Land & Sea Tales

Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale

Rudyard Kipling

This is what might be called a parody or imitation of the verses of Geoffrey Chaucer, one of the earliest and the greatest of our English poets. It looks difficult to read, but you will find it comes quite easily if you say it aloud, remembering that where there is an accent over the end of a word, that word is pronounced as two syllables—not one. “Snailés,” for instance, would be spoken as “snai-les,” and so on.

WITH us there rade a Maister-Cook that came
From the Rochelle which is neere Angoulême.
Littel hee was, but rounder than a topp,
And his small berd hadde dipped in manie a soppe.
His honde was smoother than beseemeth mann’s,
And his discoorse was all of marzipan,1
Of tripes of Caen, or Burdeux snailés swote,2
And Seinte Menhoulde wher cooken piggés-foote.3
To Thoulouse and to Bress and Carcasson
For pyes and fowles and chesnottes hadde hee wonne;4
Of hammés of Thuringie5 colde hee prate,
And well hee knew what Princes hadde on plate
At Christmas-tide, from Artois to Gascogne.

Lordinges, quod hee, manne liveth nat alone
By bred, but meatés rost and seethed, and broth,
And purchasable6 deinties, on mine othe.
Honey and hote gingere well liketh hee,
And whalés-flesch mortred7 with spicerie.
For, lat be all how man denie or carpe,8
Him thries a daie his honger maketh sharpe,
And setteth him at boorde9 with hawkés eyne,
Snuffing what dish is set beforne to deyne,
Nor, till with meate he all-to fill to brim,
None other matter nowher mooveth him.
Lat holie Seintés sterve10 as bookés boast,
Most mannés soule is in his bellie most.
For, as man thinketh in his hearte is hee,
But, as hee eateth so his thought shall bee.
And Holie Fader’s self11 (with reveraunce)
Oweth to Cooke his port and his presaunce.
Wherbye it cometh past disputison12
Cookes over alle men have dominion,
Which follow them as schippe her gouvernail13
Enoff of wordes—beginneth heere my tale:—

1. A kind of sticky sweetmeat.    [back]
2. Bordeaux snails are specially large and sweet.    [back]
3. They grill pigs’-feet still at St. Menehoulde, not far from Verdun, better than anywhere else in all the world.    [back]
4. Gone-to get pâtés of ducks’ liver at Toulouse; fatted poultry at Bourg in Breese, on the road to Geneva; and very large chestnuts in sugar at Carcassonne, about forty miles from Toulouse.    [back]
5. This would probably be some sort of wild-boar ham from Germany.    [back]
6. Expensive.    [back]
7. Beaten up.    [back]
8. Sneer or despise.    [back]
9. Brings him to table.    [back]
10. Starve.    [back]
11. The Pope himself, who depends on his cook for being healthy and well-fed.    [back]
12. Dispute or argument.    [back]
13. Men are influenced by their cooks as ships are steered by their rudders.    [back]

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