THE SECOND NUN'S TALE
minister and norice* unto vices,
Which that men call in English idleness,
The porter at the gate is of delices;*
T'eschew, and by her contrar' her oppress, --
That is to say, by lawful business,* -- *occupation,
Well oughte we to *do our all intent*
Lest that the fiend through idleness us hent.*
For he, that with his thousand cordes sly
Continually us waiteth to beclap,*
When he may man in idleness espy,
He can so lightly catch him in his trap,
Till that a man be hent* right by the lappe,**
He is not ware the fiend hath him in hand;
Well ought we work, and idleness withstand.
And though men dreaded never for to die,
Yet see men well by reason, doubteless,
That idleness is root of sluggardy,
Of which there cometh never good increase;
And see that sloth them holdeth in a leas,*
Only to sleep, and for to eat and drink,
And to devouren all that others swink.*
And, for to put us from such idleness,
That cause is of so great confusion,
I have here done my faithful business,
After the Legend, in translation
Right of thy glorious life and passion, --
Thou with thy garland wrought of rose and lily,
Thee mean I, maid and martyr, Saint Cecilie.
And thou, thou art the flow'r of virgins all,
Of whom that Bernard list so well to write, <3>
To thee at my beginning first I call;
Thou comfort of us wretches, do me indite
Thy maiden's death, that won through her merite
Th' eternal life, and o'er the fiend victory,
As man may after readen in her story.
Thou maid and mother, daughter of thy Son,
Thou well of mercy, sinful soules' cure,
In whom that God of bounte chose to won;*
Thou humble and high o'er every creature,
Thou nobilest, *so far forth our nature,* *as
far as our nature admits*
That no disdain the Maker had of kind,*
His Son in blood and flesh to clothe and wind.*
Within the cloister of thy blissful sides
Took manne's shape th' eternal love and peace,
That of *the trine compass* Lord and guide is
Whom earth, and sea, and heav'n, *out of release,* *unceasingly
*Aye hery;* and thou, Virgin wemmeless,*
*forever praise* *immaculate
Bare of thy body, and dweltest maiden pure,
The Creator of every creature.
Assembled is in thee magnificence <4>
With mercy, goodness, and with such pity,
That thou, that art the sun of excellence,
Not only helpest them that pray to thee,
But oftentime, of thy benignity,
Full freely, ere that men thine help beseech,
Thou go'st before, and art their lives' leech.* *healer, saviour.
Now help, thou meek and blissful faire maid,
Me, flemed* wretch, in this desert of gall; *banished,
Think on the woman Cananee that said
That whelpes eat some of the crumbes all
That from their Lorde's table be y-fall;<5>
And though that I, unworthy son of Eve,<6>
Be sinful, yet accepte my believe.*
And, for that faith is dead withoute werkes,
For to worke give me wit and space,
That I be *quit from thennes that most derk is;* *freed from the most
O thou, that art so fair and full of grace, dark
Be thou mine advocate in that high place,
Where as withouten end is sung Osanne,
Thou Christe's mother, daughter dear of Anne.
And of thy light my soul in prison light,
That troubled is by the contagion
Of my body, and also by the weight
Of earthly lust and false affection;
O hav'n of refuge, O salvation
Of them that be in sorrow and distress,
Now help, for to my work I will me dress.
Yet pray I you, that reade what I write, <6>
Forgive me that I do no diligence
This ilke* story subtilly t' indite.
For both have I the wordes and sentence
Of him that at the sainte's reverence
The story wrote, and follow her legend;
And pray you that you will my work amend.
First will I you the name of Saint Cecilie
Expound, as men may in her story see.
It is to say in English, Heaven's lily,<7>
For pure chasteness of virginity;
Or, for she whiteness had of honesty,*
And green of conscience, and of good fame
The sweete savour, Lilie was her name.
Or Cecilie is to say, the way of blind;<7>
For she example was by good teaching;
Or else Cecilie, as I written find,
Is joined by a manner conjoining
Of heaven and Lia, <7> and herein figuring
The heaven is set for thought of holiness,
And Lia for her lasting business.
Cecilie may eke be said in this mannere,
Wanting of blindness, for her greate light
Of sapience, and for her thewes* clear.
Or elles, lo, this maiden's name bright
Of heaven and Leos <7> comes, for which by right
Men might her well the heaven of people call,
Example of good and wise workes all;
For Leos people in English is to say;
And right as men may in the heaven see
The sun and moon, and starres every way,
Right so men ghostly,* in this maiden free,
Sawen of faith the magnanimity,
And eke the clearness whole of sapience,
And sundry workes bright of excellence.
And right so as these philosophers write,
That heav'n is swift and round, and eke burning,
Right so was faire Cecilie the white
Full swift and busy in every good working,
And round and whole in good persevering, <8>
And burning ever in charity full bright;
Now have I you declared *what she hight.* *why she had her
This maiden bright Cecile, as her life saith,
Was come of Romans, and of noble kind,
And from her cradle foster'd in the faith
Of Christ, and bare his Gospel in her mind:
She never ceased, as I written find,
Of her prayere, and God to love and dread,
Beseeching him to keep her maidenhead.
And when this maiden should unto a man
Y-wedded be, that was full young of age,
Which that y-called was Valerian,
And come was the day of marriage,
She, full devout and humble in her corage,*
Under her robe of gold, that sat full fair,
Had next her flesh y-clad her in an hair.* *garment of hair-cloth
And while the organs made melody,
To God alone thus in her heart sang she;
"O Lord, my soul and eke my body gie*
Unwemmed,* lest that I confounded be."
And, for his love that died upon the tree,
Every second or third day she fast',
Aye bidding* in her orisons full fast.
The night came, and to bedde must she gon
With her husband, as it is the mannere;
And privily she said to him anon;
"O sweet and well-beloved spouse dear,
There is a counsel,* an'** ye will it hear,
Which that right fain I would unto you say,
So that ye swear ye will it not bewray."*
Valerian gan fast unto her swear
That for no case nor thing that mighte be,
He never should to none bewrayen her;
And then at erst* thus to him saide she; *for
the first time
"I have an angel which that loveth me,
That with great love, whether I wake or sleep,
Is ready aye my body for to keep;
"And if that he may feelen, *out of dread,*
That ye me touch or love in villainy,
He right anon will slay you with the deed,
And in your youthe thus ye shoulde die.
And if that ye in cleane love me gie,"*
He will you love as me, for your cleanness,
And shew to you his joy and his brightness."
Valerian, corrected as God wo'ld,
Answer'd again, "If I shall truste thee,
Let me that angel see, and him behold;
And if that it a very angel be,
Then will I do as thou hast prayed me;
And if thou love another man, forsooth
Right with this sword then will I slay you both."
Cecile answer'd anon right in this wise;
"If that you list, the angel shall ye see,
So that ye trow* Of Christ, and you baptise;
Go forth to Via Appia," quoth she,
That from this towne stands but miles three,
And to the poore folkes that there dwell
Say them right thus, as that I shall you tell,
"Tell them, that I, Cecile, you to them sent
To shewe you the good Urban the old,
For secret needes,* and for good intent;
And when that ye Saint Urban have behold,
Tell him the wordes which I to you told
And when that he hath purged you from sin,
Then shall ye see that angel ere ye twin*
Valerian is to the place gone;
And, right as he was taught by her learning
He found this holy old Urban anon
Among the saintes' burials louting;*
*lying concealed <9>
And he anon, withoute tarrying,
Did his message, and when that he it told,
Urban for joy his handes gan uphold.
The teares from his eyen let he fall;
"Almighty Lord, O Jesus Christ,"
Quoth he, "Sower of chaste counsel, herd* of us all;
The fruit of thilke* seed of chastity
That thou hast sown in Cecile, take to thee
Lo, like a busy bee, withoute guile,
Thee serveth aye thine owen thrall* Cicile,
"For thilke spouse, that she took *but now,*
Full like a fierce lion, she sendeth here,
As meek as e'er was any lamb to owe."
And with that word anon there gan appear
An old man, clad in white clothes clear,
That had a book with letters of gold in hand,
And gan before Valerian to stand.
Valerian, as dead, fell down for dread,
When he him saw; and he up hent* him tho,** *took
And on his book right thus he gan to read;
"One Lord, one faith, one God withoute mo',
One Christendom, one Father of all also,
Aboven all, and over all everywhere."
These wordes all with gold y-written were.
When this was read, then said this olde man,
"Believ'st thou this or no? say yea or nay."
"I believe all this," quoth Valerian,
"For soother* thing than this, I dare well say,
Under the Heaven no wight thinke may."
Then vanish'd the old man, he wist not where
And Pope Urban him christened right there.
Valerian went home, and found Cecilie
Within his chamber with an angel stand;
This angel had of roses and of lily
Corones* two, the which he bare in hand,
And first to Cecile, as I understand,
He gave the one, and after gan he take
The other to Valerian her make.*
"With body clean, and with unwemmed* thought, *unspotted, blameless
Keep aye well these corones two," quoth he;
"From Paradise to you I have them brought,
Nor ever more shall they rotten be,
Nor lose their sweet savour, truste me,
Nor ever wight shall see them with his eye,
But he be chaste, and hate villainy.
"And thou, Valerian, for thou so soon
Assented hast to good counsel, also
Say what thee list,* and thou shalt have thy boon."**
"I have a brother," quoth Valerian tho,*
"That in this world I love no man so;
I pray you that my brother may have grace
To know the truth, as I do in this place."
The angel said, "God liketh thy request,
And bothe, with the palm of martyrdom,
Ye shalle come unto this blissful rest."
And, with that word, Tiburce his brother came.
And when that he the savour undernome*
Which that the roses and the lilies cast,
Within his heart he gan to wonder fast;
And said; "I wonder, this time of the year,
Whence that sweete savour cometh so
Of rose and lilies, that I smelle here;
For though I had them in mine handes two,
The savour might in me no deeper go;
The sweete smell, that in my heart I find,
Hath changed me all in another kind."
Valerian said, "Two crownes here have we,
Snow-white and rose-red, that shine clear,
Which that thine eyen have no might to see;
And, as thou smellest them through my prayere,
So shalt thou see them, leve* brother dear,
If it so be thou wilt withoute sloth
Believe aright, and know the very troth. "
Tiburce answered, "Say'st thou this to me
In soothness, or in dreame hear I this?"
"In dreames," quoth Valorian, "have we be
Unto this time, brother mine, y-wis
But now *at erst* in truth our dwelling is." *for the first time*
How know'st thou this," quoth Tiburce; "in what wise?"
Quoth Valerian, "That shall I thee devise*
"The angel of God hath me the truth y-taught,
Which thou shalt see, if that thou wilt reny*
The idols, and be clean, and elles nought."
[And of the miracle of these crownes tway
Saint Ambrose in his preface list to say;
Solemnely this noble doctor dear
Commendeth it, and saith in this mannere
"The palm of martyrdom for to receive,
Saint Cecilie, full filled of God's gift,
The world and eke her chamber gan to weive;*
Witness Tiburce's and Cecilie's shrift,*
To which God of his bounty woulde shift
Corones two, of flowers well smelling,
And made his angel them the crownes bring.
"The maid hath brought these men to bliss above;
The world hath wist what it is worth, certain,
Devotion of chastity to love."] <10>
Then showed him Cecilie all open and plain,
That idols all are but a thing in vain,
For they be dumb, and thereto* they be deave;** *therefore **deaf
And charged him his idols for to leave.
"Whoso that troweth* not this, a beast he is,"
Quoth this Tiburce, "if that I shall not lie."
And she gan kiss his breast when she heard this,
And was full glad he could the truth espy:
"This day I take thee for mine ally."*
Saide this blissful faire maiden dear;
And after that she said as ye may hear.
"Lo, right so as the love of Christ," quoth she,
"Made me thy brother's wife, right in that wise
Anon for mine ally here take I thee,
Since that thou wilt thine idoles despise.
Go with thy brother now and thee baptise,
And make thee clean, so that thou may'st behold
The angel's face, of which thy brother told."
Tiburce answer'd, and saide, "Brother dear,
First tell me whither I shall, and to what man?"
"To whom?" quoth he, "come forth with goode cheer,
I will thee lead unto the Pope Urban."
"To Urban? brother mine Valerian,"
Quoth then Tiburce; "wilt thou me thither lead?
Me thinketh that it were a wondrous deed.
"Meanest thou not that Urban," quoth he tho,*
"That is so often damned to be dead,
And wons* in halkes** always to and fro,
And dare not ones putte forth his head?
Men should him brennen* in a fire so red,
If he were found, or if men might him spy:
And us also, to bear him company.
"And while we seeke that Divinity
That is y-hid in heaven privily,
Algate* burnt in this world should we be."
To whom Cecilie answer'd boldely;
"Men mighte dreade well and skilfully*
This life to lose, mine owen deare brother,
If this were living only, and none other.
"But there is better life in other place,
That never shall be loste, dread thee nought;
Which Godde's Son us tolde through his grace
That Father's Son which alle thinges wrought;
And all that wrought is with a skilful* thought, *reasonable
The Ghost,* that from the Father gan proceed,
Hath souled* them, withouten any drede.**
*endowed them with a soul
By word and by miracle, high God's Son,
When he was in this world, declared here.
That there is other life where men may won."*
To whom answer'd Tiburce, "O sister dear,
Saidest thou not right now in this mannere,
There was but one God, Lord in soothfastness,* *truth
And now of three how may'st thou bear witness?"
"That shall I tell," quoth she, "ere that I go.
Right as a man hath sapiences* three,
Memory, engine,* and intellect also,
So in one being of divinity
Three persones there maye right well be."
Then gan she him full busily to preach
Of Christe's coming, and his paines teach,
And many pointes of his passion;
How Godde's Son in this world was withhold*
To do mankinde plein* remission,
That was y-bound in sin and cares cold.*
All this thing she unto Tiburce told,
And after that Tiburce, in good intent,
With Valerian to Pope Urban he went.
That thanked God, and with glad heart and light
He christen'd him, and made him in that place
Perfect in his learning, and Godde's knight.
And after this Tiburce got such grace,
That every day he saw in time and space
Th' angel of God, and every manner boon*
That be God asked, it was sped* full anon. *granted,
It were full hard by order for to sayn
How many wonders Jesus for them wrought,
But at the last, to telle short and plain,
The sergeants of the town of Rome them sought,
And them before Almach the Prefect brought,
Which them apposed,* and knew all their intent,
And to th'image of Jupiter them sent.
And said, "Whoso will not do sacrifice,
Swap* off his head, this is my sentence here."
Anon these martyrs, *that I you devise,* *of
whom I tell you*
One Maximus, that was an officere
Of the prefect's, and his corniculere <13>
Them hent,* and when he forth the saintes lad,** *seized
Himself he wept for pity that he had.
When Maximus had heard the saintes lore,* *doctrine,
He got him of the tormentores* leave,
And led them to his house withoute more;
And with their preaching, ere that it were eve,
They gonnen* from the tormentors to reave,**
*began **wrest, root out
And from Maxim', and from his folk each one,
The false faith, to trow* in God alone.
Cecilia came, when it was waxen night,
With priestes, that them christen'd *all in fere;* *in a company*
And afterward, when day was waxen light,
Cecile them said with a full steadfast cheer,*
"Now, Christe's owen knightes lefe* and dear,
Cast all away the workes of darkness,
And arme you in armour of brightness.
Ye have forsooth y-done a great battaile,
Your course is done, your faith have ye conserved; <14>
O to the crown of life that may not fail;
The rightful Judge, which that ye have served
Shall give it you, as ye have it deserved."
And when this thing was said, as I devise,*
Men led them forth to do the sacrifice.
But when they were unto the place brought
To telle shortly the conclusion,
They would incense nor sacrifice right nought
But on their knees they sette them adown,
With humble heart and sad* devotion,
And loste both their heades in the place;
Their soules wente to the King of grace.
This Maximus, that saw this thing betide,
With piteous teares told it anon right,
That he their soules saw to heaven glide
With angels, full of clearness and of light
Andt with his word converted many a wight.
For which Almachius *did him to-beat*
*see note <15>*
With whip of lead, till he his life gan lete.*
Cecile him took, and buried him anon
By Tiburce and Valerian softely,
Within their burying-place, under the stone.
And after this Almachius hastily
Bade his ministers fetchen openly
Cecile, so that she might in his presence
Do sacrifice, and Jupiter incense.*
*burn incense to
But they, converted at her wise lore,*
Wepte full sore, and gave full credence
Unto her word, and cried more and more;
"Christ, Godde's Son, withoute difference,
Is very God, this is all our sentence,*
That hath so good a servant him to serve
Thus with one voice we trowe,* though we sterve.** *believe **die
Almachius, that heard of this doing,
Bade fetch Cecilie, that he might her see;
And alderfirst,* lo, this was his asking;
*first of all
"What manner woman arte thou?" quoth he,
"I am a gentle woman born," quoth she.
"I aske thee," quoth he,"though it thee grieve,
Of thy religion and of thy believe."
"Ye have begun your question foolishly,"
Quoth she, "that wouldest two answers conclude
In one demand? ye aske lewedly."*
Almach answer'd to that similitude,
"Of whence comes thine answering so rude?"
"Of whence?" quoth she, when that she was freined,*
"Of conscience, and of good faith unfeigned."
Almachius saide; "Takest thou no heed
Of my power?" and she him answer'd this;
"Your might," quoth she, "full little is to dread;
For every mortal manne's power is
But like a bladder full of wind, y-wis;*
For with a needle's point, when it is blow',
May all the boast of it be laid full low."
"Full wrongfully begunnest thou," quoth he,
"And yet in wrong is thy perseverance.
Know'st thou not how our mighty princes free
Have thus commanded and made ordinance,
That every Christian wight shall have penance,*
But if that he his Christendom withsay,*
And go all quit, if he will it renay?"*
"Your princes erren, as your nobley* doth,"
Quoth then Cecile, "and with a *wood sentence* *mad
Ye make us guilty, and it is not sooth:*
For ye that knowe well our innocence,
Forasmuch as we do aye reverence
To Christ, and for we bear a Christian name,
Ye put on us a crime and eke a blame.
"But we that knowe thilke name so
For virtuous, we may it not withsay."
Almach answered, "Choose one of these two,
Do sacrifice, or Christendom renay,
That thou may'st now escape by that way."
At which the holy blissful faire maid
Gan for to laugh, and to the judge said;
"O judge, *confused in thy nicety,* *confounded
in thy folly*
Wouldest thou that I reny innocence?
To make me a wicked wight," quoth she,
"Lo, he dissimuleth* here in audience;
He stareth and woodeth* in his advertence."** *grows furious **thought
To whom Almachius said, "Unsely* wretch,
Knowest thou not how far my might may stretch?
"Have not our mighty princes to me given
Yea bothe power and eke authority
To make folk to dien or to liven?
Why speakest thou so proudly then to me?"
"I speake not but steadfastly," quoth she,
Not proudly, for I say, as for my side,
We hate deadly* thilke vice of pride.
"And, if thou dreade not a sooth* to hear,
Then will I shew all openly by right,
That thou hast made a full great leasing* here.
Thou say'st thy princes have thee given might
Both for to slay and for to quick* a wight, -- *give
Thou that may'st not but only life bereave;
Thou hast none other power nor no leave.
"But thou may'st say, thy princes have thee maked
Minister of death; for if thou speak of mo',
Thou liest; for thy power is full naked."
"Do away thy boldness," said Almachius tho,*
"And sacrifice to our gods, ere thou go.
I recke not what wrong that thou me proffer,
For I can suffer it as a philosopher.
"But those wronges may I not endure,
That thou speak'st of our goddes here," quoth he.
Cecile answer'd, "O nice* creature,
Thou saidest no word, since thou spake to me,
That I knew not therewith thy nicety,*
And that thou wert in *every manner wise* *every
sort of way*
A lewed* officer, a vain justice.
"There lacketh nothing to thine outward eyen
That thou art blind; for thing that we see all
That it is stone, that men may well espyen,
That ilke* stone a god thou wilt it call.
I rede* thee let thine hand upon it fall,
And taste* it well, and stone thou shalt it find; *examine, test
Since that thou see'st not with thine eyen blind.
"It is a shame that the people shall
So scorne thee, and laugh at thy folly;
For commonly men *wot it well over all,* *know
That mighty God is in his heaven high;
And these images, well may'st thou espy,
To thee nor to themselves may not profite,
For in effect they be not worth a mite."
These wordes and such others saide she,
And he wax'd wroth, and bade men should her lead
Home to her house; "And in her house," quoth he,
"Burn her right in a bath, with flames red."
And as he bade, right so was done the deed;
For in a bath they gan her faste shetten,*
And night and day great fire they under betten.* *kindled, applied
The longe night, and eke a day also,
For all the fire, and eke the bathe's heat,
She sat all cold, and felt of it no woe,
It made her not one droppe for to sweat;
But in that bath her life she must lete.*
For he, Almachius, with full wick' intent,
To slay her in the bath his sonde* sent.
Three strokes in the neck he smote her tho,*
The tormentor,* but for no manner chance
He might not smite her faire neck in two:
And, for there was that time an ordinance
That no man should do man such penance,*
The fourthe stroke to smite, soft or sore,
This tormentor he durste do no more;
But half dead, with her necke carven* there
He let her lie, and on his way is went.
The Christian folk, which that about her were,
With sheetes have the blood full fair y-hent;
Three dayes lived she in this torment,
And never ceased them the faith to teach,
That she had foster'd them, she gan to preach.
And them she gave her mebles* and her thing,
And to the Pope Urban betook* them tho;**
And said, "I aske this of heaven's king,
To have respite three dayes and no mo',
To recommend to you, ere that I go,
These soules, lo; and that *I might do wirch* *cause to be made*
Here of mine house perpetually a church."
Saint Urban, with his deacons, privily
The body fetch'd, and buried it by night
Among his other saintes honestly;
Her house the church of Saint Cecilie hight;*
Saint Urban hallow'd it, as he well might;
In which unto this day, in noble wise,
Men do to Christ and to his saint service.
Notes to the Nun's Priest's Tale
1. This Tale was originally
composed by Chaucer as a separate
work, and as such it is mentioned in the "Legend of Good
Women" under the title of "The Life of Saint Cecile".
quotes the line in which the author calls himself an "unworthy
son of Eve," and that in which he says, "Yet pray I you, that
reade what I write", as internal evidence that the insertion of the
poem in the Canterbury Tales was the result of an afterthought;
while the whole tenor of the introduction confirms the belief
that Chaucer composed it as a writer or translator -- not,
dramatically, as a speaker. The story is almost literally
translated from the Life of St Cecilia in the "Legenda Aurea."
2. Leas: leash, snare; the same as "las," oftener used by
3. The nativity and assumption of the Virgin Mary formed the
themes of some of St Bernard's most eloquent sermons.
4. Compare with this stanza the fourth stanza of the Prioress's
Tale, the substance of which is the same.
5. "But he answered and said, it is not meet to take the
children's bread, and cast it to dogs. And
she said, Truth, Lord:
yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's
table." -- Matthew xv. 26, 27.
6. See note 1.
7. These are Latin puns: Heaven's lily - "Coeli lilium"; The way
of blind - "Caeci via"; Heaven
and Lia - from "Coeli", heaven,
and "Ligo," to bind; Heaven and Leos - from Coeli and
(Ionian Greek) or "Leos" (Attic Greek), the people. Such
punning derivations of proper names were very much in favour
in the Middle Ages. The explanations of St Cecilia's name are
literally taken from the prologue to the Latin legend.
8. This passage suggests Horace's description of the wise man,
who, among other things, is "in se ipse totus, teres, atque
rotundus." ("complete in himself, polished and rounded") --
Satires, 2, vii. 80.
9. Louting: lingering, or lying concealed; the Latin original has
"Inter sepulchra martyrum latiantem" ("hiding among the tombs
10. The fourteen lines within
brackets are supposed to have
been originally an interpolation in the Latin legend, from which
they are literally translated. They awkwardly interrupt the flow
of the narration.
11. Engine: wit; the devising or constructive faculty; Latin,
12. Cold: wretched, distressful; see note 22 to the Nun's Priest's
13. Corniculere: The secretary or
registrar who was charged
with publishing the acts, decrees and orders of the prefect.
14. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I
have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown
of righteousness" -- 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8.
15. Did him to-beat: Caused him to
be cruelly or fatally beaten;
the force of the "to" is intensive.