A Tale about The Canterbury Tales

Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales share...
Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales shares many sources with various Decameron tales, including IX, 6. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it flexes muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry expands the senses and keeps them in prime condition. It keeps you aware of your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is compacted metaphor or simile.” ~ Ray Bradbury on Feeding the Muse

One night when my husband and I were dating, we were discussing the books we read during high school. To my surprise, he admitted that he enjoyed reading The Canterbury Tales. He had to memorize the first 18 lines of the General Prologue and loved reciting the Middle English version it was written in. I asked him if he could remember the lines and he began to recite the following:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heath
The tender croppes, and the younge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages),
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmer for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Canterbury they wende,
The holy blissful martir for to seke,
That hem hath helpen, whan that they were seke.

He was trying to be funny, and couldn’t  remember it in its entirety, but when he was finished, I sat there speechless. Then I said, “Would you mind doing that again?”

Here’s a version I found on YouTube, but my husband recites it better. 🙂

Here’s the Modern English version:

When in April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower,
When also Zephyrus with his sweet breath
Exhales an air in every grove and heath
Upon the tender shoots, and the young sun
His half-course in the sign of the Ram has run,
And the small fowl are making melody
That sleep away the night with open eye
(So nature pricks them and their heart engages)
Then people long to go on pilgrimages
And palmers long to seek the stranger strands
Of far-off saints, hallowed in sundry lands,
And specially, from every shire’s end
Of England, down to Canterbury they wend
To seek the holy blissful martyr, quick
To give his help to them when they were sick.



2 thoughts on “A Tale about The Canterbury Tales”

  1. I didn’t develop an appreciation for it until I heard my husband recite the prologue. I own a Modern English translation of it. I love the way the Middle English version sounds but I wouldn’t be able to understand half of it. 🙂

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