Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. VII. Descriptive: Narrative
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume VII. Descriptive: Narrative.  1904.
Narrative Poems: VIII. England
The Canterbury Pilgrims
Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)
From “The Canterbury Tales: Prologue

WHAN that Aprille with hise shourès soote 1
The droghte of March hath percèd to the roote,
And bathèd every veyne in swich 2 licour,
Of which vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth        5
Inspirèd hath in every holt 3 and heeth
The tendre croppès, and the yongè sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfè cours y-ronne,
And smalè fowelès maken melodye
That slepen al the nyght with open eye,—        10
So priketh hem nature in hir corages,— 4
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straungè strondes,
To ferne halwes, 5 kowthe 6 in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shirès ende        15
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende
The hooly blisful martir 7 for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
  Bifll that, in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,        20
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght were come in-to that hostelrye
Wel nyne-and-twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure y-falle        25
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were thei alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
*        *        *        *        *
  A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tymè that he first bigan
To riden out, he lovèd chivalrie,        30
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie,
Ful worthy was he in his lordès werre,
And therto hadde he riden, noman ferre, 8
As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
*        *        *        *        *
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileynye 9 ne sayde
In al his lyf unto no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit, gentil knyght.
*        *        *        *        *
  With hym ther was his sone, a young Squier,
A lovyere and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkès crulle 10 as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,        45
And wonderly delyvere, 11 and of greet strengthe.
And he hadde ben somtyme in chyvachie, 12
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.        50
Embrouded 13 was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshè flourès whyte and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, 14 al the day;
He was as fressh as is the monthe of May.
Short was his gowne, with slevès longe and wyde.        55
Wel cowde he sitte on hors, and fairè ryde.
He koudè songès make and wel enditem
Juste and eek daunce, and weel purtreye 15 and write.
So hoote he lovedè, that by nyghtertale 16
He sleep no more than dooth a nyghtyngale;        60
Curteis he was, lovely and servysable,
And carf 17 biforn his fader at the table.
  Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hire smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire gretteste ooth ne was but by seint Loy; 18        65
And she was clepèd madame Eglentyne.
Ful weel she soonge the servicè dyvyne,
Entunèd in hir nose ful semeely;
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, 19
After the scole of Stratford-attè-Bowe,        70
For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.
At metè 20 wel ytaught was she with alle,
She leet no morsel from hir lippès falle,
Ne wett hire fyngres in hire saucè deepe.
Wel koude she carie a morsel and wel kepe,        75
That no dropè ne fille up-on hire breste;
In curteisie was set ful muchel hir leste. 21
Hire over-lippè wypèd she so clene,
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng 22 sene
Of grecè, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.        80
Ful semèly after hir mete she raughte, 23
And sikerly 24 she was of greet disport,
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port,
And peynèd hir 25 to countrefetè cheere
Of Court, and to ben estatlich of manere,        85
And to ben holden digne of reverence;
But for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She woldè wepe if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.        90
Of smalè houndès hadde she, that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or mylk and wastel-breed; 26
But soore wepte she if any of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerdè 27 smerte:
And al was conscience and tendre herte.        95
  Ful semlèy hire wympul pynchèd was;
Hir nose tretys, 28 hire eyèn greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful smal, and ther to softe and reed,
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed;
It was almoost a spannè brood, I trowe,        100
For hardily she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war;
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedès gauded 29 al with grene;
And ther-on heng a broch of gold ful schene,        105
On which ther was first write a crownèd A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia.
  Another Nonnè with hire haddè she,
That was hire Chapeleyne, and Preestès thre.
*        *        *        *        *
  A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also        110
That un-to logyk haddè longe ygo.
And leenè was his hors as is a rake,
And he was nat right fat, I undertake,
But lookèd holwe, and ther to sobrely;
Full thredbare was his overeste courtepy, 30        115
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly to have office;
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookès, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie,        120
Than robès riche, or fithele, 31 or gay sautrie. 32
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet haddè he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his freendès hente 33
On bookès and his lernynge he it spente,        125
And bisily gan for the soulès preye
Of hem that gaf him wher with to scoleye, 34
Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede,
Noght o word spak he moorè than was neede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence        130
And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence.
Sownynge in 35 moral vertu was his speche
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
  A Sergeant of the Lawe, war 36 and wys,
That often haddè ben at the Parvys, 37        135
Ther was also ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was and of greet reverence;
He semèd swich, hise wordès weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in Assise,
By patente, and by pleyn commissioun,        140
For his science and for his heigh renoun.
Of fees and robès hadde he many oon;
So gret a purchasour 38 was nowher noon.
Al was fee symple to hym in effect,
His purchasyng myghte nat ben infect. 39        145
Nowhere so bisy a man as he ther nas, 40
And yet he semèd bisier than he was.
*        *        *        *        *
  And good man was ther of religioun,
And was Povre Persoun 41 of a Toun;
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk;        150
He was also a lernèd man, a clerk
That Cristès Gospel trewèly wolde preche,
Hise parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benygne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;        155
And such he was y-prevèd oftè sithes. 42
Ful looth were hym to cursè for his tythes,
But rather wolde he geven, 43 out of doute,
Un-to his povrè parisshens aboute,
Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.        160
He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer a-sonder,
But he ne laftè 44 nat for reyn ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
The ferreste 45 in his parisshe muche and lite 46        165
Up-on his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheepe he gaf, 47
That firste he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
*        *        *        *        *
A bettre preest, I throwe, that nowher noon is:
He waiteth after no pompe and reverence,        170
Ne makèd him a spicèd conscience,
But Cristès loore, and his Apostles twelve,
He taughte, but first he folwed it hym selve.
*        *        *        *        *
  Now have I toold you shortly in a clause
The staat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause        175
Why that assembled was this compaignye
In Southwerk at this gentil hostelrye,
That highte the Tabard, fastè by the Belle.
But now is tymè to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke 48 nyght,        180
When we were in that hostelrie alyght,
And after wol I telle of our viage,
And al the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.
  But first, I pray yow of your curteisye,
That ye narette it nat my vileinye, 49        185
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere,
To tellè yow hir wordès and hir cheere;
Ne thogh I speke hir wordès proprely.
For this ye knowen al so wel as I,
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,        190
He moote reherce, as ny as evere he kan
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudèliche 50 or large; 51
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feynè thyng, or fyndè wordès newe.        195
He may nat spare al thogh he were his brother,
He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hym self ful brode in hooly writ
And wel ye woot no vileynye is it.
Eek Plato seith, who so can hym rede,        200
“The wordès moote be cosyn 52 to the dede.”
  Also I prey yow to forgeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they scholdè stonde;
My wit is short ye may wel understonde.        205
  Greet chierè made oure host us everichon,
And to the soper sette he us anon
And servèd us with vitaille at the beste.
Strong was the wyn and wel to drynke us leste. 53
  A semely man Oure Hoost he was withalle        210
For to han been a marchal in an halle;
A largè man he was with eyen stepe,
A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe:
Boold of his speche, and wys and wel ytaught,
And of manhod hym lakkedè right naught.        215
Eek therto he was right a myrie 54 man,
And after soper pleyen he bygan,
And spak of myrthè amonges othere thinges,
Whan that we haddè maad our rekenynges;
And seydè thus: “Lo, lordynges, trewèly        220
Ye ben to me right welcome hertèly:
For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye,
I saugh nat this yeer so myrie a compaignye
Atones in this herberwe 55 as is now.
Fayn wolde I doon 56 yow myrthè, wiste I how.        225
And of a myrthe I am right now bythoght,
To doon you ese, and it shal costè noght.
  Ye goon to Caunterbury, God you speede,
The blisful martir quitè yow youre meede! 57
And wel I woot as ye goon by the weye        230
Ye shapen yow 58 to talen 59 and to pleye;
For trewèly confort ne myrthe is noon
To ridè by the weye doumb as the stoon;
And therefore wol I maken you disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon you som confort.
*        *        *        *        *
That ech of yow to shortè with oure weye,
In this viage shall tellè talès tweye,— 60
To Caunterburyward, I mean it so,
And homward he shal tellen othere two,—
Of aventures that whilom han bifalle.        240
And which of yow that bereth hym best of alle,
That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas
Talès of best sentence 61 and most solaas, 62
Shall have soper at oure aller cost,
Heere in this place, syttynge by this post,        245
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury.
And for to make you the moore mury,
I wol my-selfè gladly with yow ryde,
Right at myn owenè cost, and be youre gyde.
And who so wole my juggèment withseye 63        250
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.
And if ye vouchè-sauf that it be so,
Tel me anon, with-outen wordès mo,
And I wol erly shapè 64 me therfore.”
  This thyng was graunted, and oure othès swore        255
With ful glad herte, and preyden hym also
That he would vouchè-sauf for to do so,
And that he woldè been our governour,
And of oure talès juge and reportour,
And sette a soper at a certeyn pris        260
And we wol reulèd been 65 at his devys
In heigh and lough; and thus by oon assent
We been acorded to his juggèment.
And ther-up-on the wyn was fet anon;
We dronken and to reste wente echon        265
With-outen any lenger taryÿnge.
Note 1. sweet. [back]
Note 2. such. [back]
Note 3. wood. [back]
Note 4. their hearts. [back]
Note 5. ancient saints. [back]
Note 6. renowned. [back]
Note 7. Thomas à Becket. [back]
Note 8. farther. [back]
Note 9. nothing unmannerly. [back]
Note 10. curled. [back]
Note 11. active. [back]
Note 12. a military expedition. [back]
Note 13. embroidered. [back]
Note 14. playing on a flute. [back]
Note 15. portray—draw. [back]
Note 16. night-time. [back]
Note 17. carved. [back]
Note 18. probably St. Louis. [back]
Note 19. featly—neatly. [back]
Note 20. meat—table. [back]
Note 21. pleasure. [back]
Note 22. morsel. [back]
Note 23. reached. [back]
Note 24. surely. [back]
Note 25. took pains. [back]
Note 26. cake (gasteau) bread. [back]
Note 27. rod. [back]
Note 28. straight. [back]
Note 29. The gaudies were the larger beads. [back]
Note 30. uppermost short cloak. [back]
Note 31. fiddle. [back]
Note 32. psaltery. [back]
Note 33. get. [back]
Note 34. study. [back]
Note 35. tending towards. [back]
Note 36. wary—prudent. [back]
Note 37. portico of St. Paul’s, where lawyers met. [back]
Note 38. prosecutor. [back]
Note 39. tainted. [back]
Note 40. he was—was not. [back]
Note 41. Poor parson. [back]
Note 42. times. [back]
Note 43. give. [back]
Note 44. ceased. [back]
Note 45. farthest. [back]
Note 46. great and small. [back]
Note 47. gave. [back]
Note 48. same. [back]
Note 49. that ye ascribe it not to my ill-breeding. [back]
Note 50. rudely. [back]
Note 51. free. [back]
Note 52. germane. [back]
Note 53. pleased. [back]
Note 54. merry. [back]
Note 55. harborage—inn. [back]
Note 56. make. [back]
Note 57. reward. [back]
Note 58. purpose. [back]
Note 59. tell tales. [back]
Note 60. two. [back]
Note 61. sense. [back]
Note 62. solace—mirth. [back]
Note 63. gainsay. [back]
Note 64. shape my affairs—prepare. [back]
Note 65. be ruled. [back]
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