A Catte ther was

I just came across this delightfully silly bit in Kathleen Walker-Meikle’s book Medieval Pets (Boydell Press 2012). If you’re daunted by middle English, read it aloud and I think you’ll understand all of it.MedievalPets“In a manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from Barking Abbey in Essex, an unknown fifteenth-century scribe added several lines and another pet to the Prioress’s ‘smale houndes’, a ‘golden’ milk-drinking, furry, purring beast:

A Catte ther was, fulfilld of furrinesse,
And that a worthy beeste, as I may gesse
For of his herys al golden was the hewe,
And he so wys was, unnethes wolde he mewe,
But lay abedde and slepte with open ye,
Til that his frend Magnificat gan crye
Wel koude he cheere of vertu countrefete:
Nas nowher cat so swift to stele his mete.
Of milk and eek of mys he was ful fayn
But briddes loved he best, to telle yow pleyn.
Ful fetisly his tayl he gan upcaste
As any pekok proude; and atte laste.
I herde that sely beeste purr, parfay,
In verray parfit pleyn felinitee.”

Ugh. Definitely not Chaucer’s work. But good for a chuckle! I hope you are all enjoying your holidays!

4 Comments on “A Catte ther was

  1. Thank you for this, Emma. Walker-Meikle’s book sounds fascinating. During my work on The Book of Margery Kempe and the Carthusians, I watched Into Great Silence, a documentary film about the Carthusians currently (2005) at the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps, the original site of the founding of the Order. One of the monks was shown feeding the charterhouse cats in an amazingly sweet and intimate moment in this meditation on the Carthusian Order.

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    • Thank you for reminding me of that amazing film, Julie. I have a vague memory of that scene, but now I want to hunt that down again. Especially after a morning of trying everything to please my imperious Ariel, who was cranky about the rain returning, no fun to sit on the deck and guard it against marauding squirrels.

      It’s a delightful book. I’m reading it with one eye closed, hoping I don’t discover that I’ve erred in depicting Joan of Kent’s dogs in A Triple Knot. I don’t really want to make changes in the page proofs next month!

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  2. After trying, quite unsuccessfully, to read those lines I am glad you don’t write your books in Middle English. 🙂

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