Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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So to the crow he started, like one mad,
And tore out every feather that he had,
And made him black, and reft him of his stores
Of song and speech, and flung him out of doors
Unto the devil ; whence never come he back,
Say I. Amen. And hence all crows are black.

Lordings, by this example I you pray
Take heed, and be discreet in what you say ;


And above all, tell no man, for your life,

How that another man hath kiss'd his wife.

He '11 hate you mortally ; be sure of that ;

Dan Solomon, in teacher's chair that sat,

Bade us keep all our tongues close as we can ;

But, as I said, I 'm no text-spinning man,

Only, I must say, thus taught me my dame * ;

My son, think on the crow in God his name ;

My son, keep well thy tongue, and keep thy friend

A wicked tongue is worse than any fiend ;

My son, a fiend's a thing for to keep down ;

My son, God in his great discretion

Walled a tongue with teeth, and eke with lips,

That man may think, before his speech out slips.

A little speech spoken advisedly

Brings none in trouble, speaking generally.

My son, thy tongue thou always shouldst restrain,

* The sententious sermon, which here follows, might have had a purely
serious intention in Chaucer's time, when books were rare, and moralities not
such common-places as they are now ; yet it is difficult to believe that the

poet did not intend something of a covert satire upon, at least, the sermon-

izer's own pretensions, especially as the latter had declared himself against
text spinning. The Host, it is to be observed, had already charged him with
forgetting his own faults, while preaching against those of others. The
refashi>>ner of the original lines has accordingly endeavoured to retain the
kind of tabernacle, or old woman's, tone, into which be conceives tin-
Manciple to have fallen, compared with that of his narrative style.


Save only at such times thou dost thy pain

To speak of God in honour and in prayer ;

The chiefest virtue, son, is to beware

How thou let'st loose that endless thing, thy tongue ;

This every soul is taught, when he is young :

My son, of muckle speaking ill advised,

And where a little speaking had sufficed,

Cometh muckle harm. This was me told and taught, —

In muckle speaking, sinning wanteth nought.

Know'st thou for what a tongue that's hasty serveth ?

Right as a sword forecutteth and forecarveth

An arm in two, my dear son, even so

A tongue clean-cutteth friendship at a blow.

A jangler is to God abominable :

Read Solomon, so wise and honourable ;

Read David in his Psalms, read Seneca ;

My son, a nod is better than a say ;

Be deaf, when folk speak matter perilous ;

Small prate, sound pate, — guardeth the Fleming's house.

My son, if thou no wicked word hast spoken,

Thou never needest fear a pate ybroken ;

But he that hath mis-said, I dare well say,

His fingers shall find blood thereon, some day.

Thing that is said, is said ; it may not back

Be call'd, for all your ' Las !' and your ■ Alack !'


And he is that man's thrall to whom 'twas said ;
Cometh the bond some day, and will be paid.
My son, beware, and be no author new
Of tidings, whether they be false or true :
Go wheresoe'er thou wilt, 'mongst high or low,
Keep well thy tongue, and think upon the crow.




Z. A. Z.



Now when the Prioress had done, each man,

So serious look'd, 'twas wonderful to see !

Till our good host to banter us began,

And then at last he cast his eyes on me,

And jeering said, " What man art thou ? (quoth he)

That lookest down, as thou wouldst find a hare *,

For ever upon the ground I see thee stare.


Approach me near, and look up merrily !

Now make way, Sirs ! and let this man have place,

He in the waist is shaped as well as I :

* In this Prologue Chaucer gives the portrait of himself.


This were a poppet in an arm's embrace,
For any woman, small and fair of face.
He seemeth elf-like by his countenance,
For with no wight holdeth he dalliance.


Say somewhat now, since other folks have said ;

Tell us a tale o' mirth, and that anon."

" Host," quoth I then, " be not so far misled,

For other tales except this know I none ;

A little rime I learned in years agone."

" Ah ! that is well," quoth he ; " now we shall heai

Some dainty thing, methinketh, by thy cheer."


Fytte the First.


Listen, lordlings, in good intent;
And I will tell you verament

Of mirth and chivalry,
About a knight on glory bent,
In battle and in tournament ;

Sir Thopas named was he.


And he was born in a far countrey,
In Flanders, all beyond the sea,

At Popering in the place ;
His father was a man full free,
And of that country lord was he,

Enjoyed by Holy Grace,



Sir Thopas was a doughty swain,
Fair was his face as pain de Maine,

His lips were red as rose ;
His ruddy cheeks like scarlet grain ;
And I tell you in good certaine,

He had a seemly nose.


His hair, and beard, like saffron shone,
And to his girdle fell adown ;

His shoes of leather bright ;
Of Bruges were his hose so brown,
His robe it was of ciclatoun * —

He was a costly wight.

Well could he hunt the strong wild deer,
And ride a hawking for his cheer

With grey goshawk on hand ;
His archery fill'd the woods with fear,
In wrestling eke he had no peer, —

No man 'gainst him could stand.

• Written by Spenser checklaton, and by Bome Bupposed to have been
a species of base metal like gold; by others, more probably especially in
Instances like the present), the cloth of gold, of which a kind of circular state-
robe was made.



Full many a maiden bright in bower
Was sighing for him par amour

Between her prayers and sleep ;
But he was chaste, beyond their power,
And sweet as is the bramble flower *

That beareth the red hip.


And so it fell upon a day,
Forsooth, as I now sing and say,

Sir Thopas went to ride ;
He rode upon his courser grey,
And in his hand a lance so gay,

A long sword by his side.


He rode along a forest fair,
Many a wild beast dwelling there ;

(Mercy in Heaven defend !)
And there was also buck and hare ;
And as he went, he very near

Met with a sorry end.

* No doubt the word bramble bore this signification in Chaucer's time ; but
now it is the bramble which bears the blackberry, and the wild rose the hip. Ed,


And herbs sprang up, or creeping ran ;
The liquorice, and valerian,

Clove-gillyflowers, sun-dress'd ;
And nutmeg, good to put in ale,
Whether it be moist or stale, —

Or to lay sweet in chest.


The birds all sang, as tho' 'twere May
The spearhawk, and the popinjay,

It was a joy to hear ;
The throstle cock made eke his lay,
The wood- dove sung upon the spray,

With note full loud and clear.

Sir Thopas fell in love-longing

All when he heard the throstle sing,

And spurr'd his horse like mad,
So that all o'er the blood did spring,
And eke the white foam you might wring

The steed in foam seem'd clad.



Sir Thopas eke so weary was
Of riding on the fine soft grass,

While love burnt in his breast,
That down he laid him in that place
To give his courser some solace,

Some forage and some rest.


Saint Mary ! benedicite !

What meaneth all this love in me,

That haunts me in the wood ?
This night, in dreaming, did T see
An elf queen shall my true love be,

And sleep beneath my hood.


An elf queen will I love, I wis,
For in this world no woman is

Worthy to be my bride ;
All other damsels I forsake,
And to an elf queen will I take,

By grove and streamlet's side,
i 2



Into his saddle he clomb anon,
And pricketh over stile and stone,

An elf queen to espie ;
Till he so long had ridden and gone,
That he at last upon a morn

The Fairy Land came nigh.


Therein he sought both far and near,
And oft he spied in daylight clear

Through many a forest wild ;
But in that wondrous land I ween,
No living wight by him was seen,

Nor woman, man, nor child.


At last there came a giant gaunt,
And he was named Sire Oliphaunt,

A perilous man of deed :
And he said, " Childe, by Termagaunt
If thou ride not from thi< my haunt,

Soon will I shiv tbv Bteed


With this victorious mace ;
For here's the lovely Queen of Faery,
With harp and pipe and symphony,

A- dwelling in this place."


Childe Thopas said right haughtily,
"To-morrow will I combat thee

In armour bright as flower ;
iVnd then I promise 'par ma fay'
That thou shalt feel this javelin gay,

And dread its w T ondrous power.

To-morrow we shall meet again,
And I will pierce thee, if I may,
Upon the golden prime of day ; —

And here you shall be slain."

Sir Thopas drew aback full fast ;
The giant at him huge stones cast,

Which from a staff- sling fly ;
But well escaped the Childe Thopas,
And it was all thro' God's good grace,

And through his bearing high.



Still listen, gentles, to my tale,
Merrier than the nightingale : —

For now I must relate,
How that Sir Thopas rideth o'er
Hill and dale and bright sea shore,

E'en to his own estate.


His merry men commandeth he

To make for him the game and glee ;

For needs he must soon fight
With a giant fierce, with strong heads three,
For paramour and jollity,

And chivalry so bright.


" Come forth," said he, " my minstrels fair,
And tell me tales right debonaire,

While T am clad and armed ;
Romances, full of real tales,
Of dames, and popes, and cardinals,

And maids by wizards charmed.



They bore to him the sweetest wine
In silver cup ; the muscadine,

With spices rare of Ind ;
Fine gingerbread, in many a slice,
With cummin seed, and liquorice,

And sugar thrice refin'd.


Then next to his white skin he ware
A cloth of fleecy wool, as fair,

Woven into a shirt ;
Next that he put a cassock on,
And over that an habergeon,

To guard right well his heart.


And over that a hauberk went

Of Jews' work, and most excellent ;

Full strong was every plate ;
And over that his coat armoure,
As white as is the lily flower,

In which he would debate.



His shield was all of gold so red,
And thereon was a wild boar's head,

A carbuncle beside ;
And then he swore on ale and bread,
How that the giant should be dead,

What ever should betide !


His boots were glazed right curiously
His sword -sheath was of ivory,

His helm all brassy bright ;
His saddle was of jet-black bone,
His bridle like the bright sun shone,

Or like the clear moon's light.


His spear was of the cypress tree,
That bodeth battle right and free ;

The point full sharp was ground ;
His steed it was a dapple grey,
That goeth an amble on the way,

Full softlv and full round.



Lo ! lordlings mine, here ends one fytte

Of this my Tale, a gallant strain ;
And if ye will hear more of it,

I'll soon begin again.

Fytte the Second.

Now hold your speech for charity,
Both gallant knight and lady free,

And hearken to my song
Of battle and of chivalry,
Of ladies' love and minstrelsy,

All ambling thus along.


Men speak much of old tales I know
Of Hornchild, Ipotis, also

Of Bevis and Sir Guy ;
Of Sire Libeaux, and Pleindamour ;
But Sire Thopas, he is the flower

Of real chivalry.



Now was his gallant steed bestrode,
And forth upon his way he rode,

As spark flies from a brand ;
Upon his crest he bare a tower,
And therein stuck a lily flower :

Save him from giant hand !


He was a knight in battle bred,
And in no house would seek his bed,

But laid him in the wood ;
His pillow was his helmet bright, —
His horse grazed by him all the night

On herbs both fine and good.


And he drank water from the well,
As did the knight Sir Percival,

So worthy under weed ;
Till on a day

[Here Chaucer is interrupted in his Rime.']



" No more of this, for Heaven's high dignity !"

Quoth then our Host, " for, lo ! thou makest me

So weary of thy very simpleness,

That all so wisely may the Lord me bless,

My very ears, with thy dull rubbish, ache.

Now such a rime at once let Satan take.

This may be well called ' doggrel rime,' " quoth he.

" Why so ?" quoth I ; " why wilt thou not let me

Tell all my Tale, like any other man,

Since that it is the best rime that I can ?"

" Mass !" quoth our Host, " if that I hear aright,

Thy scraps of rhyming are not worth a mite ;

Thou dost nought else but waste away our time : —

Sir, at one word, thou shalt no longer rhyme."







Next morning Troilus began to clear

His eyes from sleep, at the first break of day,

And unto Pandarus, his own brother dear,

For love of God, full piteouslv did say,

We must the Palace see of Cresida ;

For since we yet may have no other feast,

Let us behold her Palace at the least !

And therewithal to cover his intent

A cause he found into the town to go,

And they right forth to Cresid's Palace went ;

But, Lord, this simple Troilus was woe,

Him thought his sorrowful heart would burst in two ;

For when he saw her doors fast-bolted all,

Well nigh for sorrow down he 'gan to fall.


Therewith when this true Lover 'gan behold
How shut was every window of the place,
Like frost he thought his heart was icy cold ;
For which, with changed pale and deadly face,
Without word utter'd, forth he 'gan to pace ;
And on his purpose bent so fast to ride,
That no wight his continuance espied.

Then said he thus,— O Palace desolate !

O house of houses, once so richly dight ;

O Palace empty and disconsolate !

Thou Lamp, of which extinguished is the light ;

O Palace whilom day that now art night,

Thou ought' st to fall and I to die ; since she

Is gone who held us both in sovereignty.

O of all houses once the crowned boast !

Palace illumined with the sun of bliss ;

O ring of which the ruby now is lost,

O cause of woe, that cause hast been of bliss :

Yet, since I may no better, would I kiss

Thy cold doors ; but I dare not for this rout :

Farewell, thou shrine of which the Saint is out !


Therewith he cast on Pandarus his eye,
With changed face, and piteous to behold ;
And when he might his time aright espy,
Aye, as he rode, to Pandarus he told
Both his new sorrow and his joys of old,
So piteously, and with so dead a hue,
That every wight might on his sorrow rue.

Forth from the spot he rideth up and down,
And every thing to his rememberance
Came as he rode by places of the town
Where he had felt such perfect pleasure once.
Lo, yonder saw I mine own lady dance,
And in that Temple she with her bright eyes,
My Lady dear, first bound me captive-wise.

And yonder with joy- smitten heart have I
Heard my own Cresid's laugh ; and once at play
I yonder saw her eke full blissfully ;
And yonder once she unto me 'gan say —
Now my sweet Troilus, love me well I pray ;
And there so graciously did me behold,
That hers unto the death my heart I hold.



And at the corner of that self-same house
Heard I my most beloved Lady dear,
So womanly with voice melodious
Singing so well, so goodly, and so clear,
That in my soul raethinks I yet do hear
The blissful sound ; and in that very place
My Lady first me took unto her grace.

O blissful God of Love ! then thus he cried,
When I the process have in memory,
How thou hast wearied me on every side,
Men thence a book might make, a history ;
What need to seek a conquest over me
Since I am wholly at thy will ? what joy
Hast thou thy own liege subjects to destroy ?

Dread Lord ! so fearful when provoked thine ire,
Well hast thou wreaked on me by pain and grief
Now mercy, Lord ! thou knowest well I desire
Thy grace above all pleasures first and chief ;
And live and dje I will in thy belief ;
For which I ask for guerdon but one boon,
That Cresida again thou send me soon.


Constrain her heart as quickly to return,

As thou dost mine with longing her to see,

Then know I well that she would not sojourn.

Now, blissful Lord, so cruel do not be

Unto the blood of Troy, I pray of thee,

As Juno was unto the Theban blood,

From whence to Thebes came griefs in multitude.

And after this he to the gate did go
Whence Cresida rode, as if in haste she was ;
And up and down there went, and to and fro,
And to himself full oft he said, alas !
From hence my hope and solace forth did pass.

would the blissful God now for his joy,

1 might her see again coming to Troy.

And up to yonder hill was I her guide ;
Alas, and there I took of her my leave ;
Yonder I saw her to her father ride,
For very grief of which my heart shall cleave ; —
And hither home I came when it was eve ;
And here I dwell an outcast from all joy,
And shall, unless I see her soon in Troy,
k 2


And of himself did he imagine oft,

That he was blighted, pale, and waxen less

Than he was wont ; and that in whispers soft

Men said, what may it be, can no one guess

Why Troilus hath all this heaviness ?

All which he of himself conceited wholly

Out of his weakness and his melancholy.

Another time he took into his head,

That every wight, who in the way passed by,

Had of him ruth, and fancied that they said,

I am right sorry Troilus will die :

And thus a day or two drove wearily ;

As ye have heard ; such life 'gan he to lead

As one that standeth betwixt hope and dread.

For which it pleased him in his songs to show
The occasion of his woe, as best he might ;
And made a fitting song, whose words but few,
Somewhat his woeful heart to make more light
And when he was removed from all men's sight,
With a soft voice, he of his lady dear,
That absent was, 'gan sing as ye may hear.


Star, of which I lost have all the light,
With a sore heart well ought I to bewail,
That ever dark in torment, night by night,
Toward my death with wind I steer and sail ;
For which upon the tenth night if thou fail
With thy bright beams to guide me but one hour,
My ship and me Charybdis will devour.

As soon as he this song had thus sung through,
He fell again into his sorrows old ;
And every night, as was his wont to do,
Troilus stood the bright moon to behold ;
And all his trouble to the moon he told,
And said ; I wis, when thou art horn'd anew,

1 shall be glad if all the world be true.

Thy horns were old as now upon that morrow,
When hence did journey my bright Lady dear,
That cause is of my torment and my sorrow ;
For which, oh, gentle Luna, bright and clear,
For love of God, run fast above thy sphere ;
For when thy horns begin once more to spring,
Then shall she come, that with her bliss may bring.


The day is more, and longer every night
Than they were wont to be — for he thought so
And that the sun did take his course not right,
By longer way than he was wont to go ;
And said, I am in constant dread I trow,
That Phaeton his son is yet alive,
His too fond Father's car amiss to drive.

Upon the walls fast also would he walk,

To the end that he the Grecian host might see ;

And ever thus he to himself would talk : —

Lo, yonder is mine own bright Lady free ;

Or yonder is it that the tents must be ;

And thence does come this air which is so sweet,

That in my soul I feel the joy of it.

And certainly this wind, that more and more
By moments thus increaseth in my face,
Is of my Lady's sighs heavy and sore ;
I prove it thus ; for in no other space
Of all this town, save only in this place,
Feel I a wind, that soundeth so like pain ;
It saith, Alas, why severed are we twain.


A weary while in pain he tosseth thus,

Till fully past and gone was the ninth night ;

And even at his side stood Pandarus,

Who busily made use of all his might

To comfort him, and make his heart too light ;

Giving him always hope, that she the morrow

Of the tenth day will come, and end his sorrow.





It has been thought that an idea of the extraordinary versatility
of Chaucer's genius could not be adequately conveyed unless one
of his matter-of-fact comic tales were attempted. The Reve's
has accordingly been selected, as presenting a graphic painting of
characters, — equal to those contained in the " Prologue to the
Canterbury Tales," — displayed hi action by means of a story which
may be designated as a broad farce ending in a pantomime of
absurd reality.

To those who are acquainted with the original, an apology may
not be considered inadmissible for certain necessary variations
and omissions.


When all had laugh'd at this right foolish case

Of Absalom and credulous Nicholas *,

Diverse folk diversely their comments made.

But, for the most part, they all laugh'd and play'd ,

Nor at this tale did any man much grieve,

Unless indeed 'twas Oswald, our good Reve.

Because that he w T as of the carpenter craft,

In his heart still a little ire is left.

He 'gan to grudge it somewhat, as scarce right ;

' So aid me !' quoth he ; ' I could such requite

* Alluding to the "Miller's Tale," which has rather offended the Reve,
hy reason that it ridiculed a worthy carpenter.

140 the reve's prologue.

By throwing dust in a proud miller's eye,
If that I chose to speak of ribaldry.
But I am old ; I cannot play for age ;
Grass-time is done — my fodder is now forage ;
This white top sadly writeth mine old years ;
Mine heart is also mouldy'd as mine hairs :
And since I fare as doth the medlar tree.
That fruit with time grows ever the worse to be,
Till it be rotten in rubbish and in straw.

' We old men, as I fear, the same lot draw ;
Till we be rotten can we not be ripe.
We ever hop while that the w r orld will pipe ;
For in our will there sticketh ever a nail,
To have a hoary head and a green tail,
As hath a leek ; for though our strength be lame,
Our will desireth folly ever the same ;
For when our climbing's done, our words aspire ;
Still in our ashes old is reeking fire *.

* Or thus:—

For when our climbing's done our speech aspires ;
E'en in our ashes live their wonted fires.

The original lines are :—

" For whanne we may not don than wol we qteken,
Yet in our ashen olde is fyre yitkin.' -

The coincidence of the last line with the one quoted from Gray's Elegy will


' Four hot coals have we, which I will express :
Boasting, lying, anger, and covetousness.
These burning coals are common unto age,
Our old limbs well may stumble o'er the stage,
But will shall never fail us, that is sooth.
Still in my head was always a colt's tooth,
As many a year as now is pass'd and done,
Since that my tap of life began to run.
For certainly when I was born, I trow,
Death drew the tap of life, and let it flow ;
And ever since the tap so fast hath run,
That well-nigh empty now is all the tun.
The stream of life but drips from time to time ;
The silly tongue may well ring out and chime
Of wretchedness, that passed is of yore :
With aged folk, save dotage, there's nought more.'

be remarked. Mr. Tynvhit says, he should certainly have considered the
latter as an "imitation" (of Chaucer), "if Mr. Gray himself had not referred
us to the 169 (170) Sonnet of Petrarch, as his original: —

Ch' i' veggio nel pensier. dolce mio foco,
Fredda una lingua, e duo begli occhi chiusi
Rimaner dopo noi pien' di faville.

The sentiment is different in all three ; but the form of expression, here
adopted by Gray, closely resembles that of the Father of English Poetry;
although, in Gray's time, it was no doubt far more elegant to quote
Petrarch than Chaucer.

142 the reve's prologue.

When that our Host had heard this sermoning,
He 'gan to speak as lordly as a king ;
And said, ' Why, what amounteth all this wit ?
What ! shall we speak all day of holy writ ?
The devil can make a steward fit to preach,
Or of a cobbler a sailor, or a leach.
Say forth thy tale ; and tarry not the time.

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 11 of 18)