Fragment I (Group A)
When April's gentle rains have pierced the drought Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout Through every vein with liquid of such power It brings forth the engendering of the flower; When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown 5 Through every field and forest, urging on The tender shoots, and there's a youthful sun, His second half course through the Ram now run, And little birds are making melody And sleep all night, eyes open as can be 10 (So Nature pricks them in each little heart), On pilgrimage then folks desire to start. The palmers long to travel foreign strands To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands; And specially, from every shire's end 15 In England, folks to Canterbury wend: To seek the blissful martyr is their will, The one who gave such help when they were ill. Now in that season it befell one day In Southwark at the Tabard where I lay, 20 As I was all prepared for setting out To Canterbury with a heart devout, That there had come into that hostelry At night some twenty-nine, a company Of sundry folk whom chance had brought to fall 25 In fellowship, for pilgrims were they all And onward to Canterbury would ride. The chambers and the stables there were wide, We had it easy, served with all the best; And by the time the sun had gone to rest 30 I'd spoken with each one about the trip And was a member of the fellowship. We made agreement, early to arise To take our way, of which I shall advise. But nonetheless, while I have time and space, 35 Before proceeding further here's the place Where I believe it reasonable to state Something about these pilgrims--to relate Their circumstances as they seemed to me, Just who they were and each of what degree 40 And also what array they all were in. And with a Knight I therefore will begin. There with us was a KNIGHT, a worthy man Who, from the very first time he began To ride about, loved honor, chivalry, 45 The spirit of giving, truth and courtesy. He was a valiant warrior for his lord; No man had ridden farther with the sword Through Christendom and lands of heathen creeds, And always he was praised for worthy deeds. 50 He helped win Alexandria in the East, And often sat at table's head to feast With knights of all the nations when in Prussia. In Lithuania as well as Russia No other noble Christian fought so well. 55 When Algaciras in Granada fell, When Ayas and Attalia were won, This Knight was there. Hard riding he had done At Benmarin. Along the Great Sea coast He'd made his strikes with many a noble host. 60 His mortal battles numbered then fifteen, And for our faith he'd fought at Tramissene Three tournaments and always killed his foe. This worthy Knight was ally, briefly so, Of the lord of Palathia (in work 65 Performed against a fellow heathen Turk). He found the highest favor in all eyes, A valiant warrior who was also wise And in deportment meek as any maid. He never spoke unkindly, never played 70 The villain's part, but always did the right. He truly was a perfect, gentle knight. But now to tell of his array, he had Good horses but he wasn't richly clad; His fustian tunic was a rusty sight 75 Where he had worn his hauberk, for the Knight Was just back from an expedition when His pilgrimage he hastened to begin. There with him was his son, a youthful SQUIRE, A lover and knight bachelor to admire. 80 His locks were curled as if set by a press. His age was twenty years or so, I guess. In stature he was of an average height And blest with great agility and might. He'd ridden for a time with cavalry 85 In Flanders and Artois and Picardy, Performing well in such a little space In hopes of standing in his lady's grace. He was embroidered like a flowerbed Or meadow, full of flowers white and red. 90 He sang or else he fluted all the day; He was as fresh as is the month of May. His gown was short, his sleeves were long and wide. And well upon a horse the lad could ride; Good verse and songs he had composed, and he 95 Could joust and dance, drew well, wrote gracefully. At night he'd love so hotly, without fail, He slept no more than does a nightingale. He was a courteous, humble lad and able, And carved meat for his father at the table. 100 Now he had brought one servant by his side, A YEOMAN--with no more he chose to ride. This Yeoman wore a coat and hood of green. He had a sheaf of arrows, bright and keen, Beneath his belt positioned handily-- 105 He tended to his gear most yeomanly, His arrow feathers never drooped too low-- And in his hand he bore a mighty bow. His head was closely cropped, his face was brown. The fellow knew his woodcraft up and down. 110 He wore a bracer on his arm to wield His bolts. By one side were his sword and shield, And on the other, mounted at the hip, A dagger sharply pointed at the tip. A Christopher of silver sheen was worn 115 Upon his breast; a green strap held his horn. He must have been a forester, I guess. There also was a Nun, a PRIORESS, Her smile a very simple one and coy. Her greatest oath was only "By Saint Loy!" 120 Called Madam Eglantine, this Nun excelled At singing when church services were held, Intoning through her nose melodiously. And she could speak in French quite fluently, After the school of Stratford at the Bow 125 (The French of Paris wasn't hers to know). Of table manners she had learnt it all, For from her lips she'd let no morsel fall Nor deeply in her sauce her fingers wet; She'd lift her food so well she'd never get 130 A single drop or crumb upon her breast. At courtesy she really did her best. Her upper lip she wiped so very clean That not one bit of grease was ever seen Upon her drinking cup. She was discreet 135 And never reached unseemly for the meat. And certainly she was good company, So pleasant and so amiable, while she Would in her mien take pains to imitate The ways of court, the dignity of state, 140 That all might praise her for her worthiness. To tell you of her moral consciousness, Her charity was so great that to see A little mouse caught in a trap would be Enough to make her cry, if dead or bleeding. 145 She had some little dogs that she was feeding With roasted meat or milk and fine white bread; And sorely she would weep if one were dead Or if someone should smite it with a stick. She was all tender heart right to the quick. 150 Her pleated wimple was of seemly class, She had a well formed nose, eyes gray as glass, A little mouth, one that was soft and red. And it's for sure she had a fair forehead-- It must have been a handbreadth wide, I own, 155 For hardly was the lady undergrown. The beauty of her cloak I hadn't missed. She wore a rosary around her wrist Made out of coral beads all colored green, And from it hung a brooch of golden sheen 160 On which there was an A crowned with a wreath, With Amor vincit omnia beneath. She brought along another NUN, to be Her chaplain, and her PRIEST, who made it three. A MONK there was, a fine outrider of 165 Monastic lands, with venery his love; A manly man, to be an abbot able. He had some dainty horses in the stable, And when he rode, his bridle might you hear Go jingling in the whistling wind as clear 170 And loud as might you hear the chapel bell Where this lord not too often kept his cell. Because Saint Maurus and Saint Benedict Had rules he thought were old and rather strict, This mounted Monk let old things pass away 175 So that the modern world might have its day. That text he valued less than a plucked hen Which says that hunters are not holy men, Or that a monk ignoring rules and order Is like a flapping fish out of the water 180 (That is to say, a monk out of his cloister). He held that text not worth a single oyster, And his opinion, I declared, was good. Why should he study till he's mad? Why should He pore through books day after day indoors, 185 Or labor with his hands at all the chores That Austin bids? How shall the world be served? Let such works be to Austin then reserved! And so he was a pricker and aright; Greyhounds he had as swift as birds in flight, 190 For tracking and the hunting of the hare Were all his pleasure, no cost would he spare. His sleeves, I saw, were fur-lined at the hand With gray fur of the finest in the land, And fastening his hood beneath his chin 195 There was a golden, finely crafted pin, A love knot in the greater end for class. His head was bald and shinier than glass. His face was shiny, too, as if anointed. He was a husky lord, one well appointed. 200 His eyes were bright, rolled in his head and glowed Just like the coals beneath a pot. He rode In supple boots, his horse in great estate. Now certainly he was a fine prelate, He wasn't pale like some poor wasted ghost. 205 Fat swan he loved the best of any roast. His palfrey was as brown as is a berry. A FRIAR there was, a wanton one and merry, Who begged within a certain limit. None In all four orders was a better one 210 At idle talk, or speaking with a flair. And many a marriage he'd arranged for fair And youthful women, paying all he could. He was a pillar of his brotherhood. Well loved he was, a most familiar Friar 215 To many franklins living in his shire And to the worthy women of the town; For he could hear confessions and played down The parish priest. To shrive in every quarter He had been given license by his order. 220 He'd sweetly listen to confession, then As pleasantly absolve one of his sin. He easily gave penance when he knew Some nice gift he'd receive when he was through. For when to a poor order something's given, 225 It is a sign the man is truly shriven. If someone gave, the Friar made it clear, He knew the man's repentance was sincere. For many men are so hard of the heart They cannot weep, though grievous be the smart; 230 Instead of tears and prayers, they might therefore Give silver to the friars who are poor. He kept his cape all packed with pins and knives That he would give away to pretty wives. At merriment he surely wasn't middling; 235 He sang quite well and also did some fiddling, And took the prize with all his balladry. His neck was white as any fleur-de-lis, His strength like any wrestler's of renown. He knew the taverns well in every town, 240 Each hosteler and barmaid, moreso than He knew the leper and the beggarman. For anyone as worthy as the Friar Had faculties that called for something higher Than dealing with those sick with leprosy. 245 It wasn't dignified, nor could it be Of profit, to be dealing with the poor, What with the rich and merchants at the store. Above all where some profit might arise Was where he'd be, in courteous, humble guise. 250 No man had greater virtue than did he, The finest beggar in the friary. (He paid a fee for his exclusive right: 252a No brethren might invade his begging site.) 252B And though a widow shoeless had to go, So pleasant was his "In principio" He'd have a farthing when he went away. 255 He gained much more than what he had to pay, And he could be as wanton as a pup. He'd arbitrate on days to settle up In law disputes, not like a cloisterer Dressed in a threadbare cope as students were, 260 But rather like a master or a pope. He wore a double-worsted semicope As rounded as a church bell newly pressed. He lisped somewhat when he was at his best, To make his English sweet upon his tongue. 265 And when he fiddled and his songs were sung, His eyes would twinkle in his head as might The stars themselves on any frosty night. Now Hubert was this worthy Friar's name. A MERCHANT with a forked beard also came, 270 Dressed in a motley. Tall and proud he sat Upon his horse. A Flemish beaver hat He wore, and boots most elegantly wrought. He spoke with pomp on everything he thought, And boasted of the earnings he'd collected. 275 He felt the trade route had to be protected Twixt Middleburgh and Orwell by the sea. He speculated in French currency. He used his wits so well, with such finesse, That no one guessed the man's indebtedness, 280 So dignified he was at managing All of his bargains and his borrowing. He was a worthy fellow all the same; To tell the truth, I do not know his name. There also was an Oxford STUDENT, one 285 Whose logic studies long since had begun. The horse he rode was leaner than a rake, And he was hardly fat, I undertake, But looked quite hollow, far from debonair. And threadbare was the cloak he had to wear; 290 He had no benefice as yet and, most Unworldly, wouldn't take a secular post. For he would rather have at his bed's head Some twenty books, all bound in black or red, Of Aristotle and his philosophy 295 Than finest robes, fiddle or psaltery. Philosopher he was, and yet his coffer Had little of the gold that it should offer. But all that from his friends he could acquire He spent on books and learning, didn't tire 300 Of praying for the souls of all those who Would give to help him see his schooling through, For study was the foremost thing he heeded. He never spoke one word more than was needed, And then he spoke with formal reverence; 305 He'd make it short but make a lot of sense. Of highest moral virtue was his speech, And gladly he would learn and gladly teach. A wise and prudent SERGEANT OF THE LAW, One who at Saint Paul's porch one often saw, 310 Was with us too, a man of excellence. Discreet he was, deserving reverence (Or so it seemed, his sayings were so wise). He often was a judge in the assize By virtue of his patent and commission. 315 He had with his renown and erudition Gained many fees and robes in his career. A purchaser of land without a peer, His holdings were fee simple in effect; No one could prove one purchase incorrect. 320 Nowhere was there a busier man, yet he Seemed busier than even he could be. He knew each court decision, every crime Adjudicated from King William's time. He'd execute a deed with such perfection 325 No man could call its writing into question, And every statute he could state by rote. He wore a simple multicolored coat Girt by a striped silk belt. Enough to tell, On what he wore I will no longer dwell. 330 There was a FRANKLIN in his company Whose beard was lily-white as it could be, Though his complexion was a healthy red. In wine he loved to sop his morning bread; A devotee of all delights that lure us, 335 He truly was a son of Epicurus (Who thought the life that's pleasure-filled to be The only one of true felicity). He was a great householder, and his bounty Made him Saint Julian to those in his county. 340 His bread and ale were always fresh and fine, And no one had a better stock of wine. Baked meat was always in his house, the best Of fish and flesh, so much that to each guest It almost seemed to snow with meat and drink 345 And all the dainties of which one could think. His meals would always vary, to adhere To all the changing seasons of the year. The coop was partridge-filled, birds fat as any, And in the pond the breams and pikes were many. 350 Woe to the cook unless his sauce was tart And he had all utensils set to start! His table would stay mounted in the hall All set and ready at a moment's call. In county sessions he was lord and sire, 355 And often he had been Knight of the Shire. A dagger and a purse made out of silk Hung from his belt, as white as morning milk. A sheriff he'd been, and county auditor. There wasn't a more worthy vavasor. 360 A HABERDASHER, DYER, CARPENTER, TAPESTRY MAKER, and a WEAVER were All there as well, clothed in the livery Of guildsmen, of one great fraternity. Their gear was polished up till it would pass 365 For new. Their knives were mounted not with brass But all with silver. Finely wrought array Their belts and pouches were in every way. Each one looked like a burgess, one whose place Would be before the whole guild on a dais. 370 They had the means and wits, were it their plan, Each of them to have been an alderman; They had enough income and property And wives who would to such a plan agree, Or else they'd have to blame themselves alone. 375 It's very nice as "Madam" to be known, And lead processions on a holy day And have one's train borne in a royal way. They brought along a COOK with them to fix Their meals. He boiled their chicken in a mix 380 Of marrowbones, tart herbs and galingale. He knew right off a draught of London ale, Knew how to boil and roast and broil and fry, Whip up a stew as well as bake a pie. It seemed a shame, and caused me some chagrin, 385 To see he had an ulcer on his shin. He made blancmange that I'd rank with the best. There was a SKIPPER hailing from the west, As far away as Dartmouth, I'd allow. He rode a nag as best as he knew how. 390 A woolen gown down to his knees he wore, And round his neck and neath his arm he bore A strap from which a dagger dangled down. The summer sun had turned his color brown. He surely was a festive sort of fellow; 395 Many a pilfered wine draught made him mellow While sailing from Bordeaux, the merchant snoring. He had no use for conscience, thought it boring. In battle, when he gained the upper hand, By plank he'd send them home to every land. 400 As for his skill in reckoning the tides And all the dangers of the sea besides, By zodiac and moon to navigate, From Hull to Carthage there was none as great. Hardy and shrewd in all he'd undertaken, 405 His beard by many tempests had been shaken; And he knew well the havens everywhere From Gotland to the Cape of Finisterre, And every creek in Brittany and Spain. The Skipper's ship was called the Maudelayne. 410 There also was among us a PHYSICIAN, None like him in this world, no competition, To speak of medicine and surgery. He was well grounded in astrology: He tended patients specially in hours 415 When natural magic had its greatest powers, For he could tell by which stars would ascend What talisman would help his patient mend. He knew the cause of every malady Whether from hot, cold, wet, or dry it be, 420 And of each humor what the symptoms were. He truly was a fine practitioner. And once he knew a malady's root cause He'd give the cure without a further pause, For readily apothecaries heeded 425 When there were drugs or medicines he needed, That profit might be shared by everyone (Their fellowship not recently begun). The ancient Aesculapius he knew, And Dioscorides and Rufus too, 430 Hali and Galen, old Hippocrates, Serapion, Avicenna, Rhazes, Gaddesden, Damascenus, Constantine, Bernard and Averroes and Gilbertine. His diet was as measured as could be, 435 Being not one of superfluity But greatly nourishing as well as prudent. He hardly could be called a Bible student. He decked himself in scarlet and in azure, With taffeta and silk. Yet he'd demure 440 If something might necessitate expense; He saved his gains from times of pestilence, For gold's a cordial, so the doctors say. That's why he loved gold in a special way. From near the town of BATH a good WIFE came; 445 She was a little deaf, which was a shame. She was a clothier, so excellent Her work surpassed that of Ypres and Ghent. When parish wives their gifts would forward bring, None dared precede her to the offering-- 450 And if they did, her wrath would surely be So mighty she'd lose all her charity. The kerchiefs all were of the finest texture (And must have weighed ten pounds, that's no conjecture) That every Sunday she had on her head. 455 The fine hose that she wore were scarlet red And tightly laced, she had a nice new pair Of shoes. Her face was ruddy, bold and fair. She was a worthy woman all her life: At church door with five men she'd been a wife, 460 Not counting all the company of her youth. (No need to treat that now, but it's the truth.) She'd journeyed to Jerusalem three times; Strange rivers she had crossed in foreign climes; She'd been to Rome and also to Boulogne, 465 To Galicia for Saint James and to Cologne, And she knew much of wandering by the way. She had the lover's gap teeth, I must say. With ease upon an ambling horse she sat, Well wimpled, while upon her head her hat 470 Was broad as any buckler to be found. About her ample hips a mantle wound, And on her feet the spurs she wore were sharp. In fellowship she well could laugh and carp. Of remedies of love she had good notions, 475 For of that art's old dance she knew the motions. There was a good man of religion, too, A PARSON of a certain township who Was poor, but rich in holy thought and work. He also was a learned man, a clerk; 480 The Christian gospel he would truly preach, Devoutly his parishioners to teach. Benign he was, in diligence a wonder, And patient in adversity, as under Such he'd proven many times. And loath 485 He was to get his tithes by threatening oath; For he would rather give, without a doubt, To all the poor parishioners about From his own substance and the offerings. Sufficiency he found in little things. 490 His parish wide, with houses wide asunder, He'd never fail in either rain or thunder, Though sick or vexed, to make his visitations With those remote, regardless of their stations. On foot he traveled, in his hand a stave. 495 This fine example to his sheep he gave: He always did good works before he taught them. His words were from the gospel as he caught them, And this good saying he would add thereto: "If gold should rust, then what will iron do?" 500 For if a priest be foul in whom we trust, No wonder that the ignorant goes to rust. And it's a shame (as every priest should keep In mind), a dirty shepherd and clean sheep. For every priest should an example give, 505 By his own cleanness, how his sheep should live. He never set his benefice for hire, To leave his sheep encumbered in the mire While he ran off to London and Saint Paul's To seek a chantry, singing in the stalls, 510 Or be supported by a guild. Instead He dwelt at home, and he securely led His fold, so that the wolf might never harry. He was a shepherd and no mercenary. A holy, virtuous man he was, and right 515 In showing to the sinner no despite. His speech was never haughty or indignant, He was a teacher modest and benignant; To draw folks heavenward to life forever, By good example, was his great endeavor. 520 But if some person were too obstinate, Whether he be of high or low estate, He would be sharply chided on the spot. A better priest, I wager, there is not. He didn't look for pomp or reverence 525 Nor feign a too self-righteous moral sense; What Christ and his apostles had to tell He taught, and he would follow it as well. With him his brother came, a PLOWMAN who Had carted many a load of dung. A true 530 And well-intentioned laborer was he, Who lived in peace and perfect charity. The Lord his God with whole heart he loved best, When times were good as well as when distressed, And loved his neighbor as himself, for which 535 He'd gladly thresh, or dig to make a ditch, For love of Christ, to help the poor in plight Without a wage, if it lay in his might. He paid his proper tithes religiously, Both of his labor and his property. 540 He wore a tunic and he rode a mare. A MILLER and a REEVE also were there, A SUMMONER, also a PARDONER, A MANCIPLE and me, no more there were. The MILLER was as stout as any known, 545 A fellow big in brawn as well as bone. It served him well, for everywhere he'd go He'd win the ram at every wrestling show. Short-shouldered, broad he was, a husky knave; No door could keep its hinges once he gave 550 A heave or ran and broke it with his head. His beard like any sow or fox was red, And broad as any spade it was, at that. He had a wart upon his nose, right at The tip, from which a tuft of hairs was spread 555 Like bristles on a sow's ears, just as red; The nostrils on the man were black and wide. He had a sword and buckler at his side. Great as a furnace was his mouth. And he Could tell some jokes and stories, though they'd be 560 Mostly of sin and lechery. He stole Much corn, charged three times over for a toll; Yet he'd a golden thumb, I do declare. A white coat and a blue hood were his wear. He blew the bagpipe, knew it up and down, 565 And played it as he brought us out of town. From an Inn of Court a gentle MANCIPLE Was with us, one who set a fine example In buying victuals wisely. Whether he Would buy with credit or with currency, 570 He took such care in purchases he made He'd come out well ahead for what he paid. Now is that not a sign of God's fair grace, That such a simple man's wit can displace The wisdom of a heap of learned men? 575 His masters numbered more than three times ten, All lawyers of a very skillful sort; A dozen of them in that Inn of Court Were worthy to be stewards of the treasure Of any lord in England, that in pleasure 580 He might live, enjoying all that he had Without a debt (unless he had gone mad), Or live as simply as he might desire; If need be, they could help an entire shire Through any circumstance that might befall. 585 And yet this Manciple could shame them all. The REEVE was a slender, choleric man. He shaved his beard as closely as one can; His hair was shortly clipped around the ears And cropped in front just like a priest's appears. 590 The fellow's legs were very long and lean, Each like a staff, no calf was to be seen. Well could he keep a granary and bin (No auditor could challenge that and win), And he could augur by the drought and rain 595 The true yield of his seed and of his grain. His master's sheep, his cattle, milk cows, horses, His poultry, swine, and all his stored resources Were wholly left to this Reeve's governing, For by contract his was the reckoning 600 Since first his lord had grown to twenty years. No man could ever put him in arrears; There was no bailiff, herdsman, not one servant With sleight unknown--the Reeve was too observant, And feared like death itself by all beneath. 605 He had a lovely dwelling on a heath Where green trees stood to shade it from the sun. In gaining goods his lord he had outdone, He stored up many riches privately. To please his lord, he'd give him subtly 610 A gift or loan out of the lord's own goods, Receiving thanks and things like coats and hoods. He'd learnt a good trade as a youth, for he Was quite a gifted man at carpentry. He rode a steed with quite a sturdy frame, 615 A dapple gray (the horse was Scot by name). He wore a long surcoat of bluish shade, And at his side he had a rusty blade. From Norfolk was this Reeve of whom I tell, Nearby a town that's known as Bawdeswell. 620 His coat was tucked up like a friar's. He Rode always last among our company. A SUMMONER was with us in the place Who like a cherub had a fire-red face, So pimply was the skin, eyes puffed and narrow. 625 He was as hot and lecherous as a sparrow. With black and scabby brows and scanty beard, He had a face that all the children feared; There's no quicksilver, litharge or brimstone, Borax, ceruse, no tartar oil that's known-- 630 No ointment that could cleanse, to keep it simple, And rid his face of even one white pimple Among the whelks that sat upon his cheeks. He loved his garlic, onions and his leeks, And strong wine red as blood once he had eaten. 635 Then he would speak and cry out like a cretin, And when with wine he was quite well infused, Some Latin words were all the words he used. He knew a few good phrases, two or three, Which he had learnt to say from some decree. 640 (No wonder, what with hearing it all day; And after all, as you well know, a jay Can call out "Walt!" as well as any pope.) But once a question came to test his scope, He had no learning left to make reply, 645 So "Questio quid juris!" was his cry. He was a gentle, kindly rascal, though; A better fellow men may never know. Why, he'd be willing, for a quart of wine, To let some rascal have his concubine 650 For one whole year, excusing him completely. He well could "pluck a bird" (always discreetly), And if he found a fellow rogue wherever He'd teach him that he should in his endeavor Not be afraid of the archdeacon's curse-- 655 Unless the fellow's soul was in his purse, For that is where his punishment would be. "The purse is the archdeacon's hell," said he. (I know that was a lie; a guilty man Should be in dread of Holy Church's ban, 660 It slays as absolution saves. He best Beware also a writ for his arrest.) The Summoner controlled, himself to please, All of the young girls of the diocese; He knew their secrets, counseled them and led. 665 A garland he had set upon his head As great as any ale sign on a stake. He'd made himself a buckler out of cake. With him there rode a gentle PARDONER Of Rouncivalle (comrades and friends they were), 670 Who'd come straight from the court of Rome. And he Would loudly sing "Come hither, love, to me!" The Summoner bore him a stiff bass staff; No trumpet ever sounded so by half. The Pardoner's hair was as yellow as wax, 675 But hung as smoothly as a hank of flax; In little strands the locks ran from his head Till over both his shoulders they were spread And thinly lay, one here, another there. In jolly spirit, he chose not to wear 680 His hood but kept it packed away. He rode (Or so he thought) all in the latest mode; But for a cap his long loose hair was bare. Such glaring eyes he had, just like a hare! A veronica was sewn upon his cap. 685 He had his bag before him in his lap, Brimming with pardons hot from Rome. He'd speak In voice as dainty as a goat's. From cheek To cheek he had no beard and never would, So smooth his face you'd think he'd shaved it good. 690 I think he was a gelding or a mare. But speaking of his craft, Berwick to Ware There was no pardoner could take his place. For in his bag he had a pillowcase That used to be, he said, Our Lady's veil; 695 He claimed he had a fragment of the sail That took Saint Peter out upon the sea Before Christ called him to his ministry; He had a cross of latten set with stones, And in a glass he had some old pig's bones; 700 And with these relics, when he saw at hand A simple parson from the hinterland, He'd make more money in one day alone Than would the parson two months come and gone. So he made apes, with all the tricks he'd do, 705 Of parson and of congregation too. And yet I should conclude, for all his tactic, In church he was a fine ecclesiastic, So well he read a lesson or a story, And best of all intoned the offertory. 710 For well he knew that when the song was sung, He then must preach, and not with awkward tongue. He knew how one gets silver from the crowd; That's why he sang so merrily and loud. As briefly as I could I've told you now 715 Degree, array, and number, and of how This company of pilgrims came to be In Southwark at that pleasant hostelry Known as the Tabard, which is near the Bell. And so with that, it's time for me to tell 720 Exactly what we did that very night When at this inn we'd all come to alight; And after that I'll tell you of our trip, Of all that's left about our fellowship. But first I pray that by your courtesy 725 You will not judge it my vulgarity If I should plainly speak of this assortment, To tell you all their words and their deportment, Though not a word of theirs I modify. For this I'm sure you know as well as I: 730 Who tells the tale of any other man Should render it as nearly as he can, If it be in his power, word for word, Though from him such rude speech was never heard. If he does not, his tale will be untrue, 735 The words will be invented, they'll be new. One shouldn't spare the words of his own brother, He ought to say one word just like another. Christ spoke broad words himself in Holy Writ, And you know well no villainy's in it. 740 And Plato says, to all those who can read Him, that words must be cousin to the deed. I also pray that you'll forgive the fact That in my tale I haven't been exact To set folks in their order of degree; 745 My wit is short, as clearly you may see. Our HOST made welcome each and every one, And right away our supper was begun. He served us with the finest in good food; The wine was strong to fit our festive mood. 750 Our Host performed, so it seemed to us all, As well as any marshal in a hall. A robust man he was, and twinkle-eyed, As fine as any burgess in Cheapside, Bold in his speech, one wise and educated, 755 A man whose manhood could not be debated. He also was a merry sort of bloke, As after supper he began to joke And spoke to us of mirth and other things When we had finished with our reckonings. 760 "My lords," he then addressed us, "from the start You've been most welcome here, that's from the heart. In faith, this year I've truly yet to see Here at this inn another company As merry as the one that's gathered now. 765 I'd entertain you more if I knew how. Say, here's a thought that just occurred to me, A way to entertain you, and it's free. "You go to Canterbury--may God speed, The blissful martyr bless you for the deed! 770 And well I know as you go on your way, You plan to tell some tales, to have some play. There won't be much amusement going on If everybody rides dumb as a stone. So as I said, I would propose a game 775 To give you some diversion, that's the aim. If it's agreed, by everyone's assent, That you'll stand by the judgment I present, And strive to do exactly as I say Tomorrow when you're riding on your way, 780 Then by my father's soul, who now is dead, You'll have some fun or you can have my head! Let's have a show of hands, no more to say." We let our will be known then right away; We didn't think it worth deliberation 785 And gave him leave without a hesitation To tell us what his verdict was to be. "My lords," he said, "then listen well to me, And may this not, I pray, meet your disdain. Now here's the point, speaking short and plain: 790 Each one of you, to pass the time of day, Shall tell two tales while you are on the way To Canterbury; then each one of you On the return shall tell another two, About adventures said once to befall. 795 And he who bears himself the best of all-- That is to say, the one who's judged to tell The tales that in both aim and wit excel-- Shall win a supper paid for by the lot, Here in this place, right at this very spot, 800 When we return again from Canterbury. For in my wish to make your journey merry, I will myself most gladly with you ride-- And at my own expense--to be your guide; And if my judgment one disputes, he'll pay 805 For all that we shall spend along the way. If you will grant me that it's to be so, Then tell me in a word that I may know To make my preparations for the start." It was so granted, each with happy heart 810 Gave him his oath. We therefore asked our Host To vouchsafe that indeed he'd take the post And function as our governor, to hear Our tales and judge, and make his judgment clear, And set the supper at a certain price; 815 Then we would all be ruled by his device, Come high or low. And so it was agreed By one assent, his judgment we would heed. With that, more wine was fetched for every guest. We drank it, then were ready for some rest 820 And went to bed with no more tarrying. Next morning, when the day began to spring, Up rose our Host and roused us like a cock. He gathered us together in a flock, Then forth we rode at but a walking pace 825 Out to Saint Thomas's watering place. Our Host there checked his horse and said to all: "My lords, now listen, if you will. Recall The pact, as I remind you, made with me. If evensong and matins both agree, 830 Let's see now who shall tell us the first tale. And if I've ever drunk of wine or ale, Whoso resists the judgment I present Shall pay along the way all that is spent. Draw lots before we travel farther, then, 835 And he who draws the shortest shall begin. Sir Knight," he said, "my master and my lord, Now draw a lot, to keep with our accord. Come here," said he, "my Lady Prioress, And you, Sir Student--quit your bashfulness 840 And studies too. Lay hand to, everyone!" And so the drawing was at once begun. I'll keep it short and tell you how it went: Whether by chance or fate or accident, The truth is that the lot fell to the Knight-- 845 A fact in which the rest all took delight. As was required, then tell his tale he must, By the agreement that was made in trust As you have heard. What more is there to know? And when this good man saw that it was so, 850 As one with wisdom and obedient To that to which he'd given free assent, He said, "Since I'm the one to start the game, The lot I drew is welcome, in God's name! Now let us ride, and hear what I've to say." 855 And with that word we rode forth on our way, As he began at once with merry cheer To tell his tale, and spoke as you may hear.
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