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The Canterbury Tales
Geoffery Chaucer

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The Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer

A collection of stories, most in rhyme, some in prose, set in the 1300s, first published in 1478.
A group of pilgrims exchange tales on the way to and from the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. (Included here, in both modern prose and Middle English, are the General Prologue and the Knight's, Merchant's, Miller's, Nun's Priest, and Pardoner's tales).

Translation courtesy Gerard NeCastro of eChaucer (machias.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer).

Here begins the Book of the Tales of Canterbury.

The Prologue

When the sweet showers of April have pierced to the root the dryness of March and bathed every vein in moisture by which strength are the flowers brought forth; when Zephyr1 also with his sweet breath has given spirit to the tender new shoots in the grove and field, and the young sun has run half his course through Aries the Ram, and little birds make melody and sleep all night with an open eye, so nature pricks them in their hearts; then people long to go on pilgrimages to renowned shrines in various distant lands, and palmers2 to seek foreign shores. And especially from every shire's end in England they make their way to Canterbury, to seek the holy blessed martyr3 who helped them when they were sick. [18]4.

One day in that season, as I was waiting at the Tabard Inn at Southwark, about to make my pilgrimage with devout heart to Canterbury, it happened that there came at night to that inn a company of twenty-nine various people, who by chance had joined together in fellowship. All were pilgrims, riding to Canterbury. The chambers and the stables were spacious, and we were lodged well. But in brief, when the sun had gone to rest, I had spoken with every one of them and was soon a part of their company, and agreed to rise early to take our way to where I have told you. [34]

Nevertheless, while I have time and space, before this tale goes further, I think it is reasonable to tell you all the qualities of each of them, as they appeared to me, what sort of people they were, of what station5 and how they were fashioned. I will begin with a knight. [42]



1 Zephr Also Zephyrus. In Greek myth, the west wind personified; a gentle breeze.
2 palmers Pilgrims, who show that they are pilgrims by carrying palm branches.
3 the holy blessed martyr St. Thomas à Becket, who was martyred at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
4 [18] Use the numbers after the paragraphs to locate the matching lines in the Middle English version of this tale.
5 station Social standing.

PORTRAIT: Geoffrey Chaucer by an unknown artist from the Ellesmere Manuscript (c. 1410?).
CITATION INFORMATION (in MLA format): Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. Translated by Gerard NeCastroGleeditions, 17 Nov. 2011, www.gleeditions.com/thecanterburytales/students/toc.asp?lid=103. Originally published on eChaucer, UMaine-Machias, 15 June 2011, machias.edu/faculty/necastro/chaucer/translation.
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