33 Canterbury Tales: The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

“Detail of the Canterbury Pilgrims” by William Blake, 1810. Wikimedia Commons.


by Caroline Pernas


The Pardoner begins his tale after the host has asked for an uplifting story after the depressing account of the Physician. The Pardoner’s Prologue details his methods of swindling poor and fearful people in exchange for the “pardons” of sin he can bestow as a representative of the Church. After describing his own hypocrisy and exposing the moral rot of Church hierarchy, he tells a tale that features the axiom, “Greed is the root of all evil.”


Summary of the Prologue

The Pardoner is a swindler, a smooth-talking cleric who offers pardons for sin in exchange for money (known as “indulgences” in the Middle Ages). He admits his hypocrisy, but his love for money, food, and liquor stop him from ending his vices. He also says he would willingly trick vulnerable people like widows and their hungry children. According to him, he does not mind if the money comes from “…the poorest page, Or by the poorest widow in the village” (Chaucer 163-164). The Pardoner consistently preaches that “Greed is the root of all evil” while selling indulgences, or pardons of sin, and keeping the money for himself.


Summary of the Tale

He continues with a story about three young rioters in Flanders who sought to defeat Death after a friend dies from the plague. An old man reveals to them that Death’s location is near an oak tree in a grove. They approach the tree and only to find a hoard of gold coins. One of the young men is sent off to seek food and drink, while the two others conspire to murder him in order to enjoy more of the money. Eventually, the young man returns with food and wine laced with poison. He, too, wants the money for himself and had set about to kill the other two. As soon as he lays down the food, he is killed. The two remaining men sit back, relax, and drink the poisoned wine. They die beside their murdered friend’s body. When the Pardoner introduces the Tale’s characters, he interrupts it with sermons against drinking, gluttony, and swearing. He is hardest against drunkenness because it leads to regrettable misbehavior. After telling his tale, the Pardoner attempts to sell his relics to the pilgrims, especially to the Host, before the Host replies with a mocking remark. The Host’s response angers the Pardoner, so the Knight intervenes before they start a fight. The Host and the Pardoner abruptly end their quarrel.


Historic Context

When “The Pardoner’s Tale” was written, skepticism towards the Catholic Church’s authority was increasing due to several social factors (Bisson 49). Since the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, confession had been a requirement for having sins forgiven. Simply being remorseful was not enough to be cleared of sins. For less serious sins, indulgences were completed by offering services to the Church (Bisson 60-61). Indulgences also helped reduce a person’s time spent in purgatory. Letters of indulgence were issued through payments. The Church intended to use its earnings for certain purposes, but there was doubt on how much of the money was spent on legitimate needs. Commissioners such as Chaucer’s Pardoner would keep a portion of the earnings as income (“Pardoners and indulgences”), but they also abused the system by using “relics to make false promises of pardons” (Bisson 62). The Pardoner was the most important character in this tale, and the pilgrims stood to lose from his manipulative tactics. The pilgrims would have spent money on lies and not on indulgences (Chaucer 634-635). The events in the prologue and tale took place at a time when pilgrimages were also common. A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place for reverence or aid. According to World Youth Day, “In the past, pilgrims would leave their homes, families, and comforts to walk for hundreds of miles with nothing but what they could carry on their backs” (“What is a Pilgrimage?”). The pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales was to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, located in Canterbury. His shrine was a popular attraction in Europe for almost four centuries (Knowles).


Literary Context

“The Pardoner’s Prologue” and the tale include multiple literary characteristics. The purpose of this poem is to entertain the reader by deliberately arranging the words. One key characteristic, poetic rhythm, is evident in which Chaucer employs iambic pentameter with rhyming couplets. For example, each line has ten syllables. A stressed syllable is followed by an unstressed syllable (“Analysis: Writing Style”). Each line ends with words that rhyme or sound like rhyming words (Chaucer 177-180). Iambic pentameter is used in the Pardoner’s boastful demeanor and his occasional use of Latin. (Chaucer 137-140). The writer also makes use of figurative language through personification in suggesting that Death is a live stalker who can be defeated. The most important characteristic is the theme in which greed unifies the poem. The Pardoner is portrayed as greedy and selfish (“The Canterbury”). He wants more money, food, and drink than he is entitled to (Chaucer 166). He is obsessed with money and constantly talks about it (Chaucer 154-156). He sells sheep bones while passing them off as a cure for ailments (Chaucer 64-74). The Pardoner then mentions accumulating liquor and a wench after showing no remorse for taking starving widows’ money (Chaucer 163-167). His story also illustrates greed. The three rioters willingly kill each other over gold (Chaucer 595-602). The presence of these characteristics demonstrates Chaucer’s effective use of literary devices.

Works Cited

“Analysis: Writing Style.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, Inc., shmoop.com/pardoners-tale/writing-style.html/.

Bisson, Lillian M. Chaucer and the Late Medieval World. St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

“The Canterbury Tales: The Pardoner’s Tale Themes.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, Inc., shmoop.com/pardoners-tale/themes.html/.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “Canterbury Tales: The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale.” An Open Companion for British Literature I, Edited by Allegra Villarreal, 2019. Pressbooks, earlybritishlit.pressbooks.com/chapter/the-pardoners-prologue-and-tale/.

“Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales c.1387 – 1400.” British Library, The British Library Board, bl.uk/learning/timeline/item126565.html/.

Knowles, Michael David. “St. Thomas Becket.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., britannica.com/biography/Saint-Thomas-Becket/.

Lumiansky, R.M. “Geoffrey Chaucer.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 22 August 2019, britannica.com/biography/Geoffrey-Chaucer/.

Mark, Joshua J. “Geoffrey Chaucer.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia Limited, 29 April 2019, ancient.eu/Geoffrey_Chaucer/.

“Pardoners and indulgences.” British Library, The British Library Board, bl.uk/treasures/caxton/pardoners.html/.

“What Is a Pilgrimage?” World Youth Day, WorldYouthDay.com, worldyouthday.com/about-wyd/what-is-a-pilgrimage/.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the similarities and differences between the Pardoner’s sales methods and modern advertising?
  2. Has humanity’s ability for greed and hypocrisy changed since The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale was written?
  3. Why do you think the Pardoner explained his tricks not long before trying them on the Host and the other pilgrims?
  4. What moral was the Pardoner trying to convey? What message was Chaucer trying to send to readers?
  5. How would the Pardoner have developed as a character if Chaucer have lived long enough to finish The Canterbury Tales?

Further Resources

Reading: The Pardoner’s Prologue 


Radix malorum est Cupiditas. Ad Thimotheum

       “Lordynges,” quod he, “in chirches whan I preche,
I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche,
45 And rynge it out as round as gooth a belle,
For I kan al by rote that I telle.
My theme is alwey oon and evere was –
Radix malorum est Cupiditas.’
       “Dear lords,” said he, “in churches, when I preach,
I am at pains that all shall hear my speech,
45 And ring it out as roundly as a bell,
For I know all by heart the thing I tell.
My theme is always one, and ever was:
‘Radix malorum est cupiditas.’

lines 49-79: The Pardoner explains his tools and work

       First I pronounce whennes that I come,
50 And thanne my bulles shewe I, alle and some;
Oure lige lordes seel on my patente,
That shewe I first, my body to warente,
That no man be so boold, ne preest ne clerk,
Me to destourbe of Cristes hooly werk.
55 And after that thanne telle I forth my tales,
Bulles of popes and of cardynales,
Of patriarkes and bishopes I shewe,
And in Latyn I speke a wordes fewe,
To saffron with my predicacioun,
60 And for to stire hem to devocioun.
Thanne shewe I forth my longe cristal stones,
Ycrammed ful of cloutes and of bones;
Relikes been they, as wenen they echoon.
Thanne have I in latoun a sholder-boon
65 Which that was of an hooly Jewes sheepe.
‘Goode men,’ I seye, ‘taak of my wordes keepe;
If that this boon be wasshe in any welle,
If cow, or calf, or sheep, or oxe swelle,
That any worm hath ete, or worm ystonge,
70 Taak water of that welle, and wassh his tonge,
And it is hool anon; and forthermoor,
Of pokkes and of scabbe and every soore
Shal every sheepe be hool that of this welle
Drynketh a draughte. Taak kepe eek what I telle,
75 If that the goode man that the beestes oweth,
Wol every wyke, er that the cok hym croweth,
Fastynge, drinken of this welle a draughte,
As thilke hooly Jew oure eldres taughte,
Hise beestes and his stoor shal multiplie.
       First I announce the place whence I have come,
50 And then I show my pardons, all and some.
Our liege-lord’s seal on my patent perfect,
I show that first, my safety to protect,
And then no man’s so bold, no priest nor clerk,
As to disturb me in Christ’s holy work;
55 And after that my tales I marshal all.
Indulgences of pope and cardinal,
Of patriarch and bishop, these I do
Show, and in Latin speak some words, a few,
To spice therewith a bit my sermoning
60 And stir men to devotion, marvelling.
Then show I forth my hollow crystal-stones,
Which are crammed full of rags, aye, and of bones;
Relics are these, as they think, every one.
Then I’ve in latten box a shoulder bone
65 Which came out of a holy Hebrew’s sheep.
‘Good men,’ say I, ‘my words in memory keep;
If this bone shall be washed in any well,
Then if a cow, calf, sheep, or ox should swell
That’s eaten snake, or been by serpent stung,
70 Take water of that well and wash its tongue,
And ’twill be well anon; and furthermore,
Of pox and scab and every other sore
Shall every sheep be healed that of this well
Drinks but one draught; take heed of what I tell.
75 And if the man that owns the beasts, I trow,
Shall every week, and that before cock-crow,
And before breakfast, drink thereof a draught,
As that Jew taught of yore in his priestcraft,
His beasts and all his store shall multiply.

lines 80-102: The Pardoner’s core business: to absolve people by authority

80        And, sires, also it heeleth jalousie;
For though a man be falle in jalous rage,
Lat maken with this water his potage,
And nevere shal he moore his wyf mystriste,
Though he the soothe of hir defaute wiste,
85 Al had she taken preestes two or thre.
       Heere is a miteyn eek, that ye may se.
He that his hand wol putte in this mitayn,
He shal have multipliyng of his grayn
What he hath sowen, be it whete or otes,
90 So that he offre pens, or elles grotes.
       Goode men and wommen, o thyng warne I yow,
If any wight be in this chirche now
That hath doon synne horrible, that he
Dar nat for shame of it yshryven be,
95 Or any womman, be she yong or old,
That hath ymaad hir housbonde cokewold,
Swich folk shal have no power ne no grace
To offren to my relikes in this place.
And who so fyndeth hym out of swich fame,
100 He wol come up and offre, on Goddes name,
And I assoille him, by the auctoritee
Which that by tulle ygraunted was to me.”
80        And, good sirs, it’s a cure for jealousy;
For though a man be fallen in jealous rage,
Let one make of this water his pottage
And nevermore shall he his wife mistrust,
Though he may know the truth of all her lust,
85 Even though she had taken two priests or three.
       Here is a mitten, too, that you may see.
Who puts his hand therein, I say again,
He shall have increased harvest of his grain,
After he’s sown, be it of wheat or oats,
90 Just so he offers pence or offers groats.
       Good men and women, one thing I warn you.
If any man be here in church right now
That’s done a sin so horrible that he
Dare not, for shame, of that sin shriven be,
95 Or any woman, be she young or old,
That’s made her husband into a cuckold,
Such folk shall have no power and no grace
To offer to my relics in this place.
But whoso finds himself without such blame,
100 He will come up and offer, in God’s name,
And I’ll absolve him by authority
That has, by bull, been granted unto me.”

lines 103-136: How the Pardoner earns his money

       By this gaude have I wonne, yeer by yeer,
An hundred mark, sith I was pardoner.
105 I stonde lyk a clerk in my pulpet,
And whan the lewed peple is doun yset,
I preche so, as ye han heerd bifoore,
And telle an hundred false japes moore.
Thanne peyne I me to strecche forth the nekke,
110 And est and west upon the peple I bekke,
As dooth a dowve sittynge on a berne.
Myne handes and my tonge goon so yerne
That it is joye to se my bisynesse.
Of avarice and of swich cursednesse
115 Is al my prechyng, for to make hem free
To yeven hir pens; and namely, unto me!
For myn entente is nat but for to wynne,
And no thyng for correccioun of synne.
I rekke nevere, whan that they been beryed,
120 Though that hir soules goon a-blakeberyed!
For certes, many a predicacioun
Comth ofte tyme of yvel entencioun.
Som for plesance of folk, and flaterye,
To been avaunced by ypocrisye,
125 And som for veyne glorie, and som for hate.
For whan I dar noon oother weyes debate,
Thanne wol I stynge hym with my tonge smerte
In prechyng, so that he shal nat asterte
To been defamed falsly, if that he
130 Hath trespased to my bretheren, or to me.
For though I telle noght his propre name,
Men shal wel knowe that it is the same
By signes, and by othere circumstances.
Thus quyte I folk that doon us displesances,
135 Thus spitte I out my venym, under hewe
Of hoolynesse, to semen hooly and trewe.
       “By this fraud have I won me, year by year,
A hundred marks, since I’ve been pardoner.
105 I stand up like a scholar in pulpit,
And when the uneducated people all do sit,
I preach, as you have heard me say before,
And tell a hundred false jokes, less or more.
I am at pains, then, to stretch forth my neck,
110 And east and west upon the folk I beck,
As does a dove that’s sitting on a barn.
With hands and swift tongue, then, do I so yarn
That it’s a joy to see my busyness.
Of avarice and of all such wickedness
115 Is all my preaching, thus to make them free
With offered pence, the which pence come to me.
For my intent is only pence to win,
And not at all for punishment of sin.
When they are dead, for all I think thereon
120 Their souls may well black-berrying have gone!
For, certainly, there’s many a sermon grows
Ofttimes from evil purpose, as one knows;
Some for folks’ pleasure and for flattery,
To be advanced by all hypocrisy,
125 And some for vainglory, and some for hate.
For, when I dare not otherwise debate,
Then do I sharpen well my tongue and sting
The man in sermons, and upon him fling
My lying defamations, if but he
130 Has wronged my brethren or, worse, wronged me.
For though I mention not his proper name,
Men know whom I refer to, all the same,
By signs I make and other circumstances.
Thus I pay those who do us displeasances.
135 Thus spit I out my venom under hue
Of holiness, to seem both good and true.

lines 137-148: The Pardoner repeats his theme

       But shortly, myn entente I wol devyse;
I preche of no thyng but for coveityse.
Therfore my theme is yet, and evere was,
140 Radix malorum est Cupiditas.’
Thus kan I preche agayn that same vice
Which that I use, and that is avarice.
But though myself be gilty in that synne,
Yet kan I maken oother folk to twynne
145 From avarice, and soore to repente;
But that is nat my principal entente.
I preche no thyng but for coveitise.
Of this mateere it oghte ynogh suffise.
       “But briefly my intention I’ll express;
I preach no sermon, except for covetousness.
For at my theme is yet, and ever was,
140 ‘Radix malorum est cupiditas.’
Thus can I preach against that self-same vice
Which I indulge, and that is avarice.
But though myself be guilty of that sin,
Yet can I cause these other folk to win
145 From avarice and really to repent.
But that is not my principal intent.
I preach no sermon, save for covetousness;
This should suffice of that, though, as I guess.


lines 149-176: The Pardoner rejects personal austerity and frugality

       Thanne telle I hem ensamples many oon
150 Of olde stories longe tyme agoon.
For lewed peple loven tales olde;
Swiche thynges kan they wel reporte and holde.
What, trowe ye, the whiles I may preche,
And wynne gold and silver for I teche,
155 That I wol lyve in poverte wilfully?
Nay, nay, I thoghte it nevere, trewely!
For I wol preche and begge in sondry landes,
I wol nat do no labour with myne handes,
Ne make baskettes, and lyve therby,
160 By cause I wol nat beggen ydelly.
I wol noon of the apostles countrefete;
I wol have moneie, wolle, chese, and whete,
Al were it yeven of the povereste page,
Or of the povereste wydwe in a village,
165 Al sholde hir children sterve for famyne.
Nay, I wol drynke licour of the vyne,
And have a joly wenche in every toun.
But herknethlordynges, in conclusioun:
Your likyng is, that I shal telle a tale.
170 Now have I dronke a draughte of corny ale,
By God, I hope I shal yow telle a thyng
That shal by resoun been at youre likyng.
For though myself be a ful vicious man,
A moral tale yet I you telle kan,
175 Which I am wont to preche, for to wynne.
Now hoold youre pees! My tale I wol bigynne.”
       “Then do I cite examples, many a one,
150 Out of old stories and of time long gone,
For vulgar people all love stories old;
Such things they can re-tell well and can hold.
What? Think you that because I’m good at preaching
And win me gold and silver by my teaching
155 I’ll live of my free will in poverty?
No, no, that’s never been my policy!
For I will preach and beg in sundry lands;
I will not work and labour with my hands,
Nor baskets weave and try to live thereby,
160 Because I will not beg in vain, say I.
I will none of the apostles counterfeit;
I will have money, wool, and cheese, and wheat,
Though it be given by the poorest page,
Or by the poorest widow in village,
165 And though her children perish of famine.
Nay! I will drink good liquor of the vine
And have a pretty wench in every town.
But listen, masters, to conclusion shown:
Your wish is that I tell you all a tale.
170 Now that I’ve drunk a draught of musty ale,
By God, I hope that I can tell something
That shall, in reason, be to your liking.
For though I am myself a vicious man,
Yet I would tell a moral tale, and can,
175 The which I’m wont to preach more gold to win.
Now hold your peace! My tale I will begin.”

Reading: The Pardoner’s Tale

       In Flaundres whilom was a compaignye
Of yonge folk, that haunteden folye,
As riot, hasard, stywes, and tavernes,
180 Wher as with harpes, lutes, and gyternes
They daunce and pleyen at dees, bothe day and nyght,
And eten also and drynken over hir myght,
Thurgh which they doon the devel sacrifise
Withinne that develes temple in cursed wise,
185 By superfluytee abhomynable.
Hir othes been so grete and so dampnable
That it is grisly for to heere hem swere.
Oure blissed lordes body they totere –
Hem thoughte that Jewes rente hym noght ynough –
190 And ech of hem at otheres synne lough.
And right anon thanne comen tombesteres,
Fetys and smale, and yonge frutesteres,
Syngeres with harpes, baudes, wafereres,
Whiche been the verray develes officeres
195 To kyndle and blowe the fyr of lecherye,
That is annexed unto glotonye.
The hooly writ take I to my witnesse,
That luxurie is in wyn and dronkenesse.
       In Flanders, once, there was a company
Of young companions practised to folly,
Riot and gambling, brothels and taverns;
180 And, to the music of harps, lutes, gitterns,
They danced and played at dice both day and night.
And ate also and drank beyond their might,
Whereby they made the devil’s sacrifice
Within that devil’s temple, wicked wise,
185 By superfluity both vile and vain.
So damnable their oaths and so profane
That it was terrible to hear them swear;
Our Blessed Saviour’s Body did they tear;
They thought the Jews had rent him not enough;
190 And each of them at others’ sins would laugh.
Then entered dancing-girls of ill repute,
Graceful and slim, and girls who peddled fruit,
Harpers and bawds and women selling cake,
Who do their office for the Devil’s sake,
195 To kindle and blow the fire of lechery,
Which is so closely joined with gluttony;
I call on holy writ, now, to witness
That lust is in all wine and drunkenness.

lines 199-218: About the risks of drinking

       Lo, how that dronken Looth, unkyndely
200 Lay by hise doghtres two, unwityngly;
So dronke he was, he nyste what he wroghte.
       Herodes, whoso wel the stories soghte,
Whan he of wyn was repleet at his feeste,
Right at his owene table he yaf his heeste
205 To sleen the Baptist John, ful giltelees.
Senec seith a good word, doutelees;
He seith, he kan no difference fynde
Bitwix a man that is out of his mynde,
And a man which that is dronkelewe,
210 But that woodnesse fallen in a shrewe
Persevereth lenger than dooth dronkenesse.
O glotonye, ful of cursednesse!
O cause first of oure confusioun!
O original of oure dampnacioun
215 Til Crist hadde boght us with his blood agayn!
Lo, how deere, shortly for to sayn,
Aboght was thilke cursed vileynye!
Corrupt was al this world for glotonye!
       Lo, how the drunken Lot unnaturally
200 Lay with his daughters two, unknowingly;
So drunk he was he knew not what he wrought.
       Herod, as in his story’s clearly taught,
When full of wine and merry at a feast,
Sitting at table idly gave behest
205 To slay John Baptist, who was all guiltless.
Seneca says a good word too, doubtless;
He says there is no difference he can find
Between a man that’s quite out of his mind
And one that’s drunken, save perhaps in this
210 That when a wretch in madness fallen is,
The state lasts longer than does drunkenness.
O gluttony; full of all wickedness,
O first cause of confusion to us all,
Beginning of damnation and our fall,
215 Till Christ redeemed us with His blood again!
Behold how dearly, to be brief and plain,
Was purchased this accursed villainy;
Corrupt was all this world with gluttony!

lines 219-262: A sermon on gluttony

       Adam oure fader, and his wyf also,
220 Fro Paradys to labour and to wo
Were dryven for that vice, it is no drede.
For whil that Adam fasted, as I rede,
He was in Paradys, and whan that he
Eet of the fruyt deffended on the tree,
225 Anon he was out cast to wo and peyne.
O glotonye, on thee wel oghte us pleyne!
O, wiste a man how manye maladyes
Folwen of excesse and of goltonyes,
He wolde been the moore mesurable
230 Of his diete, sittynge at his table.
Allas, the shorte throte, the tendre mouth
Maketh that est and west and north and south
In erthe, in eir, in water, man to swynke
To gete a glotoun deyntee mete and drynke!
235 Of this matiere, O Paul! wel kanstow trete:
“Mete unto wombe and wombe eek unto mete
Shal God destroyen bothe,” as Paulus seith.
Allas, a foul thyng is it, by my feith,
To seye this word, and fouler is the dede
240 Whan man so drynketh of the white and rede
That of his throte he maketh his pryvee
Thurgh thilke cursed superfluitee.
       Adam our father, and his wife also,
220 From Paradise to labour and to woe
Were driven for that vice, no doubt; indeed
The while that Adam fasted, as I read,
He was in Paradise; but then when he
Ate of the fruit forbidden of the tree,
225 Anon he was cast out to woe and pain.
O gluttony, of you we may complain!
Oh, knew a man how many maladies
Follow on excess and on gluttonies,
Surely he would be then more moderate
230 In diet, and at table more sedate.
Alas! The throat so short, the tender mouth,
Causing that east and west and north and south,
In earth, in air, in water men shall swink
To get a glutton dainty meat and drink!
235 Of this same matter Paul does wisely treat:
“Meat for the belly and belly for the meat:
And both shall God destroy,” as Paul does say.
Alas! A foul thing is it, by my fay,
To speak this word, and fouler is the deed,
240 When man so guzzles of the white and red
That of his own throat makes he his privy,
Because of this cursed superfluity.
       The Apostel wepying seith ful pitously,
“Ther walken manye of whiche yow toold have I –
245 I seye it now wepyng with pitous voys,
That they been enemys of Cristes croys,
Of whiche the ende is deeth, wombe is hir god.”
O wombe! O bely! O stynkyng cod!
Fulfilled of donge and of corrupcioun,
250 At either ende of thee foul is the soun;
How greet labour and cost is thee to fynde,
Thise cookes, how they stampe, and streyne, and grynde,
And turnen substaunce into accident,
To fulfillen al thy likerous talent!
255 Out of the harde bones knokke they
The mary, for they caste noght awey,
That may go thurgh the golet softe and swoote;
Of spicerie, of leef, and bark, and roote,
Shal been his sauce ymaked by delit,
260 To make hym yet a newer appetit.
But, certes, he that haunteth swiche delices
Is deed, whil that he lyveth in tho vices.
       The apostle, weeping, says most piteously:
“For many walk, of whom I’ve told you, aye,
245 Weeping I tell you once again they’re dross,
For they are foes of Christ and of the Cross,
Whose end is death, whose belly is their god.”
O gut! O belly! O you stinking cod,
Filled full of dung, with all corruption found!
250 At either end of you foul is the sound.
With how great cost and labour do they find
Your food! These cooks, they pound and strain and grind;
Substance to accident they turn with fire,
All to fulfill your gluttonous desire!
255 Out of the hard and riven bones knock they
The marrow, for they throw nothing away
That may go through the gullet soft and sweet;
With spicery, with leaf, bark, root, replete
Shall be the sauces made for your delight,
260 To furnish you a sharper appetite.
But truly, he that such delights entice
Is dead while yet he wallows in this vice.

lines 263-286: A sermon on drunkenness

       A lecherous thyng is wyn, and dronkenesse
Is ful of stryvyng and of wrecchednesse.
265 O dronke man, disfigured is thy face!
Sour is thy breeth, foul artow to embrace,
And thurgh thy dronke nose semeth the soun,
As though thow seydest ay, “Sampsoun! Sampsoun!”
And yet, God woot, Sampsoun drank nevere no wyn!
270 Thou fallest, as it were a styked swyn;
Thy tonge is lost, and al thyn honeste cure;
For dronkenesse is verray sepulture
Of mannes wit and his discrecioun,
In whom that drynke hath dominacioun.
275 He kan no conseil kepe, it is no drede.
Now kepe yow fro the white and fro the rede,
And namely, fro the white wyn of Lepe,
That is to selle in fysshstrete, or in Chepe.
This wyn of Spaigne crepeth subtilly
280 In othere wynes, growynge faste by,
Of which ther ryseth swich fumositee,
That whan a man hath dronken draughtes thre
And weneth that he be at hoom in Chepe,
He is in Spaigne, right at the toune of Lepe,
285 Nat at the Rochele, ne at Burdeux toun;
And thanne wol he seye “Sampsoun, Sampsoun!”
       A lecherous thing is wine, and drunkenness
Is full of striving and of wretchedness.
265 O drunken man, disfigured is your face,
Sour is your breath, foul are you to embrace,
And through your drunken nose there comes a sound
As if you snored out “Samson, Samson” round;
And yet God knows that Samson drank no wine.
270 You fall down just as if you were stuck swine;
Your tongue is loose, your honest care obscure;
For drunkenness is very sepulture
Of any mind a man may chance to own.
In whom strong drink has domination shown
275 He can no counsel keep for any dread.
Now keep you from the white and from the red,
And specially from the white wine grown at Lepe
That is for sale in Fish Street or in Cheap.
This wine of Spain, it mixes craftily
280 With other wines that chance to be near by,
From which there rise such fumes, as well may be,
That when a man has drunk two draughts, or three,
And thinks himself to be at home in Cheap,
He finds that he’s in Spain, and right at Lepe, –
285 Not at Rochelle nor yet at Bordeaux town,
And then will he snore out “Samson, Samson.”


lines 287-292: A hymn to abstinence and prayer

       But herkneth, lordynges, o word I yow preye,
That alle the sovereyn actes, dar I seye,
Of victories in the Olde Testament,
290 Thurgh verray God that is omnipotent
Were doon in abstinence and in preyere.
Looketh the Bible, and ther ye may it leere.
       But listen, masters, one word more I pray:
The greatest deeds of all, I’m bold to say,
Of victories in the old testament,
290 Through the True God, Who is omnipotent,
Were gained by abstinence and after prayer:
Look in the Bible, you may learn this there.

lines 293-316: Biblical examples on drunkenness

       Looke, Attilla, the grete conquerour,
Deyde in his sleepe, with shame and dishonour,
295 Bledynge ay at his nose in dronkenesse.
A capitayn sholde lyve in sobrenesse;
And over al this avyseth yow right wel,
What was comaunded unto Lamwel,
Nat Samuel, but Lamwel, seye I –
300 Redeth the Bible and fynde it expresly,
Of wyn yevyng to hem that han justise.
Namoore of this, for it may wel suffise.
       And now that I have spoken of glotonye,
Now wol I yow deffenden hasardrye.
305 Hasard is verray mooder of lesynges,
And of dedeite and cursed forswerynges,
Blaspheme of Crist, manslaughtre and wast also
Of catel and of tyme, and forthermo
It is repreeve and contrarie of honour
310 For to ben holde a commune hasardour.
And ever the hyer he is of estaat,
The moore is he holden desolaat;
If that a prynce useth hasardrye,
In all governaunce and policye
315 He is as by commune opinioun
Yholde the lasse in reputacioun.
       Lo, Attila, the mighty conqueror,
Died in his sleep, in shame and dishonour,
295 And bleeding at the nose for drunkenness;
A great captain should live in soberness.
Above all this, advise yourself right well
What was commanded unto Lemuel –
Not Samuel, but Lemuel, say I –
300 The Bible’s words you cannot well deny:
Drinking by magistrates is called a vice.
No more of this, for it may well suffice.
       And now that I have told of gluttony,
I’ll take up gambling, showing you thereby
305 The curse of chance, and all its evils treat;
From it proceeds false swearing and deceit,
Blaspheming, murder, and- what’s more- the waste
Of time and money; add to which, debased
And shamed and lost to honour quite is he,
310 Who once a common gambler’s known to be.
And ever the higher one is of estate,
The more he’s held disgraced and desolate.
And if a prince plays similar hazardry
In all his government and policy,
315 He loses in the estimate of men
His good repute, and finds it not again.

lines 317-334: An examplary story about Chilon

       Stilboun, that was a wys embassadour,
Was sent to Corynthe in ful greet honour,
Fro Lacidomye to maken hire alliaunce.
320 And whan he cam hym happede par chaunce,
That alle the gretteste that were of that lond
Pleyynge atte hasard he hem fond.
For which, as soone as it myghte be,
He stal hym hoom agayn to his contree,
325 And seyde, “Ther wol I nat lese my name,
Ne I wol nat take on me so greet defame.
Yow for to allie unto none hasardours.
Sendeth othere wise embassadours,
For by my trouthe me were levere dye
330 Than I yow sholde to hasardours allye.
For ye that been so glorious in honours
Shul nat allyen yow with hasardours
As by my wyl, ne as by my tretee.”
This wise philosophre, thus seyde hee.
       Chilon, who was a wise ambassador,
Was sent to Corinth, all in great honour,
From Lacedaemon, to make alliance.
320 And when he came, he noticed there, by chance,
All of the greatest people of the land
Playing at hazard there on every hand.
Wherefore, and all as soon as it might be,
He stole off home again to his country,
325 And said: “I will not thus debase my name;
Nor will I take upon me so great shame
You to ally with common hazarders.
Send, if you will, other ambassadors;
For, my truth, I say I’d rather die
330 Than you with gamblers like to them ally.
For you that are so glorious in honours
Shall never ally yourselves with hazarders
By my consent, or treaty I have made.”
This wise philosopher, ’twas thus he said.

lines 335-342: An exemplary story about king Demetrius

335        Looke eek that to the kyng Demetrius
The kyng of Parthes, as the book seith us,
Sente him a paire of dees of gold, in scorn,
For he hadde used hasard ther-biforn,
For which he heeld his glorie or his renoun
340 At no value or reputacioun.
Lordes may fynden oother maner pley
Honeste ynough, to dryve the day awey.
335        Let us look, then, at King Demetrius.
The king of Parthia, as the book tells us,
Sent him a pair of golden dice, in scorn,
Because the name of gambler he had borne;
Wherefore he marked his reputation down
340 As valueless despite his wide renown.
Great lords may find sufficient other play
Seemly enough to while the time away.

lines 343-374: A sermon on swearing

       Now wol I speke of othes false and grete
A word or two, as olde bookes trete.
345 Gret sweryng is a thyng abhominable,
And fals sweryng is yet moore reprevable.
The heighe God forbad sweryng at al,
Witnesse on Mathew; but in special
Of sweryng seith the hooly Jeremye,
350 “Thou shalt seye sooth thyne othes, and nat lye,
And swere in doom, and eek in rightwisnesse”;
But ydel sweryng is a cursednesse.
Bihoold and se, that in the firste table
Of heighe Goddes heestes honurable
355 How that the seconde heeste of hym is this:
“Take nat my name in ydel or amys.”
Lo, rather he forbedeth swich sweryng
Than homycide, or any cursed thyng;
I seye, that as by ordre thus it stondeth,
360 This knowen that hise heestes understondeth
How that the seconde heeste of God is that.
And forther-over I wol thee telle al plat,
That vengeance shal nat parten from his hous
That of hise othes is to outrageous.
365 “By Goddes precious herte,” and “by his nayles,”
And “By the blood of Crist that is in Hayles,
Sevene is my chaunce and thyn is cynk and treye!”
“By Goddes armes, if thou falsly pleye,
This daggere shal thurghout thyn herte go!”
370 This fruyt cometh of the bicched bones two,
Forsweryng, ire, falsnesse, homycide!
Now, for the love of Crist, that for us dyde,
Lete youre othes bothe grete and smale.
But, sires, now wol I telle forth my tale.
       Now will I speak of oaths both false and great
A word or two, whereof the old books treat.
345 Great swearing is a thing abominable,
And vain oaths yet more reprehensible.
The High God did forbid swearing at all,
As witness Matthew; but in especial
Of swearing says the holy Jeremiah,
350 “Thou shalt not swear in vain, to be a liar,
But swear in judgment and in righteousness”;
But idle swearing is a wickedness.
Behold, in the first table of the Law,
That should be honoured as High God’s, sans flaw,
355 This second one of His commandments plain:
“Thou shalt not take the Lord God’s name in vain.”
Nay, sooner He forbids us such swearing
Than homicide or many a wicked thing;
I say that, as to order, thus it stands;
360 ‘Tis known by him who His will understands
That the great second law of God is that.
Moreover, I will tell you full and flat,
That retribution will not quit his house
Who in his swearing is too outrageous.
365 “By God’s own precious heart, and by His nails,
And by the blood of Christ that’s now at Hales,
Seven is my chance, and yours is five and trey!”
“By God’s good arms, if you do falsely play,
This dagger through your heart I’ll stick for you!”
370 Such is the whelping of the bitched bones two:
Perjury, anger, cheating, homicide.
Now for the love of Christ, Who for us died,
Forgo this swearing oaths, both great and small;
But, sirs, now will I tell to you my tale.

lines 375-405: Three men hear about the killings of Death

375        Thise riotoures thre, of whiche I telle,
Longe erst er prime rong of any belle,
Were set hem in a taverne for to drynke.
And as they sat, they herde a belle clynke
Biforn a cors, was caried to his grave.
380 That oon of hem gan callen to his knave,
“Go bet,” quod he, “and axe redily
What cors is this, that passeth heer forby;
And looke, that thou reporte his name weel.”
       “Sire,” quod this boy, “it nedeth never a deel;
385 It was me toold, er ye cam heer two houres.
He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres;
And sodeynly he was yslayn to-nyght,
Fordronke, as he sat on his bench upright.
Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth,
390 That in this contree al the peple sleeth,
And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,
And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.
He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence.
And, maister, er ye come in his presence,
395 Me thynketh that it were necessarie
For to be war of swich an adversarie.
Beth redy for to meete hym everemoore;
Thus taughte me my dame, I sey namoore.”
“By Seinte Marie!” seyde this taverner,
400 “The child seith sooth, for he hath slayn this yeer
Henne over a mile, withinne a greet village
Bothe man and womman, child, and hyne, and page.
trowe his habitacioun be there.
To been avysed, greet wysdom it were,
405 Er that he dide a man a dishonour.”
375        Now these three roisterers, whereof I tell,
Long before prime was rung by any bell,
Were sitting in a tavern for to drink;
And as they sat they heard a small bell clink
Before a corpse being carried to his grave;
380 Whereat one of them called unto his knave:
“Go run,” said he, “and ask them civilly
What corpse it is that’s just now passing by,
And see that you report the man’s name well.”
       “Sir,” said the boy, “it needs not that they tell.
385 I learned it, before you came here, full two hours;
He was, by gad, an old comrade of yours;
And he was slain, all suddenly, last night,
When drunk, as he sat on his bench upright;
An unseen thief, called Death, came stalking by,
390 Who hereabouts makes all the people die,
And with his spear he clove his heart in two
And went his way and made no more ado.
He’s slain a thousand with this pestilence;
And, master, before you come in his presence,
395 It seems to me to be right necessary
To be forewarned of such an adversary:
Be ready to meet him for evermore.
My mother taught me this, I say no more.”
“By holy Mary,” said the innkeeper,
400 “The boy speaks truth, for Death has slain, this year,
A mile or more hence, in a large village,
Both man and woman, child and hind and page.
I think his habitation must be there;
To be advised of him great wisdom ’twere,
405 Before he did a man some dishonour.”

lines 406-424: The three men decide to stop and kill Death

       “Ye, Goddes armes!” quod this riotour,
“Is it swich peril with hym for to meete?
I shal hym seke, by wey and eek by strete,
I make avow to Goddes digne bones!
410 Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones;
Lat ech of us holde up his hand til oother,
And ech of us bicomen otheres brother,
And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth.
He shal be slayn, which that so manye sleeth,
415 By Goddes dignitee, er it be nyght!”
       “Yea, by God’s arms!” exclaimed this roisterer,
“Is it such peril, then, this Death to meet?
I’ll seek him in the road and in the street,
As I now vow to God’s own noble bones!
410 Hear, comrades, we’re of one mind, as each owns;
Let each of us hold up his hand to other
And each of us become the other’s brother,
And we three will go slay this traitor Death;
He shall be slain who’s stopped so many a breath,
415 By God’s great dignity, before it is night.”
       Togidres han thise thre hir trouthes plight
To lyve and dyen, ech of hem for oother,
As though he were his owene ybore brother;
And up they stirte al dronken in this rage,
420 And forth they goon towardes that village,
Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn.
And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn,
And Cristes blessed body they torente –
Deeth shal be deed, if that they may hym hente!
       Together did these three their pledges plight
To live and die, each of them for the other,
As if he were his very own blood brother.
And up they started, drunken, in this rage,
420 And forth they went, and towards that village
Whereof the innkeeper had told before.
And so, with many a grisly oath, they swore
And Jesus’ blessed body once more rent –
“Death shall be dead if we find where he went.”

lines 425-463: The three men meet a strange old man

425        Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile,
Right as they wolde han troden over a stile,
An oold man and a povre with hem mette.
This olde man ful mekely hem grette,
And seyde thus, “Now, lordes, God yow see!”
430        The proudeste of thise riotoures three
Answerde agayn, “What, carl, with sory grace,
Why artow al forwrapped save thy face?
Why lyvestow so longe in so greet age?”
This olde man gan looke in his visage,
435 And seyde thus: “For I ne kan nat fynde
A man, though that I walked into Ynde,
Neither in citee nor in no village,
That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age;
And therfore mooth I han myn age stille,
440 As longe tyme as it is Goddes wille.
Ne Deeth, allas, ne wol nat han my lyf.
Thus walke I lyk a restelees kaityf,
And on the ground, which is my moodres gate,
I knokke with my staf bothe erly and late,
445 And seye, “Leeve mooder, leet me in!
Lo, how I vanysshe, flessh and blood and skyn!
Allas, whan shul my bones been at reste?
Mooder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste,
That in my chambre longe tyme hath be,
450 Ye, for an heyre-clowt to wrappe me.”
But yet to me she wol nat do that grace,
For which ful pale and welked is my face.
425        When they had gone not fully half a mile,
Just as they would have trodden over a stile,
An old man, and a poor, with them did meet.
This ancient man full meekly them did greet,
And said thus: “Now, lords, God keep you and see!’
430        The one that was most insolent of these three
Replied to him: “What? Churl of evil grace,
Why are you all wrapped up, except your face?
Why do you live so long in so great age?”
This ancient man looked upon his visage
435 And thus replied: “Because I cannot find
A man, nay, though I walked from here to Ind,
Either in town or country who’ll engage
To give his youth in barter for my age;
And therefore must I keep my old age still,
440 As long a time as it shall be God’s will.
Not even Death, alas! my life will take;
Thus restless I my wretched way must make,
And on the ground, which is my mother’s gate,
I knock with my staff early, aye, and late,
445 And cry: ‘O my dear mother, let me in!
Lo, how I’m wasted, flesh and blood and skin!
Alas! When shall my bones come to their rest?
Mother, with you fain would I change my chest,
That in my chamber so long time has been,
450 Aye! For a haircloth rag to wrap me in!’
But yet to me she will not show that grace,
And thus all pale and withered is my face.
       But, sires, to yow it is no curteisye
To speken to an old man vileynye,
455 But he trespasse in word, or elles in dede.
In Hooly Writ ye may yourself wel rede,
‘Agayns an oold man, hoor upon his heed,
Ye sholde arise;’ wherfore I yeve yow reed,
Ne dooth unto an oold man noon harm now,
460 Namoore than that ye wolde men did to yow
In age, if that ye so longe abyde.
And God be with yow where ye go or ryde.
I moote go thider, as I have to go.”
       But, sirs, in you it is no courtesy
To speak to an old man despitefully,
455 Unless in word he trespass or in deed.
In holy writ you may, yourselves, well read
‘Before an old man, hoar upon the head,
You should arise.’ Which I advise you read,
Nor to an old man any injury do
460 More than you would that men should do to you
In age, if you so long time shall abide;
And God be with you, whether you walk or ride.
I must pass on now where I have to go.”

lines 464-473: The three men urge the old man to tell where to find Death

       “Nay, olde cherl, by God, thou shalt nat so,”
465 Seyde this oother hasardour anon;
“Thou partest nat so lightly, by Seint John!
Thou spak right now of thilke traytour Deeth,
That in this contree alle oure freendes sleeth.
Have heer my trouthe, as thou art his espye,
470 Telle where he is, or thou shalt it abye,
By God and by the hooly sacrament!
For soothly thou art oon of his assent
To sleen us yonge folk, thou false theef?”
       “Nay, ancient churl, by God it sha’n’t be so,”
465 Cried out this other hazarder, anon;
“You sha’n’t depart so easily, by Saint John!
You spoke just now of that same traitor Death,
Who in this country stops our good friends’ breath.
Hear my true word, since you are his own spy,
470 Tell where he is or you shall rue it, aye
By God and by the holy Sacrament!
Indeed you must be, with this Death, intent
To slay all us young people, you false thief.”

lines 474-490: The way to Death and eight bushels of gold

       “Now, sires,” quod he, “if that ye be so leef
475 To fynde Deeth, turne up this croked wey,
For in that grove I lafte hym, by my fey,
Under a tree, and there he wole abyde;
Noght for your boost he wole him no thyng hyde.
Se ye that ook? Right ther ye shal hym fynde.
480 God save yow that boghte agayn mankynde,
And yow amende!” Thus seyde this olde man;
And everich of thise riotoures ran
Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde
Of floryns fyne of gold ycoyned rounde
485 Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte.
No lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte,
But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte,
For that the floryns been so faire and brighte,
That doun they sette hem by this precious hoord.
490 The worste of hem, he spak the firste word.
       “Now, sirs,” said he, “if you’re so keen, in brief,
475 To find out Death, turn up this crooked way,
For in that grove I left him, by my fay,
Under a tree, and there he will abide;
Nor for your boasts will he a moment hide.
See you that oak? Right there you shall him find.
480 God save you, Who redeemed all humankind,
And mend your ways!”- thus said this ancient man.
And every one of these three roisterers ran
Till he came to that tree; and there they found,
Of florins of fine gold, new-minted, round,
485 Well-nigh eight bushels full, or so they thought.
No longer, then, after this Death they sought,
But each of them so glad was of that sight,
Because the florins were so fair and bright,
That down they all sat by this precious hoard.
490 The worst of them was first to speak a word.


lines 491-515: An agreement on the division of the treasure between three men

       “Bretheren,” quod he, “taak kepe what I seye;
My wit is greet, though that I bourde and pleye.
This tresor hath Fortune unto us yeven,
In myrthe and joliftee oure lyf to lyven,
495 And lightly as it comth, so wol we spende.
Ey, Goddes precious dignitee! Who wende
To-day that we sholde han so fair a grace?
But myghte this gold be caried fro this place
Hoom to myn hous or elles unto youres –
500 For wel ye woot that al this gold is oures –
Thanne were we in heigh felicitee.
But trewely, by daye it may nat bee;
Men wolde seyn that we were theves stronge,
And for oure owene tresor doon us honge.
505 This tresor moste ycaried be by nyghte
As wisely and as slyly as it myghte.
Wherfore I rede that cut among us alle
Be drawe, and lat se wher the cut wol falle,
And he that hath the cut, with herte blithe
510 Shal renne to the towne, and that ful swithe,
And brynge us breed and wyn, ful prively;
And two of us shul kepen subtilly
This tresor wel, and if he wol nat tarie,
Whan it is nyght, we wol this tresor carie,
515 By oon assent, where as us thynketh best.”
       “Brothers,” said he, “take heed to what I say;
My wits are keen, although I mock and play.
This treasure here Fortune to us has given
That mirth and jollity our lives may liven,
495 And easily as it’s come, so will we spend.
Eh! By God’s precious dignity! Who’d pretend,
Today, that we should have so fair a grace?
But might this gold be carried from this place
Home to my house, or if you will, to yours –
500 For well we know that all this gold is ours –
Then were we all in high felicity.
But certainly by day this may not be;
For men would say that we were robbers strong,
And we’d, for our own treasure, hang ere long.
505 This treasure must be carried home by night
All prudently and slyly, out of sight.
So I propose that cuts among us all
Be drawn, and let’s see where the cut will fall;
And he that gets the short cut, blithe of heart
510 Shall run to town at once, and to the mart,
And fetch us bread and wine here, privately.
And two of us shall guard, right cunningly,
This treasure well; and if he does not tarry,
When it is night we’ll all the treasure carry
515 Where, by agreement, we may think it best.”

lines 516-550: An agreement on the division of the treasure between two men

That oon of hem the cut broghte in his fest,
And bad hym drawe, and looke where it wol falle;
And it fil on the yongeste of hem alle,
And forth toward the toun he wente anon.
520 And al so soone, as that he was agon,
That oon of hem spak thus unto that oother,
“Thou knowest wel thou art my sworen brother;
Thy profit wol I telle thee anon.
Thou woost wel, that oure felawe is agon,
525 And heere is gold, and that ful greet plentee,
That shal departed been among us thre.
But nathelees, if I kan shape it so
That it departed were among us two,
Hadde I nat doon a freendes torn to thee?”
That one of them the cuts brought in his fist
And bade them draw to see where it might fall;
And it fell on the youngest of them all;
And so, forth toward the town he went anon.
520 And just as soon as he had turned and gone,
That one of them spoke thus unto the other:
“You know well that you are my own sworn brother,
So to your profit I will speak anon.
You know well how our comrade is just gone;
525 And here is gold, and that in great plenty,
That’s to be parted here among us three.
Nevertheless, if I can shape it so
That it be parted only by us two,
Shall I not do a turn that is friendly?”
530        That oother answerde, “I noot hou that may be;
He woot how that the gold is with us tweye;
What shal we doon? What shal we to hym seye?”
       “Shal it be conseil?” seyde the firste shrewe,
“And I shal tellen, in a wordes fewe,
535 What we shal doon, and bryngen it wel aboute.”
       “I graunte,” quod that oother, “out of doute,
That by my trouthe I shal thee nat biwreye.”
       “Now,” quod the firste, “thou woost wel we be tweye,
And two of us shul strenger be than oon.
540 Looke whan that he is set, that right anoon
Arys, as though thou woldest with hym pleye,
And I shal ryve hym thurgh the sydes tweye,
Whil that thou strogelest with hym as in game,
And with thy daggere looke thou do the same;
545 And thanne shal al this gold departed be,
My deere freend, bitwixen me and thee.
Thanne may we bothe oure lustes all fulfille,
And pleye at dees right at oure owene wille.”
And thus acorded been thise shrewes tweye
550 To sleen the thridde, as ye han herd me seye.
530        The other said: “Well, now, how can that be?
He knows well that the gold is with us two.
What shall we say to him? What shall we do?”
       “Shall it be secret?” asked the first rogue, then,
“And I will tell you in eight words, or ten,
535 What we must do, and how bring it about.”
       “Agreed,” replied the other, “Never doubt,
That, on my word, I nothing will betray.”
       “Now,” said the first, “we’re two, and I dare say
The two of us are stronger than is one.
540 Watch when he sits, and soon as that is done
Arise and make as if with him to play;
And I will thrust him through the two sides, yea,
The while you romp with him as in a game,
And with your dagger see you do the same;
545 And then shall all this gold divided be,
My right dear friend, just between you and me;
Then may we both our every wish fulfill
And play at dice all at our own sweet will.”
And thus agreed were these two rogues, that day,
550 To slay the third, as you have heard me say.


lines 551-572: The third man agrees with himself how to divide the treasure

       This yongeste, which that wente unto the toun,
Ful ofte in herte he rolleth up and doun
The beautee of thise floryns newe and brighte.
“O lorde,” quod he, “if so were that I myghte
555 Have al this tresor to my-self allone,
Ther is no man that lyveth under the trone
Of God, that sholde lyve so murye as I.”
And atte laste the feend, oure enemy,
Putte in his thought that he sholde poyson beye,
560 With which he myghte sleen hise felawes tweye;
For-why, the feend foond hym in swich lyvynge
That he hadde leve hem to sorwe brynge.
For this was outrely his fulle entente,
To sleen hem bothe, and nevere to repente.
565 And forth he gooth, no lenger wolde he tarie,
Into the toun unto a pothecarie
And preyde hym that he hym wolde selle
Som poysoun, that he myghte hise rattes quelle;
And eek ther was a polcat in his hawe,
570 That, as he seyde, hise capouns hadde yslawe;
And fayn he wolde wreke hym, if he myghte,
On vermyn that destroyed hym by nyghte.
       This youngest rogue who’d gone into the town,
Often in fancy rolled he up and down
The beauty of those florins new and bright.
“O Lord,” thought he, “if so be that I might
555 Have all this treasure to myself alone,
There is no man who lives beneath the throne
Of God that should be then so merry as I.”
And at the last the Fiend, our enemy,
Put in his thought that he should poison buy
560 With which he might kill both his fellows; aye,
The Devil found him in such wicked state,
He had full leave his grief to consummate;
For it was utterly the man’s intent
To kill them both and never to repent.
565 And on he strode, no longer would he tarry,
Into the town, to an apothecary,
And prayed of him that he’d prepare and sell
Some poison for his rats, and some as well
For a polecat that in his yard had lain,
570 The which, he said, his capons there had slain,
And fain he was to rid him, if he might,
Of vermin that thus damaged him by night.

lines 573-592: The third men returns to his friends

       The pothecarie answerde, “And thou shalt have
A thyng, that al so God my soule save,
575 In al this world ther is no creature
That eten or dronken hath of this confiture
Noght but the montance of a corn of whete,
That he ne shal his lif anon forlete;
Ye, sterve he shal, and that in lasse while
580 Than thou wolt goon a paas nat but a mile,
This poysoun is so strong and violent.”
       This cursed man hath in his hond yhent
This poysoun in a box, and sith he ran
Into the nexte strete unto a man,
585 And borwed of hym large botels thre;
And in the two his poyson poured he;
The thridde he kepte clene for his owene drynke.
For al the nyght he shoop hym for to swynke
In cariynge of the gold out of that place.
590 And whan this riotour, with sory grace,
Hadde filed with wyn his grete botels thre,
To hise felawes agayn repaireth he.
       The apothecary said: “And you shall have
A thing of which, so God my spirit save,
575 In all this world there is no live creature
That’s eaten or has drunk of this mixture
As much as equals but a grain of wheat,
That shall not sudden death thereafter meet;
Yea, die he shall, and in a shorter while
580 Than you require to walk but one short mile;
This poison is so violent and strong.”
       This wicked man the poison took along
With him boxed up, and then he straightway ran
Into the street adjoining, to a man,
585 And of him borrowed generous bottles three;
And into two his poison then poured he;
The third one he kept clean for his own drink.
For all that night he was resolved to swink
In carrying the florins from that place.
590 And when this roisterer, with evil grace,
Had filled with wine his mighty bottles three,
Then to his comrades forth again went he.

lines 593-602: The three men find Death

       What nedeth it to sermone of it moore?
For right as they hadde cast his deeth bifoore,
595 Right so they han him slayn, and that anon.
And whan that this was doon, thus spak that oon:
“Now lat us sitte and drynke, and make us merie,
And afterward we wol his body berie.”
And with that word it happed hym, par cas,
600 To take the botel ther the poysoun was,
And drank, and yaf his felawe drynke also,
For which anon they storven bothe two.
       What is the need to tell about it more?
For just as they had planned his death before,
595 Just so they murdered him, and that anon.
And when the thing was done, then spoke the one:
“Now let us sit and drink and so be merry,
And afterward we will his body bury.”
And as he spoke, one bottle of the three
600 He took wherein the poison chanced to be
And drank and gave his comrade drink also,
For which, and that anon, lay dead these two.


lines 603-617: The Pardoner elaborates the moral of his tale

       But certes, I suppose that Avycen
Wroot nevere in no canoun, ne in no fen,
605 Mo wonder signes of empoisonyng
Than hadde thise wrecches two, er hir endyng.
Thus ended been thise homycides two,
And eek the false empoysoner also.
       O cursed synne ful of cursednesse!
610 O traytours homycide, O wikkednesse!
O glotonye, luxurie, and hasardrye!
Thou blasphemour of Crist, with vileynye
And othes grete, of usage and of pride,
Allas, mankynde, how may it bitide
615 That to thy Creatour which that the wroghte,
And with His precious herte-blood thee boghte,
Thou art so fals and so unkynde, allas!
       I feel quite sure that Doctor Avicena
Within the sections of his Canon never
605 Set down more certain signs of poisoning
Than showed these wretches two at their ending.
Thus ended these two homicides in woe;
Died thus the treacherous poisoner also.
       O cursed sin, full of abominableness!
610 O treacherous homicide! O wickedness!
O gluttony, lechery, and hazardry!
O blasphemer of Christ with villainy,
And with great oaths, habitual for pride!
Alas! Mankind, how may this thing betide
615 That to thy dear Creator, Who thee wrought,
And with His precious blood salvation bought,
Thou art so false and so unkind, alas!

lines 618-632: The Pardoner explains the purpose of his pardons

       Now, goode men, God foryeve yow youre trespas,
And ware yow fro the synne of avarice;
620 Myn hooly pardoun may yow alle warice,
So that ye offre nobles or sterlynges,
Or elles silver broches, spoones, rynges;
Boweth youre heed under this hooly bulle!
Com up, ye wyves, offreth of youre wolle!
625 Youre names I entre heer in my rolle anon,
Into the blisse of hevene shul ye gon.
I yow assoille by myn heigh power,
Yow that wol offre, as clene and eek as cleer
As ye were born. – And lo, sires, thus I preche.
630 And Jesu Crist, that is oure soules leche,
So graunte yow his pardoun to receyve,
For that is best, I wol yow nat deceyve.
       Now, good men, God forgive you each trespass,
And keep you from the sin of avarice.
620 My holy pardon cures and will suffice,
So that it brings me gold, or silver brings,
Or else, I care not- brooches, spoons or rings.
Bow down your heads before this holy bull!
Come up, you wives, and offer of your wool!
625 Your names I’ll enter on my roll, anon,
And into Heaven’s bliss you’ll go, each one.
For I’ll absolve you, by my special power,
You that make offering, as clean this hour
As you were born. And lo, sirs, thus I preach.
630 And Jesus Christ, who is our souls’ great leech,
So grant you each his pardon to receive;
For that is best; I will not you deceive.


lines 633-659: The Pardoner offers his indulgences for sale

       But sires, o word forgat I in my tale:
I have relikes and pardoun in my male,
635 As faire as any man in Engelond,
Whiche were me yeven by the popes hond.
If any of yow wole of devocioun
Offren, and han myn absolucioun,
Com forth anon, and kneleth heere adoun,
640 And mekely receyveth my pardoun;
Or elles taketh pardoun as ye wende,
Al newe and fressh at every miles ende,
So that ye offren alwey, newe and newe,
Nobles or pens, whiche that be goode and trewe.
645 It is an honour to everich that is heer
That ye mowe have a suffisant pardoneer
T’assoille yow in contree as ye ryde,
For aventures whiche that may bityde.
Paraventure ther may fallen oon or two
650 Doun of his hors, and breke his nekke atwo.
Look, which a seuretee is it to yow alle
That I am in youre felaweship yfalle,
That may assoille yow, bothe moore and lasse,
Whan that the soule shal fro the body passe.
655 I rede that oure Hoost heere shal bigynne,
For he is moost envoluped in synne.
Com forth, sire Hoost, and offre first anon,
And thou shalt kisse my relikes everychon,
Ye, for a grote! unbokele anon thy purs.”
       But, sirs, one word forgot I in my tale;
I’ve relics in my pouch that cannot fail,
635 As good as England ever saw, I hope,
The which I got by kindness of the pope.
If gifts your change of heart and mind reveal,
You’ll get my absolution while you kneel.
Come forth, and kneel down here before, anon,
640 And humbly you’ll receive my full pardon;
Or else receive a pardon as you wend,
All new and fresh as every mile shall end,
So that you offer me each time, anew,
More gold and silver, all good coins and true.
645 It is an honour to each one that’s here
That you may have a competent pardoner
To give you absolution as you ride,
For all adventures that may still betide.
Perchance from horse may fall down one or two,
650 Breaking his neck, and it might well be you.
See what insurance, then, it is for all
That I within your fellowship did fall,
Who may absolve you, both the great and less,
When soul from body passes, as I guess.
655 I think our host might just as well begin,
For he is most-enveloped in all sin.
Come forth, sir Host, and offer first anon,
And you shall kiss the relics, every one,
Aye, for a groat! Release and open your purse.”

lines 660-682: The words between the Host, the Pardoner and the Knight

660        “Nay, nay,” quod he, “thanne have I Cristes curs!
Lat be,” quod he, “it shal nat be, so theech,
Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech,
And swere it were a relyk of a seint,
Though it were with thy fundement depeint.
665 But by the croys which that Seint Eleyne fond,
I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond
In stide of relikes or of seintuarie.
Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie;
They shul be shryned in an hogges toord.”
670        This Pardoner answerde nat a word;
So wrooth he was, no word ne wolde he seye.
       “Now,” quod oure Hoost, “I wol no lenger pleye
With thee, ne with noon oother angry man.”
But right anon the worthy Knyght bigan,
675 Whan that he saugh that al the peple lough,
“Namoore of this, for it is right ynough.
Sir Pardoner, be glad and myrie of cheere;
And ye, sir Hoost, that been to me so deere,
I prey yow, that ye kisse the pardoner;
680 And Pardoner, I prey thee, drawe thee neer,
And, as we diden lat us laughe and pley.”
Anon they kiste, and ryden forth hir weye.
660        “Nay, nay,” said he, “then may I have Christ’s curse!
It sha’n’t be,” said he, “as I’ve hope for riches,
Why, you would have me kissing your old breeches,
And swear they were the relics of a saint,
Though with your excrement ’twere dabbed like paint.
665 By cross Saint Helen found in Holy Land,
I would I had your ballocks in my hand
Instead of relics in a reliquary;
Let’s cut them off, and them I’ll help you carry;
They shall be shrined within a hog’s fat turd.”
670        This pardoner, he answered not a word;
So wrathy was he no word would he say.
       “Now,” said our host, “I will no longer play
With you, nor any other angry man.”
But at this point the worthy knight began,
675 When that he saw how all the folk did laugh:
“No more of this, for it’s gone far enough;
Sir pardoner, be glad and merry here;
And you, sir host, who are to me so dear,
I pray you that you kiss the pardoner.
680 And, pardoner, I pray you to draw near,
And as we did before, let’s laugh and play.”
And then they kissed and rode forth on their way.


Heere is ended the Pardoners Tale.

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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