Sunday, January 27, 2019


As a Thief in the Night

Geoffrey Chaucer (1342-1400), "The Pardoner's Tale," Canterbury Tales, VI, 667-684:
"Go bet," quod he, "and axe redily
What cors is this, that passeth heer forby;
And looke, that thou reporte his name weel."
"Sire," quod this boy, "it nedeth never a deel;        670
It was me toold, er ye cam heer two houres.
He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres;
And sodeynly he was yslayn to-nyght,
Fordronke, as he sat on his bench upright.
Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,        675
That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,
And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence.
And, maister, er ye come in his presence,        680
Me thynketh that it were necessarie
For to be war of swich an adversarie.
Beth redy for to meete hym everemoore;
Thus taughte me my dame, I sey namoore."
In Nevill Coghill's modern English version:
One of them called the little tavern-knave
And said 'Go and find out at once — look spry! —
Whose corpse is in that coffin passing by;
And see you get the name correctly too.'
'Sir,' said the boy, 'no need, I promise you;
Two hours before you came here I was told.
He was a friend of yours in days of old,
And suddenly, last night, the man was slain.
Upon his bench, face up, dead drunk again.
There came a privy thief, they call him Death,
Who kills us all round here, and in a breath
He speared him through the heart, he never stirred.
And then Death went his way without a word.
He's killed a thousand in the present plague.
And, sir, it doesn't do to be too vague
If you should meet him; you had best be wary.
Be on your guard with such an adversary.
Be primed to meet him everywhere you go.
That's what my mother said. It's all I know.'

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