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English Poetry I: From Chaucer to Gray.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

Geoffrey Chaucer

1. The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Lines 201–400

His eyen stepe, and rollinge in his heed,

That stemed as a forneys of a leed;

His botes souple, his hors in greet estaat.

Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;

He was nat pale as a for-pyned goost.

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, a ful solempne man.

In alle the ordres foure is noon that can

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

With frankeleyns 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.

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;

For unto a povre ordre for to yive

Is signe that a man is wel y-shrive.

For if he 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.

Therfore, in stede of weping and preyeres,

Men moot yeve silver to the povre freres.

His tipet was ay farsed ful of knyves

And pinnes, for to yeven faire wyves.

And certeinly he hadde a mery note;

Wel coude he singe and pleyen on a rote.

Of yeddinges 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,

And everich hostiler and tappestere

Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;

For un-to swich a worthy man as he

Acorded nat, as by his facultee,

To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce.

It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce

For to delen with no swich poraille,

But al with riche and sellers of vitaille.

And over-al, ther-as profit sholde aryse,

Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.

Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.

He was the beste beggere in his hous;

For thogh a widwe hadde noght a sho,

So plesaunt was his “In principio”,

Yet wolde he have a ferthing, er he wente.

His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.

And rage he coude as it were right a whelpe.

In love-dayes ther coude he mochel helpe.

For ther he was nat lyk a cloisterer,

With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,

But he was lyk a maister or a pope.

Of double worsted was his semi-cope,

That rounded as a belle out of the presse.

Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse,

To make his English swete up-on his tonge;

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 Huberd.

A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,

In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat,

Up-on his heed a Flaundrish bever hat;

His botes clasped faire and fetisly.

His resons he spak ful solempnely,

Sowninge alway thencrees of his winning.

He wolde the see were kept for any thing

Bitwixe Middleburgh and Orewelle.

Wel coude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.

This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette;

Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,

So estatly was he of his governaunce,

With his bargaynes, and with his chevisaunce.

For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,

But sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle.

A CLERK ther was of Oxenford also,

That un-to logik hadde longe y-go,

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;

For he had geten him yet no benefice,

Ne was so worldly for to have office.

For him was levere have at his beddes heed

Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed

Of Aristotle and his philosophye,

Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye.

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,

On bokes and on lerninge he it spente

And bisily gan for the soules preye

Of hem that yaf him wher-with to scoleye.

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,

And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence.

Sowninge in moral vertu was his speche,

And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.

A SERGEANT OF THE LAWE, war and wys,

That often hadde been at the parvys,

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 commissioun;

For his science, and for his heigh renoun

Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.

So greet a purchasour was nowher noon.

Al was fee simple to him in effect,

His purchasing mighte nat been infect.

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,

That from the tyme of king William were falle.

Therto he oude endyte, and make a thing,

Ther coude no wight pinche at his wryting;

And every statut coude he pleyn by rote.

He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote

Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;

Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

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 a sop in wyn.

To liven in delyt was evere his wone,

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 he was in his contree.

His breed, his ale, was alwey after oon;

A bettre envyned man was no-wher noon.

With-oute bake mete was nevere his hous,

Of fish and flesh, and that so plentevous,

It shewed in his hous of mete and drinke,

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,

And many a breem and many a luce in stewe.

Wo was his cook, but-if his sauce were

Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his gere.

His table dormant in his halle alway

Stood redy covered al the longe day.

At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire.

Ful ofte tyme he was knight of the shire.

An anlas and a gipser al of silk

Heng at his girdel, whyt as morne milk.

A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour;

Was nowher such a worthy vavasour.



Were with us eek, clothed in o liveree,

Of a solempne and greet fraternitee.

Ful fresh and newe hir gere apyked was;

Hir knyves were y-chaped 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 on a deys.

Everich, for the wisdom that he can,

Was shaply for to been an alderman.

For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,

And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;

And elles certein were they to blame.

It is ful fair to been y-clept “ma dame,”

And goon to vigilyës al bifore,

And have a mantel roialliche y-bore.

A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones,

To boille chiknes with the mary-bones,

And poudre-marchant tart, and galingale.

Wel coude he knowe a draughte of London ale.

He coude roste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,

Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.

But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,

That on his shine a mormal hadde he;

For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.

A SHIPMAN was ther, woning fer by weste:

For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.

He rood up-on a rouncy, as he couthe,

In a gowne of falding 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.

Ful many a draughte of wyn had he y-drawe

From Burdeux-ward, whyl that the chapman sleep.

Of nyce conscience took he no keep.

If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,

By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.