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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 601–800

Sin that his lord was twenty yeer of age;

Ther coude no man bringe him in arrerage.

Ther nas baillif, ne herde, ne other hyne,

That he ne knew his sleighte and his covync;

They were adrad of him, as of the deeth.

His woning was ful fair up-on an heeth,

With grene treës shadwed was his place.

He coude bettre than his lord purchace.

Ful riche he was astored prively.

His lord wel coude he plesen subtilly,

To yeve and lene him of his owne good,

And have a thank, and yet a cote, and hood.

In youthe he lerned hadde a good mister;

He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.

This reve sat up-on a ful good stot,

That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.

A long surcote of pers up-on he hade,

And by his syde he bar a rusty blade.

Of Northfolk was this reve, of which I telle,

Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.

Tukked he was, as is a frere, aboute,

And evere he rood the hindreste of our route.

A SOMNOUR was ther with us in that place,

That hadde a fyr-reed cherubinnes face,

For sawceflem he was, with eyen narwe.

As hoot he was, and lecherous as a sparwe,

With scalled browes blake, and piled berd;

Of his visage children were aferd.

Ther nas quick-silver, litarge, ne brimston,

Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,

Ne oynement that wolde clense and byte,

That him mighte helpen of his whelkes whyte,

Ne of the knobbes sittinge on his chekes.

Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,

And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.

Thanne wolde he speke, and crye as he were wood.

And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,

Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.

A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,

That he had lerned out of som decree;

No wonder is, he herde it al the day;

And eek ye knowen wel, how that a jay

Can clepen ‘Watte,’ as well as can the pope.

But who-so coude in other thing him grope,

Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophye;

Ay ‘Questio quid iuris’ wolde he crye.

He was a gentil harlot and a kynde;

A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde.

He wolde suffre for a quart of wyn

A good felawe to have his concubyn

A twelf-month, and excuse him atte fulle:

And prively a finch eek coude he pulle.

And if he fond owher a good felawe,

He wolde techen him to have non awe,

In swich cas, of the erchedeknes curs,

But-if a mannes soule were in his purs;

For in his purs he sholde y-punisshed be.

‘Purs is the erchedeknes helle,’ seyde he.

But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;

Of cursing oghte ech gulty man him drede—

For curs wol slee right as assoilling saveth—

And also war him of a significavit

In daunger hadde he at his owne gyse

The yonge girles of the diocyse,

And knew hir counseil, and was al hir reed.

A gerland hadde he set up-on his heed,

As greet as it were for an ale-stake;

A bokeler hadde he maad him of a cake.

With him ther rood a gentil PARDONER

Of Rouncivale, his frend and his compeer,

That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.

Ful loude he song, ‘Com hider, love, to me.’

This somnour bar to him a stiff burdoun,

Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.

This pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,

But smothe it heng, as doth a strike of flex;

By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,

And ther-with he his shuldres overspradde;

But thinne it lay, by colpons oon and oon;

But hood, for jolitee, ne wered he noon,

For it was trussed up in his walet.

Him thoughte, he rood al of the newe jet;

Dischevele, save his cappe, he rood al bare.

Swiche glaringe eyen hadde he as an hare.

A vernicle hadde he sowed on his cappe,

His walet lay biforn him in his lappe,

Bret-ful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot,

A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot.

No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have,

As smothe it was as it were late y-shave;

I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.

But of his craft, fro Berwik into Ware,

Ne was ther swich another pardoner.

For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,

Which that, he seyde, was our lady veyl:

He seyde, he hadde a gobet of the seyl

That seynt Peter hadde, whan that he wente

Up-on the see, til Iesu Crist him hente.

He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones,

And in a glas he hadde pigges bones.

But with thise relikes, whan that he fond

A povre person dwelling up-on lond,

Up-on a day he gat him more moneye

Than that the person gat in monthes tweye.

And thus with feyned flaterye and japes,

He made the person gat in monthes tweye.

But trewely to tellen, atte laste,

He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.

Wel coude he rede a lessoun or a storie,

But alderbest he song an offertorie;

For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,

He moste preche, and wel affyle his tonge,

To winne silver, as he ful wel coude;

Therefore he song so meriely and loude.

Now have I told you shortly, in a clause,

Thestat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause

Why that assembled was this compaignye

In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye,

That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.

But now is tyme to yow for to telle

How that we baren us that like night,

Whan we were in that hostelrye alight.

And after wol I telle of our viage

And al the remenaunt of our pilgrimage.

But first I pray yow of your curteisye,

That ye narette it nat my vileinye,

Thogh that I pleynly speke in this matere,

To telle yow hir wordes and hir chere;

Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.

For this ye knowen al-so wel as I,

Who-so shal telle a tale after a man,

He moot reherce, as ny as evere he can,

Everich a word, if it be in his charge,

Al speke he never so rudeliche and large,

Or elles he moot telle his tale untrewe,

Or feyne thing, or fynde wordes newe.

He may nat spare, al-thogh he were his brother;

He moot as wel seye o word asanother.

Crist spak him-self ful brode in holy writ,

And wel ye woot, no vileinye is it.

Eek Plato seith, who-so that can him rede,

“The wordes mote be cosin to the dede.”

Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,

Al have I nat set folk in hir degree

Here in this tale, as that they sholde stonde;

My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.

Greet chere made our hoste us everichon,

And to the soper sette he us anon;

And served us with vitaille at the beste.

Strong was the wyn, and wel to drink us leste.

A semely man our hoste was with-alle

For to han been a marshal in an halle;

A large man he was with eyen stepe,

A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe:

Bold of his speche, and wys, and wel y-taught,

And of manhod him lakkede right naught.

Eek therto he was right a mery man,

And after soper pleyen he bigan,

And spak of mirthe amonges othere thinges,

Whan that we hadde maad our rekeninges;

And seyde thus: ‘Now, lordinges, trewely

Ye ben to me right welcome hertely:

For by my trouthe, if that I shall nat lye,

I ne saugh this yeer so mery a compaignye

At ones in this herberwe as is now.

Fayn wolde I doon yow mirthe, wiste I how.

And of a mirthe I am right now bithoght,

To doon yow ese, and it shall coste noght.

Ye goon to Caunterbury; God yow spede,

The blishful martir quyte yow your mede.

And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,

Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye;

For trewely, confort ne mirthe is noon

To ryde by the weye doumb as a stoon;

And therefore wol I maken yow disport,

As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort.

And if yow lyketh alle, by oon assent,

Now for to stonden at my jugement,

And for toe werken as I shal yow seye.

To-morwe, whan ye ryden by the weye,

Now, by my fader soule, that is deed,

But ye be merye, I wol yeve yow myn heed.

Hold up your hond, withoute more speche.’

Our counseil was nat longe for to seche;

Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys,

And graunted him with-outen more avys,

And bad him seye his verdit, as him leste,

‘Lordinges,’ quod he, ‘now herkneth for the beste;

But tak it not, I prey yow, in desdeyn;

This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn,

That ech of yow, to shorte with our weye,

In this viage, shal telle tales tweye,

To Caunterbury-ward, I mene it so,

And hom-ward he shal tellen othere two,

Of aventures that whylom han bifalle.

And which of yow that bereth him best of alle,

That is to seyn, that telleth in this cas

Tales of best sentence and most solas,

Shal han a soper at our aller cost

Here in this place, sitting by this post,