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- Playful Poems - 3/35 -


I know not why, that I would rather sleep Than drink of the best gallon-wine in Cheap."

"Well," quoth the Manciple, "if it might ease Thine head, Sir Cook, and also none displease Of all here riding in this company, And mine host grant it, I would pass thee by, Till thou art better, and so tell MY tale; For in good faith thy visage is full pale; Thine eyes grow dull, methinks; and sure I am, Thy breath resembleth not sweet marjoram, Which showeth thou canst utter no good matter: Nay, thou mayst frown forsooth, but I'll not flatter. See, how he gapeth, lo! this drunken wight; He'll swallow us all up before he'll bite; Hold close thy mouth, man, by thy father's kin; The fiend himself now set his foot therein, And stop it up, for 'twill infect us all; Fie, hog; fie, pigsty; foul thy grunt befall. Ah--see, he bolteth! there, sirs, was a swing; Take heed--he's bent on tilting at the ring: He's the shape, isn't he? to tilt and ride! Eh, you mad fool! go to your straw, and hide."

Now with this speech the cook for rage grew black, And would have stormed, but could not speak, alack! So mumbling something, from his horse fell he, And where he fell, there lay he patiently, Till pity on his shame his fellows took. Here was a pretty horseman of a cook! Alas! that he had held not by his ladle! And ere again they got him on his saddle, There was a mighty shoving to and fro To lift him up, and muckle care and woe, So heavy was this carcase of a ghost. Then to the Manciple thus spake our host:- "Since drink upon this man hath domination, By nails! and as I reckon my salvation, I trow he would have told a sorry tale; For whether it be wine, or it be ale, That he hath drank, he speaketh through the nose, And sneezeth much, and he hath got the POSE, {19} And also hath given us business enow To keep him on his horse, out of the slough; He'll fall again, if he be driven to speak, And then, where are we, for a second week? Why, lifting up his heavy drunken corse! Tell on thy tale, and look we to his horse. Yet, Manciple, in faith thou art too nice Thus openly to chafe him for his vice. Perchance some day he'll do as much for thee, And bring thy baker's bills in jeopardy, Thy black jacks also, and thy butcher's matters, And whether they square nicely with thy platters."

"Mine," quoth the Manciple, "were then the mire! Much rather would I pay his horse's hire, And that will be no trifle, mud and all, Than risk the peril of so sharp a fall. I did but jest. Score not, ye'll be not scored. And guess ye what? I have here, in my gourd, A draught of wine, better was never tasted, And with this cook's ladle will I be basted, If he don't drink of it, right lustily. Upon my life he'll not say nay. Now see.

And true it was, the cook drank fast enough; Down went the drink out of the gourd, FLUFF, FLUFF: Alas! the man had had enough before: And then, betwixt a trumpet and a snore, His nose said something,--grace for what he had; And of that drink the cook was wondrous glad.

Our host nigh burst with laughter at the sight, And sighed and wiped his eyes for pure delight, And said, "Well, I perceive it's necessary, Where'er we go, good wine with us to carry. What needeth in this world more strifes befall? Good wine's the doctor to appease them all. O, Bacchus, Bacchus! blessed be thy name, That thus canst turn our earnest into game. Worship and thanks be to thy deity. So on this head ye get no more from me. Tell on thy tale, Manciple, I thee pray."

"Well, sire," quoth he, "now hark to what I say."

THE MANCIPLE'S TALE OF PHOEBUS AND THE CROW.

When Phoebus dwelt with men, in days of yore, He was the very lustiest bachelor Of all the world; and shot in the best bow. 'Twas he, as the old books of stories show, That shot the serpent Python, as he lay Sleeping against the sun, upon a day: And many another noble worthy deed He did with that same bow, as men may read.

He played all kinds of music: and so clear His singing was, and such a heaven to hear, Men might not speak during his madrigal. Amphion, king of Thebes, that put a wall About the city with his melody, Certainly sang not half so well as he. And add to this, he was the seemliest man That is, or has been, since the world began. What needs describe his beauty? since there's none With which to make the least comparison. In brief, he was the flower of gentilesse, {21} Of honour, and of perfect worthiness: And yet, take note, for all this mastery, This Phoebus was of cheer so frank and free, That for his sport, and to commend the glory He gat him o'er the snake (so runs the story), He used to carry in his hand a bow.

Now this same god had in his house a crow, Which in a cage he fostered many a day, And taught to speak, as folks will teach a jay. White was the crow; as is a snow-white swan, And could repeat a tale told by a man, And sing. No nightingale, down in a dell, Could sing one-hundred-thousandth part so well.

Now had this Phoebus in his house a wife Which that he loved beyond his very life: And night and day did all his diligence To please her well, and do her reverence; Save only, to speak truly, inter nos, Jealous he was, and would have kept her close: He wished not to be treated monstrously: Neither does any man, no more than he; Only to hinder wives, it serveth nought; - A good wife, that is clean of work and thought, No man would dream of hindering such a way. And just as bootless is it, night or day, Hindering a shrew; for it will never be. I hold it for a very foppery, Labour in vain, this toil to hinder wives, Old writers always say so, in their Lives.

But to my story, as it first began. This worthy Phoebus doeth all he can To please his wife, in hope, so pleasing her, That she, for her part, would herself bestir Discreetly, so as not to lose his grace; But, Lord he knows, there's no man shall embrace A thing so close, as to restrain what Nature Hath naturally set in any creature.

Take any bird, and put it in a cage, And do thy best and utmost to engage The bird to love it; give it meat and drink, And every dainty housewives can bethink, And keep the cage as cleanly as you may, And let it be with gilt never so gay, Yet had this bird, by twenty-thousand-fold, Rather be in a forest wild and cold, And feed on worms and suchlike wretchedness; Yea, ever will he tax his whole address To get out of the cage when that he may:- His liberty the bird desireth aye.

So, take a cat, and foster her with milk And tender meat, and make her bed of silk, Yet let her see a mouse go by the wall, The devil may take, for her, silk, milk, and all, And every dainty that is in the house; Such appetite hath she to eat the mouse. Lo, here hath Nature plainly domination, And appetite renounceth education.

A she-wolf likewise hath a villain's kind: The worst and roughest wolf that she can find, Or least of reputation, will she wed, When the time comes to make her marriage-bed.

But misinterpret not my speech, I pray; All this of men, not women, do I say; For men it is, that come and spoil the lives Of such, as but for them, would make good wives. They leave their own wives, be they never so fair, Never so true, never so debonair, And take the lowest they may find, for change. Flesh, the fiend take it, is so given to range, It never will continue, long together, Contented with good, steady, virtuous weather.

This Phoebus, while on nothing ill thought he, Jilted he was, for all his jollity; For under him, his wife, at her heart's-root, Another had, a man of small repute, Not worth a blink of Phoebus; more's the pity; Too oft it falleth so, in court and city. This wife, when Phoebus was from home one day, Sent for her lemman then, without delay. Her lemman!--a plain word, I needs must own;


Playful Poems - 3/35

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