Canterbury Tales: The Monk’s Prologue

Author: Geoffrey Chaucer  | Date: 1380

THE MONK’S PROLOGUE

The Merry Words of the Host to the Monk

When ended was my tale of Melibee

And of Prudence and her benignity,

Our host remarked: "As I am faithful man,

And by the precious corpus Madrian,

I’d rather than a barrel of good ale

That my wife Goodlief could have heard this tale!

For she has no such patience, I’ll avow,

As had this Melibeus’ Prudence, now.

By God’s own bones! When I do beat my knaves

She fetches forth the stoutest gnarly staves

And cries out: ’Slay the damned dogs, every one!

And break their bones, backbone and every bone!’

And if but any neighbour, aye, of mine

Will not, in church, bow to her and incline,

Or happens to usurp her cherished place,

Why, she comes home and ramps right in my face,

Crying, ’False coward, go avenge your wife!

By corpus bones! Come, let me have your knife,

And you shall take my distaff and go spin!’

From day to day like this will she begin:

’Alas!’ she cries, ’that ever fate should shape

My marriage with a milksop coward ape

That may be overborne by every wight!

You dare not stand up for your own wife’s right!’

This is my life, unless I choose to fight;

And through the door anon I must take flight,

Or else I’m lost, unless, indeed, that I

Be like a young wild lion, foolhardy.

I know well she will make me kill, one day,

Some neighbour man and have to run away.

For I am dangerous with a knife in hand,

Albeit that I dare not her withstand;

For she’s big of arm, and wickedly inclined,

As anyone who crosses her will find.

But let us leave that doleful subject here.

"My lord the monk," said he, "be of good cheer

For you shall tell a tale, and verily.

Lo, Rochester is standing there hard by!

Ride up, my own liege lord, break not our game,

But, by my truth, I do not know your name,

Whether I ought to call you lord Don John,

Or Don Thomas, or else Don Albion?

Of what house are you, by your father’s kin?

I vow to God you have a right fair skin;

It is a noble pasture where you’re most;

You are not like a penitent or ghost.

Upon my faith, you are some officer,

Some worthy sexton, or a cellarer,

For by my father’s soul, I guess, in sum,

You are a master when you are at home.

No cloisterer or novice can you be:

A wily governor you seem to me,

And therewithal a man of brawn and bone.

A person of some consequence you’ve grown.

I pray that God confound the silly fool

That put you first in a religious school;

You would have been a hen-hopper, all right!

Had you as good a chance as you have might

To work your lust in good engendering;

Why, you’d beget full many a mighty thing.

Alas! Why do you wear so wide a cope?

God give me sorrow but, if I were pope,

Not only you, but every mighty man,

Though he were shorn full high upon the pan,

Should have a wife. For all the world’s forlorn!

Religion, why it’s gathered all the corn

Of treading, and we laymen are but shrimps!

From feeble trees there come but wretched imps.

That’s why our heirs are all so very slender

And feeble that they may not well engender.

That’s why out goodwives always will essay

Religious folk, for you may better pay

With Venus’ payments than we others do;

God knows, in no light weight of coin pay you!

But be not wroth, my lord, because I play;

Full oft in jest have I heard truth, I say."

This worthy monk took all with sober sense,

And said: "I will do all my diligence,

So far as it accords with decency,

To tell to you a tale, or two, or three.

And if you care to hear, come hitherward,

And I’ll repeat the life of Saint Edward;

Or rather, first some tragedies I’ll tell,

Whereof I have a hundred in my cell.

Tragedy is to say a certain story

From ancient books which have preserved the glory

Of one that stood in great prosperity

And is now fallen out of high degree

In misery, where he ends wretchedly.

Such tales are versified most commonly

In six feet, which men call hexameter.

In prose are many written; some prefer

A quantitative metre, sundry wise.

Lo, this short prologue will enough suffice.

"Now hearken, if you’d like my speech to hear;

But first I do beseech, let it be clear

That I, in order, tell not all these things,

Be it of popes, of emperors, or kings,

Each in his place, as men in writings find,

But I put some before and some behind,

As they to memory may come by chance;

Hold me excused, pray, of my ignorance."

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Chicago: Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales: The Monk’s Prologue Original Sources, accessed March 5, 2021, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=79S469PBAFK5KS9.

MLA: Chaucer, Geoffrey. Canterbury Tales: The Monk’s Prologue, Original Sources. 5 Mar. 2021. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=79S469PBAFK5KS9.

Harvard: Chaucer, G, Canterbury Tales: The Monk’s Prologue. Original Sources, retrieved 5 March 2021, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=79S469PBAFK5KS9.