Or, the Tale of the Nun's Priest.
There lived, as authors tell, in days of yore, A widow somewhat old, and very poor: Deep in a cell her cottage lonely stood, Well thatch'd, and under covert of a wood. This dowager, on whom my tale I found, Since last she laid her husband in the ground, A simple sober life, in patience, led, And had but just enough to buy her bread: But huswifing the little Heaven had lent, She duly paid a groat for quarter rent; 10 And pinch'd her belly, with her daughters two, To bring the year about with much ado.
The cattle in her homestead were three sows, A ewe call'd Mally, and three brinded cows. Her parlour-window stuck with herbs around, Of savoury smell; and rushes strew'd the ground. A mapple-dresser in her hall she had, On which full many a slender meal she made; For no delicious morsel pass'd her throat; According to her cloth she cut her coat: 20 No poignant sauce she knew, nor costly treat, Her hunger gave a relish to her meat: A sparing diet did her health assure; Or sick, a pepper posset was her cure. Before the day was done, her work she sped, And never went by candlelight to bed: With exercise she sweat ill humours out, Her dancing was not hindered by the gout. Her poverty was glad; her heart content; Nor knew she what the spleen or vapours meant. 30 Of wine she never tasted through the year, But white and black was all her homely cheer: Brown bread, and milk (but first she skimm'd her bowls), And rashers of singed bacon on the coals; On holy days, an egg or two at most; But her ambition never reach'd to roast.
A yard she had with pales enclosed about, Some high, some low, and a dry ditch without. Within this homestead lived, without a peer For crowing loud, the noble Chanticleer; 40 So hight her cock, whose singing did surpass The merry notes of organs at the mass. More certain was the crowing of the cock To number hours, than is an abbey-clock; And sooner than the matin-bell was rung, He clapp'd his wings upon his roost, and sung: For when degrees fifteen ascended right, By sure instinct he knew 'twas one at night. High was his comb, and coral-red withal, In dents embattled like a castle wall; 50 His bill was raven-black, and shone like jet; Blue were his legs, and orient were his feet; White were his nails, like silver to behold, His body glittering like the burnish'd gold. This gentle cock, for solace of his life, Six misses had, besides his lawful wife. Scandal that spares no king, though ne'er so good, Says, they were all of his own flesh and blood, His sisters both by sire and mother's side; And sure their likeness show'd them near allied. 60 But make the worst, the monarch did no more, Than all the Ptolemys had done before: When incest is for interest of a nation, 'Tis made no sin by holy dispensation. Some lines have been maintain'd by this alone, Which by their common ugliness are known.
But passing this, as from our tale apart, Dame Partlet was the sovereign of his heart: Ardent in love, outrageous in his play, He feather'd her a hundred times a day: 70 And she, that was not only passing fair, But was with all discreet, and debonair, Resolved the passive doctrine to fulfil, Though loth; and let him work his wicked will: At board and bed was affable and kind, According as their marriage vow did bind, And as the Church's precept had enjoin'd. Even since she was a se'ennight old, they say, Was chaste and humble to her dying day, Nor chick nor hen was known to disobey. 80
By this her husband's heart she did obtain; What cannot beauty, join'd with virtue, gain! She was his only joy, and he her pride, She, when he walk'd, went pecking by his side; If spurning up the ground, he sprung a corn, The tribute in his bill to her was borne. But oh! what joy it was to hear him sing In summer, when the day began to spring, Stretching his neck, and warbling in his throat; _Solus cum sola_ then was all his note. 90 For in the days of yore, the birds of parts Were bred to speak, and sing, and learn the liberal arts.
It happ'd that, perching on the parlour-beam Amidst his wives, he had a deadly dream, Just at the dawn; and sigh'd, and groan'd so fast, As every breath he drew would be his last. Dame Partlet, ever nearest to his side, Heard all his piteous moan, and how he cried For help from gods and men: and sore aghast She peck'd and pull'd, and waken'd him at last. 100 Dear heart, said she, for love of heaven declare Your pain, and make me partner in your care! You groan, sir, ever since the morning-light, As something had disturb'd your noble sprite.
And, madam, well I might, said Chanticleer; Never was shrovetide cock in such a fear. Even still I run all over in a sweat, My princely senses not recover'd yet. For such a dream I had, of dire portent, That much I fear my body will be shent: 110 It bodes I shall have wars and woful strife, Or in a loathsome dungeon end my life. Know, dame, I dreamt within my troubled breast, That in our yard I saw a murderous beast, That on my body would have made arrest. With waking eyes I ne'er beheld his fellow; His colour was betwixt a red and yellow: Tipp'd was his tail, and both his pricking ears Were black; and much unlike his other hairs: The rest, in shape a beagle's whelp throughout, 120 With broader forehead, and a sharper snout: Deep in his front were sunk his glowing eyes, That yet, methinks, I see him with surprise. Reach out your hand, I drop with clammy sweat, And lay it to my heart, and feel it beat. Now fie, for shame, quoth she; by Heaven above, Thou hast for ever lost thy lady's love! No woman can endure a recreant knight, He must be bold by day, and free by night: Our sex desires a husband or a friend, 130 Who can our honour and his own defend. Wise, hardy, secret, liberal of his purse: A fool is nauseous, but a coward worse: No bragging coxcomb, yet no baffled knight. How darest thou talk of love, and darest not fight? How darest thou tell thy dame thou art affear'd? Hast thou no manly heart, and hast a beard?
If aught from fearful dreams may be divined, They signify a cock of dunghill kind. All dreams, as in old Galen I have read, 140 Are from repletion and complexion bred; From rising fumes of indigested food, And noxious humours that infect the blood: And sure, my lord, if I can read aright, These foolish fancies you have had to-night Are certain symptoms (in the canting style) Of boiling choler, and abounding bile; This yellow gall, that in your stomach floats, Engenders all these visionary thoughts. When choler overflows, then dreams are bred 150 Of flames, and all the family of red; Red dragons, and red beasts, in sleep we view, For humours are distinguish'd by their hue. From hence we dream of wars and warlike things, And wasps and hornets with their double wings. Choler adust congeals our blood with fear, Then black bulls toss us, and black devils tear. In sanguine airy dreams, aloft we bound; With rheums oppress'd, we sink in rivers drown'd. More I could say, but thus conclude my theme, 160 The dominating humour makes the dream. Cato was in his time accounted wise, And he condemns them all for empty lies. Take my advice, and when we fly to ground, With laxatives preserve your body sound, And purge the peccant humours that abound. I should be loath to lay you on a bier; And though there lives no pothecary near, I dare for once prescribe for your disease, And save long bills, and a damn'd doctor's fees. 170 Two sovereign herbs, which I by practice know, And both at hand (for in our yard they grow), On peril of my soul shall rid you wholly Of yellow choler, and of melancholy: You must both purge, and vomit; but obey, And for the love of heaven make no delay. Since hot and dry in your complexion join, Beware the sun when in a vernal sign; For when he mounts exalted in the Ram, If then he finds your body in a flame, 180 Replete with choler, I dare lay a groat, A tertian ague is at least your lot. Perhaps a fever (which the gods forefend!) May bring your youth to some untimely end: And therefore, sir, as you desire to live, A day or two before your laxative, Take just three worms, nor under nor above, Because the gods unequal numbers love, These digestives prepare you for your purge; Of fumetory, centaury, and spurge, 190 And of ground ivy add a leaf or two,-- All which within our yard or garden grow. Eat these, and be, my lord, of better cheer; Your father's son was never born to fear.
Madam, quoth he, gramercy for your care, But Cato, whom you quoted, you may spare: 'Tis true, a wise and worthy man he seems, And (as you say) gave no belief to dreams: But other men of more authority, And, by the immortal powers! as wise as he, 200 Maintain, with sounder sense, that dreams forebode; For Homer plainly says they come from God. Nor Cato said it: but some modern fool Imposed in Cato's name on boys at school. Believe me, madam, morning dreams foreshow The events of things, and future weal or woe: Some truths are not by reason to be tried, But we have sure experience for our guide. An ancient author, equal with the best, Relates this tale of dreams among the rest. 210
Two friends or brothers, with devout intent, On some far pilgrimage together went. It happen'd so that, when the sun was down, They just arrived by twilight at a town; That day had been the baiting of a bull, 'Twas at a feast, and every inn so full, That no void room in chamber, or on ground, And but one sorry bed was to be found: And that so little it would hold but one, Though till this hour they never lay alone. 220 So were they forced to part; one staid behind, His fellow sought what lodging he could find: At last he found a stall where oxen stood, And that he rather chose than lie abroad. 'Twas in a farther yard without a door; But, for his ease, well litter'd was the floor. His fellow, who the narrow bed had kept, Was weary, and without a rocker slept: Supine he snored; but in the dead of night He dream'd his friend appear'd before his sight, 230 Who, with a ghastly look and doleful cry, Said, Help me, brother, or this night I die: Arise, and help, before all help be vain, Or in an ox's stall I shall be slain. Roused from his rest, he waken'd in a start, Shivering with horror, and with aching heart; At length to cure himself by reason tries; 'Tis but a dream, and what are dreams but lies? So thinking, changed his side, and closed his eyes. His dream returns; his friend appears again: 240 The murderers come, now help, or I am slain: 'Twas but a vision still, and visions are but vain. He dream'd the third: but now his friend appear'd Pale, naked, pierced with wounds, with blood besmear'd: Thrice warn'd, awake, said he; relief is late, The deed is done; but thou revenge my fate: Tardy of aid, unseal thy heavy eyes; Awake, and with the dawning day arise: Take to the western gate thy ready way, For by that passage they my corpse convey: 250 My corpse is in a tumbril laid, among The filth and ordure, and enclosed with dung; That cart arrest, and raise a common cry; For sacred hunger of my gold, I die: Then show'd his grisly wound; and last he drew A piteous sigh, and took a long adieu.
The frighted friend arose by break of day, And found the stall where late his fellow lay. Then of his impious host inquiring more, Was answer'd that his guest was gone before: 260 Muttering he went, said he, by morning light, And much complain'd of his ill rest by night. This raised suspicion in the pilgrim's mind; Because all hosts are of an evil kind, And oft to share the spoils with robbers join'd.
His dream confirm'd his thought: with troubled look Straight to the western gate his way he took: There, as his dream foretold, a cart he found, That carried compost forth to dung the ground. This when the pilgrim saw, he stretch'd his throat, 270 And cried out murder with a yelling note. My murder'd fellow in this cart lies dead, Vengeance and justice on the villain's head; You, magistrates, who sacred laws dispense, On you I call to punish this offence.
The word thus given, within a little space The mob came roaring out, and throng'd the place. All in a trice they cast the cart to ground, And in the dung the murder'd body found; Though breathless, warm, and reeking from the wound. Good Heaven, whose darling attribute we find Is boundless grace and mercy to mankind, 280 Abhors the cruel; and the deeds of night By wondrous ways reveals in open light: Murder may pass unpunish'd for a time, But tardy justice will o'ertake the crime. And oft a speedier pain the guilty feels; The hue and cry of Heaven pursues him at the heels, Fresh from the fact; as in the present case, The criminals are seized upon the place: 290 Carter and host confronted face to face. Stiff in denial, as the law appoints, On engines they distend their tortured joints: So was confession forced, the offence was known, And public justice on the offenders done.
Here may you see that visions are to dread; And in the page that follows this, I read Of two young merchants, whom the hope of gain Induced in partnership to cross the main: Waiting till willing winds their sails supplied, 300 Within a trading town they long abide, Full fairly situate on a haven's side.
One evening it befell, that, looking out, The wind they long had wish'd was come about: Well pleased, they went to rest; and if the gale Till morn continued, both resolved to sail. But as together in a bed they lay, The younger had a dream at break of day. A man he thought stood frowning at his side: Who warn'd him for his safety to provide, 310 Nor put to sea, but safe on shore abide. I come, thy Genius, to command thy stay; Trust not the winds, for fatal is the day, And death unhoped attends the watery way. The vision said; and vanish'd from his sight: The dreamer waken'd in a mortal fright: Then pull'd his drowsy neighbour, and declared What in his slumber he had seen and heard. His friend smiled scornful, and with proud contempt Rejects as idle what his fellow dreamt. 320 Stay, who will stay: for me no fears restrain, Who follow Mercury, the god of gain; Let each man do as to his fancy seems, I wait, not I, till you have better dreams. Dreams are but interludes which fancy makes; When monarch Reason sleeps, this mimic wakes: Compounds a medley of disjointed things, A mob of cobblers, and a court of kings: Light fumes are merry, grosser fumes are sad: Both are the reasonable soul run mad: 330 And many monstrous forms in sleep we see, That neither were, nor are, nor e'er can be. Sometimes forgotten things, long cast behind, Rush forward in the brain, and come to mind. The nurse's legends are for truths received, And the man dreams but what the boy believed.
Sometimes we but rehearse a former play, The night restores our actions done by day; As hounds in sleep will open for their prey. In short, the farce of dreams is of a piece: 340 Chimeras all; and more absurd, or less: You, who believe in tales, abide alone; Whate'er I get this voyage is my own.
Thus while he spoke, he heard the shouting crew That call'd aboard, and took his last adieu. The vessel went before a merry gale, And for quick passage put on every sail: But when least fear'd, and even in open day, The mischief overtook her in the way: Whether she sprung a leak, I cannot find, 350 Or whether she was overset with wind, Or that some rock below her bottom rent; But down at once with all her crew she went: Her fellow ships from far her loss descried; But only she was sunk, and all were safe beside.
By this example you are taught again, That dreams and visions are not always vain: But if, dear Partlet, you are still in doubt, Another tale shall make the former out.
Kenelm, the son of Kenulph, Mercia's king, 360 Whose holy life the legends loudly sing, Warn'd in a dream, his murder did foretell From point to point as after it befell: All circumstances to his nurse he told, (A wonder from a child of seven years old): The dream with horror heard, the good old wife From treason counsell'd him to guard his life; But close to keep the secret in his mind, For a boy's vision small belief would find. The pious child, by promise bound, obey'd, 370 Nor was the fatal murder long delay'd: By Quenda slain, he fell before his time, Made a young martyr by his sister's crime. The tale is told by venerable Bede, Which, at your better leisure, you may read.
Macrobius, too, relates the vision sent To the great Scipio, with the famed event: Objections makes, but after makes replies, And adds, that dreams are often prophecies.
Of Daniel you may read in holy writ, 380 Who, when the king his vision did forget, Could word for word the wondrous dream repeat. Nor less of patriarch Joseph understand, Who by a dream enslaved the Egyptian land, The years of plenty and of dearth foretold, When, for their bread, their liberty they sold. Nor must the exalted butler be forgot, Nor he whose dream presaged his hanging lot.
And did not Croesus the same death foresee, Raised in his vision on a lofty tree? 390 The wife of Hector, in his utmost pride, Dream'd of his death the night before he died; Well was he warn'd from battle to refrain, But men to death decreed are warn'd in vain: He dared the dream, and by his fatal foe was slain.
Much more I know, which I forbear to speak, For, see, the ruddy day begins to break; Let this suffice, that plainly I foresee My dream was bad, and bodes adversity: But neither pills nor laxatives I like, 400 They only serve to make the well-man sick: Of these his gain the sharp physician makes, And often gives a purge, but seldom takes: They not correct, but poison all the blood, And ne'er did any but the doctors good. Their tribe, trade, trinkets, I defy them all; With every work of pothecary's hall. These melancholy matters I forbear: But let me tell thee, Partlet mine, and swear, That when I view the beauties of thy face, 410 I fear not death, nor dangers, nor disgrace: So may my soul have bliss, as when I spy The scarlet red about thy partridge eye, While thou art constant to thy own true knight, While thou art mine, and I am thy delight, All sorrows at thy presence take their flight. For true it is, as _in principio, Mulier est hominis confusio_. Madam, the meaning of this Latin is, That woman is to man his sovereign bliss. 420 For when by night I feel your tender side, Though for the narrow perch I cannot ride, Yet I have such a solace in my mind, That all my boding cares are cast behind; And even already I forget my dream. He said, and downward flew from off the beam; For daylight now began apace to spring, The thrush to whistle, and the lark to sing; Then, crowing, clapp'd his wings, the appointed call, To chuck his wives together in the hall. 430
By this the widow had unbarr'd the door, And Chanticleer went strutting out before. With royal courage, and with heart so light, As show'd he scorned the visions of the night. Now roaming in the yard, he spurn'd the ground, And gave to Partlet the first grain he found; Then often feather'd her with wanton play, And trod her twenty times ere prime of day; And took by turns, and gave, so much delight, Her sisters pined with envy at the sight. 440 He chuck'd again, when other corns he found, And scarcely deign'd to set a foot to ground; But swagger'd like a lord about his hall, And his seven wives came running at his call.
'Twas now the month in which the world began, (If March beheld the first created man): And since the vernal equinox, the sun, In Aries twelve degrees, or more, had run; When, casting up his eyes against the light, Both month, and day, and hour he measured right; 450 And told more truly than the Ephemeris: For art may err, but nature cannot miss. Thus numbering times and seasons in his breast, His second crowing the third hour confess'd. Then turning, said to Partlet, See, my dear, How lavish nature has adorn'd the year; How the pale primrose and blue violet spring, And birds essay their throats disused to sing: All these are ours; and I with pleasure see Man strutting on two legs, and aping me: 460 An unfledged creature, of a lumpish frame, Endow'd with fewer particles of flame; Our dame sits cowering o'er a kitchen fire, I draw fresh air, and nature's works admire: And even this day in more delight abound, Than, since I was an egg, I ever found.
The time shall come when Chanticleer shall wish His words unsaid, and hate his boasted bliss: The crested bird shall by experience know, Jove made not him his masterpiece below; 470 And learn the latter end of joy is woe. The vessel of his bliss to dregs is run, And Heaven will have him taste his other tun.
Ye wise, draw near, and hearken to my tale, Which proves that oft the proud by flattery fall: The legend is as true, I undertake, As Tristran is, and Launcelot of the lake: Which all our ladies in such reverence hold, As if in Book of Martyrs it were told.
A fox, full-fraught with seeming sanctity, 480 That fear'd an oath, but, like the devil, would lie; Who look'd like Lent, and had the holy leer, And durst not sin before he said his prayer; This pious cheat, that never suck'd the blood, Nor chew'd the flesh of lambs, but when he could, Had pass'd three summers in the neighbouring wood: And musing long, whom next to circumvent, On Chanticleer his wicked fancy bent; And in his high imagination cast, By stratagem, to gratify his taste. 490
The plot contrived, before the break of day Saint Reynard through the hedge had made his way; The pale was next, but proudly with a bound He leapt the fence of the forbidden ground: Yet fearing to be seen, within a bed Of coleworts he conceal'd his wily head; Then skulk'd till afternoon, and watch'd his time (As murderers use) to perpetrate his crime.
Oh, hypocrite, ingenious to destroy! Oh, traitor, worse than Sinon was to Troy! 500 Oh, vile subverter of the Gallic reign, More false than Gano was to Charlemagne! Oh, Chanticleer, in an unhappy hour Didst thou forsake the safety of thy bower! Better for thee thou hadst believed thy dream, And not that day descended from the beam. But here the doctors eagerly dispute: Some hold predestination absolute; Some clerks maintain, that Heaven at first foresees, And in the virtue of foresight decrees. 510 If this be so, then prescience binds the will, And mortals are not free to good or ill; For what he first foresaw, he must ordain, Or its eternal prescience may be vain: As bad for us as prescience had not been: For first, or last, he's author of the sin. And who says that, let the blaspheming man Say worse even of the devil, if he can. For how can that Eternal Power be just To punish man, who sins because he must? 520 Or, how can he reward a virtuous deed, Which is not done by us; but first decreed?
I cannot bolt this matter to the bran, As Bradwardin and holy Austin can; If prescience can determine actions so That we must do, because he did foreknow, Or that, foreknowing, yet our choice is free, Not forced to sin by strict necessity; This strict necessity they simple call, Another sort there is conditional. 530 The first so binds the will, that things foreknown By spontaneity, not choice, are done. Thus galley-slaves tug willing at their oar, Content to work, in prospect of the shore; But would not work at all if not constrain'd before. That other does not liberty constrain, But man may either act, or may refrain. Heaven made us agents free to good or ill, And forced it not, though he foresaw the will. Freedom was first bestow'd on human race, 540 And prescience only held the second place.
If he could make such agents wholly free, I not dispute, the point's too high for me; For Heaven's unfathom'd power what man can sound, Or put to his Omnipotence a bound? He made us to his image, all agree; That image is the soul, and that must be, Or not, the Maker's image, or be free. But whether it were better man had been By nature bound to good, not free to sin, 550 I waive, for fear of splitting on a rock, The tale I tell is only of a cock; Who had not run the hazard of his life, Had he believed his dream, and not his wife: For women, with a mischief to their kind, Pervert with bad advice our better mind. A woman's counsel brought us first to woe, And made her man his paradise forego, Where at heart's ease he lived; and might have been As free from sorrow as he was from sin. 560 For what the devil had their sex to do, That, born to folly, they presumed to know, And could not see the serpent in the grass? But I myself presume, and let it pass.
Silence in times of suffering is the best, 'Tis dangerous to disturb an hornet's nest. In other authors you may find enough, But all they say of dames is idle stuff: 568 Legends of lying wits together bound, The Wife of Bath would throw them to the ground; These are the words of Chanticleer, not mine; I honour dames, and think their sex divine.
Now to continue what my tale begun: Lay Madam Partlet basking in the sun, Breast-high in sand: her sisters in a row Enjoy'd the beams above, the warmth below; The cock, that of his flesh was ever free, Sung merrier than the mermaid in the sea: And so befell, that as he cast his eye Among the coleworts on a butterfly, 580 He saw false Reynard where he lay full low: I need not swear he had no list to crow: But cried _cock, cock_, and gave a sudden start, As sore dismay'd, and frighted at his heart: For birds and beasts, inform'd by nature, know Kinds opposite to theirs, and fly their foe; So Chanticleer, who never saw a fox, Yet shunn'd him as a sailor shuns the rocks. But the false loon, who could not work his will But open force, employ'd his flattering skill; 590 I hope, my lord, said he, I not offend; Are you afraid of me, that am your friend? I were a beast indeed to do you wrong, I, who have loved and honour'd you so long: Stay, gentle sir, nor take a false alarm, For, on my soul, I never meant you harm. I come no spy, nor as a traitor press, To learn the secrets of your soft recess: Far be from Reynard so profane a thought, But by the sweetness of your voice was brought: 600 For, as I bid my beads, by chance I heard The song as of an angel in the yard; A song that would have charm'd the infernal gods, And banish'd horror from the dark abodes: Had Orpheus sung it in the nether sphere, So much the hymn had pleased the tyrant's ear, The wife had been detain'd, to keep the husband there.
My lord, your sire familiarly I knew, A peer deserving such a son as you: He, with your lady-mother (whom Heaven rest!) 610 Has often graced my house, and been my guest; To view his living features does me good, For I am your poor neighbour in the wood; And in my cottage should be proud to see The worthy heir of my friend's family. But since I speak of singing, let me say, As with an upright heart I safely may, That, save yourself, there breathes not on the ground One like your father for a silver sound. So sweetly would he wake the winter day, 620 That matrons to the church mistook their way, And thought they heard the merry organ play. And he, to raise his voice, with artful care, (What will not beaux attempt to please the fair?) On tiptoe stood to sing with greater strength, And stretch'd his comely neck at all the length: And while he strain'd his voice to pierce the skies, As saints in raptures use, would shut his eyes, That the sound striving through the narrow throat, His winking might avail to mend the note, 630 By this, in song, he never had his peer, From sweet Cecilia down to Chanticleer; Nor Maro's muse, who sung the mighty Man, Nor Pindar's heavenly lyre, nor Horace when a swan. Your ancestors proceed from race divine: From Brennus and Belinus is your line; Who gave to sovereign Rome such loud alarms, That even the priests were not excused from arms.
Besides, a famous monk of modern times Has left of cocks recorded in his rhymes, 640 That of a parish priest the son and heir (When sons of priests were from the proverb clear), Affronted once a cock of noble kind, And either lamed his legs, or struck him blind; For which the clerk his father was disgraced, And in his benefice another placed. Now sing, my lord, if not for love of me, Yet for the sake of sweet Saint Charity; Make hills and dales, and earth and heaven rejoice, And emulate your father's angel-voice. 650
The cock was pleased to hear him speak so fair, And proud beside, as solar people are; Nor could the treason from the truth descry, So was he ravish'd with this flattery; So much the more, as from a little elf He had a high opinion of himself; Though sickly, slender, and not large of limb, Concluding all the world was made for him.
Ye princes, raised by poets to the gods, And Alexander'd up in lying odes! 660 Believe not every flattering knave's report, There's many a Reynard lurking in the court; And he shall be received with more regard, And listen'd to, than modest truth is heard.
This Chanticleer, of whom the story sings, Stood high upon his toes, and clapp'd his wings; Then stretch'd his neck, and wink d with both his eyes, Ambitious as he sought the Olympic prize. But while he pain'd himself to raise his note, False Renyard rush'd and caught him by the throat. 670 Then on his back he laid the precious load, And sought his wonted shelter of the wood; Swiftly he made his way the mischief done, Of all unheeded, and pursued by none.
Alas, what stay is there in human state! Or who can shun inevitable fate? The doom was written, the decree was pass'd, Ere the foundations of the world were cast! In Aries though the sun exalted stood, His patron-planet, to procure his good; 680 Yet Saturn was his mortal foe, and he, In Libra raised, opposed the same degree: The rays both good and bad, of equal power, Each thwarting other, made a mingled hour.
On Friday morn he dreamt this direful dream, Cross to the worthy native, in his scheme! Ah, blissful Venus, Goddess of delight! How couldst thou suffer thy devoted knight On thy own day to fall by foe oppress'd, The wight of all the world who served thee best? 690 Who, true to love, was all for recreation, And minded not the work of propagation. Ganfride, who couldst so well in rhyme complain The death of Richard with an arrow slain, Why had not I thy muse, or thou my heart, To sing this heavy dirge with equal art? That I, like thee, on Friday might complain; For on that day was Coeur de Lion slain.
Not louder cries, when Ilium was in flames, Were sent to Heaven by woful Trojan dames, 700 When Pyrrhus toss'd on high his burnish'd blade, And offer'd Priam to his father's shade, Than for the cock the widow'd poultry made. Fair Partlet first, when he was borne from sight, With sovereign shrieks bewail'd her captive knight: Far louder than the Carthaginian wife, When Asdrubal, her husband, lost his life; When she beheld the smouldering flames ascend, And all the Punic glories at an end: Willing into the fires she plunged her head, 710 With greater ease than others seek their bed. Not more aghast the matrons of renown, When tyrant Nero burn'd the imperial town, Shriek'd for the downfall in a doleful cry, For which their guiltless lords were doom'd to die.
Now to my story I return again: The trembling widow, and her daughters twain, This woful cackling cry with horror heard, Of those distracted damsels in the yard; And starting up beheld the heavy sight, 720 How Reynard to the forest took his flight, And 'cross his back, as in triumphant scorn, The hope and pillar of the house was borne.
The fox! the wicked fox! was all the cry; Out from his house ran every neighbour nigh: The vicar first, and after him the crew, With forks and staves the felon to pursue. Ran Coll our dog, and Talbot with the band, And Malkin, with her distaff in her hand: Ran cow and calf, and family of hogs, 730 In panic horror of pursuing dogs; With many a deadly grunt and doleful squeak, Poor swine, as if their pretty hearts would break. The shouts of men, the women in dismay, With shrieks augment the terror of the day. The ducks that heard the proclamation cried, And fear'd a persecution might betide, Full twenty miles from town their voyage take, Obscure in rushes of the liquid lake. The geese fly o'er the barn; the bees in arms 740 Drive headlong from their waxen cells in swarms. Jack Straw at London-stone, with all his rout, Struck not the city with so loud a shout; Not when, with English hate, they did pursue A Frenchman, or an unbelieving Jew: Not when the welkin rung with 'one and all;' And echoes bounded back from Fox's hall: Earth seem'd to sink beneath, and heaven above to fall. With might and main they chased the murderous fox, With brazen trumpets, and inflated box, 750 To kindle Mars with military sounds, Nor wanted horns to inspire sagacious hounds.
But see how Fortune can confound the wise, And when they least expect it, turn the dice! The captive-cock, who scarce could draw his breath, And lay within the very jaws of death; Yet in this agony his fancy wrought, And fear supplied him with this happy thought:
Yours is the prize, victorious prince! said he, The vicar my defeat, and all the village see. 760 Enjoy your friendly fortune while you may, And bid the churls that envy you the prey Call back their mongrel curs, and cease their cry, See, fools, the shelter of the wood is nigh, And Chanticleer in your despite shall die, He shall be pluck'd and eaten to the bone.
'Tis well advised, in faith it shall be done; This Reynard said: but as the word he spoke, The prisoner with a spring from prison broke; Then stretch'd his feather'd fans with all his might, 770 And to the neighbouring maple wing'd his flight; Whom, when the traitor safe on tree beheld, He cursed the gods, with shame and sorrow fill'd: Shame for his folly, sorrow out of time, For plotting an unprofitable crime; Yet mastering both, the artificer of lies Renews the assault, and his last battery tries.
Though I, said he, did ne'er in thought offend, How justly may my lord suspect his friend? The appearance is against me, I confess, 780 Who seemingly have put you in distress: You, if your goodness does not plead my cause, May think I broke all hospitable laws, To bear you from your palace-yard by might, And put your noble person in a fright: This, since you take it ill, I must repent, Though, Heaven can witness, with no bad intent: I practised it, to make you taste your cheer With double pleasure, first prepared by fear. So loyal subjects often seize their prince, 790 Forced (for his good) to seeming violence, Yet mean his sacred person not the least offence. Descend; so help me Jove, as you shall find, That Reynard comes of no dissembling kind.
Nay, quoth the Cock, but I beshrew us both, If I believe a saint upon his oath: An honest man may take a knave's advice, But idiots only may be cozen'd twice: Once warn'd is well bewared; no nattering lies Shall soothe me more to sing with winking eyes, 800 And open mouth, for fear of catching flies. Who blindfold walks upon a river's brim, When he should see, has he deserved to swim?
Better, Sir Cock, let all contention cease, Come down, said Reynard, let us treat of peace. A peace with all my soul, said Chanticleer; But, with your favour, I will treat it here: And, lest the truce with treason should be mix'd, 'Tis my concern to have the tree betwixt.
In this plain fable you the effect may see 810 Of negligence, and fond credulity: And learn besides of flatterers to beware, Then most pernicious when they speak too fair. The cock and fox, the fool and knave imply; The truth is moral, though the tale a lie. Who spoke in parables, I dare not say; But sure he knew it was a pleasing way, Sound sense, by plain example, to convey. And in a heathen author we may find, That pleasure with instruction should be join'd; 820 So take the corn, and leave the chaff behind.
[Footnote 72: 'Alexander'd': an allusion to his famous ode.]
[Footnote 73: 'Ganfride': a mediæval ballad-monger.]
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