As I finished, the Host, who alone had seemed pleased with it, said, “I would give a barrel of ale that my wife had heard this tale. She has none of the patience that Prudence showed. Alas! she is a regular termagant. If I have occasion to beat one of the servants, out she comes with a great clubbed stick, crying, ’Break all the rascal’s bones. Kill the dog!’ Then, when she goes to church, if everyone does not bow to her, home she comes in a rage and vents it on me. ‘Coward!’ she says. ’Go and take vengeance on those despiteful neighbours. Will you see your wife insulted and not move a finger in her defence? Ah! that I should have married a milksop and a coward.’ And so she goes on, till I am really afraid I shall do murder, for I am a dangerous man with a knife, though I cannot stand up to her.—Well, enough of this. Lo! Rochester is not far off. Monk, come, tell us a tale. It is your turn now. Your tale should be a cheerful one, for you look a merry soul, well fed and lusty. I guess you are no penitent, but cellarer or sexton or some other officer in your monastery. Well, take no offence. Many a true word is spoken in jest!”
The Monk took his jibing with patience, and answered him soberly. “I will tell such a tale as I can with honesty. It shall be a life of St. Edward, or else some tragedies; that is to say, the stories of men who fell from great prosperity into misfortune. I have more than a hundred at home in my cell, all composed in hexameters. I will tell some that I can remember, and excuse me if I tell them somewhat out of order.” So he began, half chanting as if in church.
In tragic manner will I now lament
The fate of those who fell from high degree
Into the depth of woe. For Fortune is
A fickle goddess found, and none may hold
Her favour for himself, when she would list
To flee. Trust not to blind prosperity,
If old examples yet may make us wise.
With Lucifer, though he an angel is
And not a man, I will at first begin.
Fortune may not an angel smite, but through
His sin he fell to deepest Hell from Light.
O Lucifer, thou brightest angel form,
Now art thou Satan plunged in Hell’s black night.
All in Damascus God has Adam made,
From dust to human shape, and given him rule
In Paradise, to lord it and enjoy
All bounty, save that single tree alone.
But to temptation is he fallen a prey,
And driven forth to labour and to death.