Following is a selection from the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The Prologue introduces the overlying plot of the Tales and introduces the characters. Following the selection is a translation into Modern English. I have attempted to preserve the integrity of the original Middle English, so that it is primarily a word-for-word translation. Attempting to force rhyme on the translation would only corrupt the original text.

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So Priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we wren sed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.
But nathelees, while I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acouraunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it seemed to me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first begynne.

(Here the Narrator gives a description of each of the pilgrims: a Knight, a Squire, a Yeoman, a Prioress, a Nun, a Monk, a Friar, a Merchant, a Clerk, a Sergeant of the Law, a Franklin, a Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Weaver, a Dyer, a Tapestry Weaver, a Cook, a Sailor, a Doctor, the Wife of Bath, a Poor Parson, a Plowman, a Reeve, a Miller, a Summoner, a Pardoner, a Manciple, and the Host. Then the Host makes a proposal:

"Ye goon to Caunterbury -- God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye;
For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon
To ride by the weye doumb as a stoon;
And therfore wol I maken yow disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon yow some confort.
And if yow liketh alle by oon assent
For to stonden at my juggement,
And for to werken as I shal yow seye,
Tomorwre, whan ye riden by the weye,
Now, by my fader soule that is deed,
But ye be myrie, I wol yeve yow myn heed!
Hoold up youre hondes, withouten moore speche."

The pilgrims agree, and the Host decides that they will each tell two tales; the Host will judge the tales, and the winner will be treated to a meal on the return trip at the cost of the other Pilgrims. The pilgrims choose the first storyteller, and the Tales follow. Here now is the Modern English translation, provided free as in beer by SueZVudu:

When that April with his showers sweet
The drought of March has pierced to the root,
And bathed every vein in such liquid
By which power the flower is generated;
When Zephirus has with his sweet breath
Breathed life into every grove and field
The tender crops, and the young sun
Has in the Ram half his course run,
And small birds make melody,
That sleep all night with open eye
(As Nature spurs them in their spirits),
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
And professional pilgrims seek strange shores,
To distant shrines, known in many lands;
And especially from every shire's end
Of England to Canterbury they went,
The holy blissful martyr to seek
He that has helped them who are sick.
It happened that in that season on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard Inn as I lay
Ready to go on my pilgrimage
To Canterbury with full devout spirit,
At night came into that hotel
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of various folk, by chance fallen
Into fellowship, and they were all pilgrims,
That were to ride to Canterbury.
The bedrooms and the stables were roomy,
And we were accommodated in the best way.
And shortly, when the sun was to rest,
I had spoken with everyone
That I was to be in fellowship with straightaway,
And agreed to rise early,
To take our way there as I tell you.
But nonetheless, while I have time and space,
Before I proceed with this tale,
I think it in accord with reason
To tell you all the condition
Of each of them, as they seemed to me,
And which they were, and of what rank,
And what dress they were in;
And with a Knight I will first begin.


"You go to Canterbury -- God speed you,
May the blissful martyr give you your reward!
And I am sure, as you go on your way,
You intend to tell tales and amuse yourselves;
For truly, it is not comfortable
To ride by the way dumb as a stone;
And therefore I will give you disport,
As I said before, and give you some comfort.
And if you all agree by one assent
To agree with what I have said,
Now, by my dead father's soul,
You will be merry, or I will give you my head!
Hold up your hands, without any more speech."
I think that the rhyme of The Canturbury Tales is essential to its sound and artistry, and for that reason I have attempted a rhyming translation of the first few lines. Granted, one has to bend the idiom of the text in order to achieve this, but I tried to preserve the meaning as much as possible throughout.

WHEN April with its sweetest showers
From March's drought has brought forth flowers,
Which, dew-covered and bearing new fruit,
Have sprung alive from the pierced root;
When the west wind Zephirus, who, breathing sweet,
Has revived the fields and made them replete
With newly-born crops, and also the sun
Has in the Ram his full course half-run
And small birds which bring forth melody
Sleep open-eyed all night in their tree,
(Such, Nature-spurred, their little hearts are)
Then folks long to travel and journey afar,
And pilgrims seek far-away places, where,
In far-away shrines they carry their prayer;
And from all ends of England these men make their drive
Hoping at Canterbury one day to arrive:
The holy, blissful martyr there they seek
Who cured them of sickness when once they were weak.

It happened that in that season, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard Inn, as I lay
Ready to depart, with restless motion,
Towards Canterbury with my full devotion,
At night came into that hostelry
Well nine and twenty in a company
Of various folk, who by chance did fall
Into fellowship, and were pilgrims all,
That aimed to ride towards Canterbury.
The bedrooms and stables were both wide and airy,
And we were all treated quite well for guests.
After the sun had fallen through its rests,
So I had spoken with each member attending
With whom on this trail my time I'd be spending,
And arranged with each one to awaken at dawn
And depart before the morning dew was gone.

But nonetheless, while it is opportune,
And before I proceed with the rest of my tune,
I think only sensible to give some statistics
About the most notable characteristics
Of each of the others, as they seemed to me,
And which they were, and of what nobility,
And what clothing that they were dressed up in;
And with a Knight I will first begin.

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