Background: This poem is written from the point of view of the Monk, as he dines at the Tabard in 13th-Century England, awaiting a pilgrimage to Canterbury (“General Prologue,” The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer).
In Southwerk at the Tabard I dined,
Relaxing and awaiting the morne,
When I would wake bright and early
To the sounds of the rooster calling. My palfrey
5 Would be frolicking about, his eyes looking in every direction,
Redy to depart for a pilgrimage, onwards to Canterbury.
As I sipped from my fin win and swallowed morsels
Of the scrumptious fat swan,
I could hear in the distance my bridle,
10 Swinging across my hors’s mane, chiming
As, some may tell you, dooth the noon bell.
But my ears only heard a similar to when my daggere,
Clanked against my shield by my side, as I
Chased a fowle across the vast forest.
15 In the midst of all the joviality in that inn,
A povre PERSOUN carefully opened the broun
Wooden door and entered the hall, walking alongside
His brother, a stocky PLOWMAN, dressed
In a broun and dusty tabard. They were welcomed
20 By the HOOST, a murye man, who joyfully led them
To the wooden, crooked bench across the table from me,
And sat them down next to the FRERE,
A curious solempne man, dressed
In a tipet stuffed with elegant knives.
25 I glanced towards the YEAMAN, and admired
His hood of grene, his bright collection of pecok arwes,
And his gleaming sword. And when my eyen returned,
I saw the PERSOUN frown when he learned that
The ol’ FRERE only seeks gold. This povre homme
30 Never kept gold for happiness, but believed following
The Lord’s teaching was the key to a riche life. Why could he not
Enjoy worldly luxuries like my ornate love-knotte pin?
I will be able to go through that needle of which Christ preaches, as I
Am not one who holds wealth. I wander
35 The lands, spreading God’s wisdom.
I say, if man finds happiness in earthly luxuries, like the activities
In which he participates, he should be able to continue
Enjoying them. This pitiable PERSOUN eek believes
In living the holy life on earth, yet
40 He fails to experience or embrace the world outside his parisshe.
How can he survive, sequestered to that holy home?
His teachings to his flock of followers are based in tradition,
But he lives in the present day. Could he not let go of customs outdated
And forgotten? He must stop clinging to vestiges of an ancient
45 Time. Besides, what can those like Seint Maure or Seint Beneit do?
I still carry religious teachings throughout my homeland.
My head is still ful balde. I have grown to
Enjoy worldly items and animals, as I find them everywhere
I wander as outridere. Man should naught sequester
50 Himself to a small parisshe or monastery when he can
Also roam the forests with his trusty Grehoundes, swift as fowle in flight,
And his goose-hawk, chasing the harts and the hares.
Why starve, too, when one has access to scrumptious delights like
Any roost? I live this life on earth to understand my fellow brethren,
55 As should the PERSOUN, and I am still a fine prikasour and a fair prelat.
Palfrey: palfrey is a type of horse highly valued as a riding horse in the Middle Ages
Fin win: fine wine
Bridle: A bridle is a piece of equipment used to direct a horse.
Tabard: in this case, a short coat common for men during the Middle Ages
Murye: pleasant, cheerful, sweet-sounding
Solempne: sumptuous, splendid, cheerful
Tipet: hanging part of a sleeve
Pecok arwes: peacock arrows
Outridere: religious figure who traveled across regions to spread God’s message
Prelat: church dignitary
Seint Maure or Seint Beneit: Saint Maurus was the first disciple of Saint Benedict of Nursia (6th Century
BCE) and an example of the ideal Benedictine monk