Week 9: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

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The Tale of the Manciple, cont.

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 800 words.

Phoebus now regrets that he killed his wife, and vents all his anger on the crow, changing the crow's color and also the crow's voice. The maniciple closes the story with the words of his own mother, who advises him to keep his mouth shut, and "think upon the crow."

"Traitor," cried he, "with tongue of scorpion,
You have brought me to ruin, treacherous one!
Alas, that I was born! Why died I not?
O my dear wife, jewel of joy, God wot,
Who were to me so trusty and so true,
Now you lie dead, with face all pale of hue,
And you were guiltless, I dare swear to this!
O hasty hand, to do so foul amiss!
O stupid brain, O anger all reckless,
That unadvisedly struck the guiltless!
O ill distrust that jealousy had sown!
Where were your thought and your discretion flown?
O every man, beware of hastiness,
Do not believe without a strong witness;
Strike not too soon, before you reason why,
And be advised full well and soberly
Ere you do any execution thus
In your wild anger when it is jealous.
Alas! A thousand folk has hasty ire
Ruined, and left them bleeding in the mire.
Alas! I'll slay myself forthwith for grief!"

And to the crow he said, "O you false thief!
I will anon requite you that false tale!
You sang but lately like a nightingale;
Now, you false thief, your songs are over and done,
And you'll all those white feathers lose, each one,
Nor ever in your life more shall you speak.
Thus men on traitors shall their justice wreak;
You and your offspring ever shall be black,
Nor evermore sweet noises shall you make,
But you shall cry in tempest and in rain
In token that through you my wife was slain."

And on the crow he leaped, and that anon,
And plucked out his white feathers, every one,
And made him black, and stilled for evermore
His song and speech, and flung him out the door
Unto the devil, where I leave this jack;
And for this reason, now all crows are black.

Masters, by this example, I do pray
You will beware and heed what I shall say:
Never tell any man, through all your life,
How that another man has humped his wife;
He'll hate you mortally, and that's certain.

Dan Solomon, as these wise clerks explain,
Teaches a man to keep his tongue from all;
But, as I said, I am not textual.
Nevertheless, thus taught me my good dame:

"My son, think of the crow, in high God's name;
My son, keep your tongue still, and keep your friend.
A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend.

"My son, from devils men themselves may bless;
My son, high God, of His endless goodness,
Walled up the tongue with teeth and lips and cheeks
That man should speak advisedly when he speaks.

"My son, full oftentimes, for too much speech,
Has many a man been killed, as clerics teach;
But, speaking little and advisedly,
Is no man harmed, to put it generally.

"My son, your foolish tongue you should restrain
At all times, save those when your soul is fain
To speak of God, in honour and in prayer.
The first of virtues, son, if you'll but hear,
Is to restrain and to guard well your tongue-
Thus teach the children while they yet are young-

"My son, of too much speaking, ill advised,
Where less had been enough and had sufficed,
Much harm may come; thus was I told and taught.
In fluent speaking evil wants for naught.
Know you of where a rash tongue has well served?
Just as a sword has cut deep and has carved
A many an arm in two, dear son, just so
A tongue can cut a friendship, well I know.
A gossip is to God abominable.
Read Solomon, so wise and honourable,
Or David's Psalms, what Seneca has said.

"My son, speak not, but merely bow your head.
Dissemble like one deaf, if you but hear
A chatterer speak what's dangerous in your ear.
The Fleming says, and learn it, for it's best,
That little prattle gives us all much rest.

"My son, if you no wicked word have said,
To be betrayed you need not ever dread;
But he that has missaid, I dare explain,
He may not aye recall his words again.
That which is said, is said, and goes, in truth,
Though he repent, and be he lief or loath.
A man's the slave of him to whom he's told
A tale to which he can no longer hold.

"My son, beware and be not author new
Of tidings, whether they be false or true.
Where'er you come, among the high or low,
Guard well your tongue, and think upon the crow."

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why is Phoebus so angry at the crow?
  • how does he change the crow's color?
  • what change does he make to the crow's voice?

Source: The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Modern English translation (name of translator not given). Website: Litrix Reading Room

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM