Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Old English. From Beowulf (8th-11th century):

I Ða wæs on burgum Beowulf Scyldinga, Now Beowulf bode in the burg of the Scyldings,leof leodcyning longe þrage leader beloved, and long he ruled

Middle English. From “The Summoner’s Tale”, in The Canterbury Tales (1386, Chaucer)

This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,
And God it woot, that it is litel wonder;
Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder.
For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle
How that a frere ravyshed was to helle
In spirit ones by a visioun;
And as an angel ladde hym up and doun,
To shewen hym the peynes that the were,
In al the place saugh he nat a frere;
Of oother folk he saugh ynowe in wo.
Unto this angel spak the frere tho:
Now, sire, quod he, han freres swich a grace
That noon of hem shal come to this place?
Yis, quod this aungel, many a millioun!
And unto sathanas he ladde hym doun.
--And now hath sathanas,--seith he,--a tayl
Brodder than of a carryk is the sayl.
Hold up thy tayl, thou sathanas!--quod he;
--shewe forth thyn ers, and lat the frere se
Where is the nest of freres in this place!--
And er that half a furlong wey of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen from an hyve,
Out of the develes ers ther gonne dryve
Twenty thousand freres on a route,
And thurghout helle swarmed al aboute,
And comen agayn as faste as they may gon,
And in his ers they crepten everychon.
He clapte his tayl agayn and lay ful stille.

Modern English Translation
This friar boasts that he knows hell,
And God knows that it is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.
For, by God, you have ofttimes heard tell
How a friar was taken to hell
In spirit, once by a vision;
And as an angel led him up and down,
To show him the pains that were there,
In the whole place he saw not one friar;
He saw enough of other folk in woe.
To the angel spoke the friar thus:
"Now sir", said he, "Do friars have such a grace
That none of them come to this place?"
"Yes", said the angel, "many a million!"
And the angel led him down to Satan.
He said, "And Satan has a tail,
Broader than a large ship's sail.
Hold up your tail, Satan!" said he.
"Show forth your arse, and let the friar see
Where the nest of friars is in this place!"
And before half a furlong of space,
Just as bees swarm from a hive,
Out of the devil's arse there were driven
Twenty thousand friars on a rout,
And throughout hell swarmed all about,
And came again as fast as they could go,
And every one crept back into his arse.
He shut his tail again and lay very still

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