28 Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

“Mine Host Assembling the Canterbury Pilgrims” by Mrs. H.R. Haweis, in Chaucer for Children. 1877. British Library.


by Florianne Binoya and Abigail Moser


The “General Prologue” introduces the format for the stories presented within The Canterbury Tales. Characters from all walks of life come together for a pilgrimage in which they must compete to tell the best stories, both in substance and in delivery (“The Canterbury Tales: Background”). It gives brief insight to the many travelers partaking in the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral in England; some characters receiving more detail or background than others. While some of the pilgrims follow the stereotypical image their titles evoke, others completely diverge from what would be expected. In a time when social classes and roles were more rigid, this tale may have had the purpose of making numerous types of people more transparent, allowing readers to humanize their peers. Furthermore, Chaucer also has many members of the church in the set of storytellers (the Friar, the Summoner, the Nun, the Pardoner). It seems that a main objective of these figures was to highlight corruption within the church. While the characters are not strictly based on real people, they reflect numerous social flaws present at the time or simply shed light on common human foibles. While the stories are discrete, unrelated tales, the storytellers are basing their choice in tales on what was told previously. They may have the goal of cheering the group up after a very sad story or vice versa. They may also exaggerate aspects of their story in order to make it more entertaining but, nevertheless, these distortions can give insight to qualities people valued at the time; what it meant to be liked and to be a good person. Portraying such a wide range of personalities and social classes, The Canterbury Tales is a perfect representation of the fact that, despite the passing of half a millennium, people maintain the same values and struggle with the same temptations.


Works Cited

“The Canterbury Tales: Background & History.” Study.com, n.d. study.com/academy/lesson/the-canterbury-tales-background-history.html Accessed 10 Dec. 2019


Discussion Questions

    1. Chaucer was believed to be part of the middle class in England. Considering the different classes of the pilgrims, do you believe Chaucer’s own social status affects how the poem was written?
    2. What time of the year does the pilgrimage take place? What is the significance of traveling at this time?
    3. Why do you think the narrator describes the characters’ garments in the general prologue? What do you think the garments symbolize?
    4. Chaucer focuses on three distinct groups of people in his poem: members of the feudal system, people in religious life, and the rising middle class. Who do you think belongs in each group?
    5. A major theme of The Canterbury Tales is social satire. What are two examples and how do they exhibit this theme?

Further Resources

  • Church of England History– Brief BBC article outlining the history of Christianity from the early days all the way through the Protestant Reformation.
  • The New Canterbury Tales – An NPR series discussing and retracing the steps of Chaucer’s pilgrims.
  • TED Video: “Everything You Need to Know to Read The Canterbury Tales”

Reading: General Prologue for Canterbury Tales


Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Canterbury:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
10 That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halweskowthe in sondry londes;
15 And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
When in April the sweet showers fall
That pierce March’s drought to the root and all
And bathed every vein in liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
5 When Zephyr also has with his sweet breath,
Filled again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and leaves, and the young sun
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,
And many little birds make melody
10 That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)
Then folk do long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in distant lands.
15 And specially from every shire’s end
Of England they to Canterbury went,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak
      Bifil that in that seson, on a day,
20 In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
25 Of sondry folkby aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste;
30 And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
It happened that, in that season, on a day
20 In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay
Ready to go on pilgrimage and start
To Canterbury, full devout at heart,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
25 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.
30 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 I will to you apprise.
35        But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
40 And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.
35        But none the less, whilst I have time and space,
Before yet further in this tale I pace,
It seems to me in accord with reason
To describe to you the state of every one
Of each of them, as it appeared to me,
40 And who they were, and what was their degree,
And even what clothes they were dressed in;
And with a knight thus will I first begin.

The Knight

       A KNYGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
45 To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
50 And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne.
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce;
In Lettow hadde he reysed, and in Ruce,
55 No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye.
At Lyeys was he and at Satalye,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See
60 At many a noble armee hadde he be.
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also
65 Somtyme with the lord of Palatye
Agayn another hethen in Turkye.
And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys;
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.
70 He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
He was a verrayparfit gentil knyght.
But, for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
75 Of fustian he wered a gypon
Al bismotered with his habergeoun,
For he was late ycome from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.
        A KNIGHT there was, and what a gentleman,
Who, from the moment that he first began
45 To ride about the world, loved chivalry,
Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy.
Full worthy was he in his sovereign’s war,
And therein had he ridden, no man more,
As well in Christendom as heathenesse,
50 And honoured everywhere for worthiness.
At Alexandria, in the winning battle he was there;
Often put in the place of honour, a chair.
Above all nations’ knights in Prussia.
In Latvia raided he, and Russia,
55 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
60 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 duels, always killed his foe.
This self-same worthy knight had been also
65 At one time with the lord of Palatye
Against another heathen in Turkey:
And always won he widespread fame for prize.
Though so strong and brave, he was very wise
And of temper as meekly as a maid.
70 He never yet had any vileness said,
In all his life, to whatsoever wight.
He was a truly perfect, noble knight.
But now, to tell you all of his array,
His steeds were good, but he was not gaily dressed.
75 A tunic of simple cloth he possesed
Discoloured and stained by his habergeon;
For he had lately returned from his voyage
And now was going on this pilgrimage.

The Squire

       With hym ther was his sone, a yong SQUIER,
80 A lovyere and a lusty bacheler;
With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,
And wonderly delyvere, and of greet strengthe.
85 And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede,
90 Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede;
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day,
He was as fressh as is the monthe of May.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel koude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
95 He koude songes make, and wel endite,
Juste, and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write.
So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertale
He slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.
Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable,
100 And carf biforn his fader at the table.
       With him there was his son, a young SQUIRE,
80 A lover and a lively 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 average length,
Wondrously active, agile, and great of strength.
85 He’d ridden sometime with the cavalry
In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy,
And conducted well within that little space
In hope to win thereby his lady’s grace.
Embroidered he was, as if he were a meadow bright,
90 All full of fresh-cut flowers red and white.
Singing he was, or whistling, 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 he sit on horse, and fairly ride.
95 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,
100 And carved before his father at the table.

The Yeoman

       A YEMAN hadde he and servantz namo
At that tyme, for hym liste ride soo;
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene.
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene
105 Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
(Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly:
Hise arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe)
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
not heed hadde he, with a broun visage,
110 Of woodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that oother syde a gay daggere
Harneised wel and sharpe as point of spere.
115 A Cristopher on his brest of silver sheene.
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene;
forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.
       A YEOMAN had he at his side,
No more servants, for he chose so to ride;
And he was clothed in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen
105 Under his belt he bore very carefully
(Well could he keep his gear yeomanly:
His arrows had no drooped feathers low),
And in his hand he bore a mighty bow.
A cropped head had he and a sun-browned face.
110 Of woodcraft he knew all the useful ways.
Upon his arm he bore a bright bracer,
And at one side a sword and a buckler,
And at the other side a dagger bright,
Well sheathed and sharp as a spear’s point in the light;
115 A Christopher medal on his breast of silver sheen.
He bore a horn, the baldric all of green;
A forester he truly was, I guess.

The Prioress

       Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;
120 Hir gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy;
And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne.
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
125 After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel ytaught was she with alle:
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe;
130 Wel koude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe
That no drope ne fille upon hir brist.
In curteisie was set ful muche hir list.
Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene
135 Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte.
And sikerly, she was of greet desport,
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port,
And peyned hir to countrefete cheere
140 Of court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But, for to speken of hir conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
145 Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But soore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;
150 And al was conscience, and tendre herte.
Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was,
Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed;
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
155 It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe;
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war;
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
160 An theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after Amor vincit omnia.
       There was also a nun, a PRIORESS,
Who, in her smiling, modest was and coy;
120 Her greatest oath was but “By Saint Eloy!”
And she was called Madam Eglantine.
Very well she sang the service divine,
Intoning through her nose, becomingly;
And she spoke French fairly and fluently,
125 After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow,
For French of Paris style she didn’t know.
At table her manners were well taught withall,
And never let morsels from her lips fall,
Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate
130 With so much care the food upon her plate
That no drop could fall upon her breast.
In courtesy she had delight and zest.
Her upper lip was always wiped so clean
That on her cup no speck or spot was seen
135 Of grease, when she had drunk her draught of wine.
Graciously she reached for food to dine.
And certainly delighting in good sport,
She was very pleasant, amiable – in short.
She was in pains to imitate the cheer
140 Of courtliness, and stately manners here,
And would be held worthy of reverence.
But, to speak about her moral sense,
She was so charitable and solicitous
That she would weep if she but saw a mouse
145 Caught in a trap, whether it were dead or bled.
She had some little dogs, that she fed
On roasted flesh, or milk and fine white bread.
But sorely she wept if one of them were dead,
Or if men smote it with a stick to smart:
150 Then pity ruled her, and her tender heart.
Very seemly her pleated wimple was;
Her nose was fine; her eyes were grey as glass;
Her mouth was small and therewith soft and red;
But certainly her forehead was fairly spread;
155 It was almost a full span broad, I own,
To tell the truth, she was not undergrown.
Her cloak, as I was well aware, had a graceful charm
She wore a small coral trinket on her arm
A string of beads and gauded all with green;
160 And therefrom hung a brooch of golden sheen
Whereon there was engraved a crowned “A,”
And under, Amor vincit omnia.

The Second Nun and Three Priests 

      Another NONNE with hir hadde she,
That was hire chapeleyne, and preestes thre.
      Another NUN with her had she,
Who was her chaplain; and priests, she had three.

The Monk

165       A MONK ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
An outridere, that lovede venerie,
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable,
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere
170 Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere
And eek as loude, as dooth the chapel belle.
Ther as this lord was keper of the celle,
The reule of Seint Maure, or of Seint Beneit,
By cause that it was old and somdel streit
175 This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace,
And heeld after the newe world the space.
He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith that hunters beth nat hooly men,
Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,
180 Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees,-
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre
But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre;
And I seyde his opinioun was good.
What sholde he studie, and make hymselven wood,
185 Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,
Or swynken with his handes and laboure,
As Austyn bit? How shal the world be served?
Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reserved!
Therfore he was a prikasour aright:
190 Grehoundes he hadde, as swift as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
195 And, for to festne his hood under his chyn,
He hadde of gold ywroght a curious pyn;
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as it hadde been enoynt.
200 He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt,
Hise eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat;
205 He was nat pale as a forpyned goost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye,
165       A MONK there was, one of the finest sort,
An outrider; hunting was his sport;
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Very many excellent horses had he in stable:
And when he rode men might his bridle hear
170 Jingling in the whistling wind as clear,
Also, and as loud as does the chapel bell
Where this monk was governour of the cell.
The rule of Maurus or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was somewhat old and strict,
175 This same monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
He gave for that text not a plucked hen
Which holds that hunters are not holy men;
Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless,
180 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 good.
Why should he study as a madman would
185 Poring a book in a cloister cell? Or yet
Go labour with his hands and work 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;
190 Greyhounds he had, as fast as a 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 made with fur at the hand
With fine grey fur, the finest in the land;
195 Also, to fasten his hood under his chin,
He had made of 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.
200 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:
205 He was not pale as some tormented ghost.
A fat swan he loved best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

The Friar

       A FRERE ther was, a wantowne and a merye,
lymytour, a ful solempne man.
210 In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan
So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.
Unto his ordre he was a noble post,
215 And wel biloved and famulier was he
With frankeleyns overal in his contree,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun;
For he hadde power of confessioun,
As seyde hymself, moore than a curat,
220 For of his ordre he was licenciat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun:
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce,
Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce.
225 For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel yshryve;
For, if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
He wiste that a man was repentaunt;
For many a man so harde is of his herte,
230 He may nat wepe, al thogh hym soore smerte;
Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyeres
Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres.
His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves
And pynnes, for to yeven yonge wyves.
235 And certeinly he hadde a murye note:
Wel koude he synge, and pleyen on a rote;
Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris.
His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys;
Therto he strong was as a champioun.
240 He knew the tavernes wel in every toun
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere;
For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
245 To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce.
It is nat honeste, it may nat avaunce,
For to deelen with no swich poraille,
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille.
And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,
250 Curteis he was, and lowely of servyse.
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
(And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt
Noon of his brethren cam ther in his haunt;)
255 For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his “In principio”
Yet wolde he have a ferthyng, er he wente;
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
And rage he koude, as it were right a whelp.
260 In love-dayes ther koude he muchel help,
For there he was nat lyk a cloysterer
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,
But he was lyk a maister or a pope;
Of double worstede was his semycope,
265 That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed for his wantownesse
To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge;
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,
Hise eyen twynkled in his heed aryght
270 As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.
This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd.
       A FRIAR there was, a wanton and a merry,
A limiter, a very festive man.
210 In all the Four Orders is no one that can
Equal his gossip and well-spoken speech.
He had arranged many a marriage, giving each
Of young women, and this at his own cost.
For his order he was a noble post.
215 Highly liked by all and intimate was he
With franklins everywhere in his country,
And with the worthy women living in the city:
For his power of confession met no equality
That’s what he said, in the confession to a curate,
220 For his order he was a licentiate.
He heard confession gently, it was said,
Gently absolved too, leaving no dread.
He was an easy man in penance-giving
He knew how to gain a fair living;
225 For to a begging friar, money given
Is sign that any man has been well shriven.
For if one gave, he dared to boast bluntly,
He took the man’s repentance not lightly.
For many a man there is so hard of heart
230 He cannot weep however pains may smart.
Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayers,
Men should give silver to the poor friars.
His tippet was always stuffed with pocket-knives
And pins, to give to young and pleasing wives.
235 And certainly he possesed a merry note:
Well could he sing and play upon the rote.
At ballad contests, he bore the prize away.
His throat was white as the lily flower I say;
Yet strong he was as every champion.
240 In towns he knew the taverns, every one,
And every good host and each barmaid too –
Better than needy lepers and beggars, these he knew.
For unto no such a worthy man as he
It’s unsuitable, as far as he could see,
245 To have sick lepers for acquaintances.
There is no honest advantageousness
In dealing with such poor beggars;
It’s with the rich victual-buyers and sellers.
And generally, wherever profit might arise,
250 Courteous he was and servicable in men’s eyes.
There was no other man so virtuous.
He was the finest beggar of his house;
(And gave a certain fee for his begging rights,
None of his brethren dared approach his hights;)
255 For though a widow had no shoes to show,
So pleasant was his “In principio”,
He always got a farthing before he went.
His revenue exceeded his costs, it is evident.
And he could flirt as well as any pup.
260 He could help resolve disputes that were brought up.
In this he was not like a cloisterer,
With threadbare cope like the poor scholar,
But he was like a lord or like a pope.
Of double cloth was his semi-cope,
265 That rounded like a bell, as if straight from the press.
He lisped a little, out of wantonness,
To make his English soft upon his tongue;
And in his harping, when he had sung,
His two eyes twinkled in his head as bright
270 As do the stars within the frosty night.
This worthy friar was named Hubert.

The Merchant

       A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat,
275 His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
His resons he spak ful solempnely,
Sownynge alway th’encrees of his wynnyng.
He wolde the see were kept for any thyng
Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.
280 Wel koude 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 chevyssaunce.
285 For sothe, he was a worthy man with-alle,
But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.
       There was a MERCHANT with forked beard
In motley gown, and high on horse he sat,
Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat;
275 His boots were fastened neatly and elegantly.
He spoke out his opinions very solemnly,
Stressing the times when he had won, not lost.
He wanted the sea were guarded at any cost
Between Middleburgh and the town of Orwel.
280 He knew how to deal foreign currencies, buy and sell.
This worthy man kept all his wits well set;
There was no person that knew he was in debt,
So well he managed all his trade affairs
With bargains and with borrowings and with shares.
285 Indeed, he was a worthy man withall,
But, to tell the truth, his name I can’t recall.

The Clerk

       A CLERK ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.
As leene was his hors as is a rake,
290 And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,
But looked holwe and therto sobrely.
Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
295 For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
300 Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,
On bookes and on lernynge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye.
305 Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede.
Noght o word spak he moore than was neede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence;
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
310 And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
       A CLERK from Oxford was there also,
Who’d studied philosophy, long ago.
As lean was his horse as is a rake,
290 And he too was not fat, that I take,
But he looked emaciated, moreover, abstemiously.
Very worn off was his overcoat; for he
Had got him yet no churchly benefice,
Nor he was worldly to accept secular office.
295 For he would rather have at his bed’s head
Some twenty books, all bound in black or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy
Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery.
Yet, and for all he was philosopher in base,
300 He had but little gold within his suitcase;
But all that he might borrow from a friend
On books and learning he would swiftly spend,
And then he’d pray diligently for the souls
Of those who gave him resources to attend schools.
305 He took utmost care and heed for his study.
Not one word spoke he more than was necessary;
And that was said with due formality and dignity
And short and lively, and full of high morality.
Filled with moral virtue was his speech;
310 And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.

The Sergeant of the Law

       A SERGEANT OF THE LAWEwar and wys,
That often hadde been at the Parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence
315 He semed swich, hise wordes weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in assise,
By patente, and by pleyn commissioun.
For his science, and for his heigh renoun,
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
320 So greet a purchasour was nowher noon:
Al was fee symple to hym in effect,
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
325 In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle
That from the tyme of Kyng William were falle.
Therto he koude endite and make a thyng,
Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng;
And every statut koude he pleyn by rote.
330 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 SERGEANT OF THE LAW, keen and wise,
Who’d often been at St. Paul’s Porch, to advise,
There was also, rich of superior quality
Disinterested he was, and of great dignity;
315 At least it seemed so, his words were so wise.
Often he was a judge in court, in assize,
By royal assignment or commission giving jurisdiction;
Because of his knowledge and high reputation,
He took large fees, had robes more than one.
320 So great a land-buyer there was none.
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.
325 He knew all convictions, common and crime
Recorded since King William’s time.
And he could write a contract so explicit
Not any man could trace a fault in it;
And every law he knew entirely by rote.
330 He rode but simply in a medley coat,
Girded with a belt of silk, with little bars,
But of his outfit no more particulars.

The Franklin

       A FRANKELEYN was in his compaignye.
Whit was his berd as is a dayesye;
335 Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
Wel loved he by the morwe a sope in wyn,;
To lyven in delit was evere his wone,
For he was Epicurus owene sone,
That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit
340 Was verray felicitee parfit.
An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;
Seint Julian was he in his contree.
His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon,
A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.
345 Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous,
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke,
Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke.
After the sondry sesons of the yeer,
350 So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe,
And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.
Wo was his cook, but if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his geere.
355 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 knyght of the shire.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk
360 Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.
shirreve hadde he been, and a countour.
Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour.
        There was a FRANKLIN in his company;
White was his beard as is the white daisy.
335 Of sanguine temperament by every sign,
He loved to dip his morning bread in wine.
A pleasing live was the custom he’d won,
For he was Epicurus’ very son,
That held opinion that plain and pure delight
340 Was true happiness, perfect and right.
A householder, and that a great, was he;
Saint Julian he was in his own country.
His bread, his ale were always good and fine;
No man had cellars better stocked with wine.
345 His house was never short of food and pies
Of fish and flesh, and these in large supplies
It seemed to snow therein both food and drink
Of every dainty that a man could think.
According to the various seasons of the year
350 He changed lunch and changed his supper.
Very many fattened partridges he kept in a mew,
And many a bream and pike in fish-pond too.
Woe to his cook, unless the sauces were
Poignant and sharp, and ready all his gear.
355 His dining table, waiting in his hall, I say,
Stood ready covered throughout the whole day.
At county sessions he was lord and sire,
And often acted as a knight of shire.
A dagger and a purse all of silk
360 Hung at his belt, white as morning milk.
He had been sheriff and been tax auditor;
There was nowhere such a worthy vavasor.

The Haberdasher, Carpenter, Arras-maker and Weaver

365 And they were clothed alle in o lyveree
Of a solempne and a greet fraternitee.
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel,
370 Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys.
Everich, for the wisdom that he kan,
Was shaply for to been an alderman.
375 For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
And elles certeyn, were they to blame.
It is ful fair to been ycleped “madame,”
And goon to vigilies al bifore,
380 And have a mantel roialliche ybore.
365 Were with us, clothed in the same livery,
All of one solemn, great fraternity.
Freshly and new their gear, and well adorned it was;
Their weapons were not cheaply shaped with brass,
But all with silver; neatly made and well
370 Their belt and their purses too, I tell.
Each man of them appeared a proper citizen
To sit in guildhall on a dais, he can
And each of them, for wisdom he could span,
Was suitable to serve as an alderman;
375 For property they’d enough, and income too;
Besides their wives declared it was their due,
Or else for certain they had been to blame.
It’s good to hear “Madam” before one’s name,
And go to church when all the world may see,
380 Having one’s gown carried right royally.

The Cook

       A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones
To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
And poudre-marchant tart, and galyngale.
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of London ale.
385 He koude rooste, 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 shyne a mormal hadde he.
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
       A COOK they had with them, just for once,
To boil the chickens with the marrow-bones,
And poudre-marchant tart and galingale.
He knew how to recognize a draught of London ale.
385 And he could roast and boil and broil and fry,
And prepare a stew, and bake a tasty pie.
But a pity it was, it seemed to me,
That on his shin an open sore had he;
For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with the best.

The Shipman

390        A SHIPMAN was ther, wonynge fer by weste;
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.
He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe,
In a gowne of faldyng to the knee.
A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he
395 Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun.
The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun,
And certeinly he was a good felawe.
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe
Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapman sleep.
400 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.
But of his craft, to rekene wel his tydes,
His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides,
405 His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage,
Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.
Hardy he was, and wys to undertake;
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake.
He knew alle the havenes as they were,
410 From Gootlond to the Cape of Fynystere,
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.
His barge ycleped was the Maudelayne.
390        There was a SAILOR, living far out west;
For all I know, he was of Dartmouth town.
He sadly rode a carthorse, in a gown,
Of thick woolen cloth that reached unto the knee.
A dagger hanging on a cord had he
395 About his neck, under his arm, and down.
The hot summer had burned his face all brown;
And certainly he was a person fine.
Very often he took a draught of wine,
Of Bordeaux vintage, while the trader slept.
400 Nice conscience was a thing he never kept.
And if he fought and got the upper hand,
By water he sent them home to every land.
But as for craft, to calculate his tides,
His currents and the dangerous watersides,
405 His harbours, and his moon, his pilotage,
There was none such from Hull to far Carthage.
Hardy and wise in all things undertaken,
By many tempests had his beard been shaken.
He knew well all the havens, how they were,
410 From Gottland to the Cape of Finisterre,
And every creek in Brittany and Spain;
His vessel had been called the Madeleine.

The Physician

       With us ther was a DOCTOUR OF PHISIK;
In al this world ne was ther noon hym lik,
415 To speke of phisik and of surgerye,
For he was grounded in astronomye.
He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel
In houres, by his magyk natureel.
Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent
420 Of his ymages for his pacient.
He knew the cause of everich maladye,
Were it of hoot, or coold, or moyste, or drye,
And where they engendred, and of what humour.
He was a verray parfit praktisour:
425 The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote,
Anon he yaf the sike man his boote.
Ful redy hadde he hise apothecaries
To sende him drogges and his letuaries,
For ech of hem made oother for to wynne-
430 Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne.
Wel knew he the olde Esculapius,
And Deyscorides and eek Rufus,
Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen,
Serapioun, Razis, and Avycen,
435 Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn,
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
Of his diete mesurable was he,
For it was of no superfluitee,
But of greet norissyng, and digestible.
440 His studie was but litel on the Bible.
In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al,
Lyned with taffata and with sendal;
And yet he was but esy of dispence;
He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
445 For gold in phisik is a cordial,
Therfore he lovede gold in special.
       With us there was a DOCTOR OF MEDICINE;
In all this world there was none like him
415 To speak of medicine and surgery;
For he was instructed in astronomy.
He cared for and saved a patient many times
By natural science and studying astrological signs.
Well could he calculate the planetary position
420 To improve the state his patient is in.
He knew the cause of every sickness,
Whether it brings heat or cold, moisture or dryness,
And where engendered, and of what humour;
He was a very good practitioner.
425 The cause being known, the root of the malady,
At once he gave to the sick man his remedy.
Prepared he was, with his apothecaries,
To send him drugs and all electuaries;
By mutual aid much gold they’d always won-
430 Their friendship was a thing not new begun.
Well he knew the old Esculapius,
And Deiscorides, and also Rufus,
Old Hippocrates, Hali, and Galen,
Serapion, Rhazes, and Avicen,
435 Averroes, Gilbertus, and Constantine,
Bernard and Gatisden, and John Damascene.
In diet he was modest as could be,
No one could blame him of superfluity,
But greatly nourishin and digestible.
440 His study was but little on the Bible.
Blue and scarlet his clothes were therewithal,
Lined with taffeta and with sendal;
And yet he was right careful of expense;
He kept the gold he gained from pestilence.
445 Since gold in physic is a cordial,
Therefore he loved his gold exceeding all.

The Wife of Bath

       A good WIF was ther, OF biside BATHE,
But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe.
Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt,
450 She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt.
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she,
That she was out of alle charitee.
455 Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
460 Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve:
Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve,
Withouthen oother compaignye in youthe, –
But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe.
465 And thries hadde she been at Jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a straunge strem;
At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne,
In Galice at Seint-Jame, and at Coloigne.
She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye.
470 Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Upon an amblere esily she sat,
Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
475 And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe.
Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce,
For she koude of that art the olde daunce.
       There was a WIFE of BATH, or a near city,
Who was somewhat deaf, it is a pity.
At making clothes she had a skillful hand
450 She bettered those of Ypres and of Ghent.
In all the parish there was no wife to go
And proceed her in offering, it is so;
And if one did, indeed, so angry was she
It put her out of all her charity.
455 Her head-dresses were of finest weave and ground;
I dare swear that they weighed about ten pound
Which, on a Sunday, she wore on her head.
Her stockings were of the finest scarlet red,
Tightly fastened, and her shoes were soft and new.
460 Bold was her face, and fair, and red of hue.
She’d been respectable throughout her life,
Married in church, husbands she had five,
Not counting other company in youth;
But thereof there’s no need to speak, in truth.
465 Three times she’d travelled to Jerusalem;
And many a foreign stream she’d had to stem;
At Rome she’d been, and she’d been in Boulogne,
In Spain at Santiago, and at Cologne.
She could tell much of wandering by the way:
470 Gap-toothed was she, it is the truth I say.
Upon a pacing horse easily she sat,
Wearing a large wimple, and over all a hat
As broad as is a buckler or a targe;
An overskirt was tucked around her buttocks large,
475 And her feet spurred sharply under that.
In company well could she laugh and chat.
The remedies of love she knew, perchance,
For of that art she’d learned the old, old dance.

The Parson

       A good man was ther of religioun,
480 And was a povre PERSOUN OF A TOUN,
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
485 Benynge he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient,
And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.
Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
490 Unto his povre parisshens aboute
Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.
He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
495 In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
500 Out of the gosple he tho wordes caughte,
And this figure he added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
505 And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre
510 And leet his sheep encombred in the myre
And ran to Londoun unto Seinte Poules
To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a bretherhed to been witholde;
But dwelt at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
515 So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
And though he hooly were and vertuous,
He was to synful men nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
520 But in his techyng discreet and benygne;
To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.
But it were any persone obstinat,
What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
525 Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
A bettre preest I trowe, that nowher noon ys.
He waited after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve
530 He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.
       A good man was there of religion,
480 He was a poor COUNTRY PARSON,
But rich he was in holy thought and work.
He was a learned man also, a clerk,
Who Christ’s own gospel truly sought to preach;
Devoutly his parishioners would he teach.
485 Gracious he was and wondrously diligent,
Patient in adversity and well content,
Many times thus proven had he
He excommunicated not to force a fee,
But rather would he give, there is no doubt,
490 Unto his poor parishioners about,
Some of his income, even of his property.
He could in little find sufficiency.
Wide was his parish, houses far asunder,
But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,
495 In sickness, or in sin, or any state,
To visit the farthest, regardless their financial state,
Going by foot, and in his hand, a stave.
This fine example to his flock he gave,
That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;
500 Out of the gospel then that text he caught,
And this metaphor he added thereunto –
That, if gold would rust, what shall iron do?
For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,
No wonder that a layman thinks of lust?
505 And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
A shitty shepherd, looking after clean sheep.
A trully good example a priest should give,
Is his own chastity, how his flock should live.
He never let his benefice for hire,
510 And leave his sheep encumbered in the mire,
And ran to London, up to old Saint Paul’s
To get himself a chantry there for souls,
Nor in some fraternity did he withhold;
But dwelt at home and kept so well the fold
515 That never wolf could make his plans miscarry;
He was a shepherd and not mercenary.
And holy though he was, and virtuous,
To sinners he was not impiteous,
Nor haughty in his speech, nor too divine,
520 But in all teaching courteous and benign.
To lead folk into Heaven by means of gentleness
By good example was his business.
But if some sinful one proved obstinate,
Whoever, of high or low financial state,
525 He put to sharp rebuke, to say the least.
I think there never was a better priest.
He had no thirst for pomp or ceremony,
Nor spiced his conscience and morality,
But Christ’s own law, and His apostles’ twelve
530 He taught, but first he followed it himselve.

The Plowman

       With hym ther was a PLOWMAN, was his brother,
That hadde ylad of dong ful many a fother;
A trewe swynkere and a good was he,
Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee.
535 God loved he best with al his hoole herte
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte,
And thanne his neighebor right as hym-selve.
He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight
540 Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght.
Hise tithes payed he ful faire and wel,
Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel.
In a tabard he rood, upon a mere.
        With him there was a PLOWMAN, his brother,
That loaded many carts with dung, and many other
Had transported; a true worker was he,
Living in peace and perfect charity.
535 He loved God most, and that with his whole heart
At all times, whether it was easy or hard,
And next, his neighbour, even as himself.
He’d thresh and dig, and never thought of wealth,
For Christ’s own sake, for every person poor,
540 Without payment, if his power could assure.
He paid his taxes, fully, when it was due,
Both by his toil and possessions he’d sell too.
In a tabard he rode upon a mare.

The Miller

       Ther was also a REVE and a MILLERE,
545 SOMNOUR and a PARDONER also,
MAUNCIPLE, and myself – ther were namo.
       A REEVE and a MILLER were also there;
All these, beside myself, there were no more.
       The MILLERE was a stout carl for the nones;
Ful byg he was of brawn and eek of bones-
That proved wel, for over al ther he cam
550 At wrastlynge he wolde have alwey the ram.
He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre,
Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre,
Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed.
His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,
555 And therto brood, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade
werte, and thereon stood a toft of herys,
Reed as the brustles of a sowes erys;
Hise nosethirles blake were and wyde.
560 swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde.
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys.
He was a janglere and a goliardeys,
And that was moost of synne and harlotries.
Wel koude he stelen corn, and tollen thries;
565 And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.
       The MILLER was a strong fellow, be it known,
Hardy, big of brawn and big of bone;
Which was well proved, for wherever a festive day
550 At wrestling, he always took the prize away.
He was stoutly built, broad and heavy;
He lifted each door from its hinges, that easy,
Or break it through, by running, with his head.
His beard, as any sow or fox, was red,
555 And broad it was as if it were a spade.
Upon his nose right on the top he had
A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs,
Red as the bristles in an old sow’s ears;
His nostrils they were black and wide.
560 A sword and buckler he carried by his side.
His mouth was like a furnace door for size.
He was a jester and knew some poetry,
But mostly all of sin and obscenity.
He could steal corn and three times charge his fee;
565 And yet indeed he had a thumb of gold.
A blue hood he wore and a white coat;
A bagpipe he could blow well, up and down,
And with that same he brought us out of town.

The Manciple

       A gentil MAUNCIPLE was ther of a temple,
570 Of which achatours myghte take exemple
For to be wise in byynge of vitaille;
For wheither that he payde or took by taille,
Algate he wayted so in his achaat
That he was ay biforn, and in good staat.
575 Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace,
That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace
The wisdom of an heep of lerned men?
Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten,
That weren of lawe expert and curious,
580 Of whiche ther weren a duszeyne in that hous
Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond
Of any lord that is in Engelond,
To maken hym lyve by his propre good,
In honour dettelees (but if he were wood),
585 Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire,
And able for to helpen al a shire
In any caas that myghte falle or happe-
And yet this Manciple sette hir aller cappe.
       The MANCIPLE was from the Inner Temple,
570 To whom all buyers might think of as an example
To learn the art of buying victuals;
Cash or credit, he knew all the rituals,
That he knew the markets, watched them closely,
And found himself ahead, he did quit nicely.
575 Now is it not of God’s very fair grace
That such a vulgar man has wit to pace
The wisdom of a crowd of learned men?
Of masters had he more than three times ten,
Who were in law expert and curious;
580 Whereof there were a dozen in that house
Fit to be stewards of both rent and land
Of any lord in England who would stand
To make him live by his own wealth and fee,
In honour, debtless (unless his head was crazy),
585 Or live as economically as he might desire;
These men were able to have helped a shire
In any case that ever might occur;
And yet this manciple covered their sight with blur.

The Reeve

       The REVE was a sclendre colerik man.
590 His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan;
His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn;
His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.
Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene,
Ylyk a staf, ther was no calf ysene.
595 Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne;
Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne.
Wel wiste he by the droghte and by the reyn,
The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn.
His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,
600 His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,
Was hoolly in this Reves governynge,
And by his covenant yaf the rekenynge,
Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age,
Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage.
605 Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne,
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne;
They were adrad of hym as of the deeth.
His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth;
With grene trees shadwed was his place.
610 He koude bettre than his lord purchace.
Ful riche he was astored pryvely:
His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly,
To yeve and lene hym of his owene good,
And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.
615 In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
This Reve sat upon a ful good stot,
That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.
A long surcote of pers upon he hade,
620 And by his syde he baar 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 hyndreste of oure route.
       The REEVE was a slender choleric man
590 Who shaved his beard as close as ever he can.
His hair was closely cropped around his ears;
His head, the top was cut alike a pulpiteer’s.
Long were his legs, and they were very lean,
And like a staff, with no calf to be seen.
595 Well could he manage granary and bin;
No auditor could ever find anything.
He could foretell, by drought and by the rain,
The yielding of his seed and of his grain.
His lord’s sheep and his cattle and his dairy cows,
600 His swine and horses, his stores, his poultry house,
Were wholly in the Reve his managing;
And, by agreement, he’d gave reckoning
Since his young lord of age was twenty years;
Yet no man ever found him in arrears.
605 There was no agent, herd, or servant who’d cheat;
He knew too well their cunning and deceit;
They were afraid of him as of the death.
His cottage was a good one, on a heath;
By green trees shaded was his dwelling-place.
610 Much better than his lord could he purchase.
Very rich and well he was provided all secretly,
He knew well how to please his lord subtly,
By giving him, or lending, of his own goods,
And so got thanked – but yet got coats and hoods.
615 In youth he’d learned a good trade, and had been
A carpenter, good skillful and keen.
This Reve sat on a horse that could well trot,
And was all dapple grey, and was named Scot.
A long surcoat of blue did he parade,
620 And at his side he bore a rusty blade.
Of Norfolk was this Reeve of whom I tell,
From near a town that men call Badeswell.
His coat was like a friar’s tightly closed,
From our company he rode always hindmost.

The Summoner

625        A SOMONOUR was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,
For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe,
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd,
630 Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte,
That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white,
635 Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleekoynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood;
Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
640 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
645 Kan clepen “Watte” as wel as kan the pope.
But whoso koude in oother thyng hym grope,
Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophie;
Ay “Questio quid iuris” wolde he crie.
He was a gentil harlot and a kynde;
650 A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde;
He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,
A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf-monthe, and excuse hym atte fulle;
Ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle.
655 And if he foond owher a good felawe,
He wolde techen him to have noon awe,
In swich caas, of the ercedekenes curs,
But if a mannes soule were in his purs;
For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be.
660 “Purs is the erchedekenes helle,” seyde he.
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;
Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede,
For curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savith,
And also war him of a Significavit.
665 In daunger hadde he at his owene gise
The yonge girles of the diocise,
And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.
A gerland hadde he set upon his heed
As greet as it were for an ale-stake;
670 bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.
625        A SUMMONER was with us in that place,
Who had a fiery-red, cherubic face,
All pimpled it was; his eyes were narrow
As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow;
With black and scabby brows and scanty beard;
630 He had a face that little children feared.
There was no mercury, sulphur, or litharge,
No borax, ceruse, tartar, could discharge,
Nor ointment that could cleanse enough, or bite,
To free him of his boils and pimples white,
635 Nor of the knobs located on his cheeks.
Well loved he garlic, onions, and also leeks,
And drink strong blood red wine untill dizzy.
Then would he talk and shout as if he’s crazy.
And when a deal of wine he’d taken in,
640 Then would he utter no word except Latin.
Some phrases had he learned, say two or three,
Which he had learned out of some decree;
No wonder, he had heard it all the day;
And all you know right well that even a jay
645 Can call out “Walter” better than the Pope.
But if, to try his wits in him you’d grope,
‘Twas found he’d spent his whole philosophy;
Always “Questio quid juris” would he cry.
He was a noble rascal, and a kind;
650 A better comrade would be hard to find.
Why, he would suffer, for a quart of wine,
Some good fellow to have his concubine
A twelve-month, and excuse him to the full
(Secretly, though he knew how a trick to pull).
655 And if he found somewhere a good fellow,
He would instruct him never to have awe,
In such a case, of the archdeacon’s curse,
Unless a man’s soul were within his purse;
For in his purse the man should punished be.
660 “The purse is the archdeacon’s hell,” said he.
But well I know he lied in what he said;
A curse ought every guilty man to dread
(For curse can kill, as absolution save),
And also be aware of Significavit.
665 In his own power had he, and at ease,
Young people of the entire diocese,
And knew their secrets, they did what he said.
A garland had he set upon his head,
Large as a tavern’s road sign on a stake;
670 He’d made himself a buckler from a cake.

The Pardoner

       With hym ther rood a gentil PARDONER
Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer,
That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.
Ful loude he soong “Com hider, love, to me!”
675 This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun;
Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.
This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,
But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex;
By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde,
680 And therwith he hise shuldres overspradde;
But thynne it lay by colpons oon and oon.
But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon,
For it was trussed up in his walet.
Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet;
685 Dischevelee, save his cappe, he rood al bare.
Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare.
vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe.
His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe
Bretful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.
690 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 shave,
trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.
But of his craft, from Berwyk into Ware,
695 Ne was ther swich another pardoner;
For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl:
He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl
That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente
700 Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym 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
povre persoun dwellyng upon lond,
705 Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye;
And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes,
He made the persoun and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen atte laste,
710 He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste.
Wel koude 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 affile his tonge
715 To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude;
Therfore he song the murierly and loude.
       With him there rode a noble PARDONER
Of Rouncival, his friend and his compeer;
Straight from the court of Rome had journeyed he.
Loudly he sang “Come hither, love, to me,”
675 The summoner added a strong bass to his song;
No horn ever sounded half so strong.
This pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
But smooth it hung as does a strike of flax;
In driplets hung his locks behind his head,
680 Down to his shoulders which they overspread;
But thin they dropped, these strings, all one by one.
He had no hood, it was for sport and fun,
Though it was packed in knapsack all the while.
It seemed to him he rode in latest style,
685 With unbound hair, except his cap, head all bare.
As shiny eyes he had as has a hare.
He had a fine Veronica sewed to his cap.
His knapsack lay before him in his lap,
Stuffed full with pardons brought from Rome all hot.
690 A voice he had that sounded like a goat.
No beard had he, nor ever should he have,
For smooth his face as he’d just had a shave;
I think he was a gelding or a mare.
But in his craft, from Berwick unto Ware,
695 Was no such pardoner of equal grace.
For in his bag he had a pillow-case
Of which he said, it was Our True Lady’s veil:
He said he had a piece of the very sail
That good Saint Peter had, on time he sailed
700 Upon the sea, till Jesus him had hailed.
He had a latten cross set full of stones,
And in a bottle had he some pig’s bones.
But with these relics, when he found on ride
Some simple parson dwelling in the countryside,
705 In that one day gathered more money
Than the parson in two months, that easy.
And thus, with flattery and equal japes,
He made the parson and the rest his apes.
But yet, to tell the whole truth at the last,
710 He was, in church, a fine ecclesiast.
Well could he read a lesson or a story,
But best of all he sang an offertory;
For he knew well that when that song was sung,
Then must he preach, and all with smoothened tongue.
715 To gain some silver, preferably from the crowd;
Therefore he sang so merrily and so loud.

The Proposal of the Host

       Now have I toold you shortly in a clause,
Th’estaat, th’array, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this compaignye
720 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 ilke nyght,
Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;
725 And after wol I telle of our viage
And all the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.
But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,
That ye n’arette it nat my vileynye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,
730 To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,
Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.
For this ye knowen also wel as I,
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan
735 Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche or large,
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, al thogh he were his brother;
740 He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,
And, wel ye woot, no vileynye is it.
Eek Plato seith, whoso kan hym rede,
The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.
745 Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde.
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.
       Now have I told you briefly, in a clause,
The state, the array, the number, and the cause
Of the assembling of this company
720 In Southwark, at this noble hostelry
Known as the Tabard Inn, closely to the Bell.
But now the time has come wherein to tell
How we conducted ourselves that very night
When at the hostelry we did alight.
725 And afterward the story I begin
To tell you of our pilgrimage we’re in.
But first, I beg, address your courtesy,
You’ll not ascribe it to vulgarity
Though I speak plainly of this matter here,
730 Explain to you their words and means of cheer;
Nor though I use their very terms, nor lie.
For this thing do you know as well as I:
When one repeats a tale told by a man,
He must report, as closely as he can,
735 Every single word, as he remembers it,
How vulgar it be, or how unfit;
Or else he may be telling what’s untrue,
Embellishing, even making up things too.
He may not spare, although it were his brother;
740 He must as well say one word as another.
Christ spoke very plainly, in holy writ,
And, you know well, there’s nothing rude in it.
And Plato says, to those able to read:
“The word should be the cousin to the deed.”
745 Also, I beg that you’ll forgive it me
If I have not set folk, in their degree
Here in this tale, by rank as they should stand.
My wit is short, as you’ll well understand.
       Greet chiere made oure Hoost us everichon,
750 And to the soper sette he us anon.
He served us with vitaille at the beste;
Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste.
A semely man OURE HOOSTE was withalle
For to been a marchal in an halle.
755 A large man he was, with eyen stepe –
A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe –
Boold of his speche, and wys, and well ytaught,
And of manhod hym lakkede right naught.
Eek therto he was right a myrie man,
760 And after soper pleyen he bigan,
And spak of myrthe amonges othere thynges,
Whan that we hadde maad our rekenynges,
And seyde thus: “Now lordynges, trewely,
Ye been to me right welcome hertely;
765 For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye,
saugh nat this yeer so myrie a compaignye
Atones in this herberwe, as is now.
Fayn wolde I doon yow myrthe, wiste I how.
And of a myrthe I am right now bythoght,
770 To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght.
       Great fun our host provided, every one,
750 Was set and the supper straightway begun;
And served us then with victuals of the best.
Strong was the wine and pleasant to each guest.
A seemly man our good host was, withal,
And fit to be a marshal in a hall;
755 A large man he was, with piercing eyes,
As fine a burgher as in Cheapside lies;
Bold in his speech, and wise, and fairly taught,
And as to manhood, lacking there was not.
Moreover, he’s a very merry man,
760 And after dinner, with playing he began,
And spoke of mirth among some other things,
When all of us had paid our reckonings;
And saying thus: “Now my lords, truly
You are all welcome here, and heartily:
765 On my word, I’m telling you no lie,
I have not seen, this year, a company
Here in this inn, fitter for sport than now.
Fain I’d make you happy, if I’d knew how.
And of a game have I this moment thought
770 To give you joy, and it shall cost you not.
       Ye goon to Caunterbury – God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye,
775 For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon
To ride by the weye doumb as stoon;
And therfore wol I maken yow disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort.
And if yow liketh alle by oon assent
780 For to stonden at my juggement,
And for to werken as I shal yow seye,
To-morwe, whan ye riden by the weye,
Now, by my fader soule that is deed,
But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed!
785 Hoold up youre hond, withouten moore speche.”
       “You go to Canterbury; may God speed
And the blest martyr listens to your need.
And well I know, as you go on your way,
You’ll tell good tales and shape yourselves to play;
775 For truly there’s no mirth nor comfort, none,
Riding the roads as dumb as is a stone;
And therefore I provide to you a sport,
As I just said, to give you some comfort.
And if you like it all, unanimously,
780 Accept my judgement, submit yourselves, agree
And will so do as I’ll proceed to say,
Tomorrow, when you ride upon your way,
Then, by my father’s spirit, who is dead,
If you’re not merry, I will give you my head.
785 Hold up your hands, nor more about it speak.”

The Rules of the Game

       Oure conseil was nat longe for to seche.
Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys,
And graunted hym, withouten moore avys,
And bad him seye his voirdit, as hym leste.
790 Lordynges,” quod he, “now herkneth for the beste;
But taak it nought, I prey yow, in desdeyn.
This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn,
That ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye,
In this viage shal telle tales tweye
795 To Caunterbury-ward I mene it so,
And homward he shal tellen othere two,
Of aventures that whilom han bifalle.
And which of yow that bereth hym best of alle,
That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas
800 Tales of best sentence and moost solaas,
Shal have a soper at oure aller cost
Heere in this place, sittynge by this post,
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury.
And for to make yow the moore mury,
805 I wol myselven goodly with yow ryde
Right at myn owene cost, and be youre gyde;
And who so wole my juggement withseye
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.
And if ye vouche sauf that it be so,
810 Tel me anon, withouten wordes mo,
And I wol erly shape me therfore.”
       Our decision was not so far to seek;
We thought there was no reason to debate,
And granted him his way at any rate,
And asked him tell his verdict just and wise,
790 “Masters,” said he, “listen to my advice;
But take it not, I pray you, in disdain;
This is the point, to put it short and plain,
That each of you, as if to shorten the day,
Shall tell two stories as you wend your way
795 To Canterbury town; and each of you
On coming home, shall tell another two,
About adventures that happened in the past.
And he who plays his part of all the best,
That is to say, who tells upon the road
800 Tales of best sense, in most amusing mode,
Shall have a supper at all others’ cost
Here in this room and sitting by this post,
When we come back again from Canterbury.
And now, the more to make sure you’ll be merry,
805 I will myself, and gladly, with you ride
At my own cost, and I will be your guide.
But whosoever will and tries to disobey
Shall pay for all that’s bought along the way.
And if you grant, agree it will be so,
810 Tell me at once, or if not, tell me no,
And I will get ready early. No more.”

The Agreement

       This thyng was graunted, and oure othes swore
With ful glad herte, and preyden hym also
That he wolde vouche sauf for to do so,
815 And that he wolde been oure governour,
And of our tales juge and reportour,
And sette a soper at a certeyn pris,
And we wol reuled been at his devys
In heigh and lough; and thus by oon assent
820 We been acorded to his juggement.
And therupon the wyn was fet anon;
We dronken, and to reste wente echon,
Withouten any lenger taryynge.
       This thing was granted, and our oaths we swore,
With right glad hearts, and prayed of him, also,
That he would take the office, nor forgo
815 The place of governor of all of us,
Judging our tales; and by his wisdom thus
Arrange that supper at a certain price,
We to be ruled, each one, by his advice
In every respect; unanimously thus,
820 We accepted his judgment over us.
And thereupon, the wine was fetched immediately;
We drank, and went to rest ultimately,
And that without a longer tarrying.

The Drawing of Lots

       Amorwe, whan that day bigan to sprynge,
825 Up roos oure Hoost, and was oure aller cok,
And gadrede us to gidre alle in a flok,
And forth we riden, a litel moore than paas
Unto the wateryng of Seint Thomas;
And there oure Hoost bigan his hors areste
830 And seyde, “Lordynges, herkneth if yow leste.
Ye woot youre foreward, and I it yow recorde.
If even-song and morwe-song accorde,
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.
As evere mote I drynke wyn or ale,
835 Whoso be rebel to my juggement
Shal paye for al that by the wey is spent.
Now draweth cuter that we ferrer twynne,
He which that hath the shorteste shal bigynne.
Sire Knyght,” quod he, “my mayster and my lord,
840 Now draweth cut, for that is myn accord.
Cometh neer,” quod he, “my lady Prioresse,
And ye, Sir Clerk, lat be youre shamefastnesse,
Ne studieth noght; ley hond to, every man!”
Anon to drawen every wight bigan,
845 And shortly for to tellen as it was,
Were it by aventure, or sort, or cas,
The sothe is this, the cut fil to the Knyght,
Of which ful blithe and glad was every wyght.
And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun,
850 By foreward and by composicioun,-
As ye han herd, what nedeth wordes mo?
And whan this goode man saugh that it was so,
As he that wys was and obedient
To kepe his foreward by his free assent,
855 He seyde, “Syn I shal bigynne the game,
What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name!
Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.”
And with that word we ryden forth oure weye,
And he bigan with right a myrie cheere
860 His tale anon, and seyde as ye may heere.
       Next morning, when the day began to spring,
825 Up rose our host, and acting as our cock,
He gathered us together in a flock,
And forth we rode, a a little faster than pace,
Until we reached Saint Thomas’ watering-place.
Our host then pulled his horse, began to ease
830 And said: “Now, gentleman, listen if you please.
You know what you agreed, I’ll remind thee.
If even-song and morning-song agree,
Let’s here decide who first shall tell a tale.
And as I hope to drink more wine and ale,
835 Whoso proves rebel to my very judgment
Shall pay for all that by the way is spent.
Come now, draw straws, before we further depart,
And he that draws the shortest has to start.
Sir knight,” said he, “my master and my lord,
840 You shall draw first as you have pledged your word.
Come near,” said he, “my lady prioress:
And you, sir clerk, away with all your shyness,
Nor ponder more; out hands, draw, every man!”
At once to draw a straw each one began,
845 And, to shorten up the story, as it was,
By chance or luck or whatsoever cause,
The truth is, that the cut fell to the knight,
Which all the others greeted with delight.
Thus tell his story first as was agreed,
850 According to our promise pledged, indeed,
As you have heard. Why argue to and fro?
And when this good man saw that it was so,
Being a wise man and obedient
To pledged word, given by free assent,
855 He said: “Since I must then begin the game,
Why, welcome be the cut, and in God’s name!
Now let us ride, and listen to what I say.”
And at that word we rode forth on our way;
And he began to speak, with words of cheer,
860 His tale straightway, and said as you may hear.

Source Text:

Kökbugur, Sinan, ed. The Canterbury Tales (in Middle and Modern English). Librarius.com, 1997, is copyright protected but reproduction expressly allowed for non-profit, educational use.

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An Open Companion to Early British Literature Copyright © 2019 by Allegra Villarreal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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