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300

THE PRIORESS'S TALE

T'expounden him this song in his anguage,

Or tell him why this song was in usage ; This pray'd he him to construe and declare, Full often time upon his knees bare.

His fellow, which that elder was than he,
Answered him thus: “ This song,

I have heard say Was makèd of our blissful Lady free, 1

Her to salue, 2 and eke her for to pray

To be our help and succour when we dey.3
I can no more expound in this mattère :
I learnè song; I can 4 but small grammère.”

"And is this song makèd in reverence

Of Christès mother?” said this innocent : “Now certès I will do my diligence

To conn 5 it all ere Christèmas be went,

Though that I for my primer shall be shent,
And shall be beaten thriès in an hour,
I will it conn our Lady for thonòur."

His fellow taught him homeward privily

From day to day till he could it by rote,' And then he sang it well and boldèly

From word to word according with the note :

Twiès a day it passed through his throat, To schoolward and homeward when he went; On Christès mother set was his intent.

As I have said, throughout the Jewery

This little child, as he came to and fro, Full merrily then would he sing and cry,

3 Die.

i Bountiful.

2 Praise. 4 Know.

5 Learn. 6 Punished, - the strict meaning is ruined.

THE PRIORESS'S TALE.

301

O Alma Redemptoris ! ever mo.

The sweetness hath his heartè piercèd so
Of Christès mother, that to her to pray
He cannot stintl of singing by the way.
Our firstè foe, the serpent Sathanas,

That hath in Jewès heart his waspes nest,
Up swelled and said : “O Ebraike people, alas !
Is this to you a thing that is honest,

'That such a boy shall walken as him lest
In your despite, and sing of such sentènce,
Which is against our lawès reverence ? '
From thennèsforth the Jewès have conspired

This innocent out of this world to chase : A homicidè thereto have they hired,

That in an alley had a private place,

And as the child ’gan forth by for to pace,
This cursed Jew him hent 2 and held him fast,
And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast.
I say that in a wardrope 3 they him threw,

Where as these Jewès casten their offàle.
O cursèd folk ! of Herodès all-new,4

What may your evil intente you avail ?

Murder will out, certain it will not fail ; And namely there the honour of God shall spread The blood out crieth on your cursèd deed. This poorè widow waiteth all that night

After her little child, and he came nought ;
For which, as soon as it was dayès light,

With face pale of dread and busy thought,
She hath at school and ellèswhere him sought,

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i Cease.
3 Drain, common sewer.

Caught.
4 Fresh-revived.

302

THE PRIORESS'S TALE.

1

Till finally she 'gan so far espy
That he last seen was in the Jewery.
With mother's pity in her breast enclosed,

She go’th, as she were half out of her mind, To every place where she hath supposed

By likelihood her little child to find;

And ever on Christès mother meek and kind She cried, and at the lastè thus she wrought, Among the cursed Jewès she him sought. She feyneth 2 and she prayèth piteously

To every Jew that dwelt in thilke place To tell her if her child went ought forth by ;

They saiden, Nay ; but Jesu of his grace

Gave in her thought, within a little space,
That in that place after her son she cried,
There 3 he was casten in a pit beside.
O great God, that performest thy laud

By mouth of innocents, lo here thy might! This gem of chastity, this emeraud,

And eke of martyrdom the ruby bright,

There he with throat ycarven o lay upright, He Alma Redemptoris 'gan to sing So loud, that all the placè 'gan to ring. The Christian folk that through the streetè went

In comen for to wonder upon this thing,
And hastily they for the provost sent:

He came anon withouten tarrying,
And herieth 5 Christ, that is of heaven king,

5 And eke his mother, honour of mankind, And after that the Jewès let he bind.

· Discover.

3 Where.

4 Cat.

2 Asketh.
5 Praiseth.

THE PRIORESS'S TALE.

303

This child with piteous lamentatiòn

Was taken up, singing his song alway, And with honour and great processiòn

They carrien him unto the next abbèy

His mother swooning by the bière lay : Unnethes might the people that was there This newè Rachel bringen from his bier.

With torment and with shameful death each one

This provost doth these Jewès for to starve ? That of this murder wist,3 and that anon:

He n' oldè 4 no such cursedness observe ;5

Evil shall he have that evil will deserve; Therefore with wildè horse he did them draw, And after that he hung them by the law.

Upon his bier aye li'th this innocent

Before the altar while the massè last, And after that, th' abbot with his convent

Have sped them for to bury him full fast;

And when they holy water on him cast, Yet spake this child, when sprent 6 with th' holy water, And sang, O Alma Redemptoris Mater!

This abbot, which that was a holy man,

As monkès be, or elles ought to be, This youngè child to conjure he began,

And said : “ dearè child! I halsè ? thee,

In virtue of the holy Trinity,
Tell me what is thy causè for to sing,
Since that thy throat is cut, to my seeming."

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304

THE PRIORESS'S TALE.

66

“ My throat is cut unto my necké bone,"

Saidè this childe," and as by way of kind 1 I should have died, yea longè time agone ;

But Jesu Christ, as ye in bookès find,

Will that his glory last and be in mind, And for the worship of his mother dear, Yet may I sing 0 Alma loud and clear.

“ This well 2 of mercy, Christès mother sweet,

I lovèd alway, as after my conning 3;
And when that I my lifè would forlete 4

To me she came, and bade me for to sing
This anthem verily in my dying,
As
ye

have heard ; and when that I had sung, Me thought she laid a grain upon my tongue.

Wherefore I sing, and sing I must certain,

In honour of that blissful maiden free, Till from my tongue off taken is the grain.

And after that thus saidè she to me :

• My little child, then will I fetchen thee, When that the grain is from thy tongue ytake: Be not aghast, I will thee not forsake."

6

This holy monk, this abbot him mean I,

His tongue out caught, and took away the grain, And he gave up the ghost full softily.

And when this abbot had this wonder see

His saltè tearès trill'd adown as rain, And groff he fell all plat upon the ground,5 And still he lay as he had been ybound.

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