The Canterbury Tales Project (see also Geoffrey Chaucer)
Back to the Friar/The Merchant/The Clerk
270: A marchant was ther with a forked berd,
271: In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat;
272: Upon his heed a flaundryssh bever hat,
273: His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
274: His resons he spak ful solempnely,
275: Sownynge alwey th' encrees of his wynnyng.
276: He wolde the see were kept for any thyng
277: Bitwixe middelburgh and orewelle.
278: Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.
279: This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette:
280: Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
281: So estatly was he of his governaunce
282: With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce.
283: For sothe he was a worthy man with alle,
284: But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.
The Merchant receives the shortest portrait of any of Chaucer's pilgrims. This, however, is fitting for a man who is so intensely secretive and introverted. That Chaucer does not know his name is a very telling detail. His speech is always very reserved, being solemn, and restricted to the the subjuect of his business.
However, his business is floundering. Although we as the reader know this, none of the other pilgrims do, and this gives us an insight, however fleeting, into the Merchant's otherwise hidden character. His economic situation notwithstanding, he maintains the appearance of prosperity, wearing a beaver-fur hat and elegant boots with his multi-coloured tunic.
Modern English translation from www.fordham.edu:
There was a merchant with forked beard, and girt
In motley gown, and high on horse he sat,
Upon his head a Flemish beaver hat;
His boots were fastened rather elegantly.
His spoke his notions out right pompously,
Stressing the times when he had won, not lost.
He would the sea were held at any cost
Across from Middleburgh to Orwell town.
At money-changing he could make a crown.
This worthy man kept all his wits well set;
There was no one could say he was in debt,
So well he governed all his trade affairs
With bargains and with borrowings and with shares.
Indeed, he was a worthy man withal,
But, sooth to say, his name I can't recall.