(started: 5/91. finished: 4/94. webbed: 12/95.)
After the death of Mary Kipling, granddaughter to the well-known Victorian poet and writer Rudyard Kipling, the executors of her estate found an odd and weathered manuscript among her possessions. On inspection by several authorities on English literature, the manuscript proved to be a hitherto-unknown Chaucerian opus, apparently originally intended to be a part of the Canterbury Tales. Despite some critics' allegations regarding its lack of authenticity(*), the manuscript is here made publicly available for the first time. The astute reader will note that one or two major poets of the past two centuries seem somehow to have derived inspiration from this piece.
Fragment XI (Group J)(**)
The Parsee's Prologue
Heere folweth the Prologe of the Persees Tale.
When we had stopped at a smal vilage,
Another pilgrim joynd our pilgrimage.
A Persee he was, smal and brown of skin.
He nas not fat, bycause he was ful thynne.
More bright than Chine’s splendours was his brow:
A hat he wore upon his heed, I trow,
That did the sonne reflect in glory fine.
In litel elles was he clad. A line
Tied unto his bakke a cooken-stove.
He seyde he wolden goon to Orotove,
And Anantarivo, upon the meede;
And thennes toward Amygdala he yede,
And Sonaput, where groweth marshe-grasse.
Pestonjee Bomonjee he cleped was.
Oure Hooste asked if he wolden ride
With us toward Caunterbury, and biside,
If he wolde joyn oure game and telle a tale.
He quod, “Yow shal have muche ale!
And if your tale be beste, yow shal eat wele.”
This Persee quod, “I woot wel what to telle.
And sooth to seye, a soothe tale, right sone,
Atones wol I tellen everichoon.”
The Parsee’s Tale
Heere bigynneth the Persees Tale.
“Upon the yle wher I make my bed,
Biside the shores of the waters red,
There lived ther also a beeste wild—
For trewely I trowe he nas not mild—
A beest knowen as ‘Rinoceros.’
A single horn he hadde upon his nos,
O best beloved, with so sharp a poynt
That he could tear with it a roast or joynt.
He nas no mous (on cake did he feeste)
No wee and sleekit, cowerin’, timorous beest.
His skin was grey as is a Londoun fogge,
That has in it a greyhounde or a dogge,
And fastned underneeth with buttons thre.
This beeste ‘Strorkes’ cleped was, pardee.
“Now, I had taken water, from the see,
And fruyt, and floure, and mixéd them al thre,
And on my stove ther upon the sand,
I baked a cake—” Oure Cook cried out, “Let stand!
The stove that yow bear upon your bakke
Is worn and broken, and it bears a crack!
If yow can bake in that a pastee flat,
Then I, I trowe, will gladly eat my hat!”
This Persee grinnéd, showing all his smyl,
And quod, “If yow will listen for a whyl,
I shal soon prove, as it were in a book,
I am a better cook than yow, Sir Cook.
But first I shal continue with my tale:
Ere it and eek my cake grow too stale.
“Bifore that I could eat it, Strorkes came,
And I was so afraid that, to my shame,
Far up I climbéd in my tre of palm,
And ther I watch’d, for Strorkes nas not calm.
He took this cake upon his hornéd nos,
And ate it up; and ther beneath my tos,
He snorted at me lik a beest from Helle,
And went away, and namore can I telle.”
Explicit prima pars
Sequitur pars secunda
“Somedeel later—five weeks, more or lesse,”
Quod this litel Persee, “As I gesse,
Oure iland grew as hot as molten ore.
Then did this Strorkes comen to the shore,
And taked off his skinne for to swimme.
I had a plan to make revenge on him,
So while that he was bathing far from shore,
Eftsoones did I wait and watch namoor,
But taken all the cake-crummes I could find
From ther inside my stove, and eke bihind,
And put them in this hat upon my heed,
And went to Strorkes skinne wher it lay shed.
Into the skin I put thes crummes of cake;
And thenne did I rub and scrub and shake
And tub that skin until it was, pardee,
As ful of crummes as ever ful could be.
Bifore that Strorkes came out of the se,
I hadde climbed back into my tree,
And ther I stayed for to watch awhil,
And on my face was a happy smil.
“Then did this Strorkes come back up on land
And put his skin on, standing in the sand.
He button’d up the buttons with a grin,
Then seemed for to feel an itch within.
He rolléd in the sand ther by the see,
He scratchéd up his skin against my tree,
But scratching only made it itch the mor.
He scratchéd all he could ther on the shor;
He rubbed a fold of skin across his back,
Another on his shoulders, like a sack.
He rubbéd folds across his legs, pardee,
And then he rubbéd off the buttons thre.
And ever since that time, I tell yow trowe,
Biside the waters, whether red or blue,
Rinoceros and all his many kin
Have evil tempers and a folded skin
Bicaus of all the cakke-crumbs inside
The grey and folded-up and wrinkled hide.”
The Persee looked at we pilgrims alle,
And then he smiled, and stynteth of his tale:
“And I pick’d up my stove and my hat,
And heere I am. And that,” quod he, “is that.”
Heere is ended the Persees Tale.
Epilogue to the Parsee’s Tale
The Knight had held his counsel al this whil,
But now he letten forth with muchel bile:
“How darest thou call me your best biloved?
I would those words were up your rear beshoved!
And this your tale is not fit for a child—
To pleyen such a trick upon that mild
And povre beeste, maketh me enwroth!
Yow weareth naught of clothing but that cloth—”
Oure Hooste, laughing, seyde, “Holde stil!
Oure Persee frende must answer, if he wil.”
But when we turn’d to see what he wolde seye,
This Persee had ful vanishéd aweye.
The Knight then gave a bellow and a shout,
And scratched and pawed around him and about,
And then the Cooke likwis did the same,
As if they two were joyning in a game.
Within his armour and his apron twain,
The Persee’s crummes were scratching them like grain.
Footnotes(*)(which are lent some credence by the large number of errors in Middle English spelling, grammar, and usage in the text)
(**)Reprinted without permission from The Chaucerian Kipple Journal, Volume 6, Number 91 (1991 issue) (New Delhi: Doubledouble, Toil & Trouble, pp. 7586-7589). The inquisitive reader is advised to consult Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories For Little Children (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, pp. 31-43) for further information.
I needed a topic for a final paper for a Chaucer class. One of the options was to write a new Canterbury Tale, but I couldn’t think of a topic.
I went to story reading one week, and Dominus read us the Just-So Story called “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin.” I’d just been reading the Parson's Tale, and I was amused by the similarity between the words Parson and Parsee. (Someday perhaps I’ll write up a Western as “The Pardner’s Tale.”) I had noted that Chaucer had spelled Parson as Person, so it occurred to me that he’d have spelled Parsee as Persee—and the rest followed naturally.
But it still took me four years to finish the piece off. Good thing I was only auditing the class.
(Note added in 2023: I now have a vague memory that the idea for it may have been Dominus’s rather than mine. Not sure.)