Verse > Anthologies > Harvard Classics > English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray
   English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
1. The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
Lines 201–400
Geoffrey Chaucer (1340(?)–1400)
His eyen stepe, 1 and rollinge in his heed,
That stemed 2 as a forneys of a leed; 3
His botes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;
He was nat pale as a for-pyned 4 goost.        205
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.
  A FRERE ther was, a wantown and a merye,
A limitour, 5 a ful solempne 6 man.
In alle the ordres foure 7 is noon that can 8        210
So moche of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen, at his owne cost.
Un-to his ordre he was a noble post.
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he        215
With frankeleyns 9 over-al in his contree,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun:
For he had power of confessioun,
As seyde him-self, more than a curat,
For of his ordre he was licentiat.        220
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun;
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
Ther as he wiste to han a good pitaunce; 10
For unto a povre ordre for to yive        225
Is signe that a man is wel y-shrive. 11
For if he 12 yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
He wiste that a man was repentaunt.
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may nat wepe al-thogh him sore smerte.        230
Therfore, in stede of weping and preyeres,
Men moot 13 yeve silver to the povre freres.
His tipet was ay farsed 14 ful of knyves
And pinnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
And certeinly he hadde a mery note;        235
Wel coude he singe and pleyen on a rote. 15
Of yeddinges 16 he bar utterly the prys.
His nekke whyt was as the flour-de-lys;
Ther-to he strong was as a champioun.
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun,        240
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet 17 than a lazar 18 or a beggestere; 19
For un-to swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee, 20
To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce.        245
It is nat honest, 21 it may nat avaunce
For to delen with no swich poraille, 22
But al with riche and sellers of vitaille.
And over-al, 23 ther-as profit sholde aryse,
Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.        250
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous. 24
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
For thogh a widwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his “In principio”, 25
Yet wolde he have a ferthing, er he wente.        255
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente. 26
And rage 27 he coude as it were right a whelpe.
In love-dayes 28 ther coude he mochel helpe.
For ther he was nat lyk a cloisterer,
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,        260
But he was lyk a maister or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope, 29
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse, 30
To make his English swete up-on his tonge;        265
And in his harping, whan that he had songe,
His eyen twinkled in his heed aright,
As doon the sterres in the frosty night.
This worthy limitour was cleped 31 Huberd.
  A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,        270
In mottelee, 32 and hye on horse he sat,
Up-on his heed a Flaundrish bever hat;
His botes clasped faire and fetisly. 33
His resons 34 he spak ful solempnely,
Sowninge 35 alway thencrees of his winning.        275
He wolde the see were kept 36 for any thing 37
Bitwixe Middleburgh and Orewelle.
Wel coude he in eschaunge sheeldes 38 selle.
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette; 39
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,        280
So estatly 40 was he of his governaunce, 41
With his bargaynes, and with his chevisaunce. 42
For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,
But sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle.
  A CLERK 43 ther was of Oxenford also,        285
That un-to logik hadde longe y-go, 44
As lene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake;
But loked holwe, and ther-to soberly.
Ful thredbar was his overest courtepy; 45        290
For he had geten him yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For him was levere 46 have at his beddes heed
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,        295
Than robes riche, or fithele, 47 or gay sautrye. 48
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his frendes hente, 49
On bokes and on lerninge he it spente        300
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf him wher-with to scoleye. 50
Of studie took he most cure and most hede,
Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,        305
And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence. 51
Sowninge in 52 moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
  A SERGEANT OF THE LAWE, war 53 and wys,
That often hadde been at the parvys, 54        310
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence:
He seemed swich, his wordes weren so wyse,
Iustice he was ful often in assyse,
By patente, and by pleyn 55 commissioun;        315
For his science, and for his heigh renoun
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
So greet a purchasour 56 was nowher noon.
Al was fee simple to him in effect, 57
His purchasing 58 mighte nat been infect. 59        320
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and domes alle, 60
That from the tyme of king William were falle.
Therto he oude endyte, 61 and make a thing,        325
Ther coude no wight pinche 62 at his wryting;
And every statut coude 63 he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee 64 cote
Girt with a ceint 65 of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.        330
  A FRANKELEYN was in his compaignye;
Whyt was his berd as is the dayesye.
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
Wel loved he by the morwe 66 a sop in wyn.
To liven in delyt was evere his wone, 67        335
For he was Epicurus owne sone,
That heeld opinioun that pleyn delyt
Was verraily felicitee parfyt.
An householdere, and that a greet, was he;
Seynt Iulian 68 he was in his contree.        340
His breed, his ale, was alwey after oon; 69
A bettre envyned 70 man was no-wher noon.
With-oute bake mete was nevere his hous,
Of fish and flesh, and that so plentevous,
It shewed 71 in his hous of mete and drinke,        345
Of alle deyntees that men coude thinke.
After the sondry sesons of the yeer,
So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in mewe, 72
And many a breem 73 and many a luce 74 in stewe. 75        350
Wo was his cook, but-if 76 his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his gere.
His table dormant 77 in his halle alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day.
At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire.        355
Ful ofte tyme he was knight of the shire.
An anlas 78 and a gipser 79 al of silk
Heng at his girdel, whyt as morne milk.
A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour; 80
Was nowher such a worthy vavasour. 81        360
A WEBBE, 82 a DYERE, and a TAPICER, 83
Were with us eek, clothed in o liveree, 84
Of a solempne and greet fraternitee. 85
Ful fresh and newe hir gere apyked 86 was;        365
Hir knyves were y-chaped 87 noght with bras,
But al with silver, wroght ful clene and weel,
Hir girdles and hir pouches every-deel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys,
To sitten in a yeldhalle 88 on a deys. 89        370
Everich, 90 for the wisdom that he can, 91
Was shaply 92 for to been an alderman.
For catel 93 hadde they ynogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
And elles certein were they to blame.        375
It is ful fair to been y-clept 94 “ma dame,”
And goon to vigilyës 95 al bifore,
And have a mantel roialliche 96 y-bore. 97
  A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones, 98
To boille chiknes with the mary-bones,        380
And poudre-marchant 99 tart, and galingale. 100
Wel coude he knowe a draughte of London ale.
He coude roste, and sethe, 101 and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, 102 and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,        385
That on his shine a mormal 103 hadde he;
For blankmanger, 104 that made he with the beste.
  A SHIPMAN was ther, woning 105 fer by weste:
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.
He rood up-on a rouncy, 106 as he couthe, 107        390
In a gowne of falding 108 to the knee.
A daggere hanging on a laas hadde he
Aboute his nekke under his arm adoun.
The hote somer had maad his hewe al broun;
And, certeinly, he was a good felawe.        395
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he y-drawe 109
From Burdeux-ward, whyl that the chapman 110 sleep.
Of nyce 111 conscience took he no keep. 112
If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,
By water he sente hem hoom 113 to every lond.        400
Note 1. Sick. [back]
Note 2. Shone. [back]
Note 3. Cauldron. [back]
Note 4. Wasted by torment. [back]
Note 5. Holding a license to beg within certain limits. [back]
Note 6. Impressive. [back]
Note 7. I. e., of friars. [back]
Note 8. Knows. [back]
Note 9. Gentlemen farmers. [back]
Note 10. Where he knew he would get a handsome present. [back]
Note 11. Absolved. [back]
Note 12. The penitent. [back]
Note 13. Must. [back]
Note 14. Stuffed. [back]
Note 15. Fiddle. [back]
Note 16. Proverbs. [back]
Note 17. Better. [back]
Note 18. Beggar. [back]
Note 19. Female beggar. [back]
Note 20. It was not fitting in a man of his ability. [back]
Note 21. Proper. [back]
Note 22. Poor rabble. [back]
Note 23. Everywhere. [back]
Note 24. Capable. [back]
Note 25. John I, I; was used as a greeting. [back]
Note 26. This probably means that he made more out of his begging than he paid for the privilege. [back]
Note 27. Behave wantonly. [back]
Note 28. Days for settling differences out of court. [back]
Note 29. Short cape. [back]
Note 30. In affectation. [back]
Note 31. Called. [back]
Note 32. Motley. [back]
Note 33. Neatly. [back]
Note 34. Opinions. [back]
Note 35. Dealing with. [back]
Note 36. Guarded. [back]
Note 37. At any cost. [back]
Note 38. French crowns. [back]
Note 39. Used. [back]
Note 40. Dignified. [back]
Note 41. Conduct. [back]
Note 42. Borrowings. [back]
Note 43. Student. [back]
Note 44. Gone, devoted himself. [back]
Note 45. Outer short coat. [back]
Note 46. Rather. [back]
Note 47. Fiddle. [back]
Note 48. Psaltery. [back]
Note 49. Get. [back]
Note 50. Go to school. [back]
Note 51. Meaning. [back]
Note 52. Tending to. [back]
Note 53. Wary. [back]
Note 54. The portico of St. Paul’s where lawyers met. [back]
Note 55. Full. [back]
Note 56. Conveyancer. [back]
Note 57. All forms of land-holding were as easy for him to handle as fee-simple. [back]
Note 58. Conveyancing. [back]
Note 59. Invalid. [back]
Note 60. He had definite knowledge of all cases and decisions. [back]
Note 61. Compose. [back]
Note 62. Find fault with. [back]
Note 63. Knew. [back]
Note 64. Motley. [back]
Note 65. Girdle. [back]
Note 66. In the morning. [back]
Note 67. Custom. [back]
Note 68. The patron saint of hospitality. [back]
Note 69. Of uniform quality. [back]
Note 70. Provided with wine. [back]
Note 71. Snowed. [back]
Note 72. Coop. [back]
Note 73. A kind of fish. [back]
Note 74. A kind of fish. [back]
Note 75. Fish-pond. [back]
Note 76. Unless. [back]
Note 77. Fixed. [back]
Note 78. Knife. [back]
Note 79. Pouch. [back]
Note 80. Treasurer. [back]
Note 81. Squire. [back]
Note 82. Weaver. [back]
Note 83. Upholsterer. [back]
Note 84. Livery. [back]
Note 85. Trade guild. [back]
Note 86. Trimmed. [back]
Note 87. Mounted. [back]
Note 88. Guild hall. [back]
Note 89. Dais. [back]
Note 90. Each one. [back]
Note 91. Knows. [back]
Note 92. Fit. [back]
Note 93. Property. [back]
Note 94. Called. [back]
Note 95. Festival evens. [back]
Note 96. Royally. [back]
Note 97. Carried before them. [back]
Note 98. For the occasion. [back]
Note 99. A flavoring powder. [back]
Note 100. Root of sweet cyperus. [back]
Note 101. Boil. [back]
Note 102. A kind of soup. [back]
Note 103. Gangrene. [back]
Note 104. A delicacy made of minced capon, etc. [back]
Note 105. Dwelling. [back]
Note 106. Nag. [back]
Note 107. Could. [back]
Note 108. Frieze or serge. [back]
Note 109. Stolen. [back]
Note 110. Merchant. [back]
Note 111. Scrupulous. [back]
Note 112. Heed. [back]
Note 113. Drowned. [back]


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