The General Prologue
The General Prologue
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,(5)
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye(10)
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)—
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire’s end(15)
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weak.
Befell that, in that season, on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard, as I lay(20)
Ready to start upon my pilgrimage
To Canterbury, full of devout courage,
There came at nightfall to that hostelry
Some nine and twenty in a company
Of sundry persons who had chanced to fall(25)
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all
That toward Canterbury town would ride.
The rooms and stables spacious were and wide,
And well we there were eased, and of the best.
And briefly, when the sun had gone to rest,(30)
So had I spoken with them, every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon,
And made agreement that we’d early rise
To take our way, as to you I’ll devise.
But nonetheless, whilst I have time and space,(35)
Before yet farther in this tale I pace,
It seems to me accordant with reason
To inform you of the state of every one
Of all of these, as it appeared to me,
And who they were, and what was their degree,(40)
And also what array they all were in;
And with a knight thus will I first begin.
Who, from the moment that he first began
To ride about the world, loved chivalry,
Truth, honour, freedom and all courtesy.
At Alexandria, he, when it was won;(5)
Of mortal battles he had fought fifteen,
And he’d fought for our faith at Tramissene
And always won he sovereign fame for prize.
Though so illustrious, he was very wise
And bore himself as meekly as a maid.(10)
He never yet had any vileness said,
In all his life, to whatsoever wight.
He was a truly perfect, gentle knight.
But now, to tell you all of his array,
His steeds were good, but yet he was not gay.(15)
Of simple fustian wore he a jupon
Sadly discoloured by his habergeon;
For he had lately come from his voyage
And now was going on this pilgrimage.
A lover and a lusty bachelor,
With locks well curled, as if they’d laid in press.
Some twenty years of age he was, I guess.
In stature he was of an average length,(5)
Wondrously active, aye, and great of strength.
He’d ridden sometime with the cavalry
In Flanders, in Artois, and Picardy,
And borne him well within that little space
In hope to win thereby his lady’s grace.(10)
Embroidered was he, like a meadow bed
All full of freshest flowers, white and red.
Singing he was, or fluting, all the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his gown, with sleeves both long and wide.(15)
Well could he sit on horse, and fairly ride.
He could make songs and words thereto indite,
Joust, and dance too, as well as sketch and write.
So hot he loved that, while night told her tale,
He slept no more than does a nightingale.(20)
Courteous he, and humble, willing and able,
And carved before his father at the table.
At that time, for he chose to travel so;
And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows bright and keen
Under his belt he bore right carefully(5)
(Well could he keep his tackle yeomanly:
His arrows had no draggled feathers low),
And in his hand he bore a mighty bow.
A cropped head had he and a sun-browned face.
Of woodcraft knew he all the useful ways.(10)
Upon his arm he bore a bracer gay,
And at one side a sword and buckler, yea,
And at the other side a dagger bright,
Well sheathed and sharp as spear point in the light;
On breast a Christopher of silver sheen.(15)
He bore a horn in baldric all of green;
A forester he truly was, I guess.
Who, in her smiling, modest was and coy;
Her greatest oath was but “By Saint Eloy!”
And she was known as Madam Eglantine.
Full well she sang the services divine(5)
Intoning through her nose, becomingly;
And fair she spoke her French, and fluently.
At table she had been well taught withal,
And never from her lips let morsels fall,
Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate(10)
With so much care the food upon her plate
That never driblet fell upon her breast.
In courtesy she had delight and zest.
Her upper lip was always wiped so clean
That in her cup was no iota seen(15)
Of grease, when she had drunk her draught of wine.
And certainly she was of great disport
And full pleasant, and amiable of port
And went to many pains to put on cheer
Of court, and very dignified appear,(20)
And to be thought worthy of reverence.
But, to say something of her moral sense,
She was so charitable and piteous
That she would weep if she but saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, though it were dead or bled.(25)
She had some little dogs, too, that she fed
On roasted flesh, or milk and fine white bread.
But sore she’d weep if one of them were dead,
Or if men smote it with a rod to smart:
For pity ruled her, and her tender heart.(30)
Full properly her wimple pleated was.
Her nose was straight, her eyes as grey as glass,
Her mouth full small, and also soft and red;
But certainly she had a fair forehead;
It was almost a full span broad, I own,(35)
For, truth to tell, she was not undergrown.
Full stylish was her cloak, I was aware.
Of coral small about her arm she’d bear
A string of beads, gauded all round with green;
And from there hung a brooch of golden sheen(40)
On which there was first written a crowned “A,”
And under, Amor Vincit Omnia.
An outrider, who loved his venery;
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a blooded horse had he in stable:
And when he rode men might his bridle hear(5)
A-jingling in the whistling wind as clear,
Aye, and as loud as does the chapel bell
Where this brave monk was master of the cell.
The rule of Maurice or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was old and somewhat strict,(10)
This said monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
He cared not for that text a clean-plucked hen
Which holds that hunters are not holy men
Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless,(15)
Is like unto a fish that’s waterless;
That is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
But this same text he held not worth an oyster;
And I said his opinion was right good.
What? Should he study as a madman would(20)
Upon a book in cloister cell? Or yet
Go labour with his hands and swink and sweat,
As Austin bids? How shall the world be served?
Let Austin have his swink to him reserved!
Therefore he was a rider day and night;(25)
Greyhounds he had, as swift as fowl in flight.
Since riding and the hunting of the hare
Were all his love, for no cost would he spare.
I saw his sleeves were lined around the hand
With fur of grey, the finest in the land;(30)
Also, to fasten hood beneath his chin,
He had of good wrought gold a curious pin:
A love-knot in the larger end there was.
His head was bald and shone like any glass
And smooth as one anointed was his face.(35)
Fat was this lord, he stood in goodly case.
His bulging eyes he rolled about, and hot
They gleamed, and red, like fire beneath a pot;
His boots were soft; his horse of great estate.
Now certainly he was a fine prelate:(40)
He was not pale as some poor wasted ghost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.
A limiter, a very worthy man.
In all the Orders Four is none that can
Equal his friendliness and fair language.
He had arranged full many a marriage(5)
Of young women, and this at his own cost.
Unto his order he was a noble post.
Well liked by all and intimate was he
With franklins everywhere in his country,
And with the worthy women of the town.(10)
For very sweetly did he hear confession
And pleasant also was his absolution.
He was an easy man to give penance
When knowing he should gain a good pittance;
For to a begging friar, money given(15)
Is sign that any man has been well shriven.
For if one gave (he dared to boast of this),
He took the man’s repentance not amiss.
For many a man there is so hard of heart
He cannot weep however pains may smart.(20)
Therefore, instead of weeping and of prayer,
Men ought to give some silver to the poor freres.
His tippet was stuck always full of knives
And pins, to give to young and pleasing wives.
And certainly he kept a merry note:(25)
Well could he sing and play upon the rote.
At balladry he bore the prize away.
His throat was white as lily of the May;
Yet strong he was as any champion.
In towns he knew the taverns, every one,(30)
And every host and gay barmaid also
Better than beggars and lepers did he know.
For unto no such solid man as he
Accorded it, as far as he could see,
To have sick lepers for acquaintances.(35)
There is no honest advantageousness
In dealing with such poverty-stricken curs;
It’s with the rich and with big victuallers.
And so, wherever profit might arise,
Courteous he was and humble in men’s eyes.(40)
There was no other man so virtuous.
He was the finest beggar of his house;
A certain district being farmed to him,
None of his brethren dared approach its rim;
For though a widow had no shoes to show,(45)
So pleasant was his In principio,
He always got a farthing ere he went.
He lived by pickings, it is evident.
And he could romp as well as any whelp.
For he was not like a cloisterer,(50)
With threadbare cope as is the poor scholar,
But he was like a lord or like a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi-cope,
That rounded like a bell, as you may guess.
He lisped a little, out of wantonness,(55)
To make his English soft upon his tongue;
And in his harping, after he had sung,
His two eyes twinkled in his head as bright
As do the stars within the frosty night.
This worthy limiter was named Hubert.
In motley gown, and high on horse he sat,
Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat;
His boots were fastened rather elegantly.
His spoke his notions out right pompously,(5)
Stressing the times when he had won, not lost.
He would the sea were held at any cost
Across from Middleburgh to Orwell town.
At money-changing he could make a crown.
This worthy man kept all his wits well set;(10)
There was no one could say he was in debt,
So well he governed all his trade affairs
With bargains and with borrowings and with shares.
Indeed, he was a worthy man withal,
But, sooth to say, his name I can’t recall.(15)
Who’d turned to getting knowledge, long ago.
As meagre was his horse as is a rake,
Nor he himself too fat, I’ll undertake,
But he looked hollow and went soberly.(5)
Right threadbare was his overcoat, for he
Had got him yet no churchly benefice,
Nor was so worldly as to gain office.
For he would rather have at his bed’s head
Some twenty books, all bound in black and red,(10)
Of Aristotle and his philosophy
Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery.
Yet, and for all he was philosopher,
He had but little gold within his coffer;
But all that he might borrow from a friend(15)
On books and learning he would swiftly spend,
And then he’d pray right busily for the souls
Of those who gave him wherewithal for schools.
Of study took he utmost care and heed.
Not one word spoke he more than was his need;(20)
And that was said in fullest reverence
And short and quick and full of high good sense.
Pregnant of moral virtue was his speech;
And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
The Five Guildsmen
An arras-maker, dyer, and weaver
Were with us, clothed in similar livery,
All of one sober, great fraternity.
Their gear was new and well adorned it was;(5)
Their weapons were not cheaply trimmed with brass,
But all with silver; chastely made and well
Their girdles and their pouches too, I tell.
Each man of them appeared a proper burgess
To sit in guildhall on a high dais.(10)
And each of them, for wisdom he could span,
Was fitted to have been an alderman;
For chattels they’d enough, and, too, of rent;
To which their good wives gave a free assent,
Or else for certain they had been to blame.(15)
It’s good to hear “Madam” before one’s name,
And go to church when all the world may see,
Having one’s mantle borne right royally.
To boil the chickens with the marrow-bones,
And flavour tartly and with galingale.
Well could he tell a draught of London ale.
And he could roast and seethe and broil and fry,(5)
And make a good thick soup, and bake a pie.
But very ill it was, it seemed to me,
That on his shin a deadly sore had he;
For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with the best.
For aught I know, he was of Dartmouth town.
He sadly rode a hackney, in a gown,
Of thick rough cloth falling to the knee.
A dagger hanging on a cord had he(5)
About his neck, and under arm, and down.
The summer’s heat had burned his visage brown;
And certainly he was a good fellow.
Full many a draught of wine he’d drawn, I trow,
Of Bordeaux vintage, while the trader slept.(10)
Nice conscience was a thing he never kept.
If that he fought and got the upper hand,
By water he sent them home to every land.
But as for craft, to reckon well his tides,
His currents and the dangerous watersides,(15)
His harbours, and his moon, his pilotage,
There was none such from Hull to far Carthage.
Hardy, and wise in all things undertaken,
By many a tempest had his beard been shaken.
He knew well all the havens, as they were,(20)
From Gottland to the Cape of Finisterre,
And every creek in Brittany and Spain;
His vessel had been christened Madeleine.
In all this world was none like him to pick
For talk of medicine and surgery;
For he was grounded in astronomy.
He watched over his patients one and all(5)
By hours of his magic natural.
He knew the cause of every malady,
Were it of hot or cold, of moist or dry,
And where engendered, and of what humour;
He was a very good practitioner.(10)
The cause being known, down to the deepest root,
Anon he gave to the sick man his boot.
Ready he was, with his apothecaries,
To send him drugs and all electuaries;
By mutual aid much gold they’d always won—(15)
Their friendship was a thing not new begun.
In diet he was measured as could be,
Including naught of superfluity,
But nourishing and easy to digest.
He rarely heeds what Scripture might suggest.(20)
In blue and scarlet he went clad, withal,
Lined with a taffeta and with sendal;
And yet he was right careful of expense;
He kept the gold he gained from pestilence.
For gold in physic is a fine cordial,(25)
And therefore loved he gold exceeding all.
The Wife of Bath
Who—sad to say—was deaf in either ear.
At making cloth she had so great a bent
She bettered those of Ypres and even of Ghent.
Her kerchiefs were of finest weave and ground;(5)
I dare swear that they weighed a full ten pound
Which, of a Sunday, she wore on her head.
Her hose were of the choicest scarlet red,
Close gartered, and her shoes were soft and new.
Bold was her face, and fair, and red of hue.(10)
She’d been respectable throughout her life,
With five churched husbands bringing joy and strife,
Not counting other company in youth;
But thereof there’s no need to speak, in truth.
Three times she’d journeyed to Jerusalem;(15)
And many a foreign stream she’d had to stem;
At Rome she’d been, and she’d been in Boulogne,
In Spain at Santiago, and at Cologne.
She could tell much of wandering by the way:
Gap-toothed was she, it is no lie to say.(20)
Upon an ambler easily she sat,
Well wimpled, aye, and over all a hat
As broad as is a buckler or a targe,
A rug was tucked around her buttocks large,
And on her feet a pair of spurs quite sharp.(25)
In company well could she laugh and carp.
The remedies of love she knew, perchance,
For of that art she’d learned the old, old dance.
A country parson, poor, I warrant you;
But rich he was in holy thought and work.
He was a learned man also, a clerk,
Who Christ’s own gospel truly sought to preach;(5)
Devoutly his parishioners would he teach.
Benign he was and wondrous diligent.
Patient in adverse times and well content,
As he was oft times proven; always blithe,
He was right loath to curse to get a tithe,(10)
But rather would he give, in case of doubt,
Unto those poor parishioners about,
Part of his income, even of his goods.
Enough with little, coloured all his moods.
Wide was his parish, houses far asunder,(15)
But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,
In sickness, or in sin, or any state,
To visit to the farthest, small and great,
Going afoot, and in his hand a stave.
This fine example to his flock he gave,(20)
That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;
Out of the gospel then that text he caught,
And this figure he added thereunto—
That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?
For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,(25)
What wonder if a layman yield to lust?
And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
A shitty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.
Well ought a priest example good to give,
By his own cleanness, how his flock should live.(30)
He never let his benefice for hire,
Leaving his flock to flounder in the mire,
And ran to London, up to old Saint Paul’s
To get himself a chantry there for souls,
But dwelt at home and kept so well the fold(35)
That never wolf could make his plans miscarry;
He was a shepherd and not mercenary.
And holy though he was, and virtuous,
To sinners he was not impetuous,
Nor haughty in his speech, nor too divine,(40)
But in all teaching prudent and benign.
To lead folk into Heaven but by stress
Of good example was his busyness.
But if some sinful one proved obstinate,
Be who it might, of high or low estate,(45)
Him he reproved, and sharply, as I know.
There is nowhere a better priest, I trow.
He had no thirst for pomp or reverence,
Nor made himself a special, spiced conscience,
But Christ’s own lore, and His apostles’ twelve(50)
He taught, but first he followed it himself.
That many a load of dung, and many another
Had scattered, for a good true toiler, he,
Living in peace and perfect charity.
He loved God most, and that with his whole heart(5)
At all times, though he played or plied his art
And next, his neighbour, even as himself.
He’d thresh and dig, with never thought of pelf,
For Christ’s own sake, for every poor wight
All without pay, if it lay in his might.
He paid his taxes, fully, fairly, well,
Both by his own toil and by stuff he’d sell.
In a tabard he rode upon a mare.
Hardy and big of brawn and big of bone;
Which was well proved, for when he went on lam
At wrestling, never failed he of the ram.
He was a chunky fellow, broad of build;(5)
He’d heave a door from hinges if he willed,
Or break it through, by running, with his head.
His beard, as any sow or fox, was red,
And broad it was as if it were a spade.
Upon the coping of his nose he had(10)
A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs,
Red as the bristles in an old sow’s ears;
His nostrils they were black and very wide.
A sword and buckler bore he by his side.
His mouth was like a furnace door for size.(15)
He was a jester and could poetize,
But mostly all of sin and ribaldries.
He could steal corn and full thrice charge his fees;
And yet he had a thumb of gold, begad.
A white coat and blue hood he wore, this lad.(20)
A bagpipe he could blow well, be it known,
And with that same he brought us out of town.
To whom all buyers might quite well resort
To learn the art of buying food and drink;
For whether he paid cash or not, I think
That he so knew the markets, when to buy,(5)
He never found himself left high and dry.
Now is it not of God a full fair grace
That such a vulgar man has wit to pace
The wisdom of a crowd of learned men?
Of masters had he more than three times ten,(10)
Who were in law expert and curious;
Whereof there were a dozen in that house
Fit to be stewards of both rent and land
Of any lord in England who would stand
Upon his own and live in manner good,(15)
In honour, debtless (save his head were wood),
Or live as frugally as he might desire;
These men were able to have helped a shire
In any case that ever might befall;
And yet this manciple outguessed them all.(20)
Who shaved his beard as close as razor can.
His hair was cut round even with his ears;
His top was tonsured like a pulpiteer’s.
Long were his legs, and they were very lean,(5)
And like a staff, with no calf to be seen.
Well could he manage granary and bin,
No auditor could ever on him win.
He could foretell, by drought and by the rain,
The yielding of his seed and of his grain.(10)
His lord’s sheep and his oxen and his dairy,
His swine and horses, all his stores, his poultry,
Were wholly in this steward’s managing;
And, by agreement, he’d made reckoning
Since his young lord of age was twenty years;(15)
Yet no man ever found him in arrears.
There was no agent, hind, or herd who’d cheat
But he knew well his cunning and deceit;
They were afraid of him as of the death.
His cottage was a good one, on a heath;(20)
By green trees shaded with this dwelling-place.
Much better than his lord could he purchase.
Right rich he was in his own private right,
Seeing he’d pleased his lord, by day or night,
By giving him, or lending, of his goods,(25)
And so got thanked—but yet got coats and hoods.
In youth he’d learned a good trade, and had been
A carpenter, as fine as could be seen.
This steward sat a horse that well could trot,
And was all dapple-grey, and was named Scot.(30)
A long surcoat of blue did he parade,
And at his side he bore a rusty blade.
Of Norfolk was this reeve of whom I tell,
From near a town that men call Badeswell.
Bundled he was like friar from chin to croup,(35)
And ever he rode hindmost of our troop.
Who had a fiery-red, cherubic face,
For eczema he had; his eyes were narrow.
As hot he was, and lecherous, as a sparrow;
With black and scabby brows and scanty beard,(5)
He had a face that little children feared.
There was no mercury, sulphur, or litharge,
No borax, ceruse, tartar could discharge,
Nor ointment that could cleanse enough, or bite,
To free him of his boils and pimples white,(10)
Nor of the bosses resting on his cheeks.
Well loved he garlic, onions, aye and leeks,
And drinking of strong wine as red as blood.
Then would he talk and shout as madman would.
And when a deal of wine he’d poured within,(15)
Then would he utter no word save Latin.
Some phrases had he learned, say two or three,
Which he had garnered out of some decree;
No wonder, for he’d heard it all the day;
And all you know right well that even a jay(20)
Can call out “Wat” as well as can the pope.
But when, for aught else, into him you’d grope,
’Twas found he’d spent his whole philosophy;
Just “Questio quid juris” would he cry.
He was a noble rascal, and a kind;(25)
A better comrade ’twould be hard to find.
Why, he would suffer, for a quart of wine,
Some good fellow to have his concubine
A twelve-month, and excuse him to the full
(Between ourselves, though, he could pluck a gull).(30)
Straight from the court of Rome had journeyed he.
Loudly he sang “Come hither, love, to me,”
The summoner joining with a burden round;
Was never horn of half so great a sound.(5)
This pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
But lank it hung as does a strike of flax;
In wisps hung down such locks as he’d on head,
And with them he his shoulders overspread;
But thin they dropped, and stringy, one by one.(10)
But as to hood, for sport of it, he’d none,
Though it was packed in wallet all the while.
It seemed to him he went in latest style,
Dishevelled, save for cap, his head all bare.
His wallet lay before him in his lap,(15)
Stuffed full of pardons brought from Rome all hot.
A voice he had that bleated like a goat.
No beard had he, nor ever should he have,
For smooth his face as he’d just had a shave;
I think he was a gelding or a mare.(20)
But in his craft, from Berwick unto Ware,
Was no such pardoner in any place.
For in his bag he had a pillowcase
The which, he said, was Our True Lady’s veil:
He said he had a piece of the very sail(25)
That good Saint Peter had, what time he went
Upon the sea, till Jesus changed his bent.
He had a latten cross set full of stones,
And in a bottle had he some pig’s bones.
But with these relics, when he came upon(30)
Some simple parson, then this paragon
In that one day more money stood to gain
Than the poor dupe in two months could attain.
And thus, with flattery and suchlike japes,
He made the parson and the rest his apes.(35)
But yet, to tell the whole truth at the last,
He was, in church, a fine ecclesiast.
Well could he read a lesson or a story,
But best of all he sang an offertory;
For well he knew that when that song was sung,(40)
Then might he preach, and all with polished tongue,
To win some silver, as he right well could;
Therefore he sang so merrily and so loud.
Now have I told you briefly, in a clause,
The state, the array, the number, and the cause(45)
Of the assembling of this company.