WHEN folk had laughed all at this nice case
Of Absolon and Hendy Nicholas,
Diverse folk diversely they said,
But for the more part they laugh'd and play'd; *were diverted
And at this tale I saw no man him grieve,
But it were only Osewold the Reeve.
Because he was of carpenteres craft,
A little ire is in his hearte laft; left
He gan to grudge and blamed it a lite. murmur *little.
"So the* I," quoth he, "full well could I him quite thrive match
With blearing of a proude miller's eye, dimming
If that me list to speak of ribaldry.
But I am old; me list not play for age;
Grass time is done, my fodder is now forage.
This white top writeth mine olde years; head
Mine heart is also moulded as mine hairs; grown mouldy
And I do fare as doth an open-erse; medlar
That ilke fruit is ever longer werse, same
Till it be rotten *in mullok or in stre. on the ground or in straw
We olde men, I dread, so fare we;
Till we be rotten, can we not be ripe;
We hop* away, while that the world will pipe; dance
For in our will there sticketh aye a nail,
To have an hoary head and a green tail,
As hath a leek; for though our might be gone,
Our will desireth folly ever-in-one: continually
For when we may not do, then will we speak,
Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek. smoke
Four gledes have we, which I shall devise, coals * describe
Vaunting, and lying, anger, covetise. *covetousness
These foure sparks belongen unto eld.
Our olde limbes well may be unweld, unwieldy
But will shall never fail us, that is sooth.
And yet have I alway a coltes tooth,
As many a year as it is passed and gone
Since that my tap of life began to run;
For sickerly, when I was born, anon certainly
Death drew the tap of life, and let it gon:
And ever since hath so the tap y-run,
Till that almost all empty is the tun.
The stream of life now droppeth on the chimb.
The silly tongue well may ring and chime
Of wretchedness, that passed is full yore: long
With olde folk, save dotage, is no more.
When that our Host had heard this sermoning,
He gan to speak as lordly as a king,
And said; "To what amounteth all this wit?
What? shall we speak all day of holy writ?
The devil made a Reeve for to preach,
As of a souter a shipman, or a leach. cobbler
Say forth thy tale, and tarry not the time: surgeon
Lo here is Deptford, and 'tis half past prime:
Lo Greenwich, where many a shrew is in.
It were high time thy tale to begin."
"Now, sirs," quoth then this Osewold the Reeve,
I pray you all that none of you do grieve,
Though I answer, and somewhat set his hove, hood
For lawful is *force off with force to shove. to repel force
This drunken miller hath y-told us here by force
How that beguiled was a carpentere,
Paraventure* in scorn, for I am one: perhaps
And, by your leave, I shall him quite anon.
Right in his churlish termes will I speak,
I pray to God his necke might to-break.
He can well in mine eye see a stalk,
But in his own he cannot see a balk."
Notes to the Prologue to the Reeves Tale.
1. "With blearing of a proude miller's eye": dimming his eye;
playing off a joke on him.
2. "Me list not play for age": age takes away my zest for
3. The medlar, the fruit of the mespilus tree, is only edible when
4. Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek: "ev'n in our ashes live
their wonted fires."
5. A colt's tooth; a wanton humour, a relish for pleasure.
6. Chimb: The rim of a barrel where the staves project beyond
7. With olde folk, save dotage, is no more: Dotage is all that is
left them; that is, they can only dwell fondly, dote, on the past.
8. Souter: cobbler; Scottice, "sutor;"' from Latin, "suere," to
9. "Ex sutore medicus" (a surgeon from a cobbler) and "ex
sutore nauclerus" (a ****** or pilot from a cobbler) were both
proverbial expressions in the Middle Ages.
10. Half past prime: half-way between prime and tierce; about
half-past seven in the morning.
11. Set his hove; like "set their caps;" as in the description of
the Manciple in the Prologue, who "set their aller cap". "Hove"
or "houfe," means "hood;" and the phrase signifies to be even
12. The illustration of the mote and the beam, from Matthew.
At Trompington, not far from Cantebrig, Cambridge
There goes a brook, and over that a brig,
Upon the whiche brook there stands a mill:
And this is *very sooth that I you tell. complete truth
A miller was there dwelling many a day,
As any peacock he was proud and gay:
Pipen he could, and fish, and nettes bete, *prepare
And turne cups, and wrestle well, and shete. shoot
Aye by his belt he bare a long pavade, poniard
And of his sword full trenchant was the blade.
A jolly popper bare he in his pouch; dagger
There was no man for peril durst him touch.
A Sheffield whittle bare he in his hose. small knife
Round was his face, and camuse was his nose. flat
As pilled as an ape's was his skull. peeled, bald.
He was a market-beter at the full. brawler
There durste no wight hand upon him legge, lay
That he ne swore anon he should abegge. suffer the penalty
A thief he was, for sooth, of corn and meal,
And that a sly, and used well to steal.
His name was *hoten deinous Simekin called "Disdainful Simkin"
A wife he hadde, come of noble kin:
The parson of the town her father was.
With her he gave full many a pan of brass,
For that Simkin should in his blood ally.
She was y-foster'd in a nunnery:
For Simkin woulde no wife, as he said,
But she were well y-nourish'd, and a maid,
To saven his estate and yeomanry:
And she was proud, and pert as is a pie. magpie
A full fair sight it was to see them two;
On holy days before her would he go
With his tippet* y-bound about his head; hood
And she came after in a gite of red, gown
And Simkin hadde hosen of the same.
There durste no wight call her aught but Dame:
None was so hardy, walking by that way,
That with her either durste *rage or play, use freedom
But if he would be slain by Simekin unless
With pavade, or with knife, or bodekin.
For jealous folk be per'lous evermo':
Algate they would their wives wende so. unless *so behave
And eke for she was somewhat smutterlich, *****
She was as dign* as water in a ditch, nasty
And all so full of hoker, and bismare*. *ill-nature *abusive speech
Her thoughte that a lady should her spare, not judge her hardly
What for her kindred, and her nortelrie *nurturing, education
That she had learned in the nunnery.
One daughter hadde they betwixt them two
Of twenty year, withouten any mo,
Saving a child that was of half year age,
In cradle it lay, and was a proper page. boy
This wenche thick and well y-growen was,
With camuse nose, and eyen gray as glass; flat
With buttocks broad, and breastes round and high;
But right fair was her hair, I will not lie.
The parson of the town, for she was fair,
In purpose was to make of her his heir
Both of his chattels and his messuage,
And *strange he made it of her marriage. he made it a matter
His purpose was for to bestow her high of difficulty
Into some worthy blood of ancestry.
For holy Church's good may be dispended spent
On holy Church's blood that is descended.
Therefore he would his holy blood honour
Though that he holy Churche should devour.
Great soken* hath this miller, out of doubt, toll taken for grinding
With wheat and malt, of all the land about;
And namely there was a great college especially
Men call the Soler Hall at Cantebrege,
There was their wheat and eke their malt y-ground.
And on a day it happed in a stound, suddenly
Sick lay the manciple of a malady, steward
Men *weened wisly that he shoulde die. thought certainly
For which this miller stole both meal and corn
An hundred times more than beforn.
For theretofore he stole but courteously,
But now he was a thief outrageously.
For which the warden chid and made fare, fuss
But thereof set the miller not a tare; he cared not a rush
He crack'd his boast, and swore it was not so. talked big
Then were there younge poore scholars two,
That dwelled in the hall of which I say;
Testif* they were, and ***** for to play; headstrong
And only for their mirth and revelry
Upon the warden busily they cry,
To give them leave for but a *little stound, short time
To go to mill, and see their corn y-ground:
And hardily* they durste lay their neck, boldly
The miller should not steal them half a peck
Of corn by sleight, nor them by force bereave *take away
And at the last the warden give them leave:
John hight the one, and Alein hight the other,
Of one town were they born, that highte Strother,
Far in the North, I cannot tell you where.
This Alein he made ready all his gear,
And on a horse the sack he cast anon:
Forth went Alein the clerk, and also John,
With good sword and with buckler by their side.
John knew the way, him needed not no guide,
And at the mill the sack adown he lay'th.
Alein spake f