The General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer

Edited by Jack Lynch

I’m emphatically not an authority on textual criticism of Middle English texts. The text itself is cobbled together from a number of public domain sources and minimally edited. I’ve regularized the use of uppercase letters a bit to aid comprehension, and have added quotation marks where appropriate. The notes are my own.

The curious can check out the Ellesmere Manuscript and the Hengwrt Manuscript.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote its — showers — sweet, fresh
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, drought — pierced
And bathed every veyne in swich licour such liquid
Of which vertu engendred is the flour; power — created — flower
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth [5] the gentle west wind — also
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth breathed into — field
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne shoots
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne, the constellation Aries — gone half its course
And smale foweles maken melodye, birds
That slepen al the nyght with open ye [10] eye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages); spurs — them — their hearts
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, pilgrims — shores
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; distant shrines — known — various
And specially from every shires ende [15]
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. has helped them when they were sick
Bifil that in that seson on a day, it happened
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay [20] Tabard Inn in Southwark, London
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage go
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage, very — hearts
At nyght was come into that hostelrye inn
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle [25] by chance fallen together
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde. would
The chambres and the stables weren wyde, bedrooms
And wel we weren esed atte beste. taken care of
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste, [30] sun was about to go down
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon every one
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon, their company — at once
And made forward erly for to ryse, agreement
To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse. describe to you
But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space, [35] nevertheless
Er that I ferther in this tale pace, before — proceed
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun it seems to me consistent with
To telle yow al the condicioun nature, state
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me, them
And whiche they weren, and of what degree, [40] social rank
And eek in what array that they were inne; also — dress
And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.
[The Knight]
A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie, [45]
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, war
And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre, farther
As wel in Cristendom as in hethenesse, Christian lands — heathen lands
And evere honoured for his worthynesse. [50]
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne. Alexandria
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne sat in the place of honor
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce; Prussia (in modern Germany)
In Lettow hadde he reysed and in Ruce, Lithuania — campaigned — Russia
No Cristen man so ofte of his degree. [55] social rank
In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be Granada — also
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye. Benmarin in North Africa
At Lyeys was he and at Satalye, Ayash (in modern Turkey)
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See Mediterranean
At many a noble armee hadde he be. [60] battle
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene Tlemcen in Algeria
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo. tournaments — thrice — always — foe
This ilke worthy Knyght hadde been also same
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye [65]
Agayn another hethen in Turkye. against
And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys; excellent reputation
And though that he were worthy, he was wys, wise
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde. manners
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde [70] rudeness
In al his lyf unto no maner wight. to any kind of person
He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght. true, perfect, noble
But, for to tellen yow of his array, outfit
His hors were goode, but he was nat gay. horses — dressed fancily
Of fustian he wered a gypon [75] cloth — wore — tunic
Al bismotered with his habergeon, rust-stained — hauberk (coat of armor)
For he was late ycome from his viage, recently — voyage
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage. in order to do
[The Squire]
With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squier,
A lovyere and a lusty bacheler, [80] energetic
With lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse. curly locks — as if
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gesse.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthe, average
And wonderly delyvere, and of greet strengthe. agile
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie [85] a cavalry raid
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 embroidered — meadow
Al ful of fresshe floures, whyte and reede. [90]
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day; whistling
He was as fressh as is the month 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, [95] write
Juste and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write. joust — also — draw
So hoote he lovede that by nyghtertale passionately — at night
He sleep namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale. no more
Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable, courteous — humble
And carf biforn his fader at the table. [100] carved before
[The Yeoman]
A Yeman hadde he and servantz namo yeoman — no more
At that tyme, for hym liste ride so, he liked to
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene. coat
A sheef of pecok arwes, bright and kene, arrows
Under his belt he bar ful thriftily, [105] carried very properly
(Wel koude he dresse his takel yemanly: tend to his equipment — skillfully
His arwes drouped noght with fetheres lowe) fell — poorly arranged
And in his hand he baar a myghty bowe. bore
A not heed hadde he, with a broun visage. close-cut head
Of wodecraft wel koude he al the usage. [110] knew
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer, brightly colored wrist guard
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler, small shield
And on that oother syde a gay daggere bright
Harneised wel and sharp as point of spere; mounted
A Cristopher on his brest of silver sheene. [115] St. Christopher medal — shone
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene; bore — strap
A forster was he, soothly, as I gesse. forester — truly
[The Prioress]
Ther was also a nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy; quiet
Hire gretteste ooth was but “by Seinte Loy”; [120] St. Eligius
And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne. called
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly, elegantly
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe, [125]
For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe. the French of Paris
At mete wel ytaught was she with alle: She was well educated about eating
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle, let
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe; nor
Wel koude she carie a morsel and wel kepe [130] take care
That no drope ne fille upon hire brest.
In curteisie was set ful muchel hir lest. good manners — much — pleasure
Hir over-lippe wyped she so clene upper lip
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene cup — tiny bit
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte. [135] grease — draft
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte. correctly — food — reached
And sikerly she was of greet desport, surely — manners
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port, appearance
And peyned hire to countrefete cheere took trouble — imitate the behavior
Of court, and to been estatlich of manere, [140] noble
And to ben holden digne of reverence. held worthy
But, for to speken of hire conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous compassionate
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde. [145] dead
Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed. expensive white bread
But soore wepte she if oon of hem were deed, dead
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte; struck — stick — smartly
And al was conscience and tendre herte. [150]
Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was, nun’s headdress — pleated
Hir nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas, slender — eyes
Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed; moreover
But sikerly she hadde a fair forheed; surely
It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe; [155] hand’s width broad — believe
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war. well made — aware
Of smal coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene, decorated
And theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene, [160] hung — shiny
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after amor vincit omnia. “Love conquers all.”
[The Second Nun]
Another Nonne with hire hadde she,
That was hir chapeleyne, and preestes thre. supporter
[The Monk]
A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie, [165] extremely fair
An outridere, that lovede venerie, roaming monk — hunting
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable, excellent
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere rode
Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere [170] jingle
And eek as loude as dooth the chapel belle. also
Ther as this lord was kepere of the celle,
The reule of Seint Maure or of Seint Beneit, Maurus — Benedict
By cause that it was old and somdel streit somewhat — strict
This ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace, [175] same — let old things pass
And heeld after the newe world the space. followed modern customs
He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen, gave — plucked
That seith that hunters ben nat hooly men,
Ne that a Monk, whan he is recchelees, ignores the rules
Is likned til a fissh that is waterlees, — [180] compared to a fish out of water
This is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystre.
But thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre; the same
And I seyde his opinion was good.
What sholde he studie and make hymselven wood, why — insane
Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure, [185] read closely
Or swynken with his handes, and laboure, work
As Austyn bit? how shal the world be served? St. Augustine commanded
Lat Austyn have his swynk to hym reserved! St. Augustine — work
Therfore he was a prikasour aright: excellent horseman
Grehoundes he hadde as swift as fowel in flight; [190] a bird
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare tracking
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare. desire
I seigh his sleves purfiled at the hond saw — lined
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond; squirrel fur
And, for to festne his hood under his chyn, [195]
He hadde of gold ywroght a ful curious pyn; well-made
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was. larger
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas, head was bald — mirror
And eek his face, as he hadde been enoynt. also — rubbed with oil
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt; [200] condition
His eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed, [20] gleaming
That stemed as a forneys of a leed; [20] furnace — cauldron
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat. [20] supple — condition
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat; [20] religious figure
He was nat pale as a forpyned goost. [205] tormented ghost
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye. horse
[The Friar]
A Frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye, friar — rowdy
A lymytour, a ful solempne man. hearer of confessions — revered, serious
In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan [210] knows
So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage. much — small talk
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.
Unto his ordre he was a noble post. supporter
Ful wel biloved and famulier was he [215]
With frankeleyns over al in his contree, landowners
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun; also
For he hadde power of confessioun, was able to hear confession
As seyde hymself, moore than a curat, parish priest
For of his ordre he was licenciat. [220] licensed
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his absolucioun: forgiveness of sin
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce, lenient — give
Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce. was known — donation
For unto a povre ordre for to yive [225] poor — monastic order — give
Is signe that a man is wel yshryve; absolved of sin
For if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt, gave — dared — boast
He wiste that a man was repentaunt; knew
For many a man so hard is of his herte,
He may nat wepe, althogh hym soore smerte. [230] he hurts badly
Therfore in stede of wepynge and preyeres
Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres. must give — poor friars
His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves hood — stuffed
And pynnes, for to yeven faire wyves. give
And certeinly he hadde a murye note: [235] cheerful
Wel koude he synge and pleyen on a rote; harp
Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris. songs — completely took the prize
His nekke whit was as the flour-de-lys; lily
Therto he strong was as a champioun. what’s more
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun [240]
And everich hostiler and tappestere every — inkeeper — barkeeper
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere; leper — beggar
For unto swich a worthy man as he such
Acorded nat, as by his facultee, was suitable — official role
To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce. [245] sick lepers
It is nat honest, it may nat avaunce,
For to deelen with no swich poraille, such poor people
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille. food
And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,
Curteis he was and lowely of servyse. [250] humbly gracious
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous. was not — well behaved
He was the beste beggere in his hous;
(And yaf a certeyne ferme for the graunt; [252.1] gave — fee for his right to beg
Noon of his bretheren cam ther in his haunt;) [252.2] territory
For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho, widow — shoe
So plesaunt was his In principio, “In the beginning . . .”
Yet wolde he have a ferthyng, er he wente. [255] quarter-penny — before
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente. profit — income
And rage he koude, as it were right a whelp. be rowdy — puppy
In love-dayes ther koude he muchel help, days to resolve disputes — much
For ther he was nat lyk a cloysterer cloistered monk
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler, [260] cloak — poor
But he was lyk a maister or a pope. master (of arts) — pope
Of double worstede was his semycope, worsted wool — short cloak
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed, for his wantownesse, lisped — affectation
To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge; [265]
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe, sung
His eyen twynkled in his heed aryght, eyes
As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght. the stars do
This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd. called
[The Merchant]
A Marchant was ther with a forked berd, [270]
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat; multi-colored cloth — proudly
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bever hat, head — Flemish
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly. elegantly
His resons he spak ful solempnely, thoughts — seriously
Sownynge alwey th’ encrees of his wynnyng. [275] speaking — profits
He wolde the see were kept for any thyng wanted — sea — protected at any cost
Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle. (in Holland) — (in England)
Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle. currency exchange
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette: intelligence — used
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette, [280] knew — person
So estatly was he of his governaunce dignified
With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce. borrowing
For sothe he was a worthy man with alle, truly — indeed
But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle. to tell the truth — don’t know
The Clerk
A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also, [285] scholar
That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.
As leene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake, was not — avow
But looked holwe, and therto sobrely. hollow
Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy; [290] short coat
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice, position in the church
Ne was so worldly for to have office. secular position
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed he would rather
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie, [295]
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie. fiddle — psaltery (a musical instrument)
But al be that he was a philosophre, even though
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente, take
On bookes and on lernynge he it spente, [300]
And bisily gan for the soules preye [30] began
Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye. [30] gave — go to school
Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede, [30]
Noght o word spak he moore than was neede, [30] one
And that was seyd in forme and reverence, [305] formally and respectfully
And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence; wisdom
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, resounding
And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.
[The Man of Law]
A Sergeant of the Lawe, war and wys, wary
That often hadde been at the Parvys, [310] porch of St. Paul’s
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was and of greet reverence —
He semed swich, his wordes weren so wise. that way
Justice he was ful often in assise, a judge — the civil courts
By patente and by pleyn commissioun. [315] royal warrant — full
For his science and for his heigh renoun, knowledge — reputation
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon. robes given in payment
So greet a purchasour was nowher noon: real estate investor
Al was fee symple to hym in effect; owned outright
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect. [320] rendered invalid
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas, was not
And yet he semed bisier than he was.
In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle by heart — cases — legal decisions
That from the tyme of Kyng William were falle. had happened
Therto he koude endite, and make a thyng, [325] write — legal deed
Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng; person — quibble about
And every statut koude he pleyn by rote. knew — complete — by heart
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote. simply — multi-colored
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale; belt — stripes
Of his array telle I no lenger tale. clothes
[The Franklin]
A Frankeleyn was in his compaignye.
Whit was his berd as is the dayesye; daisy
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn. sanguine (ruddy, red)
Wel loved he by the morwe a sop in wyn; in the morning — bread soaked in wine
To lyven in delit was evere his wone, [335] sensual pleasures — custom
For he was Epicurus owene sone, (ancient philosopher who valued pleasure)
That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit full sensual pleasure
Was verray felicitee parfit. true perfect happiness
An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;
Seint Julian he was in his contree. [340] (patron saint of hospitality)
His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon; bread — the same way
A bettre envyned man was nowher noon. wine-stocked
Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous baked food
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous,
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke, [345] snowed — food
Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke. delicacies — imagine
After the sondry sesons of the yeer, according to — various
So chaunged he his mete and his soper. dinner — supper
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe, partridge — coop
And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe. [350] carp — pike — pond
Wo was his cook but if his sauce were
Poynaunt and sharp, and redy al his geere. poorly prepared
His table dormant in his halle alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day. covered (with a tablecloth)
At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire; [355] legal sessions
Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk dagger — pouch
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk. hung — belt
A shirreve hadde he been, and a contour. sheriff — accountant
Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour. such — tenant
An haberdasshere and a carpenter,
A webbe, a dyere, and a tapycer, — weaver — tapestry maker
And they were clothed alle in o lyveree one uniform
Of a solempne and a greet fraternitee. distinguished — guild
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was; [365] their gear was trimmed
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras trimmed — brass
But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel made
Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel. belts — altogether
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys citizen
To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys. [370] guildhall — dais
Everich, for the wisdom that he kan, every
Was shaply for to been an alderman. suitable — councilman
For catel hadde they ynogh and rente, property — revenue
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente; also their — agree
And elles certeyn were they to blame. [375] otherwise
It is ful fair to been ycleped Madame, called
And goon to vigilies al bifore, go — feasts — in front of everyone
And have a mantel roialliche ybore. coat royally carried
[The Cook]
A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones for the occasion
To boille the chiknes with the marybones, [380] marrowbones
And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale. (kinds of spices)
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Londoun ale. recognize
He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye, boil
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye. stews
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me, [385] it seemed to me
That on his shyne a mormal hadde he. shin — ulcer
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste. white pudding
[The Shipman]
A Shipman was ther, wonynge fer by weste; dwelling
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe. all I know
He rood upon a rounce, as he kouthe, [390] pack horse
In a gowne of faldyng to the knee. wool
A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he strap
Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun.
The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun; color
And certeinly he was a good felawe. [395] companion
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe
Fro Burdeux-ward, whil that the chapmen sleep. merchants
Of nyce conscience took he no keep. fastidious — heed
If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond, upper hand
By water he sente hem hoom to every lond. [400]
But of his craft to rekene wel his tydes, calculate
His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides, currents
His herberwe, and his moone, his lodemenage, harbors — skill in navigation
Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage. was no one like that — Cartagena
Hardy he was and wys to undertake; [405] bold — wise
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake.
He knew alle the havenes, as they were, harbors
Fro Gootlond to the cape of Fynystere, Gotland (in the Baltic) — Finisterre (in Spain)
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne. inlet
His barge ycleped was the Maudelayne. [410] called
[The Physician]
With us ther was a Doctour of phisik; medicine
In al this world ne was the noon hym lik,
To speke of phisik and of surgerye
For he was grounded in astronomye. educated
He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel [415] cared for
In houres by his magyk natureel.
Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent calculated the position of the planets
Of his ymages for his pacient.
He knew the cause of everich maladye, every
Were it of hoot, or coold, or moyste, or drye, [420] (the “four humors”)
And where they engendred, and of what humour. were brought forth
He was a verray, parfit praktisour: practitioner
The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote, known
Anon he yaf the sike man his boote. soon — gave — benefit
Ful redy hadde he his apothecaries [425]
To sende hym drogges and his letuaries, medicines
For ech of hem made oother for to wynne — profit
Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne. was not
Wel knew he the olde Esculapius, (a long list of ancient medical authorities)
And Deyscorides, and eek Rufus, [430] also
Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen, Hippocrates
Serapion, Razis, and Avycen,
Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn,
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
Of his diete mesurable was he, [435] moderate
For it was of no superfluitee, excess
But of greet norissyng and digestible. nourishment
His studie was but litel on the Bible.
In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al, blood red — blue
Lyned with taffata and with sendal; [440] rich cloth
And yet he was but esy of dispence; spending
He kepte that he wan in pestilence. earned — plague time
For gold in phisik is a cordial, invigorating medicine
Therefore he lovede gold in special.
[The Wife of Bath]
A good Wif was ther of biside Bathe, [445] near
But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe. somewhat deaf — unfortunate
Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt, such — skill
She passed hem of Ypres and of Gaunt. surpassed — (towns in modern Belgium)
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon; [450] ceremonial religious donations — go
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she, angry
That she was out of alle charitee.
Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground; kerchiefs — texture
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound dare — weighed
That on a Sonday weren upon hir heed. [455] were — head
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed, stockings
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe. tightly tied — supple
Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe. red — color
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve:
Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve, [460]
Withouten oother compaignye in youthe, — not counting
But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe. right now
And thries hadde she been at Jerusalem; three times
She hadde passed many a straunge strem; foreign sea
At Rome she hadde been, and at Boloigne, [465]
In Galice at Seint-Jame, and at Coloigne. Santiago de Compostela
She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye. knew — much
Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye. gap-toothed — truly
Upon an amblere esily she sat, saddle-horse
Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat [470] dressed in a veil
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe; shield
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large, riding jacket
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe. spurs
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe. converse
Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce, [475]
For she koude of that art the olde daunce. knew
[The Parson]
A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre Persoun of a toun, poor parson
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk, [480] scholar
That Cristes Gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche. parishioners
Benygne he was, and wonder diligent, gracious — wonderfully
And in adversitee ful pacient,
And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes. [485] such — proved many times
Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes, loath — excommunicate for not paying his fees
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute, give — without doubt
Unto his povre parisshens aboute poor parishioners
Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce. donations — also — property
He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce. [490] enough
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder, far apart
But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visite misfortune
The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite, farthest — large and small
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf. [495]
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf, example — gave
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte. practiced
Out of the Gospel he tho wordes caughte, those — took
And this figure he added eek therto, metaphor — also
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do? [500]
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste; ignorant — go bad
And shame it is, if a prest take keep, heed
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep. filthy, shit-stained
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive, [505] give an example
By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre parish — rent
And leet his sheep encombred in the myre left
And ran to Londoun unto Seinte Poules
To seken hym a chaunterie for soules, [510] seek — chantry priest
Or with a bretherhed to been withholde; guild
But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde, sheep
So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
And though he hooly were and vertuous, [515]
He was to synful men nat despitous, contemptuous
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne, disdainful
But in his techyng discreet and benygne.
To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse, gentleness
By good ensample, this was his bisynesse. [520] example
But it were any persone obstinat, [5]
What so he were, of heigh or lough estat, social rank
Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys. scold — at once
A bettre preest I trowe that nowher noon ys. believe
He waited after no pompe and reverence, [525] expected
Ne maked him a spiced conscience, fastidious
But Cristes loore and his Apostles twelve teaching
He taughte, but first he folwed it hymselve.
[The Plowman]
With hym ther was a Plowman, was his brother,
That hadde ylad of dong ful many a fother; [530] carried — dung — load
A trewe swynkere and a good was he, [5] hard worker
Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee. [5]
God loved he best with al his hoole herte
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte, whether it pleased him or hurt him
And thanne his neighebor right as hymselve. [535]
He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve, dig
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight, poor person
Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght.
His tithes payde he ful faire and wel,
Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel. [540] own work — property
In a tabard he rood upon a mere. worker’ outfit — mare
[The Reeve]
Ther was also a Reve, and a Millere, [5] property manager
A Somnour, and a Pardoner also, [5]
A Maunciple, and myself — ther were namo. no more
[The Miller]
The Millere was a stout carl for the nones; [545] fellow — for the occasion
Ful byg he was of brawn, and eek of bones. muscle — also
That proved wel, for over al ther he cam,
At wrastlynge he wolde have alwey the ram. prize
He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre; big-boned man
Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre, [550] door — would not — heave off its hinge
Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed. running — head
His berd as any sowe or fox was reed, sow — red
And therto brood, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade very tip
A werte, and theron stood a toft of herys, [555] wart — tuft — hairs
Reed as the brustles of a sowes erys; ears
His nosethirles blake were and wyde. nostrils
A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde. sword — small shield
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys. furnace
He was a janglere and a Goliardeys, [560] chatterbox — buffoon
And that was moost of synne and harlotries. obscene behavior
Wel koude he stelen corn and tollen thries; get paid three times
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee. by God
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he. wore
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne, [565]
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne. with that
[The Manciple]
A gentil Maunciple was ther of a temple, noble — business manager
Of which achatours myghte take exemple buyers of provisions
For to be wise in byynge of vitaille; buying — food
For wheither that he payde or took by taille, [570] on credit
Algate he wayted so in his achaat in every respect — buying
That he was ay biforn and in good staat. always ahead — condition
Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace
That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace such — unlearned — understanding — exceed
The wisdom of an heep of lerned men? [575]
Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten, masters
That weren of lawe expert and curious, ingenious
Of which ther were a duszeyne in that hous dozen
Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond managers — income
Of any lord that is in Engelond, [580]
To make hym lyve by his propre good own money
In honour dettelees (but if he were wood), without debt — unless — insane
Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire; meagerly — want to
And able for to helpen al a shire
In any caas that myghte falle or happe; [585] event — occur
And yet this manciple sette hir aller cappe. made a fool of all of them
[The Reeve]
The Reve was a sclendre colerik man. slender — hot-tempered
His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan; close
His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn;
His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn [590] trimmed — in front
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 [595] knew
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 hoolly in this reves governynge,
And by his covenant yaf the rekenynge, [600] gave
Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age. [60]
Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage. [60]
Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne, [60] was not — nor
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne; [60]
They were adrad of hym as of the deeth. [605]
His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth;
With grene trees yshadwed was his place.
He koude bettre than his lord purchace.
Ful riche he was astored pryvely:
His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly, [610]
To yeve and lene hym of his owene good, give
And have a thank, and yet a cote and hood.
In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster;
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
This reve sat upon a ful good stot, [615]
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,
Biside a toun men clepen baldeswelle. [620] call
Tukked he was as is a frere aboute,
And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.
[The Summoner]
A Somonour was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face, fire-red cherub’s
For saucefleem he was, with eyen narwe. [625] covered with pustules — narrow
As hoot he was and lecherous as a sparwe, hot — sparrow
With scalled browes blake and piled berd. scabby — patchy
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon, was not
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon; [630]
Ne oynement that wolde clense and byte,
That hym myghte helpen of his whelkes white, pustules
Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes. swellings
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes, also
And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood; [635]
Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood. crazy
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
Thanne wolde he speke no word but Latyn.
A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,
That he had lerned out of som decree — [640]
No wonder is, he herde it al the day;
And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay also — chattering bird
Kan clepen “Watte” as wel as kan the pope. call — “Walter”
But whoso koude in oother thyng hym grope, examine
Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophie; [645] used up
Ay Questio quid iuris wolde he crie. “which point of law?”
He was a gentil harlot and a kynde; scoundrel
A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde.
He wolde suffre for a quart of wyn allow
A good felawe to have his concubyn [650] mistress
A twelf month, and excuse hym atte fulle; entirely
Ful prively a fynch eek koude he pulle. secretly — also
And if he foond owher a good felawe, found anywhere
He wolde techen him to have noon awe no
In swich caas of the ercedekenes curs, [655] such — archdeacon’s
But if a mannes soule were in his purs; unless
For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be.
“Purs is the ercedekenes helle,” seyde he. archdeacon’s
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede; know
Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him drede, [660] excommunication — dread
For curs wol slee right as assoillyng savith, slay — absolution saves
And also war hym of a significavit.
In daunger hadde he at his owene gise in his own way
The yonge girles of the diocise,
And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed. [665] secrets
A gerland hadde he set upon his heed
As greet as it were for an ale-stake.
A bokeleer hadde he maad hym of a cake. small shield
[The Pardoner]
With hym ther rood a gentil Pardoner rode
Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer, [670] comrade
That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.
Ful loude he soong “Com hider, love, to me!” sang — hither
This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun;
Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun. trumpet — sound
This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex, [675]
But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex; hung — piece of flax
By ounces henge his lokkes that he hadde, strands hang
And therwith he his shuldres overspradde;
But thynne it lay, by colpons oon and oon. strands one by one
But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon, [680] on a whim — wore
For it was trussed up in his walet. loaded — pouch
Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet; it seemed to him — fashion
Dischevelee, save his cappe, he rood al bare. with hair down, except for
Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare. such — eyes
A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe. [685]
His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe, traveler’s pouch
Bretful of pardoun, comen from Rome al hoot. brimful
A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot.
No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have; beard
As smothe it was as it were late shave. [690]
I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare. believe — castrated horse — female horse
But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another pardoner such
For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer, pouch — pillowcase
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl: [695]
He seyde he hadde a gobet of the seyl piece
That Seint Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jhesu Crist hym hente. took
He hadde a croys of latoun ful of stones, cross — brass
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones. [700]
But with thise relikes, whan that he fond [70]
A povre person dwellynge upon lond, [70] poor
Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye [70]
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye; [70]
And thus, with feyned flaterye and japes, [705]
He made the person 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; [710]
For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe, knew
He moste preche and wel affile his tonge
To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude;
Therefore he song the murierly and loude.
Now have I toold you soothly, in a clause, [715] truly
Th’ estaat, th’ array, the nombre, and eek the cause social class — clothing — also
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 [720]
How that we baren us that ilke nyght,
Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght;
And after wol I telle of our viage
And al the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.
But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye, [725]
That ye n’ arette 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 al so wel as I, [730]
Whoso shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan repeat
Everich a word, if it be in his charge, every
Al speke he never so rudeliche and large, roughly — loudly
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe, [735]
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, althogh he were his brother;
He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hymself ful brode in hooly writ,
And wel ye woot no vileynye is it. [740] know
Eek plato seith, whoso that kan hym rede, also — whoever can read him
The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.
Also I prey yow to foryeve it me, forgive
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stonde. [745]
My wit is short, ye may wel understonde.
Greet chiere made oure hoost us everichon, everyone
And to the soper sette he us anon. right away
He served us with vitaille at the beste; victuals (food)
Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us leste. [750] pleased us
A semely man oure hooste was withalle through and through
For to han been a marchal in an halle. steward
A large man he was with eyen stepe — prominent
A fairer burgeys is ther noon in Chepe — townsman — Cheapside, London
Boold of his speche, and wys, and wel ytaught, [755]
And of manhod hym lakkede right naught. nothing at all
Eek therto he was right a myrie man, also — besides
And after soper pleyen he bigan, supper
And spak of myrthe amonges othere thynges,
Whan that we hadde maad oure rekenynges, [760] paid our bills
And seyde thus: “now, lordynges, trewely, gentlemen
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. [765] at once — lodging
Fayn wolde I doon yow myrthe, wiste I how. gladly — entertain you — if I knew how
And of a myrthe I am right now bythoght, I just thought
To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght. entertain you
Ye goon to Caunterbury — God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede! [770] pay — reward
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye, know — go
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye; plan — tell stories
For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon happiness
To ride by the weye doumb as a stoon; dumb as a stone
And therfore wol I maken yow disport, [775] entertain you
As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort. before
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, [780]
Now, by my fader soule that is deed, father’s — dead
But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed! unless — give
Hoold up youre hondes, withouten moore speche.”
Oure conseil was nat longe for to seche. deliberation
Us thoughte it was noght worth to make it wys, [785] it seemed to us
And graunted hym withouten moore avys, consideration
And bad him seye his voirdit as hym leste. told — verdict — as he liked
“Lordynges,” quod he, “now herkneth for the beste; gentlemen — said — listen
But taak it nought, I prey yow, in desdeyn.
This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn, [790]
That ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye, shorten
In this viage shal telle tales tweye voyage — two
To Caunterbury-ward, I mene it so,
And homward he shal tellen othere two, another
Of aventures that whilom han bifalle. [795] once have happened
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, wisdom — entertainment
Shal have a soper at oure aller cost supper — all our
Heere in this place, sittynge by this post, [800]
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury. [80]
And for to make yow the moore mury, [80] cheerful
I wol myselven goodly with yow ryde, [80]
Right at myn owene cost, and be youre gyde, [80]
And whoso wole my juggement withseye [805] whoever — contradict
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.
And if ye vouche sauf that it be so, agree
Tel me anon, withouten wordes mo, now — more
And I wol erly shape me therfore.” prepare myself for it
This thyng was graunted, and oure othes swore [810]
With ful glad herte, and preyden hym also asked
That he wolde vouche sauf for to do so, agree
And that he wolde been oure governour,
And oure tales juge and reportour, scorekeeper
And sette a soper at a certeyn pris, [815]
And we wol reuled been at his devys ruled — discretion
In heigh and lough; and thus by oon assent
We been acorded to his juggement.
And therupon the wyn was fet anon; fetched at once
We dronken, and to reste wente echon, [820] each one
Withouten any lenger taryynge. delay
Amorwe, whan that day bigan to sprynge, In the morning
Up roos oure hoost, and was oure aller cok, rooster for all of us
And gadrede us togidre alle in a flok, gathered — together
And forth we riden a litel moore than paas [825] little fastr than a slow walk
Unto the wateryng of Seint Thomas;
And there oure hoost bigan his hors areste stop
And seyde, “lordynges, herkneth, if yow leste. gentlemen — listen — please
Ye woot youre foreward, and I it yow recorde. know — agreement — recall
If even-song and morwe-song accorde, [830] morning
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.
As evere mote I drynke wyn or ale, might
Whoso be rebel to my juggement
Shal paye for al that by the wey is spent.”
Now draweth cut, er that we ferrer twynne; [835] before — farther — separated
He which that hath the shorteste shal bigynne.
“Sire Knyght,” quod he, “my mayster and my lord, said
Now draweth cut, for that is myn accord.
Cometh neer,“ quod he, “my lady prioresse. said
And ye, sire clerk, lat be youre shamefastnesse, [840] modesty
Ne studieth noght; ley hond to, every man!”
Anon to drawen every wight bigan, at once began to draw every person
And shortly for to tellen as it was,
Were it by aventure, or sort, or cas, whether by chance, destiny, or fortune
The sothe is this, the cut fil to the Knyght, [845] truth
Of which ful blithe and glad was every wyght, happy — person
And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun, must — reasonable
By foreward and by composicioun, promise — agreement
As ye han herd; what nedeth wordes mo?
And whan this goode man saugh that it was so, [850]
As he that wys was and obedient
To kepe his foreward by his free assent, promise
He seyde, “syn I shal bigynne the game, since
What, welcome be the cut, a goddes name!
Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.“ [855] listen to
And with that word we ryden forth oure weye,
And he bigan with right a myrie cheere
His tale anon, and seyde as ye may heere. right away


Christian crusaders invaded Alexandria, Egypt, in 1365. A list of locations of battles and sieges follows.
Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie
The boundary between France and Flanders, the site of frequent combat.