But for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
(= But to speak about her conscience / She was so charitable and so empathetic / She would weep if she saw a mouse / Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bleeding)
According to the OED, the word ‘conscience’ here means both ‘moral sense’ and ‘anxiety’. The mouse is obviously an inadequate focus for her compassion: scholars have interpreted it variously, contrasting it with her courtly manners, or proof that her moral compass is way off. Again, the reader’s own interpretation will play an important part, here.
These lines are interestingly constructed, from a sound patterning perspective: the first two have lots of long, sighing vowel sounds, whilst we get a lot of sharp alliteration on the b, d and p consonants in the second two. It is as if Chaucer is curtly dismissing her reaction to the mouse.
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue)” by Geoffrey Chaucer and leave a comment on the lyrics box