The Cook’s Second Tale

from the lost Canterbury Tales


Prologue to the Cook’s Second Tale

The Host who led our pilgrim band once more
Spurred on the Cook to tell a tale before
The sun, which stood at treetop height turned red
And put the jocund light of day to bed.

“Ere stopping at some tavern for the night,”
The Host declared, “and yielding to the blight
Of Bacchus, let’s prevail upon the Cook
To add another story to our book.
Two times he’s tried to spin a yarn and failed;
The once with words so vulgar we curtailed                          (10)
Its telling, whilst the second time our call
To verbal arms resulted in a brawl
Of hostile repartee; so, Roger, please,
The story-telling reins are yours to seize.”

The Cook, well-sloshed and swaying on his horse,
Whilst picking out a rambling, zigzag course,
Quod: “I’ve a most enlight’ning tale in mind,
Examining the nature of mankind.
And though my words are slurred because I’m pissed,
A short preamble should explain my gist.                              (20)

“Some womenfolk grow squeamish when they see
A woodsman’s chopper threatening a tree.
They’ll drop upon their knees and hug its girth
Protectively; such instinct causing mirth
Amongst us selfish men who see the world
In terms of profits yet to be unfurled.
Our thoughts—when not on shapely female loins—
Obsess on gems and gold and silver coins.

“And what of men and women in a crowd—
The rich, the poor, the humble and the proud?                       (30)
Their mood is shaped and altered by the mob,
Till law-abiding citizens can rob
Or loot another’s property, or kill
If that should be the universal will.

“But that’s enough preamble, time to share
A famous yarn about a famous dare—
A tale that tells of sacrifice and cost,
Of faith in mankind’s gentle nature lost.”

Here beginneth The Cook’s Second Tale


Part One

In Mercia, before the Normans came,
There lived an earl, Leofric, and his dame,                            (40)
Godiva. ’Twas in Coventry they dwelt,
A town in which Godiva’s husband felt
The people were ungodly, so he built
A monastery in hopes that he could tilt
The balance in the favour of the Lord.

Yet how to raise the money to afford
Not just a place for holy men to pray,
But dormitories in which the monks could stay,
As well as cash to keep them fed and clothed?

The answer left Leofric widely loathed;                                 (50)
For though his deeds were honourably meant,
They fanned the flames of civil discontent.

“Oh, darling wife, dear Lady G,” quod he.
“The onus shouldn’t be on you and me
Alone to fund this godless gap we’ve found
In Coventry; I’m therefore duty bound
To tax the raucous peasantry until
Our Benedictines manage to instil
Some piety amongst the heathen flock.”

Her ladyship, Godiva, tried to block                                       (60)
The levy’s imposition, so she quod:
“These soul-redeemers may be men of God,
But why should simple men and women writhe
Beneath another priest-sustaining tithe?
Let papal Rome supply their daily bread
In case the townsfolk hereabouts see red.”

Leofric waved away his spouse’s fears
And stubbornly ignored the peasants’ tears,
For serfs are wont to passively adapt
To having both their means and incomes tapped.                  (70)


Part Two

The ‘Holy Scroungers’ Levy’ was imposed
On Coventry, and all discussion closed
On having its provisions watered down.

Godiva, meantime, rode about the town
Astride her palfrey, noting at first hand
The strife taxation brought upon the land.
She’d thought her subjects’ simple life was quaint,
But realised now ’twas sullied by the taint
Of poverty, since every hour awake
The peasants spent in constant toil to make                           (80)
Enough for victuals, clothing and a roof
Above them; yet Leofric stayed aloof
Inside his grounds, well-dressed and richly fed
And sleeping in a comfy, four-post bed.

So, Lady G, persistent as a louse
That causes endless itching, swayed her spouse
Through badgering to take a trip outside
On horseback that he might observe the tide
Of destitution heaped on those he taxed.

“Your latest toll,” quod she, “should be relaxed,                   (90)
Lest those affected fall beneath the wheels
Of want—that’s how your citizenry feels.”

Leofric, gripped by avarice, was blind
To sufferings of needy folk who dined
But once a day on pottage, and quod he:
“’Tis natural for commoners to be
Impoverished; it marks their lowly ilk.
You cannot make a purse of finest silk
From porcine ears, since hogs are born to sift
Through garbage, unreceptive to the gift                               (100)
Of sympathy; that’s why our serfs must face
Harsh taxes aimed to keep them in their place.”

To make his case, Leofric pointed out
A groom named Tom. “Behold! That churlish lout
Upon a charge of lechery was brought
Before me, where he swore unto my court
That ogling was furthest from his mind,
Ere urging me, in judgment, to be kind.
Yet watch him, how his gaze obscenely slides
O’er all the comely maids though clothing hides                   (110)
Their frisky, naked bodies from his eyes.
Such conduct is an insult and defies
The mercy I bestowed upon this beast
Who thinks all pretty girls a visual feast.

“The nature of our serfs, you see, is base.
They lack refinement, dignity and grace.
Compared to us they’re lowlier than fleas;
I’ll therefore tax my vassals as I please.
So never ask again about their lot,
For live or die, I’m minded not one jot.”                                (120)

Part Three

The Benedictine Levy stayed in place.
Leofric, meantime, couldn’t quite efface
His memories of Coventry’s grim lanes.

Quod he to Lady G, “The image pains
My pride; ’twas shocking seeing streets awash
With filth and faeces. Consequently, dosh
To beautify the place must be acquired
From common folk to make my town admired.
And so, I’ll levy sundry fees and tolls
On all residing, able-bodied souls.”                                        (130)

Godiva couldn’t credit what she’d heard,
Leofric, though, was not to be deterred.
Thus, fines were set on street-excreted dung,
And tolls were paid for every ballad sung
Within a public house, whilst ale and mead
Were taxed per keg to quench Leofric’s greed.
Assorted other levies left the Earl
As loathed as any fraudster, thief or churl.

Thereafter, on Godiva’s morning ride,
A swarm of folk surrounded her and cried:                            (140)
“Unless you can persuade your spouse to halve
The tolls he’s laid upon us we shall starve.
Alas, this man feels not an ounce of guilt
At taxing those most needy to the hilt.
Oh, Lady G, convey our grave appeal
Unto the Earl, or else our lives he’ll steal.”

The Anglo-Saxon noblewoman turned
Her horse about, whipped up her steed and burned
A trail back to the manor house to place
Before the Earl the wretched peasants’ case.                         (150)

“Your levies,” Lady G explained, “oppress
Your vassals and are wrested by duress.
As Coventry’s first lady I am shocked,
For if your people’s paltry means are docked
To such extent the town shall be replete
With vagabonds and paupers on the street.
Your civic projects make the peasants poor—
Curtail these rash taxations, I implore.”

Part Four

At first Leofric turned a deafened ear,
But day-by-day Godiva made it clear                                     (160)
She wouldn’t quit or let the matter rest
Until her husband bowed to her request.

Though angered by Godiva’s constant pleas,
Their earnestness eroded by degrees
The Earl’s resolve, till finally quod he:
“Upon a sole condition I’ll agree
To what you ask and what the peasants seek.
On market day—which comes about next week—
If you should ride on horseback, in the buff
(Your saddle chaffing roughly ’gainst your muff),                (170)
Between the stalls of those I’ve sorely taxed,
All levies deemed excessive will be axed.
By saintly Paul and Peter, this I swear,
But only if you satisfy my dare.”

A nod, and Lady G had called his bluff.
“I’ll gladly risk a much-abraded muff,”
Quod she, “to profit Coventry’s fine folk,
Each infant, youngster, maiden, dame and bloke.
So mark my words, next market day a bare
Godiva covered only by the hair                                             (180)
Upon her head shall canter through the streets
Unmindful of the startled looks she meets.”

The rumours of Leofric’s challenge soon
Were rife amongst the populace whose boon
Of much diminished levies seemed in reach.
So civic leaders rallied to beseech
Their peers to stay indoors and not to spy
Upon their naked patron passing by.
To this the folk of Coventry agreed,
Though Tom, the Groom, covertly paid no heed                   (190)
To pleas that none should take a shifty look—
He planned to feast his eyes by hook or crook.

Yet when Leofric heard this latest news
About the peasants’ sympathetic ruse,
He sent at once a herald into town
To pass a blunt, no-nonsense message down.

“My loyal serfs,” Leofric’s herald read.
“I order all with eyeballs in their head
To be upon the streets this Wednesday next
When Lady G rides by or I’ll be vexed                                   (200)
Enough to conjure up another tax,
Perhaps upon the tunics on your backs.”

This news made Thomas clap his hands with glee,
For five days hence he’d ogle Lady G
Without the threat of prison or the stocks
Or angry women pelting him with rocks;
For though his edicts townsfolk might abhor,
Leofric’s stern commandments were the law.

Tom’s merriment, however, didn’t last,
Since once again the civic leaders passed                              (210)
A ruling, stating: “He who dares to look
At Lady G, we’ll swiftly bring to book.”
It therefore seemed Tom’s plans had gone awry
Unless he chose to hide away and spy.


Part Five

When market day arrived, as noontime neared,
Godiva, mounted on her steed, appeared.
Sat upright in her saddle, face composed,
She rode along the narrow route enclosed
By stalls displaying sundry wares for sale.
Her naked skin was smooth and milky pale,                          (220)
Like alabaster sculpted in the shape
Of Venus. Yet no person dared to gape,
Or cast a glance, or stop in awe and stare
At Lady G, unclothed, her auburn hair
A snaking braid that tapered down her back.

With downcast eyes, unheedful of the lack
Of everyday attire Godiva wore,
The peasantry of Coventry forswore
A sneaky peek, afeared the riled-up throng
Would mercilessly punish such a wrong.                               (230)
So even though the womenfolk were keen
To note how they compared against their queen,
And lusty men fought down the urge to see
The well-stacked, unclad bod of Lady G,
No vassal at the market glanced or leered
As twixt the stalls Godiva’s palfrey steered.

But what of Tom, the voyeuristic groom?
That boorish churl was standing in his room
Above the crowded marketplace, a lewd
Expression on his visage as the nude                                     (240)
Godiva picked her wending way below.
He panted like a cur, his cheeks aglow;
For Thomas had achieved his shameless goal
By chipping through the wall to make a hole.

And so, behind a locked and bolted door
(His breeches round his ankles, on the floor),
Tom watched the noble lady like a perv
And stroked his stiffened rod with frenzied verve.


Part Six

“Godiva tops the Church’s stained-glass Eve,”
Thought Tom as he prepared again to thieve                         (250)
A peek at Lady G when she retraced
Her route without embarrassment or haste.

And once within his view, Tom’s right hand worked
With zest upon his pizzle while he lurked
In darkness, hid from view, until a cry
Of ecstasy warned folk below a spy
Had flouted their unanimous accord.

Tom raised his breeches ere a motley horde
Of citizens kicked down his fastened door.
They hurriedly surrounded him, then saw                              (260)
Upon the ground a gelatinous glob
Which further served to irk the angry mob.

Quod one, “Recall what Earl Leofric said;
That everyone with eyeballs in his head
Must gather in the marketplace today
Or else those tolls oppressing us would stay?
Yet this foul villain wouldn’t be denied
A carnal thrill, and from his room espied
Godiva nude, against our people’s will.
This unrepentant slob we ought to kill.                                   (270)
However, I believe our answer lies
In gouging out this traitor’s sinful eyes;
For then Leofric’s terms we will have met
And Lady G will win her daring bet.”

Part Seven

An hour after noon Godiva reached
Her residence and fearlessly beseeched
Her husband, saying: “Since I’ve clearly won
The challenge let all levies be undone
From which our town assiduously bleeds,
Except for those to meet its basic needs.                                (280)
Unto the world my body I’ve revealed,
So let your surplus taxes be repealed.”

Leofric, with much effort, quelled his pride,
Since Lady G could hardly be denied
Her victory. So grudgingly he signed
A charter which from that day forth refined
The law. Thus, only modest calls were made
On serfs for basic levies to be paid.

Next morning, in her finery, the dame
Of Coventry walked through the town, her fame                   (290)
And legacy made certain by a deed
Through which, from heavy tolls, her folk were freed.
Bow-leggedly she strode, her thighs rubbed raw,
Applauded for embarking on a chore
Of selflessness and sacrifice that few
Upon this earth would willingly see through.

Along the route, through kindliness, she stopped
And proffered to a blinded beggar propped
Against a wall, a shilling that he might
Alleviate to some extent his plight.                                        (300)

“God bless you ma’am,” Tom murmured, ere he sobbed,
Lamenting for his vision cruelly robbed
By those who judged a slyly-peeping lout
Deserved to have his eyeballs taken out.

Thus, Thomas and Godiva parted ways,
One vilified, the other heaped with praise—
Remembered though, in equal measure for,
The part they played in Anglo-Saxon lore.


Epilogue to the Cook’s Second Tale

The ending of the tale was met with dazed,
Dumbfounded silence, everyone amazed                               (310)
That such a lurid narrative was told.

Our Host said to the Cook, “By God you’re bold!
From Birmingham to Stoke-upon-the-Trent;
From Cumbria’s cold hills to sunny Kent
The legend of Godiva’s widely known;
Yet your account’s much closer to the bone.
An old wives’ tale predicts Tom’s visual plight—
That self-abuse precedes the loss of sight.
And so, it proved. But that said, let’s not fail
To note the deeper message of the tale.                                  (320)
When wrong is done to helpless folk, speak out,
For passiveness augments a bully’s clout.”

’Twas at this point we came upon an inn
From which there came a lively, raucous din.
The sky was growing dark, the sun was set,
The Cook had paid his story-telling debt.
We therefore left our horses to the grooms
And went inside the inn to take up rooms.

Here endeth the Cook’s Second Tale.



Paul A. Freeman is the author of Rumours of Ophir, a crime novel which was taught in Zimbabwean high schools and has been translated into German. In addition to having two novels, a children’s book and an 18,000-word narrative poem (Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers!) commercially published, Paul is the author of hundreds of published short stories, poems and articles.

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20 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    This is a massive bawdy tale embracing the fervor of a Chaucer with the mastery of rhyme and rhythm in an accomplished classic poem that should become part of the “lost Chaucer tales” in a fantastic book. What a great concept to shape the legend of Lady Godiva into a brilliant masterpiece rivaling and in many ways surpassing the great Chaucer. I proclaim this a 21st century classic.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Wow! I don’t often blush, Roy.

      Thanks for your more than encouraging comment.

      I’m so glad I’ve put this story out there, and it’s entertained you.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Thanks, Mary. It was very interesting to research the various aspects of the Lady Godiva story and hone it into a cohesive story.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    This delightful tale proves an important point — no matter how long a poem is, if it is well written and interesting and compelling, YOU CAN’T STOP READING. When I first saw that it was over 300 lines, I was disinclined to begin. But the meter was so lilting, the rhymes were so perfect, the diction so fine, and the story-line so alluring, that after reading the first ten couplets I was hooked. Chaucer would have been proud to have written this.

    And thanks at last — a poem not afraid to use solid sexual language and imagery. The picture of Lady G’s chafed and sore muff was unforgettable. It gives a new meaning to “riding bareback” on a leather saddle.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      High praise indeed, Joseph, and a much appreciated confidence boost.

      Chaucer seemed the natural vehicle to carry such a bawdy tale, the model of course being the likes of The Miller’s Tale.

      Thanks for reading and I’m glad to have entertained you. I had a feeling you’d enjoy the directness of the language.

  3. Norma Pain

    This poem was entertaining and enlightening. I enjoyed it very much. Thank you Paul.

  4. Paul Freeman

    From you, Norma, being such a narrative poem expert, that’s a great compliment. Thanks for reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Sally Cook

    Paul, I really enjoyed this long narrative. It took me a couple stanzas to get into the stride of it, but very shortly , each couplet was effortlessly swinging me along as if with a horse’s gait.

    In passing, I could not help but .wonder what kind of poetry a ford truck or an electric car might inspire. Not nearly so perfectly meshed , I would think, with the rhythms of nature, human foibles, and fine storytelling.

    Chaucer would be proud.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Thanks, Sally. My ‘Lost’ Canterbury Tales project is really in honour of Chaucer, so I’m delighted you think he would have been proud.

  6. Margaret Coats

    Paul, this is easily readable, which is not easy work. Well done! I like the moral (regarding Tom) and the message (concerning Godiva); these are very much in the medieval spirit. Therefore Chaucer might not have retracted your tale as he retracted his own tales tending toward sin (he doesn’t name the ones he means). Among my students, there is unresolved discussion about whether the retraction frees Chaucer from guilt for sins readers commit because of his tales. Some think he does not share in guilt for any sins committed after he made the retraction; others think the retraction lessens his guilt, but cannot take it away, any more than repentant gossipers can prevent their defamatory gossip from destroying reputations wherever it is believed.

    Almost no students ever understand Chaucer as a full man because guilty modern teachers never let them hear his Parson. The Parson provides the needed commentary and instruction needed by the pilgrims to fulfill their pilgrimage purpose. Let me give you a sample of how this fellow talks.

    “Certainly, the five fingers of Gluttony the devil puts in the stomach of a man, and with his five fingers of Lechery he grips him by the reins to throw him into the furnace of hell. . . . The fourth finger of lechery is kissing, and truly, he would be a great fool who would kiss the mouth of a burning oven.
    These old dotard lechers yet will kiss, though they may not do. They are like a hound who comes up to a rose bush, and though he may not piss, will yet heave up his leg and make a pretense. And for a man who supposes he does not sin by any lecherous thing he does with his wife–God knows, a man may slay himself with his own knife or make himself drunk with his own cask.”

    Thanks for the opportunity you provide to show a little more of the real Chaucer, from the Parson’s Tale in modern English by Mary Farrell Pomerleau.

    • Paul A. Freeman

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Margaret. When I write a narrative poem, I do endeavour to make it flow like my prose work. I often wonder how genuine Chaucer’s retraction was, and whether he was just trying to keep the religious authorities off his back.

      I appreciate you leading me to Mary Farrell Pomerleau and her translation of the Parson’s Tale. It’s certainly food for thought and rounds Chaucer’s Tales off nicely.

      As far as I know, Peeping Tom was added to the Lady Godiva story by the Puritans after the English Civil War as a cautionary addition to the tale.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Retractions in medieval literature were purely formulaic. No poet with any self-respect is going to disassociate himself from those poems that he worked on laboriously, just to please some anonymous third parties with an ideological fixation.

        Think of Germans raising their hands in the Sieg Heil! salute in public during the Third Reich. They did it because it was expected of them, and it would have been very uncomfortable for them if they didn’t.

        As for Chaucer’s Parson, a lot that comes out of his mouth has to be taken as the author’s ridicule of a rather narrow pietist. He lacks any of the natural sympathy that we have for the Wife of Bath, who knows much more about sex than that dreary Parson does.

  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Paul, what a marvellous achievement! You had me hooked from beginning to end with excellent rhyme and rhythm, and rapturous and ribald language that blazed from the page with a fearless passion. Very well done indeed!

  8. Paul Freeman

    Thanks, Susan. I had to really try to get inside the Medieval mind set, as well as doing quite a bit of research on Lady G to get the poem right.

  9. Margaret Coats

    Regarding Chaucer’s retraction, let’s see how he chose to form it in regard to his own works, and judge each man and woman for himself and herself whether it was written to please anonymous third parties with ideological fixations, or whether it sincerely addresses readers and hearers. I’m modernizing the English and translating a bit of Latin in the conclusion.

    Now pray I to them all that hearken this little treatise or read it, that if there be anything in it they like, that thereof they thank Our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom proceeds all wit and goodness. And if there be anything that displeases them, I pray them also that they attribute it to the fault of my ignorance, and not to my will, that would full fain have said better if I had knowledge. For our book says, “All that is written is written for our doctrine” [a Biblical quote], and that is my intent. Wherefore I beseech you meekly and for the mercy of God, that you pray for me that Christ have mercy on me and forgive me my guilts, and namely of my translations and endytings of worldly vanities, the which I revoke in my retractions, as is the book of Troilus, the book also of Fame, the book of the 25 ladies, the book of the Duchess, the book of Saint Valentine’s Day of the parliament of birds, the tales of Canterbury, those that sound unto sin, the book of the Lion, and many another book if they were in my remembrance, and many a song and many a lecherous lay, that Christ for his great mercy forgive me the sin. But of the translation of Boethius on Consolation, and other books of the legends of saints, and homilies, and morality, and devotion, I thank Our Lord Jesus Christ and his blissful Mother and all the saints of heaven, beseeching them that they from henceforth unto my life’s end send me the grace of very penitence, confession and satisfaction to do in this present life, through benign grace of him that is king of kings and priest over all priests, that bought us with the precious blood of his heart, so that I may be one of them at the day of doom that shall be saved, he who lives with the Father and the Holy Spirit through all ages. Amen. Here is ended the book of the tales of Canterbury, compiled by Geoffrey Chaucer, of whose soul Jesus Christ have mercy. Amen.

    Chaucer reminds us of the everpresent possibility of prayer for one another, and due thanksgiving to God for all good writing. He gets my prayers and I hope for his.

    Thanks, Paul and Joseph, for the opportunity to show yet a little more of the medieval mind.

    • Susan Jarvis Bryant

      … and therein lies the wonder of the fictive artifact… one can get away with heresy in the guise of piety.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I’m sorry, but I cannot believe that a stellar poet like Geoffrey Chaucer would have seriously “revoked” (i.e. called back and dismissed) his major creations like Troilus and Criseyde, The Book of the Duchess, The House of Fame, The Parliament of Foules, many of The Canterbury Tales, along with an unspecified number of other smaller works. That just doesn’t compute, as they say. Chaucer is the father of English poetry BECAUSE of those major works.

      You’re reading the “Retraction” as confessional, when it is strictly pro-forma. In fact, the text seems to me to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since after mentioning (and dismissing) his major works, he then piously lists purely minor stuff like legends of saints, homilies, and the translation of Boethius, and ends with a formulaic prayer. That would be like the Beatles dismissing all of their major albums, and claiming that their only important compositions were some rinky-dink tunes they wrote in Liverpool.

      What writers say about themselves and their work (especially in introductions and conclusions) is often “that which is customary,” or “that which is decorous.” Consider the introduction that every scholar makes to his published book — he thanks all his helpers and associates, and then ritually assumes to himself alone blame for all mistakes, omissions, and errors. Nobody takes it seriously. It’s just polite.

      I only wish those “songs and lecherous lays” of Chaucer had survived. They would have been a real riot.


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