from The Monk's Tale

translated by Ronald L. Ecker

Copyright 1993 by Ronald L. Ecker
(From Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, Hodge & Braddock, Publishers, Copyright 1993 by Ronald L. Ecker and Eugene J. Crook)


Behold Samson, who was annunciated
By the angel long ere his nativity,
And was to God Almighty consecrated,
And stood in honor while he still could see.
There never was another such as he,
To speak of strength and, with it, hardiness;
But to his wives he broke his secrecy,
And slew himself thereby in wretchedness.

This noble, mighty champion without
A weapon save his bare hands still could slay
The lion, which he tore, ripped inside out,
While to his wedding he was on his way.
His false wife could so please him, so could pray,
She learnt from him his secret; she, untrue,
Went to his foes, his secret to betray,
And then forsook him, taking someone new.

Three hundred foxes Samson took in ire
And bound their tails together; once in hand,
All of the foxes' tails he set afire
(On every fox's tail he tied a brand);
They burnt up all the crops grown in the land,
The olive trees and vines, as they would pass.
He also slew a thousand men by hand,
No weapon save the jawbone of an ass.

When they were slain, he thirsted so that he
Was all but lost; he prayed that God on high
Might on his pain look with some clemency
And send him drink or else he'd have to die;
Then in that ass's jawbone, which was dry,
Out of a molar sprang at once a well
From which, in short, he drank. None can deny
God was his help, as Judicum can tell.

One night in Gaza by his proven might,
In spite of all the Philistines so nigh,
The city gates he plucked up, set them right
Upon his back, and carried them up high
Onto a hill for everyone to spy.
O noble, mighty Samson, loved and dear,
Had you not let your secret be known by
Your women, you'd have been without a peer!

This Samson never touched strong drink or wine.
No razor ever touched his head, no shear,
By precept of the messenger divine,
For all his strength was in his hair. And year
By year, for twenty winters, Samson's sphere
Was that of judge in Israel's governance.
But soon he shall be weeping many a tear,
For women shall bring Samson to mischance!

Delilah was his lover whom he told
That in his hair was where his strength all lay,
And Samson to his enemies she sold;
While he was sleeping in her lap one day,
She had his hair all clipped and shorn away,
And let his foes observe, come for their prize;
For when they had him in this weakened way,
They bound him tightly, then put out his eyes.

Before his hair had thus been clipped away,
Men simply had no bond, this man to bind;
Now he's imprisoned in a cave where they
Have bound him to the handmill, there to grind.
O noble Samson, strongest of mankind,
Once judge with glory, wealth, and blessedness!
Well you may weep with eyes that now are blind,
To fall from where you were to wretchedness.

This captive's end was as I now shall state.
His foemen held a certain feast one day
In their great temple, splendid and ornate;
And there the fool for them they had him play.
But at the last he brought them disarray;
He shook two temple pillars till they felló
Down came the temple, all, and there it lay,
He slew himself and slew his foes as well;

For each and every prince who there had gone,
And some three thousand others, too, were slain
When that great temple fell with all its stone.
From speaking more of Samson I'll refrain.
Be warned by this example old and plain:
Men shouldn't be confiding to their wives
Something that should in secrecy remain
If it might touch upon their limbs or lives.

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