The Pardoner's Tale


PROLOGUE

"My lords," said he, "in churches when I preach I take great pains to have a haughty speech 330 And ring it out as roundly as a bell; I know it all by heart, what I've to tell. My theme's always the same and ever was: Radix malorum est Cupiditas. "First I announce from where it is I come 335 And then show all my bulls, not only some. My patent with the bishop's seal I show To help safeguard my person as I go, That no man be so bold, though priest or clerk, As to obstruct me in Christ's holy work. 340 And after that my tales I start to tell, And bulls of popes, of cardinals as well, Of patriarchs and bishops, I display. A few words in the Latin tongue I say To add a little spice to what I preach 345 And stir men to devotion as I teach. "And then I show to them like precious stones My long glass cases crammed with rags and bones, For these are relics (so they think). And set In metal I've a shoulderbone I let 350 Them see, from the sheep of a holy Jew. 'Good men,' say I, 'pay heed to me. When you Shall take this bone and wash it in a well, If cow or calf or sheep or ox should swell Because it ate a worm or it's been stung, 355 Take water from that well and wash its tongue And right away it's whole. And furthermore, From pox and scab and every other sore Shall every sheep be whole that of this well Drinks but a draught. Pay heed to what I tell. 360 If every farmer owning stock will go Each week before the cock's had time to crow And, fasting, from this well will take a drink (This Jew once taught our elders so to think), His beasts will be assured of progeny. 365 And, sirs, it also heals of jealousy; For though a man by jealousy be wroth, Use water from this well to make his broth And nevermore shall he mistrust his wife, Despite the truth about her sinful life, 370 With even priests as lovers, two or three. "'Here also is a mitten you may see. Whose hand goes in this mitten will thereby Find that his grain will greatly multiply When he has sown, whether it's wheat or oats 375 (Provided he has offered pence or groats). "'Good men and women, of one thing I warn: If in this church there's any fellow born Who's done some horrid sin and who for shame Does not dare to be shriven for the same, 380 Or any woman young or elderly Who's done her husband wrong by cuckoldry, Such folk shall have no power and no grace To offer to my relics in this place. But whoso finds himself without such blame, 385 Let him come forth and offer in God's name And I'll absolve him by authority That has by papal bull been granted me.' "And with this trick I've won each year about A hundred marks since first I started out. 390 I stand there in my pulpit like a clerk, These ignorants sit down, and right to work I go, I preach as you have heard before And tell a hundred silly stories more. And I take pains to get my neck to stretch, 395 To nod both east and west to every wretch Just like a dove that's sitting on the barn. My tongue and hands go spinning such a yarn That it's a joy to see my craftiness. Of avarice and all such cursedness 400 I always preach, to make them ever free To give their pence (and give only to me); For my concern is only with collection And not with any sin that needs correction. Once buried, they don't mean a thing to me 405 Though their souls pick blackberries. Certainly Many a sermon seemingly well meant Has often come from less than good intent: To please the folks, to offer flattery, To get promoted by hypocrisy, 410 Some for vainglory, some for simple hate. For if I dare not otherwise debate, My tongue in preaching will a sting impart That no man can escape, he'll feel the smart And falsely be defamed if ever he 415 Has done wrong to my brethren or to me; For though I may not call him by his name, All men shall be aware that he's the same By signs or by what chances may permit. Thus folks who wrong us I repay, I spit 420 My venom under holiness's hue, That truthful I may seem and holy too. "But briefly my intent I'll summarize: It's greed alone that makes me sermonize. And so my theme is yet and ever was: 425 Radix malorum est Cupiditas. Yes, I myself can preach against the vice Of avarice that is my own device; For though I'm guilty of that very sin, These other folks I'm able still to win 430 From avarice and sorely they'll repent. But that is not my principal intent, I only preach to satisfy my greed. Enough of that, for more there's not a need. "I tell them many moral tales I know, 435 Old stories set in times of long ago; The ignorant find in these tales much pleasure, Such things as they can well repeat and treasure. Do you believe, as long as I can preach, Acquiring gold and silver while I teach, 440 That willfully I'd live in poverty? It's never crossed my mind, quite truthfully! No, I will preach and beg in sundry lands And never will I labor with my hands Or take up basketweaving for a living. 445 I won't be begging idly, they'll be giving. Apostles I'll not try to counterfeit; I'll have my money, wool, and food, though it Be from some page whose poverty is dire Or from the poorest widow in the shire; 450 Although her kids be starving, I'll be fine, For I will drink the liquor of the vine And have a jolly wench in every town. But listen, lords, we'll set that matter down, Your pleasure is that I should tell a tale. 455 Now that I've had my draught of corny ale, By God, I hope to tell you something striking That with good reason will be to your liking. Though I'm a man of vices through and through, I still can tell a moral tale to you, 460 One that I preach to bring the money in. Now hold your peace, my tale I will begin."

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