Canterburry Tales: The Manciple

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 manciple.

canterbury tales the manciple

Canterburry Tales: The Tale of the Manciple

Prologue to the Manciple.

Here follows the prologue to the Conte du Manciple.

Don't you know where a small village is
called Bob-up-and-down,
under Blean Forest, on the Canterbury Road.
There our host began to joke and taunt
and said: “Messeigneurs, what is this! the grison is bogged down !
Is there no one who, for gold or for prayer,
does not want to wake up our companion, the straggler over there?
A thief could easily rob him and bind him,
see how he dozes! see, palsambleu,
10 if he is not going to fall from his horse immediately.
Is this a cook from London, the plague of him?
let him be brought here, he knows his penance,
because he must tell us a tale, on my faith !
even if his tale would not be worth a haystack!
Wake up, cook (he cried), may God distress you!
What harm have you taken that you sleep in the morning?
Have you had fleas all night, or are you drunk,
where did you work some bitch all night long,
that you can't hold your head high? "
20 The cook who was quite pale and not at all red,

said to our host: "God bless me,
I feel such heaviness all over my body,
I don't know why, that I would like to sleep better
than drinking the best gallon of wine from all over Cheapside ”.
- "Well (cried the manciple), if that is agreeable to you
to you, sir cook, without displeasing any person
who rides here in this company,
and if our host is willing, in his courtesy,
I will excuse you for the moment for telling your tale;
30 because, in good faith, your face is very pale,
your eyes are also blurred, it seems to me,
and I'm sure your breath stinks of sour,
which shows that you are not in good condition.
It is not me, of course, who will flatter you.
Look at him yawn there, the drunkard;
doesn't it look like he wants to swallow us all of a sudden?
Close your mouth, friend, by the race of your father!
May the hell devil set foot in it!
Your damn breath will poison us all.
40 Fi, the stinking swine, fi, shame be upon you!
Hey! take care, gentlemen, of that fellow.
Now that, my sweet lord, do you want to run the quintan ?
For this game I think you are ready!
I think you drank monkey wine,
and it is then that the men have fun with a straw. "
At this speech the cook became angry and furious,
and against the manciple he shook his heavy head,
unable to speak, and threw himself down from his horse,
and he remained on the ground, until they lifted him up;
50 it was a beautiful cook's ride!
Alas! what hadn't he been holding on to his pot spoon !
And before he was in the saddle again,
it took a big push here and there
to lift it up, and much care and pain,
this poor pale ghost was so unwieldy.

And our host then addressed the manciple:
"Since the drink has subdued this man
to his dominion, over my salvation,
I think he would misrepresent his tale.
60 Because, whether it's wine, or old or cold beer
that he has drunk, he speaks with his nose,
and sniffles loudly, and finally he has a cold in his head.
He also has more than he can do
to keep him and his horse out of the quagmire;
and if he falls from his horse a little while ago,
then we will have enough to do
lifting his heavy drunken body.
Tell us your tale, I don't care about him.
But nevertheless, manciple, on my faith, you are very reckless
70 to blame him openly for his vice,
another day he may by adventure
claim you and make you come back to the lure ;
I mean he'll talk about little things,
that, for example, he will peel your accounts,
which would not be honest, if it came to verification. "
- Oh ! (cried the manciple), that would be a great misfortune!
He could easily lure me into the trap.
I would like to pay the price of the mare even better
let him go up, than engage in this struggle with him;
80 I don't want to irritate him, true as God helps me!
What I said, I said for a laugh;
and do you know one thing? I have here in a gourd
a sip of wine, yes da, and of a famous vintage,
right away you'll see a good joke.
This cook will have a drink, if I can;
on pain of death, he won't say no to me! "
And certainly, if it is necessary to say what happened,
in this vessel the cook aims firmly, alas!
what need did he have? He had drunk enough already
90 And when he had blown that horn,
he brought the gourd back to the manciple;
and the cook was wonderfully happy with this beverage,
and thanked him in such a way that he could.

So our host laughed out loud, how wonderful it was,
and said: "I see it well, it is necessary,
wherever we go, to take a good drink with us;
because it will turn resentment and displeasure
in good harmony and affection, and will appease more than one insult.
O Bacchus, blessed be your name,
100 you who can thus change serious things in the game!
Honor and thanks be to your divinity!
On this subject, you will not tell me more.
Tell us your tale, manciple, please! "
" That is ! sir; or (said the other), listen to what I have to say ”.

So ends the prologue to Le Manciple.
Tale of the Manciple.
Here begins the Tale of the Manciple on the Raven.

When Phebus dwelt here on this earth,
like the old books mention it,
he was the most successful bachelor
from all over the world, and also the best archer.
He killed Python the snake, while the latter
110 slept stretched out in full sun some day;
and many other noble feats
he accomplishes with his bow, as we can read in the books.
He knew how to play any musical instrument,
and sing, that it was a melody
to hear the sound of his clear voice.
Certainly the king of Thebes, Amphion,
who by his song enveloped this city,
never knew how to sing half as well as him.
Moreover, he was the man of the most beautiful appearance
120 which is or has been since the beginning of the world.
What need is there to describe his features?
for in this world no living being has been so beautiful.
He was with that confit in nobility,

in honor and in perfect merit.
Our Phébus who was the flower of the bachelors,
in generosity as well as in chivalry,
for his entertainment, also as a sign of his victory
on Python, as the story goes,
had become accustomed to carrying a bow in his hand.
130 Now this Phebus had a crow in his house,
that in a cage he had been caring for more than a day,
and he had trained him to speak, as one trains a jay.
White was that crow, like a snow-white swan,
and he knew how to counterfeit the words of every man,
when he reported a story.
With that, in the whole world no nightingale
could not, within a hundred thousand times,
sing in such a wonderfully pleasant and beautiful voice,
Now our Phébus had his wife in his house
140 that he loved above his life,
and night and day were diligent
to please him and pay him homage,
apart from that, if I have to tell the truth,
that he was jealous and would have liked to keep her close,
for it was odious to him to be duped;
and it is the feeling of every man in this condition;
but it is in vain, for the precautions are of no effect.
An honest woman, who is pure in fact and in intention,
should not be kept under surveillance, to be sure;
150 and, in truth, it is useless labor
to watch a libertine, because that cannot be.
I hold that this is real madness
- to waste his time watching women;
thus wrote it the clerics of old in their life.
But now about, as I started it.
The noble Phebus does all he can
to please him, supposing by such pleasures,
and because of his bravery and conduct,
that no one else would replace him in the graces of his wife;

160 but, God is my witness, he is not in the power of man
to master the instinct whose nature
naturally gifted a creature.
Take a bird and put it in a cage
and use all your effort and care
to feed him tenderly with food and drink,
of all the sweets you can think of,
and keep it as neat as you can;
her golden cage may be beautiful,
this bird will prefer twenty thousand times better
170 go to a forest that will be wild and cold
to eat worms and other vile food.
Cause this bird will always apply
to escape from his cage, if he can;
it is his freedom that this bird always desires.
Take a cat, feed the good with milk
and tender flesh, and make it a layer of silk;
if he sees a mouse pass by the wall,
immediately he leaves milk, flesh and everything there,
and all the sweets that are in the house,
180 such an appetite he has to devour a mouse.
See, it is here that desire exercises its domination,
and that appetite drives out wisdom.
A wolf also has the nature of a villain;
the coarsest wolf she can find,
or of the worst reputation, is the one she will take,
at the time when she will desire a companion.
All these examples I cite for husbands
who are unfaithful and not for women.
Because men always have a carnal appetite
190 to have enjoyment of vile creatures,
rather than their wives, however beautiful they may be,
or so faithful or so easygoing.
The flesh loves novelty so much (badly for it!)
that we cannot find pleasure in anything
which tends ever so slightly towards virtue.
Phébus, who did not think of any fraud,
was deceived in spite of all his fine merits;

because below him she had another,
man of little reputation,
200 unworthy in comparison with Phebus.
The damage is only the greater; such a thing often happens,
from which are born many evils and miseries.
So it happened, during the absence of Phebus,
that his wife should send for her good friend early ;
his good friend? of course, the term is not courteous,
forgive me, I beg you.
The wise Plato said, as you can read,
that the word must necessarily fit the fact;
if we want to tell one thing properly,
210 the word must be the cousin of the act.
I'm an outspoken man, I say it bluntly,
there is no real difference
between a woman who is of high lineage,
if she is crazy about her body,
and a poor girl; no other than this
- if it happens that they both misbehave -
namely that the noble woman, of high status,
will be called his lady by the lover;
and because the other is a poor woman,
220 she will be called his bitch or his good friend.
And, God is my witness, my dear brother,
let men put one as low as the other lies.
Likewise, between an untitled tyrant
and a robber or a highway robber,
I also assert that there is no difference.
This truth was told to Alexander :
that because the tyrant has greater power
to kill with one blow by the force of his army,
and burn houses and hearths, and make desert everywhere,
230 that is why he is called captain;
and because the brigand only has a small band

and cannot do as much harm as he,
nor reduce a country to such a degree of misery,
men call him brigand or thief.
But, as I am a man ill versed in the texts,
I will not cite any supporting text for you;
I come back to my tale, as I started it.
When the wife of Phebus had sent for her good friend,
they immediately indulged in their joking madness.
240 The white crow that was still hanging in its cage,
saw their work and did not say a word.
And when Phebus the lord returned,
the crow sang: “Hello! Cuckoo ! Cuckoo ! "
"What, the bird (said Phébus), what song do you sing to us?"
Haven't you used to singing so happily
that for my heart it was a pleasure
to hear your voice? Alas, what a song is yours! "
- "By God (said the other), I do not sing out of tune;
Phebus (he said), despite your merit,
250 despite all your beauty and nobility,
despite all your songs and all your music,
despite all your attentions, your eye has a blindfold
what a man of low reputation has given you,
which is not worth close to you, if we compare it,
not the price of a gnat; I answer for my life!
because on your bed I saw him caress your wife. "
What do you want more ? the crow soon told him,
with certain signs and frank words,
how his wife got his deduction,
260 inflicting great shame and disgrace upon him;
and repeated to him that he had seen the thing with his eyes.
Phébus turned away quickly,
it seemed to him that his heart of pain was bursting in two;
he bent his bow, placed an arrow on it,
and in his anger when he killed his wife.
This is the event, there is nothing more to say ;
in his pain he broke his musical instruments,
and harp and lute and rebec and psaltery,
and finally he broke his arrows and his bow.

270 And after that he spoke thus to the crow:
"Traitor (he cried), with the tongue of a scorpion,
it was you who reduced me to despair!
Alas! why was i born? what am I not dead?
O darling woman, o jewel of delight,
you who were so devoted to me and with that so faithful,
here you are lying dead now, your face discolored,
quite innocent, I would dare to take an oath, in truth.
O hasty hand that made such a dark mistake;
O disturbed mind, O thoughtless anger,
280 who in his blindness strikes the innocent!
O distrust, full of false suspicions,
where was your sense and wisdom?
O men, all beware of haste;
do not believe anything without assured testimonies;
don't knock too early, before you know why,
and think well and wisely,
before performing an execution,
in your anger, on a suspicion.
Alas! a thousand people were, by too quick anger
290 Forever destroyed, and fell into the quagmire.
Alas! of grief I want to kill myself! "
And turning to the crow: "O treacherous thief (he said),
I want to pay you on the hour for your lying tale!
you used to sing like a nightingale;
now, treacherous thief, you will lose your voice,
and also your white feathers to the last,
and you will never speak again in all your life.
This is how one should take revenge on a traitor;
you and your brood will be eternally black,
300 and you will never hear sweet songs,
but you will cry ceaselessly to announce storm and rain,
as a testimony that it is because of you that my wife is killed. "
And on the crow he rushed, and that without delay,
and plucked his white feathers to the last,
and made him black and deprived him of all his singing
and also of his word and threw him out the door
to the devil, to whom I leave it;

and it is for this reason that all crows are black.
Messeigneurs, by this example, I beg you,
310 be warned, and pay attention to what I say:
never tell any man in your life
how another dressed his wife;
he will hate you mortally, for sure.
Dom Solomon, as wise clerks report,
teach the man to hold his tongue well ;
but, as I have already said, I do not know the texts.
But nevertheless that's how my mother taught me :
“My son, think of the crow, in the name of God;
my son, keep your tongue well and you will keep your friend.
320 A wicked tongue is worse than a demon;
My son, men can exorcise a demon.
My son, God in his infinite goodness,
surrounded your tongue with a wall of teeth and also of lips,
so that the man would think about what he was going to say.
My son, very often, for having spoken too much,
more than one man got lost, as the clerics teach,
but for short words spoken with thought
no one comes to harm, generally speaking.
My son, you must moderate your language
330 at all times, except when you are trying
to speak of God, in worship and prayer.
The premium virtue, son, if you want to learn it,
it is to moderate and retain your tongue well; -
this is how children learn when they are young. -
My son, with an abundance of ill-advised words
where fewer words would have been enough,
there is an abundance of evils, as I have been told and taught.
In abundant talk, sin is not lacking.
Do you know what a rushed tongue is for?
340 Just like a sword cuts and slices
one arm in two, dear son, all the same
a tongue cuts friendship in two.
A gossip is abominable before God;

read Solomon, so wise and so worthy of honor;
read David in his psalms, read Seneca.
My son ; do not speak, but nod.
Pretend that you are deaf, if you can hear
a talkative talker about a perilous subject.
The Flemish says, and learn this, please,
350 that short chatter brings long peace.
My son, if you haven't said a single bad word,
you will not need to fear betrayal;
but the one who spoke badly, I dare say it,
he cannot recall his word at all.
Thing which is said, is said; and she flies away,
although we repent of it, or that we have pleasure or pain.
We are the slave of the one to whom we say
a story, which we now regret.
My son, beware and don't be the first author
360 news, whether true or false.
Wherever you go, among the great or the humble,
hold your tongue well and think of the crow. "

Here ends the tale of the Manciple on the Raven.