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.
When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought