Geoffrey Chaucer.

The poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized online

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The summer hot had made his hue all brown,

And certainly he was a fellow good.

Wine had he drawn right often from the wood

In Bourdeaux docks, while that the dealers snored :

For a nice conscience he cared not a cord.

If that he fought, and had the higher hand,

By water he sent them home to every land*.

But of his craft to reckon well each tide,

His inland streams, and unknown strands beside,

His harbour, compass, moon, and gallant trim,

'Twixt Hull and Carthage there was none like him.

Hardy he was, and very wise I reckon :

With many a tempest had his beard been shaken.

He knew well all the havens, as they were,

From Gothland, to the Cape de Finistere,

And every creek in Britain and in Spain :

His jolly bark was call'd the ' Magdelain.'

A Doctor of Physic rode with us along;
There was none like him in this wide world's throng,
To speak of physic and of surgery ;
For he was grounded in astronomy.
He very much prolong'd his patients' hours

• Verbatim from Chancer, but the meaning is not very dear. Is it to be
inferred that lie drowned his piratical prisoners,— '• every land" meaning
the bottom of the sea .'


By natural magic ; and the ascendant powers

Of figures that he cast, his art could make

Benign of aspect, for his patient's sake.

He knew the cause of every malady,

Were it of cold, or hot, or moist, or dry,

And how engender'd — what the humours were —

He was a very perfect practiser.

The cause once known, and root of the disease,

Anon he placed the sick man at his ease.

Full ready had he his apothecaries

To send him drugs and his electuaries,

And each one made the other sure to win :

Their friendship was no new thing to begin.

Well the old JEsculapius he knew,

And Dioscorides, and Rufus too ;

Hali, and old Hippocrates, and Galen,

Serapion, Rasis, and wise Avicen;

Averroes, Damascene, and Constantin,

Deep-seeing Bernard, Gatesden, Gilbertin.

His diet by its nutriment weigh'd he,

For to be charged with superfluity

In meat and drink, had been to him a libel.

His study was but little in the Bible.

He was all clad in crimson and sky- grey,
With thin silk lined, and lustrous taffeta.


And yet he was but moderate in expence.
He hoarded what he gain'd i' the pestilence ;
For gold in physic is a cordial old —
Therefore the Doctor specially loved gold.

There was from Bath a good Wife and a witty ;
But she was somewhat deaf, and that was pity.
In the cloth trade such crowds unto her went,
She beat the looms of Ypres and of Ghent.
In all the parish good wife none was there
That to mass- offering step before her dare ;
And if they did, certain so wrath was she
That she at once forgot all charity.
Her folded head-cloths were of finest ground ;
I durst swear almost that they weigh'd a pound,
Which on the Sunday were upon her head.
Her stockings fine were of a scarlet red,
Full straightly tied, and shone right moist and new.
Bold was her face, and fair and red of hue.
She was a worthy woman to the core :
Five husbands had she brought from the church door
Not reckoning other company in youth :
But there's no need to tell this now, in sooth.

And thrice had she been at Jerusalem ;
She had pass'd over many a strange stream.


Cologne she knew ; Bologna, Rome, had seen ;

And in Galicia, at the shrine, had been.

She had known much of journeying by the way.

Her teeth had gaps between them, sooth to say.

Upon an ambler easily she sat,

With wimple large, and on her head an hat,

As broad as is a buckler or a targe.

A riding- skirt about her round hips large

Was tied, and sharp spurs were on both her feet.

In fellowship well could she laugh, and treat

Of remedies of love she learnt by chance,

For of that art she well knew the old dance.

A good man of religion did I see,
And a poor Parson of a town was he :
But rich he was of holy thought and work.
He also was a learned man, a clerk,
And truly would Christ's holy gospel preach,
And his parishioners devoutly teach.
Benign he was and wondrous diligent,
And patient when adversity was sent ;
Such had he often proved, and loath was he
To curse for tythes and ransack poverty ;
But rather would he give, there is no doubt,
Unto his poor parishioners about,


Of his own substance, and his offerings too.
His wants were humble, and his needs but few.

Wide was his parish — houses far asunder —
But he neglected nought for rain or thunder,
In sickness and in grief to visit all
The farthest in his parish, great and small ;
Always on foot, and in his hand a stave.
This noble example to his flock he gave ;
That first he wrought, and afterwards he taught.
Out of the Gospel he that lesson caught,
And this new figure added he thereto, —
That if gold rust, then what should iron do ?
And if a priest be foul, on whom we trust,
No wonder if an ignorant man should rust :
And shame it is, if that a priest take keep,
To see an obscene shepherd and clean sheep.
Well ought a priest to all example give,
By his pure conduct, how his sheep should live.

He let not out his benefice for hire,
Leaving his flock encumber'd in the mire,
While he ran up to London, to St. Paul's,
To seek a well-paid chantery for souJs,
Or with a loving friend his pastime hold ;
But dwelt at home and tended well his fold,
So that to foil the wolf he was right wary :


He was a shepherd, and no mercenary.

And though he holy was and virtuous,

He was to sinful men full piteous ;

His words were strong, but not with anger fraught ;

A lore benignant he discreetly taught.

To draw mankind to heaven by gentleness

And good example, was his business.

But if that any one were obstinate,

Whether he were of high or low estate,

Him would he sharply check with altered mien :

A better parson there was no where seen.

He paid no court to pomps and reverence,

Nor spiced his conscience at his soul's expence * ;

But Jesus' lore, which owns no pride or pelf,

He taught — but first he follow'd it himself.

A Ploughman f hale, his brother, with him rode,
Who of manure had spread full many a load.
A right good, constant, labouring man was he,
Living in peace and perfect charity.
O'er all the world to God he gave his heart
At all times, whether for his gain or smart ;

* That is, he did not embalm or preserve his conscience by sophistries and
artificial moralities.
+ Ploughman here signifies a small farmer.


And next his neighbour as himself he held.

He thresh'd, made dykes, he planted, or he fell'd,

For Jesus' sake, in aid of each poor wight,

And without hire, when it lay in his might.

His tythes he also paid without a word,

Both of his proper labour and his herd.

In a short frock he rode upon a mare.

A Miller and a Reve were also there ;
A Sompnour and a Pardoner — making four —
A Manciple and myself: there were no more *.

The Miller was a stout carl, deep of tones ;
Right large he was of brawn, and eke of bones,
Which he proved well, for over all that came
In wrestling he would bear away the ram.
With shoulders broad and short — a knob or gnarr-
There was no door but he 'd heave up the bar,
Or break, by running at it with his head.
His beard as any sow or fox was red,
And thereto broad, as though it were a spade.

■ Reve, a steward; Sompnour, a sumnioner, the officer (now called an
apparitor) who summoned delinquents to appear in ecclesiastical courts;
Pardoner, one who sells pardons, or indulgences, from the Roman See ;
.Manciple, the caterer or Steward of an Inn of Court.


Upon the tip-top of his nose he had

A wart, and thereon stood a tuft of hairs,

Red as the bristles of a wild sow's ears :

His open nostrils they were black and wide.

A sword and buckler bare he by his side.

His mouth gaped like a furnace, red and great.

He was a huge wag and enjoy'd his prate,

Which mainly turn'd on sin and haunts of vice.

He oft stole corn, and charged, for grinding, thrice.

And yet he had a golden thumb, pardie !

A white coat with a hood of blue had he.

A bagpipe well he play'd with squeal and croon,

And therewithal he brought us oat of town.

There was a courteous Manciple of a temple,
And caterers all from him might take example,
How to be wise in furnishing the board ;
For whether that he paid, or had it scored,
He for his bargain would his time so bide
That he was always on the safest side.
Now is not that a sign of heaven's good grace,
When one of such unlearn'd wit should out-pace
The wisdom of a heap of learned men ?

Of gownsmen had he more than three times ten,
Who were in law expert and curious ;


Of which there were a dozen in that house,

Fit to be stewards of the rents and land

Of any lord that dwelleth in England ; —

And make him live well by his own estate

In debtless honour — were his squanderings great,

Or let him live as sparely as he would ;

And all his shire be able to do good

In any ills that fall to mortal lot : —

And yet this Manciple made them fools, I wot.

The Reve he was a slender choleric man.
His beard he shaves as close as ever he can.
His formal hair was shorn stiff round his ears ;
His crown was dock'd as a priest's front appears.
Full long were both his spindle legs, and lean ;
Just like a walking-stick — no calf was seen.
Well could he keep a garner and a bin ;
There was no auditor could on him win.
He knew well by the drought and by the rain,
The yielding of the seed and of the grain.
His lordship's flocks, his dairy, and his herd,
His swine, his horses, stores, and poultry-yard,
Were wholly in this Reve's good governing,
And 'twas his duty to give reckoning.
Since that his lord was twenty years of age


No one could find arrears upon his page.
There was no bailiff, herdsman, groom, or hind,
But he knew all his sleights, and how to find :
They dreaded him as though he had been death.

His dwelling-house stood fair upon a heath ;
With green trees all the place was in soft shade.
A bargain better than his lord he made.
Much riches had he privately in store.
He subtilly pleas'd his lordship evermore,
Who gave and lent him of his substance good :
The Reve got thanks — besides a coat and hood.
In youth a good trade practis'd well had he,
And was a clever hand at carpentry.

This Reve upon a stallion sat, I wot ;
Of apple-spotted grey, and christen'd Scot.
His sky-blue surcoat lengthily was made,
And by his side he bare a rusty blade.
Of Norfolk was this wight of whom I tell,
Near to a town that was call'd Balderswell.
Like to a friar his clothes were tuck'd about ;
And ever he rode the hindmost of the route.

A Sompnour was there with us in that place,
Who had a fire-red cherubin's large face ;
Pimpled and crusted rough, with close eyes narrow :


As hot he was and gamesome as a sparrow.

With scruffy eye-brows black, and blotch-bald beard,

Of his grim visage children were sore afeard.

There was no quicksilver, sugar of lead, nor brimstone,

Borax, litharge, nor oil of tartar — none —

Nor ointment, made to melt away or bite,

That could relieve him of his tumours white,

Or of the hot nobs sitting on his cheeks.

Garlic he much loved, onions too, and leeks,

And for to drink strong wine as red as blood.

Then would he jest, and shout as he were mad ;

And when that he large draughts adown had pour'd.

Then, save in Latin, he 'd not speak a word.

In sooth he knew a few terms — two or three,

Which he had gather'd out of some decree :

No wonder, for he heard it all the day.

And certes, as ye know right well, a jay

Can call out icat ! as well as can the pope.

But if you tried him further, by one trope,

Then had he spent all his philosophy —

And, "■ Qucestio quid juris ?" would he cry.

He was a liberal varlet, and a kind ;
A better fellow could a man not find.
And he would suffer for a quart of wine,
An honest carl to have his concubine


A twelvemonth, and excuse him at the full.
Right craftily a pigeon could he pull ;
But a good fellow if he took in hand,
He would soon teach him in no awe to stand,
In any case, of the Archdeacon's curse.
But if that a man's soul were in his purse,
Then in his purse well punish' d should he be :
For ' Purse is the Archdeacon's hell,' said he.
But well I, wot he lied in act and deed.
Of cursing ought each guilty man take heed.
Curse kills the soul, as absolutions save it ;
Let him shun, also, a significavit .

He ruled and managed, after his own guise,
The boys, and girls too, of the diocese,
And knew their ways, and counsels, to a thread.
He had a garland set upon his head,
Large as an ale-house sign hung on a stake.
A buckler had he made him of a cake.

With him there rode a courteous Pardoner
Of Rounceval, his friend and his compeer ;
Who had arrived straight from the Roman See.
Full loud he sung ' Come hither, love, to me !'
Our Sompnour's voice bore a stiff burden round ;
No trombone ever had so great a sound.


This Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
But smooth it hung as doth a strike of flax :
By ounces hung the long locks that he had,
And he therewith his shoulders overspread.
Full thin it lay, in single shreds adown,
But hood, for jollity, he would wear none ;
For it was truss'd up in his wallet close.
He thought he rode all in new-fashion'd gloss :
Dishevell'd, save his cap, he rode all bare.
Such glaring eyes he had, as hath an hare.
A picture of our Lord was sew'd on 's cap.
His wallet lay before him in his lap,
Brim full of pardons, come from Rome all hot.
A voice he had as small as hath a goat.
No beard had he, and none could ever have ;
As smooth it was as from the finest shave :
He fitly rode a gelding or a mare.

But of his craft, from Berwick unto Ware,
You could not such another Pardoner trace ;
For in his pack he had a pillow-case,
Which, as he said, was once our Lady's veil.
He said he had a fragment of the sail
Saint Peter held, when, as his heart misgave him
Upon the sea, he pray'd our Lord to save him.
He had a cross of mixt ore, set with stones,


And in a glass-case treasured up pigs' bones.

But with these relics rare, when that he found

A parson poor, dwelling on rustic ground,

He in a single day more money got

Than the poor parson in two months, I wot.

And thus with flattery, feints, and knavish japes,

He made the parson and the people, his apes.

But truly for to tell you all at last,
He was in church a noble ecclesiast.
Well could he read a lesson or a story,
Yet best of all he sang an offertory,
For well he knew when he that song had sung,
That he must preach and polish up his tongue,
To win the silver, as he right well could ;
Therefore he sang the merrier and loud.

Now have I told you shortly in a clause,
The estate, the array, the number, and eke the cause
Why that assembled was this company
In Southwark, at this goodly hostelry,
Which was the Tabard call'd, hard bv the Bell.




d 2


The God of Love — ah, benedicite !

How mighty and how great a Lord is he !

For he of low hearts can make high, of high

He can make low, and unto death bring nigh ;

And hard hearts he can make them kind and free.

Within a little time as hath been found,

He can make sick folk whole and fresh and sound

Them who are whole in body and in mind,

He can make sick, — bind can he and unbind

All that he will have bound, or have unbound.



To tell his might my wit may not suffice ,
Foolish men he can make them out of wise ; —
For he may do all that he will devise ;
Loose livers he can make abate their vice,
And proud hearts can make tremble in a trice.


In brief, the whole of what he will, he may ;

Against him dare not any wight say nay ;

To humble or afflict whome'er he will,

To gladden or to grieve, he hath like skill ;

But most his might he sheds on the eve of May.


For every true heart, gentle heart and free,

That with him is, or thinketh so to be,

Now against May shall have some stirring — whether

To joy, or be it to some mourning ; never

At other time, methinks, in like degree.

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Online LibraryGeoffrey ChaucerThe poems of Geoffrey Chaucer modernized → online text (page 8 of 18)