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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
From Prologue to the ‘Canterbury Tales’
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
 
(See full text.)

WHEN that Aprílè with his showers swoot 1
The drought of March hath piercèd to the root,
And bathèd every vein in such liqoúr
Of which virtue engendered is the flower;
When Zephyrús eke with his sweetè breath        5
Inspirèd hath in every holt and heath
The tender croppès, and the youngè sun
Hath in the Ram his halfè course yrun,
And smallè fowlès maken melody,
That sleepen all the night with open eye,—        10
So pricketh hem natúre in hir couráges— 2
Then longen folk to go on pilgrimáges,
And palmers for to seeken strangè strands,
To fernè hallows 3 couth 4 in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shirès end        15
Of Engèland, to Canterbury they wend,
The holy blissful martyr for to seek,
That hem hath holpen when that they were sick.
  Befell that in that season on a day,
In Southwark at the Tabard 5 as I lay,        20
Ready to wenden on my pilgrimáge
To Canterbury with full devout couráge,
At night were come into that hostelry
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry folk, by áventúre 6 yfalle        25
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,
That toward Canterbury woulden ride.
The chambers and the stables weren wide,
And well we weren easèd 7 at the best.
And shortly, when the sunnè was to rest,        30
So had I spoken with hem evereach-one, 8
That I was of hir fellowship anon,
And madè forward 9 early for to rise
To take our way there-as I you devise. 10
But nathèless, while I have time and space,        35
Ere that I further in this talè pace,
Me thinketh it accordant to reasón,
To tellen you all the conditìón
Of each of hem, so as it seemèd me,
And which they weren, and of what degree,        40
And eke in what array that they were in:
And at a knight then will I first begin.
 
THE KNIGHT

  A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy 11 man,
That 12 from the timè that he first began
To riden out, he lovèd chivalry,        45
Truth and honoúr, freedom 13 and courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his Lordès war,
And thereto had he ridden, no man farre, 14
As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,
And ever honoured for his worthiness.        50
At Alexandr’ he was when it was won;
Full oftè time he had the board begun 15
Aboven allè natìóns in Prusse;
In Lettowe 16 had he reyséd 17 and in Russe,
No Christian man so oft of his degree;        55
In Gernade 18 at the siegè had he be
Of Algezir, 19 and ridden in Belmarié. 20
At Lieys 21 was he, and at Satalié, 22
When they were won; and in the Greatè Sea 23
At many a noble army 24 had he be.        60
At mortal battles had he been fifteen,
And foughten for our faith at Tramassene 25
In listès thriès, and aye slain his foe.
This ilkè 26 worthy knight had been also
Sometimè with the lord of Palatié, 27        65
Again another heathen in Turkéy:
And evermore he had a sovereign pris. 28
And though that he were worthy 29 he was wise,
And of his port as meek as is a maid.
He never yet no villainy 30 ne said        70
In all his life unto no manner wight. 31
He was a very perfect gentle knight.
But for to tellen you of his array,
His horse were good, but he ne was not gay; 32
Of fustìán he wearèd a gipon, 33        75
All besmuterèd 34 with his habergeón,
For he was late ycome from his viáge, 35
And wentè for to do his pilgrimáge.
 
THE PRIORESS

  There was also a Nun, a PRIORESS,
That of her smiling was full simple and coy;        80
Her greatest oath was but by Sáìnt Loy;
And she was clepèd 36 Madame Eglentine.
Full well she sang the servicè divine,
Entunéd 37 in her nose full seemèly;
And French she spake full fair and fetisly 38        85
After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow,
For French of Paris was to her unknowe.
At meatè well ytaught was she withal;
She let no morsel from her lippès fall,
Ne wet her fingers in her saucè deep.        90
Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,
That no dropè ne fell upon her breast.
In courtesy was set full much her lest. 39
Her over-lippè wipèd she so clean,
That in her cup there was no farthing 40 seen        95
Of greasè, when she drunken had her draught;
Full seemèly after her meat she raught: 41
And sickerly 42 she was of great disport,
And full pleasánt and amiable of port,
And painèd 43 her to counterfeiten 44 cheer        100
Of court, and to be stately of manére,
And to be holden digne 45 of reverénce.
But for to speaken of her consciénce, 46
She was so charitable and so pitoús,
She wouldè weep if that she saw a mouse        105
Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled;
Of smallè houndès had she, that she fed
With roasted flesh, or milk and wastel-bread; 47
But soré wept sh’ if one of hem were dead, 48
Or if men 49 smote it with a yardè 50 smarte: 51        110
And all was conscìénce and tender heart.
Full seemèly her wimple 52 pinchèd 53 was;
Her nosè tretys, her eyen gray as glass,
Her mouth full small and thereto soft and red;
But sickerly 54 she had a fair forehéad;        115
It was almost a spannè broad, I trow;
For hardily 55 she was not undergrowe. 56
Full fetis 57 was her cloak, as I was ware.
Of small corál about her arm she bare
A pair 58 of beadès gauded all with green; 59        120
And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,
On which ther was first writ a crownèd A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.
  Another Nunnè with her haddè she,
That was her chapèlain, 60 and Priestès three.        125
 
THE FRIAR

  A FRERE there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limitoúr, 61 a full solemnè 62 man.
In all the orders four is none that can 63
So much of dalliance and fair languáge.
He haddè made full many a marrìáge        130
Of youngè women at his owen cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post;
Full well beloved and fámiliár was he
With franklins over-all 64 in his country,
And eke with worthy 65 women of the town:        135
For he had powèr of confessìón,
As saidè hímself, more than a curáte,
For of his order he was licentiáte.
Full sweetèly heard he confessìón,
And pleasant was his absolutìón.        140
He was an easy man to give penánce,
There-as he wist to have 66 a good pittánce;
For unto a poor order for to give
Is signè that a man is well yshrive;
For if he gave, he durstè make avaunt, 67        145
He wistè that a man was répentánt.
For many a man so hard is of his heart,
He may not weep although him sorè smart;
Therefore instead of weeping and prayérs,
Men mote give silver to the poorè freres.        150
His tippet was aye farsèd 68 full of knives
And pinnès, for to given fairè wives;
And certainly he had a merry note:
Well could he sing and playen on a rote; 69
Of yeddings 70 he bare utterly the pris. 71        155
His neckè white was as the fleur-de-lis.
Thereto he strong was as a champión.
He knew the taverns well in every town,
And every hostèlér 72 and tapèstér,
Bet than a lazár 73 or a beggestér; 74        160
For unto such a worthy man as he
Accorded nought, as by his faculty,
To have with sickè lazárs ácquaintánce;
It is not honest, it may not advance
For to dealen with no such poraille, 75        165
But all with rich and sellers 76 of vitaille. 77
And o’er-all, 78 there-as profit should arise,
Courteous he was and lowly of servíce.
There was no man nowhere so virtuous; 79
He was the bestè beggar in his house:        170
[And gave a certain farmè 80 for the grant,
None of his brethren came there in his haunt.]
For though a widow haddè not a shoe,
So pleasant was his In principio, 81
Yet would he have a farthing ere he went;        175
His purchase 82 was well better than his rent. 83
And rage 84 he could as it were right a whelp:
In lovèdays 85 there could he muchel help;
For there he was not like a cloisterér
With a threadbare cope, as is a poor scholér;        180
But he was like a master or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semicope, 86
That rounded as a bell out of the press.
Somewhat he lispèd for his wantonness,
To make his English sweet upon his tongue;        185
And in his harping, when that he had sung,
His eyen twinkled in his head aright,
As do the starrès in the frosty night.
This worthy limitour was cleped 87 Hubérd.
 
THE CLERK OF OXFORD

  A CLERK there was of Oxenford 88 also,
        190
That unto logic haddè long ygo. 89
As leanè was his horse as is a rake,
And he was not right fat, I undertake, 90
But lookèd hollow, and thereto soberly.
Full threadbare was his overest 91 courtepy, 92        195
For he had geten 93 him yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For him was liefer 94 have at his bed’s head
Twenty bookès clad in black or red,
Of Aristotle, and his philosophy,        200
Than robes rich, or fiddle, or gay psaltery.
But albe that he was a philosópher,
Yet haddè he but little gold in coffer,
But all that he might of his friendès hent, 95
On bookès and his learning he it spent,        205
And busily 96 gan for the soulès pray
Of hem, that gave him wherewith to scolay; 97
Of study took he most cure and most heed.
Not one word spake he morè than was need;
And that was said in form and reverence,        210
And short and quick, and full of high senténce. 98
Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
 
THE LAWYER

  A SERGEANT OF THE LAWÈ, ware and wise,
That often had ybeen at the Parvys, 99        215
There was also, full rich of excellence.
Discreet he was and of great reverence;
He seemèd such, his wordès were so wise;
Justice he was full often in assize,
By patent and by plein 100 commissìón.        220
For his sciénce, and for his high renown,
Of fees and robès had he many one;
So great a purchaser 101 was nowhere none;
All was fee simple to him in effect,
His purchasíng mightè not be infect. 102        225
Nowhere so busy a man as he there nas,
And yet he seemèd busier than he was.
In termès had he case and doomès 103 all,
That from the time of King Williám were fall.
Thereto he could indite, and make a thing,        230
There couldè no wight pinch 104 at his writíng;
And every statute could 105 he plein 106 by rote.
He rode but homely in a medley 107 coat,
Girt with a ceint 108 of silk, with barrès smale; 109
Of his array tell I no lenger tale.        235
 
THE SHIPMAN

  A SHIPMAN was there, woning 110 far by West:
For aught I wot, he was of Dartèmouth.
He rode upon a rouncy, 111 as he couth, 112
In a gown of falding 113 to the knee.
A dagger hanging on a lace had he        240
About his neck under his arm adown;
The hotè summer had made his hue all brown;
And certainly he was a good felláw.
Full many a draught of wine had he ydrawe
From Bourdeaux-ward, while that the chapman 114 sleep; 115        245
Of nicè conscìénce took he no keep. 116
If that he fought, and had the higher hand,
By water he sent hem home to every land.
But of his craft to reckon well his tides,
His streamès and his dangers him besides,        250
His harbour and his moon, his lodemanáge, 117
There was none such from Hullè to Cartháge.
Hardy he was, and wise to undertake;
With many a tempest had his beard been shake.
He knew well all the havens, as they were,        255
From Gothland to the Cape of Finisterre,
And every creek in Bretagne and in Spain:
His barge yclepèd was the Maudelaine.
 
Note 1. Sweet. [back]
Note 2. Hearts. [back]
Note 3. Distant saints. [back]
Note 4. Known. [back]
Note 5. Tabard: sign of the inn at Southwark. [back]
Note 6. Accident. [back]
Note 7. Accommodated. [back]
Note 8. Every one. [back]
Note 9. Agreement. [back]
Note 10. Tell. [back]
Note 11. Of high rank. [back]
Note 12. That—he = who. [back]
Note 13. Liberality. [back]
Note 14. Farther. [back]
Note 15. Sat at the head of the table. [back]
Note 16. Lithuania. [back]
Note 17. Traveled. [back]
Note 18. Grenada. [back]
Note 19. Algeciras. [back]
Note 20. Moorish Kingdom of Africa. [back]
Note 21. Lieys: in Armenia. [back]
Note 22. Satalie: ancient Attalia. [back]
Note 23. Mediterranean. [back]
Note 24. Armed expedition. [back]
Note 25. Tramassene: a kingdom in Africa. [back]
Note 26. Same. [back]
Note 27. Palatie: Palatine in Anatolia. [back]
Note 28. Estimation. [back]
Note 29. Of high rank. [back]
Note 30. Anything discourteous. [back]
Note 31. No sort of person. [back]
Note 32. Richly dressed. [back]
Note 33. Cassock. [back]
Note 34. Soiled. [back]
Note 35. Journey. [back]
Note 36. Called. [back]
Note 37. Intoned. [back]
Note 38. Properly. [back]
Note 39. Pleasure. [back]
Note 40. Bit. [back]
Note 41. Reached. [back]
Note 42. Certainly. [back]
Note 43. Took pains. [back]
Note 44. Imitate. [back]
Note 45. Worthy. [back]
Note 46. Tender-heartedness. [back]
Note 47. Bread of the finest flour. [back]
Note 48. Died. [back]
Note 49. One. [back]
Note 50. Staff. [back]
Note 51. Smartly. [back]
Note 52. Covering for the neck. [back]
Note 53. Plaited. [back]
Note 54. Certainly. [back]
Note 55. Certainly. [back]
Note 56. Undergrown. [back]
Note 57. Neat. [back]
Note 58. String. [back]
Note 59. Having the gaudies, or large beads, green. [back]
Note 60. Private secretary. [back]
Note 61. Licensed to beg within certain limits. [back]
Note 62. Festive. [back]
Note 63. Knows. [back]
Note 64. Everywhere. [back]
Note 65. Of high position. [back]
Note 66. Where he knew he should have. [back]
Note 67. Boast. [back]
Note 68. Stuffed. [back]
Note 69. A stringed instrument. [back]
Note 70. Songs. [back]
Note 71. Estimation. [back]
Note 72. Innkeeper. [back]
Note 73. Leper. [back]
Note 74. Beggar. [back]
Note 75. Poor people. [back]
Note 76. Givers. [back]
Note 77. Victuals. [back]
Note 78. Everywhere. [back]
Note 79. Efficient. [back]
Note 80. Rent. [back]
Note 81. In principio: In the beginning—the friar’s salutation. [back]
Note 82. Proceeds from begging. [back]
Note 83. Income. [back]
Note 84. Toy wantonly. [back]
Note 85. Days for settling differences. [back]
Note 86. Short cape. [back]
Note 87. Called. [back]
Note 88. Oxford. [back]
Note 89. Gone. [back]
Note 90. Venture to say. [back]
Note 91. Uppermost. [back]
Note 92. Short cloak. [back]
Note 93. Gotten. [back]
Note 94. Rather. [back]
Note 95. Get. [back]
Note 96. Earnestly. [back]
Note 97. To attend school. [back]
Note 98. Matter. [back]
Note 99. Parvys: the portico of St. Paul’s, frequented by lawyers for consultation. [back]
Note 100. Full. [back]
Note 101. Acquirer of property. [back]
Note 102. Tainted by illegality. [back]
Note 103. Cases and decisions. [back]
Note 104. Find a flaw. [back]
Note 105. Knew. [back]
Note 106. Fully. [back]
Note 107. Mixed in color. [back]
Note 108. Girdle. [back]
Note 109. Small. [back]
Note 110. Dwelling. [back]
Note 111. Hack. [back]
Note 112. Could. [back]
Note 113. Coarse cloth. [back]
Note 114. Supercargo. [back]
Note 115. Slept. [back]
Note 116. Heed. [back]
Note 117. Pilotage. [back]
 
 
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