WHEN folk had laughed all at this nice case Of Absolon and Hendy Nicholas, Diverse folk diversely they said, But for the more part they laugh'd and play'd;* *were diverted And at this tale I saw no man him grieve, But it were only Osewold the Reeve. Because he was of carpenteres craft, A little ire is in his hearte laft*; *left He gan to grudge* and blamed it a lite.** *murmur **little. "So the* I," quoth he, "full well could I him quite** *thrive **match With blearing* of a proude miller's eye, *dimming <1> If that me list to speak of ribaldry. But I am old; me list not play for age; <2> Grass time is done, my fodder is now forage. This white top* writeth mine olde years; *head Mine heart is also moulded* as mine hairs; *grown mouldy And I do fare as doth an open-erse*; *medlar <3> That ilke* fruit is ever longer werse, *same Till it be rotten *in mullok or in stre*. *on the ground or in straw* We olde men, I dread, so fare we; Till we be rotten, can we not be ripe; We hop* away, while that the world will pipe; *dance For in our will there sticketh aye a nail, To have an hoary head and a green tail, As hath a leek; for though our might be gone, Our will desireth folly ever-in-one*: *continually For when we may not do, then will we speak, Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek.* *smoke<4> Four gledes* have we, which I shall devise**, *coals ** describe Vaunting, and lying, anger, covetise*. *covetousness These foure sparks belongen unto eld. Our olde limbes well may be unweld*, *unwieldy But will shall never fail us, that is sooth. And yet have I alway a coltes tooth,<5> As many a year as it is passed and gone Since that my tap of life began to run; For sickerly*, when I was born, anon *certainly Death drew the tap of life, and let it gon: And ever since hath so the tap y-run, Till that almost all empty is the tun. The stream of life now droppeth on the chimb.<6> The silly tongue well may ring and chime Of wretchedness, that passed is full yore*: *long With olde folk, save dotage, is no more. <7> When that our Host had heard this sermoning, He gan to speak as lordly as a king, And said; "To what amounteth all this wit? What? shall we speak all day of holy writ? The devil made a Reeve for to preach, As of a souter* a shipman, or a leach**. *cobbler <8> Say forth thy tale, and tarry not the time: **surgeon <9> Lo here is Deptford, and 'tis half past prime:<10> Lo Greenwich, where many a shrew is in. It were high time thy tale to begin." "Now, sirs," quoth then this Osewold the Reeve, I pray you all that none of you do grieve, Though I answer, and somewhat set his hove*, *hood <11> For lawful is *force off with force to shove.* *to repel force This drunken miller hath y-told us here by force* How that beguiled was a carpentere, Paraventure* in scorn, for I am one: *perhaps And, by your leave, I shall him quite anon. Right in his churlish termes will I speak, I pray to God his necke might to-break. He can well in mine eye see a stalk, But in his own he cannot see a balk."<12> Notes to the Prologue to the Reeves Tale. 1. "With blearing of a proude miller's eye": dimming his eye; playing off a joke on him. 2. "Me list not play for age": age takes away my zest for drollery. 3. The medlar, the fruit of the mespilus tree, is only edible when rotten. 4. Yet in our ashes cold does fire reek: "ev'n in our ashes live their wonted fires." 5. A colt's tooth; a wanton humour, a relish for pleasure. 6. Chimb: The rim of a barrel where the staves project beyond the head. 7. With olde folk, save dotage, is no more: Dotage is all that is left them; that is, they can only dwell fondly, dote, on the past. 8. Souter: cobbler; Scottice, "sutor;"' from Latin, "suere," to sew. 9. "Ex sutore medicus" (a surgeon from a cobbler) and "ex sutore nauclerus" (a seaman or pilot from a cobbler) were both proverbial expressions in the Middle Ages. 10. Half past prime: half-way between prime and tierce; about half-past seven in the morning. 11. Set his hove; like "set their caps;" as in the description of the Manciple in the Prologue, who "set their aller cap". "Hove" or "houfe," means "hood;" and the phrase signifies to be even with, outwit. 12. The illustration of the mote and the beam, from Matthew.