Verse > Geoffrey Chaucer > Complete Poetical Works
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Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400).  The Complete Poetical Works.  1894.
 
The Canterbury Tales
Introduction to the Man of Law’s Prologue
 
The wordes of the Hoost to the companye.

OUR Hoste sey wel that the brighte sonne
The ark of his artificial day had ronne
The fourthe part, and half an houre, and more;
And though he were not depe expert in lore,
He wiste it was the eightetethe day        5
Of April, that is messager to May;
And sey wel that the shadwe of every tree
Was as in lengthe the same quantitee
That was the body erect that caused it.
And therfor by the shadwe he took his wit        10
That Phebus, which that shoon so clere and brighte,
Degrees was fyve and fourty clombe on highte;
And for that day, as in that latitude,
It was ten of the clokke, he gan conclude,
And sodeynly he plighte his hors aboute.        15
  ‘Lordinges,’ quod he, ‘I warne yow, al this route,
The fourthe party of this day is goon;
Now, for the love of god and of seint Iohn,
Leseth no tyme, as ferforth as ye may;
Lordinges, the tyme wasteth night and day,        20
And steleth from us, what prively slepinge,
And what thurgh necligence in our wakinge,
As dooth the streem, that turneth never agayn,
Descending fro the montaigne in-to playn.
Wel can Senek, and many a philosophre        25
Biwailen tyme, more than gold in cofre.
“For los of catel may recovered be,
But los of tyme shendeth us,” quod he.
It wol nat come agayn, with-outen drede,
Na more than wol Malkins maydenhede,        30
Whan she hath lost it in hir wantownesse;
Lat us nat moulen thus in ydelnesse.
Sir man of lawe,’ quod he, ‘so have ye blis,
Tel us a tale anon, as forward is;
Ye been submitted thurgh your free assent        35
To stonde in this cas at my Iugement.
Acquiteth yow, and holdeth your biheste,
Than have ye doon your devoir atte leste.’
  ‘Hoste,’ quod he, ‘depardieux ich assente,
To breke forward is not myn entente.        40
Biheste is dette, and I wol holde fayn
Al my biheste; I can no better seyn.
For swich lawe as man yeveth another wight,
He sholde him-selven usen it by right;
Thus wol our text; but natheles certeyn        45
I can right now no thrifty tale seyn,
But Chaucer, though he can but lewedly
On metres and on ryming craftily,
Hath seyd hem in swich English as he can
Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man.        50
And if he have not seyd hem, leve brother,
In o book, he hath seyd hem in another.
For he hath told of loveres up and doun
Mo than Ovyde made of mencioun
In his Epistelles, that been ful olde.        55
What sholde I tellen hem, sin they ben tolde?
In youthe he made of Ceys and Alcion,
And sithen hath he spoke of everichon,
Thise noble wyves and thise loveres eke.
Who-so that wol his large volume seke        60
Cleped the Seintes Legende of Cupyde,
Ther may he seen the large woundes wyde
Of Lucresse, and of Babilan Tisbee;
The swerd of Dido for the false Enee;
The tree of Phillis for hir Demophon;        65
The pleinte of Dianire and Hermion,
Of Adriane and of Isiphilee;
The bareyne yle stonding in the see;
The dreynte Leander for his Erro;
The teres of Eleyne, and eek the wo        70
Of Brixseyde, and of thee, Ladomëa;
The crueltee of thee, queen Medëa,
Thy litel children hanging by the hals
For thy Iason, that was of love so fals!
O Ypermistra, Penelopee, Alceste,        75
Your wyfhod he comendeth with the beste!
  But certeinly no word ne wryteth he
Of thilke wikke ensample of Canacee,
That lovede hir owne brother sinfully;
Of swiche cursed stories I sey ‘fy’;        80
Or elles of Tyro Apollonius,
How that the cursed king Antiochus
Birafte his doghter of hir maydenhede,
That is so horrible a tale for to rede,
Whan he hir threw up-on the pavement.        85
And therfor he, of ful avysement,
Nolde never wryte in none of his sermouns
Of swiche unkinde abhominaciouns,
Ne I wol noon reherse, if that I may.
  But of my tale how shal I doon this day?        90
Me were looth be lykned, doutelees,
To Muses that men clepe Pierides—
Metamorphoseos wot what I mene:—
But nathelees, I recche noght a bene
Though I come after him with hawe-bake;        95
I speke in prose, and lat him rymes make.’
And with that word he, with a sobre chere,
Bigan his tale, as ye shal after here.
 
 
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