Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
Extracts from Prologue to the Canterbury Tales
By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
(See full text.)

WHAN that Aprillë with his schowrës swoote
The drought of Marche had perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swetë breethe        5
Enspired hath in every holte and heethe
The tendre croppës, and the yongë sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfë cours i-ronne,
And smalë fowlës maken melodie,
That slepen al the night with open eye,        10
So priketh hem nature in here corages:— 1
Than longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seeken straungë strondes,
To ferne halwes, kouthe 2 in sondry londes;
And specially, from every schirës ende        15
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seeke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. 3
  Byfel that, in that sesoun on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,        20
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At night was come into that hostelrye
Wei nyne and twenty in a compainye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure i-falle        25
In felaweschipe, and pilgryms were thei alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we werën esed attë beste. 4
And schortly, whan the sonnë was to reste,        30
So hadde I spoken with hem everychon,
That I was of here felaweschipe anon,
And madë forward erly for to ryse,
To take our wey ther as I yow devyse.
But nathëles, whil I have tyme and space,        35
Or 5 that I forther in this talë pace,
Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,
To tellë yow al the condicioun
Of eche of hem, so as it semede me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degre;        40
And eek in what array that they were inne:
And at a knight than wol I first bygynne.
  A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That from the tymë that he first bigan
To ryden out, he lovede chyvalrye,        45
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.
Ful worthy was he in his lordës werre,
And therto hadde he riden, noman ferre, 6
As wel in Cristendom as in hethënesse,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse.        50
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne,
Ful oftë tyme he hadde the bord bygonne 7
Aboven allë naciouns in Pruce.
In Lettowe hadde he reysed 8 and in Ruce,
No cristen man so ofte of his degre.        55
In Gernade attë siegë hadde he be
Of Algesir, and riden in Belmarie.
At Lieys was he, and at Satalie,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Greetë see
At many a noble arive 9 hadde he be.        60
At mortal batailles hadde he ben fiftene,
And foughten for our feith at Tramassene
In lystës thriës, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilkë worthy knight hadde ben also
Somtymë with the lord of Palatye,        65
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And evermore he hadde a sovereyn prys. 10
And though that he was worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meke as is a mayde.
He nevere yit no vileinye ne sayde        70
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray perfight gentil knight.
But for to tellen you of his array,
His hors was good, but he ne was nought gay.
Of fustyan he werede a gepoun 11        75
Al bysmotered 12 with his habergeoun. 13
For he was late ycome from his viage,
And wentë for to doon his pilgrimage.
  With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYER,
A lovyere, and a lusty bacheler,        80
With lokkës crulle 14 as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of even lengthe,
And wonderly delyver, 15 and gret of strengthe.
And he hadde ben somtyme in chivachye, 16        85
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Picardye,
And born him wel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrowded was he, as it were a mede
Al ful of fresshë floures, white and reede.        90
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, 17 al the day;
He was as fressh as is the moneth of May.
Schort was his goune, with sleevës longe and wyde
Wel cowde he sitte on hors, and fairë ryde.
He cowdë songës make and wel endite,        95
Juste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and write.
So hote he lovedë, that by nightertale 18
He sleep nomore than doth a nightyngale.
Curteys he was, lowly, and servysable,
And carf 19 byforn his fader at the table.        100
  A YEMAN hadde he, and servauntz nomoo
At that tyme, for him lustë 20 rydë soo;
And he was clad in coote and hood of grene.
A shef of pocok arwës brighte and kene
Under his belte he bar ful thriftily.        105
Wel cowde he dresse his takel yemanly;
His arwes drowpede nought with fetheres lowe.
And in his hond he bar a mighty bowe.
A not-heed 21 hadde he with a broun visage.
Of woodë-craft wel cowde 22 he al the usage.        110
Upon his arm he bar a gay bracer, 23
And by his side a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that other side a gay daggere,
Harneysed wel, and scharp as poynt of spere;
A Cristofre on his brest of silver schene.        115
An horn he bar, the bawdrik was of grene;
A forster 24 was he sothly, as I gesse.
  Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hire smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire grettest ooth ne was but by seynt Loy; 25        120
And sche was cleped madame Eglentyne.
Ful wel sche sang the servisë divyne,
Entuned in hire nose ful semëly;
And Frensch sche spak ful faire and fetysly, 26
After the scole of Stratford attë Bowe,        125
For Frensch of Parys was to hire unknowe.
At metë wel i-taught was sche withalle;
Sche leet no morsel from hire lippës falle,
Ne wette hire fyngres in hire saucë deepe.
Wel cowde sche carie a morsel, and wel keepe,        130
That no dropë ne fille upon hire breste.
In curteisie was set ful moche hire leste.
Hire overlippë wypede sche so clene,
That in hire cuppë was no ferthing sene
Of grecë, whan sche dronken hadde hire draughte.        135
Ful semëly after hir mete sche raughte, 27
And sikerly sche was of gret disport,
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port,
And peynede hir 28 to countrefetë cheere
Of court, and ben estatlich of manere,        140
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But for to speken of hir conscience,
Sche was so charitable and so pitous,
Sche woldë weepe if that sche saw a mous
Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.        145
Of smalë houndës hadde sche, that sche fedde
With rosted flessh, or mylk and wastel breed. 29
But sore weep sche if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smot it with a yerdë smerte:
And al was conscience and tendre herte.        150
Ful semëly hire wympel 30 i-pynched was;
Hir nose tretys; 31 hir eyën greye as glas;
Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed
But sikerly sche hadde a fair forheed.
It was almost a spannë brood, I trowe;        155
For hardily sche was not undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war.
Of smal coral aboute hir arm sche bar
A peire of bedës gauded 32 al with grene;
And theron heng a broch of gold ful schene,        160
On which was first i-write a crownëd A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.
Another NONNE with hir haddë sche,
That was hir chapeleyne, and PRESTES thre.
  A MONK ther was, a fair for the maistryë, 33        165
An out-rydere, that lovedë veneryë;
A manly man, to ben an abbot able.
Ful many a deynté hors hadde he in stable:
And whan he rood, men mighte his bridel heere
Gynglen in a whistlyng wynd as cleere,        170
And eek as lowde as doth the chapel belle.
Ther as this lord was kepere of the celle,
The reule of seynt Maure or of seint Beneyt,
Bycause that it was old and somdel streyt,
This ilkë monk leet oldë thingës pace,        175
And held after the newë world the space.
He yaf nat of that text a pullëd hen, 34
That seith, that hunters been noon holy men;
Ne that a monk, whan he is recchëles 35
Is likned to a fissch that is waterles;        180
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre.
But thilkë text held he not worth an oystre.
And I seide his opinioun was good.
What 36 schulde he studie, and make himselven wood, 37
Upon a book in cloystre alway to powre,        185
Or swynkë with his handës, and laboure,
As Austyn bit? 38 How schal the world be servëd?
Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reservëd.
Therfor he was a pricasour 39 aright;
Greyhoundes he hadde as swifte as fowel in flight;        190
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I saugh his slevës purfiled attë honde
With grys, 40 and that the fyneste of a londe.
And for to festne his hood under his chynne        195
He hadde of gold y-wrought a curious pynne:
A love-knot in the grettere ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that schon as eny glas,
And eek his face, as he hadde ben anoynt.
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt;        200
His eyën steepe, 41 and rollyng in his heede,
That stemëde as a forneys of a leede; 42
His bootës souple, his hors in gret estat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;
He was not pale as a for-pyned 43 goost.        205
A fat swan lovede he best of eny roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.
  A FRERE there was, a wantown and a merye,
A lymytour, 44 a ful solempnë man.
In alle the ordres foure is noon that can        210
So moche of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde i-mad ful many a mariage
Of yongë wymmen, at his owën cost.
Unto his ordre he was a noble post.
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he        215
With frankeleyns over-al in his cuntre,
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun:
For he hadde power of confessioun,
As seyde himself, morë than a curat,
For of his ordre he was licentiat. 45        220
Ful swetëly herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun;
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
Ther as he wistë han 46 a good pitaunce;
For unto a poure ordre for to yive        225
Is signë that a man is wel i-schrive.
For if he yaf, he dorstë make avaunt,
He wistë that a man was repentaunt.
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may not wepe although him sorë smerte.        230
Therfore in stede of wepyng and preyeres,
Men moot yive silver to the pourë freres.
His typet was ay farsëd ful of knyfes
And pynnës, for to yivë fairë wyfes.
And certeynly he hadde a mery note;        235
Wel couthe he synge and pleyen on a rote. 47
Of yeddynges 48 he bar utterly the prys.
His nekkë whit was as the flour-de-lys.
Therto he strong was as a champioun.
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun,        240
And everych hostiler and tappestere,
Bet then a lazer, or a beggestere,
For unto such a worthy man as he
Acorded not, as by his faculté,
To han with sikë lazars aqueyntaunce.        245
It is not honest, it may not avaunce,
For to delen with no such poraille, 49
But al with riche, and sellers of vitaille.
And overal, ther as profyt schulde arise,
Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.        250
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous.
He was the bestë beggere in his hous,
For though a widewe haddë noght oo schoo,
So plesaunt was his In principio, 50
Yet wolde he have a ferthing or he wente.        255
His purchas 51 was wel better than his rente.
And rage he couthe as it were right a whelpe,
In lovë-dayës 52 couthe he mochel helpe.
For ther he was not lik a cloysterer,
With a thredbare cope as is a poure scoler,        260
But he was lik a maister or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semy-cope,
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsede, for his wantownesse,
To make his Englissch swete upon his tunge;        265
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde sunge,
His eyën twynkled in his heed aright,
As don the sterrës in the frosty night.
This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd.
  A MARCHAUNT was ther with a forkëd berd,        270
In mottëleye, and high on hors he sat,
Upon his heed a Flaundrisch bevere hat;
His botës clapsed faire and fetysly.
His resons he spak ful solempnëly,
Sownynge alway thencres 53 of his wynnynge.        275
He wolde the see were kept for 54 eny thinge
Betwixë Middelburgh and Orëwelle.
Wel couthe he in eschaungë scheeldës 55 selle.
This worthi man ful wel his wit bisette;
Ther wistë no wight that he was in dette,        280
So estatly was he of governaunce,
With his bargayns, and with his chevysaunce. 56
For sothe he was a worthy man withalle,
But soth to sayn, I not how men him calle.
  A CLERK ther was of Oxenford also,        285
That unto logik haddë longe i-go.
As lenë was his hors as is a rake,
And he was not right fat, I undertake;
But lokëde holwe, and therto soberly.
Ful thredbar was his overest courtepy. 57        290
For he hadde geten him yit no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For him was levere have at his beddës heede
Twenty bookës, clad in blak or reede,
Of Aristotle and his philosophyë,        295
Then robës riche, or fithele, or gay sawtryë. 58
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet haddë he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his frendës hente,
On bookës and on lernyng he it spente,        300
And busily gan for the soulës preye
Of hem that yaf him wherwith to scoleye;
Of studie took he most cure and most heede.
Not oo word spak he morë than was neede,
And that was seid in forme and reverence        305
And schort and quyk, and ful of high sentence.
Sownynge in 59 moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
*        *        *        *        *
  A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a pourë PERSOUN of a toun;        310
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristës gospel trewëly wolde preche;
His parischens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,        315
And in adversité ful pacient;
And such he was i-provëd oftë sithes. 60
Ful loth were him to cursë for his tythes.
But rather wolde he yeven, out of dowte,
Unto his pourë parisschens aboute,        320
Of his offrynge, and eek of his substaunce.
He cowde in litel thing han suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parische, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne laftë not for reyne ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visite        325
The ferreste in his parissche, moche and lite, 61
Upon his feet, and in his hond a staf.
This noble ensample to his scheep he yaf,
That first he wroughte, and afterward he taughte,
Out of the gospel he tho wordës caughte,        330
And this figure he addede eek therto,
That if gold rustë, what schal yren doo?
For if a prest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewëd man to ruste;
And schame it is, if that a prest tak keep,        335
A [filthy] schepherde and a clenë scheep;
Wel oughte a prest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his scheep schulde lyve.
He settë not his benefice to hyre,
And leet his scheep encombred in the myre,        340
And ran to Londone, unto seyntë Poules,
To seeken him a chaunterie for soules, 62
Or with a bretherhede to ben withholde;
But dwelte at hoom, and keptë wel his folde,
So that the wolf ne made it not myscarye;        345
He was a schepherd and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful man nought despitous,
Ne of his spechë daungerous 63 ne digne, 64
But in his teching discret and benigne.        350
To drawë folk to heven by fairnesse
By good ensample, this was his busynesse:
But it were eny persone obstinat,
What so he were, of high or lowe estat,
Him wolde he snybbë scharply for the nonës.        355
A better preest, I trowe, ther nowher non is.
He waytede after no pompe and reverence,
Ne makede him a spiced 65 conscience,
But Cristës lore, and his apostles twelve,
He taughte, but first he folwede it himselve.        360
Note 1. their hearts. [back]
Note 2. distant saints, known. [back]
Note 3. sick. [back]
Note 4. treated in the best way. [back]
Note 5. Before. [back]
Note 6. further. [back]
Note 7. Either ‘been served first at table,’ or ‘begun the tournament.’ [back]
Note 8. campaigned. [back]
Note 9. disembarkation. [back]
Note 10. high fame. [back]
Note 11. tunic. [back]
Note 12. soiled. [back]
Note 13. coat of mail. [back]
Note 14. curled. [back]
Note 15. active. [back]
Note 16. military service. [back]
Note 17. fluting. [back]
Note 18. night-time. [back]
Note 19. carved. [back]
Note 20. it was his pleasure. [back]
Note 21. crop-head. [back]
Note 22. knew. [back]
Note 23. guard for the arms. [back]
Note 24. forester. [back]
Note 25. St. Eligius (probably). [back]
Note 26. neatly. [back]
Note 27. reached. [back]
Note 28. took trouble. [back]
Note 29. cake (gasteau). [back]
Note 30. gorget. [back]
Note 31. well shaped. [back]
Note 32. The gaudies were the larger beads. [back]
Note 33. to a sovereign degree. [back]
Note 34. valued it less than a plucked hen. [back]
Note 35. or, resetless, away from his seat or station. [back]
Note 36. why. [back]
Note 37. mad. [back]
Note 38. bids (biddeth). [back]
Note 39. hunter. [back]
Note 40. grey fur. [back]
Note 41. bright. [back]
Note 42. under a cauldron. [back]
Note 43. worn out. [back]
Note 44. a beggar over a certain district. [back]
Note 45. held a licence from the Pope. [back]
Note 46. wherever he knew he would have. [back]
Note 47. harp, or fiddle. [back]
Note 48. songs. [back]
Note 49. paupers. [back]
Note 50. St. John i. 1, the usual friars’ greeting. [back]
Note 51. what he got by begging. [back]
Note 52. days of arbitration. [back]
Note 53. Celebrating the increase. [back]
Note 54. for fear of. [back]
Note 55. coins stamped with a shield: écus. [back]
Note 56. gains. [back]
Note 57. short cloak. [back]
Note 58. psaltery, harp. [back]
Note 59. tending towards. [back]
Note 60. oft-times. [back]
Note 61. great and small. [back]
Note 62. an endowment for saying masses. [back]
Note 63. haughty. [back]
Note 64. disdainful. [back]
Note 65. nice, fastidious. [back]
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