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Item 6, The Ten Commandments


Abbreviations: CT Chaucer, Canterbury Tales

Title No title or incipit.

1 Herkyns syrys. This formula (or a similar phrase) is often used as the opening of romances, saints’ lives, and pious narratives; see the opening lines of Saint Eustace, Sir Isumbras, The Erle of Tolous, and The Northern Passion (items 1, 5, 19, and 28).

11 Dismembyr hym not. Medieval preachers argued that to swear by Christ’s blood, the nails of the cross, etc., was to repeat the tortures of the Crucifixion. The Speculum Christiani cites a sermon of Saint Bernard which imagines Christ re­proaching those who take his name in vain: “Am I not wounded sore enoghe for thee? Am I not turmented and pyned [pained] enogh for thee? Leve hens­forwarde to synne, so synnfully swerynge. For the wounde of thi synne grevyth me more than the wounde of my syde” (Holmstedt, p. 20). This became a commonplace in many discussions of swearing; see, for example, Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale (CT VI[C] 472–76) and Parson’s Tale (CT X[I] 591).

13 holy deys. The phrase includes both the Christian sabbath (Sunday) and various important holy days in the liturgical calendar (see the introduction to item 25, The Feasts of All Saints and All Souls, for discussion of two such days).

31 Ocure ne symony. The biblical Ten Commandments make no mention of usury, but loaning money at interest was long considered an offense against God by the medieval Church. Simony, the purchase of church offices, was a widely condem­ned practice named after Simon Magus, who in the Acts of the Apostles attempts to purchase the gift of the laying on of hands from the Apostles (8:17–24).

52 this werld to wynne. Usually the expression “the world to win” has a negative sense of overreaching; here it seems to have the positive sense of “control” or perhaps “overcome.”

57a AMEN QUOD RATE. This colophon appears to have been added later, as it slop­pily extends over some of the last line of the poem. A very large drawing of braided ring inscribed by a six-petaled floral design, apparently made with a compass, fills up approximately half of the remaining blank space on fol. 17r. Underneath this is one of Rate’s usual drawings of a smiling fish.


Abbreviations: see Explanatory Notes

1 syrys, that standys. MS: serys wyth that standys.

2 MS: Two letters appear to have been scratched out before tell.

3 knele. MS: kne.

5 entere. MS: etere.

Verses 1–8 Verses are copied on fol. 22v as follows, with variants in italics:
Herkyns seres that stondys abowte:
I wyll yow tell with gode entente,
How ye to God schuld knele and lowte,
Iffe ye wyll kepe his commandment.
Thow schall lofe God with hert enter
With all thi sowle and all thi myght.
Other god in no manere
Thow schall not have be dey ne nyght.








fol. 17r






Herkyns, syrys, that standys abowte:
I wyll yow tell with gode entente,
How ye to God schuld knele and lowte,
If ye wyll kepe his commandment.

Thow schall loff God with herte entere,
With all thi sawle and all thi myght.
Other god in no maner
Thou schall not have be dey ne nyght.

Thy Godys name in vanyté
Thow schall not take, for welle ne woo;
Dismembyr hym not that on the rode tree
For thee was made full blake and bloo.

Thy holy deys kepe wele also;
Fro werldly werkys thou take thi reste.
All thy howsold the same schall do,
Bothe wyffe and chyld, servant and beste.

Thy fader and moder thou schall honour,
Not only with thi reverence:
In all ther nede be ther sokowre,
And kepe aye Goddys obedyence.

Of mans kynd thou schall not sley,
Ne herme with word ne wyll ne dede.
Ne no mans gode thou take awey,
If thou may helpe them at there nede.

Thy wyff thou mayste in tyme wele take,
Bot non other lawfully.
Lechery and synfull luste thou forsake,
And dred aye God wereever thou be.

Be thou no theffe ne theffys fere,
Ne nothyng wyne thorow trechery.
Ocure ne symony cum thou not nere,
Bot consciens clere kepe aye truly.

Thow schall in word be trewe also,
And wytnes fals schall thou non bere.
No lye thou make for frend ne foo,
Leste thou thy sawle full gretly dere.

Thi neyghbours wyff thou nought desyre,
Ne womane none throw synne covet;
Bot as Holy Chyrch wold it were,
Ryght so thi pourpos luke thou sette.

Howse ne lond ne other thing
Thow schall not covet wrongfully;
Bot kepe well aye Godys bydding,
And Crysten feyth leve stedfastly.

Thes be the commandmentys ten
That bene wryte in this scryptour,
That God gaff to Moysen
(Them to kepe, loke ye before)

In two tabullys of ston ryght
To helpe mans kynd forth of synne,
Wryten with the hond of God allmyght,
To teche mankynd this werld to wynne.

All thei that thes commandmentys kepe,
In heven with God schall ever wonne;
Yiff that they wyll fro syn them kepe,
They schall be bryghter than the sonne.
         Harken, sires; (see note); (t-note)
obey; (t-note)

sincerely; (t-note)


good or bad
cross; (see note)

(see note)



at an appropriate time


Usury; (see note)
keep always


[shall] not
through sin
wants it to be


look to it

out of sin

gain; (see note)


(see note)

Go To Item 7, Stans Puer ad Mensam, introduction
Go To Item 7, Stans Puer ad Mensam, text