The Monk's Tale

PROLOGUE

Merry Words of the Host to the Monk

When ended was my tale of Melibee, Of Prudence and of her benignity, 1890 Our Host said, "As I am a faithful man, And by that precious corpus Madrian, Rather than have a barrelful of ale I would my own good wife had heard this tale! Of patience not the slightest bit has she 1895 Like that of Prudence, wife of Melibee. By God's bones, when I have to beat my knaves She goes and fetches great club-headed staves To me, and cries out, 'Slay the dogs! Lay on And break them up, their backs and every bone!' 1900 "And if somebody from my neighborhood Won't bow to her in church, or if he should Toward her be too bold or out of place, When she comes home she gets right in my face: 'False coward,' she will cry, 'avenge your wife! 1905 By corpus bones, now I will have your knife, My distaff you can have to go and spin!' From day to night that's just how she'll begin. 'Alas,' she'll say, 'that I was in such shape I wed a milksop, such a coward ape 1910 Neath everybody's domineering hand! For your own wife you don't dare take a stand!' "Such is my life unless I will to fight; Right out the door must be my rapid flight Or else I am but lost--unless I be 1915 Like some wild lion, act foolhardily. I know full well someday she'll make me slay A neighbor, then I'll have to run away; For I'm a dangerous man with knife in hand, Though I admit that I don't dare to stand 1920 Up to her, for she's big in either arm, As, by my faith, he'll find who does her harm. Let's leave this matter now and forge ahead. "Be of good cheer, my lord the Monk," he said, "For you shall tell a tale, I truly say. 1925 Look, there stands Rochester close by the way! Ride forth, my lord, and don't break up our game. But by my oath, I do not know your name, If it's Don John that you should be addressed, Don Thomas or Don Alban--which is best? 1930 You're of which order, by your father's kin? I swear to God, you're very fair of skin; The pasture must be fertile you frequent, You don't look like some ghost or penitent. You are, upon my faith, some officer, 1935 Some worthy sacristan or cellarer, For, by my father's soul, I would surmise At home you are a master. In no wise Are you a novice or poor cloisterer, Instead a wise and wily governor, 1940 One big-boned, too, and brawny. I would say You're quite a handsome fellow all the way. God give to him confusion, utter strife, Who brought you first to the religious life! A treading rooster you'd have been, all right; 1945 Had you the liberty as you have might To satisfy desire in such a way, Then many a creature you'd have sired today. Alas, why do you wear so wide a cope? God give me sorrow but, if I were pope, 1950 Not only you but every man of strength-- His head shorn to however short a length-- Would have a wife. The loss is to all earth, Religion's taken all the corn of worth From treading, we're but shrimps, we laity. 1955 A wretched root comes from a feeble tree; Our heirs will be so feeble, weak, and tender They may not have the strength well to engender. And that is why our wives are known to try Out you religious folk: you satisfy 1960 The debts of Venus better than we may. By God, it's not with counterfeit you pay! Please don't be angered by my playful word, For often, sir, in game a truth is heard." This worthy Monk took all of this in patience, 1965 Then said, "I'll try with all my diligence-- Keeping within the realm of probity-- To tell for you a tale, or two or three. If you would like to listen, I've some words I could impart about a life, Saint Edward's; 1970 Or else, to start with, tragedies I'll tell, Of which I have a hundred in my cell-- Tragedy is to say a certain story, As old books bring to mind, about the glory Of one who stood in great prosperity, 1975 But who then tumbled from his high degree To wretched end, woe that was never worse. These commonly have been set down in verse, In six feet that men call hexameter. In prose as well, though, many others were, 1980 In meter too--all manner of device. That ought to be enough words to suffice. "Now pay attention if you'd like to hear. But first I ask, to make this matter clear, If out of order I should tell these things 1985 (Be they of popes or emperors or kings) As ages go (as written you will find), And tell a few before and some behind As they may come back now to my remembrance, That you'll excuse me for my ignorance." 1990

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