Good Enough for Chaucer

October 03, 2014

Geoffrey Chaucer

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].

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote 1
The droghte 2 of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich 3 licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt 4 and heeth
The tendre croppes, 5 and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 6
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages: 7
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes, 8
To ferne halwes, 9 couthe 10 in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke. 11

  Bifel that, in that sesoun on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay 12
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At night was come in-to that hostelrye
Wel 13 nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure 14 y-falle 15
In felawshipe, and pilgrims were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste. 16
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon, 17
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
And made forward 18 erly for to ryse,
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse. 19
  But natheles, 20 whyl I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace, 21
Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,
To telle yew al the condicioun 22
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche 23 they weren, and of what degree;
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,
Trouthe and honour, fredom 24 and curteisye.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, 25
And thereto 26 hadde he riden (no man ferre 27)
As wel in cristendom as hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse.
  At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne 28
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce. 29
In Lettow 30 hadde he reysed 31 and in Ruce, 32
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade 33 at the sege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye. 34
At Lyeys 35 was he, and at Satalye, 36
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See 37
At many a noble aryve 38 hadde he be,
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for our feith at Tramissene 39
In listes thryes, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke 40 worthy knight hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye, 41
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And everemore he hadde a sovereyn prys. 42
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port 43 as meek as is a mayde.
He nevere yet no vileinye 44 ne sayde
In al his lyf, un-to no maner wight. 45
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian 46 he wered a gipoun 47
Al bismotered 48 with his habergeoun. 49
For he was late y-come from his viage, 50
And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.
  With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYER,
A lovyer, and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkes crulle, 51 as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe, 52
And wonderly delivere, 53 and greet of strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chivachye, 54
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Picardye,
And born him wel, as of so litel space, 55
In hope to stonden in his lady 56 grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and rede.
Singinge he was, or floytinge, 57 al the day;
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.
He coude songes make and wel endyte, 58
Iuste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and wryte.
So hote he lovede, that by nightertale 59
He sleep namore than doth a nightingale.
Curteys he was, lowly, and servisable,
And carf 60 biforn his fader at the table.
A YEMAN hadde he, 61 and servaunts namo 62
At that tyme, for him liste 63 ryde so;
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene;
A sheef 64 of pecok arwes brighte and kene
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.
A not-heed 65 hadde he, with a broun visage.
Of wode-craft wel coude 66 he al the usage.
Upon his arm he bar a gay bracer, 67
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that other syde a gay daggere,
Harneised 68 wel, and sharp as point of spere;
A Cristofre 69 on his brest of silver shene
An horn he bar, the bawdrik 70 was of grene;
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.
  Ther was also a Nonne, a PRIORESSE,
That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
Hir gretteste ooth was but by seynt Loy; 71
And she was cleped 72 madame Eglentyne.
Ful wel she song the service divyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly, 73
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, 74
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.
In curteisye was set ful moche hir lest. 75
Hir over lippe 76 wyped she so clene,
That in hir coppe was no ferthing 77 sene
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte, 78
And sikerly 79 she was of greet disport, 80
And ful plesaunt, and amiable of port,
And peyned hir to countrefete chere 81
Of court, and been estatlich 82 of manere,
And to ben holden digne 83 of reverence.
But, for to speken of hir conscience, 84
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
With rosted flesh, or milk and wastel breed. 85
But sore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde 86 smerte:
And al was conscience 87 and tendre herte.
Ful semely 88 hir wimpel 89 pinched 90 was;
Hir nose tretys; 91 hir eyen greye as glas;
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;
For, hardily, 92 she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetis 93 was hir cloke, as I was war.
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
A peire 94 of bedes, gauded 95 al with grene;
And ther-on heng a broche of gold ful shene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after, Amor vincit omnia. 96
  Another NONNE with hir hadde she,
That was hir chapeleyne, and PREESTES thre.
  A MONK ther was, a fair for the maistrye, 97
An out-rydere, 98 that lovede venerye; 99
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,
Ther-as 100 this lord was keper of the celle. 101
The reule of seint Maure or of seint Beneit,
By-cause that it was old and som-del streit, 102
This ilke monk leet olde thinges pace,
And held after the newe world the space.
He yaf 103 nat of that text a pulled 104 hen,
That seith, that hunters been nat holy men;
Ne that a monk, whan he is cloisterlees 105
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.
What sholde he studie, and make him-selven wood, 106
Upon a book in cloistre alwey to poure,
Or swinken 107 with his handes, and laboure,
As Austin bit? 108 How shal the world be served?
Lat Austin have his swink to him reserved.
Therfor he was a pricasour 109 aright;
Grehoundes he hadde, as swifte as fowel in flight;
Of priking 110 and of hunting for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh 111 his sleves purfiled 112 at the hond
With grys, 113 and that the fyneste of a lond;
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 eyen stepe, 115 and rollinge in his heed,
That stemed 116 as a forneys of a leed; 117
His botes souple, his hors in greet estaat.
Now certeinly he was a fair prelat;
He was nat pale as a for-pyned 118 goost.
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,
A limitour, 119 a ful solempne 120 man.
In alle the ordres foure 121 is noon that can 122
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
With frankeleyns 123 over-al in his contree,
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
Ther as he wiste to han a good pitaunce; 124
For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel y-shrive. 123
For if he 126 yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
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,
Men moot 127 yeve silver to the povre freres.
His tipet was ay farsed 128 ful of knyves
And pinnes, for to yeven faire wyves.
And certeinly he hadde a mery note;
Wel coude he singe and pleyen on a rote. 129
Of yeddinges 130 he bar utterly the prys.
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
Bet 131 than a lazar 132 or a beggestere; 133
For un-to swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee, 134
To have with seke lazars aqueyntaunce.
It is nat honest, 135 it may nat avaunce
For to delen with no swich poraille, 136
But al with riche and sellers of vitaille.
And over-al, 137 ther-as profit sholde aryse,
Curteys he was, and lowly of servyse.
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous. 138
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
For thogh a widwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his “In principio”, 139
Yet wolde he have a ferthing, er he wente.
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente. 140
And rage 141 he coude as it were right a whelpe.
In love-dayes 142 ther coude he mochel helpe.
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.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope, 143
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse, 144
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.
This worthy limitour was cleped 145 Huberd.
  A MARCHANT was ther with a forked berd,
In mottelee, 146 and hye on horse he sat,
Up-on his heed a Flaundrish bever hat;
His botes clasped faire and fetisly. 147
His resons 148 he spak ful solempnely,
Sowninge 149 alway thencrees of his winning.
He wolde the see were kept 150 for any thing 151
Bitwixe Middleburgh and Orewelle.
Wel coude he in eschaunge sheeldes 152 selle.
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette; 153
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
So estatly 154 was he of his governaunce, 155
With his bargaynes, and with his chevisaunce. 156
For sothe he was a worthy man with-alle,
But sooth to seyn, I noot how men him calle.
  A CLERK 157 ther was of Oxenford also,
That un-to logik hadde longe y-go, 158
As lene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake;
But loked holwe, and ther-to soberly.
Ful thredbar was his overest courtepy; 159
For he had geten him yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For him was levere 160 have at his beddes heed
Twenty bokes, clad in blak or reed
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
Than robes riche, or fithele, 161 or gay sautrye. 162
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he mighte of his frendes hente, 163
On bokes and on lerninge he it spente
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf him wher-with to scoleye. 164
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 short and quik, and ful of hy sentence. 165
Sowninge in 166 moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
  A SERGEANT OF THE LAWE, war 167 and wys,
That often hadde been at the parvys, 168
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,
By patente, and by pleyn 169 commissioun;
For his science, and for his heigh renoun
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
So greet a purchasour 170 was nowher noon.
Al was fee simple to him in effect, 171
His purchasing 172 mighte nat been infect. 173
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and domes alle, 174
That from the tyme of king William were falle.
Therto he oude endyte, 175 and make a thing,
Ther coude no wight pinche 176 at his wryting;
And every statut coude 177 he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee 178 cote
Girt with a ceint 179 of silk, with barres smale;
Of his array telle I no lenger tale.

Note 1. Its sweet showers. 
Note 2. Drought. 
Note 3. Such. 
Note 4. Wood. 
Note 5. Young shoots. 
Note 6. The sun left the sign of the Ram about the middle of April. 
Note 7. Hearts. 
Note 8. Foreign strands. 
Note 9. Distant saints. 
Note 10. Known. 
Note 11. Sick. 
Note 12. Lodged. 
Note 13. Full. 
Note 14. Chance. 
Note 15. Fallen. 
Note 16. Made comfortable in the best style. 
Note 17. Every one. 
Note 18. Compact. 
Note 19. Tell. 
Note 20. Nevertheless. 
Note 21. Go. 
Note 22. Character. 
Note 23. What sort. 
Note 24. Liberality. 
Note 25. War. 
Note 26. Besides. 
Note 27. Farther. 
Note 28. Sat at the head of the table. 
Note 29. Prussia. 
Note 30. Lithuania. 
Note 31. Made expeditions. 
Note 32. Russia. 
Note 33. Granada. 
Note 34. In Africa. 
Note 35. In Asia Minor. 
Note 36. In Asia Minor. 
Note 37. Mediterranean. 
Note 38. Naval expedition. 
Note 39. In Africa. 
Note 40. Same. 
Note 41. In Asia Minor. 
Note 42. Great reputation. 
Note 43. Bearing. 
Note 44. Discourtesy. 
Note 45. Kind of person. 
Note 46. Coarse cloth. 
Note 47. Short coat. 
Note 48. Soiled. 
Note 49. Coat of mail. 
Note 50. Journey. 
Note 51. Curled. 
Note 52. Moderate height. 
Note 53. Active. 
Note 54. Cavalry expeditions. 
Note 55. Considering his youth. 
Note 56. Lady’s. 
Note 57. Whistling. 
Note 58. Compose. 
Note 59. Night-time. 
Note 60. Carved. 
Note 61. The knight. 
Note 62. No more. 
Note 63. It pleased him. 
Note 64. Twenty-four. 
Note 65. Closely cut hair. 
Note 66. Knew. 
Note 67. Arm-guard of leather. 
Note 68. Mounted. 
Note 69. Image of St. Christopher, his patron saint. 
Note 70. Cord or belt. 
Note 71. I. e., she did not swear at all, like St. Eligius. 
Note 72. Called. 
Note 73. Skillfully. 
Note 74. A convent near London. She spoke Anglo-French. 
Note 75. Delight. 
Note 76. Upper lip. Guests drank out of a common cup. 
Note 77. Smallest particle. 
Note 78. Reached. 
Note 79. Certainly. 
Note 80. High spirits. 
Note 81. Took pains to imitate courtly manners. 
Note 82. Dignified. 
Note 83. Worthy. 
Note 84. Sensibility. 
Note 85. Cake. 
Note 86. Stick. 
Note 87. Sensibility. 
Note 88. Becomingly. 
Note 89. Kerchief. 
Note 90. Plaited. 
Note 91. Well-formed. 
Note 92. Certainly. 
Note 93. Well-made. 
Note 94. String. 
Note 95. Having every eleventh bead green. 
Note 96. Love conquers all things. 
Note 97. In the highest degree. 
Note 98. He had charge of the manors attached to his monastery. 
Note 99. Hunting. 
Note 100. Where. 
Note 101. Branch monastery. 
Note 102. Somewhat strict. 
Note 103. Gave. 
Note 104. Plucked. 
Note 105. Vagabond. 
Note 106. Mad. 
Note 107. Work. 
Note 108. As St. Augustine bids. 
Note 109. Hard rider. 
Note 110. Riding, spurring. 
Note 111. Saw. 
Note 112. Trimmed. 
Note 113. Gray fur. 
Note 114. Plump. 
Note 115. Sick. 
Note 116. Shone. 
Note 117. Cauldron. 
Note 118. Wasted by torment. 
Note 119. Holding a license to beg within certain limits. 
Note 120. Impressive. 
Note 121. I. e., of friars. 
Note 122. Knows. 
Note 123. Gentlemen farmers. 
Note 124. Where he knew he would get a handsome present. 
Note 125. Absolved. 
Note 126. The penitent. 
Note 127. Must. 
Note 128. Stuffed. 
Note 129. Fiddle. 
Note 130. Proverbs. 
Note 131. Better. 
Note 132. Beggar. 
Note 133. Female beggar. 
Note 134. It was not fitting in a man of his ability. 
Note 135. Proper. 
Note 136. Poor rabble. 
Note 137. Everywhere. 
Note 138. Capable. 
Note 139. John I, I; was used as a greeting. 
Note 140. This probably means that he made more out of his begging than he paid for the privilege. 
Note 141. Behave wantonly. 
Note 142. Days for settling differences out of court. 
Note 143. Short cape. 
Note 144. In affectation. 
Note 145. Called. 
Note 146. Motley. 
Note 147. Neatly. 
Note 148. Opinions. 
Note 149. Dealing with. 
Note 150. Guarded. 
Note 151. At any cost. 
Note 152. French crowns. 
Note 153. Used. 
Note 154. Dignified. 
Note 155. Conduct. 
Note 156. Borrowings. 
Note 157. Student. 
Note 158. Gone, devoted himself. 
Note 159. Outer short coat. 
Note 160. Rather. 
Note 161. Fiddle. 
Note 162. Psaltery. 
Note 163. Get. 
Note 164. Go to school. 
Note 165. Meaning. 
Note 166. Tending to. 
Note 167. Wary. 
Note 168. The portico of St. Paul’s where lawyers met. 
Note 169. Full. 
Note 170. Conveyancer. 
Note 171. All forms of land-holding were as easy for him to handle as fee-simple. 
Note 172. Conveyancing. 
Note 173. Invalid. 
Note 174. He had definite knowledge of all cases and decisions. 
Note 175. Compose. 
Note 176. Find fault with. 
Note 177. Knew. 
Note 178. Motley. 
Note 179. Girdle. 

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