We wommen konne no thyng hele (Anthony Linden Jones)

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  • (Posted 2002-04-10)  CPDL #03520:   
Editor: Anthony Linden Jones (submitted 2002-04-10).   Score information: A4, 8 pages, 432 kB   Copyright: Personal
Edition notes:

General Information

Title: We Wommen Konne No Thyng Hele
Composer: Anthony Linden Jones
Lyricist: Geoffrey Chaucer

Number of voices: 6vv   Voicing: SSATBB
Genre: SecularPartsong

Language: Middle English
Instruments: Percussion

First published:
Description:  Text from the Wife of Bath's Tale, from The Canterbury Tales.

External websites:

Original text and translations

Middle_English.png Middle English text

We wommen konne no thyng hele;
Witnesse on Myda, - wol ye heere the tale?
Ovyde, amonges othere thynges smale,
Seyde Myda hadde, under his longe heres,
Growynge upon his heed two asses eres,
The whiche vyce he hydde, as he best myghte,
Ful subtilly from every mannes sighte,
That, save his wyf, ther wiste of it namo.
he loved hire moost, and trusted hire also;
He preyede hire that to no creature
She sholde tellen of his disfigure.
She swoor him, ‘Nay,’ for al this world to wynne,
She nolde nat do that vileynye or synne,
To make hir housbonde han so foul a name.
She nolde nat telle it for hir owene shame.
But natheless, hir thoughte that she dyde,
That she so longe sholde a conseil hyde;
Hir thoughte it swal so soore aboute hir herte
That nemely so work hire moost asterte;
And sith she dorste telle it to no man,
Doun to a mareys faste by she ran –
Til she cam there, hir herte was a-fyre –
And as a bitore bombleth in the myre,
She leyde hir mouth unto the water doun;
‘Biwreye me nat, thou water, with thy soun,’
Quod she; ‘to thee I telle it and namo;
Myn housbonde hath longe asses erys two!
Now is myn herte al hool, now is it oute.
I myghte no lenger kepe it, out of doute.’
Heere may ye se, thogh we a tyme abyde,
Yet out it moot; we kan no conseil hyde.

English.png English translation

Paraphrased interpretation
We women can conceal no secret.
Look at Midas – will you hear the tale?
Ovid, among other things small,
Said Midas had, under his long hair,
Growing upon his head, two asses ears.
This defect he hid as best he could
Cleverly from everybody’s sight
So that, except for his wife, nobody knew of it.
He loved her completely, and entrusted
And entreated her that to no creature
Should she tell of his disfiguration.
She swore him ‘No, not for the whole world.
That she wouldn’t do such a villainous thing.
To make her husband suffer such a bad name
She dare not do it for her own shame.
But nevertheless, she thought she would die
After keeping the secret for such a long time.
She thought it swelled so painfully in her heart
That surely some word of it would burst out,
And since she dare not tell it to anyone,
She ran down to a nearby marsh.
As she ran, her heart was all on fire
And as a heron boomed across the mire,
She put her mouth into the water.
‘Oh water, don’t betray me with your sound.
She said, ‘I’ll tell it to you and to nobody else.
My husband two long asses ears.
Now my heart is whole, now that it’s out.
I can no longer keep it secret, without doubt.
Here you can see, though we might keep it awhile,
Yet, it must out – we can hide no secret.