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The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

  General Prologue Page 4

page General Prologue: Page 4

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Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
120Hir gretteste ooth was but by sëynt Loy;
And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
Ful wel she song the service divyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle;
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fingres in hir sauce depe.
130Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,
That no drope ne fille upon hir brest.
In curteisye was set ful muche hir lest.
Hir over lippe wyped she so clene,
That in hir coppe was no ferthing sene
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte,
And sikerly she was of greet disport,
And ful plesaunt, and amiable of port,
And peyned hir to countrefete chere
140Of court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But, for to speken of hir conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She wolde wepe, if that she sawe a mous
Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes had she, that she fedde
With rosted flesh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But sore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte:
150And al was conscience and tendre herte.
Ful semely hir wimpel pinched was;
Hir nose tretys; hir eyen greye as glas;
Hir mouth ful smal, and ther-to softe and reed;
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe;
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetis was hir cloke, as I was war.
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene;
160And ther-on heng a broche of gold ful shene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.
Another NONNE with hir hadde she
That was hir chapeleyne, and PREESTES three.
There was also a PRIORESS, a nun named Madame Englantine, who ran a convent. She had a sweet and modest smile and was very friendly and easy to get along with. She sang hymns kind of through her nose, which actually sounded pretty good. She spoke French fluently—though still with an English accent. She prided herself on her proper manners and etiquette. For example, she always served herself small portions and took small bites of food so that none would fall out of her mouth or get her fingers too messy. And before taking a drink, she would dab her lip with a napkin so that food didn’t get all over her cup. She went to great lengths to appear well mannered and worthy of being a prioress. She was one of those people who felt so strongly for others that she would burst into tears if she saw a mouse caught in a trap. In fact, the only time she’d swear would be to say “By Saint Loy!” She had a few small dogs with her and would feed them only the finest food—roasted meat, milk, fine bread. She’d cry if one of those dogs died or was abused by someone else. She really did wear her heart on her sleeve. She had a fine nose, bright eyes, a small red mouth, and a broad forehead. In fact, her forehead was almost as wide as the span of my hand, since she was a good-sized woman. She wore a pretty cloak and a well-pressed cloth around her neck. Around her arm she wore a rosary made of coral and green beads, and on this string of beads hung a golden brooch with the letter A and the inscription Amor vincit onmnia—love conquers all. She was accompanied by three priests and another nun, who was her assistant.