The Prioresses Tale

“Wel sayd, by corpus bones!” quoth oure Host,
“Now longe may thou sayle by the coast,
Sir gentil master, gentil mariner!
(God give the monk a thousand evil years,
Haha! felaws, be ware for such a jape.
The monk put in the mannes hood an ape,
And in his wyves eek, by seint Austyn.
Bring ye no monkes more unto your in.)
But now pas over, and let us loke aboute,
Who shal now telle first of al this route
Another tale;” and with that word he sayde,
As curteisly as it had ben a mayde,
“My lady Prioresse, by your leve,
So that I wist I sholde you not greve,
I wolde deme, that ye telle sholde
A tale next, if so were that ye wolde.
Now wil ye vouche sauf, my lady deere?”
“Gladly,” quoth she, and sayd in this manére.

O Lord, oure Lord, thy name how marveylous
Is in this large world y-spread (quoth she)
For nought only thy laude precious
Performèd is by men of high degree,
But by the mouthes of children thy bountee
Is glorified, for on the moders breste
They praise Thee and thy glorie they manifeste.

Wherfore in laude, as I best can or may,
Of Thee and of thy white lily flour,
Which that thee bare, and is a madye alway,
To telle a story I wil do my laboúr,
Not that I may increasen her honoúr,
For next her Sone she is herself the whole
Of honour and the helpe of every soule.

O moder mayde, o mayde moder free!
O bussh unburnt, burning in Moses sight,
Thou that didst bring doun from the deitee,
Thurgh thin humblesse, the spirit to alight;
Of whose vertu, in thy pure herte aright,
Conceyvèd was the Fadres sapience;
Help me to telle it in thy reverence.

Lady, thy bountee, and thy magnificence,
Thy vertu and thi gret humilitee,
Ther may no tonge expres in no science;
For often, lady, ere men pray to thee,
Thou goest bifore of thy benignitee,
And gettest us the light, through thy prayère
To gyden us unto thy Sone deere.

My cunnyng is so weak, o blisful queen,
For to declare thy grete worthinesse.
That I may not this in my wit sustaine;
But as a child of twelf month old or lesse,
That scarce can a word or two expresse,
Right so fare I, and therfore I you praye,
Guide my song, that I shal of you saye.

Ther was in Asia, in a greet citee,
Among the Cristen folk a Jewerye,
Sustainèd by a lord of that contree,
For usury, and lucre of felonye,
Hateful to Crist, and to His compaignye;
And through the strete men mighte ride and wende,
For it was free, and open at every ende.

A litel school of Cristen folk ther stood
Doun at the further end, in which ther were
Children an heep comen of Cristen blood,
That lernèd in that schoole, yere by yere,
Such maner doctrine as men usèd there;
That is to sey, to syng and eke to rede,
As smale childer do in their childhede.

Among these children was a windows sone,
A litel clerk but seven year of age,
That day by day to schoole went alone;
And eek also, wherso he saw the imáge
Of Cristes moder, had he in uságe,
As him was taught, to knele adoun, and say
His Ave Mary, as he goeth his way.

Thus hath this widow her litel child y-taught
Oure blisful lady, Cristes moder deere,
To worship ay, and he forgat it not;
For simple child wil alway rémembér.
But ay when I bethinke me of this matére,
Seint Nicholas stands ever in my presénce,
For he so young to Crist did reverence.

This litel child, his litel book lernynge.
As he sat in the schoole with his primér,
He Alma redemptoris herde synge,
When children lerned to sing that high prayér;
And as he durst, he drew him ever near,
And herknèd ever the wordes and the note,
Til he the firste vers knew al by rote.

Nought wist he what his Latyn meant to say,
For he so yong and tender was of age;
But on a day his felaw gan he pray
To expound to him the song in his langáge,
Or telle him what this song was in uságe;
This prayd he him to construe and declare,
Ful often tyme upon his kneës bare.

His felaw, which that elder was than he,
Answerd him thus: “This song, I have herd seye,
Was makèd of our blisful lady free,
Hire to salute, and eke her for to pray.
To be our help and socour whan we die.
I can no more expound in this matér;
I lerne song, I can no more gramér.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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