35 Canterbury Tales: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

“A coloured illustration from Heinrich Steinhowel’s Esopus,” by unknown artist, 1501. Wikimedia Commons.


by Alexander Copeland


This  626-line narrative poem is a beast fable and mock epic based on an incident in the “Reynard cycle,” a literary compliation of medieval allegorical Dutch, English, French and German fables. The story of Chanticleer and the Fox became further popularised in Britain through Chaucer’s retelling below (“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale”).



This story is an animal fable that conveys a moral lesson. The Nuns’s Priest is asked to tell his tale in an effort to lighten up the group after the previous, tragic story. The Knight requests that a tale of good fortune be told and calls on the Priest to deliver it. He begins his tale, by introducing a rooster named Chanticleer, who belongs to an elderly, poor widow. Chanticleer is described to be attractive and with a “merry…crowing”.

Chanticleer possesses many hen wives, his most magnificent being Pertelote. Chanticleer has a nightmare of someone trying to kill him but his dear wife will not reason with his dismay. In an effort to get her to take his dream seriously, he reiterates that ‘murder will reveal itself’, and gives proof of this belief, but to no avail. Chanticleer notices a fox watching him, but the fox warns him to not be afraid. He listens to the fox and ends up getting snatched up. He is fooled by the flattery of the fox which brings us to the moral of the story: never trust a flatterer. He eventually flatters the fox back resulting in his release where he is able to fly into a tree out of harm’s way.  The fox tries to flatter him down but he has learned his lesson and the tale ends. The host proceeds to flatter the priest, and, in the end, wishes him good luck. This tale turns out to be all that it is explained to be, a moral lesson driven by romance. It is interesting that the story takes a complete turn and the character is able to learn a lesson. In most cases, the lesson would only be seen by the reader upon the fall of the main character. The priest proves himself to be a modest, sharp-witted individual and nothing more by successfully delivering a tale of good fortune.

Works Cited

“The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Wikipedia. 09 Aug. 2020. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nun%27s_Priest%27s_Tale Accessed 29 Sept. 2020.


Discussion Questions

  1. This story features a “frame narrative” (a story within a story). Explain how “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale” is a frame narrative and speculate on why Chaucer has used this appraoch.
  2. This story is also a “beast fable” in which animals behave like himan beings; as such, these were often meant to comment on humanity’s flaws. With this in mind, what might Chaucer’s message be?
  3. Chanticleer tells the story of “two comrades once who went/ On pilgrimage, sincere in their intent”. Why does Chanticleer tell this story? What is his point in the telling?
  4. What is Chanticleer’s great fault? What is the redeeming quality that prevents his destruction?
  5. What is the commentary here about women?

Further Resources

  • An animated video of Nun’s Priest’s Tale
  • Webpage on “Nun’s Priest’s Tale” from Havard University’s Geoffrey Chaucer Page
  • An academic journal article on the “Patriarchal Christianity” of “Nun’s Priests’s Tale”

Reading: The Nun’s Priest’s Prologue

       “Hoo!” quod the Knyght, “good sire, namoore of this,
That ye han seyd is right ynough, ywis,
And muchel moore, for litel hevynesse
Is right ynough to muche folk, I gesse.
5 I seye for me, it is a greet disese
Where as men han been in greet welthe and ese,
To heeren of hir sodeyn fal, allas!
And the contrarie is joye and greet solas,
As whan a man hath been in povre estaat,
10 And clymbeth up, and wexeth fortunat,
And there abideth in prosperitee.
Swich thyng is gladsom, as it thynketh me,
And of swich thyng were goodly for to telle.”
       Hold!” said the knight. “Good sir, no more of this,
What you have said is right enough, and is
Very much more; a little heaviness
Is plenty for the most of us, I guess.
5 For me, I say it’s saddening, if you please,
As to men who’ve enjoyed great wealth and ease,
To hear about their sudden fall, alas!
But the contrary’s joy and great solace,
As when a man has been in poor estate
10 And he climbs up and waxes fortunate,
And there abides in all prosperity.
Such things are gladsome, as it seems to me,
And of such things it would be good to tell.”

lines 14-39: The Host asks the Monk to tell another tale

       “Ye,” quod our Hoost, “by Seint Poules belle,
15 Ye seye right sooth; this Monk, he clappeth lowde,
He spak, how Fortune covered with a clowde-
noot nevere what; and also of a tragedie
Right now ye herde; and pardee, no remedie
It is for to biwaille ne compleyne
20 That that is doon; and als it is a peyne,
As ye han seyd, to heere of hevynesse.
       “Yea,” said our host, “and by Saint Paul’s great bell,
15 You say the truth; this monk, his clapper’s loud.
He spoke how Fortune covered with a cloud
I know not what, and of a tragedy,
As now you heard, and indeed no remedy
It is to wail and wonder and complain
20 That certain things have happened, and it’s pain.
As you have said, to hear of wretchedness.
       Sire Monk, namoore of this, so God yow blesse!
Youre tale anoyeth al this compaignye;
Swich talkyng is nat worth a boterflye,
25 For therinne is ther no desport ne game.
Wherfore, sire Monk, or daun Piers by youre name,
I pray yow hertely, telle us somwhat elles,
For sikerly, nere clynkyng of youre belles
That on your bridel hange on every syde,
30 By hevene kyng, that for us alle dyde,
I sholde er this han fallen doun for sleepe,
Althogh the slough had never been so deepe;
Thanne hadde your tale al be toold in veyn.
For certeinly, as that thise clerkes seyn,
35 Whereas a man may have noon audience,
Noght helpeth it to tellen his sentence.
And wel I woot the substance is in me,
If any thyng shal wel reported be.
Sir, sey somwhat of huntyng, I yow preye.”
       Sir Monk, no more of this, so God you bless!
Your tale annoys the entire company;
Such talking is not worth a butterfly;
25 For in it is no sport nor any game.
Wherefore, sir monk, Don Peter by your name,
I pray you heartily tell us something else,
For truly, but for clinking of the bells
That from your bridle hang on either side,
30 By Heaven’s king, Who for us all has died,
I should, before this, have fallen down for sleep,
Although the mud had never been so deep;
Then had your story all been told in vain.
For certainly, as all these clerks complain,
35 ‘Whenas a man has none for audience,
It’s little help to speak his evidence.’
And well I know the substance is in me
To judge of things that well reported be.
Sir, tell a tale of hunting now, I pray.”

lines 40-54: The Monk is reluctant and the Host asks the Nun’s Priest to tell a tale

40        “Nay,” quod this Monk, “I have no lust to pleye;
Not lat another telle as I have toold.”
       Thanne spak oure Hoost, with rude speche and boold,
And seyde unto the Nonnes Preest anon,
“Com neer, thou preest, com hyder, thou, sir John,
45 Telle us swich thyng as may oure hertes glade;
Be blithe, though thou ryde upon a jade.
What thogh thyn hors be bothe foul and lene?
If he wol serve thee, rekke nat a bene!
Looke that thyn herte be murie everemo.”
50        “Yis, sir,” quod he, “yis, Hoost, so moot I go,
But I be myrie, ywis, I wol be blamed.”
And right anon his tale he hath attamed,
And thus he seyde unto us everichon,
This sweete preest, this goodly man sir John.
40        “Nay,” said this monk, “I have no wish to play;
Now let another tell, as I have told.”
       Then spoke our host out, in rude speech and bold,
And said he unto the nun’s priest anon:
“Come near, you priest, come hither, you Sir John,
45 Tell us a thing to make our hearts all glad;
Be blithe, although you ride upon a jade.
What though your horse may be both foul and lean?
If he but serves you, why, don’t care a bean;
Just see your heart is always merry. So.”
50        “Yes, sir,” said he, “yes, host, so may I go,
For, save I’m merry, I know I’ll be blamed.”
And right away his story has he framed,
And thus he said unto us, every one,
This dainty priest, this goodly man, Sir John.

Reading: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

55        A povre wydwesomdel stape in age,
Was whilom dwellyng in a narwe cotage
Biside a greve, stondynge in a dale.
This wydwe, of which I telle yow my tale,
Syn thilke day that she was last a wyf,
60 In pacience ladde a ful symple lyf,
For litel was hir catel and hir rente.
By housbondrie, of swich as God hir sente,
She foond hirself and eek hire doghtren two.
Thre large sowes hadde she, and namo,
65 Three keen, and eek a sheep that highte Malle.
Ful sooty was hir bour and eek hire halle,
In which she eet ful many a sklendre meel-
Of poynaunt sauce hir neded never a deel.
No deyntee morsel passed thurgh hir throte,
70 Hir diete was accordant to hir cote.
Repleccioun ne made hire nevere sik,
Attempree diete was al hir phisik,
And exercise, and hertes suffisaunce.
The goute lette hir nothyng for to daunce,
75 N’apoplexie shente nat hir heed.
No wyn ne drank she, neither whit ne reed,
Hir bord was served moost with whit and blak,
Milk and broun breed, in which she foond no lak,
Seynd bacoun, and somtyme an ey or tweye,
80 For she was as it were a maner deye.
55        A poor widow, somewhat advanced in age,
Lived, on a time, within a small cottage
Beside a grove and standing down a dale.
This widow, now, of whom I tell my tale,
Since that same day when she’d been last a wife
60 Had led, with patience, her strait simple life,
For she’d small goods and little income-rent;
By husbanding of such as God had sent
She kept herself and her young daughters two.
Three large sows had she, and no more, there to,
65 Three cows and a lone sheep that she called Moll.
Right neatly was her bedroom and her hall,
Wherein she’d eaten many a slender meal.
Of sharp sauce, why she needed no great deal,
For dainty morsel never passed her throat;
70 Her diet well accorded with her coat.
Repletion never made this woman sick;
A temperate diet was her whole physic,
And exercise, and her heart’s sustenance.
The gout, it hindered her nowise to dance,
75 Nor apoplexy spun within her head;
And no wine drank she, either white or red;
Her board was mostly garnished, white and black,
With milk and brown bread, whereof she’d no lack,
Broiled bacon and sometimes an egg or two,
80 For a small dairy business did she do.

lines 81-115: The widow’s yard and its inhabitants

       A yeerd she hadde, enclosed al aboute
With stikkes, and a drye dych withoute,
In which she hadde a Cokhight Chauntecleer,
In al the land of crowyng nas his peer.
85 His voys was murier than the murie orgon
On messe-dayes, that in the chirche gon.
Wel sikerer was his crowyng in his logge,
Than is a clokke, or an abbey orlogge.
By nature he crew eche ascencioun
90 Of the equynoxial in thilke toun;
For whan degrees fiftene weren ascended,
Thanne crew he, that it myghte nat been amended.
His coomb was redder than the fyn coral,
And batailled, as it were a castel wal.
95 His byle was blak, and as the jeet it shoon,
Lyk asure were hise legges and his toon,
His nayles whiter than the lylye flour,
And lyk the burned gold was his colour.
This gentil cok hadde in his governaunce
100 Sevene hennes, for to doon al his plesaunce,
Whiche were hise sustres and his paramours,
And wonder lyk to hym as of colours;
Of whiche the faireste hewed on hir throte
Was cleped faire damoysele Pertelote.
105 Curteys she was, discreet, and debonaire
And compaignable, and bar hyrself so faire
Syn thilke day that she was seven nyght oold,
That trewely she hath the herte in hoold
Of Chauntecleer loken in every lith.
110 He loved hire so, that wel was hym therwith.
But swich a joye was it to here hem synge
Whan that the brighte sonne gan to sprynge,
In sweete accord, “My lief is faren in londe!”
For thilke tyme, as I have understonde,
115 Beestes and briddes koude speke and synge.
       A yard she had, enclosed all roundabout
With pales, and there was a dry ditch without,
And in the yard a cock called Chauntecleer.
In all the land, for crowing, he’d no peer.
85 His voice was merrier than the organ gay
On Mass days, which in church begins to play;
More regular was his crowing in his lodge
Than is a clock or abbey horologe.
By instinct he’d marked each ascension down
90 Of equinoctial value in that town;
For when fifteen degrees had been ascended,
Then crew he so it might not be amended.
His comb was redder than a fine coral,
And battlemented like a castle wall.
95 His bill was black and just like jet it shone;
Like azure were his legs and toes, each one;
His spurs were whiter than the lily flower;
And plumage of the burnished gold his dower.
This noble cock had in his governance
100 Seven hens to give him pride and all pleasance,
Which were his sisters and his paramours
And wondrously like him as to colours,
Whereof the fairest hued upon her throat
Was called the winsome Mistress Pertelote.
105 Courteous she was, discreet and debonnaire,
Companionable, and she had been so fair
Since that same day when she was seven nights old,
That truly she had taken the heart to hold
Of Chauntecleer, locked in her every limb;
110 He loved her so that all was well with him.
But such a joy it was to hear them sing,
Whenever the bright sun began to spring,
In sweet accord, “My love walks through the land.”
For at that time, and as I understand,
115 The beasts and all the birds could speak and sing.

lines 116-141: Chauntecleer the rooster has a bad dream

       And so bifel, that in the dawenynge,
As Chauntecleer, among hise wyves alle,
Sat on his perche, that was in the halle,
And next hym sat this faire Pertelote,
120 This Chauntecleer gan gronen in his throte
As man that in his dreem is drecched soore.
And whan that Pertelote thus herde hym roore
She was agast, and seyde, “Herte deere,
What eyleth yow, to grone in this manere?
125 Ye been a verray sleper, fy for shame!”
       And he answerde and seyde thus, “Madame,
I pray yow that ye take it nat agrief.
By God, me thoughte I was in swich meschief
Right now, that yet myn herte is soore afright.
130 Now God,” quod he, “my swevene recche aright,
And kepe my body out of foul prisoun.
Me mette how that I romed up and doun
Withinne our yeerd, wheer as I saugh a beest
Was lyk an hound, and wolde han maad areest
135 Upon my body, and han had me deed.
His colour was bitwixe yelow and reed,
And tipped was his tayl and bothe hise eeris;
With blak, unlyk the remenant of hise heeris;
His snowte smal, with glowynge eyen tweye.
140 Yet of his look, for feere almoost I deye!
This caused me my gronyng, doutelees.”
       So it happened that, in a bright dawning,
As Chauntecleer ‘midst wives and sisters all
Sat on his perch, the which was in the hall,
And next him sat the winsome Pertelote,
120 This Chauntecleer he groaned within his throat
Like man that in his dreams is troubled sore.
And when fair Pertelote thus heard him roar,
She was aghast and said: “O sweetheart dear,
What ails you that you groan so? Do you hear?
125 You are a sleepy herald. Fie, for shame!”
       And he replied to her thus: “Ah, madame,
I pray you that you take it not in grief:
By God, I dreamed I’d come to such mischief,
Just now, my heart yet jumps with sore affright.
130 Now God,” cried he, “my vision read aright
And keep my body out of foul prison!
I dreamed, that while I wandered up and down
Within our yard, I saw there a strange beast
Was like a dog, and he’d have made a feast
135 Upon my body, and have had me dead.
His colour yellow was and somewhat red;
And tipped his tail was, as were both his ears,
With black, unlike the rest, as it appears;
His snout was small and gleaming was each eye.
140 Remembering how he looked, almost I die;
And all this caused my groaning, I confess.”

lines 142-175: Pertelote the chicken defies bad dreams and cowardly men

       “Avoy!” quod she, “fy on yow hertelees!
Allas,” quod she, “for by that God above
Now han ye lost myn herte and al my love!
145 I kan nat love a coward, by my feith,
For certes, what so any womman seith,
We alle desiren, if it myghte bee,
To han housbondes hardy, wise, and free,
And secree, and no nygard, ne no fool,
150 Ne hym that is agast of every tool,
Ne noon avauntour; by that God above!
How dorste ye seyn for shame unto youre love
That any thyng myghte make yow aferd?
Have ye no mannes herte, and han a berd?
155 Allas! and konne ye been agast of swevenys?
Nothyng, God woot, but vanitee in swevene is!
Swevenes engendren of replecciouns,
And ofte of fume and of complecciouns,
Whan humours been to habundant in a wight.
160 Certes, this dreem which ye han met tonyght
Cometh of greet superfluytee
Of youre rede colera, pardee,
Which causeth folk to dreden in hir dremes
Of arwes, and of fyre with rede lemes,
165 Of grete beestes, that they wol hem byte,
Of contek, and of whelpes grete and lyte;
Right as the humour of malencolie
Causeth ful many a man in sleep to crie
For feere of blake beres, or boles blake,
170 Or elles blake develes wole him take.
Of othere humours koude I telle also
That werken many a man in sleep ful wo,
But I wol passe as lightly as I kan.
       Lo Catoun, which that was so wys a man,
175 Seyde he nat thus, `Ne do no fors of dremes`?
       “Aha,” said she, “fie on you, spiritless!
Alas!” cried she, “for by that God above,
Now have you lost my heart and all my love;
145 I cannot love a coward, by my faith.
For truly, whatsoever woman saith,
We all desire, if only it may be,
To have a husband hardy, wise, and free,
And trustworthy, no niggard, and no fool,
150 Nor one that is afraid of every tool,
Nor yet a braggart, by that God above!
How dare you say, for shame, unto your love
That there is anything that you have feared?
Have you not man’s heart, and yet have a beard?
155 Alas! And are you frightened by a vision?
Dreams are, God knows, a matter for derision.
Visions are generated by repletions
And vapours and the body’s bad secretions
Of humours overabundant in a wight.
160 Surely this dream, which you have had tonight,
Comes only of the superfluity
Of your bilious irascibility,
Which causes folk to shiver in their dreams
For arrows and for flames with long red gleams,
165 For great beasts in the fear that they will bite,
For quarrels and for wolf whelps great and slight;
Just as the humour of melancholy
Causes full many a man, in sleep, to cry,
For fear of black bears or of bulls all black,
170 Or lest black devils put them in a sack.
Of other humours could I tell also,
That bring, to many a sleeping man, great woe;
But I’ll pass on as lightly as I can.
       Lo, Cato, and he was a full wise man,
175 Said he not, ‘we should not trouble for dreams?’

lines 176-203: Pertelote advises Chauntecleer to eat some herbs

       Now sire,” quod she, “whan ye flee fro the bemes,
For Goddes love, as taak som laxatyf.
Up peril of my soule, and of my lyf,
conseille yow the beste, I wol nat lye,
180 That bothe of colere and of malencolye
Ye purge yow; and for ye shal nat tarie,
Though in this toun is noon apothecarie,
I shal myself to herbes techen yow,
That shul been for youre hele and for youre prow.
185 And in oure yeerd tho herbes shal I fynde,
The whiche han of hir propretee by kynde
To purge yow bynethe and eek above.
Foryet nat this, for Goddes owene love!
Ye been ful coleryk of compleccioun;
190 Ware the sonne in his ascencioun
Ne fynde yow nat repleet of humours hoote.
And if it do, I dar wel leye a grote
That ye shul have a fevere terciane,
Or an agu that may be youre bane.
195 A day or two ye shul have digestyves
Of wormes, er ye take youre laxatyves
Of lawriol, centaure, and fumetere,
Or elles of ellebor that groweth there,
Of katapuce, or of gaitrys beryis,
200 Of herbe yve, growyng in oure yeerd, ther mery is;
Pekke hem up right as they growe, and ete hem yn!
Be myrie, housbonde, for youre fader kyn,
Dredeth no dreem, I kan sey yow namoore!”
       Now, sir,” said she, “when we fly from the beams,
For God’s love go and take some laxative;
On peril of my soul, and as I live,
I counsel you the best, I will not lie,
180 That both for choler and for melancholy
You purge yourself; and since you shouldn’t tarry,
And in this town there’s no apothecary,
I will myself go find some herbs for you
That will be good for health and pecker too;
185 And in our own yard all these herbs I’ll find,
The which have properties of proper kind
To purge you underneath and up above.
Forget this not, now, for God’s very love!
You are so very choleric of complexion.
190 Beware the mounting sun and all dejection,
Nor get yourself with sudden humours hot;
For if you do, I dare well lay a groat
That you shall have the tertian fever’s pain,
Or some ague that may well be your bane.
195 A day or two you shall have digestives
Of worms before you take your laxatives
Of laurel, centuary, and fumitory,
Or else of hellebore purificatory,
Or caper spurge, or else of dogwood berry,
200 Or herb ivy, all in our yard so merry;
Peck them just as they grow and gulp them in.
Be merry, husband, for your father’s kin!
Dread no more dreams. And I can say no more.”

lines 204-217: Chauntcleer explains that dreams can have a certain meaning

       “Madame,” quod he, “graunt mercy of youre loore,
205 But nathelees, as touchyng daun Catoun,
That hath of wysdom swich a greet renoun,
Though that he bad no dremes for to drede,
By God, men may in olde bookes rede
Of many a man moore of auctorite
210 Than evere Caton was, so moot I thee,
That al the revers seyn of this sentence,
And han wel founden by experience
That dremes been significaciouns
As wel of joye as of tribulaciouns
215 That folk enduren in this lif present.
Ther nedeth make of this noon argument,
The verray preeve sheweth it in dede.
       “Madam,” said he, “thank you for your lore.
205 Nevertheless, not running Cato down,
Who had for wisdom such a high renown,
And though he says to hold no dreams in dread,
By God, men have, in many old books, read
Of many a man more an authority
210 That ever Cato was, pray pardon me,
Who say just the reverse of his sentence,
And have found out by long experience
That dreams, indeed, are good significations,
As much of joys as of all tribulations
215 That folk endure here in this life present.
There is no need to make an argument;
The very proof of this is shown indeed.

lines 218-262: An example about a man having a bad dream

       Oon of the gretteste auctours that men rede
Seith thus: that whilom two felawes wente
220 On pilgrimage in a ful good entente;
And happed so, they coomen in a toun
Wher as ther was swich congregacioun
Of peple, and eek so streit of herbergage,
That they ne founde as muche as o cotage
225 In which they bothe myghte logged bee;
Wherfore they mosten of necessitee
As for that nyght departen compaignye,
And ech of hem gooth to his hostelrye,
And took his loggyng as it wolde falle.
230 That oon of hem was logged in a stalle,
Fer in a yeerd, with oxen of the plough;
That oother man was logged wel ynough,
As was his aventure or his fortune,
That us governeth alle as in commune.
       One of the greatest authors that men read
Says thus: That on a time two comrades went
220 On pilgrimage, and all in good intent;
And it so chanced they came into a town
Where there was such a crowding, up and down,
Of people, and so little harbourage,
That they found not so much as one cottage
225 Wherein the two of them might sheltered be.
Wherefore they must, as of necessity,
For that one night at least, part company;
And each went to a different hostelry
And took such lodgment as to him did fall.
230 Now one of them was lodged within a stall,
Far in a yard, with oxen of the plow;
That other man found shelter fair enow,
As was his luck, or was his good fortune,
Whatever ’tis that governs us, each one.
235        And so bifel, that longe er it were day
This man mette in his bed, ther as he lay,
How that his felawe gan upon hym calle
And seyde, `Allas, for in an oxes stalle
This nyght I shal be mordred, ther I lye!
240 Now help me, deere brother, or I dye;
In alle haste com to me!” he sayde.
This man out of his sleep for feere abrayde;
But whan that he was wakened of his sleep,
He turned hym and took of it no keep.
245 Hym thoughte, his dreem nas but a vanitee.
Thus twies in his slepyng dremed hee,
And atte thridde tyme yet his felawe
Cam, as hym thoughte, and seide, `I am now slawe,
Bihoold my bloody woundes depe and wyde;
250 Arys up erly in the morwe-tyde,
And at the west gate of the toun,’ quod he,
`A carte ful of donge ther shaltow se,
In which my body is hid ful prively.
Do thilke carte arresten boldely;
255 My gold caused my mordre, sooth to sayn.’-
And tolde hym every point, how he was slayn,
With a ful pitous face, pale of hewe;
And truste wel, his dreem he foond ful trewe.
For on the morwe, as soone as it was day,
260 To his felawes in he took the way,
And whan that he cam to this oxes stalle,
After his felawe he bigan to calle.
235        So it happened that, long before it was day,
This last man dreamed in bed, as there he lay,
That his poor fellow did unto him call,
Saying: ‘Alas! For in an ox’s stall
This night shall I be murdered where I lie.
240 Now help me, brother dear, before I die.
Come in all haste to me.’ ‘Twas thus he said.
This man woke out of sleep, then, all afraid;
But when he’d wakened fully from his sleep,
He turned upon his pillow, yawning deep,
245 Thinking his dream was but a fantasy.
And then again, while sleeping, thus dreamed he.
And then a third time came a voice that said
Or so he thought: ‘Now, comrade, I am dead;
Behold my bloody wounds, so wide and deep!
250 Early arise tomorrow from your sleep,
And at the west gate of the town,’ said he,
‘A wagon full of dung there shall you see,
Wherein is hid my body craftily;
Do you arrest this wagon right boldly.
255 They killed me for what money they could gain.’
And told in every point how he’d been slain,
With a most pitiful face and pale of hue.
And trust me well, this dream did all come true;
For on the morrow, soon as it was day,
260 Unto his comrade’s inn he took the way;
And when he’d come into that ox’s stall,
Upon his fellow he began to call.

lines 263-296: The bad dream becomes truth

       The hostiler answerde hym anon,
And seyde, `Sire, your felawe is agon,
265 As soone as day he wente out of the toun.’
       This man gan fallen in suspecioun,
Remembrynge on hise dremes that he mette,
And forth he gooth, no lenger wolde he lette,
Unto the westgate of the toun; and fond
270 A dong carte, as it were to donge lond,
That was arrayed in that same wise,
As ye han herd the dede man devyse.
And with an hardy herte he gan to crye,
Vengeance and justice of this felonye;
275 ‘My felawe mordred is this same nyght,
And in this carte he lith gapyng upright.
I crye out on the ministres,’ quod he,
`That sholden kepe and reulen this citee!
Harrow! Allas! Heere lith my felawe slayn!’
280 What sholde I moore unto this tale sayn?
The peple out-sterte, and caste the cart to grounde,
And in the myddel of the dong they founde
The dede man, that mordred was al newe.
       The keeper of the place replied anon,
And said he: ‘Sir, your friend is up and gone;
265 As soon as day broke he went out of town.’
       This man, then, felt suspicion in him grown,
Remembering the dream that he had had,
And forth he went, no longer tarrying, sad,
Unto the west gate of the town, and found
270 A dung-cart on its way to dumping-ground,
And it was just the same in every wise
As you have heard the dead man advertise;
And with a hardy heart he then did cry
Vengeance and justice on this felony:
275 ‘My comrade has been murdered in the night,
And in this very cart lies, face upright.
I cry to all the officers,’ said he
‘That ought to keep the peace in this city.
Alas, alas, here lies my comrade slain!’
280 “Why should I longer with this tale detain?
The people rose and turned the cart to ground,
And in the center of the dung they found
The dead man, lately murdered in his sleep.
       O blisful God, that art so just and trewe!
285 Lo, howe that thou biwreyest mordre alway!
Mordre wol out, that se we day by day.
Mordre is so wlatsom and abhomynable
To God that is so just and resonable,
That he ne wol nat suffre it heled be,
290 Though it abyde a yeer, or two, or thre.
Mordre wol out, this my conclusioun.
And right anon ministres of that toun
Han hent the carter, and so soore hym pyned,
And eek the hostiler so soore engyned
295 That they biknewe hire wikkednesse anon,
And were anhanged by the nekke-bon.
       O Blessed God, Who art so true and deep!
285 Lo, how Thou dost turn murder out alway!
Murder will out, we see it every day.
Murder’s so hateful and abominable
To God, Who is so just and reasonable,
That He’ll not suffer that it hidden be;
290 Though it may skulk a year, or two, or three,
Murder will out, and I conclude thereon.
Immediately the rulers of that town,
They took the carter and so sore they racked
Him and the host, until their bones were cracked,
295 That they confessed their wickedness anon,
And hanged they both were by the neck, and soon.

lines 297-343: Another example about a man having a bad dream

       Heere may men seen, that dremes been to drede!
And certes, in the same book I rede
Right in the nexte chapitre after this –
300 I gabbe nat, so have I joye or blis –
Two men that wolde han passed over see
For certeyn cause, into a fer contree,
If that the wynd ne hadde been contrarie,
That made hem in a citee for to tarie,
305 That stood ful myrie upon an haven-syde-
But on a day, agayn the even-tyde,
The wynd gan chaunge, and blew right as hem leste.
Jolif and glad they wente unto hir reste,
And casten hem ful erly for to saille,
310 But herkneth, to that o man fil a greet mervaille;
That oon of hem, in slepyng as he lay,
Hym mette a wonder dreem agayn the day.
Hym thoughte a man stood by his beddes syde,
And hym comanded that he sholde abyde,
315 And seyde hym thus, `If thou tomorwe wende
Thow shalt be dreynt; my tale is at an ende.’
He wook, and tolde his felawe what he mette,
And preyde hym his viage for to lette,
As for that day, he preyede hym to byde.
320 His felawe, that lay by his beddes syde,
Gan for to laughe and scorned him ful faste.
`No dreem,’ quod he, `may so myn herte agaste
That I wol lette for to do my thynges.
I sette nat a straw by thy dremynges,
325 For swevenes been but vanytees and japes.
Men dreme al day of owles or of apes,
And of many a maze therwithal.
Men dreme of thyng that nevere was, ne shal;
But sith I see that thou wolt heere abyde
330 And thus forslewthen wilfully thy tyde,
God woot it reweth me, and have good day.’
And thus he took his leve and wente his way;
But er that he hadde half his cours yseyled,
Noot I nat why, ne what myschaunce it eyled,
335 But casuelly the shippes botme rente,
And ship and men under the water wente
In sighte of othere shippes it bisyde,
That with hem seyled at the same tyde.
And therfore, faire Pertelote so deere,
340 By swiche ensamples olde yet maistow leere,
That no man sholde been to recchelees
Of dremes, for I seye thee doutelees
That many a dreem ful soore is for to drede.
       Here may men see that dreams are things to dread.
And certainly, in that same book I read,
Right in the very chapter after this –
300 I spoof not, as I may have joy and bliss –
Of two men who would voyage oversea,
For some cause, and unto a far country,
If but the winds had not been all contrary,
Causing them both within a town to tarry,
305 Which town was builded near the haven-side.
But then, one day, along toward eventide,
The wind did change and blow as suited best.
Jolly and glad they went unto their rest.
And were prepared right early for to sail;
310 But unto one was told a marvelous tale.
For one of them, a-sleeping as he lay,
Did dream a wondrous dream before it was day.
He thought a strange man stood by his bedside
And did command him, he should there abide,
315 And said to him: ‘If you tomorrow wend,
You shall be drowned; my tale is at an end.’
He woke and told his fellow what he’d met
And prayed him quit the voyage and forget;
For just one day he prayed him there to bide.
320 His comrade, who was lying there beside,
Began to laugh and scorned him long and fast.
‘No dream,’ said he, ‘may make my heart aghast,
So that I’ll quit my business for such things.
I do not care a straw for your dreamings,
325 For visions are but fantasies and japes.
Men dream, why, every day, of owls and apes,
And many a wild phantasm therewithal;
Men dream of what has never been, nor shall.
But since I see that you will here abide,
330 And thus forgo this fair wind and this tide,
God knows I’m sorry; nevertheless, good day!’
And thus he took his leave and went his way.
But long before the half his course he’d sailed,
I know not why, nor what it was that failed,
335 But casually the vessel’s bottom rent,
And ship and men under the water went,
In sight of other ships were there beside,
The which had sailed with that same wind and tide
And therefore, pretty Pertelote, my dear,
340 By such old-time examples may you hear
And learn that no man should be too reckless
Of dreams, for I can tell you, fair mistress,
That many a dream is something well to dread

lines 344-355: About St. Kenelm’s bad dreams

       Lo, in the lyf of Seint Kenelm I rede,
345 That was Kenulphus sone, the noble kyng,
Of Mercenrike how Kenelm mette a thyng.
A lite er he was mordred, on a day
His mordre in his avysioun he say.
His norice hym expowned every deel
350 His sweven, and bad hym for to kepe hym weel
For traisoun, but he nas but seven yeer oold,
And therfore litel tale hath he toold
Of any dreem, so hooly is his herte.
By God! I hadde levere than my sherte
355 That ye hadde rad his legende, as have I.
       Why in the ‘Life’ of Saint Kenelm I read
345 Who was Kenelphus’ son, the noble king
Of Mercia, how Kenelm dreamed a thing;
A while before he was murdered, so they say,
His own death in a vision saw, one day.
His nurse interpreted, as records tell,
350 That vision, bidding him to guard him well
From treason; but he was but seven years old,
And therefore ’twas but little he’d been told
Of any dream, so holy was his heart.
By God! I’d rather than retain my shirt
355 That you had read this legend, as have I.

lines 356-390: Chauntecleer gives classical and biblical examples about bad dreams

       Dame Pertelote, I sey yow trewely,
Macrobeus, that writ the avisioun
In Affrike of the worhty Cipioun,
Affermeth dremes, and seith that they been
360 Warnynge of thynges, that men after seen.
And forther-moore I pray yow looketh wel
In the olde testament of Daniel,
If he heeld dremes any vanitee!
Reed eek of Joseph, and ther shul ye see
365 Wher dremes be somtyme – I sey nat alle –
Warnynge of thynges that shul after falle.
Looke of Egipte the kyng, daun Pharao,
His baker and his butiller also,
Wher they ne felte noon effect in dremes!
370 Whoso wol seken actes of sondry remes
May rede of dremes many a wonder thyng.
Lo Cresus, which that was of Lyde kyng,
Mette he nat that he sat upon a tree,
Which signified, he sholde anhanged bee?
375 Lo her Adromacha, Ectores wyf,
That day that Ector sholde lese his lyf
She dremed on the same nyght biforn
How that the lyf of Ector sholde be lorn,
If thilke day he wente into bataille.
380 She warned hym, but it myghte nat availle;
He wente for to fighte natheles,
But he was slayn anon of Achilles.
But thilke is al to longe for to telle,
And eek it is ny day, I may nat dwelle.
385 Shortly I seye, as for conclusioun,
That I shal han of this avisioun
Adversitee, and I seye forthermoor
That I ne telle of laxatyves no stoor,
For they been venymes, I woot it weel,
390 hem diffye, I love hem never a deel.
       Dame Pertelote, I tell you verily,
Macrobius, who wrote of Scipio
The African a vision long ago,
He holds by dreams, saying that they have been
360 Warnings of things that men have later seen.
And furthermore, I pray you to look well
In the Old Testament at Daniel,
Whether he held dreams for mere vanity.
Read, too, of Joseph, and you there shall see
365 Where dreams have sometimes been – I say not all –
Warnings of things that, after did befall.
Consider Egypt’s king, Dan Pharaoh,
His baker and his butler, these also,
Whether they knew of no effect from dreams.
370 Whoso will read of sundry realms the themes
May learn of dreams full many a wondrous thing.
Lo, Croesus, who was once of Lydia king,
Dreamed he not that he sat upon a tree,
Which signified that hanged high he should be?
375 Lo, how Andromache, great Hector’s wife,
On that same day when Hector lost his life,
She dreamed upon the very night before
That Hector’s life should be lost evermore,
If on that day he battled, without fail.
380 She warned him, but no warning could avail;
He went to fight, despite all auspices,
And so was shortly slain by Achilles.
But that same tale is all too long to tell,
And, too, it’s nearly day, I must not dwell
385 Upon this; I but say, concluding here,
That from this vision I have cause to fear
Adversity; and I say, furthermore,
That I do set by laxatives no store,
For they are poisonous, I know it well.
390 Them I defy and love not, truth to tell.

lines 391-420: Chauntecleer and Pertelote are done with bad dreams

       Now let us speke of myrthe, and stynte al this;
Madame Pertelote, so have I blis,
Of o thyng God hath sent me large grace,
For whan I se the beautee of youre face,
395 Ye been so scarlet reed aboute youre eyen,
It maketh al my drede for to dyen.
For, al so siker as In principio
Mulier est hominis confusio,-
Madame, the sentence of this Latyn is,
400 `Womman is mannes joye and al his blis.’
For whan I felle a-nyght your softe syde,
Al be it that I may nat on yow ryde,
For that oure perche is maad so narwe, allas!
I am so ful of joye and of solas,
405 That I diffye bothe swevene and dreem.”
And with that word he fly doun fro the beem,
For it was day, and eke hise hennes alle;
And with a chuk he gan hem for to calle,
For he hadde founde a corn lay in the yerd.
410 Real he was, he was namoore aferd;
He fethered Pertelote twenty tyme,
And trad as ofte, er that it was pryme.
He looketh as it were a grym leoun,
And on his toos he rometh up and doun,
415 Hym deigned nat to sette his foot to grounde.
He chukketh whan he hath a corn yfounde,
And to hym rennen thanne hise wyves alle.
Thus roial as a prince is in an halle,
Leve I this Chauntecleer in his pasture,
420 And after wol I telle his aventure.
       But let us speak of mirth and stop all this;
My lady Pertelote, on hope of bliss,
In one respect God’s given me much grace;
For when I see the beauty of your face,
395 You are so rosy-red beneath each eye,
It makes my dreadful terror wholly die.
For there is truth in In principio
Mulier est hominis confusio
Madam, the meaning of this latin is,
400 Woman is man’s delight and all his bliss
For when I feel at night your tender side,
Although I cannot then upon you ride,
Because our perch so narrow is, alas!
I am so full of joy and all solace
405 That I defy, then, vision, aye and dream.”
And with that word he flew down from the beam,
For it was day, and down went his hens all;
And with a cluck he them began to call,
For he had found some corn within the yard.
410 Royal he was, and fears he did discard.
He feathered Pertelote very many a time
And twenty times he trod her before ’twas prime.
He looked as if he were a grim lion
As on his toes he strutted up and down;
415 He deigned not set his foot upon the ground.
He clucked when any grain of corn he found,
And all his wives came running at his call.
Thus royal, as a prince is in his hall,
I’ll now leave busy Chauntecleer to feed,
420 And with events that followed I’ll proceed.

lines 421-448: Chauntecleer and his wives walk happily in the yard when peril approaches

       Whan that the monthe in which the world bigan
That highte March, whan God first maked man,
Was compleet, and passed were also
Syn March was gon, thritty dayes and two,
425 Bifel that Chauntecleer in al his pryde,
Hise sevene wyves walkynge by his syde,
Caste up hise eyen to the brighte sonne,
That in the signe of Taurus hadde yronne
Twenty degrees and oon, and somwhat moore;
430 And knew by kynde, and by noon oother loore,
That it was pryme, and crew with blisful stevene.
“The sonne,” he seyde, “is clomben upon hevene
Fourty degrees and oon, and moore, ywis.
Madame Pertelote, my worldes blis,
435 Herkneth thise blisful briddes how they synge,
And se the fresshe floures how they sprynge.
Ful is myn herte of revel and solas.”
But sodeynly hym fil a sorweful cas,
For evere the latter ende of joye is wo.
440 God woot that worldly joye is soone ago,
And if a rethor koude faire endite,
He in a cronycle saufly myghte it write,
As for a sovereyn notabilitee.
Now every wys man, lat him herkne me:
445 This storie is al so trewe, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot de Lake,
That wommen holde in ful greet reverence.
Now wol I come agayn to my sentence.
       When that same month wherein the world began,
Which is called March, wherein God first made man,
Was ended, and were passed of days also,
Since March began, full thirty days and two,
425 It fell that Chauntecleer, in all his pride,
His seven wives a-walking by his side,
Cast up his two eyes toward the great bright sun
Which through die sign of Taurus now had run
Twenty degrees and one, and somewhat more,
430 And knew by instinct and no other lore
That it was prime, and joyfully he crew,
“The sun, my love,” he said, “has climbed anew
Forty degrees and one, and somewhat more.
My lady Pertelote, whom I adore,
435 Mark now these happy birds, hear how they sing,
And see all these fresh flowers, how they spring;
Full is my heart of revelry and grace.”
But suddenly he fell in grievous case;
For ever the latter end of joy is woe.
440 God knows that worldly joys do swiftly go;
And if a rhetorician could but write,
He in some chronicle might well indite
And mark it down as sovereign in degree.
Now every wise man, let him hark to me:
445 This tale is just as true, I undertake,
As is the book of Launcelot of the Lake,
Which women always hold in such esteem.
But now I must take up my proper theme.

lines 449-500: About a col-fox and examples of killers waiting in ambush

       A col-fox, ful of sly iniquitee,
450 That in the grove hadde woned yeres three,
By heigh ymaginacioun forn-cast,
The same nyght thurghout the hegges brast
Into the yerd, ther Chauntecleer the faire
Was wont, and eek hise wyves, to repaire;
455 And in a bed of wortes stille he lay,
Til it was passed undren of the day,
Waitynge his tyme on Chauntecleer to falle,
As gladly doon thise homycides alle
That in await liggen to mordre men.
460 O false mordrour, lurkynge in thy den!
O newe Scariot! newe Genyloun!
False dissymulour, O Greek synoun
That broghtest Troye al outrely to sorwe!
O Chauntecleer, acursed be that morwe
465 That thou into that yerd flaugh fro the bemes!
Thou were ful wel ywarned by thy dremes
That thilke day was perilous to thee;
But what that God forwoot moot nedes bee,
After the opinioun of certein clerkis.
470 Witnesse on hym that any parfit clerk is,
That in scole is greet altercacioun
In this mateere, and greet disputisoun,
And hath been of an hundred thousand men.
But I ne kan nat bulte it to the bren,
475 As kan the hooly doctour Augustyn,
Or Boece, or the Bisshop Bradwardyn,
Wheither that Goddes worthy forwityng
Streyneth me nedefully to doon a thyng, –
“Nedely” clepe I symple necessitee;
480 Or elles, if free choys be graunted me
To do that same thyng, or do it noght,
Though God forwoot it, er that it was wroght;
Or if his wityng streyneth never a deel
But by necessitee condicioneel.
485 I wol nat han to do of swich mateere;
My tale is of a Cok, as ye may heere,
That tok his conseil of his wyf, with sorwe,
To walken in the yerd upon that morwe
That he hadde met that dreem, that I yow tolde.
490 Wommennes conseils been ful ofte colde;
Wommannes conseil broghte us first to wo,
And made Adam fro Paradys to go,
Ther as he was ful myrie, and wel at ese.
But for I noot to whom it myght displese,
495 If I conseil of wommen wolde blame,
Passe over, for I seye it in my game.
Rede auctours, wher they trete of swich mateere,
And what they seyn of wommen ye may heere.
Thise been the cokkes wordes, and nat myne;
500 I kan noon harm of no womman divyne.
       A brant-fox, full of sly iniquity,
450 That in the grove had lived two years, or three,
Now by a fine premeditated plot
That same night, breaking through the hedge, had got
Into the yard where Chauntecleer the fair
Was wont, and all his wives too, to repair;
455 And in a bed of greenery still he lay
Till it was past the quarter of the day,
Waiting his chance on Chauntecleer to fall,
As gladly do these killers one and all
Who lie in ambush for to murder men.
460 O murderer false, there lurking in your den!
O new Iscariot, O new Ganelon!
O false dissimulator, Greek Sinon
That brought down Troy all utterly to sorrow!
O Chauntecleer, accursed be that morrow
465 When you into that yard flew from the beams!
You were well warned, and fully, by your dreams
That this day should hold peril damnably.
But that which God foreknows, it needs must be,
So says the best opinion of the clerks.
470 Witness some cleric perfect for his works,
That in the schools there’s a great altercation
In this regard, and much high disputation
That has involved a hundred thousand men.
But I can’t sift it to the bran with pen,
475 As can the holy Doctor Augustine,
Or Boethius, or Bishop Bradwardine,
Whether the fact of God’s great foreknowing
Makes it right needful that I do a thing –
By needful, I mean, of necessity
480 Or else, if a free choice he granted me,
To do that same thing, or to do it not,
Though God foreknew before the thing was wrought;
Or if his knowing constrains never at all,
Except by necessity conditional.
485 I have no part in matters so austere;
My tale is of a cock, as you shall hear,
That took the counsel of his wife, with sorrow,
To walk within the yard upon that morrow
After he’d had the dream whereof I told.
490 Now women’s counsels oft are ill to hold;
A woman’s counsel brought us first to woe,
And Adam caused from Paradise to go,
Wherein he was right merry and at ease.
But since I know not whom it may displease
495 If woman’s counsel I hold up to blame,
Pass over, I but said it in my game.
Read authors where such matters do appear,
And what they say of women, you may hear.
These are the cock’s words, they are none of mine;
500 No harm in women can I e’er divine.

lines 501-515: Chauntecleer notices the fox

       Faire in the soond, to bathe hire myrily,
Lith Pertelote, and alle hir sustres by,
Agayn the sonne; and Chauntecleer so free
Soong murier than the mermayde in the see-
505 For Phisiologus seith sikerly
How that they syngen wel and myrily.
And so bifel, that as he cast his eye
Among the wortes on a boterflye,
He was war of this fox that lay ful lowe.
510 Nothyng ne liste hym thanne for to crowe,
But cride anon, “Cok! cok!” and up he sterte,
As man that was affrayed in his herte.
For natureelly a beest desireth flee
Fro his contrarie, if he may it see,
515 Though he never erst hadde seyn it with his ye.
       All in the sand, a-bathing merrily,
Lay Pertelote, with all her sisters by,
There in the sun; and Chauntecleer so free
Sang merrier than a mermaid in the sea
505 For Physiologus says certainly
That they do sing, both well and merrily.
And so befell that, as he cast his eye
Among the herbs and on a butterfly,
He saw this fox that lay there, crouching low.
510 Nothing of urge was in him, then, to crow;
But he cried “Cock-cock-cock” and did so start
As man who has a sudden fear at heart.
For naturally a beast desires to flee
From any enemy that he may see,
515 Though never yet he’s clapped on such his eye.

lines 516-555: The fox enchants Chauntecleer and asks him to sing

       This Chauntecleer, whan he gan hym espye,
He wolde han fled, but that the fox anon
Seyde, “Gentil sire, allas, wher wol ye gon?
Be ye affrayed of me that am youre freend?
520 Now, certes, I were worse than a feend
If I to yow wolde harm or vileynye.
I am nat come your conseil for t’espye,
But trewely, the cause of my comynge
Was oonly for to herkne how that ye synge.
525 For trewely, ye have as myrie a stevene
As any aungel hath that is in hevene.
Therwith ye han in musyk moore feelynge
Than hadde Boece, or any that kan synge.
My lord youre fader – God his soule blesse! –
530 And eek youre mooder, of hir gentillesse
Han in myn hous ybeen, to my greet ese;
And certes, sire, ful fayn wolde I yow plese.
But for men speke of syngyng, I wol seye,
So moote I brouke wel myne eyen tweye,
535 Save yow I herde nevere man yet synge
As dide youre fader in the morwenynge.
Certes, it was of herte al that he song!
And for to make his voys the moore strong,
He wolde so peyne hym, that with bothe hise eyen
540 He moste wynke, so loude he solde cryen,
And stonden on his tiptoon therwithal,
And strecche forth his nekke long and smal.
And eek he was of swich discrecioun,
That ther nas no man in no regioun,
545 That hym in song or wisedom myghte passe.
I have wel rad in daun Burnel the Asse
Among hise vers, how that ther was a cok,
For that a presstes sone yaf hym a knok,
Upon his leg, whil he was yong and nyce,
550 He made hym for to lese his benefice.
But certeyn, ther nys no comparisoun
Bitwixe the wisedom and discrecioun
Of youre fader, and of his subtiltee.
Now syngeth, sire, for seinte charitee,
555 Lat se konne ye youre fader countrefete!”
       When Chauntecleer the fox did then espy,
He would have fled but that the fox anon
Said: “Gentle sir, alas! Why be thus gone?
Are you afraid of me, who am your friend?
520 Now, surely, I were worse than any fiend
If I should do you harm or villainy.
I came not here upon your deeds to spy;
But, certainly, the cause of my coming
Was only just to listen to you sing.
525 For truly, you have quite as fine a voice
As angels have that Heaven’s choirs rejoice;
Boethius to music could not bring
Such feeling, nor do others who can sing.
My lord your father – God his soul pray bless! –
530 And too your mother, of her gentleness,
Have been in my abode, to my great ease;
And truly, sir, right fain am I to please.
But since men speak of singing, I will say
As I still have my eyesight day by day,
535 Save you, I never heard a man so sing
As did your father in the grey dawning;
Truly ’twas from the heart, his every song.
And that his voice might ever be more strong,
He took such pains that, with his either eye,
540 He had to blink, so loudly would he cry,
A-standing on his tiptoes therewithal,
Stretching his neck till it grew long and small.
And such discretion, too, by him was shown,
There was no man in any region known
545 That him in song or wisdom could surpass.
I have well read, in Dan Burnell the Ass,
Among his verses, how there was a cock,
Because a priest’s son gave to him a knock
Upon the leg, while young and not yet wise,
550 He caused the boy to lose his benefice.
But, truly, there is no comparison
With the great wisdom and the discretion
Your father had, or with his subtlety.
Now sing, dear sir, for holy charity,
555 See if you can your father counterfeit.”

lines 556-571: Chauntecleer falls for the trap

       This Chauntecleer hise wynges gan to bete,
As man that koude his traysoun nat espie,
So was he ravysshed with his flaterie.
       Allas, ye lordes! many a fals flatour
560 Is in youre courtes, and many a losengeour,
That plesen yow wel moore, by my feith,
Than he that soothfastnesse unto yow seith.
Redeth Ecclesiaste of Flaterye;
Beth war, ye lordes, of hir trecherye.
       This Chauntecleer his wings began to beat,
As one that could no treason there espy,
So was he ravished by this flattery
Alas, you lords! Full many a flatterer
560 Is in your courts, and many a cozener,
That please your honours much more, by my fay,
Than he that truth and justice dares to say.
Go read the Ecclesiast on flattery;
Beware, my lords, of all their treachery!
565        This Chauntecleer stood hye upon his toos,
Strecchynge his nekke, and heeld hise eyen cloos,
And gan to crowe loude for the nones,
And daun Russell the fox stirte up atones,
And by the gargat hente Chauntecleer,
570 And on his bak toward the wode hym beer,
For yet ne was ther no man that hym sewed.
565        This Chauntecleer stood high upon his toes,
Stretching his neck, and both his eyes did close,
And so did crow right loudly, for the nonce;
And Russel Fox, he started up at once,
And by the gorget grabbed our Chauntecleer,
570 Flung him on back, and toward the wood did steer,
For there was no man who as yet pursued.

lines 572-608: How women respond to husband-endangering peril

       O destinee, that mayst nat been eschewed!
Allas, that Chauntecleer fleigh fro the bemes!
Allas, his wyf ne roghte nat of dremes!
575 And on a Friday fil al this meschaunce.
       O Venus, that art goddesse of plesaunce!
Syn that thy servant was this Chauntecleer,
And in thy servyce dide al his poweer,
Moore for delit than world to multiplye,
580 Why woltestow suffre hym on thy day to dye?
       O destiny, you cannot be eschewed!
Alas, that Chauntecleer flew from the beams!
Alas, his wife recked nothing of his dreams!
575 And on a Friday fell all this mischance.
       O Venus, who art goddess of pleasance,
Since he did serve thee well, this Chauntecleer,
And to the utmost of his power here,
More for delight than cocks to multiply,
580 Why would’st thou suffer him that day to die?
       O Gaufred, deere Maister soverayn!
That whan thy worthy kyng Richard was slayn
With shot, compleynedest his deeth so soore,
Why ne hadde I now thy sentence and thy loore,
585 The Friday for to chide, as diden ye?-
For on a Friday soothly slayn was he.
Thanne wolde I shewe yow, how that I koude pleyne
For Chauntecleres drede and for his peyne.
       O Gaufred, my dear master sovereign,
Who, when King Richard Lionheart was slain
By arrow, sang his death with sorrow sore,
Why have I not your faculty and lore
585 To chide Friday, as you did worthily?
For truly, on a Friday slain was he.
Then would I prove how well I could complain
For Chauntecleer’s great fear and all his pain.
       Certesswich cry ne lamentacioun
590 Was nevere of ladyes maad, whan Ylion
Was wonne, and Pirrus with his streite swerd,
Whan he hadde hent kyng Priam by the berd,
And slayn hym, as seith us Eneydos,
As maden alle the hennes in the clos,
595 Whan they had seyn of Chauntecleer the sighte.
But sovereynly dame Pertelote shrighte
Ful louder than dide Hasdrubales wyf,
Whan that hir housbonde hadde lost his lyf,
And that the Romayns hadde brend Cartage;
600 She was so ful of torment and of rage
That wilfully into the fyr she sterte,
And brende hirselven with a stedefast herte.
       Certainly no such cry and lamentation
590 Were made by ladies at Troy’s debolation,
When Pyrrhus with his terrible bared sword
Had taken old King Priam by the beard
And slain him, as the Aeneid tells to us,
As made then all those hens in one chorus
595 When they had caught a sight of Chauntecleer.
But fair Dame Pertelote assailed the ear
Far louder than did Hasdrubal’s good wife
When that her husband bold had lost his life,
And Roman legionaries burned Carthage;
600 For she so full of torment was, and rage,
She voluntarily to the fire did start
And burned herself there with a steadfast heart.
       O woful hennes, right so criden ye,
As, whan that Nero brende the Citee
605 Of Rome, cryden senatoures wyves,
For that hir husbondes losten alle hir lyves, –
Withouten gilt this Nero hath hem slayn.
Now wole I turne to my tale agayn.
       And you, O woeful hens, just so you cried
As when base Nero burned the city wide
605 Of Rome, and wept the senators’ stern wives
Because their husbands all had lost their lives,
For though not guilty, Nero had them slain.
Now will I turn back to my tale again.

lines 609-635: All the inhabitants of the yard go after the fox

       This sely wydwe, and eek hir doghtres two,
610 Herden thise hennes crie, and maken wo,
And out at dores stirten they anon,
And seyn the fox toward the grove gon,
And bar upon his bak the cok away;
And cryden, “Out! Harrow and weylaway!
615 Ha! ha! The fox!” and after hym they ran,
And eek with staves many another man,
Ran Colle, oure dogge, and Talbot, and Gerland,
And Malkyn with a dystaf in hir hand,
Ran cow and calf, and eek the verray hogges,
620 So fered they fered for berkyng of the dogges,
And shoutyng of the men and wommen eeke,
They ronne so, hem thoughte hir herte breeke;
They yolleden as feends doon in helle,
The dokes cryden as men wolde hem quelle,
625 The gees for feere flowen over the trees,
Out of the hyve cam the swarm of bees,
So hydous was the noyse, a! benedicitee!
Certes, he Jakke Straw and his meynee
Ne made nevere shoutes half so shille,
630 Whan that they wolden any Flemyng kille,
As thilke day was maad upon the fox.
Of bras they broghten bemes and of box,
Of horn, of boon, in whiche they blewe and powped,
And therwithal they skriked and they howped,
635 It seemed as that hevene sholde falle!
       This simple widow and her daughters two
610 Heard these hens cry and make so great ado,
And out of doors they started on the run
And saw the fox into the grove just gone,
Bearing upon his back the cock away.
And then they cried, “Alas, and weladay!
615 Oh, oh, the fox!” and after him they ran,
And after them, with staves, went many a man;
Ran Coll, our dog, ran Talbot and Garland,
And Malkin with a distaff in her hand;
Ran cow and calf and even the very hogs,
620 So were they scared by barking of the dogs
And shouting men and women all did make,
They all ran so they thought their hearts would break.
They yelled as very fiends do down in Hell;
The ducks they cried as at the butcher fell;
625 The frightened geese flew up above the trees;
Out of the hive there came the swarm of bees;
So terrible was the noise, ah ben’cite!
Certainly old Jack Straw and his army
Never raised shouting half so loud and shrill
630 When they were chasing Flemings for to kill,
As on that day was raised upon the fox.
They brought forth trumpets made of brass, of box,
Of horn, of bone, wherein they blew and pooped,
And therewithal they screamed and shrieked and whooped;
635 It seemed as if the heaven itself should fall!

lines 636-647: Chauntecleer sets a trap for the fox

       Now, goode men, I pray yow, herkneth alle.
Lo, how Fortune turneth sodeynly
The hope and pryde eek of hir enemy!
This cok, that lay upon the foxes bak,
640 In al his drede unto the fox he spak,
And seyde, “Sire, if that I were as ye,
Yet wolde I seyn, as wys God helpe me,
`Turneth agayn, ye proude cherles alle,
verray pestilence upon yow falle!
645 Now am I come unto the wodes syde,
Maugree youre heed, the cok shal heere abyde,
I wol hym ete, in feith, and that anon.'”
       And now, good men, I pray you listen all.
Behold how Fortune turns all suddenly
The hope and pride of even her enemy!
This cock, which lay across the fox’s back,
640 In all his fear unto the fox did clack
And say: “Sir, were I you, as I should be,
Then would I say as God may now help me!,
‘Turn back again, presumptuous peasants all!
A very pestilence upon you fall!
645 Now that I’ve gained here to this dark wood’s side,
In spite of you this cock shall here abide.
I’ll eat him, by my faith, and that anon!'”

lines 648-659: The fox falls for the trap

       The fox answerde, “In feith, it shal be don.”
And as he spak that word, al sodeynly
650 This cok brak from his mouth delyverly,
And heighe upon a tree he fleigh anon.
And whan the fox saugh that he was gon,
       “Allas!” quod he, “O Chauntecleer, allas!
I have to yow,” quod he, “ydoon trespas,
655 In as muche as I maked yow aferd,
Whan I yow hente and broght into this yerd.
But, sire, I dide it of no wikke entente,
Com doun, and I shal telle yow what I mente;
I shal seye sooth to yow, God help me so.”
       The fox replied: “In faith, it shall be done!”
And as he spoke that word, all suddenly
650 This cock broke from his mouth, very cleverly,
And high upon a tree he flew anon.
And when the fox saw well that he was gone,
       “Alas,” quoth he, “O Chauntecleer, alas!
I have against you done a base trespass
655 In that I frightened you, my dear old pard,
When you I seized and brought from out that yard;
But, sir, I did it with no foul intent;
Come down, and I will tell you what I meant.
I’ll tell the truth to you, God help me so!”


lines 660-680: Chauntecleer is safe and the Nun’s Priest urges his audience not to miss the moral of his tale

660        “Nay, thanne,” quod he, “I shrewe us bothe two,
And first I shrewe myself bothe blood and bones,
If thou bigyle me ofter than ones.
Thou shalt namoore, thurgh thy flaterye,
Do me to synge and wynke with myn eye;
665 For he that wynketh whan he sholde see,
Al wilfully, God lat him nevere thee.”
660        “Nay then,” said he, “beshrew us both, you know,
But first, beshrew myself, both blood and bones,
If you beguile me, having done so once,
You shall no more, with any flattery,
Cause me to sing and close up either eye.
665 For he who shuts his eyes when he should see,
And wilfully, God let him ne’er be free!”
       “Nay,” quod the fox, “but God yeve hym meschaunce,
That is so undiscreet of governaunce,
That jangleth, whan he sholde holde his pees.”
670        Lo, swich it is for to be recchelees,
And necligent, and truste on flaterye!
       But ye that holden this tale a folye,
As of a fox, or of a cok and hen,
Taketh the moralite, goode men;
675 For Seint Paul seith, that al that writen is,
To oure doctrine it is ywrite, ywis.
Taketh the fruyt, and lat the chaf be stille.
Now goode God, if that it be thy wille,
As seith my lord, so make us alle goode men,
680 And brynge us to his heighe blisse. Amen.
       “Nay,” said the fox, “but, God give him mischance
Who is so indiscreet in governance
He chatters when he ought to hold his peace.”
670        Lo, such it is when watch and ward do cease,
And one grows negligent with flattery.
       But you that hold this tale a foolery,
As but about a fox, a cock, a hen,
Yet do not miss the moral, my good men.
675 For Saint Paul says that all that’s written well
Is written down some useful truth to tell.
Then take the wheat and let the chaff lie still.
And now, good God, and if it be Thy will,
As says Lord Christ, so make us all good men
680 And bring us into His high bliss. Amen.

Heere is ended the Nonnes Preestes tale.

Source Text:

Kökbugur, Sinan, ed. The Canterbury Tales (in Middle and Modern English. Librarius.com, 1997, is copyright protected but reproduction expressly allowed for non-profit, educational use.

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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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