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O lord, our lord.






Domine Dominus noster. (Psalm 8)

O Lord, Our Lord, thy name how marvellous

Is in this larg world y-spread (quod she),

For not only thy laud precïous

Performd is by men of dignity,

But by the mouth of children thy bounty

Performd is, for on the breast sucking

Sometimes showen they thy herying.

Wherefore in laud, as I best can or may,

Of thee and of the whit lily-flower

Which that thee bore, and is a maid alway,

To tell a story I will do my laboúr;

Not that I may encreasen her honoúr,

For she herself is honour and the root

Of bounty, next her son, and soul's boote.1

O mother maid, O maiden mother free!

O bush unburnt, burning in Moses' sight,

That ravishedest down from the deity,

Through thy humbless, the Ghost that in thee alight,

Of whose virtue, when He thine heart light,

Conceivd was the Father's Sapience2

Help me to tell it in thy reverence.

Lady, thy bounty, thy magnificence,

Thy virtue and thy great humility

There may no tongue express in no sciénce.

For sometimes, lady, ere men pray to thee,

your praise

is celebrated


thy praises

in honor

who gave you birth

honor / salvation

free from sin?

drew down / Godhead


power / gladdened



branch of learning




1655-6:  "Next to her Son she is the source or all honor and salvation."

1658-62:  The Burning Bush which Moses saw burning but not burnt (Exodus 3), was regarded as a

symbol of Mary, both virgin and mother. She conceived Christ (the Wisdom of the Father) by the power

(virtue) of the Holy Spirit which alighted upon her, and hence remained a virgin even after she had








Thou go'st before of thy benignity,

And gettest us the light, of thy prayer,

To guiden us unto thy Son so dear.

My cunning is so weak, O blissful Queen,

For to declare thy great worthiness,

That I ne may the weight not sustain;

But as a child of twelve months old or less,

That can unneth any word express

Right so fare I.  And therefore, I you pray,

Guideth my song that I shall of you say.


There was in Asia in a great city,

Amongest Christian folk, a Jewery,

Sustaind by a lord of that country

For foul usúre and lucre of villainy


Hateful to Christ and to his company.

And through the street men might ride and wend,

For it was free and open at either end.

A little school of Christian folk there stood

Down at the farther end, in which there were

Children a heap, y-come of Christian blood,

That learnd in that school year by year

Such manner doctrine as men usd there.

This is to say, to singen and to read,

As small children do in their childhood.

Among these children was a widow's son,

A little clergeon seven years of age,

That day by day to school was his wone.

And eke also, where as he saw th'imáge


of your goodness

by thy

understanding / blessed


Just so am I

about you

Jewish section




usury / wicked gain

His followers

& walk




(to go) to / custom

in addition / statue


1680 ff.:  Strictly speaking, usury (charging interest on money lent) was condemned by

theologians and was illegal in Christendom, but since rulers often needed large loans, they

sometimes allowed Jews to be interest-charging bankers, and protected them.



Of Christ's mother, had he in uságe,

As him was taught, to kneel adown and say

His "Ave Mary" as he goes by the way.

Thus hath this widow her little son y-taught

Our blissful Lady, Christ's mother dear,


To worship aye;    and he forgot it not,

For silly child will alday soon lere.

But aye when I remember on this mattér,

Saint Nicholas stands ever in my presénce,


For he so young to Christ did reverénce.

This little child his little book learning,

As he sat in the school at his primer,

He "Alma Redemptoris"  heard sing,  3

As children learnd their antiphoner;

And as he durst, he drew him near and near,

And hearkened aye the words and the note,

Till he the first verse could all by rote.

Nought wist he what this Latin was to say,

For he so young and tender was of age;

But on a day his fellow gan he pray

T'expounden him this song in his language,

Or tell him why this song was in uságe.

This prayed he him to construe and declare,

Full often time upon his knees bare.

His fellow, which that elder was than he,

Answered him thus: "This song, I have heard say,


it was his habit

(to) him

Ave Maria i.e. Hail Mary





blessed lady


young / always / learn


elementary book

heard sung

hymn book

dared / nearer

listened / music

knew by heart

He didn't know / meant

fellow student / ask

To explain to him

was used

translate / explain

1 1699-1701: ?This widow has taught her little son to honor always Our Lady, Christ's



1704-5: When an infant at the breast, St. Nicholas used to feed only once a day on Wednesdays and

Fridays! Note that in "presence" and "reverence" the accent was on the final syllable as in a number of other

words derived directly from French.


1708:  A Latin hymn whose opening words "Alma Redemptoris Mater" mean "O dear mother of the










Was makd of our blissful Lady free,

Her to salue, and eke her for to pray

To be our help and succour when we die.

I can no more expound in this mattér.

I learn song; I can but small grammér."

"And is this song makd in reverence

Of Christ's mother?"  said this innocent.

"Now certs I will do my diligence

To con it all ere Christmas is went.

Though that I for my primer shall be shent

And shall be beaten thric in an hour,

I will it con Our Lady for t'honoúr."

His fellow taught him homeward privily,

From day to day, till he could it by rote.

And then he sang it well and boldly,

From word to word, according with the note.

Twice a day it passd through his throat,

To schoolward and homeward when he went;

On Christ's mother set was his intent.

As I have said, throughout the Jewry

This little child, as he came to and fro,

Full merrily would he sing and cry

"O Alma Redemptoris" ever mo'.

The sweetness hath his heart piercd so

Of Christ's mother, that to her to pray

He cannot stint of singing by the way.

Our first foe, the serpent Satanas,

That hath in Jews' heart his wasps nest,

Up swelled, and said: "O Hebraic people, alas!

Is this to you a thing that is honést,

That such a boy shall walken as him lest

In your despite, and sing of such sentence,

Which is against your law's reverence?"


made about / gracious


and aid

I don't know much grammar

do my best

To learn / before C.

schoolbook / punished

will learn it


knew it by heart

with the music

cannot stop


as he pleases

To insult / doctrine









From thencforth the Jews have conspired

This innocent out of the world to chase.

A homicide thereto have they hired

That in an alley had a privy place.

And as the child gan forby for to pace,

This cursd Jew him hent and held him fast,

And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast.

I say that in a wardrobe they him threw,

Where as these Jews purgen their entrail.

O cursd folk of Herods all new,1

What may your evil intent you avail?

Murder will out, certain it will not fail!

And namely there the honor of God shall spread,

The blood out crieth on your cursd deed!

O martyr souded to virginity,

Now mayst thou singen, following ever in one

The White Lamb celestial (quod she)

Of which the great Evangelist Saint John

In Patmos wrote — which says that they that gon

Before this Lamb and sing a song all new,


That never — fleshly — women they ne knew.

This poor widow waiteth all that night

After her little child, but he came not.

For which, as soon as it was day's light,

With face pale of dread and busy thought

She has at school and elswhere him sought;

Till finally she gan so far espy,

That he last seen was in the Jewry.



to pass that way



empty their bowels


without fail

devoted to

Revelations XIV, 1-4.




1764:  The reference is to Herod the Great who was responsible for the massacre of the Innnocents at

Bethlehem around the birth of Christ  (Matthew 2).


1769-75:  A reference to the 144,000 virgins who follow the Lamb in heaven and sing "as it were a

new canticle before the throne."  The reference is to the Apocalypse XIV  of St. John the Evangelist who

supposedly wrote on the island of Patmos.






With mother's pity in her breast enclosed

She goes, as she were half out of her mind,

To every plac where she hath supposed

By likelihood her little child to find.

And ever on Christ's mother, meek and kind,

She cried.  And at the last thus she wrought:

Among the cursd Jews she him sought.

She fraineth and she prayeth piteously

To every Jew that dwelt in thilk place

To tell her if her child went ought forby.

They said nay; but Jesus of his grace

Gave in her thought, within a little space,

That in that place after her son she cried

Where he was casten in a pit beside.



always to



that place

had passed there

she called out for




O great God, that performest thy laud

By mouth of innocents, lo, here thy might!

This gem of chastity, this emerald,

And eke of martyrdom the ruby bright,

There he with throat y-carven lay upright

He "Alma Redemptoris"  'gan to sing

So loud that all the place began to ring!

The Christian folk that through the street went

In comen for to wonder on this thing,

And hastily they for the provost sent.

He came anon, withouten tarrying,

And herieth Christ, that is of heaven king,

And eke his mother, honour of mankind,

And after that the Jews let he bind.

This child with piteous lamentatïon

Up taken was, singing his song alway,

And with honoúr of great processïon


And also

cut / lay face up


at once


had them tied up


1794-6:  "Put it into her head after a little while that she should cry out for her son at the spot where

he had been cast into the pit."









They carry him unto the next abbey.

His mother swooning by this bier lay.

Unneth might the people that was there

This new Rachel bringen from his bier.1

With torment and with shameful death each one

The Provost doth these Jews for to starve

That of this murder wist, and that anon,

He would no such cursedness observe:

"Evil shall have what evil will deserve!"

Therefore with wild horse he did them draw;  2

And after that he hung them by the law.

Upon his bier aye lies this innocent

Before the chief altar, while mass lasts;

And after that the abbot with his convent

Have sped them for to bury him full fast;

And when they holy water on him cast

Yet spoke this child when sprend was holy water

And sang "O Alma Redemptoris Mater."

This abbot which that was a holy man,

As monks been — or els ought to be —

This young child to conjure he began,

And said, "O dear child, I hals thee,

In virtue of the Holy Trinity,

Tell me what is thy caus for to sing,

Since that thy throat is cut, to my seeming."

"My throat is cut unto my neck-bone"

Said this child, "and as by way of kind

I should have died, yea, long time agone.

But Jesus Christ, as you in books find,



has them killed

Those who knew about


had them torn apart


group of monks



to call upon

I beg

it seems to me

according to nature


1817:  The reference is to the liturgy for the Feast of Holy Innocents which has the reading from Matt.

2: "A voice in Ramah was heard, lamentation and great mourning, Rachel bewailing her children and would

not be comforted because they are not."


1823:  "horse" is plural, as in "a regiment of horse".





Wills that his glory last and be in mind;

And for the worship of his mother dear

Yet may I sing `O Alma'  loud and clear.

"This well of mercy, Christ's mother sweet,

I loved always as after my cunning;

And when that I my lif should forlete

To me she came, and bade me for to sing

This anthem verily in my dying,

As you have heard.     And when that I had sung,

Me thought she laid a grain upon my tongue.

?Wherefore I sing and sing must, certáin,

In honour of that blissful maiden free,

Till from my tongue off taken is the grain;

And after that thus said she unto to me,

`My little child, now will I fetch thee

When that the grain is from thy tongue y-take.

Be not aghast, I will thee not forsake.' "

This holy monk, this abbot, him mean I,

His tongue out caught, and took away the grain;

And he gave up the ghost full softly.

And when this abbot had this wonder seen,

His salt tears trickled down as rain

And gruf he fell all plat upon the ground,

And still he lay as he had been y-bound.

The convent eke lay on the pavment

Weeping, and herying Christ's mother dear.

And after that they rise and forth been went

And took away this martyr from his bier.

And in a tomb of marblestons clear

Enclosen they his little body sweet.

Where he is now God leve us for to meet!

O young Hugh of Lincoln, slain also

With cursd Jews, as it is notáble


wishes / should last

as best I knew








It seemed

blessed / gracious



died quietly

face down / flat


and go out

God grant

By / well known



(For it is but a little while ago)



Pray eke for us, we sinful folk unstable,

That of his mercy God so merciáble

On us his great mercy multiply,

For reverence of his mother Mary.


The Words of the Host to Chaucer the Pilgrim






When said was all this miracle, every man

As sober was that wonder was to see;

Till that our Host japen he began,

And then at erst he lookd upon me,

And said thus: "What man art thou?" quod he.

"Thou lookest as thou wouldest find a hare,

For ever upon the ground I see thee stare.

?Approach near and look up merrily!

Now, ware you, sirs, and let this man have place.

He in the waist is shape as well as I:

This were a puppet in an arm t'embrace

For any woman, small and fair of face!

He seemeth elvish by his countenance,

For unto no wight does he dalliance.

Say now somewhat, since other folk have said:

Tell us a tale of mirth, and that anon. "

"Host,"  quod I, "ne be not evil apaid,

For other tal, certs, can I none,

But of a rime I learnd long agon,"

"Yea, that is good," quod he. "Now shall we hear

Some dainty thing, me thinketh by his cheer."

Prioress tale

to joke


stand aside


talks to nobody


know I



1874-6:  Hugh of Lincoln was supposed to have been murdered by Jews in 1255, hardly a short time

ago for someone writing or speaking in the 1380's or 1390's.




The Pilgrim Chaucer tells his tale of Sir Thopas, a ridiculous knight (we omit it

here). It is a parody of English verse romances of a kind common in and before

Chaucer's time which were written in a jog-trot kind of verse that quickly becomes

tedious.  The Host cannot stand it for more than about 200 lines and interrupts


Interruption of Chaucer's Tale of Sir Thopas

"No more of this, for God's dignity,"



as surely as








Quod our Host, "for thou makest me

So weary of thy very lewdness

That, all so wisly God my soul bless,

My ears achen of thy drasty speech.

Now such a rime the devil I beteach.

This may well be rime doggerel," quod he.

"Why so?"  quod I.  "Why wilt thou lett me

More of my tal than another man.

Since that it is the best rime I can?"

"By God," quod he, "For plainly at a word,

Thy drasty riming is not worth a turd!

Thou dost naught els but dispendest time:

Sir, at a word, thou shalt no longer rime.

Let's see whe'r thou canst tellen aught in geste,

Or tell in pros somewhat, at the least,

In which there be some mirth or some doctrine."

"Gladly," quod I. "By God's sweet pain,

I will you tell a little thing in prose

That ought to liken you, as I suppose,

Or else certs you be too daungerous.

It is a moral tal virtuous,

Albeit told sometime in sundry wise,

Of sundry folk, as I shall you devise.

As thus: You wot that every evangelist

That telleth us the pain of Jesus Christ

Ne saith not all things as his fellow doth;

But natheless, their sentence is all sooth,

stop me


whether /  alliteration?


to please

hard to please


By different f. / tell

Y   know / see 2141


sense, contents / true







And all accorden, as in their senténce,

All be there in their telling difference.

For some of them say more and some say less

When they his piteous passïon express;

I mean of Mark and Matthew, Luke, and John;

But doubtless their sentence is all one.

Therefore, lordings all, I you beseech,

If that you think I vary as in my speech,

As thus, though that I tell somewhat more

Of proverbs than you have heard before

Compre'nded in this little treatise here,

To enforcen with th' effect of my mattér,

And though I not the sam words say

As you have heard—yet to you all I pray

Blameth me not, for as in my senténce

Shall you nowher finden difference

From the sentence of this treatis lite

After the which this merry tale I write.

And, therefore, hearken what that I shall say,

And let me tellen all my tale, I pray."



all agree

Although there is

the Evangelists


contained in

to reinforce



Chaucer  the  Pilgrim  now  tells  a  long  "tale"  in  prose  and  full  of  proverbs,  about

Melibee and his wife Prudence,   a woman who incarnates her name, especially in

urging upon her husband the virtue of restraint, even when his anger is justified. It is

more "treatise" than tale, and is salutary, no doubt, but not very entertaining, and it

strains our suspension of disbelief to think of it as being told to the pilgrims. In fact

in the lines above Chaucer the writer does slip and has "this merry tale I write."  It is

not a "merry" tale by any standards, and is omitted here, but the Host's response to

this tale about a woman so different from his own wife is included.



When ended was my tale of Melibee

And of Prudence and her benignity,

Our Host said, "As I am faithful man!










And by that precious corpus Madrian,

I had lever than a barrel ale

That Goodlief my wife had heard this tale!

For she is nothing of such patïence

As was this Melibeus' wife Prudénce!

By God's bones, when I beat my knaves,

She bringeth me the great clubbd staves,

And crieth:  `Slay the doggs, every one,

And break them both back and every bone!'

And if that any neighbor of mine

Will not in church unto my wife incline,

Or be so hardy to her to trespass,

When she comes home she rampeth in my face

And crieth: `Fals coward, wreak thy wife!

By corpus bons, I will have thy knife

And thou shalt have my distaff and go spin!'

From day to night right thus she will begin:

`Alas,' she says, `that ever I was shape

To wed a milksop or a coward ape,

That will be overled of every wight!

Thou darest not standen by thy wife's right!'

This is my life, but if that I will fight.

And out at door anon I must me dight,

Or else I am but lost, but if that I

Be like a wild lion foolhardy.

I wot well she will do me slay some day

Some neighbour and thenn go my way;

For I am perilous with knife in hand,

Albeit that I dare not her withstand,

For she is big in arms, by my faith.

That shall he find that her misdoth or saith

But let us pass away from this matter.


by St. Hadrian (?)

rather than



yield to

so rash / offend



By God

stick for spinning

was born

walked on by everyone

unless I

quickly exit

unless I

cause me to kill

offends in deed or word



My lord the Monk,"  quod he,  "be merry of cheer,

For you shall tell a tal truly.



Lo, Rochester stands her        by!

 lord, break not our game!

 not your name.

Whe'r shall I call you my lord Daun John?

Or Daun Thomas or els Daun Alban?  1

Of what house be you, by your father's kin?

I vow to God, thou hast a full fair skin.

It is a gentle pasture where  thou goest!

Thou art not like a penitent or a ghost!

Upon my faith, thou art some officer,

Some worthy sexton, or some cellarer,

For by my father's soul, as to my doom,

Thou art a master when thou art at home,

No poor cloisterer, nor no novice,

But a governor, wily and wise,

And therewithal of brawns and of bones

A well-faring person for the nones!

I pray God give him confusïon

That first thee brought into religïon.

Thou wouldst have been a treadfowl aright.

Hadst thou as great a leave as thou hast might

To perform all thy lust in engendrúre,

Thou hadst begotten many a creätúre!

Alas, why wearest thou so wide a cope?

God give me sorrow but, an' I were Pope,

Not only thou, but every mighty man,

Though he were shorn full high upon his pan,

Should have a wife, for all the world is lorn;

Religïous hath take up all the corn

Of treading; and we burel men be shrimps!

Of feeble trees there comen wretched imps;

This maketh that our heirs be so slender

And feeble that they may not well engender;

This maketh that our wivs will assay

Religious folk, for they may better pay

Of Venus's payments than may we.











monastic posts

in my opinion

You're in charge




rider of hens

permission /  virility



I declare if I were

shaved / head


R. (life) / best

breeders / laymen












God wot, no Lusheburghs payen ye!

But be not wroth, my lord, though that I play:

Full oft in game a sooth I have heard say."

This worthy Monk took all in patïence,

And said, "I will do all my diligence,

As far as souneth into honesty,

To tell you a tale or two or three.

And if you list to hearken hitherward,

I will you say the life of Saint Edward.

Or els, first, tragedies will I tell,

Of which I have a hundred in my cell.

Tragedy is to say a certain story

(As old books maken us memory)

Of him that stood in great prosperity

And is y-fallen out of high degree

Into misery, and endeth wretchedly.

And they be versifid commonly

Of six feet, which men clepe hexametron.

In prose eke be endited many a one

And eke in meter in many a sundry wise.

Lo, this declaring ought enough suffice.

Now hearken if you liketh for to hear.

But first I you beseech in this mattér,

Though I by order tell not these things,

Be it of pops, emperors, or kings,

After their ages as men written find,

But tell them some before and some behind,

As it now comes unto my rémembránce;

Have me excusd of my ignoránce."


knows / bad coins



my best

as is becoming

if you care

remind us

call hexameters

also / written

different ways

this preface

if you please

in chron. order

earlier / later

As  he  has  promised,  the  Monk  tells  a  series  of  "tragedies",  that  is,  in  his  own

definition, stories about people who have fallen from "prosperity" and "high degree"

and have died "in misery". This kind of story was a genre in itself in the Middle Ages,

sometimes referred to as "De Casibus Illustrium Virorum"  (Concerning the Fall of

Great Men). The Monk's stories (omitted here) range from the fall of Lucifer and the

fall  of  Adam  in  Paradise,  through  secular  and  sacred  history,  to  the  "modern

instances" of men like Peter de Lusignan, King of Cyprus, who had led the capture




of Alexandria at which the Knight of the pilgrimage had been present. Peter was

assassinated in 1369.  It has been suggested that this story provides a good excuse for

the Knight to intervene and stop what has become a rather tedious list.  Donald Fry

suggested that the Knight is distressed to hear of the fate of his old commander; more

sardonically  Terry  Jones  says  that  the  Knight  interrupts  because  he  sees  his  old

commander being represented as coming to a bad end because of the kind of wicked

things he had done, including the sack of Alexandria.

The Knight's intervention is vigorously supported by the Host who asks the Nun's

Priest for a more cheerful tale.  He cheerfully obliges.

 The Prioress.doc

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