ePub 版

The second period is characterized by an Italian influence, which showed itself in a more refined taste and more elegant handling of material. Italy was the first modern nation to produce a notable literature. Before Chaucer was born, Dante had written the Divina Commedia; and when the English poet was but two years old, Boccaccio was crowned in the Capitol at Rome. When in 1372 Chaucer was sent on a mission to Italy, it is possible that he met Boccaccio and Petrarch. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt that his mission led to a greater interest in Italian literature, from which he borrowed some of his choicest stories. To the Italian period are to be ascribed "Troilus and Cressida," taken from Boccaccio, and "The House of Fame," in which the influence of Dante can be traced. Italy helped Chaucer to unfold his native powers.

The third period in his literary career is distinctly English. His powers reached their full maturity; and instead of depending upon foreign influence, the poet walked independent in his conscious strength. It was during this period, extending from about 1384 to the time of his death, that his greatest work, the "Canterbury Tales," was produced.

This work calls for special notice. The idea seems to have been suggested by Boccaccio's Decameron. During the prevalence of the plague in Florence in 1348, seven ladies and three gentlemen, all young, rich, and cultivated, retire to a beautiful villa a few miles from the city; and in order to pass the time more agreeably, they relate to one another a series of tales. Such is the plan of the Decameron. Chaucer adopted the idea of a succession of stories, but invented a happier occasion for their narration.

One evening in April a company of twenty-nine pilgrims, of various conditions in life, meet at the Tabard, a London inn, on their way to the shrine of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury. At supper the jolly, amiable host offers to accompany them as guide; and in order to relieve the tedium of the journey, he proposes that each one shall tell two tales on the way to the tomb and the same number on their return. The

[ocr errors]

one narrating the best tale is to receive a supper at the expense of the others. The poet joins the party; and in the Prologue" he gives us, with great artistic and dramatic power, a description of the pilgrims. The various classes of English society a knight, a lawyer, a doctor, an Oxford student, a miller, a prioress, a monk, a farmer are all placed before us with marvellous distinctness. Not a single peculiarity of feature, dress, manner, or character escapes the microscopic scrutiny of the poet. The tales that followthe whole number contemplated was never completed adapted to the several narrators; and, taken altogether, they form the greatest literary work ever composed on the same plan.


[ocr errors]


WHAN that Aprille with his schowres swoote
The drought of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertue engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breethe
Enspired hath in every holte and heethe
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours i-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodie,
That slepen al the night with open eye,
So priketh hem nature in here corages:
Thanne longen folk to gon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seeken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kouthe in sondry londes:
And specially, from every schires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seeke,

That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Byfel that, in that sesoun on a day
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At night was come into that hostelrie
Wel nyne and twenty in a compainye,
Of sondry folk, by aventure i-falle

In felaweschipe, and pilgryms were thei alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde;
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.

And schortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everychon,
That I was of here felaweschipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take our wey ther as I yow devyse.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

But natheles, whil I have tyme and space,

Or that I forther in this tale pace,

Me thinketh it acordaunt to resoun,

To telle yow al the condicioun

Of eche of hem, so as it semede me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degre;
And eek in what array that they were inne:
And at a knight than wol I first bygynne.

A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man,
That from the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he lovede chyvalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthi was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden, noman ferre,
As wel in Cristendom as in hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthinesse.
At Alisaundre he was whan it was wonne,
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bygonne
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce.

In Lettowe hadde he reysed and in Ruce,
No cristen man so ofte of his degre.
In Gernade atte siege hadde he be
Of Algesir, and riden in Belmarie.
At Lieys was he, and at Satalie,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Greete see
At many a noble arive hadde he be.

At mortal batailles hadde he ben fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramassene
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthi knight hadde ben also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye,
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:
And everemore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he was worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meke as is a mayde.

He nevere yit no vileinye ne sayde
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray perfight gentil knight.









But for to tellen you of his array,

His hors was good, but he ne was nought gay.
Of fustyan he werede a gepoun

Al bysmotered with his habergeoun.

For he was late ycome from his viage,

And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.

With him ther was his sone, a yong SQUYER,
A lovyere, and a lusty bacheler,
With lokkes crulle as they were leyd in presse.
Of twenty yeer of age he was I gesse.

Of his stature he was of evene lengthe,
And wonderly delyvere, and gret of strengthe.
And he hadde ben somtyme in chivachie,
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Picardie,
And born him wel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrowded was he, as it were a mede
Al ful of fresshe floures, white and reede.
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day;
He was as fressh as is the moneth of May.
Schort was his goune, with sleeves longe and wyde.
Wel cowde he sitte on hors, and faire ryde.
He cowde songes make, and wel endite,

Juste and eek daunce, and wel purtreye and write.
So hote he lovede, that by nightertale
He sleep nomore than doth a nightyngale.
Curteys he was, lowely, and servysable,
And carf byforn his fader at the table.

A YEMAN hadde he and servauntz nomoo
At that tyme, for him luste ryde soo;
And he was clad in coote and hood of grene.
A shef of pocok arwes brighte and kene
Under his belte he bar ful thriftily.
Wel cowde he dresse his takel yemanly;
His arwes drowpede nought with fetheres lowe.
And in his hond he bar a mighty bowe.

A not-heed hadde he with a broun visage.
Of woode-craft well cowde he al the usage.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]
« 上一頁繼續 »