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- Playful Poems - 4/35 -

Forgive it me; for Plato hath laid down, The word must suit according with the deed; Word is work's cousin-german, ye may read: I'm a plain man, and what I say is this: Wife high, wife low, if bad, both do amiss: But because one man's wench sitteth above, She shall be called his Lady and his Love; And because t'other's sitteth low and poor, She shall be called,--Well, well, I say no more; Only God knoweth, man, mine own dear brother, One wife is laid as low, just, as the other.

Right so betwixt a lawless, mighty chief And a rude outlaw, or an arrant thief, Knight arrant or thief arrant, all is one; Difference, as Alexander learnt, there's none; But for the chief is of the greater might, By force of numbers, to slay all outright, And burn, and waste, and make as flat as floor, Lo, therefore is he clept a conqueror; And for the other hath his numbers less, And cannot work such mischief and distress, Nor be by half so wicked as the chief, Men clepen him an outlaw and a thief.

However, I am no text-spinning man; So to my tale I go, as I began.

Now with her lemman is this Phoebus' wife; The crow he sayeth nothing, for his life; Caged hangeth he, and sayeth not a word; But when that home was come Phoebus the lord, He singeth out, and saith,--"Cuckoo! cuckoo!" "Hey!" crieth Phoebus, "here be something new; Thy song was wont to cheer me. What is this?" "By Jove!" quoth Corvus, "I sing not amiss. Phoebus," quoth he; "for all thy worthiness, For all thy beauty and all thy gentilesse, For all thy song and all thy minstrelsy, And all thy watching, bleared is thine eye; Yea, and by one no worthier than a gnat, Compared with him should boast to wear thine hat."

What would you more? the crow hath told him all; This woful god hath turned him to the wall To hide his tears: he thought 'twould burst his heart; He bent his bow, and set therein a dart, And in his ire he hath his wife yslain; He hath; he felt such anger and such pain; For sorrow of which he brake his minstrelsy, Both harp and lute, gittern and psaltery, And then he brake his arrows and his bow, And after that, thus spake he to the crow:-

"Traitor," quoth he, "behold what thou hast done; Made me the saddest wretch beneath the sun: Alas! why was I born! O dearest wife, Jewel of love and joy, my only life, That wert to me so steadfast and so true, There liest thou dead; why am not I so too? Full innocent thou wert, that durst I swear; O hasty hand, to bring me to despair! O troubled wit, O anger without thought, That unadvised smitest, and for nought: O heart of little faith, full of suspicion, Where was thy handsomeness and thy discretion? O every man, hold hastiness in loathing; Believe, without strong testimony, nothing; Smite not too soon, before ye well know why; And be advised well and soberly Before ye trust yourselves to the commission Of any ireful deed upon suspicion. Alas! a thousand folk hath hasty ire Foully foredone, and brought into the mire. Alas! I'll kill myself for misery."

And to the crow, "O thou false thief!" said he, I'll quit thee, all thy life, for thy false tale; Thou shalt no more sing like the nightingale, Nor shalt thou in those fair white feathers go, Thou silly thief, thou false, black-hearted crow; Nor shalt thou ever speak like man again; Thou shalt not have the power to give such pain; Nor shall thy race wear any coat but black, And ever shall their voices crone and crack And be a warning against wind and rain, In token that by thee my wife was slain."

So to the crow he started, like one mad, And tore out every feather that he had, And made him black, and reft him of his stores Of song and speech, and flung him out of doors Unto the devil; whence never come he back, Say I. Amen. And hence all crows are black.

Lordings, by this example I you pray Take heed, and be discreet in what you say; And above all, tell no man, for your life, How that another man hath kissed his wife. He'll hate you mortally; be sure of that; Dan Solomon, in teacher's chair that sat, Bade us keep all our tongues close as we can; But, as I said, I'm no text-spinning man, Only, I must say, thus taught me my dame; {26} My son, think on the crow in God his name; My son, keep well thy tongue, and keep thy friend; A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend; My son, a fiend's a thing for to keep down; My son, God in his great discretion Walled a tongue with teeth, and eke with lips, That man may think, before his speech out slips. A little speech spoken advisedly Brings none in trouble, speaking generally. My son, thy tongue thou always shouldst restrain, Save only at such times thou dost thy pain To speak of God in honour and in prayer; The chiefest virtue, son, is to beware How thou lett'st loose that endless thing, thy tongue; This every soul is taught, when he is young: My son, of muckle speaking ill-advised, And where a little speaking had sufficed, Com'th muckle harm. This was me told and taught, - In muckle speaking, sinning wanteth nought. Know'st thou for what a tongue that's hasty serveth? Right as a sword forecutteth and forecarveth An arm in two, my dear son, even so A tongue clean-cutteth friendship at a blow. A jangler is to God abominable: Read Solomon, so wise and honourable; Read David in his Psalms, read Seneca; My son, a nod is better than a say; Be deaf, when folk speak matter perilous; Small prate, sound pate,--guardeth the Fleming's house. My son, if thou no wicked word hast spoken, Thou never needest fear a pate ybroken; But he that hath missaid, I dare well say, His fingers shall find blood thereon, some day. Thing that is said, is said; it may not back Be called, for all your "Las!" and your "Alack!" And he is that man's thrall to whom 'twas said; Cometh the bond some day, and will be paid. My son, beware, and be no author new Of tidings, whether they be false or true: Go wheresoe'er thou wilt, 'mongst high or low, Keep well thy tongue, and think upon the crow.



1. Now when the Prioress had done, each man So serious looked, 'twas wonderful to see! Till our good host to banter us began, And then at last he cast his eyes on me, And jeering said, "What man art thou?" quoth he, "That lookest down as thou wouldst find a hare, For ever upon the ground I see thee stare.

2. "Approach me near, and look up merrily! Now make way, sirs! and let this man have place. He in the waist is shaped as well as I: This were a poppet in an arm's embrace, For any woman, small and fair of face. He seemeth elf-like by his countenance, For with no wight holdeth he dalliance.

3. "Say somewhat now, since other folks have said; Tell us a tale o' mirth, and that anon." "Host," quoth I then, "be not so far misled, For other tales except this know I none; A little rime I learned in years agone." "Ah! that is well," quoth he; "now we shall hear Some dainty thing, methinketh, by thy cheer."



1. Listen, lordlings, in good intent, And I will tell you verament Of mirth and chivalry, About a knight on glory bent, In battle and in tournament; Sir Thopas named was he.

2. And he was born in a far countrey, In Flanders, all beyond the sea, At Popering in the place;

Playful Poems - 4/35

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