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From The Canterbury Tales. If the Middle English seems daunting, mouseover or click the unfamiliar words. Follows The Prioress' Prologue.

There was in Asie in a greet citee,
Amonges Christen folk, a Jewerye,
Sustened by a lord of that contree
For foul usure and lucre of villainye
Hateful to Christ and to his compaignye
And thurgh the streete men might ride and wende,
For it was free and open at either ende.

A litel scole of Christen folk there stood
Down at the ferther end, in which there were
Children an heep, y-comen of Christen blood,
That lerned in that scole yeer by yeere
Swich manner doctrine as men used there;
This is to sayn, to singen and to rede,
As smalle children doon in her childhede.

Among thise children was a widow's sone,
A litel clergeon seven yeer of age,
That day by day to scole was his wone;
And eek also, where as he saw th'image
Of Christes moder, had he in usage,
As him was taught, to kneel adown and saye
His Ave Marie as he goth by the waye.

Thus hath this widwe hir litel son y-taught
Our blissful Lady, Christes moder dere,
To worship ay; and he forgat it naught,
For sely child wol alday soone lere.
But ay whan I remembre on this mattere,
Saint Nicholas stant ever in my presence,
For he so yong to Christ did reverence.

This litel child his litel book lerninge,
As he sat in the scole at his primer,
He Alma redemptoris herde singe,
As children lerned hir antiphoner;
And as he dorst, he drow him neer and neer,
Till he the firste verse koud all by rote.

Nought wist he what this Latin was to saye,
For he so yong and tender was of age;
But on a day his fellaw gan he praye
T'expounden him this song in his langage,
Or tell him why this song was in usage--
This prayed he him to construen and declare,
Full ofte time upon his knowes bare.

His fellaw, which that elder was than he,
Answered him thus: "This song, I have herd saye,
Was maked of our blissful Lady free,
Hir to salue, and eek hir for to praye
To been our help and succour whan we deye.
I can namore expound in this mattere.
I lerne song; I kan but small grammere."

"And is this song maked in reverence
Of Christes moder?" said this innocent.
"Now certes I wol do my diligence
To kon it all ere Christmas is went.
Though that I for my primer shall be shent
And shall be beten thries in an houre,
I wol it kon Our Lady for t'honoure."

His fellaw taught him homeward prively,
Fro day to day, till he koud it by rote.
And than he song it well and boldely,
Fro word to word, according with the note.
Twies a day it passed thurgh his throte--
To scoleward and homeward whan he wente;
On Christes moder set was his entente.

As I have said, thurghout the Jewerye
This litel child, as he came to and fro,
Full murrily wolde he sing and crye
O alma redemptoris evere mo.
The sweetness hath his herte perced so
Of Christes moder, that to hir to praye
He can not stint of singing by the waye.

Our firste foe, the serpent Sathanas,
That hath in Jewes' hert his waspes nest,
Up swal, and said: "O Hebraic peple, alas!
Is this to you a thing that is honest,
That swich a boy shall walken as him lest
In your despite, and sing of swich sentence,
Which is agains our lawes reverence?"

Fro thennes forth the Jewes han conspired
This innocent out of the world to chase,
An homicide thereto han they hired
That in an alley had a privee place.
And as the child gan forby to pace,
This cursed Jewhim hent and held him faste,
And kit his throt, and in a pit him caste.

I say that in a wardrobe they him threwe,
Where as thise Jewes purgen hir entraile,
O cursed folk of Herodes all newe,
What may your yvel entente you availe?
Murder wol out, certain it wol not faile!
And namely ther th'honour of God shall sprede,
The blood out cryeth on your cursed deede!

O martyr souded to virginitee,
Now maistou singen, follwing ever in oon
The White Lamb celestial (quod she)
Of which the greet evangelist Saint John
In Pathmos wrote--which saith that they that gon
Biforn this Lamb and sing a song all newe,
That never fleshly women they ne knewe.

This poore widwe awaiteth all that night
After hir litel child, but he came nought.
For which, as soon as it was dayes light,
With face pale of drede and bisy thought
She hath at scole and elleswhere him sought;
Till finally she gan so fer espye,
That he last seen was in the Jewerye.

With modres pitee in hir brest enclosed
She goth, as she were half out of hir minde,
To every place where she hath supposed
By likliheed hir litel child to finde.
And ever on Christes moder, meek and kinde,
She cried--and at the laste thus she wroughte:
Among the cursed Jewes she him soughte.

She fraineth and she prayeth pitously
To every Jew that dwelt in thilke place
To tell hir if hir child went ought forby.
They saide nay; but Jesu of his grace
Yaf in hir thought, inwith a litel space,
That in that place after hir son she cride
Where he was casten in a pit beside.

O grete God, that parfourmest thy laude
By mouth of innocents, lo, here thy might!
This gem of chastitee, this emeraude,
And eek of martyrdom the ruby bright,
Ther he with throt y-corven lay upright
He Alma redemptoris gan to singe
So loud that all the place gan to ringe!

The Christen folk that thurgh the streete wente
In comen for to wonder upon this thing,
And hastily they for the Provost sente,
He came anon, withouten tarrying,
And herieth Christ, that is of hevene king,
And eek his moder, honour of mankinde,
And after that the Jewes let he binde.

This child with pitous lamentacioun
Up taken was, singing his song alway;
And with honour of greet processioun
They carryen him unto the next abbay.
His moder swouning by his beere lay:
Unnethe might the peple that was there
This newe Rachel bringen fro his beere.

With torment and with shameful deeth echon
The Provost doth thise Jewes for to sterve
That of this murder wist, and that anon.
He nolde no swich cursedness observe:
"Yvel shall have that yvel wol deserve!"
Therefore with wilde horse he did hem drawe;
And after that he heng hem by the lawe.

Upon his beer ay lith this innocent
Biforn the chief auter, while the mass laste;
And after that the abbot with his covent
Han sped hem for to buryen him full faste;
And whan they holy water on him caste
And song O alma redemptoris mater.

This abbot which that was an holy man,
As monkes been--or elles oughten be--
This yonge child to conjure he began
And said, "O dere child, I halse thee,
In vertu of the Holy Trinitee,
Tell me what is thy cause for to singe,
Sith that thy throt is cut, to my seeminge."

"My throt is cut unto my necke-bon,"
Saide this child, "and as by way of kinde
I shold have died, ye, long time agon.
But Jesu Christ, as ye in bookes finde,
Will that his glory last and be in minde;
And for the worship of his moder dere
Yet may I sing O alma loud and clere.

This well of mercy, Christes moder sweete,
I loved alway as after my konninge;
And whan that I my life sholde forlete
To me she came, and bade me for to singe
This anthem veraily in my deyinge,
As ye han herd, And whan that I had songe,
Me thought she laid a grain upon my tonge.

Wherefore I sing and singe mot, certain,
In honour of that blissful maiden free,
Till fro my tonge off taken is the grain;
And after that thus saide she to me,
`My litel child, now will I fetche thee
Whan that the grain is fro thy tonge y-take.
Be not aghast, I wol thee not forsake.'

This holy monk, this abbot, him mene I,
His tonge out caught, and took away the grain;
And he yaf up the ghost full softely.
And whan this abbot had this wonder seen,
His salte teres trickled down as rain
And gruf he fill all plat upon the grounde,
And still he lay as he had been y-bounde.

The covent eek lay on the pavement
Weeping, and herying Christes moder dere.
And after that they rise and forth been went,
And took away this martyr from his beere.
And in a tomb of marblestones cleere
Enclosen they his litel body sweete,
There he is now--God leve us for to meete!

O yonge Hugh of Lincoln, slain also
With cursed Jewes, as it is notable
(For it is but a litel while ago)
Pray eek for us, we sinful folk unstable,
That of his mercy God so merciable
On us his greete mercy multiplye,
For reverence of his moder Marie. Amen.

The prologue to the prioress’ tale is short. She praises the Trinity and the Virgin Mary, whom her tale involves.

True to her form, as a nun, the prioress’ tale is a miracle story about a 7 year old boy and the Virgin Mary. In a Christian city in Asia, where the Jews were kept in one quarter and the Christian’s everywhere else, there was a small Christian school. A boy at that school had been told from birth to honor the Virgin Mary, and to fall to his knees when he saw her image. One day at school he heard a group of older boys singing Almer redemptoris (Mother of our redeemer), a latin hymn praising the Virgin. When he learns that the song is in praise of the Virgin, he, with the aid of an older boy, learns the song in it’s entirety. Quite taken with this new form of praise he can send to the Virgin, he sings the song constantly, even through the Jewish quarter. The Jews, believing he is singing the song to mock their religion, hire an assassin to kill him. The assassin follows the boy into an alley, slits his throat, and throws him into the gutter. The boy’s mother, a widow, stays up all night waiting for her son, and when he doesn’t return she goes out looking for him, even asking the Jews if they have seen him. The Jews all deny having seen him, but Jesus appears to her and guides her to the gutter where her son is lying. He is not dead, though, by the grace of Mary he is still singing Almer redemptoris, incessantly. When he is brought to a priest, the priest asks how he can continue singing with his throat slit. The boy explains that the Virgin placed a pearl on his tongue, such that he will keep singing until the pearl is removed. The priest removes the pearl, and the boy dies peacefully.

Obviously this is a miracle tale, with both the boy’s miracle and Jesus helping the widow find her son. This should be expected, the teller is a devout nun, and doubtless will incorporate religion or miracles into any tale she should tell. The main character is the boy, although the Virgin plays an extensive role in the tale, indirectly. Every action on the boy’s part is brought on by his adoration for the Virgin, perhaps an adoration shared by the Prioress telling the story. The Prioress’ point to this story is that praising the Trinity and the Virgin is more important even than life, an opinion she probably fervently believed.

Done in accordance with node your homework. I haven't even gotten a grade on this yet.

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