Fragment IX (Group H)

The Manciple's Tale

When Phoebus dwelt here on the earth below 105 As mentioned in old books of long ago, No other youth as lusty as was he Was in this world, none matched his archery. He slew the serpent Python on a day When sleeping in the sun he saw it lay; 110 And many another noble, worthy deed He with his bow performed as men may read. All instruments of music he could play, And sing in so melodious a way, His voice so clear, the sound of it enthralled. 115 Not Amphion, the king of Thebes, who walled That entire city with his singing, could Sing half as well as this young Phoebus would. He also was the most attractive man There's ever been since this world first began. 120 To talk about his looks what need is there? In all this world none living was as fair. His life was thus fulfilled with nobleness And honor, one of perfect worthiness. This Phoebus was of young manhood the flower 125 In charity as well as knightly power, And for his pleasure (and as sign of glory Of triumph over Python, goes the story) He always carried in his hand a bow. Now in his house this Phoebus had a crow 130 That in a cage he'd fostered many a day And taught to speak as men may teach a jay. As white as is a snow-white swan, this crow Could imitate the speech, exactly so, Of any man when he would tell a tale. 135 And in this world there was no nightingale To any hundred-thousandth of degree Could sing a song so well and merrily. Now in his house this Phoebus had a wife For whom he had more love than for his life, 140 And whom both night and day with diligence He sought to please and show due reverence, Except (to tell the truth) that he was zealous To keep her under watch, for he was jealous. A fellow tricked he didn't want to be, 145 As any man would feel of his degree; But it's in vain, such effort is for naught. A good wife who is clean in deed and thought Should surely not be watched continually; The labor is in vain, it's plain to see, 150 To guard a shrew, it never will succeed. I hold that it's sheer folly, there's no need, It's labor wasted, keeping watch of wives; Old learneds have so written in their lives. Now to the purpose as I started out: 155 This worthy Phoebus ever went about To please her, trying hard to keep her favor With all his manhood and his good behavior, That no man might supplant him in her grace. But God knows well, there's no man may embrace, 160 As to constrain, a certain thing or feature That nature by design sets in a creature. Take any bird and put it in a cage, And all your good intentions then engage To raise it tenderly with meat and drink, 165 With all the dainties of which you can think, And keep it as unspotted as you might; Although his golden cage be ever bright, This bird would rather twenty-thousandfold Be in a forest that is rude and cold, 170 Be eating worms and live in wretchedness. This bird will always try for nothing less Than his escape, if any way there be; This bird will always want his liberty. Let's take a cat and raise him well with milk 175 And tender meat, and make his couch of silk, Then let him see a mouse go by the wall-- At once he'll leave the milk and meat and all, And every dainty that is in the house, Such appetite he has to eat a mouse. 180 Here you may see his lust has domination, And appetite will rout discrimination. A she-wolf's nature, too, is villein's kind. The basest wolf that ever she can find, The one that has the least of reputations, 185 She'll take when she desires to have relations. By these examples, that which I've in mind Are men who've been untrue, not womankind. For men are prone to lecherous appetite, Indulge with lower creatures their delight 190 Rather than with their wives, fair though they be, So ever true, with all gentility. Flesh lusts for novelty to such a measure (A curse upon it!) we can take no pleasure In virtuous pursuits more than a while. 195 This Phoebus, who had not one thought of guile, Was soon deceived for all his charm. For she Another fellow had also, and he Was unacclaimed, unworthy all around To be compared with Phoebus. To compound 200 This evil, which would bring much harm and woe, Their sin was to recur, and often so. It so befell, with Phoebus gone one day, His wife sent for her lover right away-- Her lover? Surely this is knavish speech! 205 Forgive me for it, that I do beseech. But Plato, wise, has said, as you may read, The word must be accordant with the deed. If men would speak of something properly, 210 The word must to the deed then cousin be. Now I'm a plain man, and there is, I say, No difference, to speak in truthful way, Between a wife who is of high degree, If with her body she immoral be, And some poor wench, unless it should be this 215 (Assuming that they both have gone amiss): The genteel one, as her estate's above, Shall be known as his lady, as in love; Whereas the other, poor upon her bench, Will be known as his lover or his wench. 220 But still, as God knows well, my own dear brother, Men lay the one as low as lies the other. Just so, between some tyrant or usurper And some outlaw, some thief out for his supper, I say the same, there is no difference. 225 To Alexander someone said, with sense, That as a tyrant is of greater might By force of arms to go and slay outright And burn down house and home right to the ground, Behold, he's called a captain. Turn around, 230 And as the outlaw has the lesser arms And may not do as much by way of harms Nor bring a country to so great a grief, He's called by men an outlaw and a thief. But as I'm not a learned man of writ, 235 I will not talk of texts a single bit; I'll to my tale where I was at before. Phoebus's wife sent for her paramour, At once in wanton lust they did engage. The white crow, there inside his hanging cage, 240 Beheld their work but didn't say a word. When Phoebus, though, his lord, came home, the bird Began to sing "Cuckoo! cuckoo! cuckoo!" "What, bird?" said Phoebus. "What's that song from you? Were you not wont so merrily to sing 245 That to my heart it brought rejoicing To hear your voice? Alas! what song is this?" "By God," said he, "I'm singing not amiss! Phoebus," he said, "for all your worthiness, For all your charm, good looks, and nobleness, 250 For all your song and all your minstrelsy, For all your watch, hoodwinked you've come to be, By one of little reputation who Does not possess, when he's compared to you, The value of a gnat, upon my life! 255 For on your bed I saw him screw your wife." Would you hear more? This white crow right away Then boldly offered proof, began to say Just how his wife performed her lechery, To his great shame and hurt, and told how he 260 Had seen with his own eyes what had occurred. This Phoebus turned away when he had heard And thought his grieving heart would break in two. His bow he bent, an arrow set thereto, And in his ire his wife he soon had slain. 265 That's how it was, there's no more to explain. His instruments he broke then mournfully, His harp and lute, guitar and psaltery; He broke as well his arrows and his bow, And after that he said this to the crow: 270 "You traitor with scorpion's tongue," said he, "You've brought me to my ruin and misery! Alas, that I was born! Why have I life? O gem of my delight, my dearest wife! To me you were so constant and so true, 275 Now you lie dead with face so pale of hue, And guiltless, that's for sure, I dare to swear! O rash hand, that so foully you should err! O troubled mind, O ire so wildly spent, So recklessly to smite the innocent! 280 Distrust, so full of false suspicion, where Were your discretion and your wits? Beware Of being reckless, everyone! Without Strong witness, don't believe, there's room for doubt. Don't strike too soon, before you think it through, 285 Be soberly advised on what to do Before you act, before you give effect To anger caused by what you may suspect. Alas, a thousand people reckless ire Has wholly ruined, brought them to the mire! 290 Alas, that I shall slay myself for grief!" And to the crow he said, "You lying thief! I'll pay you back right now for your false tale. For you once sang just like a nightingale, But now, false thief, that song you'll do without, 295 And your white feathers, too, shall all come out, And all your life you nevermore shall speak. Thus vengeance on a traitor men shall wreak. Henceforth you shall be black, and your offspring, And no sweet noise you'll ever make or sing 300 But ever cry against the storm and rain, As token that through you my wife is slain." He sprang upon the crow without delay And all of his white feathers plucked away; He turned him black, bereft him evermore 305 Of song and speech, and slung him out the door To the devil (who needn't give him back). And it's because of this all crows are black. By this example, lords, you will, I pray, Beware and take much care in what you say: 310 Don't ever tell a man in all your life Another man has bedded with his wife; He'll surely hate you in a mortal way. Lord Solomon, as learned students say, Taught man to watch his tongue. But as I said, 315 I'm not a learned man, I'm not well read. Here's what my mother taught me all the same: "My son, think of the crow, in our Lord's name! Keep well your tongue and keep your friend. My son, A wicked tongue's worse than a fiend, for one 320 Can cross himself from fiends and so be blest. My son, God in his goodness saw it best To wall the tongue with teeth and lips and cheeks, For man should always think before he speaks. My son, so often it's for too much speech 325 That many a man is wrecked, as scholars teach; But speaking little and at proper place Will generally bring no one to disgrace. My son, your tongue you always should restrain Except for times when taking special pain 330 To speak of God in honor and in prayer. The first virtue, if you would learn, is care In speech, my son, restraining well the tongue; This children learn when they are very young. My son, from too much speech with ill advice, 335 Where less had been enough speech to suffice, Has come much harm; so I was told and taught. Wherever words abound, sin wants for naught. A rash tongue serves what purpose, do you know? For as a sword, my son, with cutting blow 340 Can cleave an arm in half, it's also true A tongue can cut a friendship right in two. A loudmouth is to God abominable. Read Solomon, so wise and honorable; Read David's psalms, let Seneca be read. 345 Don't speak, my son, but only nod your head. Pretend that you are deaf when hearing chatter A jangler makes about some dangerous matter. The Flemings say, and learn it if you please, 'The less the jangle, how much more the ease.' 350 My son, if nothing wicked you have said, You need not of betrayal have a dread; But he who speaks amiss, I dare to say, May not call back his words in any way. A thing that's said is said, forth it will go 355 Though he repent and wish it wasn't so. He is his thrall to whom a fellow's told A tale that he'd much rather now withhold. My son, be careful, of all tidings do Not be the author, be they false or true. 360 Where you may go, among the high or low, Hold well your tongue and think about the crow."

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