Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Prologue

Author: Geoffrey Chaucer  | Date: 1380


When folk had laughed their fill at this nice pass

Of Absalom and clever Nicholas,

Then divers folk diversely had their say;

And most of them were well amused and gay,

Nor at this tale did I see one man grieve,

Save it were only old Oswald the reeve,

Because he was a carpenter by craft.

A little anger in his heart was left,

And he began to grouse and blame a bit.

"S’ help me," said he, "full well could I be quit

With blearing of a haughty miller’s eye,

If I but chose to speak of ribaldry.

But I am old; I will not play, for age;

Grass time is done, my fodder is rummage,

This white top advertises my old years,

My heart, too, is as mouldy as my hairs,

Unless I fare like medlar, all perverse.

For that fruit’s never ripe until it’s worse,

And falls among the refuse or in straw.

We ancient men, I fear, obey this law:

Until we’re rotten, we cannot be ripe;

We dance, indeed, the while the world will pipe.

liesire sticks in our nature like a nail

To have, if hoary head, a verdant tail,

As has the leek; for though our strength be gone,

Our wish is yet for folly till life’s done.

For when we may not act, then will we speak;

Yet in our ashes is there fire to reek

"Four embers have we, which I shall confess:

Boasting and lying, anger, covetousness;

These four remaining sparks belong to eld.

Our ancient limbs may well be hard to wield,

But lust will never fail us, that is truth.

And yet I have had always a colt’s tooth,

As many years as now are past and done

Since first my tap of life began to run.

For certainly, when I was born, I know

Death turned my tap of life and let it flow;

And ever since that day the tap has run

Till nearly empty now is all the tun.

The stream of life now drips upon the chime;

The silly tongue may well ring out the time

Of wretchedness that passed so long before;

For oldsters, save for dotage, there’s no more."

Now when our host had heard this sermoning,

Then did he speak as lordly as a king;

He said: "To what amounts, now, all this wit?

Why should we talk all day of holy writ?

The devil makes a steward for to preach,

And of a cobbler, a sailor or a leech.

Tell, forth your tale, and do not waste the time.

Here’s Deptford! And it is half way to prime.

There’s Greenwich town that many a scoundrel’s in;

It is high time your story should begin."

"Now, sirs," then said this Oswald called the reeve,

"I pray you all, now, that you will not grieve

Though I reply and somewhat twitch his cap;

It’s lawful to meet force with force, mayhap.

"This drunken miller has related here

How was beguiled and fooled a carpenter-

Perchance in scorn of me, for I am one.

So, by your leave, I’ll him requite anon;

All in his own boor’s language will I speak.

I only pray to God his neck may break.

For in my eye he well can see the mote,

But sees not in his own the beam, you’ll note."

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Chicago: Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Prologue Original Sources, accessed July 25, 2024,

MLA: Chaucer, Geoffrey. Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Prologue, Original Sources. 25 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Chaucer, G, Canterbury Tales: The Reeve’s Prologue. Original Sources, retrieved 25 July 2024, from