

Whan that the Knyght had thus his tale ytoold,
In al the route nas ther yong ne oold [3110] company — was not
That he ne seyde it was a noble storie,
And worthy for to drawen to memorie;
And namely the gentils everichon. nobles — every one
Oure hooste lough and swoor, “so moot I gon,
This gooth aright; unbokeled is the male. [3115] opened — bag
Lat se now who shal telle another tale;
For trewely the game is wel bigonne.
Now telleth ye, sir Monk, if that ye konne
Somwhat to quite with the Knyghtes tale.” respond to
The millere, that for dronken was al pale, [3120]
So that unnethe upon his hors he sat, uneasily
He nolde avalen neither hood ne hat, would not wear
Ne abyde no man for his curteisie, wait for
But in Pilates voys he gan to crie, Pontius Pilate’s — began
And swoor, “by armes, and by blood and bones, [3125]
I kan a noble tale for the nones, know — for the occasion
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale.” respond to
Oure hooste saugh that he was dronke of ale,
And seyde, “abyd, Robyn, my leeve brother; wait — dear
Som bettre man shal telle us first another. [3130] higher-class
Abyd, and lat us werken thriftily.” wait
“By goddes soule,” quod he, “that wol nat I; said
For I wol speke, or elles go my wey.”
Oure hoost answerde, “tel on, a devel wey!
Thou art a fool; thy wit is overcome.” [3135]
“Now herkneth,” quod the millere, “alle and some! listen — said
But first I make a protestacioun
That I am dronke, I knowe it by my soun;
And therfore if that I mysspeke or seye,
Wyte it the ale of Southwerk, I you preye. [3140] blame
For I wol telle a legende and a lyf
Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf,
How that a clerk hath set the wrightes cappe.”
The reve answerde and seyde, “stynt thy clappe! shut your mouth!
Lat be thy lewed dronken harlotrye. [3145] obscenity
It is a synne and eek a greet folye also — foolishness
To apeyren any man, or hym defame, harm
And eek to bryngen wyves in swich fame. also — such reputation
Thou mayst ynogh of othere thynges seyn.”
This dronke millere spak ful soone ageyn [3150]
And seyde, “leve brother Osewold, dear
Who hath no wyf, he is no cokewold. cuckold
But I sey nat therfore that thou art oon;
Ther been ful goode wyves many oon,
And evere a thousand goode ayeyns oon badde. [3155] against
That knowestow wel thyself, but if thou madde. go insane
Why artow angry with my tale now?
I have a wyf, pardee, as wel as thow; by God
Yet nolde I, for the oxen in my plogh, would not
Take upon me moore than ynogh, [3160]
As demen of myself that I were oon; decide
I wol bileve wel that I am noon.
An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf
Of goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf. secret matters
So he may fynde goddes foyson there, [3165] plenty
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere.” rest
What sholde I moore seyn, but this millere
He nolde his wordes for no man forbere, would not — hold back
But tolde his cherles tale in his manere. boor’s
M’ athynketh that I shal reherce it heere. [3170] repeat
And therfore every gentil wight I preye, noble person
For goddes love, demeth nat that I seye
Of yvel entente, but for I moot reherce repeat
Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse, their
Or elles falsen som of my mateere. [3175] falsify
And therfore, whoso list it nat yheere, whoever — wants
Turne over the leef and chese another tale; page — choose
For he shal fynde ynowe, grete and smale, enough
Of storial thyng that toucheth gentillesse, historical — nobility
And eek moralitee and hoolynesse. [3180] also
Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys. choose wrong
The millere is a cherl, ye knowe wel this; scoundrel
So was the reve eek and othere mo, also
And harlotrie they tolden bothe two. obscenity
Avyseth yow, and put me out of blame; [3185]
And eek men shal nat maken ernest of game. also

The Miller’s Tale

Whilom ther was dwellynge at Oxenford Once upon a time
A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord, ill-mannered person — guests — took in — board
And of his craft he was a carpenter.
With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler, [3190] poor
Hadde lerned art, but al his fantasye
Was turned for to lerne astrologye,
And koude a certeyn of conclusiouns, knew
To demen by interrogaciouns, determine — investigations
If that men asked hym in certein houres [3195]
Whan that men sholde have droghte or elles shoures,
Or if men asked hym what sholde bifalle happen
Of every thyng; I may nat rekene hem alle. count
This clerk was cleped hende Nicholas. called — clever
Of deerne love he koude and of solas; [3200] secret — knew — pleasure
And therto he was sleigh and ful privee, clever
And lyk a mayden meke for to see.
A chambre hadde he in that hostelrye
Allone, withouten any compaignye,
Ful fetisly ydight with herbes swoote; [3205] elegantly set out — sweet
And he hymself as sweete as is the roote
Of lycorys, or any cetewale.
His Almageste, and bookes grete and smale,
His astrelabie, longynge for his art, astrological instrument
His augrym stones layen faire apart, [3210] counting
On shelves couched at his beddes heed;
His presse ycovered with a faldyng reed; linen press — red wool
And al above ther lay a gay sautrie, psaltery (a harp-like instrument)
On which he made a-nyghtes melodie
So swetely that all the chambre rong; [3215]
And “Angelus ad Virginem” he song;
And after that he song the Kynges Noote.
Ful often blessed was his myrie throte.
And thus this sweete clerk his tyme spente
After his freendes fyndyng and his rente. [3220] support — income
This carpenter hadde wedded newe a wyf,
Which that he lovede moore than his lyf;
Of eighteteene yeer she was of age.
Jalous he was, and heeld hire narwe in cage, narrowly
For she was wylde and yong, and he was old, [3225]
And demed hymself been lik a cokewold. cuckold
He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude, intelligence — unrefined
That bad man sholde wedde his simylitude. ordered — someone like him
Men sholde wedden after hire estaat, according to their social class
For youthe and elde is often at debaat. [3230]
But sith that he was fallen in the snare, since
He moste endure, as oother folk, his care. must
Fair was this yonge wyf, and therwithal moreover
As any wezele hir body gent and smal.
A ceynt she werede, barred al of silk, [3235] sash — wore
A barmclooth eek as whit as morne milk apron — also — white as morning milk
Upon hir lendes, ful of many a goore. loins — flounce of fabric
Whit was hir smok, and broyden al bifoore smock — embroidered — in front
And eek bihynde, on hir coler aboute, also behind — collar
Of col-blak silk, withinne and eek withoute. [3240] also
The tapes of hir white voluper ribbons — cap
Were of the same suyte of hir coler; same color as her collar
Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye. broad headband
And sikerly she hadde a likerous ye; surely — lecherous eye
Ful smale ypulled were hire browes two, [3245] thin — plucked
And tho were bent and blake as any sloo. black — sloe
She was ful moore blisful on to see
Than is the newe pere-jonette tree, early-ripening pear
And softer than the wolle is of a wether. wool — castrated sheep
And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether, [3250] belt — hung
Tasseled with silk, and perled with latoun. brass
In al this world, to seken up and doun,
There nys no man so wys that koude thenche
So gay a popelote or swich a wenche. doll — such
Ful brighter was the shynyng of hir hewe [3255] hue
Than in the Tour the noble yforged newe. Tower of London — coin — minted — recently
But of hir song, it was as loude and yerne lively
As any swalwe sittynge on a berne. swallow — barn
Therto she koude skippe and make game,
As any kyde or calf folwynge his dame. [3260]
Hir mouth was sweete as bragot or the meeth, ale — mead
Or hoord of apples leyd in hey or heeth. heather
Wynsynge she was, as is a joly colt, skittish
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
A brooch she baar upon hir lowe coler, [3265]
As brood as is the boos of a bokeler. center of a shield
Hir shoes were laced on hir legges hye.
She was a prymerole, a piggesnye, primrose — pig’s eye (flower)
For any lord to leggen in his bedde,
Or yet for any good yeman to wedde. [3270] yeoman
Now, sire, and eft, sire, so bifel the cas, again — it so happened
That on a day this hende Nicholas
Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye, met — flirt
Whil that hir housbonde was at Oseneye,
As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte; [3275] ingenious — wise
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte, genitals
And seyde, “ywis, but if ich have my wille, surely
For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.” secret — my dear — die
And heeld hire harde by the haunchebones, hips
And seyde, “lemman, love me al atones, [3280] darling — right now
Or I wol dyen, also God me save!” protect
And she sproong as a colt dooth in the trave, enclosure
And with hir heed she wryed faste awey, twisted
And seyde, “I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey!”
“Why, lat be,” quod she, “lat be, Nicholas, [3285] said
Or I wol crie ‘out, harrow’ and ‘allas!’
Do wey youre handes, for youre curteisye!” take away
This Nicholas gan mercy for to crye, began
And spak so faire, and profred him so faste, made his proposal — earnestly
That she hir love hym graunted atte laste, [3290]
And swoor hir ooth, by Seint Thomas of Kent,
That she wol been at his comandement,
Whan that she may hir leyser wel espie. opportunity
“Myn housbonde is so ful of jalousie
That but ye wayte wel and been privee, [3295] unless
I woot right wel I nam but deed,” quod she. know — said
“Ye moste been ful deerne, as in this cas.” secret
“Nay, therof care thee noght,” quod Nicholas. said
“A clerk hadde litherly biset his whyle, badly — wasted his time
But if he koude a carpenter bigyle.” [3300] unless — trick
And thus they been accorded and ysworn agreed
To wayte a tyme, as I have told biforn.
Whan Nicholas had doon thus everideel,
And thakked hire aboute the lendes weel, patted — hips
He kiste hire sweete and taketh his sawtrie, [3305] psaltery
And pleyeth faste, and maketh melodie. well
Thanne fil it thus, that to the paryssh chirche, it happened
Cristes owene werkes for to wirche,
This goode wyf went on an haliday.
Hir forheed shoon as bright as any day, [3310]
So was it wasshen whan she leet hir werk. ???
Now was ther of that chirche a parissh clerk,
The which that was ycleped Absolon. called
Crul was his heer, and as the gold it shoon, curly
And strouted as a fanne large and brode; [3315] stretched
Ful streight and evene lay his joly shode. beautifully parted hair
His rode was reed, his eyen greye as goos. complexion — ruddy — eyes
With Poules wyndow corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly. stockings — elegantly
Yclad he was ful smal and proprely [3320] dressed — elegantly
Al in a kirtel of a lyght waget; cloak — blue
Ful faire and thikke been the poyntes set. close-set
And therupon he hadde a gay surplys surplice (priest’s garment)
As whit as is the blosme upon the rys. blossom — branch
A myrie child he was, so God me save. [3325] merry — protect
Wel koude he laten blood and clippe and shave, draw
And maken a chartre of lond or acquitaunce. legal deed
In twenty manere koude he trippe and daunce different ways
After the scole of Oxenforde tho, in the Oxford style
And with his legges casten to and fro, [3330]
And pleyen songes on a smal rubible; fiddle
Therto he song som tyme a loud quynyble; falsetto voice
And as wel koude he pleye on a giterne. guitar
In al the toun nas brewhous ne taverne there wasn’t
That he ne visited with his solas, [3335] entertainment
Ther any gaylard tappestere was. lively barmaid
But sooth to seyn, he was somdeel squaymous to tell the truth — somewhat — squeamish
Of fartyng, and of speche daungerous. fastidious
This Absolon, that jolif was and gay, cheerful
Gooth with a sencer on the haliday, [3340] censer (incense burner)
Sensynge the wyves of the parisshe faste;
And many a lovely look on hem he caste,
And namely on this carpenteris wyf. especially
To looke on hire hym thoughte a myrie lyf, it seemed to him
She was so propre and sweete and likerous. [3345] sexy
I dar wel seyn, if she hadde been a mous,
And he a cat, he wolde hire hente anon. hunt right away
This parissh clerk, this joly Absolon,
Hath in his herte swich a love-longynge such
That of no wyf took he noon offrynge; [3350]
For curteisie, he seyde, he wolde noon. didn’t want any
The moone, whan it was nyght, ful brighte shoon,
And Absolon his gyterne hath ytake, guitar — taken
For paramours he thoghte for to wake. mistress — stay awake
And forth he gooth, jolif and amorous, [3355]
Til he cam to the carpenteres hous
A litel after cokkes hadde ycrowe,
And dressed hym up by a shot-wyndowe casement window
That was upon the carpenteris wal.
He syngeth in his voys gentil and smal, [3360] high
“Now, deere lady, if thy wille be,
I praye yow that ye wole rewe on me,” pity
Ful wel acordaunt to his gyternynge.
This carpenter awook, and herde him synge,
And spak unto his wyf, and seyde anon, [3365] at once
“What! Alison! herestow nat Absolon, don’t you hear
That chaunteth thus under oure boures wal?” bower’s
And she answerde hir housbonde therwithal, in response
“Yis, God woot, John, I heere it every deel.” God knows
This passeth forth; what wol ye bet than weel? [3370] goes on — what more do you want
Fro day to day this joly Absolon
So woweth hire that hym is wo bigon. woos
He waketh al the nyght and al the day;
He kembeth his lokkes brode, and made hym gay; combs
He woweth hire by meenes and brocage, [3375] woos — go-betweens — intermediaries
And swoor he wolde been hir owene page; servant
He syngeth, brokkynge as a nyghtyngale; warbling
He sente hire pyment, meeth, and spiced ale, mead
And wafres, pipyng hoot out of the gleede; fire
And, for she was of town, he profred meede. [3380] because — a town-dweller — offered money
For som folk wol ben wonnen for richesse,
And somme for strokes, and somme for gentillesse. being beaten
Somtyme, to shewe his lightnesse and maistrye,
He pleyeth Herodes upon a scaffold hye.
But what availleth hym as in this cas? [3385] what good did it do him
She loveth so this hende Nicholas
That Absolon may blowe the bukkes horn;
He ne hadde for his labour but a scorn.
And thus she maketh Absolon hire ape,
And al his ernest turneth til a jape. [3390] seriousness — to — joke
Ful sooth is this proverbe, it is no lye, true
Men seyn right thus, ‘alwey the nye slye always — clever (one) nearby
Maketh the ferre leeve to be looth.’ faraway lover to be disliked
For though that Absolon be wood or wrooth, even if — insane
By cause that he fer was from hire sight, [3395] because — far
This nye Nicholas stood in his light. nearby
Now ber thee wel, thou hende Nicholas,
For Absolon may waille and synge allas.
And so bifel it on a Saterday, happened
This carpenter was goon til Osenay; [3400]
And hende Nicholas and Alisoun
Acorded been to this conclusioun,
That Nicholas shal shapen hym a wyle make up — trick
This sely jalous housbonde to bigyle; simple — deceive
And if so be the game wente aright, [3405]
She sholde slepen in his arm al nyght,
For this was his desir and hire also. hers
And right anon, withouten wordes mo, right away — more
This Nicholas no lenger wolde tarie,
But dooth ful softe unto his chambre carie [3410] quietly
Bothe mete and drynke for a day or tweye, food — two
And to hire housbonde bad hire for to seye, told
If that he axed after Nicholas, asked
She sholde seye she nyste where he was, didn’t know
Of al that day she saugh hym nat with ye; [3415] eye
She trowed that he was in maladye, believed
For for no cry hir mayde koude hym calle,
He nolde answere for thyng that myghte falle. would not — happen
This passeth forth al thilke Saterday, the same
That Nicholas stille in his chambre lay, [3420]
And eet and sleep, or dide what hym leste, pleased
Til Sonday, that the sonne gooth to reste.
This sely carpenter hath greet merveyle simple — astonishment
Of Nicholas, or what thyng myghte hym eyle, ail
And seyde, “I am adrad, by Seint Thomas, [3425] afraid
It stondeth nat aright with Nicholas.
God shilde that he deyde sodeynly! forbid — died
This world is now ful tikel, sikerly. unrleliable — certainly
I saugh to-day a cors yborn to chirche corpse — carried
That now, on Monday last, I saugh hym wirche. [3430]
Go up,” quod he unto his knave anoon, said
“Clepe at his dore, or knokke with a stoon. call
Looke how it is, and tel me boldely.”
This knave gooth hym up ful sturdily, servant — resolutely
And at the chambre dore whil that he stood, [3435]
He cride and knokked as that he were wood, insane
“What! how! what do ye, maister Nicholay?
How may ye slepen al the longe day?”
But al for noght, he herde nat a word.
An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord, [3440]
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at that hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the laste he hadde of hym a sight.
This Nicholas sat evere capyng upright, staring
As he had kiked on the newe moone. [3445] stared at
Adoun he gooth, and tolde his maister soone
In what array he saugh this ilke man. condition
This carpenter to blessen hym bigan,
And seyde, “help us, Seinte Frydeswyde!
A man woot litel what hym shal bityde. [3450] knows — happen to
This man is falle, with his astromye,
In some woodnesse or in som agonye. insanity
I thoghte ay wel how that it sholde be!
Men sholde nat knowe of goddes pryvetee. secrets
Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man [3455] uneducated
That noght but oonly his bileve kan! belief — knows
So ferde another clerk with astromye; fared
He walked in the feeldes, for to prye gaze
Upon the sterres, what ther sholde bifalle, happen
Til he was in a marle-pit yfalle; [3460] fertilizer pit — fallen
He saugh nat that. But yet, by Seint Thomas,
Me reweth soore of hende Nicholas. regret — badly
He shal be rated of his studiyng, scolded for
If that I may, by Jhesus, hevene kyng!
Get me a staf, that I may underspore, [3465] pry up
Whil that thou, Robyn, hevest up the dore. lift
He shal out of his studiyng, as I gesse.”
And to the chambre dore he gan hym dresse. began — turn his attention to
His knave was a strong carl for the nones, servant — man — on this occasion
And by the haspe he haaf it of atones; [3470] hasp — heaved
Into the floor the dore fil anon. at once
This Nicholas sat ay as stille as stoon,
And evere caped upward into the eir. stared
This carpenter wende he were in despeir, thought
And hente hym by the sholdres myghtily, [3475] took
And shook hym harde, and cride spitously,
“What! Nicholay! what, how! what, looke adoun!
Awak, and thenk on Cristes passioun! crucifixion
I crouche thee from elves and fro wightes.” guard — spirits
Therwith the nyght-spel seyde he anon-rightes [3480] night-charm — right away
On foure halves of the hous aboute,
And on the thresshfold of the dore withoute: corners
Jhesu Crist and Seinte Benedight,
Blesse this hous from every wikked wight, spirit
For nyghtes verye, the white pater-noster! [3485] evil spirit
Where wentestow, Seinte Petres soster?
And atte laste this hende Nicholas
Gan for to sik soore, and seyde, “allas! began — sigh
Shal al the world be lost aftsoones now?” right now
This carpenter answerde, “what seystow? [3490]
What! thynk on god, as we doon, men that swynke.” work
This Nicholas answerde, “fecche me drynke,
And after wol I speke in pryvetee privately
Of certeyn thyng that toucheth me and thee. concerns
I wol telle it noon oother man, certeyn.” [3495]
This carpenter goth doun, and comth ageyn,
And broghte of myghty ale a large quart;
And whan that ech of hem had dronke his part,
This Nicholas his dore faste shette, tight — shut
And doun the carpenter by hym he sette. [3500] sat
He seyde “John, myn hooste, lief and deere, beloved
Thou shalt upon thy trouthe swere me heere word of honor — swear
That to no wight thou shalt this conseil wreye; person — advice — reveal
For it is Cristes conseil that I seye, advice
And if thou telle it man, thou art forlore; [3505] lost
For this vengeaunce thou shalt han therfore,
That if thou wreye me, thou shalt be wood. expose — insane
Nay, Crist forbede it, for his hooly blood!”
Quod tho this sely man, “I nam no labbe; said then — simple — blabbermouth
Ne, though I seye, I nam nat lief to gabbe. [3510] I do not like
Sey what thou wolt, I shal it nevere telle
To child ne wyf, by hym that harwed helle!”
“Now John,” quod Nicholas, “I wol nat lye; said
I have yfounde in myn astrologye,
As I have looked in the moone bright, [3515]
That now a Monday next, at quarter nyght,
Shal falle a reyn, and that so wilde and wood, rain — crazy
That half so greet was nevere Noes flood. Noah’s
This world,” he seyde, “in lasse than an hour
Shal al be dreynt, so hidous is the shour. [3520] drowned
Thus shal mankynde drenche, and lese hir lyf.” [35] lose
This carpenter answerde, “allas, my wyf!
And shal she drenche? allas, myn Alisoun!” drown
For sorwe of this he fil almoost adoun,
And seyde, “is ther no remedie in this cas?” [3525]
“Why, yis, for Gode,” quod hende Nicholas, said
“If thou wolt werken after loore and reed. learning — advice
Thou mayst nat werken after thyn owene heed; your own ideas
For thus seith Salomon, that was ful trewe,
‘Werk al by conseil, and thou shalt nat rewe.’ [3530] advice — regret
And if thou werken wolt by good conseil,
I undertake, withouten mast and seyl, promise
Yet shal I saven hire and thee and me.
Hastow nat herd hou saved was Noe, Have you — Noah
Whan that oure lord hadde warned hym biforn [3535]
That al the world with water sholde be lorn?” lost
“Yis,” quod this carpenter, “ful yoore ago.” said — a long tikme
“Hastou nat herd,” quod Nicholas, “also Have you — said
The sorwe of Noe with his felaweshipe, sorrow — Noah
Er that he myghte gete his wyf to shipe? [3540] before
Hym hadde be levere, I dar wel undertake he would rather — promise
At thilke tyme, than alle his wetheres blake the same — sheep
That she hadde had a ship hirself allone.
And therfore, woostou what is best to doone? do you know
This asketh haste, and of an hastif thyng [3545] requires speed — hasty
Men may nat preche or maken tariyng. wasting time
Anon go gete us faste into this in immediately — securely
A knedyng trogh, or ellis a kymelyn, vat
For ech of us, but looke that they be large,
In which we mowe swymme as in a barge, [3550] may
And han therinne vitaille suffisant food
But for a day, — fy on the remenant! what’s left over
The water shal aslake and goon away subside
Aboute pryme upon the nexte day. nine in the morning
But Robyn may nat wite of this, thy knave, [3555] servant
Ne eek thy mayde Gille I may nat save; also
Axe nat why, for though thou aske me, ask
I wol nat tellen goddes pryvetee. secrets
Suffiseth thee, but if thy wittes madde, let it be enough
To han as greet a grace as Noe hadde. [3560] have — Noah
Thy wyf shal I wel saven, out of doute.
Go now thy wey, and speed thee heer-aboute.
But whan thou hast, for hire and thee and me,
Ygeten us thise knedyng tubbes thre, gotten for us
Thanne shaltow hange hem in the roof ful hye, [3565] hang
That no man of oure purveiaunce spye. preparation
And whan thou thus hast doon, as I have seyd,
And hast oure vitaille faire in hem yleyd, food — laid
And eek an ax, to smyte the corde atwo, also — cut
Whan that the water comth, that we may go, [3570]
And breke an hole an heigh, upon the gable,
Unto the gardyn-ward, over the stable, toward the garden
That we may frely passen forth oure way,
Whan that the grete shour is goon away,
Thanne shaltou swymme as myrie, I undertake, [3575]
As dooth the white doke after hire drake. duck
Thanne wol I clepe, ‘how, Alison! how, John! call
Be myrie, for the flood wol passe anon.’ soon
And thou wolt seyn, ‘hayl, maister Nicholay!
Good morwe, I se thee wel, for it is day.’ [3580] morning
And thanne shul we be lordes al oure lyf
Of al the world, as Noe and his wyf. Noah
But of o thyng I warne thee ful right: one
Be wel avysed on that ilke nyght
That we ben entred into shippes bord, [3585]
That noon of us ne speke nat a word,
Ne clepe, ne crie, but be in his preyere; Don’t call
For it is goddes owene heeste deere. command
Thy wyf and thou moote hange fer atwynne; far apart
For that bitwixe yow shal be no synne, [3590] between
Namoore in lookyng than ther shal in deede, no more
This ordinance is seyd. Go, God thee speede! rule
Tomorwe at nyght, whan men ben alle aslepe,
Into oure knedyng-tubbes wol we crepe,
And sitten there, abidyng goddes grace. [3595] waiting for
Go now thy wey, I have no lenger space
To make of this no lenger sermonyng.
Men seyn thus, ‘sende the wise, and sey no thyng’:
Thou art so wys, it needeth thee nat teche.
Go, save oure lyf, and that I the biseche.” [3600] beg you
This sely carpenter goth forth his wey. simple
Ful ofte he seide ‘allas’ and ‘weylawey,’ woe!
And to his wyf he tolde his pryvetee, secret
And she was war, and knew it bet than he, careful — better
What al this queynte cast was for to seye. [3605] clever — skill
But nathelees she ferde as she wolde deye, feared
And seyde, “allas! go forth thy wey anon, at once
Help us to scape, or we been dede echon!
I am thy trewe, verray wedded wyf;
Go, deere spouse, and help to save oure lyf.” [3610]
Lo, which a greet thyng is affeccioun!
Men may dyen of ymaginacioun,
So depe may impressioun be take.
This sely carpenter bigynneth quake; simple
Hym thynketh verraily that he may see [3615] it seems to him
Noees flood come walwynge as the see Noah’s
To drenchen Alisoun, his hony deere. drown
He wepeth, weyleth, maketh sory cheere; wails
He siketh with ful many a sory swogh; sighs — sigh
He gooth and geteth hym a knedyng trogh, [3620]
And after that a tubbe and a kymelyn, vat
And pryvely he sente hem to his in,
And heng hem in the roof in pryvetee. hung — secret
His owene hand he made laddres thre,
To clymben by the ronges and the stalkes [3625] uprights
Unto the tubbes hangynge in the balkes, beams
And hem vitailled, bothe trogh and tubbe, provided with food
With breed and chese, and good ale in a jubbe, bread — jug
Suffisynge right ynogh as for a day.
But er that he hadde maad al this array, [3630] before — preparation
He sente his knave, and eek his wenche also, manservant — also — maidservant
Upon his nede to London for to go. errand
And on the Monday, whan it drow to nyght,
He shette his dore withoute candel-lyght, shut
And dressed alle thyng as it sholde be. [3635]
And shortly, up they clomben alle thre; climbed
They seten stille wel a furlong way. sat — a few minutes
“Now, Pater-Noster, clom!” seyde Nicholay, climb
“And clom,” quod John, and “clom,” seyde Alisoun. climb — said
This carpenter seyde his devocioun, [3640] prayer
And stille he sit, and biddeth his preyere, sits — says
Awaitynge on the reyn, if he it heere.
The dede sleep, for wery bisynesse,
Fil on this carpenter right, as I gesse,
Aboute corfew-tyme, or litel moore; [3645] evening
For travaille of his goost he groneth soore, suffering — spirit
And eft he routeth, for his heed myslay. also — cries out — lies uncomfortably
Doun of the laddre stalketh Nicholay, goes carefully
And Alisoun ful softe adoun she spedde;
Withouten wordes mo they goon to bedde, [3650]
Ther as the carpenter is wont to lye.
Ther was the revel and the melodye; merrymaking
And thus lith Alison and Nicholas,
In bisynesse of myrthe and of solas, happiness — joy
Til that the belle of laudes gan to rynge, [3655] bell for early morning prayer began
And freres in the chaunsel gonne synge. friars — part of a church
This parissh clerk, this amorous Absolon,
That is for love alwey so wo bigon,
Upon the Monday was at Oseneye
With compaignye, hym to disporte and pleye, [3660] pass the time
And axed upon cas a cloisterer asked — by chance — monk
Ful prively after John the carpenter; secretly
And he drough hym apart out of the chirche, drew
And seyde, I noot, I saugh hym heere nat wirche don’t know — work
Syn Saterday; I trowe that he be went [3665] believe
For tymber, ther oure abbot hath hym sent;
For he is wont for tymber for to go,
And dwellen at the grange a day or two; farmhouse
Or elles he is at his hous, certeyn.
Where that he be, I kan nat soothly seyn. [3670] truly say
This Absolon ful joly was and light,
And thoghte, now is tyme to wake al nyght;
For sikirly I saugh hym nat stirynge certainly
Aboute his dore, syn day bigan to sprynge. since
So moot I thryve, I shal, at cokkes crowe, [3675]
Ful pryvely knokken at his wyndowe secretly
That stant ful lowe upon his boures wal.
To Alison now wol I tellen al
My love-longynge, for yet I shal nat mysse
That at the leeste wey I shal hire kisse. [3680]
Som maner confort shal I have, parfay. by faith
My mouth hath icched al this longe day;
That is a signe of kissyng atte leeste.
Al nyght me mette eek I was at a feeste. also
Therfore I wol go slepe an houre or tweye, [3685] two
And al the nyght thanne wol I wake and pleye.
Whan that the firste cok hath crowe, anon soon
Up rist this joly lovere Absolon
And hym arraieth gay, at poynt-devys. dresses himself — perfectly
But first he cheweth greyn and lycorys, [3690]
To smellen sweete, er he hadde kembd his heer. before — combed
Under his tonge a trewe-love he beer,
For therby wende he to ben gracious.
He rometh to the carpenteres hous,
And stille he stant under the shot-wyndowe — [3695]
Unto his brest it raughte, it was so lowe — reached
And softe he cougheth with a semy soun — pleasing
“What do ye, hony-comb, sweete Alisoun,
My faire bryd, my sweete cynamome?
Awaketh, lemman myn, and speketh to me! [3700] my dear
Wel litel thynken ye upon my wo,
That for youre love I swete ther I go.
No wonder is thogh that I swelte and swete;
I moorne as dooth a lamb after the tete. teat
Ywis, lemman, I have swich love-longynge, [3705] my dear — so much
That lik a turtel trewe is my moornynge. turtle-dove
I may nat ete na moore than a mayde.”
“Go fro the wyndow, jakke fool,” she sayde;
“As help me god, it wol nat be ’com pa me.’
I love another — and elles I were to blame — [3710]
Wel bet than thee, by Jhesu, Absolon.
Go forth thy wey, or I wol caste a ston,
And lat me slepe, a twenty devel wey!” in the name of twenty devils!
“Allas,” quod Absolon, “and weylawey, said — woe!
That trewe love was evere so yvel biset! [3715]
Thanne kysse me, syn it may be no bet, no better
For Jhesus love, and for the love of me.”
“Wiltow thanne go thy wey therwith?” quod she. will you — said
“Ye, certes, lemman,” quod this Absolon. surely — dear — said
“Thanne make thee redy,” quod she, “I come anon.” [3720] right now
And unto Nicholas she seyde stille, quietly
“Now hust, and thou shalt laughen al thy fille.” listen
This Absolon doun sette hym on his knees
And seyde, “I am a lord at alle degrees;
For after this I hope ther cometh moore. [3725]
Lemman, thy grace, and sweete bryd, thyn oore!” darling — bird — mercy
The wyndow she undoth, and that in haste.
“Have do,” quod she, “com of, and speed the faste, hurry up
Lest that oure neighebores thee espie.”
This Absolon gan wype his mouth ful drie. [3730] began
Derk was the nyght as pich, or as the cole,
And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole,
And Absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers ass
Ful savourly, er he were war of this. [3735]
Abak he stirte, and thoughte it was amys, started — wrong
For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd. knew
He felte a thyng al rough and long yherd, hairy
And seyde, “fy! allas! what have I do?”
“Tehee!” quod she, and clapte the wyndow to, [3740]
And Absolon gooth forth a sory pas.
“A berd! a berd!” quod hende Nicholas,
“By goddes corpus, this goth faire and weel.” God’s body
This sely Absolon herde every deel, simple — every bit
And on his lippe he gan for anger byte, [3745] began
And to hymself he seyde, “I shal thee quyte.” get back at you
Who rubbeth now, who froteth now his lippes
With dust, with sond, with straw, with clooth, with chippes,
But Absolon, that seith ful ofte, “allas!
My soule bitake I unto Sathanas, [3750] Satan
But me were levere than al this toun,” quod he, I would prefer — said
“Of this despit awroken for to be.
Allas,” quod he, “allas, I ne hadde ybleynt!” been blind
His hoote love was coold and al yqueynt; quenched
For fro that tyme that he hadde kist hir ers, [3755] kissed her ass
Of paramours he sette nat a kers; didn’t care at all
For he was heeled of his maladie.
Ful ofte paramours he gan deffie, began
And weep as dooth a child that is ybete. beaten
A softe paas he wente over the strete [3760]
Until a smyth men cleped Daun Gerveys, called
That in his forge smythed plough harneys;
He sharpeth shaar and kultour bisily. plowshare
This Absolon knokketh al esily,
“What, who artow?” “It am I, absalon.”
And seyde, “undo, Gerveys, and that anon.” [3765] right away
“What, Absolon! for Cristes sweete tree,
Why rise ye so rathe? Ey, benedicitee! early
What eyleth yow? Som gay gerl, God it woot, knows
Hath broght yow thus upon the viritoot. [3770] made you rush about
By Seinte Note, ye woot wel what I mene.” know
This Absolon ne roghte nat a bene didn’t care at all
Of al his pley; no word agayn he yaf; gave
He hadde moore tow on his distaf business to attend to
Than Gerveys knew, and seyde, “freend so deere, [3775]
That hoote kultour in the chymenee heere, plowshare
As lene it me, I have therwith to doone, lend — something to do with it
And I wol brynge it thee agayn ful soone.”
Gerveys answerde, “certes, were it gold, certainly
Or in a poke nobles alle untold, [3780] bag — golden coins
Thou sholdest have, as I am trewe smyth.
Ey, Cristes foo! what wol ye do therwith?” foe
“Therof,” quod Absolon, “be as be may.
I shal wel telle it thee to-morwe day,”
And caughte the kultour by the colde stele. [3785] plowshare
Ful softe out at the dore he gan to stele, began — move quietly
And wente unto the carpenteris wal.
He cogheth first, and knokketh therwithal then
Upon the wyndowe, right as he dide er. exactly — before
This Alison answerde, “who is ther [3790]
That knokketh so? I warante it a theef.” swear
“Why, nay,” quod he, “God woot, my sweete leef, said — knows — beloved
I am thyn Absolon, my deerelyng.
Of gold,” quod he, “I have thee broght a ryng.
My mooder yaf it me, so God me save; [3795] mother gave
Ful fyn it is, and therto wel ygrave. engraved
This wol I yeve thee, if thou me kisse.” give
This Nicholas was risen for to pisse,
And thoughte he wolde amenden al the jape; improve — joke
He sholde kisse his ers er that he scape. [3800] ass — before — leave
And up the wyndowe dide he hastily,
And out his ers he putteth pryvely ass
Over the buttok, to the haunche-bon;
And therwith spak this clerk, this Absolon,
“Spek, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art.” [3805] bird — don’t know
This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart, at once — let fly
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent, thunderclap
That with the strook he was almoost yblent; blinded
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot. [3810] in the middle — ass — struck
Of gooth the skyn an hande-brede aboute, off — hand’s breadth
The hoote kultour brende so his toute, plowshare — burned — bottom
And for the smert he wende for to dye. pain — thought
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye, as if he were insane — began
“Help! water! water! water! help, for goddes herte!” [3815]
This carpenter out of his slomber sterte,
And herde oon crien “water” as he were wood, one crying — insane
And thoughte, “allas, now comth Nowelis flood!” NOah’s
He sit hym up withouten wordes mo,
And with his ax he smoot the corde atwo, [3820] cut — in two
And doun gooth al; he foond neither to selle,
Ne breed ne ale, til he cam to the celle neither bread — foundation
Upon the floor, and ther aswowne he lay. dazed
Up stirte hire Alison and Nicholay, started
And criden “out’ and “harrow” in the strete. [3825] help!
The neighebores, bothe smale and grete, of low and high class
In ronnen for to gauren on this man, stare
That yet aswowne lay, bothe pale and wan, dazed — bruised
For with the fal he brosten hadde his arm. broken
But stonde he moste unto his owene harm; [3830] endure — must
For whan he spak, he was anon bore doun at once
With hende Nicholas and Alisoun.
They tolden every man that he was wood, crazy
He was agast so of Nowelis flood afraid — Noah’s
Thurgh fantasie, that of his vanytee [3835] imagination
He hadde yboght hym knedyng tubbes thre,
And hadde hem hanged in the roof above;
And that he preyed hem, for goddes love, begged them
To sitten in the roof, par compaignye.
The folk gan laughen at his fantasye; [3840] people began to laugh
Into the roof they kiken and they cape,
And turned al his harm unto a jape. joke
For what so that this carpenter answerde, no matter what
It was for noght, no man his reson herde. explanation
With othes grete he was so sworn adoun [3845]
That he was holde wood in al the toun; believed to be insane
For every clerk anonright heeld with oother. immediately — talked
They seyde, “the man is wood, my leeve brother”; insane — dear
And every wight gan laughen at this stryf. person began to laugh
Thus swyved was this carpenteris wyf, [3850] fucked
For al his kepyng and his jalousye; guarding
And Absolon hath kist hir nether ye; lower eye
And Nicholas is scalded in the towte. ass
This tale is doon, and God save al the rowte! company

Notes