Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
The Canterbury Tales
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue
The prologe of the Chanons Yemannes Tale.

WHAN ended was the lyf of seint Cecyle,
Er we had riden fully fyve myle,
At Boghton under Blee us gan atake
A man, that clothed was in clothes blake,
And undernethe he hadde a whyt surplys.        5
His hakeney, that was al pomely grys,
So swatte, that it wonder was to see;
It semed he had priked myles three.
The hors eek that his yeman rood upon
So swatte, that unnethe mighte it gon.        10
Aboute the peytrel stood the foom ful hye,
He was of fome al flekked as a pye.
A male tweyfold on his croper lay,
It semed that he caried lyte array.
Al light for somer rood this worthy man,        15
And in myn herte wondren I bigan
What that he was, til that I understood
How that his cloke was sowed to his hood;
For which, when I had longe avysed me,
I demed him som chanon for to be.        20
His hat heng at his bak doun by a laas,
For he had riden more than trot or paas;
He had ay priked lyk as he were wood.
A clote-leef he hadde under his hood
For swoot, and for to kepe his heed from hete.        25
But it was Ioye for to seen him swete!
His forheed dropped as a stillatorie,
Were ful of plantain and of paritorie.
And whan that he was come, he gan to crye,
‘God save,’ quod he, ‘this Ioly companye!        30
Faste have I priked,’ quod he, ‘for your sake,
By-cause that I wolde yow atake,
To ryden in this mery companye.’
His yeman eek was ful of curteisye,
And seyde, ‘sires, now in the morwe-tyde        35
Out of your hostelrye I saugh you ryde,
And warned heer my lord and my soverayn,
Which that to ryden with yow is ful fayn,
For his desport; he loveth daliaunce.’
  ‘Freend, for thy warning god yeve thee good chaunce,’        40
Than seyde our host, ‘for certes, it wolde seme
Thy lord were wys, and so I may wel deme;
He is ful Iocund also, dar I leye.
Can he oght telle a mery tale or tweye,
With which he glade may this companye?’        45
  ‘Who, sire? my lord? ye, ye, withouten lye,
He can of murthe, and eek of Iolitee
Nat but ynough; also sir, trusteth me,
And ye him knewe as wel as do I,
Ye wolde wondre how wel and craftily        50
He coude werke, and that in sondry wyse.
He hath take on him many a greet empryse,
Which were ful hard for any that is here
To bringe aboute, but they of him it lere.
As homely as he rit amonges yow,        55
If ye him knewe, it wolde be for your prow;
Ye wolde nat forgoon his aqueyntaunce
For mochel good, I dar leye in balaunce
Al that I have in my possessioun.
He is a man of heigh discrecioun,        60
I warne you wel, he is a passing man.’
  ‘Wel,’ quod our host, ‘I pray thee, tel me than,
Is he a clerk, or noon? tel what he is.’
  ‘Nay, he is gretter than a clerk, y-wis,’
Seyde this yeman, ‘and in wordes fewe,        65
Host, of his craft som-what I wol yow shewe.
  I seye, my lord can swich subtilitee—
(But al his craft ye may nat wite at me;
And som-what helpe I yet to his werking)—
That al this ground on which we been ryding,        70
Til that we come to Caunterbury toun,
He coude al clene turne it up-so-doun,
And pave it al of silver and of gold.’
  And whan this yeman hadde thus y-told
Unto our host, he seyde, ‘benedicite!        75
This thing is wonder merveillous to me,
Sin that thy lord is of so heigh prudence,
By-cause of which men sholde him reverence,
That of his worship rekketh he so lyte;
His oversloppe nis nat worth a myte,        80
As in effect, to him, so mote I go!
It is al baudy and to-tore also.
Why is thy lord so sluttish, I thee preye,
And is of power better cloth to beye,
If that his dede accorde with thy speche?        85
Telle me that, and that I thee biseche.’
  ‘Why?’ quod this yeman, ‘wherto axe ye me?
God help me so, for he shal never thee!
(But I wol nat avowe that I seye,
And therfor kepe it secree, I yow preye).        90
He is to wys, in feith, as I bileve;
That that is overdoon, it wol nat preve
Aright, as clerkes seyn, it is a vyce.
Wherfor in that I holde him lewed and nyce.
For whan a man hath over-greet a wit,        95
Ful oft him happeth to misusen it;
So dooth my lord, and that me greveth sore.
God it amende, I can sey yow na-more.’
  ‘Ther-of no fors, good yeman,’ quod our host;
‘Sin of the conning of thy lord thou wost,        100
Tel how he dooth, I pray thee hertely,
Sin that he is so crafty and so sly.
Wher dwellen ye, if it to telle be?’
  ‘In the suburbes of a toun,’ quod he,
‘Lurkinge in hernes and in lanes blinde,        105
Wher-as thise robbours and thise theves by kinde
Holden hir privee fereful residence,
As they that dar nat shewen hir presence;
So faren we, if I shal seye the sothe.’
  ‘Now,’ quod our host, ‘yit lat me talke to the;        110
Why artow so discoloured of thy face?’
  ‘Peter!’ quod he, ‘god yeve it harde grace,
I am so used in the fyr to blowe,
That it hath chaunged my colour, I trowe.
I am nat wont in no mirour to prye,        115
But swinke sore and lerne multiplye.
We blondren ever and pouren in the fyr,
And for al that we fayle of our desyr,
For ever we lakken our conclusioun.
To mochel folk we doon illusioun,        120
And borwe gold, be it a pound or two,
Or ten, or twelve, or many sommes mo,
And make hem wenen, at the leeste weye,
That of a pound we coude make tweye!
Yet is it fals, but ay we han good hope        125
It for to doon, and after it we grope.
But that science is so fer us biforn,
We mowen nat, al-though we hadde it sworn,
It overtake, it slit awey so faste;
It wol us maken beggers atte laste.’        130
  Whyl this yeman was thus in his talking,
This chanoun drough him neer, and herde al thing
Which this yeman spak, for suspecioun
Of mennes speche ever hadde this chanoun.
For Catoun seith, that he that gilty is        135
Demeth al thing be spoke of him, y-wis.
That was the cause he gan so ny him drawe
To his yeman, to herknen al his sawe.
And thus he seyde un-to his yeman tho,
‘Hold thou thy pees, and spek no wordes mo,        140
For if thou do, thou shalt it dere abye;
Thou sclaundrest me heer in this companye,
And eek discoverest that thou sholdest hyde.’
  ‘Ye,’ quod our host, ‘telle on, what so bityde;
Of al his threting rekke nat a myte!’        145
  ‘In feith,’ quod he, ‘namore I do but lyte.’
  And whan this chanon saugh it wolde nat be,
But his yeman wolde his privetee,
He fledde awey for verray sorwe and shame.
  ‘A!’ quod the yeman, ‘heer shal aryse game,        150
Al that I can anon now wol I telle.
Sin he is goon, the foule feend him quelle!
For never her-after wol I with him mete
For peny ne for pound, I yow bihete!
He that me broghte first unto that game,        155
Er that he dye, sorwe have he and shame!
For it is ernest to me, by my feith;
That fele I wel, what so any man seith.
And yet, for al my smert and al my grief,
For al my sorwe, labour, and meschief,        160
I coude never leve it in no wyse.
Now wolde god my wit mighte suffyse
To tellen al that longeth to that art!
But natheles yow wol I tellen part;
Sin that my lord is gon, I wol nat spare;        165
Swich thing as that I knowe, I wol declare.—

Here endeth the Prologe of the Chanouns Yemannes Tale.

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