The Canterbury Tales Project (see also Geoffrey Chaucer)
Back to the Franklin/The Guildsmen/The Seaman
361: An haberdasshere and a carpenter,
362: A webbe, a dyere, and a tapycer, --
363: And they were clothed alle in o lyveree
364: Of a solempne and a greet fraternitee.
365: Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
366: Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras
367: But al with silver; wroght ful clene and weel
368: Hire girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
369: Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
370: To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys.
371: Everich, for the wisdom that he kan,
372: Was shaply for to been an alderman.
373: For catel hadde they ynogh and rente,
374: And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assente;
375: And elles certeyn were they to blame.
376: It is ful fair to been ycleped madame,
377: And goon to vigilies al bifore,
378: And have a mantel roialliche ybore.
379: A cook they hadde with hem for the nones
380: To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
381: And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale.
382: Wel koude he knowe a draughte of londoun ale.
383: He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
384: Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
385: But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
386: That on his shyne a mormal hadde he.
387: For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
These merchants are middle class aspirants hoping to one day be elevated to the upper levels of society. They are evidently well-to-do and reasonably senior in their guilds, as can be seen by the fact that 'each of them would have been fit to be an alderman', having all three qualifications: age, income, and property. (An alderman is a member of the town or borough council.)
That they are aspiring to social status above them is shown by their daggers. They are inlaid with silver, which is normally forbidden to all but the nobility. Their clothes are likewise smart, adorned with well made and ornate pouches. Their social aspirations are whole-heartedly supported by their wives. These ambitious women push their husbands on in order to raise their own standing. This idea of female ambition is a common one in the works of Chaucer, and was a widely accepted view at the time.
With the guildsmen is their chef. Though he is disfigured by his sores and boils, he is an exceptional cook, being skilled in the making of both savoury meals and sweet puddings. His tongue is sufficiently discerning that he can tell the origin of any beer brewed in London!
Modern English translation from www.fordham.edu:
A haberdasher and a carpenter,
An arras-maker, dyer, and weaver
Were with us, clothed in similar livery,
All of one sober, great fraternity.
Their gear was new and well adorned it was;
Their weapons were not cheaply trimmed with brass,
But all with silver; chastely made and well
Their girdles and their pouches too, I tell.
Each man of them appeared a proper burges
To sit in guildhall on a high dais.
And each of them, for wisdom he could span,
Was fitted to have been an alderman;
For chattels they'd enough, and, too, of rent;
To which their goodwives gave a free assent,
Or else for certain they had been to blame.
It's good to hear "Madam" before one's name,
And go to church when all the world may see,
Having one's mantle borne right royally.
A cook they had with them, just for the nonce,
To boil the chickens with the marrow-bones,
And flavour tartly and with galingale.
Well could he tell a draught of London ale.
And he could roast and seethe and broil and fry,
And make a good thick soup, and bake a pie.
But very ill it was, it seemed to me,
That on his shin a deadly sore had he;
For sweet blanc-mange, he made it with the best.