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The Reeves Tale

Written by: Geoffrey Chaucer | Biography
 | Quotes (21) |
 THE PROLOGUE.
WHEN folk had laughed all at this nice case Of Absolon and Hendy Nicholas, Diverse folk diversely they said, But for the more part they laugh'd and play'd;* *were diverted And at this tale I saw no man him grieve, But it were only Osewold the Reeve.
Because he was of carpenteres craft, A little ire is in his hearte laft*; *left He gan to grudge* and blamed it a lite.
** *murmur **little.
"So the* I," quoth he, "full well could I him quite** *thrive **match With blearing* of a proude miller's eye, *dimming <1> If that me list to speak of ribaldry.
But I am old; me list not play for age; <2> Grass time is done, my fodder is now forage.
This white top* writeth mine olde years; *head Mine heart is also moulded* as mine hairs; *grown mouldy And I do fare as doth an open-erse*; *medlar <3> That ilke* fruit is ever longer werse, *same Till it be rotten *in mullok or in stre*.
*on the ground or in straw* We olde men, I dread, so fare we; Till we be rotten, can we not be ripe; We hop* away, while that the world will pipe; *dance For in our will there sticketh aye a nail, To have an hoary head and a green tail, As hath a leek; for though our might be gone, Our will desireth folly ever-in-one*: *continually For when we may not do, then will we speak, Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek.
* *smoke<4> Four gledes* have we, which I shall devise**, *coals ** describe Vaunting, and lying, anger, covetise*.
*covetousness These foure sparks belongen unto eld.
Our olde limbes well may be unweld*, *unwieldy But will shall never fail us, that is sooth.
And yet have I alway a coltes tooth,<5> As many a year as it is passed and gone Since that my tap of life began to run; For sickerly*, when I was born, anon *certainly Death drew the tap of life, and let it gon: And ever since hath so the tap y-run, Till that almost all empty is the tun.
The stream of life now droppeth on the chimb.
<6> The silly tongue well may ring and chime Of wretchedness, that passed is full yore*: *long With olde folk, save dotage, is no more.
<7> When that our Host had heard this sermoning, He gan to speak as lordly as a king, And said; "To what amounteth all this wit? What? shall we speak all day of holy writ? The devil made a Reeve for to preach, As of a souter* a shipman, or a leach**.
*cobbler <8> Say forth thy tale, and tarry not the time: **surgeon <9> Lo here is Deptford, and 'tis half past prime:<10> Lo Greenwich, where many a shrew is in.
It were high time thy tale to begin.
" "Now, sirs," quoth then this Osewold the Reeve, I pray you all that none of you do grieve, Though I answer, and somewhat set his hove*, *hood <11> For lawful is *force off with force to shove.
* *to repel force This drunken miller hath y-told us here by force* How that beguiled was a carpentere, Paraventure* in scorn, for I am one: *perhaps And, by your leave, I shall him quite anon.
Right in his churlish termes will I speak, I pray to God his necke might to-break.
He can well in mine eye see a stalk, But in his own he cannot see a balk.
"<12> Notes to the Prologue to the Reeves Tale.
1.
"With blearing of a proude miller's eye": dimming his eye; playing off a joke on him.
2.
"Me list not play for age": age takes away my zest for drollery.
3.
The medlar, the fruit of the mespilus tree, is only edible when rotten.
4.
Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek: "ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires.
" 5.
A colt's tooth; a wanton humour, a relish for pleasure.
6.
Chimb: The rim of a barrel where the staves project beyond the head.
7.
With olde folk, save dotage, is no more: Dotage is all that is left them; that is, they can only dwell fondly, dote, on the past.
8.
Souter: cobbler; Scottice, "sutor;"' from Latin, "suere," to sew.
9.
"Ex sutore medicus" (a surgeon from a cobbler) and "ex sutore nauclerus" (a seaman or pilot from a cobbler) were both proverbial expressions in the Middle Ages.
10.
Half past prime: half-way between prime and tierce; about half-past seven in the morning.
11.
Set his hove; like "set their caps;" as in the description of the Manciple in the Prologue, who "set their aller cap".
"Hove" or "houfe," means "hood;" and the phrase signifies to be even with, outwit.
12.
The illustration of the mote and the beam, from Matthew.
THE TALE.
<1> At Trompington, not far from Cantebrig,* *Cambridge There goes a brook, and over that a brig, Upon the whiche brook there stands a mill: And this is *very sooth* that I you tell.
*complete truth* A miller was there dwelling many a day, As any peacock he was proud and gay: Pipen he could, and fish, and nettes bete*, *prepare And turne cups, and wrestle well, and shete*.
*shoot Aye by his belt he bare a long pavade*, *poniard And of his sword full trenchant was the blade.
A jolly popper* bare he in his pouch; *dagger There was no man for peril durst him touch.
A Sheffield whittle* bare he in his hose.
*small knife Round was his face, and camuse* was his nose.
*flat <2> As pilled* as an ape's was his skull.
*peeled, bald.
He was a market-beter* at the full.
*brawler There durste no wight hand upon him legge*, *lay That he ne swore anon he should abegge*.
*suffer the penalty A thief he was, for sooth, of corn and meal, And that a sly, and used well to steal.
His name was *hoten deinous Simekin* *called "Disdainful Simkin"* A wife he hadde, come of noble kin: The parson of the town her father was.
With her he gave full many a pan of brass, For that Simkin should in his blood ally.
She was y-foster'd in a nunnery: For Simkin woulde no wife, as he said, But she were well y-nourish'd, and a maid, To saven his estate and yeomanry: And she was proud, and pert as is a pie*.
*magpie A full fair sight it was to see them two; On holy days before her would he go With his tippet* y-bound about his head; *hood And she came after in a gite* of red, *gown <3> And Simkin hadde hosen of the same.
There durste no wight call her aught but Dame: None was so hardy, walking by that way, That with her either durste *rage or play*, *use freedom* *But if* he would be slain by Simekin *unless With pavade, or with knife, or bodekin.
For jealous folk be per'lous evermo': Algate* they would their wives *wende so*.
*unless *so behave* And eke for she was somewhat smutterlich*, *dirty She was as dign* as water in a ditch, *nasty And all so full of hoker*, and bismare**.
*ill-nature **abusive speech Her thoughte that a lady should her spare*, *not judge her hardly What for her kindred, and her nortelrie* *nurturing, education That she had learned in the nunnery.
One daughter hadde they betwixt them two Of twenty year, withouten any mo, Saving a child that was of half year age, In cradle it lay, and was a proper page.
* *boy This wenche thick and well y-growen was, With camuse* nose, and eyen gray as glass; *flat With buttocks broad, and breastes round and high; But right fair was her hair, I will not lie.
The parson of the town, for she was fair, In purpose was to make of her his heir Both of his chattels and his messuage, And *strange he made it* of her marriage.
*he made it a matter His purpose was for to bestow her high of difficulty* Into some worthy blood of ancestry.
For holy Church's good may be dispended* *spent On holy Church's blood that is descended.
Therefore he would his holy blood honour Though that he holy Churche should devour.
Great soken* hath this miller, out of doubt, *toll taken for grinding With wheat and malt, of all the land about; And namely* there was a great college *especially Men call the Soler Hall at Cantebrege,<4> There was their wheat and eke their malt y-ground.
And on a day it happed in a stound*, *suddenly Sick lay the manciple* of a malady, *steward <5> Men *weened wisly* that he shoulde die.
*thought certainly* For which this miller stole both meal and corn An hundred times more than beforn.
For theretofore he stole but courteously, But now he was a thief outrageously.
For which the warden chid and made fare*, *fuss But thereof *set the miller not a tare*; *he cared not a rush* He *crack'd his boast,* and swore it was not so.
*talked big* Then were there younge poore scholars two, That dwelled in the hall of which I say; Testif* they were, and lusty for to play; *headstrong <6> And only for their mirth and revelry Upon the warden busily they cry, To give them leave for but a *little stound*, *short time* To go to mill, and see their corn y-ground: And hardily* they durste lay their neck, *boldly The miller should not steal them half a peck Of corn by sleight, nor them by force bereave* *take away And at the last the warden give them leave: John hight the one, and Alein hight the other, Of one town were they born, that highte Strother,<7> Far in the North, I cannot tell you where.
This Alein he made ready all his gear, And on a horse the sack he cast anon: Forth went Alein the clerk, and also John, With good sword and with buckler by their side.
John knew the way, him needed not no guide, And at the mill the sack adown he lay'th.
Alein spake first; "All hail, Simon, in faith, How fares thy faire daughter, and thy wife.
" "Alein, welcome," quoth Simkin, "by my life, And John also: how now, what do ye here?" "By God, Simon," quoth John, "need has no peer*.
*equal Him serve himself behoves that has no swain*, *servant Or else he is a fool, as clerkes sayn.
Our manciple I hope* he will be dead, *expect So workes aye the wanges* in his head: *cheek-teeth <8> And therefore is I come, and eke Alein, To grind our corn and carry it home again: I pray you speed us hence as well ye may.
" "It shall be done," quoth Simkin, "by my fay.
What will ye do while that it is in hand?" "By God, right by the hopper will I stand," Quoth John, "and see how that the corn goes in.
Yet saw I never, by my father's kin, How that the hopper wagges to and fro.
" Alein answered, "John, and wilt thou so? Then will I be beneathe, by my crown, And see how that the meale falls adown Into the trough, that shall be my disport*: *amusement For, John, in faith I may be of your sort; I is as ill a miller as is ye.
" This miller smiled at their nicety*, *simplicity And thought, "All this is done but for a wile.
They weenen* that no man may them beguile, *think But by my thrift yet shall I blear their eye,<9> For all the sleight in their philosophy.
The more *quainte knackes* that they make, *odd little tricks* The more will I steal when that I take.
Instead of flour yet will I give them bren*.
*bran The greatest clerks are not the wisest men, As whilom to the wolf thus spake the mare: <10> Of all their art ne count I not a tare.
" Out at the door he went full privily, When that he saw his time, softely.
He looked up and down, until he found The clerkes' horse, there as he stood y-bound Behind the mill, under a levesell:* *arbour<11> And to the horse he went him fair and well, And stripped off the bridle right anon.
And when the horse was loose, he gan to gon Toward the fen, where wilde mares run, Forth, with "Wehee!" through thick and eke through thin.
This miller went again, no word he said, But did his note*, and with these clerkes play'd, *business <12> Till that their corn was fair and well y-ground.
And when the meal was sacked and y-bound, Then John went out, and found his horse away, And gan to cry, "Harow, and well-away! Our horse is lost: Alein, for Godde's bones, Step on thy feet; come off, man, all at once: Alas! our warden has his palfrey lorn.
*" *lost This Alein all forgot, both meal and corn; All was out of his mind his husbandry*.
*careful watch over "What, which way is he gone?" he gan to cry.
the corn* The wife came leaping inward at a renne*, *run She said; "Alas! your horse went to the fen With wilde mares, as fast as he could go.
Unthank* come on his hand that bound him so *ill luck, a curse And his that better should have knit the rein.
" "Alas!" quoth John, "Alein, for Christes pain Lay down thy sword, and I shall mine also.
I is full wight*, God wate**, as is a roe.
*swift **knows By Godde's soul he shall not scape us bathe*.
*both <13> Why n' had thou put the capel* in the lathe**? *horse<14> **barn Ill hail, Alein, by God thou is a fonne.
*" *fool These silly clerkes have full fast y-run Toward the fen, both Alein and eke John; And when the miller saw that they were gone, He half a bushel of their flour did take, And bade his wife go knead it in a cake.
He said; I trow, the clerkes were afeard, Yet can a miller *make a clerkes beard,* *cheat a scholar* <15> For all his art: yea, let them go their way! Lo where they go! yea, let the children play: They get him not so lightly, by my crown.
" These silly clerkes runnen up and down With "Keep, keep; stand, stand; jossa*, warderere.
*turn Go whistle thou, and I shall keep* him here.
" *catch But shortly, till that it was very night They coulde not, though they did all their might, Their capel catch, he ran alway so fast: Till in a ditch they caught him at the last.
Weary and wet, as beastes in the rain, Comes silly John, and with him comes Alein.
"Alas," quoth John, "the day that I was born! Now are we driv'n till hething* and till scorn.
*mockery Our corn is stol'n, men will us fonnes* call, *fools Both the warden, and eke our fellows all, And namely* the miller, well-away!" *especially Thus plained John, as he went by the way Toward the mill, and Bayard* in his hand.
*the bay horse The miller sitting by the fire he fand*.
*found For it was night, and forther* might they not, *go their way But for the love of God they him besought Of herberow* and ease, for their penny.
*lodging The miller said again," If there be any, Such as it is, yet shall ye have your part.
Mine house is strait, but ye have learned art; Ye can by arguments maken a place A mile broad, of twenty foot of space.
Let see now if this place may suffice, Or make it room with speech, as is your guise.
*" *fashion "Now, Simon," said this John, "by Saint Cuthberd Aye is thou merry, and that is fair answer'd.
I have heard say, man shall take of two things, Such as he findes, or such as he brings.
But specially I pray thee, hoste dear, Gar <16> us have meat and drink, and make us cheer, And we shall pay thee truly at the full: With empty hand men may not hawkes tull*.
*allure Lo here our silver ready for to spend.
" This miller to the town his daughter send For ale and bread, and roasted them a goose, And bound their horse, he should no more go loose: And them in his own chamber made a bed.
With sheetes and with chalons* fair y-spread, *blankets<17> Not from his owen bed ten foot or twelve: His daughter had a bed all by herselve, Right in the same chamber *by and by*: *side by side* It might no better be, and cause why, There was no *roomer herberow* in the place.
*roomier lodging* They suppen, and they speaken of solace, And drinken ever strong ale at the best.
Aboute midnight went they all to rest.
Well had this miller varnished his head; Full pale he was, fordrunken, and *nought red*.
*without his wits* He yoxed*, and he spake thorough the nose, *hiccuped As he were in the quakke*, or in the pose**.
*grunting **catarrh To bed he went, and with him went his wife, As any jay she light was and jolife,* *jolly So was her jolly whistle well y-wet.
The cradle at her beddes feet was set, To rock, and eke to give the child to suck.
And when that drunken was all in the crock* *pitcher<18> To bedde went the daughter right anon, To bedde went Alein, and also John.
There was no more; needed them no dwale.
<19> This miller had, so wisly* bibbed ale, *certainly That as a horse he snorted in his sleep, Nor of his tail behind he took no keep*.
*heed His wife bare him a burdoun*, a full strong; *bass <20> Men might their routing* hearen a furlong.
*snoring The wenche routed eke for company.
Alein the clerk, that heard this melody, He poked John, and saide: "Sleepest thou? Heardest thou ever such a song ere now? Lo what a compline<21> is y-mell* them all.
*among A wilde fire upon their bodies fall, Who hearken'd ever such a ferly* thing? *strange <22> Yea, they shall have the flow'r of ill ending! This longe night there *tides me* no rest.
*comes to me* But yet no force*, all shall be for the best.
*matter For, John," said he, "as ever may I thrive, If that I may, yon wenche will I swive*.
*enjoy carnally Some easement* has law y-shapen** us *satisfaction **provided For, John, there is a law that sayeth thus, That if a man in one point be aggriev'd, That in another he shall be relievd.
Our corn is stol'n, soothly it is no nay, And we have had an evil fit to-day.
And since I shall have none amendement Against my loss, I will have easement: By Godde's soul, it shall none, other be.
" This John answer'd; Alein, *avise thee*: *have a care* The miller is a perilous man," he said, "And if that he out of his sleep abraid*, *awaked He mighte do us both a villainy*.
" *mischief Alein answer'd; "I count him not a fly.
And up he rose, and by the wench he crept.
This wenche lay upright, and fast she slept, Till he so nigh was, ere she might espy, That it had been too late for to cry: And, shortly for to say, they were at one.
Now play, Alein, for I will speak of John.
This John lay still a furlong way <23> or two, And to himself he made ruth* and woe.
*wail "Alas!" quoth he, "this is a wicked jape*; *trick Now may I say, that I is but an ape.
Yet has my fellow somewhat for his harm; He has the miller's daughter in his arm: He auntred* him, and hath his needes sped, *adventured And I lie as a draff-sack in my bed; And when this jape is told another day, I shall be held a daffe* or a cockenay <24> *coward I will arise, and auntre* it, by my fay: *attempt Unhardy is unsely, <25> as men say.
" And up he rose, and softely he went Unto the cradle, and in his hand it hent*, *took And bare it soft unto his beddes feet.
Soon after this the wife *her routing lete*, *stopped snoring* And gan awake, and went her out to piss And came again and gan the cradle miss And groped here and there, but she found none.
"Alas!" quoth she, "I had almost misgone I had almost gone to the clerkes' bed.
Ey! Benedicite, then had I foul y-sped.
" And forth she went, till she the cradle fand.
She groped alway farther with her hand And found the bed, and *thoughte not but good* *had no suspicion* Because that the cradle by it stood, And wist not where she was, for it was derk; But fair and well she crept in by the clerk, And lay full still, and would have caught a sleep.
Within a while this John the Clerk up leap And on this goode wife laid on full sore; So merry a fit had she not had *full yore*.
*for a long time* He pricked hard and deep, as he were mad.
This jolly life have these two clerkes had, Till that the thirde cock began to sing.
Alein wax'd weary in the morrowing, For he had swonken* all the longe night, *laboured And saide; "Farewell, Malkin, my sweet wight.
The day is come, I may no longer bide, But evermore, where so I go or ride, I is thine owen clerk, so have I hele.
*" *health "Now, deare leman*," quoth she, "go, fare wele: *sweetheart But ere thou go, one thing I will thee tell.
When that thou wendest homeward by the mill, Right at the entry of the door behind Thou shalt a cake of half a bushel find, That was y-maked of thine owen meal, Which that I help'd my father for to steal.
And goode leman, God thee save and keep.
" And with that word she gan almost to weep.
Alein uprose and thought, "Ere the day daw I will go creepen in by my fellaw:" And found the cradle with his hand anon.
"By God!" thought he, "all wrong I have misgone: My head is *totty of my swink* to-night, *giddy from my labour* That maketh me that I go not aright.
I wot well by the cradle I have misgo'; Here lie the miller and his wife also.
" And forth he went a twenty devil way Unto the bed, there as the miller lay.
He ween'd* t' have creeped by his fellow John, *thought And by the miller in he crept anon, And caught him by the neck, and gan him shake, And said; "Thou John, thou swines-head, awake For Christes soul, and hear a noble game! For by that lord that called is Saint Jame, As I have thries in this shorte night Swived the miller's daughter bolt-upright, While thou hast as a coward lain aghast*.
" *afraid "Thou false harlot," quoth the miller, "hast? Ah, false traitor, false clerk," quoth he, "Thou shalt be dead, by Godde's dignity, Who durste be so bold to disparage* *disgrace My daughter, that is come of such lineage?" And by the throate-ball* he caught Alein, *Adam's apple And he him hent* dispiteously** again, *seized **angrily And on the nose he smote him with his fist; Down ran the bloody stream upon his breast: And in the floor with nose and mouth all broke They wallow, as do two pigs in a poke.
And up they go, and down again anon, Till that the miller spurned* on a stone, *stumbled And down he backward fell upon his wife, That wiste nothing of this nice strife: For she was fall'n asleep a little wight* *while With John the clerk, that waked had all night: And with the fall out of her sleep she braid*.
*woke "Help, holy cross of Bromeholm," <26> she said; "In manus tuas! <27> Lord, to thee I call.
Awake, Simon, the fiend is on me fall; Mine heart is broken; help; I am but dead: There li'th one on my womb and on mine head.
Help, Simkin, for these false clerks do fight" This John start up as fast as e'er he might, And groped by the walles to and fro To find a staff; and she start up also, And knew the estres* better than this John, *apartment And by the wall she took a staff anon: And saw a little shimmering of a light, For at an hole in shone the moone bright, And by that light she saw them both the two, But sickerly* she wist not who was who, *certainly But as she saw a white thing in her eye.
And when she gan this white thing espy, She ween'd* the clerk had wear'd a volupere**; *supposed **night-cap And with the staff she drew aye nere* and nere*, *nearer And ween'd to have hit this Alein at the full, And smote the miller on the pilled* skull; *bald That down he went, and cried," Harow! I die.
" These clerkes beat him well, and let him lie, And greithen* them, and take their horse anon, *make ready, dress And eke their meal, and on their way they gon: And at the mill door eke they took their cake Of half a bushel flour, full well y-bake.
Thus is the proude miller well y-beat, And hath y-lost the grinding of the wheat; And payed for the supper *every deal* *every bit Of Alein and of John, that beat him well; His wife is swived, and his daughter als*; *also Lo, such it is a miller to be false.
And therefore this proverb is said full sooth, "*Him thar not winnen well* that evil do'th, *he deserves not to gain* A guiler shall himself beguiled be:" And God that sitteth high in majesty Save all this Company, both great and smale.
Thus have I quit* the Miller in my tale.
*made myself quits with Notes to the Reeve's Tale 1.
The incidents of this tale were much relished in the Middle Ages, and are found under various forms.
Boccaccio has told them in the ninth day of his "Decameron".
2.
Camuse: flat; French "camuse", snub-nosed.
3.
Gite: gown or coat; French "jupe.
" 4.
Soler Hall: the hall or college at Cambridge with the gallery or upper storey; supposed to have been Clare Hall.
(Transcribers note: later commentators identify it with King's Hall, now merged with Trinity College) 5.
Manciple: steward; provisioner of the hall.
See also note 47 to the prologue to the Tales.
6.
Testif: headstrong, wild-brained; French, "entete.
" 7.
Strother: Tyrwhitt points to Anstruther, in Fife: Mr Wright to the Vale of Langstroth, in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
Chaucer has given the scholars a dialect that may have belonged to either district, although it more immediately suggests the more northern of the two.
(Transcribers note: later commentators have identified it with a now vanished village near Kirknewton in Northumberland.
There was a well-known Alein of Strother in Chaucer's lifetime.
) 8.
Wanges: grinders, cheek-teeth; Anglo-Saxon, "Wang," the cheek; German, "Wange.
" 9.
See note 1 to the Prologue to the Reeves Tale 10.
In the "Cento Novelle Antiche," the story is told of a mule, which pretends that his name is written on the bottom of his hind foot.
The wolf attempts to read it, the mule kills him with a kick in the forehead; and the fox, looking on, remarks that "every man of letters is not wise.
" A similar story is told in "Reynard the Fox.
" 11.
Levesell: an arbour; Anglo-Saxon, "lefe-setl," leafy seat.
12.
Noth: business; German, "Noth," necessity.
13.
Bathe: both; Scottice, "baith.
" 14.
Capel: horse; Gaelic, "capall;" French, "cheval;" Italian, "cavallo," from Latin, "caballus.
" 15.
Make a clerkes beard: cheat a scholar; French, "faire la barbe;" and Boccaccio uses the proverb in the same sense.
16.
"Gar" is Scotch for "cause;" some editions read, however, "get us some".
17.
Chalons: blankets, coverlets, made at Chalons in France.
18.
Crock: pitcher, cruse; Anglo-Saxon, "crocca;" German, "krug;" hence "crockery.
" 19.
Dwale: night-shade, Solanum somniferum, given to cause sleep.
20.
Burdoun: bass; "burden" of a song.
It originally means the drone of a bagpipe; French, "bourdon.
" 21.
Compline: even-song in the church service; chorus.
22.
Ferly: strange.
In Scotland, a "ferlie" is an unwonted or remarkable sight.
23.
A furlong way: As long as it might take to walk a furlong.
24.
Cockenay: a term of contempt, probably borrowed from the kitchen; a cook, in base Latin, being termed "coquinarius.
" compare French "coquin," rascal.
25.
Unhardy is unsely: the cowardly is unlucky; "nothing venture, nothing have;" German, "unselig," unhappy.
26.
Holy cross of Bromeholm: A common adjuration at that time; the cross or rood of the priory of Bromholm, in Norfolk, was said to contain part of the real cross and therefore held in high esteem.
27.
In manus tuas: Latin, "in your hands".



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