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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

From Prologue to the ‘Canterbury Tales’

By Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340–1400)

(See full text.)

WHEN that Aprílè with his showers swoot

The drought of March hath piercèd to the root,

And bathèd every vein in such liqoúr

Of which virtue engendered is the flower;

When Zephyrús eke with his sweetè breath

Inspirèd hath in every holt and heath

The tender croppès, and the youngè sun

Hath in the Ram his halfè course yrun,

And smallè fowlès maken melody,

That sleepen all the night with open eye,—

So pricketh hem natúre in hir couráges—

Then longen folk to go on pilgrimáges,

And palmers for to seeken strangè strands,

To fernè hallows couth in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shirès end

Of Engèland, to Canterbury they wend,

The holy blissful martyr for to seek,

That hem hath holpen when that they were sick.

Befell that in that season on a day,

In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay,

Ready to wenden on my pilgrimáge

To Canterbury with full devout couráge,

At night were come into that hostelry

Well nine and twenty in a company

Of sundry folk, by áventúre yfalle

In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,

That toward Canterbury woulden ride.

The chambers and the stables weren wide,

And well we weren easèd at the best.

And shortly, when the sunnè was to rest,

So had I spoken with hem evereach-one,

That I was of hir fellowship anon,

And madè forward early for to rise

To take our way there-as I you devise.

But nathèless, while I have time and space,

Ere that I further in this talè pace,

Me thinketh it accordant to reasón,

To tellen you all the conditìón

Of each of hem, so as it seemèd me,

And which they weren, and of what degree,

And eke in what array that they were in:

And at a knight then will I first begin.


A KNIGHT there was, and that a worthy man,

That from the timè that he first began

To riden out, he lovèd chivalry,

Truth and honoúr, freedom and courtesy.

Full worthy was he in his Lordès war,

And thereto had he ridden, no man farre,

As well in Christendom as in Heatheness,

And ever honoured for his worthiness.

At Alexandr’ he was when it was won;

Full oftè time he had the board begun

Aboven allè natìóns in Prusse;

In Lettowe had he reyséd and in Russe,

No Christian man so oft of his degree;

In Gernade at the siegè had he be

Of Algezir, and ridden in Belmarié.

At Lieys was he, and at Satalié,

When they were won; and in the Greatè Sea

At many a noble army had he be.

At mortal battles had he been fifteen,

And foughten for our faith at Tramassene

In listès thriès, and aye slain his foe.

This ilkè worthy knight had been also

Sometimè with the lord of Palatié,

Again another heathen in Turkéy:

And evermore he had a sovereign pris.

And though that he were worthy he was wise,

And of his port as meek as is a maid.

He never yet no villainy ne said

In all his life unto no manner wight.

He was a very perfect gentle knight.

But for to tellen you of his array,

His horse were good, but he ne was not gay;

Of fustìán he wearèd a gipon,

All besmuterèd with his habergeón,

For he was late ycome from his viáge,

And wentè for to do his pilgrimáge.


There was also a Nun, a PRIORESS,

That of her smiling was full simple and coy;

Her greatest oath was but by Sáìnt Loy;

And she was clepèd Madame Eglentine.

Full well she sang the servicè divine,

Entunéd in her nose full seemèly;

And French she spake full fair and fetisly

After the school of Stratford-at-the-Bow,

For French of Paris was to her unknowe.

At meatè well ytaught was she withal;

She let no morsel from her lippès fall,

Ne wet her fingers in her saucè deep.

Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,

That no dropè ne fell upon her breast.

In courtesy was set full much her lest.

Her over-lippè wipèd she so clean,

That in her cup there was no farthing seen

Of greasè, when she drunken had her draught;

Full seemèly after her meat she raught:

And sickerly she was of great disport,

And full pleasánt and amiable of port,

And painèd her to counterfeiten cheer

Of court, and to be stately of manére,

And to be holden digne of reverénce.

But for to speaken of her consciénce,

She was so charitable and so pitoús,

She wouldè weep if that she saw a mouse

Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled;

Of smallè houndès had she, that she fed

With roasted flesh, or milk and wastel-bread;

But soré wept sh’ if one of hem were dead,

Or if men smote it with a yardè smarte:

And all was conscìénce and tender heart.

Full seemèly her wimple pinchèd was;

Her nosè tretys, her eyen gray as glass,

Her mouth full small and thereto soft and red;

But sickerly she had a fair forehéad;

It was almost a spannè broad, I trow;

For hardily she was not undergrowe.

Full fetis was her cloak, as I was ware.

Of small corál about her arm she bare

A pair of beadès gauded all with green;

And thereon hung a brooch of gold full sheen,

On which ther was first writ a crownèd A,

And after, Amor vincit omnia.

Another Nunnè with her haddè she,

That was her chapèlain, and Priestès three.


A FRERE there was, a wanton and a merry,

A limitoúr, a full solemnè man.

In all the orders four is none that can

So much of dalliance and fair languáge.

He haddè made full many a marrìáge

Of youngè women at his owen cost.

Unto his order he was a noble post;

Full well beloved and fámiliár was he

With franklins over-all in his country,

And eke with worthy women of the town:

For he had powèr of confessìón,

As saidè hímself, more than a curáte,

For of his order he was licentiáte.

Full sweetèly heard he confessìón,

And pleasant was his absolutìón.

He was an easy man to give penánce,

There-as he wist to have a good pittánce;

For unto a poor order for to give

Is signè that a man is well yshrive;

For if he gave, he durstè make avaunt,

He wistè that a man was répentánt.

For many a man so hard is of his heart,

He may not weep although him sorè smart;

Therefore instead of weeping and prayérs,

Men mote give silver to the poorè freres.

His tippet was aye farsèd full of knives

And pinnès, for to given fairè wives;

And certainly he had a merry note:

Well could he sing and playen on a rote;

Of yeddings he bare utterly the pris.

His neckè white was as the fleur-de-lis.

Thereto he strong was as a champión.

He knew the taverns well in every town,

And every hostèlér and tapèstér,

Bet than a lazár or a beggestér;

For unto such a worthy man as he

Accorded nought, as by his faculty,

To have with sickè lazárs ácquaintánce;

It is not honest, it may not advance

For to dealen with no such poraille,

But all with rich and sellers of vitaille.

And o’er-all, there-as profit should arise,

Courteous he was and lowly of servíce.

There was no man nowhere so virtuous;

He was the bestè beggar in his house:

[And gave a certain farmè for the grant,

None of his brethren came there in his haunt.]

For though a widow haddè not a shoe,

So pleasant was his In principio,

Yet would he have a farthing ere he went;

His purchase was well better than his rent.

And rage he could as it were right a whelp:

In lovèdays there could he muchel help;

For there he was not like a cloisterér

With a threadbare cope, as is a poor scholér;

But he was like a master or a pope.

Of double worsted was his semicope,

That rounded as a bell out of the press.

Somewhat he lispèd for his wantonness,

To make his English sweet upon his tongue;

And in his harping, when that he had sung,

His eyen twinkled in his head aright,

As do the starrès in the frosty night.

This worthy limitour was cleped Hubérd.


A CLERK there was of Oxenford also,

That unto logic haddè long ygo.

As leanè was his horse as is a rake,

And he was not right fat, I undertake,

But lookèd hollow, and thereto soberly.

Full threadbare was his overest courtepy,

For he had geten him yet no benefice,

Ne was so worldly for to have office.

For him was liefer have at his bed’s head

Twenty bookès clad in black or red,

Of Aristotle, and his philosophy,

Than robes rich, or fiddle, or gay psaltery.

But albe that he was a philosópher,

Yet haddè he but little gold in coffer,

But all that he might of his friendès hent,

On bookès and his learning he it spent,

And busily gan for the soulès pray

Of hem, that gave him wherewith to scolay;

Of study took he most cure and most heed.

Not one word spake he morè than was need;

And that was said in form and reverence,

And short and quick, and full of high senténce.

Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,

And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.


A SERGEANT OF THE LAWÈ, ware and wise,

That often had ybeen at the Parvys,

There was also, full rich of excellence.

Discreet he was and of great reverence;

He seemèd such, his wordès were so wise;

Justice he was full often in assize,

By patent and by plein commissìón.

For his sciénce, and for his high renown,

Of fees and robès had he many one;

So great a purchaser was nowhere none;

All was fee simple to him in effect,

His purchasíng mightè not be infect.

Nowhere so busy a man as he there nas,

And yet he seemèd busier than he was.

In termès had he case and doomès all,

That from the time of King Williám were fall.

Thereto he could indite, and make a thing,

There couldè no wight pinch at his writíng;

And every statute could he plein by rote.

He rode but homely in a medley coat,

Girt with a ceint of silk, with barrès smale;

Of his array tell I no lenger tale.


A SHIPMAN was there, woning far by West:

For aught I wot, he was of Dartèmouth.

He rode upon a rouncy, as he couth,

In a gown of falding to the knee.

A dagger hanging on a lace had he

About his neck under his arm adown;

The hotè summer had made his hue all brown;

And certainly he was a good felláw.

Full many a draught of wine had he ydrawe

From Bourdeaux-ward, while that the chapman sleep;

Of nicè conscìénce took he no keep.

If that he fought, and had the higher hand,

By water he sent hem home to every land.

But of his craft to reckon well his tides,

His streamès and his dangers him besides,

His harbour and his moon, his lodemanáge,

There was none such from Hullè to Cartháge.

Hardy he was, and wise to undertake;

With many a tempest had his beard been shake.

He knew well all the havens, as they were,

From Gothland to the Cape of Finisterre,

And every creek in Bretagne and in Spain:

His barge yclepèd was the Maudelaine.