Geoffrey Chaucer is an English writer and poet who was born in London in the 1340s and died in 1400 in that same city. His most famous work is Canterbury Tales. The Canterbury Tales are, with Sire Gauvain and the Green Knight (from an anonymous person) and Peter the Plowman (by William Langland), the very first great works of English literature. Here is the first tale: the brother.
The worthy "Limiter", the noble brother,
always made a scowl
to the sower, but out of decency
so far he had not addressed any discourteous words to her.
But at the end he said to the Woman:
1270 “Lady (he said), Heaven gives you a good life!
on my salvation! you touched here
a very difficult point of doctrine;
you have said many excellent things, I affirm it;
but, ma'am, here as we ride on the road
it befits us to have only happy quotes,
and in the name of God to leave the texts
to preachers and clerical schools as well.
But, if this company likes it,
I will tell you a happy tale of a sower.
1280Pardieu, you may well know by this name
that of a sower one cannot say anything good;
I beg you all not to take anything wrong.
A sower is a man who runs here and there,
citing people for fornication,
and beaten at the end of each village. "
Our host then said: “Ah! sir you should be honest
and courteous, as befits your condition;
in this company we do not want to have a debate.
Tell your tale and let the sower. "
1290 " Oh ! (said the sower), tell me
what will please him; when will my turn come,
by God! I will pay it to the last farthing.
I will tell him what a great honor it is
to be a limiter on cajoling speeches
and tell him what his job is, believe me! "
Our host replied, "Peace, enough on that,"
and after this he said to the Brother,
" Let's go ! tell your tale, my good dear master. "
Once lived in my country,
1300 an archdeacon, a noble dignitary.
who valiantly executed
in punishment of fornication,
witchcraft and also pimping,
defamation and adultery,
thefts from church, and in matters of wills,
of neglected contracts and sacraments,
and also for many other kind of crime
that it is not necessary to repeat at this time,
and for wear and for simony too.
But of course he punished especially the bawards;
1310 they had to shout out loud, if they were caught.
And payers of small tithes were harshly reprimanded;
if some priest complained about them,
they could not get away with a simple pecuniary penalty.
For small tithes and for small offerings
he made people cry out pitifully.
For before the bishop took them with his stick,
they were registered on the books of the archdeacon.
So did he have in his jurisdiction
1320 power to inflict correction on them.
He had a sower on hand,
there was no more subtle fellow in England,
for skillfully he had his spies,
who informed him of what could benefit him.
He knew how to spare a debauchery or two
to tell him twenty-four others.
'Cause when this sower here goes crazy like a hare,
I will say bluntly all his wickedness;
for we are not subject to his jurisdiction;
1330 they have no authority over us,
nor will they ever have one in their entire life.
“By Saint-Pierre! it's just like the women of the executioners,
(said the sower), which are also beyond my remit! "
" Peace ! at the bad hour and the bad luck,
(thus spoke our host), and let him tell his tale.
So tell, even when the sower cries out,
spare nothing, my good dear master. "
This disloyal thief, this sower (says the Brother),
always had equally well-trained mackerel in hand
1340 that falcons of England obeying the lure,
who told him all the secrets they knew,
for their knowledge did not date from yesterday.
They were his agents in hiding;
he derived great profit from this;
his master did not always know his earnings.
Without a quote, if he was dealing with an ignorant,
he understood to call her on pain of excommunication;
and they were too happy to fill his purse,
and to do it well in taverns.
1350 And just as Judas had his little purse
and was a thief, even thief was he;
his master received only half of his due.
He was, if I have to give him his praise,
a thief and also a sower and a pimp.
He also had daughters in his service,
who, whether it was sir Robert or Messire Hugues,
or Jeannot or Raoul, or whoever it might be,
who slept with them, they whispered it to him;
so he and the girl agreed.
1360 And he brought a fake quote
and both called them before the chapter,
and pillaged the man and let the girl go.
Then he would say: "Friend, I will, for the love of you,
erase it from our book black ;
don't worry at all about this affair;
I am your friend in all things where I can serve you. "
Of course he knew more rogue tricks
that we could not bring back in two years.
For in this world there is no dog following the hunter's bow,
1370 who knows how to distinguish a wounded deer from another who is not,
better than this sower recognized a concealed bawdy
or an adulterer or a lover.
And since it was the main part of his income,
he therefore employed all his diligence in it.
And it happened that one fine day,
this sower, always in search of his prey,
went on horseback to quote a widow, an old woman as dry as rebec,
claiming a lawsuit because he wanted to extract money.
And it turned out that he saw in front of him on horseback
1380 a yeoman bravely adorned, on the edge of a wood.
He had a bright, sharp bow and features;
he wore a short green coat;
a hat on the head with black fringes.
“Sir (said the sower), hello! be well met! "
“Welcome to you (said the other), and to all good companions!
Where are you going, riding under this green grove?
(says the yeoman). Are you going far today? "
Our sower replied that no:
"Here very near (he said), I intend
1390 to go to collect a sum of money
which belongs and reverts to my lord. "
"So are you a bailiff ? " " Yes ! He said.
He did not dare, because of disgrace and shame,
to say that he was a sower, so ugly is the name.
“Depardieu! (said the yeoman), dear brother,
you are bailiff and so am I.
I am a foreigner in this country;
let us know, please,
and let's be brothers too, if you don't mind.
1400 I have gold and silver in my safe;
if you happen to come to our province,
everything will be yours and well at your service! "
“Thank you very much (said our sower), on my faith! "
Clapping each other's hand, they promise
to be sworn brothers all their lives.
Quoting pleasantly they go their way.
Our sower who was also full of babble
that full of cruelty are the laner falcons,
and always curious about all things:
1410 “Brother (he said), where is your home,
if some other day I went to see you? "
The yeoman answered him softly:
"Brother (he said), far north
and I hope to see you there one day.
Before we go our separate ways I'll point it out to you so well
that you cannot fail to find my home. "
"Now here, brother (said our sower), I beg you,
teach me as we go,
since you are bailiff like me,
some subtle trick, and tell me in all sincerity
1420 how I can gain the most in my office;
no reserve neither out of conscience nor out of fear of sin,
but as a brother tell me how you go about it. "
"Now, on my faith, dear brother (he said),
I will certainly tell you the whole truth;
my wages are very thin and very small.
My lord is hard on me and stingy,
and my work is very painful;
also I live with extortions,
1430 because on my faith I take whatever they want to give me;
no matter how, by fraud or by violence,
from one year to the next I earn my living.
I cannot say more frankly. "
“Ores certainly (said the sower), so I do;
I don't hesitate to grab hold of me, God knows,
only what is too heavy or too hot to hold.
What I can take in secret and without saying a word,
I do not care of my conscience;
were it not for what I extort, I could not live,
1440 and about these tricks I do not want to confess.
I know neither pity nor conscience;
I curse the fathers confessors, all as long as they are.
Our meeting is happy, by God and by Saint Jacques!
But, dear brother, tell me your name. "
So spoke our sower and yet
the yeoman to smile a little.
“Brother (he said), do you want me to tell you?
I am a devil, my stay is in hell.
And I go here on horseback in search of my gain,
1450 trying to find out if I will be given something.
My earning is the source of all my income.
See ! you ride with the same desire,
to gain profit: it doesn't matter to you in what way;
and I too, because I would ride fine right now
to the end of the world to find prey. "
“Ah! (says our sower), blessed, What do you say ?
I thought you were a yeoman really.
Like me, you have a human form;
do you have a definite figure
1460 in hell, where is your condition to live? "
“No, of course (he said), there we don't have any;
but, when we want, we can take one,
or make you believe that we are made
sometimes like men, sometimes like monkeys;
or else in the form of an angel I can ride or walk.
It is no wonder if it is so;
a lousy juggler can cheat on you,
and pardieu, I know more tricks than he does. "
" Why ! (says our sower), are you going on foot or on horseback?
1470 in various forms and not always the same? "
"Is that (he said), we shape ourselves
which is most suitable for seizing our prey. "
"Why are you going to all this trouble?" "
"For many reasons, dear sermon,
(says the demon), but there is time for everything.
The day is short and it's gone prime,
and I haven't won anything today.
I want to apply myself to win, if I can,
and not start revealing our tricks.
1480 Cause, my brother, your mind is way too poor
to understand, even if I would have told you.
But since you ask why we work,
is that sometimes we serve as instruments to God,
and means to carry out his commands,
when it pleases him, on his creatures,
by various arts and under various figures.
Without him we certainly have no power,
if it suits him to oppose us.
And sometimes on our prayer he leaves us leisure
1490 to harm only the body and not the soul;
witness Job, whom we made suffer.
And sometimes we have power over each other,
that is, on the soul as well as on the body.
And sometimes we are allowed to go and try
a man and torment his soul,
and not his body, and all is for the best.
When he resists our temptation,
he secures his salvation;
although it was not our intention
1500 that he was saved, and that we wanted to take him away.
And sometimes we are human servants,
as for Archbishop Saint Dunstan;
and I was also a servant of the apostles. "
"But tell me (said the sower), without lying,
do you make new bodies like this every time
composed of elements? The demon replied, "No;
sometimes we are vain forms, and sometimes we get up
in dead bodies, in very different ways,
and also speak reasonably and justly and well
1510 that Samuel spoke to the pythoness.
And yet some claim it wasn't him;
he doesn't care about your theology.
But I'm warning you about one thing, I'm not kidding,
you will know in any case how we are formed;
you will come after this life, my dear brother,
where you don't need to learn from me.
Because you will be able by your own experience
to be a lecturer in the pulpit and deal with this subject
better than Virgil, while he was alive,
1520 or that Dante too; but we are riding fast.
Because I want to stay in your company
until the moment you leave me. "
“No (said our sower), this will not happen;
i am yeoman, it is well known far around;
I will certainly keep my word in this matter.
For are you the devil Satanas himself,
I will keep my word to my brother,
as i swore, and we swore to each other
to be loyal brothers in this matter;
1530 and together we go to our benefit.
You will take your part, whatever we want to give you,
and I mine; thus we will earn our living.
And if one of us has more than the other has,
let him be loyal and share with his brother. "
"I want it (said the devil), on my faith!" "
And with this word they continue their journey.
And right at the entrance to the end of town
to which our sower intended to go,
they saw a wagon loaded with hay,
1540 that a carter was driving on the road.
This path was hollow, so the cart was stopped.
The carter banged and shouted like a madman:
“Hue Badger! hue the Escot! Are you afraid of stones?
The devil (he says), takes you body and bones,
without leaving part of the foals that you were,
so much and so much with you have I known miseries!
The devil takes everything, and horses and wagon and hay! "
Our sower said: "Here we are going to laugh";
and approached the demon as if nothing had happened,
1550 very secretly, and whispered in his ear:
“Listen, my brother, listen, on your faith;
can't you hear what the carter says
Happen quickly, because he gave you everything
and hay and wagon and his three horses with. "
“Nenni (said the demon), God knows not;
it is not what he thinks, you can be sure;
ask him yourself, if you don't believe me,
or wait a bit and you'll see. "
The carter strokes his horses on the rump
1560 and they begin to pull and stretch forward:
" Go now ! (he said), Jesus Christ bless you,
and all his creatures, great and small!
It's well shot, my good gray, my boy!
May God save you and Mr. Saint Eloi !
Here is my cart out of the quagmire, of course! "
“Hey! brother (said the demon), what was I telling you?
Here you can see, my dear beloved brother,
that the fellow spoke one way, but he thought another.
Let’s keep going our way;
1570 I have no driving rights to collect here. "
When they got a little out of town,
the sower whispered to his brother:
“Brother (he said), here lives an old woman, as dry as rebec,
who would almost prefer to have his neck cut off
than give a penny of his property.
I want to have twelve double floors, should she go mad,
or I will quote it in front of our officiality,
although of course I do not know that she is at fault.
And since you can't in this country
1580 provide you with your sustenance, here take an example from me. "
Our sower knocked on the widow's door.
"Come out (he said), old witch!"
I guarantee that you have some brother or priest in your house! "
"Who knocks (said the widow), blessed !
God save you, sir, what is there for your service? "
“I have here (he said), an appearance warrant;
under pain of excommunication, take care to find yourself
tomorrow at the knees of the archdeacon,
to answer the court on certain things. "
1590 " Oh ! Lord (she cried), Jesus Christ, King of kings,
come to my aid, also true that I can not go there.
I have been sick and have been for a long time.
I cannot go so far, on foot or on horseback,
I won't die, my side hurts so much.
May I not ask for a brief, Messire Semoneur,
and answer there by my attorney
to such and such thing as one wants to impute to me? "
- "Come on (said our sower), pay me on time, let's see,
twelve double soles, and I'll hold you off.
1600 I will have little profit on this;
my master has the profit and not me.
Hurry, let me go right away;
give me twelve big cents, I can't stop. "
"Twelve big sous (she said), that Madame Sainte Marie
get me out of pain and sin,
as true as, when it would be to acquire the whole world,
I don't have twelve big sous in my possession.
You know very well that I am poor and old;
show yourself charitable to me, poor puny. "
1610 "No, of course (he said), the ugly devil take me,
if I hold it off with you, do you have to die! "
“Alas! (she says) God knows I didn't do anything. "
"Pay me (he said), or, by the gentle Saint Anne,
I will take your new pan
for the sum that you owe me for a long time,
from the time when you made your cuckold husband,
and where I paid your fine to my officiality. "
“You are lying (she said) on my salvation!
I have never been until today, widow or married,
1620 cited at your court, in all my life;
I have never been that honest about my body.
To the ugly black devil horrible to watch
I give you and my pan with! "
And when the devil heard him do this curse
on his knees he spoke this way:
"Now that, Amable, my very dear mother,
is it your desire for good you say? "
"The devil (she said), takes him alive,
and pan and all, unless he repents! "
1630 "No, old mare, that's not my design,
(says our sower), to repent,
for everything I've ever had from you;
I would take your shirt and all your clothes! "
“Now, brother (said the devil), do not be angry;
your body and this pan are mine by right.
Tonight you will come with me to hell
where you will know of our secret affairs
more than a master of theology knows. "
And with that word this ugly devil grabs him;
1640 body and soul with the devil he went
to the place where the sowers have their heritage.
And God who made men in his own image,
keep us and save us all as long as we are,
and please let this sower here become honest!
My masters, I could have told you (continued the brother),
if this sower here left me the leisure,
according to the authority of Christ and of Paul and of John,
and many of our other doctors,
such sorrows that your hearts would quiver, -
1650 though no man's tongue can tell,
when I talk about it for a thousand winters,
the sorrows of this cursed abode of hell.
But to save us from this cursed place
watch well and pray to Jesus only by his grace
he protects us, I beg him, from the tempter Satanas.
Listen to this word and be on your guard:
the lion always stands in the way
to kill the innocent, if he can.
Always lay your hearts out to resist
1660 to the enemy who would like to reduce us to servitude and slavery.
He will not be able to tempt you beyond your strength ;
for Christ will be your champion and knight.
And pray that these sowers repent
of their misdeeds before the devil takes them away.