Original Text

Modern Text

Thise ryotoures three, of whiche I telle,
200Longe erst er pryme rong of any belle,
Were set hem in a taverne for to drinke;
And as they satte, they herde a belle clinke
Biforn a cors, was caried to his grave;
That oon of hem gan callen to his knave,
‘Go bet,’ quod he, ‘and axe redily,
What cors is this that passeth heer forby;
And look that thou reporte his name wel.’
Well one morning before the churchbells had even rung for morning mass, the three rogues I was telling you about a minute ago were drinking in a bar. While they were sitting there, they saw a man ringing a bell as he led a cart with a dead body on it through the streets on the way to the graveyard. When the rogues saw this, one of them called the waiter over and said, “Go out right now and find out whose body that is.”
‘Sir,’ quod this boy, ‘it nedeth never-a-del.
It was me told, er ye cam heer, two houres;
210He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres;
And sodeynly he was y-slayn to-night,
For-dronke, as he sat on his bench upright;
Ther cam a privee theef, men clepeth Deeth,
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte a-two,
And wente his wey with-outen wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence:
And, maister, er ye come in his presence,
Me thinketh that it were necessarie
220For to be war of swich an adversarie:
Beth redy for to mete him evermore.
Thus taughte me my dame, I sey na-more.’
“Mister, I don’t need to go out there and ask,” the boy replied. “Someone told me about a couple hours before you came in here that it’s an old friend of yours who was slain as he was sitting drunk in a chair last night. The shadowy thief that people call Death, who kills everyone in this land, drove his scythe into the man’s heart and sliced it in two before silently moving on again. He has killed a thousand people during this outbreak of the plague. Sir, I should warn you, though, in case you ever meet him that you should be careful around him and always be prepared to meet him unexpectedly. That’s what my mother always told me, anyway.