The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Preview: Issue 1 of 64


When April with his showers sweet with fruit The drought of March has pierced unto the root And bathed each vein with liquor that has power To generate therein and sire the flower; When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath, Quickened again, in every holt and heath, The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun Into the Ram one half his course has run, And many little birds make melody That sleep through all the night with open eye (So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)- Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage, And palmers to go seeking out strange strands, To distant shrines well known in sundry lands. And specially from every shire's end Of England they to Canterbury wend, The holy blessed martyr there to seek Who helped them when they lay so ill and weal Befell that, in that season, on a day In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay Ready to start upon my pilgrimage To Canterbury, full of devout homage, There came at nightfall to that hostelry Some nine and twenty in a company Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all That toward Canterbury town would ride. The rooms and stables spacious were and wide, And well we there were eased, and of the best. And briefly, when the sun had gone to rest, So had I spoken with them, every one, That I was of their fellowship anon, And made agreement that we'd early rise To take the road, as you I will apprise. But none the less, whilst I have time and space, Before yet farther in this tale I pace, It seems to me accordant with reason To inform you of the state of every one Of all of these, as it appeared to me, And who they were, and what was their degree, And even how arrayed there at the inn; And with a knight thus will I first begin. A knight there was, and he a worthy man, Who, from the moment that he first began To ride about the world, loved chivalry, Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy. Full worthy was he in his liege-lord's war, And therein had he ridden (none more far) As well in Christendom as heathenesse, And honoured everywhere for worthiness. At Alexandria, he, when it was won; Full oft the table's roster he'd begun Above all nations' knights in Prussia. In Latvia raided he, and Russia, No christened man so oft of his degree. In far Granada at the siege was he Of Algeciras, and in Belmarie. At Ayas was he and at Satalye When they were won; and on the Middle Sea At many a noble meeting chanced to be. Of mortal battles he had fought fifteen, And he'd fought for our faith at Tramissene Three times in lists, and each time slain his foe. This self-same worthy knight had been also At one time with the lord of Palatye Against another heathen in Turkey: And always won he sovereign fame for prize. Though so illustrious, he was very wise And bore himself as meekly as a maid. He never yet had any vileness said, In all his life, to whatsoever wight. He was a truly perfect, gentle knight. But now, to tell you all of his array, His steeds were good, but yet he was not gay. Of simple fustian wore he a jupon Sadly discoloured by his habergeon; For he had lately come from his voyage And now was going on this pilgrimage. With him there was his son, a youthful squire, A lover and a lusty bachelor, With locks well curled, as if they'd laid in press. Some twenty years of age he was, I guess. In stature he was of an average length, Wondrously active, aye, and great of strength. He'd ridden sometime with the cavalry In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy, And borne him well within that little space In hope to win thereby his lady's grace. Prinked out he was, as if he were a mead, All full of fresh-cut flowers white and red. Singing he was, or fluting, all the day; He was as fresh as is the month of May. Short was his gown, with sleeves both long and wide. Well could be sit on horse, and fairly ride. He could make songs and words thereto indite, Joust, and dance too, as well as sketch and write. So hot he loved that, while night told her tale, He slept no more than does a nightingale. Courteous he, and humble, willing and able, And carved before his father at the table. A yeoman had he, nor more servants, no, At that time, for he chose to travel so; And he was clad in coat and hood of green. A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen Under his belt he bore right carefully (Well could he keep his tackle yeomanly: His arrows had no draggled feathers low), And in his hand he bore a mighty bow. A cropped head had he and a sun-browned face. Of woodcraft knew he all the useful ways. Upon his arm he bore a bracer gay, And at one side a sword and buckler, yea, And at the other side a dagger bright, Well sheathed and sharp as spear point in the light; On breast a Christopher of silver sheen. He bore a horn in baldric all of green; A forester he truly was, I guess. There was also a nun, a prioress, Who, in her smiling, modest was and coy; Her greatest oath was but By Saint Eloy! And she was known as Madam Eglantine. Full well she sang the services divine, Intoning through her nose, becomingly; And fair she spoke her French, and fluently, After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow, For French of Paris was not hers to know. At table she had been well taught withal, And never from her lips let morsels fall, Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate With so much care the food upon her plate That never driblet fell upon her breast. In courtesy she had delight and zest. Her upper lip was always wiped so clean That in her cup was no iota seen Of grease, when she had drunk her draught of wine. Becomingly she reached for meat to dine. And certainly delighting in good sport, She was right pleasant, amiable- in short. She was at pains to counterfeit the look Of courtliness, and stately manners took, And would be held worthy of reverence. But, to say something of her moral sense, She was so charitable and piteous That she would weep if she but saw a mouse Caught in a trap, though it were dead or bled. She had some little dogs, too, that she fed On roasted flesh, or milk and fine white bread. But sore she'd weep if one of them were dead, Or if men smote it with a rod to smart: For pity ruled her, and her tender heart. Right decorous her pleated wimple was; Her nose was fine; her eyes were blue as glass; Her mouth was small and therewith soft and red; But certainly she had a fair forehead; It was almost a full span broad, I own, For, truth to tell, she was not undergrown. Neat was her cloak, as I was well aware. Of coral small about her arm she'd bear A string of beads and gauded all with green; And therefrom hung a brooch of golden sheen Whereon there was first written a crowned A, And under, Amor vincit omnia. Another little nun with her had she, Who was her chaplain; and of priests she'd three. A monk there was, one made for mastery, An outrider, who loved his venery; A manly man, to be an abbot able. Full many a blooded horse had he in stable: And when he rode men might his bridle hear A-jingling in the whistling wind as clear, Aye, and as loud as does the chapel bell Where this brave monk was of the cell. The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict, By reason it was old and somewhat strict, This said monk let such old things slowly pace And followed new-world manners in their place. He cared not for that text a clean-plucked hen Which holds that hunters are not holy men; Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless, Is like unto a fish that's waterless; That is to say, a monk out of his cloister. But this same text he held not worth an oyster; And I said his opinion was right good. What? Should he study as a madman would Upon a book in cloister cell? Or yet Go labour with his hands and swink and sweat, As Austin bids? How shall the world be served? Let Austin have his toil to him reserved. Therefore he was a rider day and night; Greyhounds he had, as swift as bird in flight. Since riding and the hunting of the hare Were all his love, for no cost would he spare. I saw his sleeves were purfled at the hand With fur of grey, the finest in the land; Also, to fasten hood beneath his chin, He had of good wrought gold a curious pin: A love-knot in the larger end there was. His head was bald and shone like any glass, And smooth as one anointed was his face. Fat was this lord, he stood in goodly case. His bulging eyes he rolled about, and hot They gleamed and red, like fire beneath a pot; His boots were soft; his horse of great estate. Now certainly he was a fine prelate: He was not pale as some poor wasted ghost. A fat swan loved he best of any roast. His palfrey was as brown as is a berry. A friar there was, a wanton and a merry, A limiter, a very festive man. In all the Orders Four is none that can Equal his gossip and his fair language. He had arranged full many a marriage Of women young, and this at his own cost. Unto his order he was a noble post. Well liked by all and intimate was he With franklins everywhere in his country, And with the worthy women of the town: For at confessing he'd more power in gown (As he himself said) than it good curate, For of his order he was licentiate. He heard confession gently, it was said, Gently absolved too, leaving naught of dread. He was an easy man to give penance When knowing he should gain a good pittance; For to a begging friar, money given Is sign that any man has been well shriven. For if one gave (he dared to boast of this), He took the man's repentance not amiss. For many a man there is so hard of heart He cannot weep however pains may smart. Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayer, Men should give silver to poor friars all bare. His tippet was stuck always full of knives And pins, to give to young and pleasing wives. And certainly he kept a merry note: Well could he sing and play upon the rote. At balladry he bore the prize away. His throat was white as lily of the May; Yet strong he was as ever champion. In towns he knew the taverns, every one, And every good host and each barmaid too- Better than begging lepers, these he knew. For unto no such solid man as he Accorded it, as far as he could see, To have sick lepers for acquaintances. There is no honest advantageousness In dealing with such poverty-stricken curs; It's with the rich and with big victuallers. And so, wherever profit might arise, Courteous he was and humble in men's eyes. There was no other man so virtuous. He was the finest beggar of his house; A certain district being farmed to him, None of his brethren dared approach its rim; For though a widow had no shoes to show, So pleasant was his In principio, He always got a farthing ere he went. He lived by pickings, it is evident. And he could romp as well as any whelp. On love days could he be of mickle help. For there he was not like a cloisterer, With threadbare cope as is the poor scholar, But he was like a lord or like a pope. Of double worsted was his semi-cope, That rounded like a bell, as you may guess. He lisped a little, out of wantonness, To make his English soft upon his tongue; And in his harping, after he had sung, His two eyes twinkled in his head as bright As do the stars within the frosty night. This worthy limiter was named Hubert. There was a merchant with forked beard, and girt In motley gown, and high on horse he sat, Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat; His boots were fastened rather elegantly. His spoke his notions out right pompously, Stressing the times when he had won, not lost. He would the sea were held at any cost Across from Middleburgh to Orwell town. At money-changing he could make a crown. This worthy man kept all his wits well set; There was no one could say he was in debt, So well he governed all his trade affairs With bargains and with borrowings and with shares. Indeed, he was a worthy man withal, But, sooth to say, his name I can't recall. A clerk from Oxford was with us also, Who'd turned to getting knowledge, long ago. As meagre was his horse as is a rake, Nor he himself too fat, I'll undertake, But he looked hollow and went soberly. Right threadbare was his overcoat; for he Had got him yet no churchly benefice, Nor was so worldly as to gain office. For he would rather have at his bed's head Some twenty books, all bound in black and red, Of Aristotle and his philosophy Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery. Yet, and for all he was philosopher, He had but little gold within his coffer; But all that he might borrow from a friend On books and learning he would swiftly spend, And then he'd pray right busily for the souls Of those who gave him wherewithal for schools. Of study took he utmost care and heed. Not one word spoke he more than was his need; And that was said in fullest reverence And short and quick and full of high good sense. Pregnant of moral virtue was his speech; And gladly would he learn and gladly teach. A sergeant of the law, wary and wise, Who'd often gone to Paul's walk to advise, There was also, compact of excellence. Discreet he was, and of great reverence; At least he seemed so, his words were so wise. Often he sat as justice in assize, By patent or commission from the crown; Because of learning and his high renown, He took large fees and many robes could own. So great a purchaser was never known. All was fee simple to him, in effect, Wherefore his claims could never be suspect. Nowhere a man so busy of his class, And yet he seemed much busier than he was. All cases and all judgments could he cite That from King William's time were apposite. And he could draw a contract so explicit Not any man could fault therefrom elicit; And every statute he'd verbatim quote.

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