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- The Canterbury Tales - 90/183 -


That ravished'st down from the deity, Through thy humbless, the ghost that in thee light; <4> Of whose virtue, when he thine hearte light,* *lightened, gladdened Conceived was the Father's sapience; Help me to tell it to thy reverence.

Lady! thy bounty, thy magnificence, Thy virtue, and thy great humility, There may no tongue express in no science: For sometimes, Lady! ere men pray to thee, Thou go'st before, of thy benignity, And gettest us the light, through thy prayere, To guiden us unto thy son so dear.

My conning* is so weak, O blissful queen, *skill, ability For to declare thy great worthiness, That I not may the weight of it sustene; But as a child of twelvemonth old, or less, That can unnethes* any word express, *scarcely Right so fare I; and therefore, I you pray, Guide my song that I shall of you say.

There was in Asia, in a great city, Amonges Christian folk, a Jewery,<5> Sustained by a lord of that country, For foul usure, and lucre of villainy, Hateful to Christ, and to his company; And through the street men mighte ride and wend,* *go, walk For it was free, and open at each end.

A little school of Christian folk there stood Down at the farther end, in which there were Children an heap y-come of Christian blood, That learned in that schoole year by year Such manner doctrine as men used there; This is to say, to singen and to read, As smalle children do in their childhead.

Among these children was a widow's son, A little clergion,* seven year of age, *young clerk or scholar That day by day to scholay* was his won,** *study **wont And eke also, whereso he saw th' image Of Christe's mother, had he in usage, As him was taught, to kneel adown, and say Ave Maria as he went by the way.

Thus had this widow her little son y-taught Our blissful Lady, Christe's mother dear, To worship aye, and he forgot it not; For sely* child will always soone lear.** *innocent **learn But aye when I remember on this mattere, Saint Nicholas <6> stands ever in my presence; For he so young to Christ did reverence.

This little child his little book learning, As he sat in the school at his primere, He Alma redemptoris <7> hearde sing, As children learned their antiphonere; <8> And as he durst, he drew him nere and nere,* *nearer And hearken'd aye the wordes and the note, Till he the firste verse knew all by rote.

Nought wist he what this Latin was tosay,* *meant For he so young and tender was of age; But on a day his fellow gan he pray To expound him this song in his language, Or tell him why this song was in usage: This pray'd he him to construe and declare, Full oftentime upon his knees bare.

His fellow, which that elder was than he, Answer'd him thus: "This song, I have heard say, Was maked of our blissful Lady free, Her to salute, and eke her to pray To be our help and succour when we dey.* *die I can no more expound in this mattere: I learne song, I know but small grammere."

"And is this song y-made in reverence Of Christe's mother?" said this innocent; Now certes I will do my diligence To conne* it all, ere Christemas be went; *learn; con Though that I for my primer shall be shent,* *disgraced And shall be beaten thries in an hour, I will it conne, our Lady to honour."

His fellow taught him homeward* privily *on the way home From day to day, till he coud* it by rote, *knew And then he sang it well and boldely From word to word according with the note; Twice in a day it passed through his throat; To schoole-ward, and homeward when he went; On Christ's mother was set all 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, O Alma redemptoris, evermo'; The sweetness hath his hearte pierced so Of Christe's mother, that to her to pray He cannot stint* of singing by the way. *cease

Our firste foe, the serpent Satanas, That hath in Jewes' heart his waspe's nest, Upswell'd and said, "O Hebrew people, alas! Is this to you a thing that is honest,* *creditable, becoming That such a boy shall walken as him lest In your despite, and sing of such sentence, Which is against your lawe's reverence?"

From thenceforth the Jewes have conspired This innocent out of the world to chase; A homicide thereto have they hired, That in an alley had a privy place, And, as the child gan forth by for to pace, This cursed Jew him hent,* and held him fast *seized And cut his throat, and in a pit him cast.

I say that in a wardrobe* he him threw, *privy Where as the Jewes purged their entrail. O cursed folk! O Herodes all new! What may your evil intente you avail? Murder will out, certain it will not fail, And namely* where th' honour of God shall spread; *especially The blood out crieth on your cursed deed.

O martyr souded* to virginity, *confirmed <9> Now may'st thou sing, and follow ever-in-one* *continually The white Lamb celestial (quoth she), Of which the great Evangelist Saint John In Patmos wrote, which saith that they that gon Before this Lamb, and sing a song all new, That never fleshly woman they ne knew.<10>

This poore widow waited all that night After her little child, but he came not; For which, as soon as it was daye's light, With face pale, in dread and busy thought, She hath at school and elleswhere him sought, Till finally she gan so far espy, That he was last seen in the Jewery.

With mother's pity in her breast enclosed, She went, 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 Christ's mother meek and kind She cried, and at the laste thus she wrought, Among the cursed Jewes she him sought.

She freined,* and she prayed piteously *asked* <11> To every Jew that dwelled in that place, To tell her, if her childe went thereby; They saide, "Nay;" but Jesus of his grace Gave in her thought, within a little space, That in that place after her son she cried, Where he was cast into a pit beside.

O greate God, that preformest thy laud By mouth of innocents, lo here thy might! This gem of chastity, this emeraud,* *emerald And eke of martyrdom the ruby bright, Where he with throat y-carven* lay upright, *cut He Alma Redemptoris gan to sing So loud, that all the place began to ring.

The Christian folk, that through the streete went, In came, for to wonder on this thing: And hastily they for the provost sent. He came anon withoute tarrying, And heried* Christ, that is of heaven king, *praised And eke his mother, honour of mankind; And after that the Jewes let* he bind. *caused

With torment, and with shameful death each one The provost did* these Jewes for to sterve** *caused **die That of this murder wist, and that anon; He woulde no such cursedness observe* *overlook Evil shall have that evil will deserve; Therefore with horses wild he did them draw, And after that he hung them by the law.

The child, with piteous lamentation, Was taken up, singing his song alway: And with honour and great procession, They crry him unto the next abbay. His mother swooning by the biere lay; Unnethes* might the people that were there *scarcely This newe Rachel bringe from his bier.

Upon his biere lay this innocent Before the altar while the masses last';* *lasted 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 sprinkled was the water, And sang, O Alma redemptoris mater!

This abbot, which that was a holy man, As monkes be, or elles ought to be,


The Canterbury Tales - 90/183

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