Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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Read ye his rhymes who list the truth to find,

Which never shall grow pale within my mind,

But always fresh be in mine memory.

To whom be given honour, praise, and glory,

Of seeing first the light in our language ;

Chief Registrer of this goode Pilgrimage ;

All that was told forgetting nought at all, —

Feign'd tales, nor things historial,

With many proverbs, diverse and uncouth,

By the rehearsal of his sugared mouth :

Of eche thing keeping in substance

The sentence whole, withouten variance,

Voiding the chaff, sooth to speak plain —

Enlumhhng the true, picked, solid grain.




My maister Chaucer, with his fresh Comedies

Is dead, alas ! chief Poet of Britaine,

That whilom made full piteous Tragedies :

The fall of Princes he did also 'plaine,

As he that was of rhyming sovereign,

Whom all this land should of good right prefer,
Since of our Language he was the Load-star !

And, in like wise, as I have told before,

My maister Chaucer did his busyness,
And in his dayes he hath so well him borne
Out of our tongue to banish all rudenesse
And to reform with colours of swetene'sse :
Wherefore to him let us give laud and glory.
And put his name with Poets in memory.

This said Poete, my Maister, in his dayes

Made and compiled full many a fresh dittee,
Ballads, Complaints, Roundels, and Virelays,
Full delectable to heron and to see :
For which, men should — of right and equitie,
Since he of English in rhyming was the best —
Pray unto Cod to give his soule good rest.





But welaway ! so is mine hearte woe

That the honour of English tongue is dead,
Of whom I counsel had, and help in need.

0, Master deare ! and father reverent,

My master Chaucer, flower of eloquence !
Mirrour of fruitful wisdom and intent,

0, universal father in science,
Alas ! that thou thine excellente prudence,

In thy bed mortal, mightest not bequeath !

What ailed Death ? — Alas ! why take thy breath \

0, Death ! that didest no single evil here

In slaughtre of him — for all the land it smarteth :
But ne'ertheless yet haddest thou no powere
His name to slay ! His virtue high asserteth
Its right, unslain — (though death this life aye hurteth)
With bookes of his endrnate enditing,
Which are to all this land enlumining.


IN HIS FAIRY QUEEN.— L. 4. Canto 2. St. 31, &c.

Courageous Cambel, and stout Triamond

With Canace and Cambine link'd in lovely bond.


Whilom as antique stories tellen us,
Those two were foes the fellonest on ground,
And battle made, the draddest dangerous,
That ever shrilling trumpet did resound :
Though now their acts be nowhere to be found.
As that renowned poet them compil'd
With warlike numbers, and heroick sound,
Dan Chaucer (well of English undented)
On Fame's eternal bead-roll worthy to be filed.


But wicked Time, that all good thoughts doth waste,
And works of noblest wits to nought out-wear,
That famous Monument hath quite defaced
And robb'd the world of treasure endless dear,
The which might have enriched all us here.
cursed Eld ! the canker-worm of wits ;
How may these rhymes (so rude as doth appear)
Hope to endure, sith works of heavenly wits
Are quite devour'd, and brought to nought by little bits.


Then pardon, most sacred happy spirit,
That I thy labours lost may thus revive,
And steal from thee the meed of thy due merit,
That none durst ever while thou wast alive ;
And being dead, in vain yet many strive :
Ne dare I like, but through infusion sweet
Of thine own spirit (which doth in me survive)
I follow here the footing of thy feet,
That with thy meaning so I may the rather meet.



IN HIS WORKS, PRINTED 1709. p. 84.

Old Chaucer, like the morning star,
To us discovers day from far,
His light those mists and clouds dissolv'd,
Which our dark nation long involv'd ;
But he descending to the shades,
Darkness again the age invades.
Next (like Aurora) Spenser rose,
Whose purple blush the day foreshows.



But, sad Virgin, that thy power
Might raise Musaeus from his bower.
Or bid the soul of Orpheus sing —
Or call up Him that left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold, &c.


Such was old Chaucer, such the placid mien

Of him who first with harmony inform'd

The language of our fathers. Here he dwelt

For many a cheerful day. These ancient walls

Have often heard him while his legends blithe

He sang of love and knighthood, or the wiles

Of homely life, thro' each estate and age,

The fashions and the follies of the world

With cunning hand pourtraying. Tho' perchance

From Blenheim's tow'rs, stranger ! thou art come,

Glowing with Churchill's trophies, yet in vain

Dost thou applaud them, if thy breast be cold

To him this other Hero, who, in times

Dark and untaught, began with charming verse

To tame the rudeness of his native laud.



English Chaucer ! oft to thy glory old —

Thy sire-ship in poesy, thy fame,

DulPd not by dusty Time (which aye will hold

Thy name up, banner high, bright as a flame

That burns on holy altar) — have my ears,

Like portals, wide been opened. Great fears

And worldly cares were on me ; but a hand,

Power-fraught with this rich gift, hath gently fann'd

My sorrow'd spirit to a ripe zeal fine.

Now gaze I like young Bacchus on his wine,

And own no check from sorrow's hollow frown,

Full-hearted that the wrestler is down ;

Strong as an eagle gone up to the sim,

Dull earth I emit, and stray with Chaucer on !

C. W. 1823.


Page 4, line 22 — for " as we did advise," read as I you apprise.

' shone right moist," read shoes right fair, &c.
of sorrow's woe," read of sorrow, woe, &c.
Land," read Luna.

be gaoler at that tide," read the gaoler at that tide, fee.
This will I say, that were he born my brother," read
And this will say (e'en tho' he were my broiher).

— 78, — 8 — for "I'd pray to heaven never to have another," read

He's faithful — only till he get another.

— 139, — 1 — for "at this right foolish case," read their fill at this nice


— 139, — 2 — for " credulous," read dexterous.


line 22— for


— 17— for


— 13— for


— 2— for


— 9— for


— 7— for







When that sweet April showers with downward shoot
The drought of March have pierc'd unto the root,
And bathed every vein with liquid power,
Whose virtue rare engendereth the flower ;
When Zephyrus also with his fragrant breath
Inspired hath in every grove and heath
The tender shoots of green, and the young sun
Hath in the Ram one half his journey run,
And small birds in the trees make melody,
That sleep and dream all night with open eye ;
So nature stirs all energies and ages
That folks are bent to go on pilgrimages,
b 2


And palmers for to wander thro' strange strands,

To sing the holy mass in sundry lands :

And more especially, from each shire's end

Of England, they to Canterbury wend,

The holy blissful martyr for to seek,

Who hath upheld them when that they were weak.

It fell, within that season on a day
In Southwark, at the Tabard as I lay,
Ready to wend upon my pilgrim route
To Canterbury, with a heart devout,
At night was come into that hostelry
Well nine-and-twenty in a company,
Of sundry folk who thus had chanced to fall
In fellowship, and pilgrims were they all,
That now to Canterbury town would ride.
The chambers and the stables they were wide,
And all of us refresh'd, and of the best.

And shortly when the sun was gone to rest,
So had I spoken with them every one,
That I was of their fellowship anon,
And made them promise early for to rise
To take our way there, as we did advise.
But ne'ertheless, while I have time and space,
Ere that I further in this story pace,
Methinks it were accordant with good sense


To tell you the condition and pretence

Of each of them, so as it seem'd to me ;

And which they were — of what kind, and degree ;

And eke in what array that they were in :

And at a knight, then, will I first begin.

A Knight there was, and that a worthy man,
Who from the hour on which he first began
To ride out, vowed himself to chivalry,
Honour and truth, freedom and courtesy.
In his lord's war right worthy had he shone,
And thereto ridden — none had further gone,
In Christian, and in Heathen land, no less ;
And ever honour'd for his worthiness.

At Alexandria was he when 'twas won.
Full oft the wassail board he had begun,
Above the bravest warriors out of Prusse ;
In Lithuania had he serv'd, and Russe ;
No Christian man so oft of his degree.
At Algeziras, in Granada, he
Had join'd the siege ; and ridden in Belmarie :
At Lavas was he, and at Satalie
When they were won ; and, borne on the Great Sea,
At many a noble fight of ships was he.
In mortal battles had he been fifteen.


And fought for our true faith, at Tramissene,
In the lists thrice — and always slain his foe.
And this same worthy Knight had been also
In Anatolia sometime with a lord,
Fighting against the foes of God his word ;
And evermore he won a sovereign prize.
Though thus at all times honour'd, he was wise,
And of his port as meek as is a maid.
He never yet a word discourteous said
In all his life to any mortal wight :
He was a very perfect gentle knight.

But for to tell you of his staid array, —
His horse was good, albeit he was not gay.
He wore a fustian cassock, short and plain,
All smutch'd with rust from coat of mail, and rain.
For he was late return'd ; and he was sage,
And cared for nought but his good pilgrimage.

His son, a young Squire, with him there I saw ;
A lover and a lusty bachelor ;

With locks crisp curl'd, as they'd been laid in press
Of twenty years of age he was, I guess.
He was in stature of the common length,
With wondrous nimbleness, and great of strength :
And he had been in expeditions three,


In Flanders, Artois, and in Picardy ;

And borne him well, tho' in so little space,

In hope to stand fair in his lady's grace.

Embroider'd was he, as it were a mead
All crowded with fresh flowers, white and red.
Singing he was, or fluting all the day :
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his gown, with sleeves right long and wide
Well could he sit his horse, and fairly ride.
He could make songs, and letters well endite,
Joust and eke dance, and portraits paint, and write.
His amorous ditties nightly fill'd the vale ;
He slept no more than doth the nightingale.

Courteous he was, modest and serviceable,
And carv'd before his father at the table.

A Yeoman had he ; and no page beside :
It pleased him, on this journey, thus to ride ;
And he was clad in coat and hood of green.
A sheaf of peacock arrows, bright and keen,
Under his belt he bare full thriftily :
Well could he dress his tackle yeomanly ;
His arrows drooped not with feathers low ;
And in his hand he bare a mighty bow.
His head was like a nut, with visage brown.


Of wood-craft all the ways to him were known.

An arm-brace wore he that was rich and broad,

And by his side a buckler and a sword ;

While on the other side a dagger rare

Well sheathed was hung, and on his breast he bare

A large St. Christopher of silver sheen.

A horn he had ; the baldric was of green.

A forester was he truly, as I guess.

There was, likewise, a Nun, a Prioress,
That of her smiling was full simple and coy.
Her greatest oath was but ■ by Saint Eloy ;'
And she was named Madam Eglentine.
Right well she sang the services divine,
Entuned in her nose with accent sweet ;
And French she spake full properly and neat,
After the school of Stratford, at Bow town,
For French of Paris was to her unknown.
At table she was scrupulous withal ;
No morsel from her lips did she let fall,
Nor in her sauce would dip her fingers deep.
Well could she carry a morsel, and well keep,
That not a drop e'er fell upon her breast.
In courtesy her pleasure much did rest.
Her dainty upper-lip she wiped so clean


That in her cup there was no farthing seen

Of grease,, when she had drunk ; and for her meat

Full seemly bent she forward on her seat.

And of a truth she was of great disport ;

Pleasant to all and amiable of port.

It gave her pain to counterfeit the ways

Of court ; its stately manner and displays ;

And to be held in distant reverence.

But for to tell you of her conscience,
She was so tender and so piteous,
She would shed tears if that she saw a mouse
Caught in a trap, if it were hurt or dead.
She had some small hounds, which she always fed
With roasted meat, and milk, and fine wheat bread ;
But sore wept she if one of them were dead,
Or if men with a stick e'er struck it smart :
And all was conscience and tender heart.

Full seemly was her kerchief crimp' d across ;
Her nose well cut and long ; eyes grey as glass ;
Her mouth was small, and thereto soft and red,
And certainly a forehead fair she had :
It was almost a span in breadth, I trow ;
And truly she was not of stature low.

Most proper was her cloak, as I was ware.
Of coral small about her aim she bare


Two strings of beads, bedizen'd all with green,
And thereon hung a broach of gold full sheen,
On which was graven first a crowned A,
And after "Amor vincit omnia."

Another Nun, also, with her had she —
Who served instead of chaplain — and Priests three.

A Monk there was, of skill and mastery proved ;
A bold hand at a leap, who hunting loved :
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a dainty horse had he in stable,
And when he rode, men might his bridle hear,
Gingling in a whistling wind as clear
And eke as loud, as doth the chapel bell
Where reign'd he lord o'er many a holy cell.

The rules of Saint Maure and Saint Benedict,
Because that they were old and something strict,
This sturdy monk let old things backward pace,
And of the new world follow'd close the trace.
He rated not the text at a pluck'd hen,
Which saith that hunting 'fits not holy men,
Or that a monk beyond his bricks and mortar
Is like a fish without a drop of water —
That is to say, a monk out of his cloister : —
Now this same text he held not worth an oyster !


And I say his opinion was not bad.

Why should he study and make himself half mad

Upon a book in cloister ever to pore,

Or labour with his hands, and dig and bore

As Austin bids ? How shall the world be served ?

Let the world's work for Austin be reserved.

Therefore our monk spurr'd on, a jolly wight.

Greyhounds he kept, as swift as bird of flight :

In riding hard and hunting for the hare,

Was all his joy ; for no cost would he spare.

I saw his large sleeves trimm'd above the hand
With fur, and that the finest of the land ;
And for to keep his hood beneath his chin,
He had of beaten gold a curious pin :
A love-knot at the greater end there was.
His head was bald, and shone like any glass ;
And eke his face, as it had been anoint.
He was a lord full fat, and in good point.
His eyes were deep and rolling in his head,
Wliich steam'd as doth a furnace melting lead.
His boots were supple, his horse right proud to see ;
Now certainly a prelate fair was he :
He was not pale as a poor pining ghost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.


A Friar there was, a wanton and a merry ;
Licensed to beg, a wondrous solemn man.
In all the orders four there's none that can
So much of dalliance wrap in language fair.
Full many a marriage had he brought to bear
For women young, and paid the cost with sport.
Unto his order he was rare support.
Right well beloved, in fellowship was he
With jolly franklins all, and yeomanry ;
And eke with women, of each town the flower,
For in confession he possess' d a power
More than a curate, as himself could state,
Being of his order a licentiate.
Full sweetly would he hear confession made ;
Pleasantly was his absolution said.
He was an easv man in penance naming,
And knew that alms fell heavy from light blaming
Since to an order poor when much is given,
It proves the culprit has been rightly shriven ;
For if a sinner pay dear for his bent,
He knew the man must certainly repent ;
And many a man so hard is of his heart,
He will not weep, although his soul should smart ;
Therefore, instead of prayers and groans and tears,
Men must give money to the poor frycres.


His tippet always was stuff'd full of knives,
And pins, as presents meant for handsome wives.
And certainly his note was blithe and gay ;
Well could he sing, and on the psaltery play.
In songs and tales the prize o'er all bore he.
His neck was white as is the fleur de lis.
Strong was he also, as a champion,
And knew the taverns well in every town,
And every ostler there, and tapster gay,
Much more than he knew beggars by the way.
For unto such a worthy man as he,
Nothing is gain'd from his good faculty
By giving to such lazars countenance :
It is not right — no interest can advance —
To deal with knaves and scrubs who have so little ;
But all with rich, and those who sell good victual.

Therefore 'bove all where profit might arise,
Courteous he was, and full of service wise.
There was no man one half so virtuous :
He was the cleverest beggar in all his house ;
And farm'd a certain district, as in grant.
None of his brethren came within his haunt.
And though a widow scarcely had a shoe,
So pleasant was his " In princijno,"
He still would have a farthing ere he went.


His harvest was far better than his rent.
And rage he could, as it had been a whelp,
In love-days * ; yet he often gave great help :
For there was he, not like a cloisterer frore,
With threadbare cape, as suits a scholar poor,
But he was like a bishop or a pope.
Of double worsted was his semi- cope,
Round as a new bell from the moulder's press.
Somewhat he lisped for his wantonness,
To make his English sweet upon his tongue.
And in his harping, when that he had sung,
His eyes they twinkled in his head aright,
As do the stars upon a frosty night.
And Hubert was this worthy friar's name.

Next him, with forked beard, a Merchant came,
In motley dress, and high on horse he sat.
He wore a stately Flanders' beaver hat.
His boots, that fitted close, were of neat make ;
His reasons very solemnly he spake,
Sounding the increase of his gains alway.
He wish'd the channel had no dues to pay,
Running 'twixt Middleburgh and Overwell.

* Days which were appointed for the settlement of disputes in the most
loving manner. — Bracton, 1. v. lbl. 369.


Well could he French crowns by exchanges sell.

All chances he with his shrewd wits beset,

And no one knew that he was much in debt :

So steadily he govern'd all his moves,

With bargains, and with bills that work'd in grooves.

In truth he was a worthy man withal,

But sooth to say, his name I can't recall.

A Clerk there was, from Oxford, in the press,
Who in pure logic placed his happiness.
His horse was lean as any garden rake ;
And he was not right fat, I undertake ;
But hollow look'd, and sober, and ill fed.
His uppermost short cloak was a bare thread,
For he had got no benefice as yet,
Nor for a worldly office was he fit.
For he had rather have at his bed's head
Some twenty volumes, clothed in black or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
Than richest robes, fiddle, or psaltery.
But though a true philosopher was he,
Yet had he little gold beneath his key ;
But every farthing that his friends e'er lent,
In books and learning was it always spent ;
And busily he pray'd for the sweet souls


Of those who gave him wherewith for the schools.

He bent on study his chief care and heed.

Not a word spake he more than there was need,

And this was said with form and gravest stress,

And short and quick, full of sententiousness.

Sounding in moral virtue was his speech,

And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.

A Serjeant of the Law, wise, wary, arch,
Who oft had gossip'd long in the church porch,
Was also there, full rich of excellence.
Discreet he was and of great reverence ;
For such he seem'd, his words were all so wise.
Justice he was full often in assize ;
By patent and commission from the crown,
For his keen science and his high renown.
Of fees and robes he many had I ween :
So great a purchaser was nowhere seen.
All was fee simple to him, in effect ;
His rightful gainings no one could suspect.
So busy a man as he no circuit has ;
And yet he seemed busier than he was.
He had at tip of tongue all cases plain,
With all the judgments, since King William's reign.
He likewise could indite such perfect law,


None in his parchments could pinch out a flaw :

And every statute he knew well by rote.

He rode but homely in a medley coat,

With band of twill'd silk round the loins made fast :

On his array no more time shall I waste.

A Franklin* in this company appear'd :
White as a daisy was this Franklin's beard.
With sanguine hues did his complexion shine.
Well loved he in the morn a sop in wine.
His days he gave to pleasure, every one ;
For he was Epicurus's own son,
Who held the opinion that a life of bliss
Was verily man's perfect happiness.

An householder of great extent was he ;
He was St. Julian f in his own countrey.
With bread and ale his board was always crown 'd ;
A better cellar no where could be found.
His pantry never was without baked meat,
And fish and flesh, so plenteous and complete,
It snow'd within his house of meat and drink.
Of all the dainties that a man could think,

* A large Freeholder, and wealthy country gentleman.
t ■' St. Julian was eminent for providing his votaries with good lodgings
and accommodations of all sorts."— Tyrwhitt.



After the sundry seasons of the year,
His meats thus changed he, and his supper cheer.
Full many a partridge fat had he in mew,
And many a bream and many a jack in stew.
Woe to his cook, unless his sauces were
Made piquant rich, and ready all his gear.
His table with repletion heavy lay
Amidst his hall, throughout the feast-long day.
At sessions there was he both lord and sire.
Full often time he had been Knight o' the Shire.
A dagger, and a purse of netted silk,
Hung at his girdle, white as morning milk.
Sheriff — comptroller — magistrate he'd been ;
A worthier franklin there was nowhere seen.

A Haberdasher, and a Carpenter,
A Weaver, Dyer, Tapster, eke were here ;
All in the self-same livery attired,
And with a grave fraternity inspired.
Right fresh and new their spruce appearance was :
Their knives were not trickt out with common bras-,
But all with silver neatly overwrought ;
Their girdles and their pouches eke, methought.
Each seem'd a worthy burgess, fit and fair
To sit in the guild hall on high-floor'd chair ;


And for the wisdom that his brain could plan
Was well cut out to be an alderman.
Enough for this they had of kine and rent,
And very gladly would their wives assent,
Or else they were to blame, I swear by Adam :
Tis a fine thing to be entitled ' Madam'
And foremost walk to fetes, at eve or morn,
And have a mantle royally up- borne.

A Cook was carried with this pilgrim coil,
The chickens and the marrow-bones to boil,
And powder tarts, and frost the sweatmeats rare.
To London ale, with one draught, he could swear.
And he could roast, and seethe, and broil, and fry,
Make pounded game soups, and well bake a pie.
But great harm was it — as it seem'd to me —
That on his shin an angry sore had he.
But for blanc-mange, he made that with the best.

A Skipper was there, come from out the West,
He was at Dartmouth born, for aught I know.
He rode upon a hack-nag, anyhow,
All in a coarse frock reaching to his knee.
A dagger, hanging by a lace, had he
About his neck, under his arm adown.
c 2


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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 7 of 18)