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POEMS

GEOFFREY CHAUCER

1340 ?-1400

CHAUCER has been justly called by Dryden the father of modern English poetry, while Spenser speaks of him as “the well of English undefiled.” There were many writers of verse in England in Chaucer's time, but none had sufficient breadth of view or charm of style to become such a national literary figure as Chaucer was.

The poet was born and brought up in London, where his father was a wine merchant. That his father was a man of standing is shown by the fact that he and his wife were in attendance upon Edward III and his queen when they went to Flanders in 1338. It was most likely due to his father's connection at court that Chaucer was made a member of the household of Prince Lionel, in which he probably served as a page. From this time on to the end of his life Chaucer was, with some interruptions, connected with the court. It is known that he went at the king's command on no less than seven diplomatic missions to the Continent. He was also appointed collector of wool customs for the port of London, and many more marks of royal favor were bestowed upon him. His wide acquaintance with men and affairs was increased by his service as a soldier in France, his travels in Italy, and his experience while serving as member of Parliament for Kent.

In spite, however, of all his duties as politician, officeholder, diplomat, and courtier, and in spite of his love of “good compainye,” he spent many of his nights in poring over his books,

until his eyes were “dased,” and until his head ached from the making of “books, songs, and ditties.” He was a wide, but perhaps a desultory, reader, and his pen was ready and fruitful. His best known longer poems are The Boke of the Duchesse, Troylus and Criseyde, The Parlement of Foules, The Hous of Fame, The Legende of Goode Women, and, greatest of all, The Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer's most prominent traits are his humor, his shrewdness, his gentle satire, his wide sympathy with life on all its sides, and his very unusual gifts as a story-teller. He was a successful man of affairs, an affable man of the world, and a poet of unsurpassed power in his own field. “If character may be divined by works," says Lowell, “ he was a good man, genial, sincere, hearty, temperate of mind, more wise, perhaps, for this world than the next, but thoroughly human, and friendly with God and man.”

From

THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES

THE KNIGHT

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A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tymé that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalryé,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisyé.
Ful worthy was he in his lordés werré,
And therto hadde he riden (no man ferre)
As wel in cristendom as hethenessé,
And evere honoured for his worthinessé.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonné;
Ful ofté tyme he hadde the bord bigonné
Aboven allé naciouns in Prucé.

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At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftené,
And foughten for our feith at Tramissené

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In listés thryés, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilké worthy knight hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatyé,
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And everemore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meek as is a maydé.
He nevere yet no vileinye ne saydé
In al his lyf, un-to no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were goodé, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gipoun
Al bismotered with his habergeoun.
For he was late y-come from his viagé,
And wenté for to doon his pilgrimagé.

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THE SQUIRE

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With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYÉR,
A lovyer, and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkés crulle, aş they were leyd in pressé.
Of twenty yeer of age he was, I gessé.
Of his stature he was of evene lengthé,
And wonderly delivere, and greet of strengthé.
And he hadde been somtyme in chivachyé,
In Flaundrés, in Artoys, and Picardyé,
And born him wel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady gracé.
Embrouded was he, as it were a medé
Al ful of fresshé floures, whyte and redé.
Singinge he was, or floytinge, al the day;
He was as fresh as is the month of May.
Short was his goune, with slevés longe and wydé.

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Wel coude he sitte on hors, and fairé rydé.
He coudé songés make, and wel endyté,
Iuste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and wryté.
So hote he lovede, that by nightertalé
He sleep namore than doth a nightingalé.
Curteys he was, lowly, and servisable,
And carf biforn his fader at the table.

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THE SHIPMAN

A shipman was ther, woning fer by westé:
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthé.
He rood up-on a rouncy, as he couthé
In a gowne of falding to the knee.
A daggere hanging on a laas hadde he

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Aboute his nekke under his arm adoun.
The hoté somer had maad his hewe all broun ;
And, certeinly, he was a good felawé.
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he y-drawé
From Burdeux-ward, whyl that the chapman sleep. 10
Of nycé conscience took he no keep.
If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,
By water he sente hem hoom to every

lond. But of his craft to rekene wel his tydés, His stremés and his daungers him bisydés,

15 His herberwe and his mone, his lodemenagé, Ther nas noon swich from Hullé to Cartagé. Hardy he was, and wys to undertaké; With many a tempest hadde his berd been shaké. He knew wel alle the havenes, as they weré, From Gootlond to the cape of Finisteré, And every cryke in Britayne and in Spayné; His barge y-cleped was the Maudelayné.

20 THE PARSON

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A good man was ther of religio'ın,
And was a povré PERSOUN of a toun;
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristés gospel trewely wolde preché;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teché.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;
And swich he was y-preved ofté sythés.
Ful looth were him to cursen for his tythés,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of douté,
Un-to his povré parisshens abouté
Of his offring, and eek of his substauncé.
He coude in litel thing han suffisauncé.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer a-sonder,
But he ne lafté nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In siknes nor in meschief to visyté
The ferreste in his parisshe, moche and lyté,
Up-on his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughté;
Out of the gospel he tho wordés caughté;
And this figure he added eek ther-to
That if gold rusté, what shal yren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we trusté,
No wonder is a lewéd man to rusté ;
And shame it is, if a preest také keep,
A (spotted) shepherde and a clené sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yivé,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shold livé.
He setté nat his benefice to hyré,
And leet his sheep encombred in the myré,

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