Geoffrey Chaucer (1340–1400). The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.
Vol. 40, pp. 11-20 of The Harvard Classics
When polite English society conversed in French - considering English a vulgar tongue, fit only for servants and working people - Chaucer, nevertheless, wrote poems in this "vulgar" English, which charm us because of their quaint words.
[Editor's Note: This passage contains extensive footnotes. To prevent the disruption of reading, these are all included at the end].
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
Bifel that, in that sesoun on a day,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At night was come in-to that hostelrye
In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And eek in what array that they were inne:
And at a knight than wol I first biginne.
A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
As wel in cristendom as hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne;
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo.
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.
With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYER,
A lovyer, and a lusty bacheler,
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Picardye,
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and rede.
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his goune, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel coude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
Iuste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and wryte.
He sleep namore than doth a nightingale.
Curteys he was, lowly, and servisable,
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene;
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily,
(Wel coude he dresse his takel yemanly:
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe),
And in his hand he bar a mighty bowe.
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that other syde a gay daggere,
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.
Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
Ful wel she song the service divyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle;
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fingres in hir sauce depe.
Wel coude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe,
That no drope ne fille up-on hir brest.
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
And ful plesaunt, and amiable of port,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She wolde wepe, if that she sawe a mous
Caught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes had she, that she fedde
But sore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Hir mouth ful smal, and ther-to softe and reed;
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed.
It was almost a spanne brood, I trowe;
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
And ther-on heng a broche of gold ful shene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
Another NONNE with hir hadde she,
That was hir chapeleyne, and PREESTES thre.
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable:
And, whan he rood, men mighte his brydel here
Ginglen in a whistling wynd as clere,
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel-belle,
The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit,
This ilke monk leet olde thinges pace,
And held after the newe world the space.
That seith, that hunters been nat holy men;
Is likned til a fish that is waterlees;
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloistre.
But thilke text held he nat worth an oistre.
And I seyde his opinioun was good.
Upon a book in cloistre alwey to poure,
Lat Austin have his swink to him reserved.
Grehoundes he hadde, as swifte as fowel in flight;
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
And, for to festne his hood under his chin,
He hadde of gold y-wroght a curious pin:
A love-knot in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as he hadde been anoint.
He was a lord ful fat and in good point; 114
His botes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.
A FRERE ther was, a wantown and a merye,
So moche of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen, at his owne cost.
Un-to his ordre he was a noble post.
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun:
For he had power of confessioun,
As seyde him-self, more than a curat,
For of his ordre he was licentiat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun;
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
For unto a povre ordre for to yive
He wiste that a man was repentaunt.
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may nat wepe al-thogh him sore smerte.
Therfore, in stede of weping and preyeres,
And pinnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
And certeinly he hadde a mery note;
His nekke whyt was as the flour-de-lys;
Ther-to he strong was as a champioun.
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun,
And everich hostiler and tappestere
For un-to swich a worthy man as he
To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce.
But al with riche and sellers of vitaille.
Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
For thogh a widwe hadde noght a sho,
Yet wolde he have a ferthing, er he wente.
For ther he was nat lyk a cloisterer,
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,
But he was lyk a maister or a pope.
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
To make his English swete up-on his tonge;
And in his harping, whan that he had songe,
His eyen twinkled in his heed aright,
As doon the sterres in the frosty night.
A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,
Up-on his heed a Flaundrish bever hat;
Bitwixe Middleburgh and Orewelle.
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,
But sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle.
As lene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake;
But loked holwe, and ther-to soberly.
For he had geten him yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
On bokes and on lerninge he it spente
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of studie took he most cure and most hede,
Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence:
He seemed swich, his wordes weren so wyse,
Iustice he was ful often in assyse,
For his science, and for his heigh renoun
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
That from the tyme of king William were falle.
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.
Note 1. Its sweet showers.
Note 115. Sick.
Note 179. Girdle.