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Geoffrey Chaucer, The Friar's Tale (Forrest Hainline's Minimalist Translation)

Here begins the Friar's Tale

Once there was dwelling in my country
An archdeacon, a man of high degree,
That boldly did execution
In punishing of fornication,
Of witchcraft, and too of bawdery,
Of defamation, and adultery,
Of church reeves, and of testaments,
Of contracts and of lack of sacraments,
Of usury, and of simony also.
But certain, lechers did he greatest woe;
They should sing if that they were hent;
And small tithers were foully shamed,
If any person would upon them plain.
There might escape him no pecuniary pain.
For small tithes and for small offering
He made the people piteously to sing,
For ere the bishop caught them with his hook,
They were in the archdeacon's book.
Then had he, through his jurisdiction,
Power to do on them correction.
He had a summoner ready to his hand;
A slyer boy was no one in England;
For subtly he had his spies,
That taught him well where that he might availle.
He could spare of lechers one or two,
To teach them to four and twenty more.
For though this Summoner wood were as a hare,
To tell his harlotry I will not spare;
For we are out of his correction.
They have of us no jurisdiction,
Nor never shall, term of all their lives.

'Peter! so be women of the styves, '
Said the Summoner, 'put out of our cure! '

'Quiet! with mischance and with misadventure! '
Thus said our Host, 'and let him tell his tale.
Now tell forth, though that the Summoner gale;
And spare not, my own master dear.'

This false thief, this summoner, said the Friar,
Had always bawds ready to his hand,
As any hawk to lure in England,
That told him all the secrets that they knew,
For their acquaintance was not come of new.
They were his approvers privily.
He got himself a great profit thereby;
His master knew not always what he won.
Without mandement a lewd man
He could summon, on pain of Christ's curse,
And they were glad for to fill his purse
And make him great feasts at the ale.
And right as Judas had purses small,
And was a thief, right such a thief was he;
His master had but half his duty.
He was, if I shall give him his laud,
A thief, and too a summoner, and a bawd.
He had too wenches at his retinue,
That, whether that sir Robert or sir Hue,
Or Jack, or Rauf, or whoso that it were
That lay by them, they told it in his ear.
Thus was the wench and he of one assent,
And he would fetch a feigned mandement,
And summon them to chapter both two,
And pile the man, and let the wench go.
Then would he say, 'Friend, I shall for thy sake
Do strike her out of our letters black;
Thee there nomore as in this casse travail.
I am thy friend, there I thee may avail.'
Certain he knew of briberies more
Than possible is to tell in years two.
For in this world is no dog for the bow
That can a hurt deer from a whole know
Bet than this summoner knew a sly lecher,
Or an adulterer, or a paramour.
And for that was the fruit of all his rent,
Therefore on it he set all his intent.

And it befell that once on a day
This summoner, ever waiting on his prey,
Rode to summon an old widow, a ribibe,
Feigning a cause, for he would bribe.
And it happed that he saw before him ride
A gay yeoman, under a forest side.
A bow he bore, and arrows bright and keen;
He had upon him a courtepy of green,
A hat upon his head with fringes black.

'Sir, ' said this summoner, 'hail, and well attack! '

'Welcome, ' said he, 'and every good fellow!
Where ridest thou, under this green wood shade? '
Said this yeoman, 'Wilt thou far today? '

This summoner him answered and said, 'Nay;
Here fast by, ' said he, 'is my intent
To ride, for to raise up a rent
That longs to my lord's duty.'

'Art thou then a bailiff? ' 'Yes, ' said he.
He dared not, for very filth and shame
Say that he was a summoner, for the name.

'Depardieux, ' said this yeoman, 'dear brother,
Thou art a bailiff, and I am another.
I am unknown as in this country;
Of thine acquaintance I would pray thee,
And too of brotherhood, if that you lest.
I have gold and silver in my chest;
If that thee happen to come in our shire,
All shall be thine, just as thou wilt desire.'

'Grant mercy, ' said this summoner, 'by my faith! '
Each in other's hand his troth lie,
For to be sworn brothers til they die.
In dalliance they ride forth and play.

This summoner, which that was as full of jangles
As full of venom be these wariangles
And ever inquiring upon every thing,
'Brother, ' said he, 'where is now your dwelling
Another day if that I should you seek? '
This yeoman him answered in soft speech,

'Brother, ' said he, 'far in the north country,
Whereas I hope some time I shall thee see.
Ere we depart, I shall thee so well wisse
That of my house shall thou never miss.'

'Now, brother, ' said this summoner, 'I you pray,
Teach me, while we ride by the way,
Since that you be a bailiff as am I,
Some subtlety, and tell me faithfully
In my office how that I may most win;
And spare not for conscience nor sin,
But as my brother tells me, how do ye.'

'Now, by my troth, brother dear, ' said he,
'As I shall tell thee a faithful tale,
My wages be full strait and full small.
My lord is hard to me and dangerous,
And my office is full laborious,
And therefore by extortions I live.
For sooth, I take all that men will me give.
Al-gates, by sleight or by violence,
From year to year I win all my dispense.
I can no better tell, faithfully.'

'Now certain, ' said this Summoner, 'so fare I.
I spare not to take, God it wot,
But if it be too heavy or too hot.
What I may get in counsel privily,
No manner conscience of that have I.
Not for my extortion, I might not live,
Nor of such japes will I not be shrive.
Stomach nor conscience know I none;
I shrew these shrift-fathers every one.
Well be we met, by God and by Saint Jame!
But, lief brother, tell me then thy name, '
Said this summoner. In this mean while
This yeoman gan a little for to smile.

'Brother, ' said he, 'wilt thou that I thee tell?
I am a fiend; my dwelling is in hell,
And here I ride about my purchasing,
To wit where men will give me any thing.
My purchase is the effect of all my rent.
Look how thou ridest for the same intent,
To win good, thou reckon never how;
Right so fare I, for ride would I now
Unto the world's end for a prey.'

'Ah! ' said this summoner, 'benedicite! What say you?
I thought you were a yeoman truly.
You have a man's shape as well as I;
Have you a figure then determined
In hell, there you be in your estate? "

'Nay, certainly, ' said he, 'there have we none;
But when we like we can take us one,
Or else make you seem we be shape:
Sometimes like a man, or like an ape,
Or like an angel can I ride or go.
It is no wonder thing though it be so;
A lousy juggler can deceive thee,
And pardie, yet know I more craft than he.'

'Why, ' said this summoner, 'ride you then or go on
In sundry shapes, and not always in one? '

'For we, ' said he, 'will us such forms make
As most able is our prey for to take.'

'What makes you to have all this labor? '

'Full many a cause, lief sir summoner, '
Said this fiend, 'but all things have time.
The day is short, and it is past prime,
And yet won I nothing in this day.
I will intend to winning, if I may,
And not attend our wits to declare.
For, brother mine, thy wit is all too bare
To understand, although I told them thee.
But, for thou asked why labor we -
For sometimes we be God's instruments
And means to do his commandments,
When that he wish, upon his creatures,
In divers art and in divers figures.
Without him we have no might, certain,
If that he wish to stand there again.
And sometimes, at our prayer, have we leave
Only the body and not the soul grieve;
Witness on Job, whom that we did woe.
And sometimes have we might of both two -
This is to say, of soul and body eek.
And sometimes be we suffered for to seek
Upon a man and do his soul unrest
And not his body, and all is for the best.
When he withstands our temptation,
It is a cause of his salvation,
Al be it that it was not our intent
He should be saved, but that we would him hent.
And sometimes be we servants unto man,
As to the archbishop Saint Dunstan,
And to the apostles servant eek was I.'

'Yet tell me, ' said the summoner, 'faithfully,
Make you your new bodies thus always
Of elements? ' The fiend answered, 'Nay.
Sometime we feign, and sometimes we arise
With dead bodies, in full sundry wise,
And speak as renably fair and well
As to the Phitonissa did Samuel.
(And yet will some men say it was not he;
I do no force of your divinity.)
But one thing warn I thee, I will not jape:
Thou wilt algates wit how we be shaped;
Thou shalt hereafter, my brother dear,
Come there thee need not of me to learn,
For thou shalt, by thine own experience,
Can in a chair read of this sentence
Better than Virgil, while he was alive,
Or Dante also. Now let us ride blive,
For I will hold company with thee
Til it be so that thou forsake me.'

'Nay, ' said this summoner, 'that shall not betide!
I am a yeoman, known is full wide;
My troth will I hold, as in this case.
For though thou were the devil Satan,
My troth will I hold to my brother,
As I am sworn, and each of us to the other,
To be true brother in this case;
And both we go about our purchase.
Take thou thy part, what that men will thee give,
And I shall mine; thus may we both live.
And if that one of us have more than the other,
Let him be true and part it with his brother.'

'I grant, ' said the devil, 'by my faith.'
And with that word they ride forth their way.
And right at the entrance of the town's end,
To which this summoner planned him for to wend,
They saw a cart that charged was with hay,
Which that a carter drove forth in his way.
Deep was the way, for which the cart stood.
The carter smote and cried as he were wood,
'Hat, Brok! Hayt, Scot! What spare you for the stones?
The fiend, ' said he, 'you fetch, body and bones,
As ferforthly as ever were you foled,
So much woe as I have with you tholed!
The devil have all, both horse and cart and hay! '

This summoner said, 'Here shall we have a play.'
And nearer the fiend he drew, as not there were,
Full privily, and rouned in his ear:
'Hearken, my brother, hearken, by thy faith!
Hearest thou not how that the carter says?
Hent it anon, for he hath given it thee,
Both hay and cart, and too his caples three.'

'Nay, ' said the devil, 'God knows, never a deel!
It is not his intent, trust me well.
Ask him thyself, if thou not trowest me;
Or else stop a while, and thou shalt see.'

This carter thwacked his horse upon the croup,
And they began to draw and to stoop.
'Heyt! Now, ' said he, 'there Jesus Christ you bless,
And all his handiwork, both more and less!
That was well twight, my own liard boy.
I pray God save thee, and Saint Loy!
Now is my cart out of the slow, pardee! '

'Lo, brother, ' said the fiend, 'what told I thee?
Here may you see, my own dear brother,
The churl spoke one thing, but he thought another.
Let us go forth about on our voyage;
Here win I nothing upon carriage.'

When that they came somewhat out of town,
This summoner to his brother began to roun:
'Brother, ' said he, 'here woned an old rebekke
Who had almost as lief to lose her neck
As for to give a penny of her good.
I will have twelve pence, though that she be wood,
Or I will summon her unto our office;
And yet, God knows, of her know I no vice.
But for thou can not, as in this country,
Win thy cost, take here example of me.'

This summoner claps at the widow's gate.
'Come out, ' said he, 'thou old viritrate!
I trow thou hast some friar or priest with thee.'

'Who claps? ' said this wife, 'benedicitee!
God save you, sir, what is your sweet will? '

'I have, ' said he, 'of summons here a bill;
Upon pain of cursing, look that thou be
Tomorn before the archdeacon's knee
To answer to the court of certain things.'

'Now, Lord, ' said she, 'Christ Jesus, king of kings,
So wisely help me, as I not may.
I have been sick, and that full many a day.
I may not go so far, ' said she, 'nor ride,
But I be dead, so pricketh it in my side.
May I not ask a libel, sir summoner,
And answer there by my procurator
To such things as men will oppose me? '

'Yes, ' said this summoner, 'pay anon - let's see -
Twelve pence to me, and I will thee acquit.
I shall no profit have thereby but lit;
My master has the profit and not I.
Come of, and let me ride hastily;
Give me twelve pence, I may no longer tarry.'

'Twelve pence! ' said she, 'Now, lady Saint Marie
So wisely help me out of care and sin,
This wide world though that I should win,
Not have I twelve pence within my hold.
You know well that I am poor and old;
Kith your alms on me, poor wretch.'

'Nay then, ' said he, 'the foul fiend me fetch
If I thee excuse, though thou should be spilt! '

'Alas! ' said she, 'God knows, I have no guilt.'

'Pay me, ' said he, 'or by the sweet Saint Anne,
As I will bear away thy new pan
For debt which thou owest me of old.
When thou made thy husband cuckold,
I paid at home for thy correction.'

'Thou lie! ' said she, 'by my salvation,
Nor was I ever ere now, widow or wife,
Summoned unto your court in all my life;
Nor never I was but of my body true!
Unto the devil black and rough of hue
Give I thy body and my pan also! '

And when the devil heard her curse so
Upon her knees, he said in this manner,
'Now, Mabely, my own mother dear,
Is this your will in earnest that you say? '

'The devil, ' said she, 'so fetch him ere he die,
And pan and all, but he will repent! '

'Nay, old stot, that is not my intent, '
Said this summoner, 'for to repent me
For any thing that I have had of thee.
I would I had thy smock and every cloth! '

'Now, brother, ' said the devil, 'be not wroth;
Thy body and this pan be mine by right.
Thou shalt with me to hell yet tonight,
Where thou shalt know of our privity
More than a Master of Divinity.'
And with that word this foul fiend him hent;
Body and soul he with the devil went
Where as that summoners have their heritage.
And God, that made after his image
Mankind, save and guide us, all and some,
And leave these summoners good men become!

Lords, I could have told you, said this Friar,
Had I had leisure for this Summoner here,
After the text of Christ, Paul, and John,
And of our other doctors many a one,
Such pains that your hearts might agrise,
Albeit so no tongue may it devise,
Though that I might a thousand winters tell
The pains of that cursed house of hell.
But for to keep us from that cursed place,
Wake and pray Jesus for his grace
So keep us from the tempter Satanas.
Hearken this word! Beware, as in this case:
'The lion sits in his await alway
To slay the innocent, if that he may.'
Dispose ay your hearts to withstand
The fiend, that you would make thrall and bond.
He may not tempt you over your might,
For Christ will be your champion and knight.
And pray that these summoners them repent
Of their misdeeds, ere that the fiend them hent!

Heere endeth the Freres Tale

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