Geoffrey Chaucer

                       From the General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales

The spelling of what follows has been modernized as far as is possible; all who can, should read the text in its original form. This is only meant to help people with no experience of Middle English begin to read Chaucer. Click here to compare this text with the original Middle English.

1: When that April with his showers soft
2: The drought of March has pierced to the root,
3: And bathed every vein in such liquor
4: Of which vertue engendred is the flower;
5: When Zephirus eek with his sweet breath
6: Inspired hath in every holt and heath
7: The tender crops, and the young sun
8: Hath in the Ram his half course run,
9: And small fowls make melody,
10: That sleep all the night with open eye
11: (So pricks them Nature in their corages);
12: Then long folk to go on pilgrimages,
13: And palmers for to seek strange strands,
14: To far-off hallows, couth in sundry lands;
15: And specially from every shires end
16: Of England to Canterbury they wend,
17: The holy blissful Martyr for to seek,
18: That them has holpen when that they were sick.

19: Befell that in that season on a day,
20: In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay
21: Ready to wend on my pilgrimage
22: To Canterbury with full devout corage,
23: At night was come into that hostelry
24: Well nine and twenty in a company
25: Of sundry folk, by aventure fallen
26: In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,
27: That toward Canterbury would ride.
28: The chambers and the stables were wide,
29: And well we were eased at best.
30: And shortly, when the sun was to rest,
31: So had I spoken with them every one
32: That I was of their fellowship anon,
33: And made forward early for to rise,
34: To take our way there as I you devise.

35: But nonetheless, while I have time and space,
36: Er that I farther in this tale pace,
37: Me thinketh it acordant to reason
38: To tell you all the condition
39: Of each of them, so as it seemed me,
40: And which they were, and of what degree,
41: And eek in what array that they were in;
42: And at a knight then will I first begin.

                           The Knight's Portrait

43: A knight there was, and that a worthy man,
44: That from the time that he first began
45: To ride out, he loved chivalry,
46: Truth and honour, freedom and courtesy.
47: Full worthy was he in his lord's war,
48: And therto had he ridden, no man farther,
49: As well in christendom as in hethenesse,
50: And ever honoured for his worthiness.
51: At Alisaundre he was when it was won.
52: Full oft time he had the bord begun
53: Above all nations in Prussia;
54: In Lettow had he reysed and in Russia,
55: No christian man so oft of his degree.
56: In Gernade at the siege eek had he been
57: Of Algezir, and ridden in Belmarye.
58: At Lyeys was he and at Satalye,
59: When they were won; and in the great sea
60: At many a noble armee had he be.
61: At mortal battles had he been fifteen,
62: And fought for our faith at Tramyssene
63: In lists thrice, and ay slain his foe.
64: This ilke worthy knight had been also
65: Sometime with the lord of Palatye
66: Against another heathen in Turkey.
67: And evermore he had a sovereign price;
68: And though that he were worthy, he was wise,
69: And of his port as meek as is a maid.
70: He never yet no villainy ne said
71: In all his life unto no manner wight.
72: He was a very, perfect gentil knight.
73: But, for to tell you of his array,
74: His horses were good, but he was nat gay.
75: Of fustian he wore a gypon
76: All bismotered with his habergeon,
77: For he was lately come from his voyage,
78: And went for to do his pilgrimage.

                           The Prioress' Portrait

118: There was also a nun, a prioress,
119: That of her smiling was full simple and coy;
120: Her greatest oath was but 'By Saint Loy';
121: And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
122: Full well she sung the service divine,
123: Entuned in her nose full seemly,
124: And French she spoke full fair and fetisly,
125: After the school of Stratford at Bowe,
126: For French of Paris was to her unknown.
127: At meat well taught was she withal:
128: She let no morsel from her lips fall,
129: Ne wet her fingers in her sauce deep;
130: Well could she carry a morsel and well keep
131: That no drop ne fell upon her breast.
132: In courtesy was set full much her lest.
133: Her over-lip wiped she so clean
134: That in her cup there was no ferthyng seen
135: Of grease, when she drunken had her draught.
136: Full seemly after her meat she raughte
137: And sikerly she was of great desport,
138: And full pleasant, and aimiable of port,
139: And pained her to counterfeit cheer
140: Of court, and to been stately of manner,
141: And to be held digne (worthy) of reverence.
142: But, for to speak of her conscience,
143: She was so charitable and so pitous
144: She would weep, if that she saw a mouse
145: Caught in a trap, if it were dead or bled.
146: Of small hounds had she that she fed
147: With roasted flesh, or milk and wastel-bread.
148: But sore wept she if one of them were dead,
149: Or if men smote it with a yerde smart;
150: And all was conscience and tender heart.
151: Full seemly her wimple pinched was,
152: Her nose tretys, her eyes grey as glass,
153: Her mouth full small, and thereto soft and red;
154: But sikerly she had a fair forehead;
155: It was almost a span broad, I trow;
156: For, hardily, she was not undergrown.
157: Full fetys was her cloak, as I was ware.
158: Of small coral about her arm she bare
159: A pair of beads, gauded all with green,
160: And thereon hung a broach of gold full sheene,
161: On which there was first written a crowned 'A',
162: And after amor vincit omnia.

                      The Monk's Portrait

165: A monk there was, a fair for the maistrie,
166: An outrider, that loved venery (hunting),
167: A manly man, to be an abbot able.
168: Full many a dainty horse had he in stable,
169: And when he rode, men might his bridle hear
170: Jingling in a whistling wind as clear
171: And eek as loud as does the chapel bell
172: There as this lord was keeper of the cell.
173: The rule of saint Maure or of saint Benedict,
174: Because that it was old and somedeal strict
175: This ilke monk let old things pass,
176: And held after the new world the space.
177: He gave not of that text a pulled hen,
178: That says that hunters be not holy men,
179: Ne that a monk, when he is reckless,
180: Is likened to a fish that is waterless, --
181: This is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
182: But that text held he not worth an oyster;
183: And I said his opinion was good.
184: What should he study and make himself wood (mad),
185: Upon a book in cloister always to pour,
186: Or swynken (work) with his hands, and labour,
187: As Augustine bade? how shall the world be served?
188: Let Augustine have his swink to him reserved!
189: Therefore he was a prikasour (rider) aright:
190: Greyhounds he had as swift as fowl in flight;
191: Of pricking and of hunting for the hare
192: Was all his lust, for no cost would he spare.
193: I saw his sleeves purfiled at the hand
194: With gris, and that the finest in the land;
195: And, for to fasten his hood under his chin,
196: He had of gold wroght a full curious pin;
197: A love-knot in the greater end there was.
198: His head was bald, that shone as any glass,
199: And eek his face, as he had been annoint.
200: He was a lord full fat and in good point;
201: His eyes steep, and rolling in his head,
202: That steamed as a furnace of a lead;
203: His boots supple, his horse in great estate.
204: Now certainly he was a fair prelate;
205: He was not pale as a forpined ghost.
206: A fat swan loved he best of any roast.
207: His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

                            The Clerk's Portrait

285: A clerk there was of Oxford also,
286: That unto logic had long gone.
287: As lean was his horse as is a rake,
288: And he nas not right fat, I undertake,
289: But looked hollow, and thereto soberly.
290: Full threadbare was his overmost courtepy;
291: For he had gotten him yet no benefice,
292: Nor was so worldly for to have office.
293: For him was lever have at his bed's head
294: Twenty books, clad in black or red,
295: Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
296: Than robes rich, or fiddle, or gay sautrie.
297: But allthough that he was a philosopher,
298: Yet had he but little gold in coffer;
299: But all that he might of his friends hente,
300: On books and on learning he it spent,
301: And busily gan for the souls pray
302: Of them that gave him wherewith to school.
303: Of study took he most care and most heed,
304: Not one word spoke he more than was need,
305: And that was said in form and reverence,
306: And short and quick and full of high sentence;
307: Sounding in moral vertue was his speech,
308: And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.

                          The Shipman's Portrait

388: A shipman was there, wonynge (living) far by west;
389: For aught I wot, he was of Dartmouth.
390: He rode upon a rounce, as he could,
391: In a gown of faldyng to the knee.
392: A dagger hanging on a leash had he
393: About his neck, under his arm adown.
394: The hote summer had made his hue all brown;
395: And certainly he was a good fellow.
396: Full many a draught of wine had he drawn
397: From Bordeaux-ward, while that the chapmen slept.
398: Of nice conscience took he no keep.
399: If that he fought, and had the higher hand,
400: By water he sent them home to every land.
401: But of his craft to reckon well his tides,
402: His streams, and his dangers him besides,
403: His harbour, and his moon, his lodemenage,
404: Ther nas none such from Hull to Cartage.
405: Hardy he was and wise to undertake;
406: With many a tempest had his beard been shaken.
407: He knew all the havens, as they were,
408: From Gootlond to the cape of Finisterre,
409: And every creek in Brittany and in Spain.
410: His barge ycleped was the 'Maudelayne'.

                    The Wife of Bath's Portrait

445: A good wife was there of beside Bath,
446: But she was somdel deaf, and that was scathe (a pity).
447: Of cloth-making she had such a haunt,
448: She passed them of Ypres and of Ghent.
449: In all the parish wife ne was there none
450: That to the offering before her should go;
451: And if they did, certain so wroth was she,
452: That she was out of all charity.
453: Her coverchiefs full fine were of ground;
454: I dorste swear they weighed ten pound
455: That on a Sunday were upon her head.
456: Her hose were of fine scarlet red,
457: Full straight tied, and shoes full moist and new.
458: Bold was her face, and fair, and red of hue.
459: She was a worthy woman all her life:
460: Husbands at church door she had five,
461: Without other company in youth, --
462: But thereof need not to speak as now.
463: And thrice had she been at Jerusalem;
464: She had passed many a strange stream;
465: At Rome she had been, and at Boulogne,
466: In Galicia at Saint-James, and at Cologne.
467: She could much of wandering by the way.
468: Gap-toothed was she, soothly for to say.
469: Upon an ambler easily she sat,
470: Ywympled well, and on her head an hat
471: As broad as is a buckler or a targe;
472: A foot-mantel about her hips large,
473: And on her feet a pair of spurs sharp.
474: In fellowship well could she laugh and carp.
475: Of remedies of love she knew per chance,
476: For she could of that art the old dance.

                           The Parson's Portrait

477: A good man was there of religion,
478: And was a poor parson of a town,
479: But rich he was of holy thought and work.
480: He was also a learned man, a clerk,
481: That Christ's Gospel truly would preach;
482: His parishoners devoutly would he teach.
483: Benign he was, and wonder diligent,
484: And in adversity full patient,
485: And such he was proved oft sithes.
486: Full loth were him to curse for his tithes,
487: But rather would he give, out of doubt,
488: Unto his poor parishoners about
489: Of his offering and eek of his substance.
490: He could in little thing have suffisance.
491: Wide was his parish, and houses far asunder,
492: But he ne left not, for rain ne thunder,
493: In sickness nor in mischief to visit
494: The farthest in his parish, much and little,
495: Upon his feet, and in his hand a staff.
496: This noble example to his sheep he gave,
497: That first he wroght, and afterward he taught.
498: Out of the Gospel he those words caught,
499: And this figure he added eek thereto,
500: That if gold rust, what shall iron do?
501: For if a priest be foul, on whom we trust,
502: No wonder is a lewd man to rust;
503: And shame it is, if a priest take keep,
504: A shiten shepherd and a clean sheep.
505: Well ought a priest example for to give,
506: By his cleanness, how that his sheep should live.
507: He set not his benefice to hire
508: And left his sheep encombered in the mire
509: And ran to London unto Saint Paul's
510: To seek him a chantry for souls,
511: Or with a brotherhood to be withhold;
512: But dwelt at home, and kept well his fold,
513: So that the wolf ne made it not miscarry;
514: He was a shepherd and not a mercenary.
515: And though he holy were and vertuous,
516: He was to sinful men not despitous,
517: Ne of his speech dangerous ne digne,
518: But in his teaching discreet and benign.
519: To draw folk to heaven by fairness,
520: By good example, this was his business.
521: But if were any person obstinate,
522: What so he were, of high or low estate,
523: Him would he snybben sharply for the nones.
524: A better priest I trow that nowhere none is.
525: He waited after no pomp and reverence,
526: Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
527: But Christ's lore and his apostles twelve
528: He taught, but first he followed it himself.

                          The Plowman's Portrait

529: With him there was a plowman, was his brother,
530: That had loaded of dung full many a fother;
531: A true swinker and a good was he,
532: Living in peace and perfect charity.
533: God loved he best with all his whole heart
534: At all times, though him gamed or smerte,
535: And than his neighbor right as himself.
536: He would thresh, and thereto dig and delve,
537: For Christ's sake, for every poor wight,
538: Without hire, if it lay in his might.
539: His tithes paid he full fair and well,
540: Both of his proper swink and his cattel.
541: In a tabard he rode upon a mare.

                  The Miller's Portrait

545: The miller was a stout carl for the nones;
546: Ful big he was of brawn, and eek of bones.
547: That proved well, for over all there he came,
548: At wrestling he would have always the ram.
549: He was short-shouldered, broad, a thick knarre;
550: There was no door that he nold heave off harre (hinges),
551: Or break it at a running with his head.
552: His beard as any sow or fox was red,
553: And thereto broad, as though it were a spade.
554: Upon the cop right of his nose he had
555: A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs,
556: Red as the bristles of a sow's ears;
557: His nosethirles black were and wide.
558: A sword and buckler bare he by his side.
559: His mouth as great was as a great furnace.
560: He was a jangler and a goliardeys,
561: And that was mostly of sin and harlotries.
562: Well could he steal corn and tollen thrice;
563: And yet he had a thumb of gold, pardee.
564: A white coat and a blue hood weared he.
565: A bagpipes well could he blow and sound,
566: And therewithal he brought us out of town.

                        The Pardoner's Portrait

669: With him there rode a gentil pardoner
670: Of Rouncivale, his friend and his compeer,
671: That straight was come from the court of Rome.
672: Full loud he sung "Come hither, love, to me!
673: This Somonour bare to him a stiff bourdon;
674: Was never trompet of half so great a sound.
675: This Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
676: But smooth it hung as doth a streak of flax;
677: By ounces hung his locks that he had,
678: And therewith he his shoulders overspread;
679: But thin it lay, by colpons one and one.
680: But hood, for jollity, wared he none,
681: For it was trussed up in his walet.
682: Him thought he rode all of the new jet;
683: Dischevelee, save his cape, he rode all bare.
684: Such glaring eyea had he as a hare.
685: A Vernycle had he sewed upon his cape.
686: His wallet lay before him in his lap,
687: Bretfull of pardons, come from Rome all hot.
688: A voice he had as small as hath a goat.
689: No beard had he, ne never should have;
690: As smooth it was as it were late shave.
691: I trowe he were a gelding or a mare.
692: But of his craft, from Berwyk to Ware,
693: Ne was there such another pardoner
694: For in his mall he had a pillow-beer,
695: Which that he said was Our Lady's veil:
696: He said he had a gobet of the sail
697: That Seint Peter had, when that he went
698: Upon the sea, till Jesu Christ him hente.
699: He had a cross of laton full of stones,
700: And in a glass he had pigs bones.
701: But with thise relics, when that he found
702: A poor parson dwelling upon lond,
703: Upon a day he got him more money
704: Than that the parson got in months two;
705: And thus, with fained flattery and japes,
706: He made the parson and the people his apes.
707: But truly to tell at last,
708: He was in church a noble ecclesiaste.
709: Well could he read a lesson or a story,
710: But alderbest he sang an offertory;
711: For well he wiste, when that song was sung,
712: He must preach and well affile (sharpen) his tongue
713: To win silver, as he full well could;
714: Therefore he sang the merrierly and loud.