The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer/Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale/Prologue

The Canon’s Yeoman’s Prologue
by Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canon's Yeoman's Prologue

The Prologue of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale.

WHEN the life of Saint Cecilia was ended, ere we had ridden fully five miles, at Boghton-under-Blee a man gan overtake us that was clad in black clothes, and underneath he had a white surplice. His hackney, that was all dappled gray, sweat so that it was wonderful to behold ; it seemed as he had spurred three miles. The horse that his yeoman rode upon eke so sweat that it scarce might go. He was all flecked as a magpie with foam, that stood full thick about the poitrel. A doubled wallet lay on his crupper; it seemed that he carried little raiment. This worthy man rode all light-clad for summer, and I gan wonder in my heart what he was, till I espied how his cloak was sewed to his hood ; for which, when I had considered long, I deemed him to be some canon. His hat hung down at his back by a string, for he had ridden more than a walk or trot; he had spurred aye as he were mad. Under his hood he had a burdock leaf against the sweat and to keep his head from the sun. Eh, but it was joy to see him sweat! His forehead dripped as a still, full of plantain and of pellitory. And when he was come, he gan call out, "God save this jolly company! I have pricked fast on your account, because I would overtake you and ride in this merry company." His yeoman eke was full courteous and said, "Sirs, this morn I saw you ride out of your hostelry, and warned my lord and master here, that is full fain to ride with you for his diversion; he loveth dalliance."

"Friend," then said our host, "God give thee good luck for thy warning, for it would seem, certes, thy lord is wise, and I may well think so. I dare lay my money also he is full jocund. Can he tell us ever a merry tale or two, with which he may gladden this company?"

"Who, sir? My lord? Yea, yea, without doubt; he knoweth enough and to spare of mirth and jollity; trust me, sir, also an ye knew him as well as I do, ye would marvel how craftily and well, he can work, and that eke in sundry ways. He hath taken many a great emprise upon him, which would be full hard for any that is here to carry out, unless they learn it of him. As homely as he rideth amongst you, yet if ye knew him, it would be for your advantage; ye would not forego his acquaintance for much wealth, I dare stake all that I possess. He is a man of high discretion ; I warn you, he is a passing man."

"Well," quoth our host, "I pray thee then tell me, is he a clerk, or no? Tell what he is."

"Nay, faith, he is greater than a clerk," said this yeoman, "and in few words, host, I will tell you somewhat of his craft. I say, my lord knoweth such subtlety (but ye may not learn from me all his craft and yet I help somewhat in his working) that all this ground on which we be riding till we come to Canterbury-town he could turn clean inside-out and pave it all of silver and gold."

And when this yeoman had thus spoken unto our host, he said, "Ben'cite! this thing to me is a wondrous marvel, sith thy lord is of so high discretion because of which men should reverence him, that he recketh so little of his worship. In truth I vow his cloak is not worth a mite; it is all dirty and torn also. Why is thy lord so sluttish, I pray thee, and yet hath power to buy better clothes, if his deed accord with thy tale of him? Tell me that ; and that I beseech thee."

"Why?" quoth this yeoman, "wherefore ask me? So help me God, he shall never prosper. (But I will not avow what I say and therefore, I beseech you, keep it secret.) I believe in faith, he is too wise. That which is overdone will not come out aright; as clerks say, it is a vice. Wherefore in that I hold him blind and foolish. For when a man hath a wit over-great, full oft it happeth him to misuse it. So doth my lord, and that grieveth me much. God amend it; I can say no more to you."

"No matter of that, good yeoman," our host said, "sith thou wotst of the cunning of thy lord, I pray thee heartily tell what he doth, sith he is so sly and crafty. Where dwell ye, if it may be told?"

"In the suburbs of a town," quoth he, "lurking in corners and blind lanes, where robbers and thieves hold by nature their secret fearful dwelling, as they that dare not show their presence ; even so we fare, if I shall say sooth to thee."

"Now let me talk to thee yet," quoth our host; "wherefore art thou so discoloured of thy face?"

"Peter!" quoth he, "God give it sorrow, I am so used to blow in the fire, that I ween it hath changed my colour. I am not wont to peer into any mirror, but to toil sore and learn to multiply. We become mazed and pore ever into the fire, yet for all that we fail of our hopes for we lack ever our result. We delude many folk and borrow gold, be it a pound, or two, or ten, or twelve, or many sums larger, and make them ween at the least that of one pound we can make two. Yet it is false, but we have aye faith that we may do it, and we grope after it. But that knowledge is so far beyond us, we may not overtake it, though we had sworn to, it glideth away so quickly; it will make us beggars at last."

While this yeoman was talking thus, this canon drew near and heard all which this yeoman spake, for he had ever suspicion of men's speech. For Cato saith that he that is guilty deemeth verily that all things be spoken of him. That was the cause why he drew him so near to his yeoman, to hearken all his speech ; and thus he said then unto his yeoman, "Hold thy peace and speak no more words, for if thou do, thou shalt pay for it dear; thou slanderest me in this company, and makest known eke what thou shouldst hide."

"Yea," quoth our host, "tell on, whatsoever befall; reck not a mite for all his threatening."

"In faith, no more I do but little," quoth he.

And when this canon saw that it would be no else than this yeoman would tell his privacy, he fled away, for very shame and sorrow.

"Aye," quoth the yeoman, "here shall be sport; all now that I know will I tell anon. Sith he is gone, the foul fiend kill him! For never hereafter, I promise you, will I meet with him, for penny nor for pound. He that first brought me into that sport, may he have sorrow and shame ere he die! For, by my fay, it hath been bitter earnest to me; I feel that well, whatsoever any man saith. And yet for all my pain and grief, for all my sorrow and labour and misfortune, I could in no wise ever leave it. Now would to God my wit might be sufficient to tell all that pertaineth to that craft! Natheless I will tell you part; sith my lord is gone, I will not spare him; such things as I know I will speak."

Here endeth the Prologue of the Canon's Yeoman's Tale.