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The Canterbury Tales (Middle English: Tales of Caunterbury) is a collection of over 20 stories written in Middle English by Geoffrey Chaucer at the end of the 14th century, during the time of the Hundred Years' War. The tales (mostly written in verse, although some are in prose) are presented as part of a story-telling contest by a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from Southwark to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. The prize for this contest is a free meal at the Tabard Inn at Southwark on their return. After a long list of works written earlier in his career, including Troilus and Criseyde, House of Fame, and "Parliament of Fowls", The Canterbury Tales is near-unanimously seen as Chaucer's magnum opus. He uses the tales and the descriptions of its characters to paint an ironic and critical portrait of English society at the time, and particularly of the Church. Structurally, the collection resembles The Decameron, which Chaucer may have read during his first diplomatic mission to Italy in 1372. It is sometimes argued that the greatest contribution The Canterbury Tales made to English literature was in popularising the literary use of vernacular, English, rather than French or Latin. English had, however, been used as a literary language centuries before Chaucer's time, and several of Chaucer's contemporaries—John Gower, William Langland, the Pearl Poet, and Julian of Norwich—also wrote major literary works in English. It is unclear to what extent Chaucer was responsible for starting a trend as opposed to simply being part of it. While Chaucer clearly states the addressees of many of his poems, the intended audience of The Canterbury Tales is more difficult to determine. Chaucer was a courtier, leading some to believe that he was mainly a court poet who wrote exclusively for nobility.
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Heere the Hoost stynteth Chaucer of his Tale of Thopas.
Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury.
Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote And bathed every veyne in swich licour, Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open eye — So priketh hem Nature in hir corages — Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially, from every shires ende Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for the seke That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
Bifil that in that seson, on a day, In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay, Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage To Caunterbury, with ful devout corage, At nyght were come into that hostelrye Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle, That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde. The chambres and the stables weren wyde, And wel we weren esed atte beste; And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste, So hadde I spoken with hem everychon That I was of hir felaweshipe anon, And made forward erly for to ryse To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space, Er that I ferther in this tale pace, Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun To telle yow al the condicioun Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, And whiche they weren, and of what degree, And eek in what array that they were inne; And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To riden out, he loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie. Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre, As wel in Cristendom as in Hethenesse, And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne; Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle nacions in Pruce; In Lettow hadde he reysed, and in Ruce, No cristen man so ofte of his degree. In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye; At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye, Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See At many a noble arive hadde he be. At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene, And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo. This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also Somtyme with the lord of Palatye Agayn another hethen in Turkye, And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys. And though that he were worthy, he was wys, And of his port as meeke as is a mayde; He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde In al his lyf unto no maner wight; He was a verray parfit gentil knyght.
But for to tellen yow of his array, His hors weren goode, but he was nat gay. Of fustian he wered a gypoun, Al bismotered with his habergeoun; For he was late ycome from his viage, And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.
With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squier, A lovyere and a lusty bacheler, With lokkes crulle, as they were leyd in presse. Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse. Of his stature he was of evene lengthe, And wonderly delyvere, and of greet strengthe. And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie, And born hym weel, as of so litel space, In hope to stonden in his lady grace. Embrouded was he, as it were a meede, Al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede; Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day, He was as fressh as is the monthe of May. Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde. Wel koude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde, He koude songes make, and wel endite, Juste, and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write. So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertale He slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale. Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable, And carf biforn his fader at the table.
A Yeman hadde he, and servantz namo At that tyme, for hym liste ride soo; And he was clad in cote and hood of grene, A sheef of pecok arwes bright and kene Under his belt he bar ful thriftily — Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly, Hise arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe — And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe. A not — heed hadde he, with a broun visage, Of woodecraft wel koude he al the usage. Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer, And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler, And on that oother syde a gay daggere, Harneised wel, and sharpe as point of spere. A Cristophere on his brest of silver sheene, An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene. A Forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.
Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse, That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy. Hir gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy, And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne. Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne, Entuned in hir nose ful semely; And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe, For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe. At mete wel ytaught was she withalle; She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle, Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe. Wel koude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe That no drope ne fille upon hir brist. In curteisie was set ful muche hir list; Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene, That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte. Ful semely after hir mete she raughte; And sikerly, she was of greet desport, And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port, And peyned hir to countrefete cheere Of court, and been estatlich of manere, And to ben holden digne of reverence. But for to speken of hir conscience, She was so charitable and so pitous, She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde. Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed. But soore weep she if oon of hem were deed, Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte; And al was conscience, and tendre herte. Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was, Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas, Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed; But sikerly, she hadde a fair forheed, It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe, For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe. Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war; Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene, An theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene, On which ther was first write a crowned ‘A,’ And after,‘Amor vincit omnia.’ Another Nonne with hir hadde she, That was hire Chapeleyne, and preestes thre.
A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie, An outridere, that lovede venerie, A manly man, to been an abbot able. Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable; And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere, And eek as loude, as dooth the chapel belle, Ther as this lord was keper of the celle. The reule of Seint Maure, or of Seint Beneit, Bycause that it was old and somdel streit — This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace, And heeld after the newe world the space. He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen, That seith that hunters beth nat hooly men, Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees, Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees — This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre — But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre! And I seyde his opinioun was good, What sholde he studie, and make hymselven wood, Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure, Or swynken with his handes and laboure As Austyn bit? How shal the world be served? Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reserved; Therfore he was a prikasour aright, Grehoundes he hadde, as swift as fowel in flight; Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare. I seigh his sleves ypurfiled at the hond With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond; And for to festne his hood under his chyn He hadde of gold ywroght a curious pyn; A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was. His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas, And eek his face, as it hadde been enoynt. He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt, Hise eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed, That stemed as a forneys of a leed; His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat; Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat! He was nat pale as a forpyned goost, A fat swan loved he best of any roost. His palfrey was as broun as is a berye.
A Frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye, A lymytour, a ful solempne man, In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage. He hadde maad ful many a mariage Of yonge wommen at his owene cost. Unto his ordre he was a noble post, And wel biloved and famulier was he With frankeleyns overal in his contree And eek with worthy wommen of the toun, For he hadde power of confessioun, As seyde hymself, moore than a curat, For of his ordre he was licenciat. Ful swetely herde he confessioun, And plesaunt was his a absolucioun, He was an esy man to yeve penaunce Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce; For unto a povre ordre for to yive Is signe that a man is wel yshryve; For, if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt, He wiste that a man was repentaunt. For many a man so harde is of his herte, He may nat wepe, al thogh hym soore smerte; Therfore, in stede of wepynge and preyeres, Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres. His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves And pynnes, for to yeven yonge wyves. And certeinly he hadde a murye note, Wel koude he synge, and pleyen on a rote, Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris. His nekke whit was as the flour delys; Therto he strong was as a champioun, He knew the tavernes wel in every toun And everich hostiler and tappestere Bet than a lazar or a beggestere. For unto swich a worthy man as he Acorded nat, as by his facultee, To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce; It is nat honeste, it may nat avaunce, For to deelen with no swich poraille, But al with riche and selleres of vitaille; And overal, ther as profit sholde arise, Curteis he was, and lowely of servyse. Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous; He was the beste beggere in his hous, (And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt Noon of his brethren cam ther in his haunt;) For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho, So plesaunt was his ‘In principio’ Yet wolde he have a ferthyng er he wente; His purchas was wel bettre than his rente. And rage he koude, as it were right a whelpe; In love-dayes ther koude he muchel helpe; For there he was nat lyk a cloysterer, With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler, But he was lyk a maister or a pope; Of double worstede was his semycope, That rounded as a belle out of the presse. Somwhat he lipsed for his wantownesse To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge, And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe, Hise eyen twynkled in his heed aryght As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght. This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd.
A Marchant was ther, with a forkek berd, In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat, Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bevere hat, His bootes clasped faire and fetisly. Hise resons he spak ful solempnely, Sownynge alway thencrees of his wynnyng. He wolde the see were kept for any thyng Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle. Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle. This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette; Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette, So estatly was he of his governaunce, With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce. Forsothe, he was a worthy man with-alle, But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.
A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also, That unto logyk hadde longe ygo. As leene was his hors as is a rake, And he nas nat right fat, I undertake, But looked holwe and therto sobrely. Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy, For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice, Ne was so worldly for to have office, For hym was levere have at his beddes heed Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed, Of Aristotle and his plilosophie, Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. But al be that he was a philosophre, Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre; But al that he myghte of his freendes hente, On bookes and his lernynge he it spente, And bisily gan for the soules preye Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye. Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede, Noght o word spak he moore than was neede, And that was seyd in forme and reverence, And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence. Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
A Sergeant of the Lawe, war and wys, That often hadde been at the parvys, Ther was also, ful riche of excellence. Discreet he was, and of greet reverence, — He semed swich, hise wordes weren so wise. Justice he was ful often in assise, By patente, and by pleyn commissioun. For his science, and for his heigh renoun, Of fees and robes hadde he many oon. So greet a purchasour was nowher noon, Al was fee symple to hym in effect, His purchasyng myghte nat been infect. Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas, And yet he semed bisier than he was; In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle, That from the tyme of Kyng William were falle. Therto he koude endite, and make a thyng, Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng. And every statut koude he pleyn by rote. He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale; — Of his array telle I no lenger tale.
A Frankeleyn was in his compaignye; Whit was his berd as is a dayesye. Of his complexioun he was sangwyn. Wel loved he by the morwe a sope in wyn, To lyven in delit was evere his wone; For he was Epicurus owene sone, That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit Was verraily felicitee parfit, An housholdere, and that a greet, was he; Seint Julian was he in his contree. His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon, A bettre envyned man was nowher noon. Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous, Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous, It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke, Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke. After the sondry sesons of the yeer So chaunged he his mete and his soper. Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe, And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe. Wo was his cook, but if his sauce were Poynaunt, and sharp, and redy al his geere. His table dormant in his halle alway Stood redy covered al the longe day. At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire; Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire. An anlaas and a gipser al of silk Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk. A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour, Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour.
An Haberdasshere and a Carpenter, A Webbe, a Dyere, and a Tapycer — And they were clothed alle in o lyveree Of a solempne and a greet fraternitee. Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was, Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras, But al with silver wroght ful clene and weel, Hir girdles and hir pouches everydeel. Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys. Everich for the wisdom that he kan Was shaply for to been an alderman; For catel hadde they ynogh, and rente, And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente — And eles, certeyn, were they to blame! It is ful fair to been ycleped ‘ma Dame,’ And goon to vigilies al bifore, And have a mantel roialliche ybore.
A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones, To boille the chiknes with the marybones, And poudre-marchant tart, and galyngale. Wel koude he knowe a draughte of London ale; He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye, Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye. But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me, That on his shyne a mormal hadde he! For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
A Shipman was ther, wonynge fer by weste; For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe. He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe, In a gowne of faldyng to the knee. A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun. The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun, And certeinly he was a good felawe. Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe Fro Burdeuxward, whil that the chapman sleep. Of nyce conscience took he no keep; If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond, By water he sente hem hoom to every lond. But of his craft, to rekene wel his tydes, His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides, His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage, Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage. Hardy he was, and wys to undertake, With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake; He knew alle the havenes as they were From Gootlond to the Cape of Fynystere, And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne. His barge yeleped was the Maudelayne.
With us ther was a Doctour of Phisik; In al this world ne was ther noon hym lik, To speke of phisik and of surgerye; For he was grounded in astronomye. He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel In houres, by his magyk natureel. Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent Of hisc ymages for his pacient. He knew the cause of everich maladye, Were it of hoot or coold, or moyste, or drye, And where they engendred, and of what humour. He was a verray parfit praktisour; The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote, Anon he yaf the sike man his boote. Ful redy hadde he hise apothecaries To sende him drogges and his letuaries, For ech of hem made oother for to wynne, Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne. Wel knew he the olde Esculapius, And Deyscorides and eek Rufus, Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen, Serapioun, Razis, and Avycen, Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn, Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn. Of his diete mesurable was he, For it was of no superfluitee, But of greet norissyng, and digestible. His studie was but litel on the Bible. In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al, Lyned with taffata and with sendal — And yet he was but esy of dispence; He kepte that he wan in pestilence. For gold in phisik is a cordial, Therfore he lovede gold in special.
A good wif was ther, of biside Bathe, He was to synful man nat despitous, Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne, But in his techyng discreet and benygne; To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse, By good ensample, this was his bisynesse. But it were any persone obstinat, What so he were, of heigh or lough estat, Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys. A bettre preest, I trowe, that nowher noon ys. He waited after no pompe and reverence, Ne maked him a spiced conscience, But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve He taughte, but first he folwed it hym-selve.
With hym ther was a Plowman, was his brother, That hadde ylad of dong ful many a fother. A trewe swybnker and a good was he, Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee. God loved he best with al his hoole herte At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte, And thanne his neighebore right as hym-selve; He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve, For Cristes sake, for every povre wight Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght. Hise tithes payed he ful faire and wel, Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel. In a tabard he rood, upon a mere.
Ther was also a Reve and a Millere, A Somnour and a Pardoner also, A Maunciple, and myself, ther were namo.
The Millere was a stout carl for the nones, Ful byg he was of brawn and eek of bones — That proved wel, for overal ther he cam At wrastlyng he wolde have alwey the ram. He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre, Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre, Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed. His berd as any sowe or fox was reed, And therto brood, as though it were a spade. Upon the cop right of his nose he hade A werte, and thereon stood a toft of heres Reed as the brustles of a sowes eres; Hise nosethirles blake were and wyde. A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde. His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys, He was a janglere and a goliardeys, And that was moost of synne and harlotries. Wel koude he stelen corn, and tollen thries, And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee. A whit cote and a blew hood wered he. A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne, And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.
A gentil Maunciple was ther of a temple, Of which achatours myghte take exemple For to be wise in byynge of vitaille; For wheither that he payde or took by taille, Algate he wayted so in his achaat That he was ay biforn, and in good staat. Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace, That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace The wisdom of an heep of lerned men? Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten, That weren of lawe expert and curious, Of whiche ther weren a duszeyne in that hous Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond Of any lord that is in Engelond, To maken hym lyve by his propre good, In honour dettelees, but if he were wood; Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire, And able for to helpen al a shire In any caas that myghte falle or happe — And yet this manciple sette hir aller cappe!
The Reve was a sclendre colerik man; His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan, His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn, His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn. Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene, Ylyk a staf, ther was no calf ysene. Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne, Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne. Wel wiste he, by the droghte, and by the reyn, The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn. His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye, His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye, Was hooly in this reves governyng And by his covenant yaf the rekenyng, Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age; Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage. Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne, That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne, They were adrad of hym as of the deeth. His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth, With grene trees shadwed was his place. He koude bettre than his lord purchace. Ful riche he was astored pryvely; His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly To yeve and lene hym of his owene good, And have a thank, and yet a cote and hook. In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster, He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter. This reve sat upon a ful good stot, That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot. A long surcote of pers upon he hade, And by his syde he baar a rusty blade. Of Northfolk was this reve, of which I telle, Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle. Tukked he was, as is a frere, aboute, And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.
A Somonour was ther with us in that place, That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face, For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe. As hoot he was, and lecherous, as a sparwe, With scalled browes blake, and piled berd, Of his visage children were aferd. Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon, Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon, Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte, That hym myghte helpen of his wheldes white, Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes. Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes, And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood; Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood. And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn, Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn. A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre, That he had lerned out of som decree — No wonder is, he herde it al the day, And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay Kan clepen ‘watte’ as wel as kan the Pope. But who so koude in oother thyng hym grope, Thanne hadde he spent al his plilosophie; Ay ‘questio quid juris’ wolde he crie. He was a gentil harlot and a kynde, A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde; He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn, A good felawe to have his concubyn A twelf-monthe, and excuse hym atte fulle — Ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle. And if he foond owher a good felawe, He wolde techen him to have noon awe, In swich caas, of the erchedekeness curs, But if a mannes soule were in his purs; For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be, ‘Purs is the erchedekenes helle,’ seyde he. But wel I woot he lyed right in dede; Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede — For curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savith — And also war him of a Significavit. In daunger hadde he at his owene gise The yonge girles of the diocise, And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed. A gerland hadde he set upon his heed As greet as it were for an ale-stake; A bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.
With hym ther rood a gentil Pardoner Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer, That streight was comen fro the court of Rome. Ful loude he soong ‘com hider, love, to me.’ This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun, Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun. This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex, But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex; By ounces henge hise lokkes that he hadde, And therwith he hise shuldres overspradde; But thynne it lay by colpons oon and oon. But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon, For it was trussed up in his walet. Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet, Dischevele, save his cappe, he rood al bare. Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare. A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe. His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe Bret-ful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot. A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot, No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have, As smothe it was as it were late shave, I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare. But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware, Ne was ther swich another Pardoner; For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer, Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl; He seyde, he hadde a gobet of the seyl That Seinte Peter hadde, whan that he wente Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente. He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones, And in a glas he hadde pigges bones; But with thise relikes whan that he fond A povre persoun dwellyng up-on-lond, Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye Than that the person gat in monthes tweye, And thus with feyned flaterye and japes He made the persoun and the peple his apes. But trewely to tellen atte laste, He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste; Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie, But alderbest he song an offertorie, For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge; To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude, Therfore he song the murierly and loude.
Now have I toold you shortly in a clause Thestaat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause Why that assembled was this compaignye In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye, That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle. But now is tyme to yow for to telle How that we baren us that ilke nyght Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght, And after wol I telle of our viage, And all the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage. But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye, That ye narette it nat my vileynye, Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere, Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely. For this ye knowen also wel as I, Who-so shal telle a tale after a man, He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan Everich a word, if it be in his charge, Al speke he never so rudeliche or large; Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe, Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe. 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 kan hym rede, The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede. Also I prey yow to foryeve it me, Al have I nat set folk in hir degree Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde — My wit is short, ye may wel understonde. Greet chiere made oure hoost us everichon, And to the soper sette he us’anon. He served us with vitaille at the beste; Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us lestel A semely man oure Hooste was withalle For to been a marchal in an halle. A large man he was, with eyen stepe, A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe; Boold of his speche, and wys, and well ytaught, And of manhod hym lakkede right naught. Eek therto he was right a myrie man; And after soper pleyen he bigan, And spak of myrthe amonges othere thynges, Whan that we hadde maad our rekenynges, And seyde thus: “Now lordynges, trewely, Ye been to me right welcome hertely, For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye, I saugh nat this yeer so myrie a compaignye Atones in this herberwe, as is now. Fayn wolde I doon yow myrthe, wiste I how — And of a myrthe I am right now bythoght To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght. Ye goon to Caunterbury, God yow speede — The blisful martir quite yow youre meede — And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye, Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye, For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon To ride by the weye doumb as stoon, And therfore wol I maken yow disport, As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort; And if yow liketh alle by oon assent For to stonden at my juggement, And for to werken as I shal yow seye, To-morwe, whan ye riden by the weye, Now, by my fader soule that is deed, But ye be myrie I wol yeve yow myn heed! Hoold up youre hond, withouten moore speche.” Oure conseil was nat longe for to seche — Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys — And graunted hym, withouten moore avys, And bad him seye his voirdit, as hym leste. “Lordynges,” quod he, “now herkneth for the beste, But taak it nought, I prey yow, in desdeyn. This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn, That ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye, In this viage shal telle tales tweye, To Caunterburyward I mene it so, And homward he shal tellen othere two, Of aventures that whilom han bifalle. And which of yow that bereth hym best of alle — That is to seyn, that telleth in this caas Tales of best sentence and moost solaas — Shal have a soper at oure aller cost, Heere in this place, sittynge by this post, Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury. And for to make yow the moore mury I wol my-selven goodly with yow ryde Right at myn owene cost, and be youre gyde. And who so wole my juggement withseye Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye. And if ye vouchesauf that it be so, Tel me anon, withouten wordes mo, And I wol erly shape me therfore.” This thyng was graunted, and oure othes swore With ful gald herte, and preyden hym also That he wolde vouchesauf for to do so, And that he wolde been oure governour, And of our tales juge and reportour, And sette a soper at a certeyn pris, And we wol reuled been at his devys In heigh and lough; and thus by oon assent We been acorded to his juggement; And therupon the wyn was fet anon, We dronken, and to reste wente echon Withouten any lenger taryynge.
Amorwe, whan that day bigan to sprynge, Up roos oure Hoost, and was oure aller cok, And gadrede us to gidre, alle in a flok, And forth we riden, a litel moore than paas, Unto the wateryng of Seint Thomas. And there oure Hoost bigan his hors areste, And seyde, “Lordynges, herkneth if yow leste, Ye woot youre foreward, and I it yow recorde; If even-song and morwe-song accorde, Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale. As evere mote I drynke wyn or ale, Whoso be rebel to my juggement Shal paye for al that by the wey is spent. Now draweth cut, er that we ferrer twynne, He which that hath the shorteste shal bigynne. Sire knyght,” quod he, “my mayster and my lord, Now draweth cut, for that is myn accord, Cometh neer,” quod he, “my lady Prioresse, And ye, Sir Clerk, lat be your shamefastnesse, Ne studieth noght; ley hond to, every man.” Anon to drawen every wight bigan, And shortly for to tellen as it was, Were it by aventure, or sort, or cas, The sothe is this, the cut fil to the knyght, Of which ful blithe and glad was every wyght. And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun, By foreward and by composicioun, — As ye han herd, what nedeth wordes mo? And whan this goode man saugh that it was so, As he that wys was and obedient To kepe his foreward by his free assent, He seyde, “Syn I shal bigynne the game, What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name! Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.”
And with that word we ryden forth oure weye, And he bigan with right a myrie cheere His tale anon, and seyde in this manere.
Iamque domos patrias Scithice post aspera gentis prelia laurigero &c. Thebaid, xii, 519.
Heere bigynneth the knyghtes tale.
Whilom, as olde stories tellen us, Ther was a duc that highte Theseus; Of Atthenes he was lord and governour, That gretter was ther noon under the sonne. Ful many a riche contree hadde he wonne, What with his wysdom and his chivalrie; He conquered al the regne of Femenye, That whilom was ycleped Scithia, And weddede the queene Ypolita, And broghte hir hoom with hym in his contree, With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee, And eek hir yonge suster Emelye. And thus with victorie and with melodye Lete I this noble duk to Atthenes ryde, And al his hoost, in armes hym bisyde. And certes, if it nere to long to heere, I wolde have toold yow fully the manere How wonnen was the regne of Femenye By Theseus, and by his chivalrye, And of the grete bataille for the nones Bitwixen Atthenes and Amazones, And how asseged was Ypolita The faire hardy queene of Scithia, And of the feste that was at hir weddynge, And of the tempest at hir hoom-comynge; But al the thyng I moot as now forbere, I have, God woot, a large feeld to ere, And wayke been the oxen in my plough, The remenant of the tale is long ynough. I wol nat letten eek noon of this route, Lat every felawe telle his tale aboute, And lat se now who shal the soper wynne; — And ther I lefte, I wol ayeyn bigynne.
This duc of whom I make mencioun, Whan he was come almoost unto the toun, In al his wele and in his mooste pride, He was war, as he caste his eye aside, Where that ther kneled in the hye weye A compaignye of ladyes, tweye and tweye, Ech after oother, clad in clothes blake; But swich a cry and swich a wo they make, That in this world nys creature lyvynge That herde swich another waymentynge! And of this cry they nolde nevere stenten, Til they the reynes of his brydel henten. “What folk been ye, that at myn hom-comynge Perturben so my feste with criynge?” Quod Theseus, “hav ye so greet envye Of myn honour, that thus compleyne and crye? Or who hath yow mysboden or offended? And telleth me if it may been amended, And why that ye been clothed thus in blak?” The eldeste lady of hem alle spak — Whan she hadde swowned with a deedly cheere, That it was routhe for to seen and heere — And seyde, “Lord, to whom Fortune hath yeven Victorie, and as a conqueror to lyven, Nat greveth us youre glorie and youre honour, But we biseken mercy and socour. Have mercy on oure wo and oure distresse, Som drope of pitee thurgh thy gentillesse Upon us wrecched wommen lat thou falle; For certes, lord, ther is noon of us alle That she ne hath been a duchesse or a queene. Now be we caytyves, as it is wel seene — Thanked be Fortune, and hir false wheel, That noon estat assureth to be weel. And certes, lord, to abyden youre presence, Heere in the temple of the goddesse Clemence We han ben waitynge al this fourtenyght; Now help us, lord, sith it is in thy myght! I wrecche, which that wepe and waille thus, Was whilom wyf to kyng Cappaneus, That starf at Thebes, cursed be that day! And alle we that been in this array And maken al this lamentacioun, We losten alle oure housbondes at that toun, Whil that the seege theraboute lay. And yet now the olde Creon, weylaway! That lord is now of Thebes the Citee, Fulfild of ire and of iniquitee, He, for despit and for his tirannye, To do the dede bodyes vileynye, Of alle oure lordes, whiche that been slawe, He hath alle the bodyes on an heep ydrawe, And wol nat suffren hem, by noon assent, Neither to been yburyed nor ybrent, But maketh houndes ete hem in despit.” And with that word, withouten moore respit, They fillen gruf, and criden pitously, “Have on us wrecched wommen som mercy And lat oure sorwe synken in thyn herte.”
This gentil duk doun from his courser sterte With herte pitous, whan he herde hem speke; Hym thoughte that his herte wolde breke, Whan he saugh hem so pitous and so maat, That whilom weren of so greet estaat. And in his armes he hem alle up hente, And hem conforteth in ful good entente, And swoor his ooth, as he was trewe knyght, He solde doon so ferforthyl his myght Upon the tiraunt Creon hem to wreke, That all the peple of Grece sholde speke How Creon was of Theseus yserved, As he that hadde his deeth ful wel deserved. And right anoon, withouten moore abood, His baner he desplayeth, and forth rood To Thebesward, and al his hoost biside, No neer Atthenes wolde he go ne ride, Ne take his ese fully half a day, But onward on his wey that nyght he lay — And sente anon Ypolita the queene, And Emelye, hir yonge suster sheene, Unto the toun of Atthenes to dwelle — And forth he rit; ther is namoore to telle. The rede statue of Mars, with spere and targe, So shyneth, in his white baner large, That alle the feeldes gliteren up and doun, And by his baner gorn is his penoun Of gold ful riche, in which ther was ybete The Mynotaur which that he slough in Crete. Thus rit this duc, thus rit this conquerour, And in his hoost of chivalrie the flour, Til that he cam to Thebes, and alighte Faire in a feeld, ther as he thoughte fighte. But shortly for to speken of this thyng, With Creon, which that was of Thebes kyng, He faught, and slough hym manly as a knyght In pleyn bataille, and putte the folk to flyght, And by assaut he wan the citee after, And rente adoun bothe wall, and sparre, and rafter. And to the ladyes he sestored agayn The bones of hir housbondes that weren slayn, To doon obsequies as was tho the gyse. But it were al to longe for to devyse The grete clamour and the waymentynge That the ladyes made at the brennynge Of the bodies, and the grete honour That Theseus, the noble conquerour, Dooth to the ladyes, whan they from hym wente; But shortly for to telle is myn entente.
Whan that his worthy duc, this Theseus, Hath Creon slayn, and wonne Thebes thus, Stille in that feeld he took al nyght his reste And dide with al the contree as hym leste. To ransake in the taas of bodyes dede, Hem for to strepe of harneys and of wede, The pilours diden bisynesse and cure, After the bataille and disconfiture;
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