The Canon's Yeoman's Tale

PART I Though with this Canon I've dwelt seven years, 720 For all his science I'm still in arrears; For everything I had I've lost thereby, And, God knows, so have many more than I. Though fresh and bright I once was wont to be In clothing and in other finery, 725 Now I must wear a stocking on my head. And though my color once was healthy red, It now is wan and has a leaden hue-- Whoever tries this art will sorely rue!-- My eyes so bleared they still can hardly see. 730 Lo, what advantage lies in alchemy! That slippery science has so stripped me bare That I have nothing, here or anywhere; And I'm still so indebted by the gold That I have borrowed--let the truth be told-- 735 That while I live I can't repay it ever. Let every man be warned by me forever! Whoso takes up this science, for my part, If he persists, is done in from the start. So help me God, there's nothing he can gain 740 Except an empty purse and addled brain. And when he by his crazy foolishness Has lost his goods through all this risky mess, He then entices others with their pelf To lose it all as he has done himself. 745 For rascals find their comfort and delight In seeing fellow men in pain and blight-- Or so a scholar taught me once. But out With that, for it's our work I'll tell about. When in the place where we're to exercise 750 Our elvish craft, we seem to be so wise, The terms we use so technical and quaint. I blow the fire until my heart is faint. Why should I tell you the exact proportions Of things we work with, measured out in portions-- 755 Five ounces, maybe six (all which would be Of silver), or some other quantity? And why should all the names be duly stated Of arsenic, burnt bones, iron fragmentated And ground to finest powder? Why recall 760 How in an earthen pot we put it all, How we put salt into it, paper too, Before the powders as I've said to you, How with a plate of glass the pot is covered, With other things such as may be discovered? 765 Why tell how we will seal both pot and glass So that no bit of air might ever pass, And of the fires--some warm and others hot-- And of the care and woe that is our lot In trying as we do to sublimate, 770 Which is to calcine or amalgamate Quicksilver (also called crude mercury)? Results from all these tricks we never see. Our arsenic, our mercury sublimate, Lead oxide ground on porphyry (the weight 775 Of each of these to certain ounces brought)-- None of it helps, our labor is for naught. Nor rising gases that evaporate Nor all the matter left in solid state Can in our work be of the least avail; 780 We've wasted all our labor and travail, And all that we've spent on it, for our cost, By twenty devils, is all money lost. Now there are many other things as well Pertaining to our craft that I can tell. 785 I can't say in what order they should fall, For I am not a learned man at all, But I'll relate them as they come to mind, Though not arranged according to their kind: Armenian clay, borax and verdigris, 790 And vessels made of glass and earth; with these, Our urinals, retorts for distillation, Assaying vessels, flasks for sublimation, Our vials and our alembics--all such stuff As that, all of it costing quite enough. 795 There is no need for me to list them all-- Like waters used for reddening, bull's gall, Arsenic, brimstone, sal ammoniac; Of herbs, too, I could tell without a slack, Herbs like valerian or like moonwort 800 Or agrimony. I could long report On how our lamps keep burning day and night, Our purpose to accomplish, if we might; Or of our furnaces for calcining, Of water that we use for whitening; 805 Chalk, unslaked lime, egg white, a whole array Of powders, ashes, droppings, piss, and clay, Wax-coated bags, saltpeter, vitriol, And various kinds of fires from wood and coal; Some salt of tartar, table salt, potash, 810 Stuff burnt, congealed; of clay made with a dash Of horse's hair (or else the human sort); Rock alum, yeast, some tartar oil and wort, Ratsbane and argol; other things we use That will absorb, and things that interfuse; 815 Our work with silver, too, its citronation, And our cementing and our fermentation; Our ingots, crucibles, and so much more. I'll teach you now, as I've been taught before, The seven bodies and four spirits, all 820 In order as I've often heard him call. For the first spirit, quicksilver's the word; The second, arsenic; of course, the third Is sal ammoniac; the fourth, brimstone. The seven bodies? Listen how they're known: 825 Gold's Sol and silver's Luna, so say we, And iron is Mars, quicksilver Mercury, While lead is Saturn, Jupiter is tin, And Venus copper, by my father's kin! But by this curséd craft no man alive 830 Can gain enough out of it to survive; For all he spends to bring such things about Is money lost, of that I've not a doubt. Come forth, if it's a fool you'd like to be, And learn about the art of alchemy; 835 If you have money, then step forward, sir, And you too can become philosopher. You think it's knowledge easy to acquire? Nay, nay, God knows! Be he a monk or friar, A canon, priest, or any we might say, 840 Though he sit at his books both night and day To learn this elvish and this foolish lore, It's all in vain--God knows, it's even more! To teach an ignorant man this subtlety-- O fie! don't speak of such, it cannot be! 845 For whether he's a learned man or not, Both kinds will find they share a common lot; For both will in the end, by my salvation, Find in this art of multiplication The very same result for their travail; 850 That is, in what they try they both will fail. Yet I forgot to mention these to you: Corrosive waters, metal filings too, The softening of substances, as well As how to make them hard; I didn't tell 855 Of oils, ablutions, metals we can fuse-- It's more than any book you can peruse, No matter where. And so it's for the best That I don't bother naming all the rest. I think already I've told you enough 860 To raise a devil looking mighty rough. Aye, let it be! The philosophers' stone, Elixir called, we search for on and on, For if we had it we'd be safe and sound. I swear to God who's up in heaven found, 865 For all our craft and all our tricky gear, When we are finished, it still won't appear. It's made us spend much money, which is sad-- Indeed for sorrow we've gone nearly mad. But that good hope still creeps into our heart; 870 We keep supposing, though we ache and smart, That in the end we'll find it, have relief. But that's a nagging hope, a hard belief; I warn you well, the search is never-ending. That hoped-for time has led men into spending, 875 Who trusted in it, all they ever had. And yet it's never made them really sad, For it's an art that's to them bittersweet, Or so it seems--if they had but a sheet With which they could enwrap themselves at night, 880 One ragged coat to walk in by daylight, They'd sell them, that in this they might persist; Till everything is gone they can't desist. And they are marked wherever they have gone, For by the smell of brimstone they are known. 885 They stink, for all the world, just like a goat; It's such a strong and rammish smell to note That though a fellow be a mile away He'll be infected by it, safe to say. So if you wish, by smell and threadbare clothes 890 An alchemist you'll know each place he goes. And if someone should ask him privately The reason why he's clothed so raggedly, At once he'll whisper in the fellow's ear, "If they knew who I am, these people here, 895 To slay me for my science they'd assent." See how these folks take in the innocent! But let's pass on now to the tale I've got. Before upon the fire we put the pot, My lord will add thereto a certain weight 900 Of metals--he and no one else (I'll state This openly, now that the fellow's gone)-- For as a crafty man he's surely known. I know at least that he's had such a name, Yet he can seldom live up to his fame. 905 Do you know why? In frequent episodes It bids us all goodbye, the pot explodes! These metals have such volatility That our walls are not strong enough to be Resistant unless made of lime or stone; 910 These metals pierce, right through the walls they hone Or some go plunging right into the ground (That way we've often lost more than a pound), Across the floor some others scatter out, Some shoot right through the roof. Without a doubt, 915 Although the devil never shows his face, He must be right there with us in the place! In hell itself where he is lord and sire There couldn't be more turbulence and ire. For when our pot explodes, as I have told, 920 Each man in his chagrin will start to scold. One blames it on the way the fire was built, A second claims the blower bears the guilt-- Since I'm the blower, I get scared at once. "Straw!" says the third, "you're everyone a dunce. 925 The whole thing wasn't mixed right anyhow." "Nay," says the fourth, "shut up and listen now. We didn't burn beech wood and that's the story, No other cause, if I may go to glory!" For me, I can't say why it went so wrong, 930 But well I know we argue hard and long. "Well," says my lord, "it can't be helped for now; Next time I'll be more wary. Anyhow I'm sure the pot was cracked. Be as it may, Don't take it all in so confused a way. 935 Get busy and as usual sweep the floor; Take heart, be glad and cheerful as before." The rubbish then is swept into a mound, Then canvas on the floor is spread around, And as this trash is thrown into a sieve 940 We sift and poke with all we have to give. "By God," says one, "there's still some metal here, Though we don't have it all. It would appear That even though this went awry somehow, The next time may go better. We must now 945 Invest our goods in this. Upon my creed, There's never been a merchant guaranteed Success in every venture, trust in me. Sometimes his goods are lost upon the sea, And sometimes they're transported safe to land." 950 "Peace!" says my lord. "Next time I'll have in hand The way to bring our craft more to its aim, And if I don't, sirs, give me all the blame. There was a fault somewhere, that much is known." Another says the fire too hot had grown; 955 But be it hot or cold, I dare to say That in our quest we never find the way. We always fail to reach our aspiration And madly rage in our exasperation. And when we're there together, everyone 960 Among us seems to be a Solomon. But everything that glitters is not gold, As often I have heard the saying told; Not every apple pleasing to the eye Is good, though men may praise it to the sky. 965 That's how it is with me, right by the rule: Who seems the wisest is the biggest fool, By Jesus! When it comes time for belief, Who seems the truest is the biggest thief. That much you'll know before I part from you; 970 You'll know it by the time my tale is through. PART II Among us a religious canon goes Who could infect a whole town if he chose Though great as Rome and Troy and Nineveh, Another three plus Alexandria. 975 His tricks and his deceit so limitless No man could put in writing, I would guess, Though he should live to see a thousand years. In all this world for lies he has no peers; For he gets so wound up in what he'll say 980 And speaks his words all in so sly a way Whenever he converses with someone, He'll make the man a fool before he's done-- Unless, like him, the man's a devil too. He's hoodwinked many a man and isn't through, 985 Long as he lives he'll do it all the while. And yet men ride and walk mile after mile To seek him, make acquaintance, none of them Aware of the deceit that governs him. And if it's your desire to hear me out, 990 Right here and now that's what I'll tell about. But you religious canons, honors due, Please do not think that I would slander you Though I tell of a canon. There's no doubt That every order has some rogue about, 995 And God forbid a whole group be maligned Because of one man's folly. I've no mind To slander you at all; it's to amend A certain wrong, that's all that I intend. It's not for only you this tale is told 1000 But others too. You well know how of old Among Christ's twelve apostles there were none But Judas who betrayed, the only one. So why should all the rest be given blame When guiltless? As for you I say the same, 1005 Except for this--pay heed to what I say: If there's one Judas in your house today, Then throw him out at once, that's my advice, If you fear any taint of shame or vice. And do not be displeased by this, I pray, 1010 But in this matter hear what I've to say. In London was a priest who sang the mass For those deceased; and years had come to pass In which such pleasant service he'd afforded To his landlady where he roomed and boarded 1015 That she'd not suffer him to pay a thing For board or clothes though he dress like a king, And he had lots of silver in his purse. But that's for neither better nor for worse, I'll go on with my tale to its conclusion 1020 On how a canon brought him to confusion. This canon so deceitful came one day To see this priest where in his room he lay And asked him for a loan, a quantity Of gold, for which he'd pay him back. "Lend me 1025 A mark," he said, "till just three days are through And at that time I'll bring it back to you. And if you find I'm telling you a lie, Have me hung by the neck next time I'm by." This priest gave him a mark right on the spot, 1030 For which this canon thanked the priest a lot And took his leave, went right off on his way. He brought the money back right to the day And gave it to the priest, all he had lent, Which made the priest delighted and content. 1035 "For sure," he said, "it doesn't bother me To lend a man a noble, two or three, Or anything I have in my possession, Whenever he is of such true discretion He keeps the time appointed to repay; 1040 And such a man I cannot turn away." "What!" said the canon, "I would be untrue? For me that would be really something new. My word's a thing that always I will keep Until that very day when I shall creep 1045 Into my grave, so help me God. Indeed Of that you can be sure as of your creed. Thank God, and in good time may it be said, There's never been a man who's been misled For having gold or silver to me lent; 1050 No falsehood in my heart I've ever meant. And, sir, since you have been so good to me In showing me such generosity, For being kind I'll tell you in return About my secret. If you wish to learn, 1055 I'll teach you plainly how," as he went on, "My works I have performed, as yet unknown, What I've accomplished in philosophy. Watch closely and with your own eyes you'll see A master stroke by me before I've ceased." 1060 "Yes, will you, sire? Saint Mary!" said the priest. "Then so perform, I humbly beg of you." "As you command, sir, faithfully I'll do," The canon said, "or God bring me to grief." See how he offered services, this thief! 1065 Such proffered service stinks, old wise men say, And certainly it's true, as right away I'll by this canon verify. For he, Being the very root of treachery, Takes great delight in seeing for his part-- 1070 Such fiendish thoughts are gathered in his heart-- How many Christians he can bring to grief. From his dissembling ways God grant relief! This priest had no idea with whom he dealt, Of his impending harm he nothing felt. 1075 O simple priest! O foolish innocent, Soon hoodwinked by your greed! Unlucky gent, In judgment you're so blind you cannot see, You've no awareness of the treachery This fox has shaped for you! From all his tricks 1080 You cannot flee, you'll soon be in a fix. And so that I might draw to the conclusion That deals, unhappy man, with your confusion, I'll hasten now to tell immediately About your folly, your stupidity, 1085 And the deceit, too, of that other wretch, As far as I can get my wits to stretch. You think, Sir Host, this canon was my lord? By faith and heaven's queen whom I've adored, It was another canon and not he, 1090 One with a hundred times more subtlety. He's brought folks to betrayal every time; Of his deceit it numbs my wit to rhyme. Whenever of his falsehood I may speak, The shame makes me turn red from cheek to cheek. 1095 At any rate my cheeks begin to glow, For my face has no color, well I know; From various kinds of metals many a fume, As you have heard, has acted to consume And waste away my face's ruddiness. 1100 Now hear about this canon's cursedness! "Sir," said he to the priest, "let your man go For quicksilver and bring it, promptly so-- More than an ounce, have him bring two or three; And when he comes, without delay you'll see 1105 A wondrous thing like none you've ever spied." "It surely shall be done," the priest replied. He bade his servant fetch it right away; The servant, always ready to obey, Went out at once and soon came back again 1110 With this quicksilver (briefly to explain), Three ounces, which he gave the canon there. The canon laid them down with gentle care, And then he bade the servant coals to bring, That he might get to work, no tarrying. 1115 The coals were fetched at once on his request, And then this canon took out of his vest A crucible, and to the priest said he, "Take in your hand this instrument you see, And then as soon as you have put therein 1120 An ounce of this quicksilver, you'll begin, In Christ's name, to become philosopher. There are but few to whom I'd offer, sir, To show my science to such a degree; Here by your own experience you'll see 1125 How this quicksilver I'll transmogrify Right here before your eyes, without a lie, And turn it into silver, just as fine And good as any in your purse or mine Or any other place. And I will make 1130 It malleable--if not, call me a fake, One who's unfit in public to appear. I have a powder--one that cost me dear-- To make it work, the source of all my skill, Which I'm about to show you. If you will, 1135 Now send away your man; let him stay out, And shut the door, while we two are about Our secret science, no one then to see While we're at work in this philosophy." With all that he was told the priest complied; 1140 The servant as commanded went outside, His master shut the door without delay, And they began their labor right away. Bade by this canon reprehensible, The priest set on the fire this crucible, 1145 Then busily into the fire he blew. Into the crucible this canon threw A powder--I don't know what it contained, If made of chalk or glass, but though obtained Whatever way it wasn't worth a fly 1150 Except as means to fool the priest. Then high He bade him pile the coals till spread above The crucible. "As token of my love," The canon said, "the hands shall be your own That bring this work to pass here, yours alone." 1155 "O thank you!" said the priest with happy smile, And as the canon asked he made the pile. And while he toiled, this fiendish, lying wretch, This canon--may the devil come and fetch Him!--from his coat an imitation coal 1160 Took, made of beech, in which was drilled a hole; Some silver filings in this hole were packed, An ounce of them, and to conceal the fact Were tightly sealed with wax. Now be aware That this device was not made then and there, 1165 The canon had prepared it long before Just like some other things--I'll tell you more About them later--that this canon brought. He'd come to cheat the priest, that was his thought, And by the time they'd part indeed he would; 1170 He couldn't quit till he had skinned him good. Just speaking of him so depresses me! I'd have my vengeance on his falsity If I knew how, but he flits here and there, Too shifty to abide long anywhere. 1175 But, sires, now pay attention, for God's love! He took this coal that I was speaking of And in his hand he held it secretly. And while the priest was working busily To bed the coals as you have heard me say, 1180 This canon said, "No, friend, that's not the way, The coals are not arranged as they should be. But I shall soon take care of that," said he. "Now let me meddle for a while, for by Saint Giles, I have compassion for you. Why, 1185 I see that you're so hot you're soaking wet. Now here's a kerchief, wipe away the sweat." And while the priest stepped back to wipe his face, This canon took his coal--such a disgrace!-- And centered it on top so that it sat 1190 Above the crucible; he blew, with that, Until the coals burned at a rapid rate. "Now let us have a drink," he said, "and wait, For all will soon be well, as I contend. Let's sit a while and make us merry, friend." 1195 And when this canon's imitation coal Had burnt, all of the filings from the hole Fell right into the crucible below-- They naturally could not help doing so Since they were placed so evenly above it. 1200 But still, alas! this priest knew nothing of it, For all the coals he deemed to be the same And had no inkling of this canon's game. And when his time this alchemist espied, "Rise up, Sir Priest," said he, "step to my side. 1205 Now since I know that you've no mold around, Go out, bring any chalkstone to be found-- If I have any luck, I'll shape the thing Exactly like a mold. And also bring A bowl or pan as filled as it can be 1210 With water. After that you'll surely see Our labor thrive and brought to full fruition. And yet that you may harbor no suspicion While you're away, may not distrust or doubt, I will not leave your presence, I'll go out 1215 With you and come right back with you again." The chamber door--to keep it short and plain-- They opened and then shut, then took the key And went forth on their way in company, Then both came back again without delay. 1220 Why should I tarry all the livelong day? He took the chalkstone and then like a mold He gave it shape the way you'll now be told. I say, this canon took out of his sleeve A bar of silver--evil make him grieve!-- 1225 That weighed an ounce. And listen now to me While I recount his curséd trickery! In length and width he used this bar to form His mold, and yet so slyly did peform That you can bet the priest did not perceive; 1230 And then again he hid it up his sleeve. From the fire the material he took And poured it in the mold with merry look; And then when he was set, he threw it in The water pan, and told the priest right then, 1235 "Now see what's there, reach in and grope around. I'm hoping there's some silver to be found. Why, what the devil else could be in there? A silver shaving's silver, God's aware!" He found a bar, when he went reaching in, 1240 Of finest silver. Filled with joy then This priest became on seeing it was true. "God's blessings on you and his Mother's too And all the saints', Sir Canon!" said the priest. "And may I have their curses at the least 1245 If I--when you've agreed to teach to me This noble craft of yours, this subtlety-- Do not then serve you every way I may." The canon said, "Yet first I will assay A second time while you pay closest heed, 1250 An expert to become, that in your need You may perform yourself some other day This crafty science when I'm gone away. Another ounce of quicksilver now bring," The canon said, "don't say another thing 1255 But do with it just as you've done so far, As with the first that's now a silver bar." The priest went right to work, he forged ahead To do all that this curséd canon said, And blew hard on the fire, that hopefully 1260 The effect that he desired would come to be. The canon was preparing all the while Again this foolish cleric to beguile; For show, the canon now was holding there A hollow stick--now listen and beware!-- 1265 The end of which contained an ounce, no more, Of silver filings (as he'd put before Inside his coal); and it was tightly sealed With wax, that not one filing be revealed. And while this priest was busy, with his stick 1270 This canon stepped beside him and was quick To throw once more some of his powder in. May the devil beat him out of his skin For all of his deceit, to God I plead! For he was false in every thought and deed. 1275 And with this stick, contrived as you have heard, The coals above the crucible he stirred Until the fire with all its heat began To melt the seal of wax--as every man Who's not a fool well knows would come about. 1280 The filings in the stick went pouring out, And right into the crucible they fell. What more, good sirs, would you want me to tell? When he had been beguiled again, this priest, Supposing all was true, to say the least 1285 Was so delighted I cannot express In any way his mirth and happiness. He offered to the canon as before His goods and services. "Yes, though I'm poor," The canon said, "you'll find that I have skill. 1290 And let me warn you, there's more to it still. Is any copper hereabout?" said he. "Yes, sire," replied the priest, "there's bound to be." "If not, go buy us some, the quickest found. Good sir, be on your way, don't stand around." 1295 He went his way, and with the copper came, And in his hand this canon took the same, And measured just an ounce, no more, in weight. My tongue is much too simple to relate-- I've not the wits--this canon's treachery; 1300 He was the root of all iniquity. To those who didn't know he seemed a friend, Though all his works were fiendish to the end. To tell of all his lying wears me out, But nonetheless that's what I'll tell about, 1305 That other men be made aware thereby And for no other cause, that's not a lie. The crucible he put the copper in And set it on the fire, and powder then He threw in, too, and bade the priest to blow, 1310 For which the priest must then stoop down as low As he had done before. All was a jape-- As he desired, the priest he made his ape! After he cast this copper in the mold, He put it in the water pan I told 1315 About before, then stuck in his own hand. Now up his sleeve (as you well understand) He had that silver bar that he could fetch. He slyly took it out, this curséd wretch-- The priest did not suspect this crafty man-- 1320 And left it at the bottom of the pan, Then felt down in the water to and fro, Removing while he did, and deftly so, The copper bar--the priest would never note-- And hid it, grabbed the priest then by the coat, 1325 And said to him, in furtherance of his game, "Stoop down, by God, or else you are to blame! As I helped you before, help me in kind, Reach in your hand and see what you can find." The priest brought up the silver bar, and then 1330 Said to the canon, "Let's go take them in To a goldsmith, these bars we've made, and see What they are worth. For by the Trinity, I wouldn't use them--I will pledge my hood-- Unless they're really silver, fine and good. 1335 Let's put them to the proof without delay." And so with these three bars they took their way To a goldsmith, who put them to the test With fire and hammer. No man could contest, Not one could say they weren't what they should be. 1340 This foolish priest, who's gladder now than he? There hasn't been one bird at sight of day, No nightingale in all the month of May, Who's ever sung to such delighted measure; No lady's ever been as full of pleasure 1345 While singing songs of love and womanhood, No hardy knight as joyous as he stood In his dear lady's grace, as for his part This cleric was, to learn this sorry art. He spoke then to the canon, saying thus: 1350 "For love of God who died for all of us, If I deserve to know, what price, pray tell, Would you require, this formula to sell?" "By Our Lady," he said, "the price is high, For in all England just one friar and I 1355 And no one else alive such bars can make." "No matter, sire," the priest said, "for God's sake, What shall I pay you? Tell me now, I pray." "It's really quite expensive, as I say," The canon said. "So help me God, if you 1360 Desire it, sir, then in a word or two It's forty pounds. It surely would be more But for the friendship you showed me before." The priest at once this sum in nobles found And took it to the canon, every pound, 1365 This formula to have as a receipt. The canon's work was fraudulent deceit. "Sir Priest," he said, "I do not look for fame In what I do, instead I hide the same; And if you love me, keep my secrecy. 1370 For if men knew of all my subtlety, By God, they'd be so envious in view Of what in this philosophy I do, They'd kill me, it would end no other way." The priest said, "God forbid! what's that you say? 1375 I'd rather spend all that belongs to me-- Or else may I go crazy--than to see You come to such an end, have such ill fortune." "For your good will may good luck be your portion," The canon said. "I thank you, sir. Good day!" 1380 And never once, when he had gone his way, This priest saw him again. And when he had A chance to try this formula, too bad! He couldn't make it work. Well you can see How hoodwinked and beguiled he'd come to be. 1385 So that is how he makes his infiltration, That he might bring such folk to ruination. Consider, sirs, how in each rank is found A strife twixt men and gold that's so profound What gold there's left to win is all but none. 1390 This alchemy has blinded many a one Till in good faith I think that it must be The greatest reason for such scarcity. Philosophers so vaguely speak about Their craft, it's something folks can't figure out 1395 For all the wit that folks have nowadays. But let them chatter on just like the jays And set their hearts on terminology; What they attempt will never come to be. With ease a man can learn to multiply 1400 And turn what wealth he has to naught thereby! See, there's such profit in this lusty game That it will turn one's mirth to grief and shame, Will empty out the heaviest of purses, And afterwards lead folks to purchase curses 1405 On those to whom they lent what they had earned. O fie, for shame! Those who have once been burned, Can they not flee the fiery heat? I say To those who use this craft, refrain today Before you're ruined. Better late than never, 1410 To live unprosperously would seem forever. Prowl all you will, your goal you'll never find; You're just as bold as Bayard who, though blind, Still blunders forth as if no danger's known; He's just as apt to run into a stone 1415 As go around it while he's on his way. That's how you multipliers fare, I say. And if your own two eyes can't see aright, See that your mind at least still has its sight. Look far and wide, what alchemy will bring 1420 Is nothing, it won't gain for you a thing; You'll waste all you have managed to acquire. Before it burns too fast, put out the fire; Don't meddle further in that art, I say, Or else your thrift will all be swept away. 1425 Right here and now to you I will impart What philosophers have said about this art. Now listen, here's what Arnold of New Town In his Rosarium has written down-- Here's what he says, and this is not a lie: 1430 "No man can mercury transmogrify Without its brother knowing." He refers To Hermes, father of philosophers, As who first said it. He informs us, too, The dragon doesn't die--no doubt it's true-- 1435 Unless it's by his brother he is slain. And what's meant by the dragon (to explain What he has said) is mercury, none other, And brimstone's what is meant by saying brother, For out of Sol and Luna come these two. 1440 "Therefore," he said--hear what I'm telling you-- "Let no man stir himself, this art to learn, Unless he understands and can discern The meanings of what say philosophers. He's still a foolish man if he so stirs; 1445 This cunning science," so his writing goes, "Is secret of all secrets, heaven knows." A disciple of Plato had occasion To speak with him about this situation (His book called Senior tells us that it's so), 1450 And here is what this fellow asked to know: "What is the name of that most secret stone?" And Plato said, "As Titan it is known." He said, "What's that? Has it another name?" And Plato said, "Magnesia is the same." 1455 The fellow said, "Sir, is it to be thus? This is ignotum per ignocius. Good sir, what does Magnesia mean, I pray?" "It is a water that is made, I say, Of the four elements." He asked him then, 1460 "Tell me the most essential part that's in That water, sir, if you are willing to." "Nay," Plato said, "that surely I'll not do. Philosophers have sworn from first to last That to no one the secret would be passed, 1465 And not in any book does it appear. To Christ our Lord it is so very dear He won't allow that it revealed should be Except where it may please his deity So to inspire mankind, and to withhold 1470 From whom he will. There's no more to be told." And so I will conclude: since God up there Wills not that the philosophers declare How one may find the philosophers' stone, It's my advice that best it's left alone. 1475 For whoso would make God his adversary By doing work that's to his will contrary Is one who certainly will never thrive, Though multiplying long as he's alive. Here's where I stop, for ended is my tale. 1480 May God help every true man in travail!

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