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◈ The Canterbury Tales (캔터베리 이야기) ◈

◇ The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale ◇

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 1. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue
 2. The Canon Yeoman’s Tale
   2.1. (Part One)
   2.2. (Part Two)

1. The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue

0 The Prologue of the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale
1 When ended was the life of Saint Cecilia,
2 Ere we had ridden fully five miles further,
3 At Boughton-under-Blean rode up a hack
4 With a man clothed in black upon its back,
5 Who underneath had on a white surplice.
6 His hack, a dappled grey, all sweating is,
7 Sweating so hard it is a sight to see;
8 It looks as if he has galloped miles three.
9 Also the horse his yeoman rode upon
10 Sweated so, it could barely trot on.
11 About the saddle straps the foam stood high;
12 With foam it was all flecked like a magpie.
13 A doubled wallet on its crupper lay;
14 It seemed that he carried slight array,
15 All light, for summer, rode this worthy man.
16 And in my mind to wonder I began
17 What he might be, until I understood,
18 Since his cloak was sewn onto his hood,
19 After I’d reflected a while, that he
20 A regular canon of the church must be.
21 His hat hung at his back down by a lace,
22 For he had ridden at a lively pace:
23 He had been galloping as he were mad.
24 And a dock-leaf under his hood he had,
25 For sweat, and to keep his head from heat.
26 It was a joy to see him sweat so neat!
27 His forehead shed drops like a distillery,
28 A still for plantain-juice and pellitory.
29 And when he arrived, he cried full loudly:
30 God save,’ quoth he, ‘this jolly company!
31 Fast I have ridden,’ quoth he, for your sake,
32 Because I wished you folk to overtake,
33 And ride with all this merry company.’
34 His yeoman too was full of courtesy,
35 And said: ‘Sires, but now at morning-tide,
36 Out of your hostelry I saw you ride,
37 And made aware my lord and sovereign,
38 Who was eager your company to gain
39 For his amusement; he loves dalliance.’
40 Friend, for your trouble God give you good chance!’
41 Then said our Host: ‘– for, certain, it would seem
42 Your lord is wise, wisdom I would it deem.
43 He is full jocund also, I dare say!
44 Can he tell a merry tale or two, in play,
45 To gladden all this company, say I?’
46 Who, sir: my lord? Yes, yes, without a lie!
47 He knows of mirth, and also jollity,
48 More than enough; also, sire, trust me,
49 If you but knew him half so well as I,
50 You’d be amazed how well he can vie
51 With all, in work, and that in sundry wise.
52 He has dealt with many an enterprise,
53 That would be hard for any that is here
54 To bring about, unless he were to steer.
55 As homely as he may look among you,
56 It would benefit you, that him you knew.
57 You would not forego his acquaintance
58 For all your goods, I’d set in the balance
59 All that I have in my possession!
60 He is a man of great discretion;
61 I advise you, he’s an excellent man.’
62 Well,’ quoth our Host, ‘I pray you, tell on,
63 Is he a cleric, or no? Say what he is.’
64 Nay, to be greater than a clerk is this,’
65 Said the Yeoman, ‘in a few words or so,
66 Host, of his craft something I would show.
67 I say, my lord such subtle skills has he
68 Yet all his craft you cannot learn from me
69 Although I help him somewhat in its working
70 That all this ground over which were riding,
71 Until we come to Canterbury town,
72 He could turn it all clean upside-down,
73 And pave it all with silver and with gold.’
74 And when the Yeoman had this story told
75 To our Host, he cried, ‘Benedicitee!
76 It then seems wondrous marvellous to me
77 Since your lord is of such high sapience,
78 And all men should hold him in reverence
79 That his own dignity he treats so light.
80 His cassock now is scarcely worth a mite,
81 In truth, I’d say, to him, God bless my soul!
82 It’s dirty through and through, and torn also.
83 Why is your lord so slovenly, I pray?
84 Yet has the means to buy better any day,
85 If his deeds accord with all your speech.
86 Tell me that, for so I do you beseech!’
87 Quoth the Yeoman, ‘Why go asking me?
88 God help me so, but hell not prosper thee!
89 – I can’t acknowledge anything I say,
90 And therefore keep the secret now, I pray
91 But he’s too wise, so I believe, in truth.
92 Whatever is in excess, will never prove
93 Useful, as the clerics say; it’s a vice.
94 So that in this I hold him foolish twice;
95 For when a man has far too great a wit,
96 Often it happens he misuses it.
97 So does my lord: and it grieves me sore.
98 God amend it! I can explain no more.’
99 No matter, my good Yeomanquoth our Host;
100 But since of the cunning of your lord you boast,
101 Say what he does, I pray you heartily,
102 Since he works so well and skilfully.
103 Where do you dwell, if told such may be?’
104 In the suburbs of a town,’ quoth he,
105 Lurking in holes and corners, alleys blind,
106 Where robbers, and thieves of every kind,
107 Fearful, keep their private residence,
108 As those do who daren’t show their presence.
109 So do we fare, if I must tell the truth.’
110 Now,’ quoth our Host, ‘let me ask of you.
111 Why are you so discoloured round the face?’
112 Peter!’ quoth he, ‘God shows it little grace,
113 I am forced so oft the flames to blow
114 That is has altered my whole colour so.
115 In the mirror I’m hardly wont to pry,
116 But labour hard: and alchemy I try.
117 We blunder ever, poring o’er the fire,
118 Yet for all that, we fail of our desire,
119 For we never reach the right conclusion.
120 On many folk we practice pure illusion,
121 And borrow goldbe it a pound or two,
122 Or ten, or twelve, more if were able to
123 And make them think, in whatever way,
124 That from a pound we can make two: I say
125 It is all falsehood; but we live in hope
126 Of success: and after it we grope,
127 But the science runs so far before
128 We cannot, despite the oath we swore,
129 Overtake it; it glides away so fast.
130 It will leave us beggars at the last.’
131 While the Yeoman thus went on talking,
132 The Canon, drawing near, heard everything
133 That the Yeoman said; for great suspicion
134 Of men’s speech ever had this Canon.
135 For Cato says, that he who guilty is
136 Thinks all men speak of him, as in this.
137 That was the reason he so near did draw
138 To his Yeoman, to eavesdrop all the more.
139 And then he spoke unto his Yeoman, so:
140 Hold your peace and speak not, I say no!
141 For if you do, youll pay for it full dearly.
142 Youre slandering me to all this company,
143 Revealing also things that you should hide.’
144 Yet,’ quoth our Host, ‘tell on whateer betide!
145 And all his threats reckon them not a fly.’
146 By my faith,’ quoth he, ‘no more shall I.’
147 And when the Canon saw that it must be,
148 And the Yeoman dispense with privacy,
149 He fled away, for very sorrow and shame.
150 Ah,’ quoth the Yeoman, ‘now begins a game!
151 All that I know, anon now I will tell,
152 Since he’s gonefiends whisk him off to Hell!
153 For never hereafter with him will I visit,
154 For a penny or a pound, so I swear it.
155 He that brought me first to that foul game,
156 Before he dies, sorrow on him, and shame!
157 For all is serious to me, in faith.
158 That I feel whatever any man sayeth.
159 And despite the pain, and all my grief,
160 Despite my sorrow, labour, and mischief,
161 I could never forsake it in any wise.
162 Now would God my wits might suffice
163 To tell you all belonging to that art!
164 Yet, nonetheless, I will tell you part;
165 Since my lord is gone, no details spare.
166 Whatever of it I know, I shall declare.’
167 Here ends the Prologue of the Canon’s Yeoman’s tale

2. The Canon Yeoman’s Tale

0 Here begins the Canon’s Yeoman his Tale

2.1. (Part One)

0 With this Canon I’ve dwelt for seven years,
1 Yet his science no clearer to me appears.
2 And all that I have had, I’ve lost thereby,
3 As, God knows, have many more than I!
4 Where I was wont to be right fresh each day
5 In clothing, and in other fine array,
6 Now I must wear my hose upon my head;
7 And where my colour was both fresh and red,
8 Now is it wan and of a leaden hue.
9 Whoso employs it, bitterly shall he rue!
10 And bleared yet from labour is my eye.
11 Lo, what a game it is tomultiply’!
12 The slippery science renders me so bare
13 I gain no profit, wherever I may fare.
14 And yet I am so much in debt thereby,
15 With the gold that I have borrowed, I,
16 While I live, may yet repay it never.
17 Let every man be warned by me forever!
18 Whichever man applies himself thereto,
19 His luck is over, if he dare continue.
20 So help me God, nothing thereby hell win,
21 But empty his purse, and make his wits thin.
22 And when he, through his madness and folly,
23 Has placed his own wealth in jeopardy,
24 Then hell excite other folks thereto
25 To lose their own wealth, as he must do.
26 For to villains a joy it is, and does please,
27 To see others suffer pain and disease.
28 Thus I was once informed by a clerk.
29 Of that no matter; I’ll speak of our work.
30 When we had found a place to exercise
31 Our elvish craft, we appeared wondrous wise;
32 Our language was so technical and quaint.
33 I blew the fire till I was fit to faint.
34 Why should I tell you every proportion
35 Of all the substances we worked upon?
36 Such as, five or six ounces, it may be,
37 Of silver, or some other quantity
38 Or busy myself to tell you all the names,
39 Arsenic sulphides, burnt bone, iron grains,
40 All into powder ground, and rendered small;
41 And how in an earthen pot we put it all,
42 And put in salt, a sprinkling of pepper,
43 Before the powders that I speak of, covered
44 The whole thing with a vessel made of glass;
45 And many another thing which there was;
46 And with clay the pots and glasses sealing,
47 That, of the air, might pass out nothing;
48 And of the slow fire, and hot also,
49 Which we made, and all the care and woe
50 We took with our materialssublimation,
51 And in calcination and amalgamation
52 Of quicksilver, called mercury indeed?
53 For all our tricks we could not succeed.
54 Our arsenic sulphides, sublimated mercury,
55 Our lead oxides ground down fine on porphyry;
56 Of each of these some ounces went for certain
57 Nothing helped; we laboured all in vain!
58 Neither the vapours in their ascension,
59 Nor the solids left settling all adown
60 Did in our workings anything avail,
61 For lost was all our labour and travail.
62 And all the cost, all gone the devil’s way,
63 Was lost also, whatever we had to pay.
64 There is also many another thing
65 To mention, to our craft appertaining,
66 Though I can’t by rote rehearse the plan,
67 For truly I was never a learned man.
68 Yet I will speak them as they come to mind,
69 Though I can’t enumerate them by kind:
70 Such as Armenian clay, verdigris, borax,
71 And sundry vessels made of earth and glass,
72 Our urinals, our pots for distillation,
73 Phials, crucibles, pots for sublimation,
74 Of gourd-retorts, and alembics I speak,
75 And other such, all hardly worth a leek
76 I’ve no need to rehearse them all
77 Waters for reddening metals, bull’s gall,
78 Arsenic, sal ammoniac, and brimstone;
79 And herbs I might mention, many a one
80 As moonwort, valerian, agrimony,
81 And other such, if I should choose to tarry.
82 Our vessels glowing bright, both night and day,
83 To bring about our purpose, if we may;
84 Our furnaces too for calcination,
85 And waters for the albification;
86 Un-slaked lime, chalk and egg-white, say,
87 Powders diverse, ashes, dung, piss and clay,
88 Waxed bags, saltpetre, vitriol,
89 And diverse fires made of wood and coal;
90 Tartar, alkali, salt preparation,
91 And combust matters in coagulation;
92 Clay made with horse or human hair, and oil
93 Of tartar, potash of alum, yeast, argoile,
94 Realgar, unfermented beer, moistening
95 Matter, matter for our compounding,
96 And for our silver’s citrination,
97 Our testing by heat, our fermentation,
98 Our ingots, vessels for assay, and so.
99 I’ll tell you, as was taught to me, also,
100 Of the four spirits and the bodies seven,
101 In order, as I heard my master give them:
102 The first spirit’s quicksilver, in the list;
103 The second arsenic sulphide; the third is
104 Sal ammoniac, and the fourth brimstone.
105 The bodies seven too, lo here anon:
106 Sol gold is, and Luna’s silver, all;
107 Mars iron, Mercury quicksilver we call;
108 Saturn is lead, and Jupiter is tin,
109 And Venus copper, by my father’s kin.
110 Who this wretched craft shall exercise,
111 Shall have no wealth from it that may suffice,
112 For all the wealth he spends thereabout
113 Shall he lose; of that I have no doubt.
114 Who would reveal his folly, so say I,
115 Let him come forth and learn tomultiply’.
116 And every man with aught in his coffer,
117 Let him appear and play philosopher,
118 If to the craft it’s easy to aspire!
119 Nay, nay, God knows, be it monk or friar,
120 Priest or canon on whom the wish should light,
121 Though he sit at his books both day and night
122 Studying this foolish elvish lore,
123 All is in vainand, in faith, it’s more
124 Vain teaching a layman all this subtlety!
125 Fie! Speak not of it, no way shall it be.
126 Whether he knows his letters, or knows none,
127 The effect’s the same, hell find it all one;
128 For either of the two, by my salvation,
129 Achieve the same at alchemy’s mutation,
130 Whatevermultiplyingthey may do,
131 That is to say, they fail: both the two.
132 Still have I forgotten my rehearsal
133 Of corrosive liquids, and of metal,
134 And of bodiesmollification,
135 And also of their induration,
136 Oils, ablutions, and metal fusible
137 To tell it all’s beyond any bible
138 Anywhere; and so, and for the best,
139 From all these names I’ll take a rest.
140 It seems to me, enough I’ve told you now
141 To raise a fiend, one fierce enough I vow.
142 Ah, nay, let be! The philosopher’s stone,
143 Called the elixir, we seek it every one,
144 For had we it, we’d be secure, and how.
145 Yet to the God of Heaven I will avow,
146 For all our skill, when the work is through,
147 Despite our wit, still is there all to do.
148 It tempted us to spend our worldly good,
149 For sorrow of which go mad we should,
150 Except that hope still creeps about our heart,
151 Dreaming ever, despite our bitter smart,
152 Of being eased by profit, afterward.
153 Such dreaming, and such hope dies hard;
154 I warn you, youll seek for it forever.
155 That future hope makes madmen sever,
156 By trusting it, from all they ever had;
157 Yet the art can never make them sad,
158 For to them it is still bitter-sweet.
159 So it seemsfor have they but a sheet,
160 In which to wrap themselves of a night,
161 And a coarse cloak to walk in, by daylight,
162 They will sell them, and spend it on the craft.
163 They cannot cease till nothing’s left, alas.
164 And evermore, wherever they choose to go,
165 By that brimstone smell, men may them know.
166 For all the world, they stink like goats, the lot!
167 The smell they give off is so rank and hot
168 That though a man a mile from them may be,
169 The smell will still infect him yet, trust me.
170 Thus by the smell, and their threadbare array,
171 If men wish recognise these folk they may.
172 And if a man will ask them privately
173 Why they clothe themselves so shabbily,
174 They right anon will whisper in his ear,
175 And say that if they discovered were
176 Men would slay them, because of their science.
177 Lo, thus these folk trade on innocence!
178 Pass over this; I go my tale unto.
179 Ere that the pot be on the fire anew,
180 Metals in specific quantity,
181 My lord tempers, and no man but he
182 Now he is gone, I dare say it boldly
183 For, as men say, he works skilfully
184 (At any rate, I know he’s earned a name),
185 And yet he often blunders just the same.
186 Know you how? Full oft it happens so,
187 The pot breaks, and then there’s naught to show!
188 These metals are of such great violence,
189 Our walls provide but limited resistance,
190 Unless they are wrought of lime and stone.
191 They pierce so, and through the wall are gone,
192 And some of them sink straight into the ground
193 Thus have we lost sometimes many a pound
194 And some are scattered all the floor about,
195 Some leap up to the roof. Without a doubt,
196 Though to our sight the fiend won’t show,
197 I think he’s with us, that foul so and so!
198 In Hell, where he is the lord and sire,
199 There’s no more woe, or rancour, or ire,
200 Than when our pot breaks, as I have said;
201 Everyone chides, pours insults on our head.
202 Some say it was faulty fire-making;
203 Some say nay, it was faulty blowing;
204 Then I’m a-feared, since that’s my office.
205 Straw!’ says a third, ‘Youre foolish twice!
206 It wasn’t tempered as it ought to be!
207 Nay,’ says a fourth, ‘hearken unto me.
208 Because the fire wasn’t made of beech,
209 That’s the cause, and none other, I teach!’
210 I’ve no idea where the thing went wrong,
211 But well I know great strife is us among.
212 Well!’ says my lord, ‘No more can be done.
213 I’ll be more careful in time to come.
214 I’m certain now that the pot was crazed.
215 Be it as it may, be not dismayed;
216 As we do, sweep the floor, swift and lithe.
217 Pluck up your courage, be glad and blithe!’
218 The rubbish in a heap is swept, alas,
219 And over the floor a piece of canvas cast,
220 And all the rubbish in a sieve is thrown,
221 And sifted, and picked over like a bone.
222 By my faith,’ says one, ‘some of our metal
223 Is here yet, although we have not it all.
224 And though the thing has failed us for now,
225 Another time it may go well, I vow.
226 We have to risk our wealth, at a venture!
227 A merchant, by my faith, can’t endure
228 For long, trust me, in his prosperity.
229 Sometimes his wealth is drowned in the sea,
230 And sometimes it comes home safe to land.’
231 Peace!’ quoth my lord,’ Next time, you understand,
232 I’ll try to bring our craft to perfection,
233 And if I do not, sires, condemn my actions!
234 There was a fault, though what fault I know not.’
235 Another claimed the fire was over hot
236 But, be it hot or cold, I dare say this,
237 Our attempt would still have gone amiss.
238 We fail to profit from all that we gave,
239 And in our madness evermore we rave.
240 And when we are together, everyone
241 Seems as wise as was King Solomon;
242 But everything that glitters is not gold
243 Nor everything that shines, I am told,
244 Nor is every apple that meets the eye
245 Good to eat, whatever the hue and cry.
246 Right so, behold, it fares amongst us:
247 He that seems the wisest man, by Jesus,
248 Is the biggest fool, when put to proof,
249 And who seems honest is a thief, in truth.
250 This you shall know, ere from you I wend,
251 By the time my tale has reached an end.

2.2. (Part Two)

0 There is a canon now of religion
1 Amongst us, who could infect a town,
2 Though it were as great as Nineveh,
3 With Rome, Troy, and Alexandria.
4 His tricks and infinite deceitfulness
5 Are more than a man could write, I guess,
6 Though he might live for a thousand years.
7 In all this world of falsehood, it appears,
8 He has no equal, with jargon hell blind
9 All men, and speak, too, in so sly a kind,
10 When he communes with any day or night,
11 That he will make the man a fool outright,
12 Unless he is a fiend, as he himself is.
13 For many a man has he beguiled ere this,
14 And will, if he may live a little while.
15 And yet men ride, and go many a mile
16 To seek him out, and make his acquaintance,
17 Not knowing of his false governance.
18 And if you will grant me audience,
19 I will tell of it here, in your presence.
20 But worshipful canons, all religious,
21 Don’t think that I am slandering your house,
22 Although my tale may of a canon be.
23 In every order, some are rogues, we see!
24 And God forbid that a whole company
25 Should all do penance for one man’s folly.
26 To slander you is hardly my intent,
27 But to correct what is wrong, is meant.
28 This tale is not told for you alone, now,
29 But more for others. You well know how
30 That among Christ’s Apostles twelve
31 There was no traitor but Judas himself;
32 Then why would all the rest share the blame
33 Who were guiltless? Of you I say the same
34 Save only this, if you will hark to me:
35 If any Judas in your convent be
36 Remove him swiftly, be it on your head
37 If shame or loss should ever cause you dread.
38 And be not displeased with me, I pray,
39 But in this instance hark to what I say.
40 In London lived a chantry priest I hear,
41 Who therein had dwelt for many a year,
42 Who was so agreeable and so able,
43 The housewife where he sat at table,
44 Would allow him not a coin to pay
45 For board or clothing, whatever his display;
46 And he had spending-silver too, and how.
47 No matter; I will proceed for now,
48 And tell forth all my tale of the canon
49 Who brought this priest to great confusion.
50 The false canon went along one day
51 To the priest’s chamber where he lay,
52 Beseeching him to lend him a certain
53 Sum of gold, which he’d repay again.
54 Lend me a mark,’ quoth he, ‘but days three,
55 And on the day appointed I’ll pay thee.
56 And if so be that you find me false,
57 The next day hang me from the walls!’
58 The priest took out a mark, at once,
59 And the canon thanked him anon,
60 And took his leave, and went forth on his way,
61 And on the third day came to repay,
62 And gave his gold to the priest again,
63 Of which the priest was glad, it’s plain.
64 Certainly,’ quoth he, ‘it’s fine by me
65 To lend a man a noble, or two, or three,
66 Or anything that is in my possession,
67 When he’s of such honest disposition
68 That hell in no wise fail of his day.
69 To such a man I never can say nay.’
70 What,’ quoth the canon, ‘I be untrue?
71 Nay, that would indeed be something new!
72 My honour is a thing I’ll ever keep
73 Until the final day on which I creep
74 Into my grave, all else God forbid!
75 Believe in this as surely as the Creed!
76 God be thanked, in good time be it said,
77 There was never a man not repaid
78 By me with the gold or silver he had lent,
79 Nor never a falsehood in my intent.
80 And sire,’ quoth he, ‘now all privately,
81 Since you have show such courtesy to me,
82 And dealt with me with such nobleness,
83 To repay you somewhat for your goodness
84 I’ll tell you something: if you wish to hear,
85 I’ll teach you plainly all the manner
86 In which I can work true alchemy.
87 Take good heed; with your own eye youll see
88 That I will work a miracle ere I go.’
89 Yea?’ quoth the priest, ‘Sire, and will you so?
90 Marry! I pray you do so, heartily.’
91 At your command, sire, I shall do, truly,’
92 Quoth the canon, ‘all else God forbid!’
93 Lo, how this thief could his service bid!
94 True indeed it is that proffered service
95 Stinks: call the old and wise as witness;
96 And that full soon you will surely see
97 In this canon, root of all treachery,
98 Who evermore delights and finds gladness
99 Such fiendish tricks his thoughts express
100 When on Christ’s people mischief he does bring.
101 God keep us from his false dissembling!
102 The priest knew nothing of with whom he dealt,
103 And of the coming harm he nothing felt.
104 O foolish priest, O foolish innocent,
105 By covetousness, anon, to be rent!
106 O devoid of grace: blind your conceit!
107 Utterly unaware of the deceit
108 This cunning fox has crafted for thee.
109 From his wily tricks you may not flee;
110 And therefore to reach my conclusion
111 Which concerns your utter confusion,
112 Unhappy man, I will move on swiftly
113 To tell of your stupidity and folly,
114 And the falseness of that other wretch,
115 As far as my ability may stretch.
116 This canon was my lord, you think I mean?
117 Sir Host, in faith, and by the HeavensQueen,
118 It was another canon, and not he,
119 A hundred-fold deeper in subtlety.
120 He has betrayed folks many a time;
121 Of his falseness it troubles me to rhyme.
122 Whenever I speak about his falsehood,
123 For shame of him my cheeks fill with blood
124 At any rate, they begin to glow,
125 For redness I have none, as I do know,
126 In my visage, for the fumes all diverse
127 Of metals, which you heard me rehearse,
128 Consumed and wasted have my redness.
129 Take heed of this canon’s wickedness!
130 Sire,’ quoth he to the priest, ‘Send your man
131 For quicksilver, so we have some on hand;
132 And let him bring us two ounces or three;
133 And when he returns, then you shall see
134 A wondrous thing you never saw ere this.’
135 Sire,’ quoth the priest, ‘as you command, it is.’
136 He bade his servant fetch him this thing,
137 And he was all ready at his bidding,
138 And so went forth, and came anon again
139 With this quicksilver, briefly to explain,
140 And handed three ounces to the canon;
141 And he laid them fair and well adown,
142 And bade the servant coals for to bring,
143 That he might at once begin its working.
144 The servant swiftly brought the coal,
145 And the canon then took a crucible
146 From his bosom, and showed it to the priest.
147 This instrument,’ quoth he, ‘which you see,
148 Take it in hand yourself, and place therein
149 Of this quicksilver an ounce, and so begin,
150 In Christ’s name, to be a philosopher.
151 There are few indeed to whom I’d offer
152 To show them this much of all my science,
153 For you shall see here, by experience,
154 This quicksilver I’ll harden, by and by,
155 Right in your sight anon, without a lie,
156 And make it as good silver, and as fine,
157 As there is any in your purse, or mine,
158 Or elsewhere, and make it malleable
159 Else hold me as false, and unable
160 Ever amongst true folks to appear!
161 I have a powder here, that cost me dear,
162 Which makes all good, it’s the root of all
163 My power, of which I’ll show you more.
164 Send your man away, he can stand without,
165 And shut the door while we are about
166 Our private tasks, that no man may us see,
167 While we work at all this alchemy.’
168 All that he asked was fulfilled in deed:
169 The servant was sent away with speed,
170 And his master shut the door anon,
171 And to their labour swiftly are they gone.
172 The priest, at this wretched canon’s bidding,
173 Upon the fire anon set this thing,
174 And blew the fire, and busied him full fast.
175 And the canon into the crucible cast
176 A powder – I know not what it was
177 Chalk perhaps, perhaps it was of glass,
178 Or something else not worth a fly,
179 To blind this priest withand bade him ply
180 The tongs, and lay the coal all above
181 The crucible: ‘As a token I thee love,’
182 Quoth this canon, ‘with your own hands two
183 Shall you work the thing which here we do.’
184 Graunt merci,’ quoth the priest, and was full glad,
185 And laid the coals out as the canon bade.
186 And while he was busy, the fiendish wretch,
187 This false canonthe foul fiend him fetch! –
188 Out of his bosom took a beech-wood coal,
189 In which all subtly he had bored a hole,
190 And put therein silver filings from the scale,
191 An ounce, and sealed it was, without fail,
192 That hole with wax, to keep the silver in.
193 And understand that this false piece of sin
194 Was not made there, but it was made before;
195 And other things that I shall tell of more
196 Hereafter, that he with him had brought.
197 Ere he came, to beguile the priest he thought;
198 And so he did, ere that they had parted.
199 He couldn’t wait to fleece him, once he’d started.
200 It angers me when of him I speak;
201 On his falsehood vengeance would I wreak,
202 If I knew how, but he is here and there;
203 He’s so changeable, he abides nowhere.
204 But take heed now, sires, for God’s love:
205 He took the coal, of which I spoke above,
206 And in his hand he held it covertly,
207 And while the priest was working busily
208 With the other coals, as I said ere this,
209 The canon spoke: ‘Friend, youve gone amiss.
210 This is not laid out as it ought to be.
211 But I’ll soon amend it now,’ quoth he.
212 Let me fiddle with all this for a while,
213 For I take pity on you, by Saint Giles!
214 You are full hot – I see how you do sweat.
215 Here, take a cloth, and wipe away the wet.’
216 And while the priest stood and wiped his face,
217 The canon took his coalmay he lack grace! –
218 And laid it above, on the middle ward
219 Of the crucible, and blew well afterward,
220 Till the coals burnt vigorously, and then:
221 Give us a drink,’ quoth the canonwhen,
222 In a trice all will be well, I undertake.
223 Sit us down, and let us merry make.’
224 And when the canon’s beechen coal
225 Was burnt, all the metal from the hole
226 Into the crucible flowed down anon
227 For so it had to do, as stands to reason,
228 Since laid so levelly above it was.
229 But the priest knew naught of it, alas!
230 He thought all the coals equally good,
231 For of the trick he nothing understood.
232 And when the alchemist saw it was time,
233 Rise up,’ quoth he, ‘sir priest and stand by me,
234 And since an ingot mould I know youve none,
235 Go walk forth, and bring me some chalk-stone,
236 For I will mould it into the same shape
237 That a silver ingot has, its form I’ll ape.
238 And bring with you, too, a bowl or pan
239 Full of water and you will see, good man,
240 How our affair shall prosper and conceive.
241 But wait: so that you may not misbelieve
242 Nor have suspicions of me in your absence,
243 I will not stay here out of your presence,
244 But go with you, and come with you again.’
245 The chamber door, shortly, to explain,
246 They opened and shut, and went their way,
247 And carried the key with them, I may say,
248 And came back again without delay.
249 Why tarry, in telling this, the livelong day?
250 He took the chalk, and carved it in the wise
251 Of a silver ingot mould, that’s no surprise.
252 I say, he took from out of his own sleeve
253 A silver rodcurse those who do deceive! –
254 Which was exactly a full ounce in weight.
255 And take heed now of the trick he played:
256 He carved his ingot mould in length and breadth
257 To fit this rod, cunningly, as I said,
258 So slyly that the priest naught espied,
259 And in his sleeve again he did it hide,
260 And from the fire he took up his matter,
261 And poured it in the mould, with merry cheer,
262 Then in the water he the mould did cast
263 As he wished; and the priest called at the last,
264 Look what is thereput in your hand and grope!
265 You will find silver there, I dare to hope.’
266 What else, by the Devil and Hell, could it be?
267 Silver shavings formed it, utterly!
268 The priest put in his hand, and plain as plain
269 Found the silver rod: joy through every vein
270 Of the priest coursed, on seeing it was so.
271 God’s blessing, and his mother’s also,
272 And all his saints, on you, sir canon!’
273 Said the priest, ‘and on me derision,
274 Ifshould you agree that youll teach me
275 This noble craft and all its subtlety
276 I am not yours, in all that ever I may.’
277 Quoth the canon: ‘Yet will I make assay
278 A second time, so that you may take heed
279 And become expert, and when you need
280 To do so, another day, in my absence,
281 Work this discipline and skilful science.
282 Let us take up another ounce,’ quoth he,
283 Of quicksilver, at once, and rapidly
284 Do with it as you have done ere this
285 With the other, which turned to silver is.’
286 The priest busies himself quick as he can
287 To do just as the canon, that wicked man,
288 Has commanded him, and fast blows the fire
289 To come at all the fruits of his desire.
290 And the canon too, in the meanwhile,
291 Is all ready the priest to twice beguile;
292 And in pretence in his hand does bear
293 A hollow sticktake note and be aware! –
294 In the end of which an ounce, and no more
295 Of silver metal was placed, as before
296 In the coal, and sealed with wax as well,
297 To keep the bits of metal where they must dwell.
298 And while the priest arranged the business,
299 The canon with his stick began to address
300 The crucible and all his powder he cast in,
301 As he did beforethe devil out of his skin
302 Flay him, I pray to God, for his deceit!
303 For he was ever false in thought and deed
304 And with his stick, above the crucible,
305 That was all charged with that false metal,
306 He stirred the coals till to melt began
307 The wax within the fire, as every man,
308 Knows well it should, unless he is a fool,
309 And all that was in the stick poured out too
310 And into the crucible it swiftly fell.
311 Now, good sires, what do you think befell?
312 When the priest was thus beguiled again,
313 Supposing it naught but true, truth to say,
314 He was so glad I can scarce express
315 The nature of his mirth and his gladness;
316 As for the canon he offered him the moon,
317 His body and soul. Quoth the canon soon,
318 Though poor I be, skilful you shall me find,
319 I warn you; and there is yet more behind.
320 Is there any copper about?’ said he.
321 Yes, sire,’ quoth the priest, ‘I think there be.’
322 – ‘If not, go buy some now for us, quickly!
323 Good sire, be on your way, and haste thee.’
324 The priest went off, and with the copper came,
325 And the canon took in his hands the same,
326 And of the copper weighed out just an ounce.
327 All too powerless is my tongue to pronounce,
328 As minister to my thought, the wickedness
329 Of this canon, root of all sinfulness!
330 He seemed a friend to those who knew him not,
331 But he was a fiend, in his deeds and thought.
332 It wearies me to tell of all his falseness,
333 Yet nevertheless, I will it all express,
334 So that men may be made aware, thereby,
335 And for no other reason, the truth say I.
336 The ounce of copper in the crucible
337 He placed, and on the fire set the metal,
338 Cast in the powder, made the priest to blow,
339 And in his working made him stoop down low,
340 As he did beforethe whole thing was a jape;
341 As he had wished, he made the priest his ape!
342 And afterwards, in the mould the metal cast,
343 And in the pan placed it at the last
344 Of water, and into it put his hand,
345 And in his sleeve (just as beforehand
346 You heard me tell) he had a silver rod.
347 He slyly took it out, this cursed of God,
348 The priest ignorant still of his false craft,
349 And in the bottom of the pan (you laughed!)
350 Placed it, tumbling the water to and fro,
351 And wondrous secretly took up also
352 The copper rod, invisibly to the priest,
353 And hid it, and by the arm him seized,
354 And spoke to him, and carried on the game:
355 Stoop down nowby God, or youre to blame! –
356 Help me now, as I did you before. Where
357 Is your hand? Dip in, and see what’s there.’
358 The priest took up the silver rod anon;
359 And then said the canon: ‘Let us now be gone,
360 With these three rods, that we have wrought,
361 To a goldsmith, and see if they be aught.
362 For, by my faith I’d swear, by my hood,
363 That they are pure silver, fine and good,
364 And that swiftly proven shall it be.’
365 Off to the goldsmith with these rods three
366 They went, and put the rods to the assay
367 With fire and hammer; and none could say
368 They were not what they ought to be.
369 The foolish priest, who was gladder than he?
370 There was never bird gladder to see the day,
371 No nightingale in the merry month of May
372 Was ever more eager than him to sing,
373 No lady more vigorous in carolling,
374 Or speaking of love and womanhood,
375 No knight in arms to show as brave and good,
376 To gain the favour of his lady dear,
377 Than was this priest an expert to appear!
378 And to the canon thus he loudly cried:
379 For love of God, who for us all has died,
380 And as I may deserve your favour, how
381 Much does this secret cost? Tell me now!’
382 By our lady,’ quoth the canon, ‘it comes dear,
383 I warn you; for save I, and one, my peer,
384 In England no other man can silver make.’
385 No matter,’ quoth he, ‘now, sire, for God’s sake,
386 What must I pay? Tell me that, I pray.’
387 Well,’ quoth he, ‘it is full dear, I say.
388 Sire, in a word, if such is what you crave,
389 You must pay forty pounds, so God me save!
390 And were it not for the friendship, as it is,
391 Youve showed to me, it would be more than this.’
392 The priest the sum of forty pounds anon,
393 In nobles, fetched, and took them every one
394 To the canon for his formula, complete.
395 All his working was but fraud and deceit.
396 Sir priest,’ he said, ‘I cannot make the most
397 Of my craft, its secrets must be kept close;
398 So, as you love me, keep them secretly,
399 For, if men knew of all my subtlety,
400 By God, they’d be so possessed by envy
401 Of me, because of all my alchemy,
402 I’d be stone dead; that would be their way.’
403 God forbid!’ quoth the priest, ‘What’s this you say?
404 I’d rather spend all the wealth I had,
405 Or hope to have, else may I be mad,
406 Than to see you suffer such misdeed.’
407 Of your goodwill, you show proof indeed!’
408 Quoth the canon, ‘Now farewell, grant merci!’
409 He went his way, and never the priest did see
410 Him from that day to this; and when the priest
411 Made assay, the next time that he wished,
412 Of the formula, farewell! – It was deceit!
413 Lo thus befuddled, and beguiled was he!
414 So does the canon make preparation
415 To bring folk to their own destruction.
416 Consider, sires, how in all walks of life,
417 Between men and gold there is ever strife,
418 So much so that there is scarcely any.
419 This alchemy now has so blinded many
420 That, in good faith, I swear that it must be
421 The greatest cause of all this scarcity.
422 Philosophers speak so mistily
423 Of this craft, that men can barely see,
424 Not with the wit that men have nowadays.
425 They may go on chattering like jays,
426 And on its jargon wager joy and pain,
427 But to its end they never will attain.
428 A man easily learn, if he owns aught,
429 Tomultiply’, and bring his wealth to naught.
430 Lo, such a profit there is in this sweet game:
431 A man’s mirth it will turn to woe and shame,
432 Empty out their large and heavy purses,
433 And end in folk purchasing fresh curses
434 From those that to it their wealth have turned.
435 O fie, for shame! – They that have been burned,
436 Can they not learn, alas, to shun the heat?
437 You that try it, I’d advise you flee it,
438 Or lose all; better than never is late.
439 For wealth, ‘neveris far too long to wait;
440 Though you search always, youll never find.
441 You are as bold as Bayard is, the blind
442 And blundering horse, perils all unknown.
443 He is as like to run against a stone
444 As to wander along the broad highway.
445 So fare you all whomultiply’ I say.
446 If your eyes cannot see aright,
447 Be careful your mind lacks not its sight;
448 For though you gaze ever so wide, or stare,
449 Youll win nothing at all by dabbling there,
450 But merely waste all you may seize in turn.
451 Dampen the fire lest it swiftly burn;
452 Meddle no more with all that art, I mean,
453 For if you do, your coffers will be clean.
454 And listen to me again, here’s the chatter:
455 What true alchemists made of this matter.
456 Give Arnold of Villanova your attention
457 In his Rosary the process he does mention
458 He speaks thus, without shadow of a lie:
459 No man may harden mercury, say I,
460 Without his brother sulphur inflowing.’
461 Yet the man who first said this thing
462 Was the father of the alchemists, Hermes;
463 He says that the dragon, if you please,
464 Does not die unless he in turn is slain
465 With his brother, and, I should explain,
466 By the dragon, mercury, and no other
467 He understood, and brimstone by his brother,
468 That out of Sol and Luna men do draw.
469 And therefore,’ said helisten to my lore
470 Let no man busy himself those heights to reach,
471 Unless the intention and the speech
472 Of the alchemists he does understand.
473 And if he does not, he’s a foolish man;
474 For this science and this skill,’ quoth he,
475 Is the most secret of secrets, trust in me.’
476 Also there was a disciple of Plato
477 Who once spoke to his master – I know,
478 For the book Senior Zadith bears witness
479 Making demand that the truth he express:
480 Tell me the name of the secret stone.’
481 And Plato answered him right anon:
482 Take the stone that men Titanos name – ’
483 What is that?’ quoth he; ‘Magnesia is the same,’
484 Said Plato. ‘Yea, sire, and is it thus?
485 You explain ignotum per ignocius!
486 What is Magnesia then, good sire, I pray?’
487 It is a liquid that is made, I say,
488 Out of four elements,’ then quoth Plato.
489 Tell me the root, good sire,’ quoth he also,
490 Of that liquid, if so be your will.’
491 Nay,’ quoth Plato, ‘It is a secret, still!
492 The philosophers are sworn every one
493 To reveal the essence of this to none,
494 Nor write it in a book in any manner,
495 For to God it is so precious and dear
496 That he wishes not its discovery,
497 Save where it is pleasing to his deity
498 To enlighten men, and thus to defend
499 The truth from others; lo, this is the end!’
500 So I conclude thus, since the God of Heaven
501 Won’t allow philosophers, with reason,
502 To say how men might come at this stone,
503 I advise you for the best, let it alone!
504 For whoever makes God his adversary,
505 And tries to work a thing that’s contrary
506 To His will, for sure, shall never thrive,
507 Though hemultiplyas long as he’s alive.
508 And that’s the point; for ended is my tale.
509 God send every true man grace without fail!
【 】The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue and Tale
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