The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

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Conclusion of the General Prologue

Now have I told you shortly in a clause
Th' estate, th' array, the number, and eke the cause
Why that assembled was this company
In Southwark at this gentle hostelry,
That highte the Tabard, fast by the Bell.
But now is time to you for to tell
What we did that same night
When we were in that hostelry alight.
And after will I tell of our voyage,
And all the remnant of our pilgrimage.
But first I pray you of your courtesy,
That ye count it not rudeness in me,
Though that I plainly speak in this matter.
To tellen you their wordes and their cheer;
Not though I speak their wordes properly.
For this ye knowen all so well as I,
Whoso shall tell a tale after a man,
He must rehearse, as nigh as ever he can,
Every word, if it be in his charge,
Let him speak ne'er so rudely and so large; 
Or else he must tell his tale untrue,
Or feign things, or find words new.
He may not spare, although he were his brother;
He must as well say one word as another.
Christ spake Himself full broad in Holy Writ,
And well ye wot no villainy is it.
Eke Plato saith, whoso that can him read,
The words must be cousin to the deed.
Also I pray you to forgive it me,
Although I have not set folk in their degree, 
Here in this tale, as that they should stand:
My wit is short, ye may well understand.

Great cheer made our Host us every one,
And to the supper set he us anon:
And served us with victual of the best.
Strong was the wine, and well to drink us pleased. 
A seemly man Our Hoste was withal
For to have been a marshal in an hall.
A large man he was with eyen deep-set, 
A fairer burgess is there none in Cheap:
Bold of his speech, and wise and well y-taught,
And of manhood lacked him right naught.
Eke thereto was he right a merry man,
And after supper playen he began,
And spake of mirth amongst other things,
When that we had made our reckonings
And said thus; "Now, lordinges, truly
Ye be to me welcome right heartily:
For by my troth, if that I shall not lie,
I saw not this year such a company
At once in this inn, am is now. 
Fain would I do you mirth, an if I knew how.
And of a mirth I am right now bethought.
To do you pleasure, and it shall cost nought. 
Ye go to Canterbury; God you speed,
The blissful Martyr grant you what you need;
And well I wot, as ye go by the way, you deserve
Ye intend to talken and to play: 
For truly comfort nor mirth is none
To ride by the way as dumb as stone:
And therefore would I make you disport,
As I said erst, and do you some comfort.
And if you liketh all by one assent
Now for to standen at my judgement,
And for to worken as I shall you say
To-morrow, when ye riden on the way,
Now by my father's soul that is dead,
Unless you are merry, smite off mine head. 
Hold up your hands without more speech.

Our counsel was not longe for to seek: 
Us thought it was not worth to discuss it at length
And granted him withoute more consideration
And bade him say his verdict, as him lest.
Lordings (quoth he), now hearken for the best;
But take it not, I pray you, in disdain;
This is the point, to speak it flat and plain. 
That each of you, to shorten with your way
In this voyage, shall tellen tales tway,
To Canterbury-ward, I mean it so,
And homeward he shall tellen other two,
Of aventures that whilom have befall.
And which of you that bear'th him best of all,
That is to say, that telleth in this case
Tales of best sentence and most solace,
Shall have a supper at the cost of you all
Here in this place, sitting by this post,
When that ye come again from Canterbury.
And for to make you the more merry,
I will myselfe gladly with you ride,
Right at mine owen cost, and be your guide.
And whoso will my judgement withsay,
Shall pay for all we spenden by the way.
And if ye vouchesafe that it be so,
Tell me anon without words more
And I will early shape me therefore."

This thing was granted, and our oath we swore
With full glad heart, and prayed him also,
That he would vouchesafe for to do so,
And that he would be our governor,
And of our tales judge and repertoire,
And set a supper at a certain price;
And we will ruled be at his device,
In high and low: and thus by one assent,
We be accorded to his judgement.
And thereupon the wine was fetched anon. 
We drunken, and to rest went each one,
Withouten any longer tarrying
A-morrow, when the day began to spring,
Up rose our host, and was the cock to wake us all
And gather'd us together in a flock,
And forth we ridden all a little space,
Unto the watering of Saint Thomas:
And there our host began his horse arrest,
And saide; "Lordes, hearken if you lest.
Ye know your promise, and I it record. 
If even-song and morning-song accord,
Let see now who shall telle the first tale.
As ever may I drinke wine or ale,
Whoso is rebel to my judgement,
Shall pay for all that by the way is spent.
Now draw ye lots, ere that ye farther go. 
He which that hath the shortest shall begin."

"Sir Knight (quoth he), my master and my lord,
Now draw the cut, for that is mine accord.
Come near (quoth he), my Lady Prioress,
And ye, Sir Clerk, let be your shamefastness,
Nor study not: lay hand to, every man."
Anon to drawen every wight began,
And shortly for to tellen as it was,
Were it by a venture, or lot, or chance, 
The sooth is this, the cut fell to the Knight,
Of which full blithe and glad was every wight;
And tell he must his tale as was reason,
By forward, and by composition,
As ye have heard; what needeth wordes more?
And when this good man saw that it was so,
As he that wise was and obedient
To keep his forward by his free assent,
He said; "Since I shall begin this game, 
Why, welcome be the cut in God's name.
Now let us ride, and hearken what I say."
And with that word we ridden forth our way;
And he began with right a merry cheer
His tale anon, and said as ye shall hear.