The Canterbury Tales and Other Poems



MOTHER of nurture, best belov'd of all,
And freshe flow'r, to whom good thrift God send
Your child, if it lust* you me so to call,                  *please
*All be I* unable myself so to pretend,             *although I be
To your discretion I recommend
My heart and all, with ev'ry circumstance,
All wholly to be under your governance.

Most desire I, and have and ever shall,
Thinge which might your hearte's ease amend
Have me excus'd, my power is but small;
Nathless, of right, ye oughte to commend
My goode will, which fame would entend*             *attend, strive
To do you service; for my suffisance*                  *contentment
Is wholly to be under your governance.

Mieux un in heart which never shall apall, <2>
Ay fresh and new, and right glad to dispend
My time in your service, what so befall,
Beseeching your excellence to defend
My simpleness, if ignorance offend
In any wise; since that mine affiance
Is wholly to be under your governance.

Daisy of light, very ground of comfort,
The sunne's daughter ye light, as I read;
For when he west'reth, farewell your disport!
By your nature alone, right for pure dread
Of the rude night, that with his *boistous weed*         *rude garment*
Of darkness shadoweth our hemisphere,
Then close ye, my life's lady dear!

Dawneth the day unto his kind resort,
And Phoebus your father, with his streames red,
Adorns the morrow, consuming the sort*                       *crowd
Of misty cloudes, that would overlade
True humble heartes with their mistihead.*          *dimness, mistiness
New comfort adaws,* when your eyen clear            *dawns, awakens
Disclose and spread, my life's lady dear.

Je voudrais* -- but the greate God disposeth,         *I would wish
And maketh casual, by his Providence,
Such thing as manne's fraile wit purposeth,
All for the best, if that your conscience
Not grudge it, but in humble patience
It receive; for God saith, withoute fable,
A faithful heart ever is acceptable.

Cauteles* whoso useth gladly, gloseth;**         *cautious speeches
To eschew such it is right high prudence;               **deceiveth
What ye said ones mine heart opposeth,
That my writing japes* in your absence       *jests, coarse stories
Pleased you much better than my presence:
Yet can I more; ye be not excusable;
A faithful heart is ever acceptable.

Quaketh my pen; my spirit supposeth
That in my writing ye will find offence;
Mine hearte welketh* thus; anon it riseth;         *withers, faints
Now hot, now cold, and after in fervence;
That is amiss, is caus'd of negligence,
And not of malice; therefore be merciable;
A faithful heart is ever acceptable.


Forthe, complaint! forth, lacking eloquence;
Forth little letter, of enditing lame!
I have besought my lady's sapience
On thy behalfe, to accept in game
Thine inability; do thou the same.
Abide! have more yet! *Je serve Joyesse!*             *I serve Joy*
Now forth, I close thee in holy Venus' name!
Thee shall unclose my hearte's governess.

Notes To a Goodly Ballad Of Chaucer

1. This elegant little poem is believed to have been addressed to
Margaret, Countess of Pembroke, in whose name Chaucer
found one of those opportunities of praising the daisy he never
lost. (Transcriber's note: Modern scholars believe that Chaucer
was not the author of this poem)

2. Mieux un in heart which never shall apall: better one who in
heart shall never pall -- whose love will never weary.


SOMETIME this world was so steadfast and stable,
That man's word was held obligation;
And now it is so false and deceivable,*                  *deceitful
That word and work, as in conclusion,
Be nothing one; for turned up so down
Is all this world, through meed* and wilfulness,           *bribery
That all is lost for lack of steadfastness.

What makes this world to be so variable,
But lust* that folk have in dissension?                   *pleasure
For now-a-days a man is held unable*               *fit for nothing
*But if* he can, by some collusion,**        *unless* *fraud, trick
Do his neighbour wrong or oppression.
What causeth this but wilful wretchedness,
That all is lost for lack of steadfastness?

Truth is put down, reason is holden fable;
Virtue hath now no domination;
Pity exil'd, no wight is merciable;
Through covetise is blent* discretion;                     *blinded
The worlde hath made permutation
From right to wrong, from truth to fickleness,
That all is lost for lack of steadfastness.


O Prince! desire to be honourable;
Cherish thy folk, and hate extortion;
Suffer nothing that may be reprovable*       *a subject of reproach
To thine estate, done in thy region;*                      *kingdom
Show forth the sword of castigation;
Dread God, do law, love thorough worthiness,
And wed thy folk again to steadfastness!


My Master Bukton, when of Christ our King
Was asked, What is truth or soothfastness?
He not a word answer'd to that asking,
As who saith, no man is all true, I guess;
And therefore, though I highte* to express                *promised
The sorrow and woe that is in marriage,
I dare not write of it no wickedness,
Lest I myself fall eft* in such dotage.**            *again **folly

I will not say how that it is the chain
Of Satanas, on which he gnaweth ever;
But I dare say, were he out of his pain,
As by his will he would be bounden never.
But thilke* doated fool that eft had lever                    *that
Y-chained be, than out of prison creep,
God let him never from his woe dissever,
Nor no man him bewaile though he weep!

But yet, lest thou do worse, take a wife;
Bet is to wed than burn in worse wise; <2>
But thou shalt have sorrow on thy flesh *thy life,*      *all thy life*
And be thy wife's thrall, as say these wise.
And if that Holy Writ may not suffice,
Experience shall thee teache, so may hap,
That thee were lever to be taken in Frise, <3>
Than eft* to fall of wedding in the trap.                    *again

This little writ, proverbes, or figure,
I sende you; take keep* of it, I read!                        *heed
"Unwise is he that can no weal endure;
If thou be sicker,* put thee not in dread."**     *in security **danger
The Wife of Bath I pray you that you read,
Of this mattere which that we have on hand.
God grante you your life freely to lead
In freedom, for full hard is to be bond.

Notes to L'Envoy of Chaucer to Bukton.

1. Tyrwhitt, founding on the reference to the Wife of Bath,
places this among Chaucer's latest compositions; and states that
one Peter de Bukton held the office of king's escheator for
Yorkshire in 1397. In some of the old editions, the verses were
made the Envoy to the Book of the Duchess Blanche -- in very
bad taste, when we consider that the object of that poem was to
console John of Gaunt under the loss of his wife.

2. "But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to
marry than to burn." 1 Cor. vii. 9

3. Lever to be taken in Frise: better to be taken prisoner in
Friesland -- where probably some conflict was raging at the


THE firste stock-father of gentleness, <1>
What man desireth gentle for to be,
Must follow his trace, and all his wittes dress,*            *apply
Virtue to love, and vices for to flee;
For unto virtue longeth dignity,
And not the reverse, safely dare I deem,
*All wear he* mitre, crown, or diademe.           *whether he wear*

This firste stock was full of righteousness,
True of his word, sober, pious, and free,
*Clean of his ghost,* and loved business,          *pure of spirit*
Against the vice of sloth, in honesty;
And, but his heir love virtue as did he,
He is not gentle, though he riche seem,
All wear he mitre, crown, or diademe.

Vice may well be heir to old richess,
But there may no man, as men may well see,
Bequeath his heir his virtuous nobless;
That is appropried* to no degree,               *specially reserved
But to the first Father in majesty,
Which makes his heire him that doth him queme,*             *please
All wear he mitre, crown, or diademe.

Notes to A Ballad of Gentleness

1. The firste stock-father of gentleness: Christ


To you, my purse, and to none other wight,
Complain I, for ye be my lady dear!
I am sorry now that ye be so light,
For certes ye now make me heavy cheer;
Me were as lief be laid upon my bier.
For which unto your mercy thus I cry,
Be heavy again, or elles must I die!

Now vouchesafe this day, ere it be night,
That I of you the blissful sound may hear,
Or see your colour like the sunne bright,
That of yellowness hadde peer.
Ye be my life! Ye be my hearte's steer!*                    *rudder
Queen of comfort and of good company!
Be heavy again, or elles must I die!

Now, purse! that art to me my life's light
And savour, as down in this worlde here,
Out of this towne help me through your might,
Since that you will not be my treasurere;
For I am shave as nigh as any frere. <1>
But now I pray unto your courtesy,
Be heavy again, or elles must I die!

Chaucer's Envoy to the King.

O conqueror of Brute's Albion, <2>
Which by lineage and free election
Be very king, this song to you I send;
And ye which may all mine harm amend,
Have mind upon my supplication!

Notes to The Complaint of Chaucer to his Purse

1. "I am shave as nigh as any frere" i.e. "I am as bare of coin as
a friar's tonsure of hair."

2. Brute, or Brutus, was the legendary first king of Britain.


FLEE from the press, and dwell with soothfastness;
Suffice thee thy good, though it be small;
For hoard hath hate, and climbing tickleness,*         *instability
Press hath envy, and *weal is blent* o'er all, *prosperity is blinded*
Savour* no more than thee behove shall;           *have a taste for
Read* well thyself, that other folk canst read;            *counsel
And truth thee shall deliver, it is no dread.*               *doubt

Paine thee not each crooked to redress,
In trust of her that turneth as a ball; <2>
Great rest standeth in little business:
Beware also to spurn against a nail; <3>
Strive not as doth a crocke* with a wall;              *earthen pot
Deeme* thyself that deemest others' deed,                    *judge
And truth thee shall deliver, it is no dread.

What thee is sent, receive in buxomness;*               *submission
The wrestling of this world asketh a fall;
Here is no home, here is but wilderness.
Forth, pilgrim! Forthe beast, out of thy stall!
Look up on high, and thank thy God of all!
*Weive thy lust,* and let thy ghost* thee lead,        *forsake thy
And truth thee shall deliver, it is no dread. inclinations*

Notes to Good Counsel of Chaucer

1. This poem is said to have been composed by Chaucer "upon
his deathbed, lying in anguish."

2. Her that turneth as a ball: Fortune.

3. To spurn against a nail; "against the pricks."


WHAT should these clothes thus manifold,
Lo! this hot summer's day?
After great heate cometh cold;
No man cast his pilche* away.                *pelisse, furred cloak
Of all this world the large compass
Will not in mine arms twain;
Who so muche will embrace,
Little thereof he shall distrain.*                           *grasp

The world so wide, the air so remuable,*                  *unstable
The silly man so little of stature;
The green of ground and clothing so mutable,
The fire so hot and subtile of nature;
The water *never in one* -- what creature          *never the same*
That made is of these foure <2> thus flitting,
May steadfast be, as here, in his living?

The more I go, the farther I am behind;
The farther behind, the nearer my war's end;
The more I seek, the worse can I find;
The lighter leave, the lother for to wend; <3>
The better I live, the more out of mind;
Is this fortune, *n'ot I,* or infortune;*      *I know not* *misfortune
Though I go loose, tied am I with a loigne.*          *line, tether

Notes to Proverbs of Chaucer

1. (Transcriber's Note: Modern scholars believe that Chaucer's
may have been the author of the first stanza of this poem, but
was not the author of the second and third).

2. These foure: that is, the four elements, of which man was
believed to be composed.

3. The lighter leave, the lother for to wend: The more easy
(through age) for me to depart, the less willing I am to go.


ALONE walking
In thought plaining,
And sore sighing;
All desolate,
Me rememb'ring
Of my living;
My death wishing
Both early and late.

Is so my fate,
That, wot ye what?
Out of measure
My life I hate;
Thus desperate,
In such poor estate,
Do I endure.

Of other cure
Am I not sure;
Thus to endure
Is hard, certain;
Such is my ure,*                                       *destiny <2>
I you ensure;
What creature
May have more pain?

My truth so plain
Is taken in vain,
And great disdain
In remembrance;
Yet I full fain
Would me complain,
Me to abstain
From this penance.

But, in substance,
None alleggeance*                                      *alleviation
Of my grievance
Can I not find;
Right so my chance,
With displeasance,
Doth me advance;
And thus an end.

Notes to Virelay

1. (Transcriber's note: Modern scholars believe that Chaucer
was not the author of this poem)

2. Ure: "heur," or destiny; the same word that enters into
"bonheur" and "malheur." (French: happiness & unhappiness)


SINCE I from Love escaped am so fat,
I ne'er think to be in his prison ta'en;
Since I am free, I count him not a bean.

He may answer, and saye this and that;
I *do no force,* I speak right as I mean;                *care not*
Since I from Love escaped am so fat.

Love hath my name struck out of his slat,*             *slate, list
And he is struck out of my bookes clean,
For ever more; there is none other mean;
Since I from Love escaped am so fat.

Notes to "Since I from Love"

1. (Transcriber's note: Modern scholars believe that Chaucer
was not the author of this poem)


ADAM Scrivener, if ever it thee befall
Boece or Troilus for to write anew,
Under thy long locks thou may'st have the scall*              *scab
But *after my making* thou write more true!        *according to my
So oft a day I must thy work renew, composing*
It to correct, and eke to rub and scrape;
And all is through thy negligence and rape.*                 *haste


WHEN priestes *failen in their saws,*          *come short of their
And lordes turne Godde's laws profession*
Against the right;
And lechery is holden as *privy solace,*           *secret delight*
And robbery as free purchase,
Beware then of ill!
Then shall the Land of Albion
Turne to confusion,
As sometime it befell.

Ora pro Anglia Sancta Maria, quod Thomas Cantuaria. <2>

Sweet Jesus, heaven's King,
Fair and best of all thing,
You bring us out of this mourning,
To come to thee at our ending!

Notes to Chaucer's Prophecy.

1. (Transcriber's note: Modern scholars believe that Chaucer
was not the author of this poem)

2. "Holy Mary, pray for England, as does Thomas of
Canterbury" (i.e. St Thomas a Beckett)