30 Canterbury Tales: Miller’s Prologue and Tale

“Robin with the Bagpype” from folio 34v of the Ellesmere Manuscript. Wikimedia Commons.


by Denise Williams

In the General Prologue, the Miller is described as “stout” and fond of wrestling; his “base” nature and language is contrasted with the chivalric voice of the Knight who has just finished his tale. The host invites the Monk to tell his tale, but before he can get a word in edgewise, the Miller interrupts and belligerently insists upon going next. “The Miller’s Tale” is important in the structure of the Canterbury Tales as it begins the trend of one-upmanship (“The Miller’s Tale”); it is clear that the “Miller’s Tale” is a bawdy retelling of the “Knight’s Tale” and the “Reeve’s  Tale” (which follows) features an insulting story about a miller in response to this speaker’s contribution.


“The Miller’s Tale” is told by a drunken miller named Robin who is one of the pilgrims headed to Canterbury.  He describes a story of a carpenter, John, his wife, Alison,  and two men who desperately want to sleep with her. One of the men is Nicholas who studies astrology and lives with the carpenter and his wife in one of the rooms they rent for extra money. The other man is Absalom whom she meets in church and he falls head over heels for her and wants her for himself. Nicholas comes up with an elaborate plan to get Alison alone for one night. Absalom is a little more direct in his approach on gaining her love. He goes to her house and sings love songs in the hopes of wooing his fair lady. She is clearly not interested, and gets tired of his constant displays of affection, coming up with a plan to embarrass him. She finally decides to give him what he has been asking for: a kiss. What he kisses shocks Absalom and he cannot believe that she would do him this way. Absalom is mortified and promises to get his vengeance. The carpenter’s health takes a turn for the worst as a result of Nicholas’s plot to be alone with his wife by telling the carpenter that a great flood will soon overtake the land. She finds herself in love with the clever Nicholas and continues the affair even as Absalom is plotting how to her back for what she had done to him. He finally figures out what would satisfy his thirst for revenge. He starts to woo his lovely lady again and this enrages Nicholas. He tries to figure out ways to make him stop, all to no avail. One night Absalom comes to gain another kiss from his fair lady but meets with Nicholas’ behind instead. This time he is ready and refuses to be the butt of their jokes again and places a branding iron to the rear of Nicholas. He screams in pain and Absalom realizes he has the last laugh. The scream has awakened John who thinks the flood has come so he cuts the ropes of the suspended bathtub (where he has taken refuge) and it crashes to the floor. The sound alerts the townspeople who gather to laugh at him after hearing Nicholas and Alison’s version of events.

Literary Context

This tale is written in the style of a fabliaux, that is, a comedic story of a sexual nature common in medieval France; it combines two common storylines of such works: the “second flood” and the “misdirected kiss” (“The Miller’s Tale”). The tone is bawdy, and the story does seem to explore themes of class through its characters: Nicholas is an intellectual clerk (much like Chaucer himself), while John is unintelligent and working class. Like any work of satire, it seems the author had multiple targets in mind.

Works Cited

“The Miller’s Tale.” Wikipedia, 31 Aug. 2020. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Miller%27s_Tale Accessed 10 Sept. 2020.

Discussion Questions

  1. Consider the archetypes of Chaucer’s day: who is the courtly lover? The loathly lady? The clerk? Who is the religious believer? How does Chaucer satirize them in this Tale?
  2. How is Alison described here? Is she a round or flat character?
  3. Discuss animal imagery in this Tale; what do you notice and what purpose might it serve?
  4. Is there a “winner” at the end of this Tale? If so, who?

Further Resources

Reading: The Miller’s Prologue

Heere folwen the wordes bitwene the Hoost and the Millere

      Whan that the Knyght had thus his tale ytoold,
In al the route ne was ther yong ne oold
That he ne seyde it was a noble storie,
And worthy for to drawen to memorie;
5 And namely the gentils everichon.
Oure Hooste lough, and swoor, “So moot I gon,
This gooth aright; unbokeled is the male,
Lat se now who shal telle another tale,
For trewely the game is wel bigonne.
10 Now telleth on, sir Monk, if that ye konne
Somwhat to quite with the Knyghtes tale.”
      Now when the knight had thus his story told,
In all the rout there was nor young nor old
But said it was a fine and noble story
Worthy to be kept in memory;
5 And specially the gentle folk, each one.
Our host, he laughed and swore, “So may I run,
But this goes well; unbuckled is the mail;
Let’s see now who can tell another tale:
For certainly the game has well begun.
10 Now shall you tell, sir monk, if’t can be done,
Something with which to pay for the knight’s tale.”


The Millere that for dronken was al pale,
So that unnethe upon his hors he sat,
He nolde avalen neither hood ne hat,
15 Ne abyde no man for his curteisie,
But in Pilates voys he gan to crie,
And swoor, “By armes and by blood and bones,
I kan a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale.”
20 Oure Hooste saugh that he was dronke of ale,
And seyde, “Abyd, Robyn, my leeve brother,
Som bettre man shal telle us first another,
Abyd, and lat us werken thriftily.”
The miller, who of drinking was all pale,
So that unsteadily on his horse he sat,
He would not take off either hood or hat,
15 Nor wait for any man, in courtesy,
But all in Pilate’s voice began to cry,
And “By the arms and blood and bones,” he swore,
“I have a noble story in my store,
With which I will requite the good knight’s tale.”
20 Our host saw, then, that he was drunk with ale,
And said to him: “Wait, Robin, my dear brother,
Some better man shall tell us first another:
Submit and let us work on profitably.”


      “By Goddes soule,” quod he, “that wol nat I,
25 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!
“Now herkneth,” quod the Miller, “alle and some,
But first I make a protestacioun
30 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.
For I wol telle a legende and a lyf
Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf,
35 How that a clerk hath set the wrightes cappe.”
The Reve answerde and seyde, “Stynt thy clappe,
Lat be thy lewed dronken harlotrye,
It is a synne and eek a greet folye
To apeyren any man or hym defame,
40 And eek to bryngen wyves in swich fame;
Thou mayst ynogh of othere thynges seyn.”
      “Now by God’s soul,” cried he, “that will not I!
25 For I will speak, or else I’ll go my way.”
Our host replied: “Tell on, then, till doomsday!
You are a fool, your wit is overcome.”
“Now hear me,” said the miller, “all and some!
But first I make a protestation round
30 That I’m quite drunk, I know it by my sound:
And therefore, if I slander or mis-say,
Blame it on ale of Southwark, so I pray;
For I will tell a legend and a life
Both of a carpenter and of his wife,
35 And how a scholar set the good wright’s cap.”
The reeve replied and said: “Oh, shut your tap,
Let be your ignorant drunken ribaldry!
It is a sin, and further, great folly
To asperse any man, or him defame,
40 And, too, to bring upon a man’s wife shame.
There are enough of other things to say.”
      This dronke Millere spak ful soone ageyn,
And seyde, “Leve brother Osewold,
Who hath no wyf, he is no cokewold.
45 But I sey nat therfore that thou art oon,
Ther been ful goode wyves many oon,
And evere a thousand goode ayeyns oon badde;
That knowestow wel thyself, but if thou madde.
Why artow angry with my tale now?
50 I have a wyf, pardee, as wel as thow,
Yet nolde I for the oxen in my plogh
Take upon me moore than ynogh,
As demen of myself that I were oon;
I wol bileve wel, that I am noon.
55 An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf
Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf.
So he may fynde Goddes foysoun there,
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere.”
      This drunken miller spoke on in his way,
And said: “Oh, but my dear brother Oswald,
The man who has no wife is no cuckold.
45 But I say not, thereby, that you are one:
Many good wives there are, as women run,
And ever a thousand good to one that’s bad,
As well you know yourself, unless you’re mad.
Why are you angry with my story’s cue?
50 I have a wife, begad, as well as you,
Yet I’d not, for the oxen of my plow,
Take on my shoulders more than is enow,
By judging of myself that I am one;
I will believe full well that I am none.
55 A husband must not be inquisitive
Of God, nor of his wife, while she’s alive.
So long as he may find God’s plenty there,
For all the rest he need not greatly care.”


      What sholde I moore seyn, but this Millere
60 He nolde his wordes for no man forbere,
But tolde his cherles tale in his manere;
Me thynketh that I shal reherce it heere.
And therfore every gentil wight I preye,
For Goddes love, demeth nat that I seye
65 Of yvel entente, but that I moot reherce
Hir tales alle, be they bettre or werse,
Or elles falsen som of my mateere.
And therfore who-so list it nat yheere,
Turne over the leef, and chese another tale;
70 For he shal fynde ynowe, grete and smale,
Of storial thyng that toucheth gentillesse,
And eek moralitee, and hoolynesse.
Blameth nat me if that ye chese amys;
The Millere is a cherl, ye knowe wel this,
75 So was the Reve, and othere manye mo,
And harlotrie they tolden bothe two.
Avyseth yow, and put me out of blame,
And eek men shal nat maken ernest of game.
      What should I say, except this miller rare
60 He would forgo his talk for no man there,
But told his churlish tale in his own way:
I think I’ll here re-tell it, if I may.
And therefore, every gentle soul, I pray
That for God’s love you’ll hold not what I say
65 Evilly meant, but that I must rehearse,
All of their tales, the better and the worse,
Or else prove false to some of my design.
Therefore, who likes not this, let him, in fine,
Turn over page and choose another tale:
70 For he shall find enough, both great and small,
Of stories touching on gentility,
And holiness, and on morality;
And blame not me if you do choose amiss.
The miller was a churl, you well know this;
75 So was the reeve, and many another more,
And ribaldry they told from plenteous store.
Be then advised, and hold me free from blame;
Men should not be too serious at a game.

Reading: The Miller’s Tale

Heere bigynneth the Millere his Tale

      Whilom ther was dwellynge at Oxenford
80 A riche gnof, that gestes heeld to bord,
And of his craft he was a carpenter.
With hym ther was dwellynge a poure scoler,
Hadde lerned art, but al his fantasye
Was turned for to lerne astrologye,
85 And koude a certeyn of conclusiouns,
To demen by interrogaciouns,
If that men asked hym in certain houres
Whan that men sholde have droghte or elles shoures,
Or if men asked hym what sholde bifalle
90 Of every thyng; I may nat rekene hem alle.
      Once on a time was dwelling in Oxford
80 A wealthy man who took in guests to board,
And of his craft he was a carpenter.
A poor scholar was lodging with him there,
Who’d learned the arts, but all his phantasy
Was turned to study of astrology;
85 And knew a certain set of theorems
And could find out by various stratagems,
If men but asked of him in certain hours
When they should have a drought or else have showers,
Or if men asked of him what should befall
90 To anything; I cannot reckon them all.
      This clerk was cleped hende Nicholas.
Of deerne love he koude and of solas;
And therto he was sleigh and ful privee,
And lyk a mayden meke for to see.
95 chambre hadde he in that hostelrye
Allone, withouten any compaignye,
Ful fetisly ydight with herbes swoote;
And he hymself as sweete as is the roote
Of lycorys, or any cetewale.
100 His Almageste, and bookes grete and smale,
His astrelabie, longynge for his art,
His augrym stones layen faire apart,
On shelves couched at his beddes heed;
His presse ycovered with a faldyng reed
105 And al above ther lay a gay sautrie,
On which he made a-nyghtes melodie
So swetely that all the chambre rong;
And Angelus ad virginem he song;
And after that he song the Kynges Noote.
110 Ful often blessed was his myrie throte.
And thus this sweete clerk his tyme spente
After his freendes fyndyng and his rente.
      This clerk was called the clever Nicholas;
Of secret loves he knew and their solace;
And he kept counsel, too, for he was sly
And meek as any virgin passing by.
95 He had a chamber in that hostelry,
And lived alone there, without company,
All garnished with sweet herbs of good repute;
And he himself sweet-smelling as the root
Of licorice, valerian, or setwall.
100 His Almagest, and books both great and small,
His astrolabe, belonging to his art,
His algorism stones – all laid apart
On shelves that ranged beside his lone bed’s head;
His press was covered with a cloth of red.
105 And over all there lay a psaltery
Whereon he made an evening’s melody,
Playing so sweetly that the chamber rang;
And Angelus ad virginem he sang;
And after that he warbled the King’s Note:
110 Often in good voice was his merry throat.
And thus this gentle clerk his leisure spends
Supported by some income and his friends.


      This carpenter hadde newe a wyf,
Which that he lovede moore than his lyf;
115 Of eighteteene yeer she was of age.
Jalous he was, and heeld hire narwe in cage,
For she was wylde and yong, and he was old,
And demed hymself, been lik a cokewold.
He knew nat Catoun, for his wit was rude,
120 That bad man sholde wedde his simylitude.
Men sholde wedden after hire estaat,
For youth and elde is often at debaat.
But sith that he was fallen in the snare,
Her moste endure, as oother folk, his care.
      This carpenter had recently married a wife
Whom he loved more than he loved his life;
115 And she had become eighteen years of age.
Jealous he was and held her close in cage.
For she was wild and young, and he was old,
And deemed himself as like to be cuckold.
He knew not Cato, for his lore was rude:
120 That vulgar man should wed similitude.
A man should wed according to estate,
For youth and age are often in debate.
But now, since he had fallen in the snare,
He must endure, like other folk, his care.


125       Fair was this yonge wyf, and therwithal
As any wezele hir body gent and smal.
ceynt she werede, barred al of silk,
A barmclooth as whit as morne milk
Upon her lendes, ful of many a goore.
130 Whit was hir smok, and broyden al bifoore
And eek bihynde, on hir coler aboute,
Of col-blak silk, withinne and eek withoute.
The tapes of hir white voluper
Were of the same suyte of his coler;
135 Hir filet brood of silk, and set ful hye.
And sikerly she hadde a likerous ye;
Ful smale ypulled were hire browes two,
And tho were bent and blake as any sloo.
She was ful moore blisful on to see
140 Than is the newe pere-jonette tree,
And softer than the wolle is of a wether.
And by hir girdel heeng a purs of lether,
Tasseled with silk, and perled with latoun.
In al this world, to seken up and doun,
145 There nys no man so wys that koude thenche
So gay a popelote or swich a wenche.
Ful brighter was the shynyng of hir hewe
Than in the Tour the noble yforged newe.
But of hir song, it was as loude and yerne
150 As any swalwe sittynge on a berne.
Therto she koude skippe and make game,
As any kyde or calf folwynge his dame.
Hir mouth was sweete as bragot or the meeth,
Or hoord of apples leyd in hey or heeth.
155 Wynsynge she was, as is a joly colt,
Long as a mast, and upright as a bolt.
A brooch she baar upon hir lowe coler,
As brood as is the boos of a bokeler.
Hir shoes were laced on hir legges hye.
160 She was a prymerole, a piggesnye,
For any lord to leggen in his bedde,
Or yet for any good yeman to wedde.
125       Fair was this youthful wife, and therewithal
As weasel’s was her body slim and small.
A girdle wore she, barred and striped, of silk.
An apron, too, as white as morning milk
About her loins, and full of many a gore;
130 White was her smock, embroidered all before
And even behind, her collar round about,
Of coal-black silk, on both sides, in and out;
The strings of the white cap upon her head
Were, like her collar, black silk worked with thread,
135 Her fillet was of wide silk worn full high:
And certainly she had a lickerish eye.
She’d thinned out carefully her eyebrows two,
And they were arched and black as any sloe.
She was a far more pleasant thing to see
140 Than is the newly budded young pear-tree;
And softer than the wool is on a wether.
Down from her girdle hung a purse of leather,
Tasselled with silk, with latten beading sown.
In all this world, searching it up and down,
145 So gay a little doll, I well believe,
Or such a wench, there’s no man can conceive.
Far brighter was the brilliance of her hue
Than in the Tower the gold coins minted new.
And songs came shrilling from her pretty head
150 As from a swallow’s sitting on a shed.
Therewith she’d dance too, and could play and sham
Like any kid or calf about its dam.
Her mouth was sweet as bragget or as mead
Or hoard of apples laid in hay or weed.
155 Skittish she was as is a pretty colt,
Tall as a staff and straight as cross-bow bolt.
A brooch she wore upon her collar low,
As broad as boss of buckler did it show;
Her shoes laced up to where a girl’s legs thicken.
160 She was a primrose, and a tender chicken
For any lord to lay upon his bed,
Or yet for any good yeoman to wed.


      Now, sire, and eft, sire, so bifel the cas,
That on a day this hende Nicholas
165 Fil with this yonge wyf to rage and pleye,
Whil that her housbonde was at Oseneye,
As clerkes ben ful subtile and ful queynte;
And prively he caughte hire by the queynte,
And seyde, “Ywis, but if ich have my wille,
170 For deerne love of thee, lemman, I spille.”
And heeld hire harde by the haunchebones,
And seyde, “Lemman, love me al atones,
Or I wol dyen, also God me save!”
And she sproong as a colt dooth in the trave,
175 And with hir heed she wryed faste awey,
And seyde, “I wol nat kisse thee, by my fey!
Why, lat be,” quod she, “lat be, Nicholas,
Or I wol crie ‘out harrow’ and ‘allas!’
Do wey youre handes, for youre curteisye!”
      Now, sir, and then, sir, go befell the case,
That on a day this clever Nicholas
165 Fell in with this young wife to toy and play,
The while her husband was down Osney way,
Clerks being as crafty as the best of us;
And unperceived he caught her by the puss,
Saying: “Indeed, unless I have my will,
170 For secret love of you, sweetheart, I’ll spill.”
And held her hard about the hips, and how!
And said: “O darling, love me, love me now,
Or I shall die, and pray you God may save!”
And she leaped as a colt does in the trave,
175 And with her head she twisted fast away,
And said: “I will not kiss you, by my fay!
Why, let go,” cried she, “let go, Nicholas!
Or I will call for help and cry ‘alas!’
Do take your hands away, for courtesy!”
180       This Nicholas gan mercy for to crye,
And spak so faire, and profred him so faste,
That she hir love hym graunted atte laste,
Ans swoor hir ooth, by seint Thomas of Kent,
That she wol been at his comandement,
185 Whan that she may hir leyser wel espie.
“Myn housbonde is so ful of jalousie
That but ye wayte wel and been privee,
woot right wel I nam but deed,” quod she.
“Ye moste been ful deerne, as in this cas.”
190       “Nay, therof care thee noght,” quod Nicholas.
“A clerk hadde litherly biset his whyle,
But if he koude a carpenter bigyle.”
And thus they been accorded and ysworn
To wayte a tyme, as I have told biforn.
195       Whan Nicholas had doon thus everideel,
And thakked hire aboute the lendes weel,
He kiste hire sweete and taketh his sawtrie,
And pleyeth faste, and maketh melodie.
180       This Nicholas for mercy then did cry,
And spoke so well, importuned her so fast
That she her love did grant him at the last,
And swore her oath, by Saint Thomas of Kent,
That she would be at his command, content,
185 As soon as opportunity she could spy.
“My husband is so full of jealousy,
Unless you will await me secretly,
I know I’m just as good as dead,” said she.
“You must keep all quite hidden in this case.”
190       “Nay, thereof worry not,” said Nicholas,
“A clerk has lazily employed his while
If he cannot a carpenter beguile.”
And thus they were agreed, and then they swore
To wait a while, as I have said before.
195       When Nicholas had done thus every whit
And patted her about the loins a bit,
He kissed her sweetly, took his psaltery,
And played it fast and made a melody.


      Thanne fil it thus, that to the paryssh chirche,
200 Cristes owene werkes for to wirche,
This goode wyf went on a haliday.
Hir forheed shoon as bright as any day,
So was it wasshen whan she leet hir werk.
Now was ther of that chirche a parissh clerk,
205 The which that was ycleped Absolon.
Crul was his heer, and as the gold it shoon,
And strouted as a fanne large and brode;
Ful streight and evene lay his joly shode;
His rode was reed, his eyen greye as goos.
210 With Poules wyndow corven on his shoos,
In hoses rede he wente fetisly.
Yclad he was ful smal and proprely
Al in a kirtel of a lyght waget;
Ful faire and thikke been the poyntes set.
215 And therupon he hadde a gay surplys
As whit as is the blosme upon the rys.
A myrie child he was, so God me save.
Wel koude he laten blood and clippe and shave,
And maken a chartre of lond or acquitaunce.
220 In twenty manere koude he trippe and daunce
After the scole of Oxenforde tho,
And with his legges casten to and fro,
And pleyen songes on a smal rubible;
Therto he song som tyme a loud quynyble;
225 And as wel koude he pleye on a giterne.
In al the toun nas brewhous ne taverne
That he ne visited with his solas,
Ther any gaylard tappestere was.
But sooth to seyn, he was somdeel squaymous
230 Of fartyng, and of speche daungerous.
      Then fell it thus, that to the parish church,
200 The Lord Christ Jesus’ own works for to work,
This good wife went, upon a holy day;
Her forehead shone as bright as does the May,
So well she’d washed it when she left off work.
Now there was of that church a parish clerk
205 Whose name was (as folk called him) Absalom.
Curled was his hair, shining like gold, and from
His head spread fanwise in a thick bright mop;
‘Twas parted straight and even on the top;
His cheek was red, his eyes grey as a goose;
210 With Saint Paul’s windows cut upon his shoes,
He stood in red hose fitting famously.
And he was clothed full well and properly
All in a coat of blue, in which were let
Holes for the lacings, which were fairly set.
215 And over all he wore a fine surplice
As white as ever hawthorn spray, and nice.
A merry lad he was, so God me save,
And well could he let blood, cut hair, and shave,
And draw a deed or quitclaim, as might chance.
220 In twenty manners could he trip and dance,
After the school that reigned in Oxford, though,
And with his two legs swinging to and fro;
And he could play upon a violin;
Thereto he sang in treble voice and thin;
225 And as well could he play on his guitar.
In all the town no inn was, and no bar,
That he’d not visited to make good cheer,
Especially were lively barmaids there.
But, truth to tell, he was a bit squeamish
230 Of farting and of arrogant language.


      This Absolon, that jolif was and gay,
Gooth with a sencer on the haliday,
Sensynge the wyves of the parisshe faste;
And many a lovely look on hem caste,
235 And namely on this carpenteris wyf.
To looke on hire hym thoughte a myrie lyf,
She was so propre and sweete and likerous.
I dar wel seyn, if she hadde been a mous,
And I the cat, he wolde hire hente anon.
240 This parissh clerk, this joly Absolon,
Hath in his herte swich a love-longynge
That of no wyf took he noon offrynge;
For curteisie, he seyde, he wolde noon.
      This Absalom, who was so light and gay,
Went with a censer on the holy day,
Censing the wives like an enthusiast;
And on them many a loving look he cast,
235 Especially on this carpenter’s goodwife.
To look at her he thought a merry life,
She was so pretty, sweet, and lickerous.
I dare well say, if she had been a mouse
And he a cat, he would have mauled her some.
240 This parish clerk, this lively Absalom
Had in his heart, now, such a love-longing
That from no wife took he an offering;
For courtesy, he said, he would take none.
      The moone, whan it was nyght, ful brighte shoon,
245 And Absolon his gyterne hath ytake,
For paramours he thoghte for to wake.
And forth he gooth, jolif and amorous,
Til he cam to the carpenters hous
A litel after cokkes hadde ycrowe,
250 And dressed hym up by a shot-wyndowe
That was upon the carpenteris wall.
He syngeth in his voys gentil and smal,
‘Now, deere lady, if thy wille be,
I praye yow that ye wole rewe on me,’
255 Ful wel acordaunt to his gyternynge.
This carpenter awook, and herde him synge,
And spak unto his wyf, and seyde anon,
“What! Alison! Herestow nat Absolon,
That chaunteth thus under oure boures wal?”
260 Ans she answerde hir housbonde therwithal,
“Yis, God woot, John, I heere it every deel.”
      This passeth forth; what wol ye bet than weel?
Fro day to day this joly Absolon
So woweth hire that hym is wo bigon.
265 He waketh al the nyght and al the day;
He kembeth his lokkes brode, and made hym gay;
He woweth hire by meenes and brocage,
And swoor he wolde been hir owene page;
He syngeth, brokkynge as a nyghtyngale;
270 He sente hire pyment, meeth, and spiced ale,
And wafres, pipyng hoot out of the gleede;
And, for she was of towne, he profred meede.
For som folk wol ben wonnen for richesse,
And somme for strokes, and somme for gentillesse.
      The moon, when it was night, full brightly shone,
245 And his guitar did Absalom then take,
For in love-watching he’d intent to wake.
And forth he went, jolly and amorous,
Until he came unto the carpenter’s house
A little after cocks began to crow;
250 And took his stand beneath a shot-window
That was let into the good wood-wright’s wall.
He sang then, in his pleasant voice and small,
“Oh now, dear lady, if your will it be,
I pray that you will have some ruth on me,”
255 The words in harmony with his string-plucking.
This carpenter awoke and heard him sing,
And called unto his wife and said, in sum:
“What, Alison! Do you hear Absalom,
Who plays and sings beneath our bedroom wall?”
260 And she said to her husband, therewithal:
“Yes, God knows, John, I bear it, truth to tell.”
      So this went on; what is there better than well?
From day to day this pretty Absalom
So wooed her he was woebegone therefrom.
265 He lay awake all night and all the day;
He combed his spreading hair and dressed him gay;
By go-betweens and agents, too, wooed he,
And swore her loyal page he’d ever be.
He sang as tremulously as nightingale;
270 He sent her sweetened wine and well-spiced ale
And waffles piping hot out of the fire,
And, she being town-bred, mead for her desire.
For some are won by means of money spent,
And some by tricks, and some by long descent.
275       Somtyme, to shewe his lightnesse and maistrye,
He pleyeth Herodes upon a scaffold hye.
But what availleth hym as in the cas?
She loveth so this hende Nicholas
That Absolon may blowe the bukkes horn;
280 He ne hadde for his labour but a scorn.
And thus she maketh Absolon hire ape,
And al his ernest turneth til a jape.
Ful sooth is this proverbe, it is no lye,
Men seyn right thus, ‘Alwey the nye slye
285 Maketh the ferre leeve to be looth.’
For though that Absolon be wood or wrooth,
By cause that he fer was from hire sight,
This nye Nicholas stood in his light.
275       Once, to display his versatility,
He acted Herod on a scaffold high.
But what availed it him in any case?
She was enamoured so of Nicholas
That Absalom might go and blow his horn;
280 He got naught for his labour but her scorn.
And thus she made of Absalom her ape,
And all his earnestness she made a jape.
For truth is in this proverb, and no lie,
Men say well thus: It’s always he that’s nigh
285 That makes the absent lover seem a sloth.
For now, though Absalom be wildly wroth,
Because he is so far out of her sight,
This handy Nicholas stands in his light.


      Now ber thee wel, thou hende Nicholas,
290 For Absolon may waille and synge ‘allas.’
And so bifel it on a Saturday,
This carpenter was goon til Osenay;
And hende Nicholas and Alison
Acorded been to this conclusioun,
295 That Nicholas shal shapen hym a wyle
This sely jalous housbonde to bigyle;
And if so be the game wente aright,
She sholde slepen in his arm al nyght,
For this was his desir and hire also.
300 And right anon, withouten wordes mo,
This Nicholas no lenger wolde tarie,
But dooth ful softe unto his chambre carie
Bothe mete and drynke for a day or tweye,
And to hire housbonde bad hire for to seye,
305 If that he axed after Nicholas,
She sholde seye she nyste where he was,
Of al that day she saugh hym nat with ye;
She trowed that he was in maladye,
For for no cry hir mayde koude hym calle,
310 He nolde answere for thyng that myghte falle.
      This passeth forth al thilke Saterday,
That Nicholas stille in his chambre lay,
And eet and sleep, or dide what hym leste,
Til Sonday, that the sonne gooth to reste.
315 This sely carpenter hath greet merveyle
Of Nicholas, or what thyng myghte hym eyle,
And seyde, “I am adrad, by Seint Thomas,
It stondeth nat aright with Nicholas.
God shilde that he deyde sodeynly!
320 This world is now ful tikelsikerly.
saugh today a cors yborn to chirche
That now, on Monday last, I saugh hym wirche.
      ‘Go up,’ quod he unto his knave anoon,
“Clepe at his dore, or knokke with a stoon.
325 Looke how it is, and tel me boldely.”
      This knave gooth hym up ful sturdily,
And at the chambre dore whil that he stood,
He cride and knokked as that he were wood,
“What! how! what do ye, maister Nicholay?
330 How may ye slepen al the longe day?”
      Now bear you well, you clever Nicholas!
290 For Absalom may wail and sing “Alas!”
And so it chanced that on a Saturday
This carpenter departed to Osney;
And clever Nicholas and Alison
Were well agreed to this effect: anon
295 This Nicholas should put in play a wile
The simple, jealous husband to beguile;
And if it chanced the game should go a-right,
She was to sleep within his arms all night,
For this was his desire, and hers also.
300 Presently then, and without more ado,
This Nicholas, no longer did he tarry,
But softly to his chamber did he carry
Both food and drink to last at least a day,
Saying that to her husband she should say –
305 If he should come to ask for Nicholas –
Why, she should say she knew not where he was,
For all day she’d not seen him, far or nigh;
She thought he must have got some malady,
Because in vain her maid would knock and call;
310 He’d answer not, whatever might befall.
      And so it was that all that Saturday
This Nicholas quietly in chamber lay,
And ate and slept, or did what pleased him best,
Till Sunday when the sun had gone to rest.
315 This simple man with wonder heard the tale,
And marvelled what their Nicholas might ail,
And said: “I am afraid, by Saint Thomas,
That everything’s not well with Nicholas.
God send he be not dead so suddenly!
320 This world is most unstable, certainly;
I saw, today, the corpse being carried to church
Of one who, but last Monday, was at work.
Go up,” said he unto his boy anon,
“Call at his door, or knock there with a stone,
325 Learn how it is and boldly come tell me.”
The servant went up, then, right sturdily,
And at the chamber door, the while he stood,
He cried and knocked as any madman would –
“What! How! What do you, Master Nicholay?
330 How can you sleep through all the livelong day?”


      But al for noghte, he herde nat a word.
An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord,
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at that hole he looked in ful depe,
335 And at the laste he hadde of hym a sight.
This Nicholas sat evere capyng upright,
As he had kiked on the newe moone.
Adoun he gooth, and tolde his maister soone
In what array he saugh this ilke man.
340       This carpenter to blessen hym bigan,
And seyde, “Help us, seinte Frydeswyde!
A man woot litel what hym shal bityde.
This man is falle, with his astromye,
In som woodnesse or in som agonye,
345 I thoghte ay wel how that it sholde be!
Men sholde nat knowe of Goddes pryvetee.
Ye, blessed be alwey a lewed man
That noght but oonly his bileve kan!
So ferde another clerk with astromye;
350 He walked in the feeldes, for to prye
Upon the sterres, what ther sholde bifalle,
Til he was in a marle-pit yfalle;
He saugh nat that. But yet, by seint Thomas,
Me reweth soore of hende Nicholas.
355 He shal be rated of his studiyng,
If that I may, Jhesus, hevene kyng!
Get me a staf, that I may underspore,
Whil that thou, Robyn, hevest up the dore.
He shal out of his studiyng, as I gesse
360 And to the chambre dore he gan hym dresse.
His knave was a strong carl for the nones,
And by the haspe he haaf it of atones;
Into the floor the dore fil anon.
This Nicholas sat ay as stille as stoon,
365 And evere caped upward into the eir.
This carpenter wende he were in despeir,
And hente hym by the sholdres myghtily
And shook him harde, and cride spitously,
“What! Nicholay! what, how! what, looke adoun!
370 Awak, and thenk on Christes passioun!
I crouche thee from elves and fro wightes.
Therwith the nyght-spel seyde he anon-rightes
On foure halves of the hous aboute,
And on the tresshfold of the dore withoute:
375 “Jhesu Crist and seinte Benedight,
Blesse this hous from every wikked wight,
For nyghtes verye, the white pater-noster!
Where wentestow, seinte Petres soster?”
      And atte laste this hende Nicholas
380 Gan for to sike soore, and seyde, “Allas!
Shal al the world be lost eftsoones now?”
      This carpenter answerde, “What seystow?
What! Thynk on God, as we doon, men that swynke.”
      This Nicholas answerde, “Fecche me drynke,
385 And after wol I speke in pryvetee
Of certeyn thyng that toucheth me and thee.
I wol telle it noon oother man, certeyn.”
      But all for naught, he never heard a word;
A hole he found, low down upon a board,
Through which the house cat had been wont to creep;
And to that hole he stooped, and through did peep,
335 And finally he ranged him in his sight.
This Nicholas sat gaping there, upright,
As if he’d looked too long at the new moon.
Downstairs he went and told his master soon
In what array he’d found this self-same man.
340       This carpenter to cross himself began,
And said: “Now help us, holy Frideswide!
Little a man can know what shall betide.
This man is fallen, with his astromy,
Into some madness or some agony;
345 I always feared that somehow this would be!
Men should not meddle in God’s privity.
Aye, blessed always be the ignorant man,
Whose creed is, all he ever has to scan!
So fared another clerk with astromy;
350 He walked into the meadows for to pry
Into the stars, to learn what should befall,
Until into a clay-pit he did fall;
He saw not that. But yet, by Saint Thomas,
I’m sorry for this clever Nicholas.
355 He shall be scolded for his studying,
If not too late, by Jesus, Heaven’s King!
“Get me a staff, that I may pry before,
The while you, Robin, heave against the door.
We’ll take him from this studying, I guess.”
360 And on the chamber door, then, he did press.
His servant was a stout lad, if a dunce,
And by the hasp he heaved it up at once;
Upon the floor that portal fell anon.
This Nicholas sat there as still as stone,
365 Gazing, with gaping mouth, straight up in air.
This carpenter thought he was in despair,
And took him by the shoulders, mightily,
And shook him hard, and cried out, vigorously:
“What! Nicholay! Why how now! Come, look down!
370 Awake, and think on Jesus’ death and crown!
I cross you from all elves and magic wights!”
And then the night-spell said he out, by rights,
At the four corners of the house about,
And at the threshold of the door, without: –
375 “O Jesus Christ and good Saint Benedict,
Protect this house from all that may afflict,
For the night hag the white Paternoster! –
Where hast thou gone, Saint Peter’s sister?”
      And at the last this clever Nicholas
380 Began to sigh full sore, and said: “Alas!
Shall all the world be lost so soon again?”
      This carpenter replied: “What say you, then?
What! Think on God, as we do, men that swink.”
      This Nicholas replied: “Go fetch me drink;
385 And afterward I’ll tell you privately
A certain thing concerning you and me;
I’ll tell it to no other man or men.”


      This carpenter gooth doun, and comth ageyn,
And broghte of myghty ale a large quart;
390 And whan that ech of hem had dronke his part,
This Nicholas his dore faste shette,
And doun the carpenter by hym he sette.
      He seyde “John, myn hooste, lief and deere,
Thou shalt upon thy trouthe swere me heere
395 That to no wight thou shalt this conseil wreye;
For it is Cristes conseil that I seye,
And if thou telle it man, thou art forlore;
For this vengeaunce thou shalt han therfore,
That if thou wreye me, thou shalt be wood.”
400 “Nay, Crist forbede it, for his hooly blood!”
Quod tho this sely man, “I nam no labbe;
Ne, though I seye, I nam nat lief to gabbe.
Sey what thou wolt, I shal it nevere telle
To child ne wyf, by hym that harwed helle!”
405       “Now John,” quod Nicholas, “I wol nat lye;
I have yfounde in myn astrologye,
As I have looked in the moone bright,
That now a Monday next, at quarter nyght,
Shal falle a reyn, and that so wilde and wood,
410 That half so greet was nevere Noes flood.
This world,” he seyde, “in lasse than an hour
Shal al be dreynt, so hidous is the shour.
Thus shal mankynde drenche, and lese hir lyf.”
      This carpenter answerde, “Allas, my wif!
415 And shal she drenche? Allas, myn Alisoun!”
For sorwe of this fil almoost adoun,
And seyde, “Is ther no remedie in this cas?”
      “Why, yis, for Gode,” quod hende Nicholas,
“If thou wolt werken after loore and reed.
420 Thou mayst nat werken after thyn owene heed;
For thus seith Salomon, that was ful trewe,
‘Werk al by conseil, and thou shalt not rewe.’
And if thou werken wolt by good conseil,
undertake, withouten mast and seyl,
425 Yet shal I saven hire and thee and me.
Hastow nat herd hou saved was Noe,
Whan that oure Lord hadde warned hym biforn
That al the world with water sholde be lorn?”
      “Yis,” quod this Carpenter, “ful yoore ago.”
430       “Hastou nat herd,” quod Nicholas, “also
The sorwe of Noe with his felawshipe,
Er that he myghte gete his wyf to shipe?
Hym hadde be levere, I dar wel undertake,
At thilke tyme, than alle wetheres blake
435 That she hadde had a ship hirself allone.
And therfore, woostou what is best to doone?
This asketh haste, and of an hastif thyng
Men may nat preche or maken tariyng.
      This carpenter went down and came again,
And brought of potent ale a brimming quart;
390 And when each one of them had drunk his part,
Nicholas shut the door fast, and with that
He drew a seat and near the carpenter sat.
      He said: “Now, John, my good host, lief and dear,
You must upon your true faith swear, right here,
395 That to no man will you this word betray;
For it is Christ’s own word that I will say,
And if you tell a man, you’re ruined quite;
This punishment shall come to you, of right,
That if you’re traitor you’ll go mad- and should!”
400 “Nay, Christ forbid it, for His holy blood!”
Said then this simple man: “I am no blab,
Nor, though I say it, am I fond of gab.
Say what you will, I never will it tell
To child or wife, by Him that harried Hell!”
405       “Now, John,” said Nicholas, “I will not lie;
But I’ve found out, from my astrology,
As I have looked upon the moon so bright,
That now, come Monday next, at nine of night,
Shall fall a rain so wildly mad as would
410 Have been, by half, greater than Noah’s flood.
This world,” he said, “in less time than an hour,
Shall all be drowned, so terrible is this shower;
Thus shall all mankind drown and lose all life.”
      This carpenter replied: “Alas, my wife!
415 And shall she drown? Alas, my Alison!”
For grief of this he almost fell. Anon
He said: “Is there no remedy in this case?”
      “Why yes, good luck,” said clever Nicholas,
“If you will work by counsel of the wise;
420 You must not act on what your wits advise.
For so says Solomon, and it’s all true,
‘Work by advice and thou shalt never rue.’
And if you’ll act as counselled and not fail,
I undertake, without a mast or sail,
425 To save us all, aye you and her and me.
Haven’t you heard of, Noah, how saved was he,
Because Our Lord had warned him how to keep
Out of the flood that covered earth so deep?”
      “Yes,” said this carpenter, “long years ago.”
430       “Have you not heard,” asked Nicholas, “also
The sorrows of Noah and his fellowship
In getting his wife to go aboard the ship?
He would have rather, I dare undertake,
At that time, and for all the weather black,
435 That she had one ship for herself alone.
Therefore, do you know what would best be done?
This thing needs haste, and of a hasty thing
Men must not preach nor do long tarrying.


      “Anon go gete us faste into this in
440 knedyng-trogh, or ellis a kymelyn,
For ech of us, but looke that they be large,
In which we mowe swymme as in a barge,
And han therinne vitaille suffisant
But for a day – fy on the remenant!
445 The water shal aslake and goon away
Aboute pryme upon the nexte day.
But Robyn may nat wite of this, thy knave,
Ne eek thy mayde Gille I may nat save;
Axe nat why, for though thou aske me,
450 I wol nat tellen Goddes pryvetee.
Suffiseth thee, but if thy wittes madde,
To han as greet a grace as Noe hadde.
Thy wyf shal I wel saven, out of doute.
Go now thy wey, and speed thee heer-aboute.
455       “But whan thou hast, for hire and thee and me,
Ygeten us thise knedyng-tubbes three,
Thanne shaltow hange hem in the roof ful hye,
That no man of oure purveiaunce espye.
And whan thou thus hast doon, as I have seyd,
460 And hast oure vitaille faire in hem yleyd
And eek an ax, to smyte the corde atwo,
Whan that the water comth, that we may go,
And breke an hole an heigh, upon the gable,
Unto the gardyn-ward, over the stable,
465 That we may frely passen forth oure way,
Whan that the grete shour is goon away,
Thanne shaltou swymme as myrie, I undertake,
As dooth the white doke after hire drake.
Thanne wol I clepe, ‘How, Alison! how, John
470 Be myrie, for the flood wol passe anon.’
And thou wolt seyn, ‘Hayl, maister Nicholay!
Good morwe, I see thee wel, for it is day.’
And thanne shul we be lordes al oure lyf
Of al the world, as Noe and his wyf.
475       “But of o thyng I warne thee ful right:
Be wel avysed on that ilke nyght
That we ben entred into shippes bord,
That noon of us ne speke nat a word,
Ne clepe, ne crie, but be in his preyere;
480 For it is Goddes owene heeste deere.
      “Thy wyf and thou moote hange fer atwynne;
For that bitwixe yow shal be no synne,
Namoore in lookyng than ther shal in deede,
This ordinance is seyd. Go, God thee speede!
485 Tomorwe at nyght, whan men ben alle aslepe,
Into oure knedyng-tubbes wol we crepe,
And sitten there, abidyng Goddes grace.
Go now thy wey, I have no lenger space
To make of this no lenger sermonyng.
490 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.”
      “Presently go, and fetch here to this inn
440 A kneading-tub, or brewing vat, and win
One each for us, but see that they are large,
Wherein we may swim out as in a barge,
And have therein sufficient food and drink
For one day only; that’s enough, I think.
445 The water will dry up and flow away
About the prime of the succeeding day.
But Robin must not know of this, your knave,
And even Jill, your maid, I may not save;
Ask me not why, for though you do ask me,
450 I will not tell you of God’s privity.
Suffice you, then, unless your wits are mad,
To have as great a grace as Noah had.
Your wife I shall not lose, there is no doubt,
Go, now, your way, and speedily about,
455       But when you have, for you and her and me,
Procured these kneading-tubs, or beer-vats, three,
Then you shall hang them near the roof-tree high,
That no man our purveyance may espy.
And when you thus have done, as I have said,
460 And have put in our drink and meat and bread,
Also an axe to cut the ropes in two
When the flood comes, that we may float and go,
And cut a hole, high up, upon the gable,
Upon the garden side, over the stable,
465 That we may freely pass forth on our way
When the great rain and flood are gone that day –
Then shall you float as merrily, I’ll stake,
As does the white duck after the white drake.
Then I will call, ‘Ho, Alison! Ho, John!
470 Be cheery, for the flood will pass anon.’
And you will say, ‘Hail. Master Nicholay!
Good morrow, I see you well, for it is day!’
And then shall we be barons all our life
Of all the world, like Noah and his wife.
475       “But of one thing I warn you now, outright.
Be well advised, that on that very night
When we have reached our ships and got aboard,
Not one of us must speak or whisper word,
Nor call, nor cry, but sit in silent prayer;
480 For this is God’s own bidding, hence- don’t dare!
      “Your wife and you must hang apart, that in
The night shall come no chance for you to sin
Either in looking or in carnal deed.
These orders I have told you, go, God speed!
485 Tomorrow night, when all men are asleep,
Into our kneading-tubs will we three creep
And sit there, still, awaiting God’s high grace.
Go, now, your way, I have no longer space
Of time to make a longer sermoning.
490 Men say thus: ‘Send the wise and say no thing.’
You are so wise it needs not that I teach;
Go, save our lives, and that I do beseech.”


      This sely carpenter goth forth his wey.
Ful ofte he seide ‘Allas’ and ‘weylawey,’
495 And to his wyf he tolde his pryvetee,
And she was war, and knew it bet than he,
What als his queynte cast was for to seye.
But natheless she ferde as she wolde deye,
And seyde, “Allas! go forth thy wey anon,
500 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.”
      Lo, with a greet thyng is affeccioun!
Men may dyen of ymaginacioun,
505 So depe may impressioun be take.
This sely carpenter bigynneth quake;
Hym thynketh verraily that he may see
Noees flood come walwynge as the see
To drenchen Alisoun, his hony deere.
510 He wepeth, weyleth, maketh sory cheere;
He siketh with ful many a sory swogh;
He gooth and geteth hym a knedyng-trogh,
And after that a tubbe and a kymelyn,
And pryvely he sente hem to his in,
515 And heng hem in the roof in pryvetee.
His owene hand he made laddres thre,
To clymben by the ronges and the stalkes
Unto the tubbes hangynge in the balkes,
And hem vitailled, bothe trogh and tubbe,
520 With breed and chese, and good ale in a jubbe,
Suffisynge right ynogh as for a day.
But er that he hadde maad al this array,
He sente his knave, and eek his wenche also,
Upon his nede to London for to go.
525 And on the Monday, whan it drow to nyght,
He shette his dore withoute candel-lyght,
And dressed alle thyng as it sholde be.
And shortly, up they clomben alle thre;
They seten stille wel a furlong way.
      This foolish carpenter went on his way.
Often he cried “Alas!” and “Welaway!”
495 And to his wife he told all, privately;
But she was better taught thereof than he
How all this rigmarole was to apply.
Nevertheless she acted as she’d die,
And said: “Alas! Go on your way anon,
500 Help us escape, or we are lost, each one;
I am your true and lawfully wedded wife;
Go, my dear spouse, and help to save our life.”
      Lo, what a great thing is affection found!
Men die of imagination, I’ll be bound,
505 So deep an imprint may the spirit take.
This hapless carpenter began to quake;
He thought now, verily, that he could see
Old Noah’s flood come wallowing like the sea
To drown his Alison, his honey dear.
510 He wept, he wailed, he made but sorry cheer,
He sighed and made full many a sob and sough.
He went and got himself a kneading-trough
And, after that, two tubs he somewhere found
And to his dwelling privately sent round,
515 And hung them near the roof, all secretly.
With his own hand, then, made he ladders three,
To climb up by the rungs thereof, it seems,
And reach the tubs left hanging to the beams;
And those he victualled, tubs and kneading-trough,
520 With bread and cheese and good jugged ale, enough
To satisfy the needs of one full day.
But ere he’d put all this in such array,
He sent his servants, boy and maid, right down
Upon some errand into London town.
525 And on the Monday, when it came on night,
He shut his door, without a candle-light,
And ordered everything as it should be.
And shortly after up they climbed, all three;
They sat while one might plow a furlong-way.


530       “Now, Pater-noster, clom!” seyde Nicholay,
And “Clom,” quod John, and “clom,” seyde Alisoun.
This carpenter seyde his devocioun,
And stille he sit, and biddeth his preyere,
Awaitynge on the reyn, if he it heere.
535       The dede sleep, for wery bisynesse,
Fil on this carpenter right, as I gesse,
Aboute corfew-tyme, or litel moore;
For travaille of his goost he groneth soore
And eft he routeth, for his heed myslay.
540 Doun of the laddre stalketh Nicholay,
And Alisoun ful softe adoun she spedde;
Withouten wordes mo they goon to bedde,
Ther as the carpenter is wont to lye.
Ther was the revel and the melodye;
545 And thus lith Alison and Nicholas,
In bisynesse of myrthe and of solas,
Til that the belle of laudes gan to rynge,
And freres in the chauncel gonne synge.


530       “Now, by Our Father, hush!” said Nicholay,
And “Hush!” said John, and “Hush!” said Alison.
This carpenter, his loud devotions done,
Sat silent, saying mentally a prayer,
And waiting for the rain, to hear it there.
535       The deathlike sleep of utter weariness
Fell on this wood-wright even, as I guess
About the curfew time, or little more;
For travail of his spirit he groaned sore,
And soon he snored, for badly his head lay.
540 Down by the ladder crept this Nicholay,
And Alison, right softly down she sped.
Without more words they went and got in bed
Even where the carpenter was wont to lie.
There was the revel and the melody!
545 And thus lie Alison and Nicholas,
In joy that goes by many an alias,
Until the bells for lauds began to ring
And friars to the chancel went to sing.


      This parissh clerk, this amorous Absolon,
550 That is for love alwey so wo bigon,
Upon the Monday was at Oseneye
With compaignye, hym to disporte and pleye,
And axed upon cas a cloisterer
Ful prively after John the carpenter;
555 And he drough hym apart out of the chirche,
And seyde, “I noot, I saugh hym heere nat wirche
Syn Saterday; I trowe that he be went
For tymber, ther oure abott hath hym sent;
For he is wont for tymber for to go,
560 And dwellen at the grange a day or two;
Or elles he is at his hous, certeyn.
Where that he be, I kan nat soothly seyn.”
      This Absolon ful joly was and light,
And thoghte, “Now is tyme to wake al nyght;
565 For sikirly I saugh hym nat stirynge
Aboute his dore, syn day bigan to sprynge.
      So moot I thryve, I shal, at cokkes crowe,
Ful pryvely knokken at his wyndowe
That stant ful lowe upon his boures wal.
570 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.
Som maner confort shal I have, parfay.
My mouth hath icched al this longe day;
575 That is a signe of kissyng atte leeste.
Al nyght me mette eek I was at a feeste.
Therfore I wol go slepe an houre or tweye,
And al the nyght thanne wol I wake and pleye.”
      This parish clerk, this amorous Absalom,
550 Whom love has made so woebegone and dumb,
Upon the Monday was down Osney way,
With company, to find some sport and play;
And there he chanced to ask a cloisterer,
Privately, after John the carpenter.
555 This monk drew him apart, out of the kirk,
And said: “I have not seen him here at work.
Since Saturday; I think well that he went
For timber, that the abbot has him sent;
For he is wont for timber thus to go,
560 Remaining at the grange a day or so;
Or else he’s surely at his house today;
But which it is I cannot truly say.”
      This Absalom right happy was and light,
And thought: “Now is the time to wake all night;
565 For certainly I saw him not stirring
About his door since day began to spring.
      So may I thrive, as I shall, at cock’s crow,
Knock cautiously upon that window low
Which is so placed upon his bedroom wall.
570 To Alison then will I tell of all
My love-longing, and thus I shall not miss
That at the least I’ll have her lips to kiss.
Some sort of comfort shall I have, I say,
My mouth’s been itching all this livelong day;
575 That is a sign of kissing at the least.
All night I dreamed, too, I was at a feast.
Therefore I’ll go and sleep two hours away
And all this night then will I wake and play.”


      Whan that the firste cok hathe crowe, anon
580 Up rist this joly lovere Absolon,
And hym arraieth gay, at poynt-devys.
But first he cheweth greyn and lycorys,
To smellen sweete, er he hadde kembd his heer.
Under his tonge a trewe-love he beer,
585 For therby wende he to ben gracious.
He rometh to the carpenteres hous,
And stille he stant under the shot-wyndowe –
Unto his brest it raughte, it was so lowe –
And softe he cougheth with a semy soun:
590 “What do ye, hony-comb, sweete Alisoun,
My faire bryd, my sweete cynamome?
Awaketh, lemman myn, and speketh to me!
Wel lithel thynken ye upon me wo,
That for youre love I swete ther I go.
595 No wonder is thogh that I swelte and swete;
I moorne as dooth a lamb after the tete.
Ywis, lemman, I have swich love-longynge,
That lik a turtel trewe is my moornynge.
I may nat ete na moore than a mayde.”
      And so when time of first cock-crow was come,
580 Up rose this merry lover, Absalom,
And dressed him gay and all at point-device,
But first he chewed some licorice and spice
So he’d smell sweet, ere he had combed his hair.
Under his tongue some bits of true-love rare,
585 For thereby thought he to be more gracious.
He went, then, to the carpenter’s dark house.
And silent stood beneath the shot-window;
Unto his breast it reached, it was so low;
And he coughed softly, in a low half tone:
590 “What do you, honeycomb, sweet Alison?
My cinnamon, my fair bird, my sweetie,
Awake, O darling mine, and speak to me!
It’s little thought you give me and my woe,
Who for your love do sweat where’er I go.
595 Yet it’s no wonder that I faint and sweat;
I long as does the lamb for mother’s teat.
Truly, sweetheart, I have such love-longing
That like a turtle-dove’s my true yearning;
And I can eat no more than can a maid.”


600       “Go fro the wyndow, Jakke fool,” she sayde;
“As help me God, it wol not be ‘com pa me.’
I love another – and elles I were to blame –
Wel bet than thee, by Jhesu, Absolon.
Go forth thy wey, or I wol caste a ston,
605 And lat me slepe, a twenty devel wey!”
      “Allas,” quod Absolon, “and weylawey,
That trewe love was evere so yvel biset!
Thanne kysse me, syn it may be no bet,
For Jhesus love, and for the love of me.”
610       “Wiltow thanne go thy wey therwith?” quod she.
      “Ye, certeslemman,” quod Absolon.
      “Thanne make thee redy,” quod she, “I come anon.”
And unto Nicholas she seyde stille,
“Now hust, and thou shalt laughen al thy fille.”
600       “Go from the window, Jack-a-napes,” she said,
“For, s’help me God, it is not ‘come kiss me.’
I love another, or to blame I’d be,
Better than you, by Jesus, Absalom!
Go on your way, or I’ll stone you therefrom,
605 And let me sleep, the fiends take you away!”
      “Alas,” quoth Absalom, “and welaway!
That true love ever was so ill beset!
But kiss me, since you’ll do no more, my pet,
For Jesus’ love and for the love of me.”
610       “And will you go, then, on your way?” asked she,
      “Yes truly, darling,” said this Absalom.
      “Then make you ready,” said she, “and I’ll come!”
And unto Nicholas said she, low and still:
“Be silent now, and you shall laugh your fill.”


615       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.
Lemman, thy grace, and sweete bryd, thyn oore!”
      The wyndow she undoth, and that in haste.
620 “Have do,” quod she, “com of, and speed the faste,
Lest that oure neighebores thee espie.”
      This Absolon gan wype his mouth ful drie.
Derk was the nyght as pich, or as a cole,
And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole,
625 And Absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,
But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers
Ful savorly, er he were war of this.
Abak he stirte, and thoughte it was amys,
For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd.
630 He felte a thyng al rough and long yherd,
And seyde, “Fy! allas! what have I do?”
      “Tehee!” quod she, and clapte the wyndow to,
And Absolon gooth forth a sory pas.
      “A berd! a berd!” quod hende Nicholas,
635 “By Goddes corpus, this goth faire and weel.”
615       This Absalom plumped down upon his knees,
And said: “I am a lord in all degrees;
For after this there may be better still
Darling, my sweetest bird, I wait your will.”
The window she unbarred, and that in haste.
620       “Have done,” said she, “come on, and do it fast,
Before we’re seen by any neighbour’s eye.”
      This Absalom did wipe his mouth all dry;
Dark was the night as pitch, aye dark as coal,
And through the window she put out her hole.
625 And Absalom no better felt nor worse,
But with his mouth he kissed her naked arse
Right greedily, before he knew of this.
Aback he leapt- it seemed somehow amiss,
For well he knew a woman has no beard;
630 He’d felt a thing all rough and longish haired,
And said, “Oh fie, alas! What did I do?”
      “Teehee!” she laughed, and closed the window too;
And Absalom went forth a sorry pace.
      “A beard! A beard!” cried clever Nicholas,
635 “Now by God’s corpus, this goes fair and well!”


      This sely Absolon herde every deel,
And on his lippe he gan for anger byte,
And to hymself he seyde, “I shall thee quyte.”
      Who rubbeth now, who froteth now his lippes
640 With dust, with sond, with straw, with clooth, with chippes,
But Absolon, that seith ful ofte, “Allas!”
My soule bitake I unto Sathanas,
But me were levere than al this toun,” quod he,
“Of this despit awroken for to be.
645 Allas,” quod he, “allas, I ne hadde ybleynt!”
His hoote love was coold and al yqueynt;
For fro that tyme that he hadde kist her ers,
Of paramours he sette nat a kers;
For he was heeled of his maladie.
650 Ful ofte paramours he gan deffie,
And weep as dooth a child that is ybete.
A softe paas he wente over the strete
Until a smyth men cleped daun Gerveys,
That in his forge smythed plough harneys;
655 He sharpeth shaar and kultour bisily.
This Absolon knokketh al esily,
And seyde, “Undo, Gerveys, and that anon.”
      “What, who artow?” “It am I, Absolon.”
“What, Absolon! For Cristes sweete tree,
660 Why rise ye so rathe? Ey, benedicitee!
What eyleth yow? Som gay gerl, God it woot,
Hath broght yow thus upon the viritoot.
By seinte Note, ye woot wel what I mene.”
      This Absolon ne roghte nat a bene
665 Of all his pley; no word agayn he yaf;
He hadde moore tow on his distaf
Than Gerveys knew, and seyde, “Freend so deere,
That hoote kultour in the chymenee heere,
As lene it me, I have therwith to doone,
670 And I wol brynge it thee agayn ful soone.”
      Gerveys answerde, “Certes, were it gold,
Or in a poke nobles alle untold,
Thou sholdest have, as I am trewe smyth.
Ey, Cristes foo! What wol ye do therwith?”
675       “Therof,” quod Absolon, “be as be may.
I shal wel telle it thee to-morwe day” –
And caughte the kultour by the colde stele,
Ful softe out at the dore he gan to stele,
And wente unto the carpenteris wal.
680 He cogheth first, and knokketh therwithal
Upon the wyndowe, right as he dide er.
      This hapless Absalom, he heard that yell,
And on his lip, for anger, he did bite;
And to himself he said, “I will requite!”
      Who vigorously rubbed and scrubbed his lips
640 With dust, with sand, with straw, with cloth, with chips,
But Absalom, and often cried “Alas!
My soul I give now unto Sathanas,
For rather far than own this town,” said he,
“For this despite, it’s well revenged I’d be.
645 Alas,” said he, “from her I never blenched!”
His hot love was grown cold, aye and all quenched;
For, from the moment that he’d kissed her arse,
For paramours he didn’t care a curse,
For he was healed of all his malady;
650 Indeed all paramours he did defy,
And wept as does a child that has been beat.
With silent step he went across the street
Unto a smith whom men called Dan Jarvis,
Who in his smithy forged plow parts, that is
655 He sharpened shares and coulters busily.
This Absalom he knocked all easily,
And said: “Unbar here, Jarvis, for I come.”
      “What! Who are you?” “It’s I, it’s Absalom.”
“What! Absalom! For Jesus Christ’s sweet tree,
660 Why are you up so early? Ben’cite!
What ails you now, man? Some gay girl, God knows,
Has brought you on the jump to my bellows;
By Saint Neot, you know well what I mean.”
      This Absalom cared not a single bean
665 For all this play, nor one word back he gave;
He’d more tow on his distaff, had this knave,
Than Jarvis knew, and said he: “Friend so dear,
This red-hot coulter in the fireplace here,
Lend it to me, I have a need for it,
670 And I’ll return it after just a bit.”
      Jarvis replied: “Certainly, were it gold
Or a purse filled with yellow coins untold,
Yet should you have it, as I am true smith;
But eh, Christ’s foe! What will you do therewith?”
675       “Let that,” said Absalom, “be as it may;
I’ll tell you all tomorrow, when it’s day”-
And caught the coulter then by the cold steel
And softly from the smithy door did steal
And went again up to the wood-wright’s wall.
680 He coughed at first, and then he knocked withal
Upon the window, as before, with care.


      This Alison answerde, “Who is ther
That knokketh so? I warante it a theef.”
      “Why, nay,” quod he, “God woot, my sweete leef,
685 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;
Ful fyn it is, and therto wel ygrave.
This wol I yeve thee, if thou me kisse.”
690       This Nicholas was risen for to pisse,
And thoughte he wolde amenden al the jape;
He sholde kisse his ers er that he scape.
And up the wyndowe dide he hastily,
And out his ers he putteth pryvely
695 Over the buttok, to the haunche-bon;
And therwith spak this clerk, this Absolon,
“Spek, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art.”
      This Alison replied: “Now who is there?
And who knocks so? I’ll warrant it’s a thief.”
      “Why no,” quoth he, “God knows, my sweet roseleaf,
685 I am your Absalom, my own darling!
Of gold,” quoth he, “I have brought you a ring;
My mother gave it me, as I’ll be saved;
Fine gold it is, and it is well engraved;
This will I give you for another kiss.”
690       This Nicholas had risen for a piss,
And thought that it would carry on the jape
To have his arse kissed by this jack-a-nape.
And so he opened window hastily,
And put his arse out thereat, quietly,
695 Over the buttocks, showing the whole bum;
And thereto said this clerk, this Absalom,
“O speak, sweet bird, I know not where thou art.”


      This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart,
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
700 That with the strook he was almoost yblent;
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot,
      Of gooth the skyn an hande brede aboute,
The hoote kultour brende so his toute,
705 And for the smert he wende for to dye.
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye,
“Help! Water! Water! Help for Goddes herte!”
      This Nicholas just then let fly a fart
As loud as it had been a thunder-clap,
700 And well-nigh blinded Absalom, poor chap;
But he was ready with his iron hot
And Nicholas right in the arse he got.
      Off went the skin a hand’s-breadth broad, about,
The coulter burned his bottom so, throughout,
705 That for the pain he thought that he should die.
And like one mad he started in to cry,
“Help! Water! Water! For God’s dear heart!”


      This carpenter out of his slomber sterte,
And herde oon crien ‘water’ as he were wood,
710 And thoughte, “Allas, now comth Nowelis flood!”
He sit hym up withouten wordes mo,
And with his ax he smoot the corde atwo,
And doun gooth al; he foond neither to selle,
Ne breed ne ale, til he cam to the celle
715 Upon the floor, and ther aswowne he lay.
      Up stirte hire Alison and Nicholay,
And criden “Out” and “Harrow” in the strete.
The neighebores, bothe smale and grete,
In ronnen for to gauren on this man,
720 That yet aswowne lay, bothe pale and wan,
For with the fal he brosten hadde his arm.
But stonde he moste unto his owene harm;
For whan he spak, he was anon bore doun
With hende Nicholas and Alisoun.
725 They tolden every man that he was wood,
He was agast so of Nowelis flood
Thurgh fantasie, that of his vanytee
He hadde yboght hym knedyng-tubbes thre,
And hadde hem hanged in the roof above;
730 And that he preyed hem, for Goddes love,
To sitten in the roof, par compaignye.
      The folk gan laughen at his fantasye;
Into the roof they kiken and they cape;
And turned al his harm unto a jape.
735 For what so that this carpenter answerde,
It was for noght, no man his reson herde.
With othes grete he was so sworn adoun
That he was holde wood in al the toun;
For every clerk anonright heeld with oother.
740 They seyde, “The man is wood, my leeve brother”;
And every wight gan laughen at this stryf.
Thus swyved was this carpenteris wyf,
For al his kepyng and his jalousye;
And Absolon hath kist hir nether ye;
745 And Nicholas is scalded in the towte.
This tale is doon, and God save al the rowte!
      This carpenter out of his sleep did start,
Hearing that “Water!” cried as madman would,
710 And thought, “Alas, now comes down Noel’s flood!”
He struggled up without another word
And with his axe he cut in two the cord,
And down went all; he did not stop to trade
In bread or ale till he’d the journey made,
715 And there upon the floor he swooning lay.
      Up started Alison and Nicholay
And shouted “Help!” and “Hello!” down the street.
The neighbours, great and small, with hastening feet
Swarmed in the house to stare upon this man,
720 Who lay yet swooning, and all pale and wan;
For in the falling he had smashed his arm.
He had to suffer, too, another harm,
For when he spoke he was at once borne down
By clever Nicholas and Alison.
725 For they told everyone that he was odd;
He was so much afraid of “Noel’s” flood,
Through fantasy, that out of vanity
He’d gone and bought these kneading-tubs, all three,
And that he’d hung them near the roof above;
730 And that he had prayed them, for God’s dear love,
To sit with him and bear him company.
      The people laughed at all this fantasy;
Up to the roof they looked, and there did gape,
And so turned all his injury to a jape.
735 For when this carpenter got in a word,
‘Twas all in vain, no man his reasons heard;
With oaths imprenive he was so sworn down,
That he was held for mad by all the town;
For every clerk did side with every other.
740 They said: “The man is crazy, my dear brother.”
And everyone did laugh at all this strife.
Thus screwed was the carpenter’s goodwife,
For all his watching and his jealousy;
And Absalom has kissed her lower eye;
745 And Nicholas has burned his butt painfully.
This tale is done, and God save all the company!




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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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