The Canterbury Tales - Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies

English IV Anthology
Units 1-2
Jefferson Parish Public Schools
Note to Teachers
This anthology includes all available resources recommended by the Louisiana
Department of Education for the first two 2014-2015 Curriculum Guidebook units.
While all resource titles are listed in the table of contents, not all resources are
included in this anthology. Resources were excluded from the anthology if they were
not openly available online, of excessive length, a medium other than text,
redundant, already available in the Holt textbook, or intended for use as a cold read.
If a resource was excluded, you can find an explanation the “Notes” section of the
table of contents.
Resources listed as “Additional Resources” are the recommendations of JPPSS
teachers selected to provide feedback regarding the text sets in the spring of 2014.
These additional resources were not originally included in the Louisiana Department
of Education’s ELA 9-12 Guidebooks but were considered to be helpful supplements
for unit instruction.
All works are accompanied by a publication date. For the few works for which the
publication date is unknown, the author’s life span was included to provide context.
Table of Contents
UNIT 1: The Canterburry Tales
The Canterbury Tales
Guilds in the Middle Ages
“The Clothier’s Delight”
“The Clothier’s Delight”
Lee Patterson
Geoffrey Chaucer
Georges Renard
“The Canterbury Tales: Chaucer’s Respectful Critique
of Church Officials and Their Abuse of Power”
The Life Death and Afterlife of Geoffrey Chaucer
“The Pardoner’s Tale and the Canterbury Tales as a
Death Warrant”
Jane Eyre
Passage from Chapter 7
Lauren Day
Other Selections
in Holt
Excessive Length
12 - 35
-36 - 38
Pages 1-15 only
39 - 46
47 - 48
Robin Wharton
Charlotte Bronte
4 – 11
Cold Read
UNIT 2: The Hero with a Thousand Faces
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Chapters 19-25, and 29-41
Le Morte d’Arthur
Book 1, Chapters I – VII, Book III, Chapter I, Book
XI, Chapters I-II, and Book XVIII, Chapters I-II
The Once and Future King
Chapters 5, 8, 13, and 18
Grendel, Chapter 12
The Perfect Storm
“Into the Abyss”
Into Thin Air
Chapters 1 and 15
Mythos III: The Shaping of Western Tradition
“Episode 1: Love as a Guide”
Joseph Campbell
Excessive Length
49 - 51
Other Selections
in Holt
52 - 94
Sir Thomas Mallory
T. H. White
No Link
-95 – 98
John Gardner
Sebastian Junger
Read Aloud Only
John Krakauer
Read Aloud Only
J.R.R. Tolkien
Cold Read
“Episode 2: The Path of the Heart”
“Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”
Prof. Lee Patterson
I want to start with a methodological remark about this lecture, so you will know the
kind of lecture you're going to be listening to and the reasons why I'm giving this kind of lecture
rather than some other kind. For the next forty minutes or so I will be discussing the economic,
the social, and the political conditions of the last half of the fourteenth century in England,
Chaucer's place in this world, and the relation of this to Chaucer's poetry. I will be offering, in
other words, what is known in literary criticism as an historicist account. By this I mean not
simply an account that seeks to understand Chaucer's poetry in terms of history per se, since
there are many kinds of history. I will not talk, for example, about literary history, the kinds of
sources that Chaucer used, the writers who provided him with inspiration, and so on. I also
won't talk -- except in passing -- about cultural history. This would include the kind of art that
was produced during his time, the kinds of books that were read, the forms by which the
religious feelings of the time were expressed, the kinds of public rituals that were practiced,
and so on. Instead, I will discuss what could be called the material conditions of Chaucer's
world. With this phrase -- material conditions -- I mean to designate all of those elements of life
that determine people's economic, social, and physical situation. These elements include, for
example, the economic conditions of the time, the social structure, the political practices, the
vocational opportunities or lack of them -- in other words, all of those elements of life that
condition -- condition, not determine -- a person's place in the world and his or her life choices.
As you probably know, this form of literary analysis is deeply antipathetic to the AngloAmerican tradition of literary criticism. The reason is because this tradition has always
privileged the individual over history: the record of English and American literature is typically
thought of as a sequence of geniuses, one remarkable man (or, occasionally, woman) followed
by another. This kind of understanding is usually called humanist, or liberal humanist: it places
the individual above history, and esteems the human capacity not to be made by but to make
history. An excellent example of this way of thinking is this very course, English 125, which
traces the route marked out by great geniuses: Chaucer, Spenser, Donne, Milton, Pope,
Wordsworth, Eliot. It is not an accident that this course has been a cornerstone of the English
Department curriculum since the 1920s. Because it is a this course celebrates, by its very
nature, something that is at the very heart of American life, and that is individualism. By this I
mean the transcendence of the individual -- and especially the remarkable individual -- over
historical circumstances. For Americans, success or failure in life is characteristically understood
as a matter of individual choice. For instance, this individualism tends to dominate our political
discourse, in which social problems are typically understood in terms of individual choices. We
have a drug problem because individual teenagers just won't say no; we have a crime problem
because individual wrongdoers are not being incarcerated often enough or long enough; we
have a welfare problem because individuals behave irresponsibly and have children they cannot
support. And so on.
My point is not to make a political speech but simply to indicate to you that (1) the
natural way we think of human life is in terms of individuals who stand apart from the material
conditions of their lives; and (2) that English 125 is a course that is structured in terms of this
natural way of thinking. Now there is a third point that is relevant. The reason we start this
course with Chaucer is because he is the most readable of medieval English poets -- by which
we mean the most like us, the most modern and the least medieval. His contemporaries -Langland, Gower, the so-called Pearl-poet, Lydgate, Hoccleve, and others -- are didactic,
moralistic, pious, and intensely interested in local political questions. Chaucer is none of these
things, and what's more -- what makes him not just the initial figure for this course but for the
whole of English literature, so that in 1700 Dryden called him the Father of English Poetry, a
title he has never lost -- what's more is that Chaucer is not only not interested in the drearily
medieval topics of his contemporaries but he is interested in the topic that has become, for us,
the quintessential and defining mark of the modern. In literary terms we call this topic
character; philosophically and politically we call it individualism. It is important to stress just
how profound is Chaucer's focus on the individual. The great innovation of the Canterbury Tales
is that our attention in reading the tales is always drawn to the tellers: the meaning of each tale
cannot only not be divorced from the teller but is both initially and finally referred back to him
or her. It is fair to say, then, that none of the tales (with the exception of the Parson's Tale) can
stand alone from its teller -- it must be read as told, in the light of the consciousness that
creates it and that it creates. In a very real sense, the subject of the Canterbury Tales is the
subject -- by which I mean subjectivity itself. Or think of the General Prologue. There Chaucer
defines each pilgrim in terms of his estate, by which he means his social role: we have a knight,
a squire, a prioress, a friar, a merchant -- and so on. But in virtually every instance his focus in
the descriptions is not upon the pilgrim's social role -- his or her function in society -- but upon
the character -- the individualism -- that inhabits, often uncomfortably, that role. So, for
instance, the Monk's passion for hunting, and the erotic energy that drives it, may make him a
poor monk, but his failure as a monk, and any social consequences that it might have, is given
very little attention.
Now it would be wrong to say that Chaucer is the first person in the Middle Ages to
attend above all to character. But the precedents for his interest are really quite limited. The
fact is that Chaucer's innovation is truly innovative. He is an original, and so is rightly taken as
an origin -- the Father of English Poetry. And the fact that his originality consists in celebrating
the individual makes him the perfect origin for a critical and political tradition that celebrates
So to conclude this methodological introduction, this lecture is going to be go against
the grain of both this course and this poet. I am going to offer you a social analysis of Chaucer's
interest in individualism. I won't pretend that this analysis will explain that interest, but I can
hope that it can clarify the conditions that made it possible. And if you want a label to identify
the kind of literary criticism I'm going to practice, perhaps the most accurate is to call it
materialist, in that it focuses on the material conditions within which art emerges.
Now: let me sketch very briefly the economic, social, and political conditions of
Chaucer's world, and then describe his relation to them. Chaucer was born in 1340 or so, and
the most important event that occurred during his lifetime was the plague of 1348-50. Known
as the Black Death or just "the Death," this was the highly infectious disease now known as the
bubonic plague; it's caused by a bacillus carried by fleas which infest certain kinds of rodents -including the prairie dogs of the American southwest. In its first pass through Europe it killed
about one-third of the population -- and in some places as much as one-half; it returned to
England, albeit in much less devastating fashion, two or three other times in the fourteenth
century, and didn't finally disappear until after the so-called Great Plague that devastated
London in 1665. The demographic effects of the plague were tremendous. Although exactness
is difficult to achieve in this area, it is generally agreed that England did not return to its preplague population level until around the seventeenth century. The cultural effects of the plague
are much more very difficult to determine -- there is little in English artistic or literary
production of the second half of the century that can be attributed with any confidence to the
plague. There seems to have been nothing like the immense psychic disruption that
accompanied the two great plagues of our century, the First and Second World Wars -- and
especially the First, which transformed the way in which Europeans thought about themselves
and their collective future.
But the economic and social consequences of the fourteenth-century plague were
enormous and well documented. Prior to 1348 medieval Europe was beginning to suffer from a
Malthusian crisis -- an imbalance, that is, between population and food production. There were
recurrent famines in the first half of the century, especially in 1314-1320, there was little land
available for new cultivation, and the traditional feudal structures of lordship and obedience
were under strain. The plague shifted the balance of power dramatically and hastened the end
of feudalism as a social and economic system. Before the plague land and food were scarce
while labor was abundant and demand was voracious; after the plague the situation was
exactly the opposite: there was lots of land, far fewer mouths to feed with a now plentiful
agricultural crop, and a severe shortage of labor. This situation empowered both the unlanded
laborer and the tenant, both of whom could now negotiate with their landlords for better
terms; and it threatened the incomes of those landlords, who were of course the ruling class of
medieval England.
Their response was to pass restrictive legislation. As early as 1349 Parliament enacted
the Ordinance of Labourers, and followed it up in 1351 with the Statute of Labourers. This
legislation restricted the right of a tenant to leave his manor, compelled him to accept work
when it was offered to him, forbade employers from offering wages higher than those in force
before the plague, codified the wages of artisans in the towns, and fixed the prices of
agricultural goods. It is a matter of dispute among historians whether these laws achieved their
purpose; but everybody agrees that the effort to enforce them resulted in exacerbating the
social friction -- or let's be blunt and call it by its rightful name, class warfare -- that had always
marked the relation of landlord to tenant under feudalism. Perhaps the best way to describe
the situation in England is like this: the plague was a demographic catastrophe but for the vast
majority an economic bonanza; it created bright prospects and rising expectations among the
poorer and especially middling members of society; the repressive legislation passed by the
ruling classes frustrated those expectations; and the result was an explosion. This explosion
occurred in 1381 with the so-called Peasants' Revolt, better known as the Rising of 1381 -- an
extraordinary event that had little lasting political effect but that traumatized the ruling class.
The Rising had a short but complex history. Its most intense moments were a march into
London by rebels from Essex and Kent on June 13 (which was, not coincidentally, Corpus Christi
Day -- a day usually set aside for processions and rituals organized by the town's most powerful
members in order to celebrate the order of the community), the burning of the London palace
of the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt; and the beheading of (among others) the Archbishop
of Canterbury. The rebels were also particularly concerned to burn legal records that could be
used to enforce serfdom and, where possible, to kill lawyers.
The best illustration I can give of the flavor and meaning of this extraordinary event is a
very brief account of the events of the rising in St. Albans, a huge and very prosperous manor
just northwest of London owned by the Benedictine abbey there. The relations between the
monks and the tenants of St. Albans had always been fractious, to say the least. One of the
tenants' most bitter grievances had to do with milling: like all feudal landlords, the Abbot of St.
Albans required his tenants to have their grain ground at large mills owned by the abbey -- and
to pay for the privilege (multure). The tenants periodically circumvented this requirement by
building their own handmills and hiding them in their houses. At least as early as 1274 there are
records of the Abbot seizing handmills. About fifty years later, in 1327, the tenants laid siege to
the Abbey and won the concession to have their own mills. But over the next ten years this
concession was canceled, and the people were forced to surrender their millstones. The Abbot - a man named Richard -- then had these millstones cemented into the floor of his parlor -- a
peculiarly uncharitable and taunting way of commemorating his victory.
But this isn't the end of the story. For during the rising of 1381 -- in other words,
another fifty years later, which says something about the persistence of their sense of
grievance - - the tenants again laid siege to the Abbey and actually broke in. What they then did
was described by the abbey chronicler:
Some ribald people [he says], breaking their way into the Abbey cloisters, took up from
the floor of the parlour doorway the millstones which had been put there in the time of Abbot
Richard as a remembrance and memorial of the ancient dispute between the Abbey and the
townsmen. They took the stones outside and handed them over to the commons, breaking
them into little pieces and giving a piece to each person, just as the consecrated bread used to
be broken and distributed on Sundays in the parish churches, so that the people, seeing these
pieces, would know themselves avenged against the Abbey in that cause.
In this extraordinary scene the peasants create a political ritual that replaces and
parodies the central religious ritual -- the Mass -- enacted by the ecclesiastical establishment
that had so oppressed them. It is also relevant to note that the leader of the rebels at St. Albans
was a man named William Grindcobbe, a name that implies -- even if it cannot be used to prove
-- that he was himself a miller. The chronicler also records Grindcobbe's moving words when he
was under indictment for his part in the Rising:
Fellow citizens [he said], for whom a little liberty has now relieved the long years of
oppression, stand firm while you can and do not be afraid because of my persecution. For if it
should happen that I die in the cause of seeking to acquire liberty, I will count myself happy to
end my life as such as such a martyr.
The use of the religious word "martyr" to describe a political rebel is surely significant.
Grindcobbe was indeed executed; as a contemporary verse put it, "The stool was hard, the ax
was scharp / The iiii yere of kyng Richard."
What has this to do with Chaucer? Probably nothing personally: he was living in London
at the time, and doubtless witnessed the invasion of the city by the rebels -- an event to which
he refers in the Nun's Priest's Tale in a tone that is pretty much unreadable. But much more
important is the role that he grants to his miller in the Canterbury Tales. For Chaucer's Miller is
not only allowed to interrupt a monk without retribution -- unlike the martyred William
Grindcobbe -- but is also allowed to tell a tale that is a scathing and very funny parody of the
Knight's Tale. In other words, the Canterbury Tales seems to begin with a kind of literary Rising - and it would be nice to know what this might mean.
But before I offer you one possible answer to that question I must first say a few more
things about the historical situation and Chaucer's place in it. The Rising of 1381 was part of
what we can appropriately call a crisis of governance that afflicted England in the late
fourteenth century. The trauma of the Rising made visible even to the most complacent
observer that profound changes were transforming English society, but there are other
dimensions to the crisis as well. One was the dramatic decline in England's fortunes in the war
with France, the so-called Hundred Years War. This war began in 1337 when Edward III asserted
a claim to the throne of France -- a highly dubious claim, incidentally. The early decades of the
war went brilliantly for the English: in 1346 Edward won a decisive victory over the French at
Crécy; then in 1356 his son, Edward, the Black Prince, won an even more spectacular victory at
Poitiers, capturing not only many French nobles but even King John of France himself. Apart
from making the knighthood of England feel good about itself, the effect of these successes was
to provide them with very valuable hostages. When King John was finally ransomed by his
fellow citizens, it was for the immense sum of 3,000,000 gold crowns.
The French war, in other words, was in its early years an economic success for the ruling
class, and tended to compensate them for the loss of revenues from their estates due to the
shift in economic power accomplished by the plague. But of course these successes didn't
continue. In 1367 the Black Prince invaded Spain and won a victory over the French at Najera
that was all too costly. For the campaign ruined his health, he fell into a slow, agonizing decline
and died in 1376. Meanwhile his father, Edward III, had also fallen into his dotage, and the
French took advantage of this lack of leadership to reconquer virtually all the territory they had
originally lost. So when Edward III died in 1377, the great victories in France were already long
past; and he was succeeded not by his heroic son the Black Prince, who was by then dead, but
by his grandson, Richard II, a boy of ten years old.
There is a biblical verse that medieval political theorists were fond of quoting: "Woe to
the land that has a child as king." Certainly the truth of this warning was demonstrated in
England. For four years the government was controlled by Richard's uncle, John of Gaunt, the
Duke of Lancaster, who was immensely unpopular and did nothing to revive English fortunes in
the war. Then when Richard himself took over -- right after the Rising of 1381, when he was 15
-- he demonstrated even less capacity for the chivalric leadership and military success that were
so important to legitimizing the authority of the medieval monarchy.
We come now to a third aspect of the crisis of governance, and the one that most
affected Chaucer personally. This was the struggle that went on from 1384 to 1389 between
Richard and the most powerful members of the English nobility. It is important to realize that a
medieval monarch, and especially in England, could not rule without the support of the most
powerful magnates of his country. This fact had been vividly demonstrated in England a half
century earlier, in 1327, when Edward II had been deposed and murdered. For a variety of
reasons -- which I'm going to have skip over -- Richard quickly lost the support of the magnates:
in 1387 he was virtually deposed from the throne (with a warning that what had happened to
his great-grandfather Edward II was about to happen to him), and in 1388 several of his
servants and supporters were executed by what came to be known as the Merciless Parliament.
Due to its own ineptness, however, the cabal of nobles who led this revolt (a cabal known as
the Lords Appellant, and including Henry Bolingbroke) fell apart in 1389, and Richard regained
power. Apparently peace was made among the feuding parties, but in 1397 Richard struck back
at his old enemies, executing and murdering several of them -- with the ultimate result that in
1399 John of Gaunt's son, Henry Bolingbroke, deposed and murdered Richard and became
Henry IV.
These Mafia-like machinations were immediately relevant to Chaucer. What was
Chaucer's place in this world? He was the son of a vintner, a wealthy wholesaler of wine in
London. Like many wealthy merchants, Chaucer's father sent his son to be brought up in a
noble household -- a kind of prep-school, a medieval version of Eton or Harrow. Chaucer was
first a page in the household of the countess of Ulster, and was then in the service of Edward III,
John of Gaunt, and finally Richard II. It is not easy to know exactly what Chaucer's social
position was, a social undefinability that is itself interesting. He would certainly not have been
considered a member of the nobility, although he does seem to have had a coat of arms. In
1374 Edward appointed him Controller of the Customs. This was an important job: he had to
make sure that the huge customs duties levied on the export of wool and cloth were accurately
computed and honestly collected. This was money that was crucial to the king, and that he
could not afford to be siphoned off in corruption. But important as the job may have been, it
was not of a high status: Chaucer was required to keep the records in his own hand, and any
form of manual labor was considered demeaning -- and certainly beneath the dignity of an
aristocrat. Indeed, prior to Chaucer all the holders of this office had been clerics: he was the
first layman to hold the job. But it was, as one historian of the customs has rather woundingly
put it, a "modest office for modest men." Moreover, Chaucer lacked the wealth -- and
especially the landed wealth -- to be considered a member of the ruling class. He married one
of the queen's ladies-in-waiting, who was a foreigner and brought with her no significant
dowry. Finally, the various other tasks he performed for Edward and Richard, while by no
means unimportant, were exactly comparable to those provided by other merchant sons who
entered noble service; and his remuneration from the monarch -- the various grants and
annuities -- was also entirely typical for a person of his background. In other words, there is no
evidence that Chaucer was particularly close to the centers of power, and -- more striking -- no
evidence that he was ever rewarded or even recognized by the king for his literary work. We
have about 100 documents that pertain to Chaucer's official life -- a very large number -- and
not one of them mentions the fact that he was a poet.
Having said this, there is one moment when Chaucer's service to Richard was of special
importance. This was in 1386, when he was selected to represent Kent in Parliament. This was a
crucial Parliament, in which Richard was trying to head off the magnates who were out to get
him. Chaucer was almost certainly present in this Parliament as an agent of the king: Richard
was later accused of having tried to pack this Parliament, and Chaucer seems to have been one
of the men he shoe-horned in. But Richard's strategy failed, his noble opponents took control of
the government and then instituted a purge. It was at this point that Chaucer resigned from the
Controllership -- and again, there is considerable evidence to suggest that he resigned before
he was fired, or perhaps even that he was fired. There is also evidence that at this time Chaucer
was also engaged in diplomatic work for Richard -- specifically, initiating secret peace
negotiations with the French -- that would have made him highly vulnerable to the king's
Let me sum this up and try to draw some conclusions. The first is about Chaucer's social
position. He was the son of a merchant, lived most of his life in London, and as Controller of
Customs dealt with merchants and trade every day. He was also, however, a royal servant, a
member of the households of Edward III and Richard II (although he seems not to have lived for
any extended period in the household), was entrusted with important diplomatic missions and
put himself in danger to serve the king in the prominent position of a member of Parliament.
Finally, he was a layman who nonetheless was capable of performing tasks usually assigned to
clerics, he knew Latin, French, and Italian well, and he was widely if not very deeply read -- in
fourteenth-century terms, he would certainly have been considered as learned as many clerks.
This is what I mean by Chaucer's social undefinability: to specify his social identity -- his precise
status and role -- seems impossible. For what the evidence reveals is a Chaucer on the
boundary between several distinctive social formations. He's not bourgeois, he's not noble, and
he's not clerical -- yet he participates in all three of these groupings. Perhaps this lack of precise
social definition can help us to understand -- although of course it cannot be said to cause -Chaucer's interest in individuality -- an interest in what I would call a socially undetermined
subjectivity, a concern with psychological specificity and inwardness, that is everywhere
present in his poetry.
My second conclusion is about the genesis and meaning of the Canterbury Tales. Prior
to the writing of the Canterbury Tales, all of Chaucer's poetry -- with one possible exception,
the strange and brilliant poem called the House of Fame -- all of Chaucer's poetry can be
accurately characterized as courtly. This is not to say that it was written for the court, since we
really know very little about his audience. But it is certainly written within the ideological and
cultural context of the aristocratic world. This is, however, not true of the Canterbury Tales: in
fact, the only one of the 24 tales that is without question aristocratic is the Knight's Tale. Now:
what is interesting about the Knight's Tale is its context. First, by being placed in the Canterbury
Tales at all it is defined not as a work by Geoffrey Chaucer but explicitly as a tale told by a
knight. Unlike all of his previous poetry, this poem is presented not as Chaucer's view of the
world but rather as that of a typical member of the ruling class of fourteenth-century England.
Second, the theme of the Knight's Tale is precisely a crisis in governance: it tells the story of
how the Athenian man of reason -- Theseus -- tries to control and discipline -- to govern -- two
Theban men of blood, Arcite and Palamon. More than this, however, the Knight's Tale bespeaks
a crisis of governance in the way it is told: the Knight is continually anxious about organizing,
controlling, structuring, and disciplining -- about governing -- his own narrative. In my view,
both Theseus and the Knight fail in their efforts: the tale does not in fact describe a world
governed by a benign rationality but one tormented by random accident and malignant
vengefulness. Third, as soon as the Knight tells his tale he is immediately challenged -- as I've
already said -- by a drunken Miller, who has a very different view of the world and insists that it
be given attention.
What does this mean? Does it mean that the events of the late 1380s turned Chaucer
into a political radical? I don't think so, and the fact that the Miller's Tale opens the door to the
embittered and dangerous Reeve and then the disgusting Cook suggests that Chaucer had
second thoughts -- or at least that he wants us to. But I do think that the events of the 1380s
shook Chaucer loose from an aristocratic culture that he was already finding less and less
satisfactory as a context for both artistic production and for life. And the result -- to our great
benefit -- was the Canterbury Tales. But the Canterbury Tales are not a radical political
document; they promote no consistent political position, nor do they comment in any direct
way on any contemporary problems. Certainly they are non-aristocratic, but they do not
propose any alternative social vision to that of the aristocratic world. On the contrary, they
escape from politics entirely by focusing their attention upon individuals, upon character. The
Canterbury Tales, in other words, respond to their time largely by withdrawing from it.
Whether this represents political cowardice or simple prudence on Chaucer's part is an open
question. But what cannot be disputed is that Chaucer's response to the material conditions of
his life resulted in a work that twentieth-century Americans have found both politically
congenial and aesthetically irresistible.
The Canterbury Tales
Geoffrey Chaucer, 1475
Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eyeSo priketh hem Nature in hir coragesThanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for the seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.
Bifil that in that seson, on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury, with ful devout corage,
At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste;
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everychon
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse
To take our wey, ther as I yow devyse.
But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren, and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a knyght than wol I first bigynne.
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To riden out, he loved chivalrie,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre,
As wel in Cristendom as in Hethenesse,
And evere honoured for his worthynesse.
At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne
Aboven alle nacions in Pruce;
In Lettow hadde he reysed, and in Ruce,
No cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be
Of Algezir, and riden in Belmarye;
At Lyeys was he, and at Satalye,
Whan they were wonne; and in the Grete See
At many a noble arive hadde he be.
At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith at Tramyssene
In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo.
This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also
Somtyme with the lord of Palatye
Agayn another hethen in Turkye,
And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy, he was wys,
And of his port as meeke as is a mayde;
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde
In al his lyf unto no maner wight;
He was a verray parfit gentil knyght.
But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors weren goode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gypoun,
Al bismotered with his habergeoun;
For he was late ycome from his viage,
And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.
With hym ther was his sone, a yong Squier,
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 of greet strengthe.
And he hadde been somtyme in chyvachie
In Flaundres, in Artoys, and Pycardie,
And born hym weel, as of so litel space,
In hope to stonden in his lady grace.
Embrouded was he, as it were a meede,
Al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede;
Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day,
He was as fressh as is the monthe of May.
Short was his gowne, with sleves longe and wyde.
Wel koude he sitte on hors, and faire ryde,
He koude songes make, and wel endite,
Juste, and eek daunce, and weel purtreye and write.
So hoote he lovede, that by nyghtertale
He slepte namoore than dooth a nyghtyngale.
Curteis he was, lowely, and servysable,
And carf biforn his fader at the table.
A Yeman hadde he, and servantz namo
At that tyme, for hym liste ride soo;
And he was clad in cote and hood of grene,
A sheef of pecok arwes bright and kene
Under his belt he bar ful thriftilyWel koude he dresse his takel yemanly,
Hise arwes drouped noght with fetheres loweAnd in his hand he baar a myghty bowe.
A not -heed hadde he, with a broun visage,
Of woodecraft wel koude he al the usage.
Upon his arm he baar a gay bracer,
And by his syde a swerd and a bokeler,
And on that oother syde a gay daggere,
Harneised wel, and sharpe as point of spere.
A Cristophere on his brest of silver sheene,
An horn he bar, the bawdryk was of grene.
A Forster was he, soothly, as I gesse.
Ther was also a Nonne, a Prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy.
Hir gretteste ooth was but by Seinte Loy,
And she was cleped Madame Eglentyne.
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely;
And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly
After the scole of Stratford-atte-Bowe,
For Frenssh of Parys was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel ytaught was she withalle;
She leet no morsel from hir lippes falle,
Ne wette hir fyngres in hir sauce depe.
Wel koude she carie a morsel, and wel kepe
That no drope ne fille upon hir brist.
In curteisie was set ful muche hir list;
Hire over-lippe wyped she so clene,
That in hir coppe ther was no ferthyng sene
Of grece, whan she dronken hadde hir draughte.
Ful semely after hir mete she raughte;
And sikerly, she was of greet desport,
And ful plesaunt, and amyable of port,
And peyned hir to countrefete cheere
Of court, and been estatlich of manere,
And to ben holden digne of reverence.
But for to speken of hir conscience,
She was so charitable and so pitous,
She wolde wepe, if that she saugh a mous
Kaught in a trappe, if it were deed or bledde.
Of smale houndes hadde she, that she fedde
With rosted flessh, or milk and wastel-breed.
But soore weep she if oon of hem were deed,
Or if men smoot it with a yerde smerte;
And al was conscience, and tendre herte.
Ful semyly hir wympul pynched was,
Hire nose tretys, hir eyen greye as glas,
Hir mouth ful smal, and therto softe and reed;
But sikerly, she hadde a fair forheed,
It was almoost a spanne brood, I trowe,
For, hardily, she was nat undergrowe.
Ful fetys was hir cloke, as I was war;
Of smal coral aboute hir arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded al with grene,
An theron heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned `A,'
And after,`Amor vincit omnia.'
Another Nonne with hir hadde she,
That was hire Chapeleyne, and preestes thre.
A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie,
An outridere, that lovede venerie,
A manly man, to been an abbot able.
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he in stable;
And whan he rood, men myghte his brydel heere
Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd als cleere,
And eek as loude, as dooth the chapel belle,
Ther as this lord was keper of the celle.
The reule of Seint Maure, or of Seint Beneit,
Bycause that it was old and somdel streitThis ilke Monk leet olde thynges pace,
And heeld after the newe world the space.
He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith that hunters beth nat hooly men,
Ne that a monk, whan he is recchelees,
Is likned til a fissh that is waterleesThis is to seyn, a monk out of his cloystreBut thilke text heeld he nat worth an oystre!
And I seyde his opinioun was good,
What sholde he studie, and make hymselven wood,
Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,
Or swynken with his handes and laboure
As Austyn bit? How shal the world be served?
Lat Austyn have his swynk to him reserved;
Therfore he was a prikasour aright,
Grehoundes he hadde, as swift as fowel in flight;
Of prikyng and of huntyng for the hare
Was al his lust, for no cost wolde he spare.
I seigh his sleves ypurfiled at the hond
With grys, and that the fyneste of a lond;
And for to festne his hood under his chyn
He hadde of gold ywroght a curious pyn;
A love-knotte in the gretter ende ther was.
His heed was balled, that shoon as any glas,
And eek his face, as it hadde been enoynt.
He was a lord ful fat and in good poynt,
Hise eyen stepe, and rollynge in his heed,
That stemed as a forneys of a leed;
His bootes souple, his hors in greet estaat;
Now certeinly he was a fair prelaat!
He was nat pale as a forpyned goost,
A fat swan loved he best of any roost.
His palfrey was as broun as is a berye,
A Frere ther was, a wantowne and a merye,
A lymytour, a ful solempne man,
In alle the ordres foure is noon that kan
So muchel of daliaunce and fair langage.
He hadde maad ful many a mariage
Of yonge wommen at his owene cost.
Unto his ordre he was a noble post,
And wel biloved and famulier was he
With frankeleyns overal in his contree
And eek with worthy wommen of the toun,
For he hadde power of confessioun,
As seyde hymself, moore than a curat,
For of his ordre he was licenciat.
Ful swetely herde he confessioun,
And plesaunt was his a absolucioun,
He was an esy man to yeve penaunce
Ther as he wiste to have a good pitaunce;
For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel yshryve;
For, if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
He wiste that a man was repentaunt.
For many a man so harde is of his herte,
He may nat wepe, al thogh hym soore smerte;
Therfore, in stede of wepynge and preyeres,
Men moote yeve silver to the povre freres.
His typet was ay farsed ful of knyves
And pynnes, for to yeven yonge wyves.
And certeinly he hadde a murye note,
Wel koude he synge, and pleyen on a rote,
Of yeddynges he baar outrely the pris.
His nekke whit was as the flour delys;
Therto he strong was as a champioun,
He knew the tavernes wel in every toun
And everich hostiler and tappestere
Bet than a lazar or a beggestere.
For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce;
It is nat honeste, it may nat avaunce,
For to deelen with no swich poraille,
But al with riche and selleres of vitaille;
And overal, ther as profit sholde arise,
Curteis he was, and lowely of servyse.
Ther nas no man nowher so vertuous;
He was the beste beggere in his hous,
(And yaf a certeyn ferme for the graunt
Noon of his brethren cam ther in his haunt;)
For thogh a wydwe hadde noght a sho,
So plesaunt was his `In principio'
Yet wolde he have a ferthyng er he wente;
His purchas was wel bettre than his rente.
And rage he koude, as it were right a whelpe;
In love-dayes ther koude he muchel helpe;
For there he was nat lyk a cloysterer,
With a thredbare cope, as is a povre scoler,
But he was lyk a maister or a pope;
Of double worstede was his semycope,
That rounded as a belle out of the presse.
Somwhat he lipsed for his wantownesse
To make his Englissh sweete upon his tonge,
And in his harpyng, whan that he hadde songe,
Hise eyen twynkled in his heed aryght
As doon the sterres in the frosty nyght.
This worthy lymytour was cleped Huberd.
A Marchant was ther, with a forkek berd,
In mottelee, and hye on horse he sat,
Upon his heed a Flaundryssh bevere hat,
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
Hise resons he spak ful solempnely,
Sownynge alway thencrees of his wynnyng.
He wolde the see were kept for any thyng
Bitwixe Middelburgh and Orewelle.
Wel koude he in eschaunge sheeldes selle.
This worthy man ful wel his wit bisette;
Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
So estatly was he of his governaunce,
With his bargaynes and with his chevyssaunce.
Forsothe, he was a worthy man with-alle,
But, sooth to seyn, I noot how men hym calle.
A Clerk ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logyk hadde longe ygo.
As leene was his hors as is a rake,
And he nas nat right fat, I undertake,
But looked holwe and therto sobrely.
Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy,
For he hadde geten hym yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office,
For hym was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his plilosophie,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrie.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre;
But al that he myghte of his freendes hente,
On bookes and his lernynge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soules preye
Of hem that yaf hym wherwith to scoleye.
Of studie took he moost cure and moost heede,
Noght o word spak he moore than was neede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
And short and quyk, and ful of hy sentence.
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche,
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
A Sergeant of the Lawe, war and wys,
That often hadde been at the parvys,
Ther was also, ful riche of excellence.
Discreet he was, and of greet reverence,He semed swich, hise wordes weren so wise.
Justice he was ful often in assise,
By patente, and by pleyn commissioun.
For his science, and for his heigh renoun,
Of fees and robes hadde he many oon.
So greet a purchasour was nowher noon,
Al was fee symple to hym in effect,
His purchasyng myghte nat been infect.
Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
And yet he semed bisier than he was;
In termes hadde he caas and doomes alle,
That from the tyme of Kyng William were falle.
Therto he koude endite, and make a thyng,
Ther koude no wight pynche at his writyng.
And every statut koude he pleyn by rote.
He rood but hoomly in a medlee cote
Girt with a ceint of silk, with barres smale;Of his array telle I no lenger tale.
A Frankeleyn was in his compaignye;
Whit was his berd as is a dayesye.
Of his complexioun he was sangwyn.
Wel loved he by the morwe a sope in wyn,
To lyven in delit was evere his wone;
For he was Epicurus owene sone,
That heeld opinioun that pleyn delit
Was verraily felicitee parfit,
An housholdere, and that a greet, was he;
Seint Julian was he in his contree.
His breed, his ale, was alweys after oon,
A bettre envyned man was nowher noon.
Withoute bake mete was nevere his hous,
Of fissh and flessh, and that so plentevous,
It snewed in his hous of mete and drynke,
Of alle deyntees that men koude thynke.
After the sondry sesons of the yeer
So chaunged he his mete and his soper.
Ful many a fat partrich hadde he in muwe,
And many a breem and many a luce in stuwe.
Wo was his cook, but if his sauce were
Poynaunt, and sharp, and redy al his geere.
His table dormant in his halle alway
Stood redy covered al the longe day.
At sessiouns ther was he lord and sire;
Ful ofte tyme he was knyght of the shire.
An anlaas and a gipser al of silk
Heeng at his girdel, whit as morne milk.
A shirreve hadde he been, and a countour,
Was nowher swich a worthy vavasour.
An Haberdasshere and a Carpenter,
A Webbe, a Dyere, and a TapycerAnd they were clothed alle in o lyveree
Of a solempne and a greet fraternitee.
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was,
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver wroght ful clene and weel,
Hir girdles and hir pouches everydeel.
Wel semed ech of hem a fair burgeys
To sitten in a yeldehalle on a deys.
Everich for the wisdom that he kan
Was shaply for to been an alderman;
For catel hadde they ynogh, and rente,
And eek hir wyves wolde it wel assenteAnd eles, certeyn, were they to blame!
It is ful fair to been ycleped `ma Dame,'
And goon to vigilies al bifore,
And have a mantel roialliche ybore.
A Cook they hadde with hem for the nones,
To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
And poudre-marchant tart, and galyngale.
Wel koude he knowe a draughte of London ale;
He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
That on his shyne a mormal hadde he!
For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
A Shipman was ther, wonynge fer by weste;
For aught I woot, he was of Dertemouthe.
He rood upon a rouncy, as he kouthe,
In a gowne of faldyng to the knee.
A daggere hangynge on a laas hadde he
Aboute his nekke, under his arm adoun.
The hoote somer hadde maad his hewe al broun,
And certeinly he was a good felawe.
Ful many a draughte of wyn had he ydrawe
Fro Burdeuxward, whil that the chapman sleep.
Of nyce conscience took he no keep;
If that he faught, and hadde the hyer hond,
By water he sente hem hoom to every lond.
But of his craft, to rekene wel his tydes,
His stremes, and his daungers hym bisides,
His herberwe and his moone, his lodemenage,
Ther nas noon swich from Hulle to Cartage.
Hardy he was, and wys to undertake,
With many a tempest hadde his berd been shake;
He knew alle the havenes as they were
From Gootlond to the Cape of Fynystere,
And every cryke in Britaigne and in Spayne.
His barge yeleped was the Maudelayne.
With us ther was a Doctour of Phisik;
In al this world ne was ther noon hym lik,
To speke of phisik and of surgerye;
For he was grounded in astronomye.
He kepte his pacient a ful greet deel
In houres, by his magyk natureel.
Wel koude he fortunen the ascendent
Of hisc ymages for his pacient.
He knew the cause of everich maladye,
Were it of hoot or coold, or moyste, or drye,
And where they engendred, and of what humour.
He was a verray parfit praktisour;
The cause yknowe, and of his harm the roote,
Anon he yaf the sike man his boote.
Ful redy hadde he hise apothecaries
To sende him drogges and his letuaries,
For ech of hem made oother for to wynne,
Hir frendshipe nas nat newe to bigynne.
Wel knew he the olde Esculapius,
And Deyscorides and eek Rufus,
Olde Ypocras, Haly, and Galyen,
Serapioun, Razis, and Avycen,
Averrois, Damascien, and Constantyn,
Bernard, and Gatesden, and Gilbertyn.
Of his diete mesurable was he,
For it was of no superfluitee,
But of greet norissyng, and digestible.
His studie was but litel on the Bible.
In sangwyn and in pers he clad was al,
Lyned with taffata and with sendalAnd yet he was but esy of dispence;
He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
For gold in phisik is a cordial,
Therfore he lovede gold in special.
A good wif was ther, of biside Bathe,
But she was somdel deef, and that was scathe.
Of clooth-makyng she hadde swich an haunt,
She passed hem of ypres and of gaunt.
In al the parisshe wif ne was ther noon
That to the offrynge bifore hire sholde goon;
And if ther dide, certeyn so wrooth was she,
That she was out of alle charitee.
Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground;
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound
That on a sonday weren upon hir heed.
Hir hosen weren of fyn scarlet reed,
Ful streite yteyd, and shoes ful moyste and newe.
Boold was hir face, and fair, and reed of hewe.
She was a worthy womman al hir lyve:
Housbondes at chirche dore she hadde fyve,
Withouten oother compaignye in youthe, -But therof nedeth nat to speke as nowthe.
And thries hadde she been at jerusalem;
She hadde passed many a straunge strem;
At rome she hadde been, and at boloigne,
In galice at seint-jame, and at coloigne.
She koude muchel of wandrynge by the weye.
Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Upon an amblere esily she sat,
Ywympled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felaweshipe wel koude she laughe and carpe.
Of remedies of love she knew per chaunce,
For she koude of that art the olde daunce.
A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre persoun of a toun,
But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benygne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient,
And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.
Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,
But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
Unto his povre parisshens aboute
Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.
He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,
But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,
Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte,
And this figure he added eek therto,
That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre
And leet his sheep encombred in the myre
And ran to londoun unto seinte poules
To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a bretherhed to been withholde;
But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
And though he hooly were and vertuous,
He was to synful man nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
But in his techyng discreet and benygne;
To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.
But it were any persone obstinat,
What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
A bettre preest, I trowe, that nowher noon ys.
He waited after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
But Cristes loore, and Hise apostles twelve
He taughte, but first he folwed it hym-selve.
With hym ther was a Plowman, was his brother,
That hadde ylad of dong ful many a fother.
A trewe swybnker and a good was he,
Lyvynge in pees and parfit charitee.
God loved he best with al his hoole herte
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte,
And thanne his neighebore right as hym-selve;
He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight
Withouten hire, if it lay in his myght.
Hise tithes payed he ful faire and wel,
Bothe of his propre swynk and his catel.
In a tabard he rood, upon a mere.
Ther was also a Reve and a Millere,
A Somnour and a Pardoner also,
A Maunciple, and myself, ther were namo.
The Millere was a stout carl for the nones,
Ful byg he was of brawn and eek of bonesThat proved wel, for overal ther he cam
At wrastlyng he wolde have alwey the ram.
He was short-sholdred, brood, a thikke knarre,
Ther was no dore that he nolde heve of harre,
Or breke it at a rennyng with his heed.
His berd as any sowe or fox was reed,
And therto brood, as though it were a spade.
Upon the cop right of his nose he hade
A werte, and thereon stood a toft of heres
Reed as the brustles of a sowes eres;
Hise nosethirles blake were and wyde.
A swerd and bokeler bar he by his syde.
His mouth as greet was as a greet forneys,
He was a janglere and a goliardeys,
And that was moost of synne and harlotries.
Wel koude he stelen corn, and tollen thries,
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.
A gentil Maunciple was ther of a temple,
Of which achatours myghte take exemple
For to be wise in byynge of vitaille;
For wheither that he payde or took by taille,
Algate he wayted so in his achaat
That he was ay biforn, and in good staat.
Now is nat that of God a ful fair grace,
That swich a lewed mannes wit shal pace
The wisdom of an heep of lerned men?
Of maistres hadde he mo than thries ten,
That weren of lawe expert and curious,
Of whiche ther weren a duszeyne in that hous
Worthy to been stywardes of rente and lond
Of any lord that is in Engelond,
To maken hym lyve by his propre good,
In honour dettelees, but if he were wood;
Or lyve as scarsly as hym list desire,
And able for to helpen al a shire
In any caas that myghte falle or happeAnd yet this manciple sette hir aller cappe!
The Reve was a sclendre colerik man;
His berd was shave as ny as ever he kan,
His heer was by his erys ful round yshorn,
His top was dokked lyk a preest biforn.
Ful longe were his legges, and ful lene,
Ylyk a staf, ther was no calf ysene.
Wel koude he kepe a gerner and a bynne,
Ther was noon auditour koude on him wynne.
Wel wiste he, by the droghte, and by the reyn,
The yeldynge of his seed and of his greyn.
His lordes sheep, his neet, his dayerye,
His swyn, his hors, his stoor, and his pultrye,
Was hooly in this reves governyng
And by his covenant yaf the rekenyng,
Syn that his lord was twenty yeer of age;
Ther koude no man brynge hym in arrerage.
Ther nas baillif, ne hierde, nor oother hyne,
That he ne knew his sleighte and his covyne,
They were adrad of hym as of the deeth.
His wonyng was ful faire upon an heeth,
With grene trees shadwed was his place.
He koude bettre than his lord purchace.
Ful riche he was astored pryvely;
His lord wel koude he plesen subtilly
To yeve and lene hym of his owene good,
And have a thank, and yet a cote and hook.
In youthe he hadde lerned a good myster,
He was a wel good wrighte, a carpenter.
This reve sat upon a ful good stot,
That was al pomely grey, and highte Scot.
A long surcote of pers upon he hade,
And by his syde he baar a rusty blade.
Of Northfolk was this reve, of which I telle,
Bisyde a toun men clepen Baldeswelle.
Tukked he was, as is a frere, aboute,
And evere he rood the hyndreste of oure route.
A Somonour was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubynnes face,
For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was, and lecherous, as a sparwe,
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd,
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quyk-silver, lytarge, ne brymstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement, that wolde clense and byte,
That hym myghte helpen of his wheldes white,
Nor of the knobbes sittynge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drynken strong wyn, reed as blood;
Thanne wolde he speke and crie as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.
A fewe termes hadde he, two or thre,
That he had lerned out of som decreeNo wonder is, he herde it al the day,
And eek ye knowen wel how that a jay
Kan clepen `watte' as wel as kan the Pope.
But who so koude in oother thyng hym grope,
Thanne hadde he spent al his plilosophie;
Ay `questio quid juris' wolde he crie.
He was a gentil harlot and a kynde,
A bettre felawe sholde men noght fynde;
He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,
A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf-monthe, and excuse hym atte fulleFul prively a fynch eek koude he pulle.
And if he foond owher a good felawe,
He wolde techen him to have noon awe,
In swich caas, of the erchedekeness curs,
But if a mannes soule were in his purs;
For in his purs he sholde ypunysshed be,
`Purs is the erchedekenes helle,' seyde he.
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;
Of cursyng oghte ech gilty man him dredeFor curs wol slee, right as assoillyng savithAnd also war him of a Significavit.
In daunger hadde he at his owene gise
The yonge girles of the diocise,
And knew hir conseil, and was al hir reed.
A gerland hadde he set upon his heed
As greet as it were for an ale-stake;
A bokeleer hadde he maad him of a cake.
With hym ther rood a gentil Pardoner
Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer,
That streight was comen fro the court of Rome.
Ful loude he soong `com hider, love, to me.'
This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun,
Was nevere trompe of half so greet a soun.
This Pardoner hadde heer as yelow as wex,
But smothe it heeng as dooth a strike of flex;
By ounces henge hise lokkes that he hadde,
And therwith he hise shuldres overspradde;
But thynne it lay by colpons oon and oon.
But hood, for jolitee, wered he noon,
For it was trussed up in his walet.
Hym thoughte he rood al of the newe jet,
Dischevele, save his cappe, he rood al bare.
Swiche glarynge eyen hadde he as an hare.
A vernycle hadde he sowed upon his cappe.
His walet lay biforn hym in his lappe
Bret-ful of pardoun come from Rome al hoot.
A voys he hadde as smal as hath a goot,
No berd hadde he, ne nevere sholde have,
As smothe it was as it were late shave,
I trowe he were a geldyng or a mare.
But of his craft, fro Berwyk into Ware,
Ne was ther swich another Pardoner;
For in his male he hadde a pilwe-beer,
Which that he seyde was Oure Lady veyl;
He seyde, he hadde a gobet of the seyl
That Seinte Peter hadde, whan that he wente
Upon the see, til Jesu Crist hym hente.
He hadde a croys of latoun, ful of stones,
And in a glas he hadde pigges bones;
But with thise relikes whan that he fond
A povre persoun dwellyng up-on-lond,
Upon a day he gat hym moore moneye
Than that the person gat in monthes tweye,
And thus with feyned flaterye and japes
He made the persoun and the peple his apes.
But trewely to tellen atte laste,
He was in chirche a noble ecclesiaste;
Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie,
But alderbest he song an offertorie,
For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe
He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge;
To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude,
Therfore he song the murierly and loude.
Now have I toold you shortly in a clause
Thestaat, tharray, the nombre, and eek the cause
Why that assembled was this compaignye
In Southwerk, at this gentil hostelrye,
That highte the Tabard, faste by the Belle.
But now is tyme to yow for to telle
How that we baren us that ilke nyght
Whan we were in that hostelrie alyght,
And after wol I telle of our viage,
And all the remenaunt of oure pilgrimage.
But first I pray yow, of youre curteisye,
That ye narette it nat my vileynye,
Thogh that I pleynly speke in this mateere
To telle yow hir wordes and hir cheere,
Ne thogh I speke hir wordes proprely.
For this ye knowen also wel as I,
Who-so shal telle a tale after a man,
He moot reherce as ny as evere he kan
Everich a word, if it be in his charge,
Al speke he never so rudeliche or large;
Or ellis he moot telle his tale untrewe,
Or feyne thyng, or fynde wordes newe.
He may nat spare, al thogh he were his brother,
He moot as wel seye o word as another.
Crist spak hym-self ful brode in Hooly Writ,
And, wel ye woot, no vileynye is it.
Eek Plato seith, who so kan hym rede,
The wordes moote be cosyn to the dede.
Also I prey yow to foryeve it me,
Al have I nat set folk in hir degree
Heere in this tale, as that they sholde stondeMy wit is short, ye may wel understonde.
Greet chiere made oure hoost us everichon,
And to the soper sette he us'anon.
He served us with vitaille at the beste;
Strong was the wyn, and wel to drynke us lestel
A semely man oure Hooste was withalle
For to been a marchal in an halle.
A large man he was, with eyen stepe,
A fairer burgeys was ther noon in Chepe;
Boold of his speche, and wys, and well ytaught,
And of manhod hym lakkede right naught.
Eek therto he was right a myrie man;
And after soper pleyen he bigan,
And spak of myrthe amonges othere thynges,
Whan that we hadde maad our rekenynges,
And seyde thus: Now lordynges, trewely,
Ye been to me right welcome hertely,
For by my trouthe, if that I shal nat lye,
I saugh nat this yeer so myrie a compaignye
Atones in this herberwe, as is now.
Fayn wolde I doon yow myrthe, wiste I howAnd of a myrthe I am right now bythoght
To doon yow ese, and it shal coste noght.
Ye goon to Caunterbury, God yow speedeThe blisful martir quite yow youre meedeAnd wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye shapen yow to talen and to pleye,
For trewely, confort ne myrthe is noon
To ride by the weye doumb as stoon,
And therfore wol I maken yow disport,
As I seyde erst, and doon yow som confort;
And if yow liketh alle by oon assent
For to stonden at my juggement,
And for to werken as I shal yow seye,
To-morwe, whan ye riden by the weye,
Now, by my fader soule that is deed,
But ye be myrie I wol yeve yow myn heed!
Hoold up youre hond, withouten moore speche.
Oure conseil was nat longe for to secheUs thoughte it was noght worth to make it wysAnd graunted hym, withouten moore avys,
And bad him seye his voirdit, as hym leste.
Lordynges, quod he, now herkneth for the beste,
But taak it nought, I prey yow, in desdeyn.
This is the poynt, to speken short and pleyn,
That ech of yow, to shorte with oure weye,
In this viage shal telle tales tweye,
To Caunterburyward I mene it so,
And homward he shal tellen othere two,
Of aventures that whilom han bifalle.
And which of yow that bereth hym best of alleThat is to seyn, that telleth in this caas
Tales of best sentence and moost solaasShal have a soper at oure aller cost,
Heere in this place, sittynge by this post,
Whan that we come agayn fro Caunterbury.
And for to make yow the moore mury
I wol my-selven goodly with yow ryde
Right at myn owene cost, and be youre gyde.
And who so wole my juggement withseye
Shal paye al that we spenden by the weye.
And if ye vouchesauf that it be so,
Tel me anon, withouten wordes mo,
And I wol erly shape me therfore.
This thyng was graunted, and oure othes swore
With ful gald herte, and preyden hym also
That he wolde vouchesauf for to do so,
And that he wolde been oure governour,
And of our tales juge and reportour,
And sette a soper at a certeyn pris,
And we wol reuled been at his devys
In heigh and lough; and thus by oon assent
We been acorded to his juggement;
And therupon the wyn was fet anon,
We dronken, and to reste wente echon
Withouten any lenger taryynge.
Amorwe, whan that day bigan to sprynge,
Up roos oure Hoost, and was oure aller cok,
And gadrede us to gidre, alle in a flok,
And forth we riden, a litel moore than paas,
Unto the wateryng of Seint Thomas.
And there oure Hoost bigan his hors areste,
And seyde, Lordynges, herkneth if yow leste,
Ye woot youre foreward, and I it yow recorde;
If even-song and morwe-song accorde,
Lat se now who shal telle the firste tale.
As evere mote I drynke wyn or ale,
Whoso be rebel to my juggement
Shal paye for al that by the wey is spent.
Now draweth cut, er that we ferrer twynne,
He which that hath the shorteste shal bigynne.
Sire knyght, quod he, my mayster and my lord,
Now draweth cut, for that is myn accord,
Cometh neer, quod he, my lady Prioresse,
And ye, Sir Clerk, lat be your shamefastnesse,
Ne studieth noght; ley hond to, every man.
Anon to drawen every wight bigan,
And shortly for to tellen as it was,
Were it by aventure, or sort, or cas,
The sothe is this, the cut fil to the knyght,
Of which ful blithe and glad was every wyght.
And telle he moste his tale, as was resoun,
By foreward and by composicioun,As ye han herd, what nedeth wordes mo?
And whan this goode man saugh that it was so,
As he that wys was and obedient
To kepe his foreward by his free assent,
He seyde, Syn I shal bigynne the game,
What, welcome be the cut, a Goddes name!
Now lat us ryde, and herkneth what I seye.
And with that word we ryden forth oure weye,
And he bigan with right a myrie cheere
His tale anon, and seyde in this manere.
“Clothier’s Delight”
OR, The Rich Mens Joy, and the Poor Mens Sorrow.
Wherein is exprest the craftiness and subtilty of many Clothiers in England, by beating down
their Work-n Combers, Weavers, and Spinners, for little gains,
Doth Earn their money by taking of hard pains.
To the Tune of, “Jenny come tye me” , etc. “Packingtons Pound” , Or, “Monk hath
confounded” , etc.
With Allowance, Ro. LEstrange. By T. Lanfiere.
OF all sorts of callings that in England be,
There is none that liveth so gallant as we;
Our Trading maintains us as brave as a Knight,
We live at our pleasure, and taketh delight:
We heapeth up riches and treasure great store,
Which we get by griping and grinding the poor,
And this is a way for to fill up our purse,
Although we do get it with many a Curse.
Throughout the whole Kingdom in Country and Town:
There is no danger of our Trade going down,
So long as the Comber can work with his Comb,
And also the Weaver weave in his Lomb:
The Tucker and Spinner that spins all the year,
We will make them to earn their wages full dear;
and this is the way, etc.
In former ages we usd to give,
So that our Work-folks like Farmers did live;
But the times are altered, we will make them know,
All we can for to bring them all under our Bow:
We will make them ta work hard for Six-pence a day,
Though a shilling they deserve if they had their just pay:
and this is the way, etc.
And first for the Combers we will bring them down,
From Eight-groats a score unto Half a Crown:
I at all they murmer, and say tis too small,
We bid them chose whether they will work at all.
Wel make them believe that Trading is bad,
We care not a pin, though they are ner so sad:
and this is the way, etc.
Wel make the poor Weavers work at a low rate,
Wel find fault wheres no fault, and so we will bate:
If Trading grows dead we will presently shew it,
But if it grows good they shall never know it:
Wel tell them that Cloath beyond-Sea will not go,
We care not whether we keep cloathing or no:
and this is the way, etc.
Then next for the Spinners we shall ensue,
Wel make them spin three pound instead of two;
When they bring home their work unto us, they complain
And say that their wages will not them maintain:
But if that an Ounce of weight th[ey] do lack,
Then for to bate three pence we will not be slack:
and this is he way, etc.
But if it holds weight, then their wages they crave,
We have got no money, and whats that youd have?
We have Bread and Bacon, and Butter thats good,
With Out-meal and Salt that is wholesome for food;
We have Sope and Candles whereby to give light,
That you may work by them so long as you have sight:
and this is the way, etc.
We will make the Tucker and Shereman understand,
That they with their wages shall never buy Land:
Though heretofore they have been lofty and high,
Yet now we will make them submit humbly;
We will lighten their wages as low as may be,
We will keep them under in every degree:
and this is the way, etc.
When we go to Market our work-men are glad,
But when we come home then we do look sad,
We sit in the corner as if our hearts did ake,
We tell them tis not a penny we can take:
We plead poverty before we have need,
And thus we do coaks them most bravely indeed:
and this is the way, etc.
But if to an Ale-house they Customers be,
Then presently with the Ale-wife we agree,
When we come to a reckoning, then we do crave
Two-pence on a Shilling, and that we will have;
By such cunning ways we our treasure do get,
For it is all Fish that doth come to our Net:
and this is the way, etc.
And thus we do gain all our Wealth and Estate,
By many poor men that works early and late;
If it were not for those that do labour full hard,
We might go and hang our selves without regard:
The Combers, and Weavers, and Tuckers also,
With the Spinners that worketh for Wages full low:
By these peoples labours we fill up our purse, etc.
Then hey for the Cloathing-trade, it goes on brave,
We scorn for to toyl and moyl, nor yet to slave;
Our Work-men do work hard, but we live at ease,
We go when we will, and come when we please:
We hoard up our bags of silver and Gold,
But conscience and charity with us is cold:
By poor peoples labour we fill up our purse,
Although we do get it with many a curse.
“The Canterbury Tales: Chaucer's Respectful Critique of Church Officials and Their Abuse of
Lauren Day, 2011
Leaders and politicians in positions of power have a duty to the people that they serve
to examine and constructively criticize the institutions shaping their society. In fourteenthcentury England, Geoffrey Chaucer played his public diplomatic role perfectly as well as, later in
life, publishing, The Canterbury Tales, a harsh critique of certain aspects of the Catholic Church.
Because of Chaucer's position at court, and his training as a diplomat, he was able to frame a
work that revealed and implicitly condemned the corrupt practices of many church officials
with impunity.
Chaucer was born in about 1341, and “[f]rom the age of fourteen until the very end of
his life, he remained in royal service. He was a familiar and indispensable part of the court, and
acted as a royal servant for three kings and two princes” (Ackroyd xvi). By the time he was
twenty-four, Chaucer was being given important and “perhaps clandestine” diplomatic missions
(29). He became known as “familia” of the king, which meant that his person was protected
under order of the king (24). Because of his role at court, Chaucer, “was in the best possible
position to observe and to understand the social changes... taking place all around him” (29).
Chaucer's work The Canterbury Tales is a prime example of his close observation and subtle
understanding of the institution of the Church.
It is important to remember that Chaucer, “was not a poet who happened to be a
diplomat and government official; he was a government official and diplomat who, in his spare
time, happened to write poetry...” (67). This gives weight to his examination of the Church from
the point of view of someone uniquely qualified to judge it. Chaucer displayed “evident skill in
difficult negotiations” (50) time and time again, and what could be more difficult than critiquing
the most powerful institution in his country? His ability to survive two separate regime changes
demonstrates the power of his diplomatic skill. These shifts of power were accompanied by
replacements of many court officials, both when Richard II came to the throne, and when the
throne was later usurped by Henry IV. Chaucer maintained his position as royal diplomat
regardless of the sovereign in power. (68). This fact gives testament to his indispensable worth
to the court, an institution second only to one other in fourteenth-century
Religion, specifically the practices of the Catholic Church, would have had a major
influence on Chaucer's life. “An apt symbol for the Catholic culture of fourteenth-century
London might be found in the fact that there were ninety-nine churches, and ninety-five inns,
within the walls” (8). Common greetings of the day consisted of, “God save you,” “God give you
grace,” and “God's speed” (7). “The overseeing presence of the medieval Church could be
compared to the air that was breathed” (Cullen 23). It should come as no surprise then that
Chaucer's poetry should be “suffused with religious practice and religious personages” (Ackroyd
9). Though Chaucer was steeped in the religion of his day, it is clear from his work that he felt
an urgent need to critique certain church officials and their practices:
More emotionally personified as Holy Mother and Bride of Christ, the Church was also
called the Guardian of the Scriptures, the Teacher of Morality, the Refuge of the Poor,
the Fulfillment of the Synagogue and the Light of the Gentiles. Small wonder that those
who cared most deeply about such an ideal were dissatisfied with the medieval clergy!
(Ames 25)
Throughout his Canterbury Tales, “On the one hand, Chaucer often shows the institutional
practices of the surrounding culture compromising the values they were originally designed to
uphold. On the other, he seems to respect those institutions however flawed their practices”
(Condren 1). Chaucer was not criticizing the entire institution of the Catholic Church, but merely
some of its officials.
Throughout The Canterbury Tales as a whole, Chaucer employs various narrative
techniques in order to separate himself, as poet, from the commentary within his poems. His
use of a many-layered narrative serves to provide stories within stories and characters invented
by characters to such a degree as to render the source of the artistry blameless. Chaucer could
defend his tales and their harsh and often crude critique of the Church by pointing to his
characters as the source of the idea. “He shifts the blame, if that is the right word, upon his
characters in The Canterbury Tales” (Ackroyd 39). His characters are not himself and by the
same logic, his characters' stories are doubly separated from him, the writer. “Chaucer the
poet, then, is outside the poem” (Cullen 21). Despite the possibility of this claim, it is clear that
Chaucer is merely using these layers as a device in anticipation of the event of a negative
reaction to his work.
Chaucer also appears as a character in his own tales which adds another, and important
layer to his narrative. “He adds a personal touch and complexity by having his alter ego perform
as the actual teller of all the tales, and doubly significant (perhaps doubly challenging), he
includes stories inspired from inside of himself” (21). Almost every character on the pilgrimage
serves as a satire for some aspect of Chaucer's culture, even himself. In the Man of Law's
Prologue, the Man of Law ridicules Chaucer, the character, and his inability to ryhme, “Chaucer,
clumsy as he is at times / In metre and the cunning use of rhymes” (Coghill 138). Chaucer does
not spare writers in his criticism and the fact that he even satirizes his own passion counteracts
the harshness of his critique without lessening its impact.
The crude humor present in a number of the tales, such as “The Summoner's Tale” has
led critics to classify them as fabliaux, which are bawdy tales that originated in France.
“Obscenity has almost always been seen as intrinsic to the definition of the fabliuax” (Cobby 3940). Chaucer uses this type of tale because of its extraordinary popularity. “The fabliaux have,
from the start, also appealed to a popular audience” (33). Everyone loved this genre of writing
and Chaucer, seeing this, used it as a device in his tales. “Chaucer was generally less polemical
than Dante and less prophetic then Langland, and his attack on vice is usually more indirect and
considerably funnier than theirs” (Ames 29). The idea was to keep people laughing so that they
would take to the criticism more willingly.
The tales that manifest Chaucer's critique the most effectively are “The Friar's Tale,”
“The Summoner's Tale,” and “The Pardoner's Tale.” In all three of these stories the characters
are corrupt church officials revealing their true natures and their greed by taking advantage of
the common folk they are bound to serve. These tales display, “religion made a business,”
(Condren 1) the distortion of the institution of the Church that Chaucer was strongly
“The Friar's Tale,” told by the Friar, relates the story of a corrupt summoner, while
conversely, “The Summoner's Tale,” told by the Summoner, tells the story of a corrupt friar:
The Friar creates in his tale a somonour who acts with all the naked greed and
hardhearted tenacity that often characterized summoners in Chaucer's day, only to be
answered by the Summoner's creation of a frere who relies first on strained textual
interpretations and later, in
frustration, on tenacious greed, in the manner of many a late-fourteenthcentury friar.
Chaucer uses “The Friar's Tale” and “The Summoner's Tale,” as back-to-back satirical
commentary on the Church and its officials. He lightens the accusation by having the two
characters insult each other's positions in the Church. By creating a rivalry between the two, he
adds comic relief to a harsh view of corrupt church authorities.
In “The Friar's Tale,” a summoner is going about his religious duties which he performs
in such a way as to make them nothing short of black mail and extortion. He accuses certain
people of sins they have not committed and they bribe him in order to keep him from
summoning them before the ecclesiastical courts. Out on business one day he meets a fiend
from Hell who he believes is a yeoman. He describes his trade to the alleged yeoman but lies,
“'Why then you are a bailiff?' 'Yes,' said he. / He did not dare, for very filth and shame, / Say
that he was a summoner,” (312). He then asks the stranger to tell him what he does for a living.
The stranger informs him that he does exactly what the summoner does. Chaucer boldly makes
a direct comparison between a church official and a fiend from Hell:
I am a fiend, my dwelling is in Hell.
I ride on business and have so far thriven
By taking anything that I am given.
That is the sum of all my revenue.
You seem to have the same objective too,
You're out for wealth, acquired no matter how,
And so with me. (313)
The fiend tells the summoner that he has the ability to take whatever or whoever people curse.
After he relates this strange power, a woman becomes angry with the summoner for wrongly
accusing her of sin and exclaims, “ 'The devil,' she said, 'can carry him away' ” (318). The fiend
then takes the summoner to Hell, “And on the word this foul fiend made a swoop / And
dragged him, body and soul, to join the troupe / In Hell, where summoners have their special
shelf” (318). Chaucer's description of this despicable character is humorous but also thoroughly
negative. “He was a thief, a summoner, and a pimp” (311). The summoner is compared to the
lowest members of society, and also to the lowest of the otherworldly creatures, a fiend from
Hell. Chaucer's point is quite clear: this was not how a summoner was intended by the Church
to act.
The Summoner, not to be outdone by the Friar, in his narrative, “The Summoner's Tale,”
tells an equally appalling story about a friar who abuses his authority over the common people.
He begins in his prologue by describing the designated place for friars in Hell as Satan's “arse”:
“Satan,” the angel said, “has got a tail
As broad or broader than a carrack sail.
Hold up thy tail, thou Satan!” then said he,
“Show forth thine arse and let the friar see
The nest ordained for friars in this place!”
Ere the tail rose a furlong into space
From underneath it there began to drive,
Much as if bees were swarming from a hive,
Some twenty thousand friars in a rout
And swarmed all over Hell and round about,
And then came back as fast as they could run
And crept into his arse again, each one. (320)
This prologue, while crude in nature is a humorous attack on the character of friars as a group.
It serves to succinctly make Chaucer's point clear while keeping his readers laughing
As Thomas Speght, one of Chaucer's first editors and biographers, put it,
the tales exemplify 'the state of the Church, the Court and the Country,
with such arte and cunning, that although none could deny himself to be
touched, yet none durst complaine that he was wronged'. (Ackroyd 157)
This off color humor is one technique of Chaucer for distancing himself from his critique. It
allowed Chaucer to critique friars in general without necessarily offending them personally.
“In the story which follows, the Summoner, with the subtle cunning of Chaucer, gives
friars high marks for zeal, business acumen, hypocrisy, vainglory, and manipulation of women”
(Ames 45). After his brief tirade in the prologue, the Summoner launches into his longer tale in
which he describes a friar in Yorkshire selling, for personal gain, trentals which were “ an office
of thirty masses for the souls of those in Purgatory” (Coghill 515). The friar would give a
sermon, and after he had effectively fired up the congregation, he would exploit their emotions
in order to make money. “When he had preached in church, and cast his spell / With one main
object, far above the rest, / To fire his congregation with a zest / For buying trentals, and for
Jesu's sake / To give the wherewithal for friars to make / Their holy houses” (320-321) he would
ask them for donations to save their dearly departed friends from Purgatory, and then he
would pocket their money. “What especially irked Chaucer was that the worldly success of the
friars was ensured by their hypocritical protestations of imitating the unworldliness of their
founder. He portrays them preying on the gullible piety of the laity and glorying in the status
which they disclaim” (Ames 45).
Once the friar has exploited this group of people, he then goes through the town
begging for food. He writes down the names of the people who feed him promising to pray for
them to thank them for their kindness, but “Once out of doors again and business done / He
used to plane the names out, every one, / That he had written on his ivory tables. / He'd served
them all with fairy-tales and fables....” (Coghill 322). Next, the friar attempts to take advantage
of a sick man for his own monetary gain. During this part of the tale, the friar's hypocrisy is
made particularly clear to the reader:
Whoever prays must fast, he must keep clean,
Fatten his soul and make his body lean.
We follow the Apostle; clothes and food
Suffice us though they may be rough and rude,
Our purity and fasting have sufficed
To make our prayers acceptable to Christ. (325)
He has just been begging for food from the townsfolk, not fasting, and he has not yet truly
prayed for anyone.
The sick man, Thomas, sees through the friar's act and becomes angry. He tells the friar
that he does have something he can have but he must promise to share his gains with the other
friars, twelve in all. The friar agrees straightaway expecting a large sum of money. Thomas tells
the friar that he has hidden the money with him in the bed, and when the friar reaches under
him to get it the man farts in his hand. “When the sick man could feel him here and there /
Groping about his fundament with care, / Into that friar's hand he blew a fart” (332). The friar
has been characterized in such a way that the reader feels this action is warranted. Later on in
the tale, the friar attempts to get revenge and merely makes himself look the fool by publicizing
the incident:
In delightfully, and convincingly, extending the story beyond the private joke, Chaucer
amplifies its satiric impact. The joke on the friar becomes progressively more social as
each of his listeners hears and responds to the story of the 'odious meschief'
perpetrated by 'this false blasphemour'. (Grudin 174)
Chaucer has masterfully created a corrupt friar and a corrupt summoner that in their rivalry
convey point for point the corruption and misuse of their duties and roles as church officials.
“The Pardoner's Tale,” while still a critique of a church official, takes on a different
structure. The Pardoner himself is the character being satirized, not any of the characters
within his narrative. In his prologue, he tells his fellow riders on the pilgrimage how and why he
takes money from unsuspecting commoners:
But let me briefly make my purpose plain;
I preach for nothing but for greed of gain
And use the same old text, as bold as brass,
Radix malorum est cupiditas.
And thus I preach against the very vice
I make my living out of—avarice. (Coghill 259)
He has had too much to drink and so he reveals the secrets of his trade. His act is much the
same as the friar's in “The Summoner's Tale” as he also uses the people's emotions against
them, works them into a fervor, and then takes their money in return for fake relics or the
pardoning of all their sins.
The Pardoner, unlike the Friar and the Summoner, does not seem to feel defensive
about his corruption. To some degree the Friar and Summoner attempt to deny that they are
greedy and taking advantage of their congregations. They both become angry with each other
for their insulting stories and do not want to admit that there is any truth to the tales. The
Pardoner, however, comes off as egotistical and almost proud of the tricks that he manages to
play on the unsuspecting commoners. Power has completely corrupted him and he revels in it.
For this reason he is the worst of the three, and is satirized the most harshly. It is one thing to
have a fellow pilgrim insult one's position in the church, but quite another to bring disgust upon
oneself by getting caught up in avarice and power. What seems to be a lapse in consciousness
by the Pardoner in revealing his methods, may in fact be a further critique of church authorities
who boast about their greed. The Pardoner thinks that he is superior to the other pilgrims
because of the power his church position gives him. He does not believe that he needs to fear
punishment, and he is probably correct. To Chaucer it seems, the only thing possibly worse than
a corrupt church official is a corrupt church official that does not even try to pretend that what
he is doing is corrupt.
“The Pardoner's Tale,” is about three rioters who make a drunken boast that they are
not afraid of Death and vow to find and kill him. “'Here, chaps! The three of us together now, /
Hold up your hands, like me, and we'll be brothers / In this affair, and each defend the others, /
And we will kill this traitor Death, I say!'” (267). They go off to find Death and instead find a
poor, elderly man. They accuse him of being Death's spy and he tells them that they will find
Death at the top of the next hill. When they arrive, they find a pile of gold, “No longer was it
Death those fellows sought, / For they were all so thrilled to see the sight, / The florins were so
beautiful and bright, / That down they sat beside the precious pile” (269). The boys then began
to plot against each other. One agrees to run to town to get food and drink while the other two
remain behind. The two with the gold decide to kill the third boy when he returns. Meanwhile,
the boy in town has poisoned the wine he is bringing for the other two. When he returns, they
kill him, drink from the poisoned wine, and die. In this way Death wins the battle against the
“The Pardoner's Tale,” is a sermon about greed that serves to instill fear in his listeners
that Death will come for them and they will not have repented of all of their sins. Once the
Pardoner has given his sermon he asks his audience for money in return for forgiveness. “Dearly
beloved, God forgive your sin / And keep you from the vice of avarice! / My holy pardon frees
you all of this, / Provided that you make the right approaches, / That is with sterling, rings, or
silver brooches” (272). This time, however, he forgets that his audience is the very group of
pilgrims that he has already told his trade secret to, “'For though I am a wholly vicious man /
Don't think I can't tell moral tales. I can! / Here's one I often preach when out for winning; /
Now please be quiet. Here is the beginning'” (260). Chaucer uses one less level of the narrative
in this instance for his critique. He is using the Pardoner on the pilgrimage and not a persona in
his character's story to satirize the office of pardoner:
No logic-chopping can save face for the two most shameful characters in The Canterbury
Tales, the Summoner and the Pardoner, and Chaucer suggests no ideal type for them.
Whatever Christian values were connected originally with their jobs apparently no
longer seemed viable to Chaucer—or to anybody else we still read. (Ames 55)
“The Pardoner's Tale,” along with “The Friar's Tale” and “The Summoner's Tale.” are a clear
outpouring of Chaucer's frustration at an institution that was no longer functioning in the best
interest of the people.
Chaucer was able to create this strong satire and critique of certain aspects of the
Church because he was himself religious and well-known at court. He was not merely an
outsider looking in and passing judgment on others' beliefs, but a believer seeking to effect
change in an institution that was as large a part of his life as the royalty and the court. “The
liturgy is in his pages because it was part of the way of life” (Boyd 1). Chaucer was writing from
his personal experience observing the despicable corruption of the one institution that should
have been above even the possibility of such corruption. But Chaucer had not entirely
despaired of the Church. He clearly shows how he believed church authorities and religious
believers should act in some of his other tales, which abound in religious references. Chaucer's
personal religious experience would have been specific to England during his lifetime, and
therefore his references would reflect this.
The specific liturgies of certain regions under the Roman Church differed during
Chaucer's lifetime, but “England had its own derived rites. The most important one in Chaucer's
time was the Use of Salisbury, better known as the Use of Sarum” (3). This particular set of
liturgical traditions is the most valuable in analyzing his religious references, as they are the
rituals he would have been most familiar with. “In a study of Chaucer's saints (1952)... Gordan
Hall Gerould shows that most of those mentioned in the poet's works... appear on the calendar
of the famous missal of Nicholas Lytlington, Abbot of Westminster 1362-86” (22). Westminster
Abbey is the church of the kings of England so Chaucer as a frequent visitor to court would have
been more than familiar with the customs of the abbey. The pervasive nature of religion in
fourteenth-century England accounts for the numerous and various religious references in The
Canterbury Tales.
Chaucer uses the term Host to refer to Harry Bailey, the man who was leading the
pilgrimage, because of the term's religious connotations. The Host in Catholicism is the Body of
Christ, and therefore Christ is symbolically leading the pilgrimage to Canterbury:
the character in the Canterbury Tales, that we know as the Host, is the covert
personification of this Eucharistic Host, as he leads the pilgrims who—as in the
procession described above—are dignitaries, religious, and guild members. (Cullen 24)
Chaucer is giving religious authority to his claims by using the symbol of the Eucharist as the
basis and backbone of his entire narrative. The implication being that Christ would have been
just as if not more disgusted by the corruption in the Church as Chaucer was. To readers in the
modern world, this uniquely Christian reference might pass by without a second thought, but to
the people of Chaucer's day, the term Host would have brought with it a myriad of images and
meanings having to do with both Catholicism and the ritual of mass. “The multiple connotations
of host, the ambiguity the word contains, enriches the poem's possibilities” (24). Chaucer was
creating a satire of a powerful institution and therefore none of his points are overtly outlined
in the narrative, but rather, they are implicitly embedded in the tales of his characters.
[Note: Author provides a works cited page but it was not included in this anthology because of page
The Life, Death, and Afterlife of Geoffrey Chaucer, “The Pardoner’s Tale and the Canterbury
Tales as a Death Warrant”
Robin Wharton, 2012
The Pardoner as a Greedy Salesman
In medieval times it was common practice for members of the church, known as “pardoners”,
to sell indulgences for anything from forgiveness of someone’s sins to salvation from eternal
damnation. In the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer presents the Pardoner as having fashionable long
blonde hair, wearing nice robes, and carrying with him all sorts of gaudy relics. This represents a
departure from the traditional image of a pious and poor monk with a shaved head wearing
modest robes. Instead, the Pardoner is presented, to quote our professor, as a “ladies man.”
Before the Pardoner begins his tale of morality, he prefaces it by freely admitting that he is a
fraud. He proudly exclaims that he is only in the pardoning business for the money and that he
is guilty of extreme greed. He even reveals that his relics, which are supposedly Saints’ relics
certified by the Pope, are really rags and animal bones. Chaucer presents him as a snake oil
salesman corrupted by greed, yet he is the man that the host asks to tell a tale of morality.
The Pardoner’s Tale of Morality
The Pardoner tells us a tale of three young men who spend all of their time drinking, swearing,
gambling, and indulging in excess. It is here that the Pardoner interrupts the tale to, somewhat
ironically, tell the group why all of these things are terrible sins forbidden by God in the Bible.
The three young men find out that one of their friends has been slain by Death, and in
their drunkenness decide that they shall find death and slay him as revenge. While wandering
the road looking for Death, they meet an old man who says that he had left death under an oak
tree and points them towards a grove. Under the tree they find several sacks of gold and decide
to wait until nightfall to carry them away so as not to arouse suspicion. While one of the young
men goes to get bread and wine the other two plot to kill him upon his return so that they only
have to split the gold two ways. Meanwhile, the man on his own poisons two of the three wine
bottles so that he can keep the gold all to himself. Upon his return he is stabbed by his two
friends and they drink the poisoned wine in celebration and die as well.
In truth the old man really did leave death under the oak tree by leaving the gold. This tale
demonstrates that greed will only lead to your own demise and that it brings out the worst in
people. Although this is a great classic tale of morality it also begs the question of whether who
is telling the story affects it’s validity. The Pardoner is practically the embodiment of greed and
intoxication so is it possible for him to tell a tale of morality and be taken seriously? I personally
think that the tale would lose a lot of its effectiveness since it is being told by someone who is
living the life of luxury and is essentially given permission by the church itself to be greedy. The
Pardoner has yet to pay for his greed and the tale is all about greed leading to only treachery
and death. Here Chaucer presents a stark comparison between the idealized tales of the day
and the reality of how life really works.
Thomas Arundel’s Reaction to the Canterbury Tales
Throughout our readings in Terry Jones’ book we have covered the history and culture of
Chaucer’s time but this week we got into the “whodunit” portion of Jones’ argument. Chaucer
was already on Henry IV’s bad list because of how heavily he was tied to the culture of Richard
II’s court. To make things worse, Thomas Arundel came back into power as the archbishop and
as we discussed in previous weeks Arundel was not a nice guy. He was one of the foremost
opponents of John Wyclif and wanted to stamp out dissent and heresy wherever possible by
the most brutal of means. It is especially fitting that we read the Pardoner’s tale this week
because it is one of Chaucer’s most blatant criticisms of the Church and his opinion on it’s
corruption. The Pardoner is presented as a fraud, but not necessarily as a fraudulent pardoner.
There is nothing to indicate that the Pardoner has fake letters of authority. So not only is
Chaucer casting a bad light on a man of the Church, he is implying that the Pardoner’s fraud is
endorsed by the Church. Another detail that wouldn’t escape Arundel’s notice is the fact that
the Pardoner’s writ of authority would be signed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the time
Thomas Arundel himself.
It is debatable as to whether Chaucer was intentionally using the Canterbury Tales to blatantly
criticize the Church or whether he was trying to simply give an honest view of the way the
world actually worked; either way Thomas Arundel would not have been happy about it. Not
only did Chaucer have the audacity to point out corruption and hypocrisy within the Church, he
did so in English so anyone literate could understand it. Arundel was all about the control of
information; it’s one of the reasons he pushed so hard to get rid of English translations of the
Bible. Even though he might have agreed with some of the criticisms of the Church, his number
one goal was to prevent the airing of the Church’s dirty laundry to the common people. His
power came from people’s faith that the Church was an uncorrupt institution that could help
them attain eternal salvation for their soul. As we previously discussed in class, the peasant’s
revolt was enabled by education of the common people. Education led to disillusionment and
threatened Arundel’s very source of power.
It is clear that Thomas Arundel would have considered Geoffrey Chaucer an undesirable and
that the Canterbury Tales would be seen by him as dangerous, but so far Jones has only
presented us with motive. One of his main arguments is that for a man so famous to have
simply fallen off the pages of history that it had to have been a cover up by someone in power.
While he makes a good argument, it is all circumstantial; it is also possible that Chaucer caught
a case of pneumonia and died of natural causes and that we have simply lost the records of it
happening in the 600 years since his death. I think that his thesis that Arundel had Chaucer
murdered is very interesting but I hope that he can present us with a little bit more solid
evidence in the rest of the book.
Excerpts from The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Joseph Campbell, 1949
The happy ending of the fairy tale, the myth, and the divine comedy of the soul is to be
read, not as a contradiction, but as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man. The
objective world remains what it was, but because of a shift of emphasis within the subject, is
beheld as though transformed. Where formerly life and death contended, now enduring being
is made manifest – as indifferent to the accidents of time as water boiling in a pot is to the
destiny of a bubble, or as the cosmos to the appearance and disappearance of a galaxy of stars.
Tragedy is the shattering of the forms and of our attachment to the forms; comedy, the wild
and careless, inexhaustible joy of life invincible. Thus the two are the terms of a single
mythological theme and experience which includes them both and which they bound: the
down-going and the up-coming (kathodos and anodos), which together constitute the totality
of the revelation that is life, and which the individual must know and love if he is to be purged
(katharsis=purgatorio) of the contagion of sin (disobedience to the divine will) and death
(identification with the mortal form). (21)
The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula
represented in the rites of passage: separation – initiation – return: which might be named the
nuclear unit of the monomyth (23).
Typically, the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic, microcosmic triumph, and the hero of
myth a world-historical, macrocosmic triumph. Whereas the former – the youngest or despised
child who becomes the master of extraordinary powers – prevails over his personal oppressors,
the latter brings back from his adventure the means for the regeneration of his society as a
whole. Tribal or local heroes, such as emperor Huang Ti, Moses, or the Aztec Tezcatlipoca,
commit their boons to a single folk; universal heroes – Mohammed, Jesus, Gautama Buddha –
bring a message for the entire world.
Whether the hero be ridiculous or sublime, Greek or barbarian, gentile or Jew, his
journey varies little in essential plan. Popular tales represent the heroic action as physical; the
higher religions show the deed to be moral; nevertheless, there will be found astonishingly little
variation in the morphology of the adventure, the character roles involved, the victories gained.
If one or another of the basic elements of the archetypal pattern is omitted from a given fairy
tale, legend, ritual, or myth, it is bound to be somehow or other implied – and the omission
itself can speak volumes for the history and pathology of the example. . . (30)
The cosmogonic cycle is presented with astonishing consistency in the sacred writings of
all the continents, and it gives to the adventure of the hero a new and interesting turn; for now
it appears that the perilous journey was a labor not of attainment but of reattainment, not
discovery but rediscovery. The godly powers sought and dangerously won are revealed to have
been within the heart of the hero all the time. He is “the king’s son” who has come to know
who he is and therewith has entered into the exercise of his proper power – “God’s son,” who
has learned to know how much that title means. From this point of view the hero is symbolical
of that divine creative and redemptive image which is hidden within us all, only waiting to be
known and rendered into life. (30-31)
The two – the hero and his ultimate god, the seeker and the found – are thus understood as the
outside and inside of a single, self-mirrored mystery, which is identical with the mystery of the
manifest world. The great deed of the supreme hero is to come to the knowledge of this unity
in multiplicity and then to make it known (31).
The effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow
of life into the body of the world. The miracle of this flow may be represented in physical terms
as a circulation of food substance, dynamically as a streaming of energy, or spiritually as a
manifestation of grace. Such varieties of image alternate easily, representing three degrees of
condensation of the one life force. An abundant harvest is the sign of God’s grace; God’s grace
is the food of the soul; the lightning bolt is the harbinger of fertilizing rain, and at the same time
the manifestation of the released energy of God. Grace, food substance, energy: these pour
into the living world and wherever they fail, life decomposes into death. (32)
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero-journey is with a
protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets
against the dragon forces he is about to pass (57).
What such a figure [the old crone or old man] represents is the benign, protecting
power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance – a promise that the peace of Paradise, which
was known first with the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and
stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence
may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is
always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just
behind, the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless
guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously
as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother
Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for
which his society itself is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.
“I feel myself,” said Napoloeon at the opening of his Russian campaign, “driven towards an end
that I do not know. As soon as I shall have reached it, as soon as I shall become unnecessary, an
atom will suffice to shatter me. Till then, not all the forces of mankind can do anything against
me.” (59)
Chapter 19
THEN sank they to sleep. With sorrow one bought
his rest of the evening, — as ofttime had happened
when Grendel guarded that golden hall,
evil wrought, till his end drew nigh,
slaughter for sins. 'Twas seen and told
how an avenger survived the fiend,
as was learned afar. The livelong time
after that grim fight, Grendel's mother,
monster of women, mourned her woe.
She was doomed to dwell in the dreary waters,
cold sea-courses, since Cain cut down
with edge of the sword his only brother,
his father's offspring: outlawed he fled,
marked with murder, from men's delights
warded the wilds. — There woke from him
such fate-sent ghosts as Grendel, who,
war-wolf horrid, at Heorot found
a warrior watching and waiting the fray,
with whom the grisly one grappled amain.
But the man remembered his mighty power,
the glorious gift that God had sent him,
in his Maker's mercy put his trust
for comfort and help: so he conquered the foe,
felled the fiend, who fled abject,
reft of joy, to the realms of death,
mankind's foe. And his mother now,
gloomy and grim, would go that quest
of sorrow, the death of her son to avenge.
To Heorot came she, where helmeted Danes
slept in the hall. Too soon came back
old ills of the earls, when in she burst,
the mother of Grendel. Less grim, though, that terror,
e'en as terror of woman in war is less,
might of maid, than of men in arms
when, hammer-forged, the falchion hard,
sword gore-stained, through swine of the helm,
crested, with keen blade carves amain.
Then was in hall the hard-edge drawn,
the swords on the settles, [footnote 1] and shields a-many
firm held in hand: nor helmet minded
nor harness of mail, whom that horror seized.
Haste was hers; she would hie afar
and save her life when the liegemen saw her.
Yet a single atheling up she seized
fast and firm, as she fled to the moor.
He was for Hrothgar of heroes the dearest,
of trusty vassals betwixt the seas,
whom she killed on his couch, a clansman famous,
in battle brave. — Nor was Beowulf there;
another house had been held apart,
after giving of gold, for the Geat renowned. —
Uproar filled Heorot; the hand all had viewed,
blood-flecked, she bore with her; bale was returned,
dole in the dwellings: 'twas dire exchange
where Dane and Geat were doomed to give
the lives of loved ones. Long-tried king,
the hoary hero, at heart was sad
when he knew his noble no more lived,
and dead indeed was his dearest thane.
To his bower was Beowulf brought in haste,
dauntless victor. As daylight broke,
along with his earls the atheling lord,
with his clansmen, came where the king abode
waiting to see if the Wielder-of-All
would turn this tale of trouble and woe.
Strode o'er floor the famed-in-strife,
with his hand-companions, — the hall resounded, —
wishing to greet the wise old king,
Ingwines' lord; he asked if the night
had passed in peace to the prince's mind.
1. They had laid their arms on the benches near where they slept.
Chapter 20
HROTHGAR spake, helmet-of-Scyldings:—
"Ask not of pleasure! Pain is renewed
to Danish folk. Dead is Aeschere,
of Yrmenlaf the elder brother,
my sage adviser and stay in council,
shoulder-comrade in stress of fight
when warriors clashed and we warded our heads,
hewed the helm-boars; hero famed
should be every earl as Aeschere was!
But here in Heorot a hand hath slain him
of wandering death-sprite. I wot not whither, [footnote 1]
proud of the prey, her path she took,
fain of her fill. The feud she avenged
that yesternight, unyieldingly,
Grendel in grimmest grasp thou killedst, —
seeing how long these liegemen mine
he ruined and ravaged. Reft of life,
in arms he fell. Now another comes,
keen and cruel, her kin to avenge,
faring far in feud of blood:
so that many a thane shall think, who e'er
sorrows in soul for that sharer of rings,
this is hardest of heart-bales. The hand lies low
that once was willing each wish to please.
Land-dwellers here [footnote 2] and liegemen mine,
who house by those parts, I have heard relate
that such a pair they have sometimes seen,
march-stalkers mighty the moorland haunting,
wandering spirits: one of them seemed,
so far as my folk could fairly judge,
of womankind; and one, accursed,
in man's guise trod the misery-track
of exile, though huger than human bulk.
Grendel in days long gone they named him,
folk of the land; his father they knew not,
nor any brood that was born to him
of treacherous spirits. Untrod is their home;
by wolf-cliffs haunt they and windy headlands,
fenways fearful, where flows the stream
from mountains gliding to gloom of the rocks,
underground flood. Not far is it hence
in measure of miles that the mere expands,
and o'er it the frost-bound forest hanging,
sturdily rooted, shadows the wave.
By night is a wonder weird to see,
fire on the waters. So wise lived none
of the sons of men, to search those depths!
Nay, though the heath-rover, harried by dogs,
the horn-proud hart, this holt should seek,
long distance driven, his dear life first
on the brink he yields ere he brave the plunge
to hide his head: 'tis no happy place!
Thence the welter of waters washes up
wan to welkin when winds bestir
evil storms, and air grows dusk,
and the heavens weep. Now is help once more
with thee alone! The land thou knowst not,
place of fear, where thou findest out
that sin-flecked being. Seek if thou dare!
I will reward thee, for waging this fight,
with ancient treasure, as erst I did,
with winding gold, if thou winnest back."
1. He surmises presently where she is.
2. The connection is not difficult. The words of mourning, of acute grief, are said; and according
to Germanic sequence of thought, inexorable here, the next and only topic is revenge. But is it
possible? Hrothgar leads up to his appeal and promise with a skillful and often effective
description of the horrors which surround the monster's home and await the attempt of an
avenging foe.
Chapter 21
BEOWULF spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:
"Sorrow not, sage! It beseems us better
friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them.
Each of us all must his end abide
in the ways of the world; so win who may
glory ere death! When his days are told,
that is the warrior's worthiest doom.
Rise, O realm-warder! Ride we anon,
and mark the trail of the mother of Grendel.
No harbor shall hide her — heed my promise! —
enfolding of field or forested mountain
or floor of the flood, let her flee where she will!
But thou this day endure in patience,
as I ween thou wilt, thy woes each one."
Leaped up the graybeard: God he thanked,
mighty Lord, for the man's brave words.
For Hrothgar soon a horse was saddled
wave-maned steed. The sovran wise
stately rode on; his shield-armed men
followed in force. The footprints led
along the woodland, widely seen,
a path o'er the plain, where she passed, and trod
the murky moor; of men-at-arms
she bore the bravest and best one, dead,
him who with Hrothgar the homestead ruled.
On then went the atheling-born
o'er stone-cliffs steep and strait defiles,
narrow passes and unknown ways,
headlands sheer, and the haunts of the Nicors.
Foremost he [footnote 1] fared, a few at his side
of the wiser men, the ways to scan,
till he found in a flash the forested hill
hanging over the hoary rock,
a woful wood: the waves below
were dyed in blood. The Danish men
had sorrow of soul, and for Scyldings all,
for many a hero, 'twas hard to bear,
ill for earls, when Aeschere's head
they found by the flood on the foreland there.
Waves were welling, the warriors saw,
hot with blood; but the horn sang oft
battle-song bold. The band sat down,
and watched on the water worm-like things,
sea-dragons strange that sounded the deep,
and nicors that lay on the ledge of the ness —
such as oft essay at hour of morn
on the road-of-sails their ruthless quest, —
and sea-snakes and monsters. These started away,
swollen and savage that song to hear,
that war-horn's blast. The warden of Geats,
with bolt from bow, then balked of life,
of wave-work, one monster, amid its heart
went the keen war-shaft; in water it seemed
less doughty in swimming whom death had seized.
Swift on the billows, with boar-spears well
hooked and barbed, it was hard beset,
done to death and dragged on the headland,
wave-roamer wondrous. Warriors viewed
the grisly guest. Then girt him Beowulf
in martial mail, nor mourned for his life.
His breastplate broad and bright of hues,
woven by hand, should the waters try;
well could it ward the warrior's body
that battle should break on his breast in vain
nor harm his heart by the hand of a foe.
And the helmet white that his head protected
was destined to dare the deeps of the flood,
through wave-whirl win: 'twas wound with chains,
decked with gold, as in days of yore
the weapon-smith worked it wondrously,
with swine-forms set it, that swords nowise,
brandished in battle, could bite that helm.
Nor was that the meanest of mighty helps
which Hrothgar's orator offered at need:
"Hrunting" they named the hilted sword,
of old-time heirlooms easily first;
iron was its edge, all etched with poison,
with battle-blood hardened, nor blenched it at fight
in hero's hand who held it ever,
on paths of peril prepared to go
to folkstead [footnote 2] of foes. Not first time this
it was destined to do a daring task.
For he bore not in mind, the bairn of Ecglaf
sturdy and strong, that speech he had made,
drunk with wine, now this weapon he lent
to a stouter swordsman. Himself, though, durst not
under welter of waters wager his life
as loyal liegeman. So lost he his glory,
honor of earls. With the other not so,
who girded him now for the grim encounter.
1. Hrothgar is probably meant.
2. Meeting place.
Chapter 22
BEOWULF spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:—
"Have mind, thou honored offspring of Healfdene
gold-friend of men, now I go on this quest,
sovran wise, what once was said:
if in thy cause it came that I
should lose my life, thou wouldst loyal bide
to me, though fallen, in father's place!
Be guardian, thou, to this group of my thanes,
my warrior-friends, if War should seize me;
and the goodly gifts thou gavest me,
Hrothgar beloved, to Hygelac send!
Geatland's king may ken by the gold,
Hrethel's son see, when he stares at the treasure,
that I got me a friend for goodness famed,
and joyed while I could in my jewel-bestower.
And let Unferth wield this wondrous sword,
earl far-honored, this heirloom precious,
hard of edge: with Hrunting I
seek doom of glory, or Death shall take me."
After these words the Weder-Geat lord
boldly hastened, biding never
answer at all: the ocean floods
closed o'er the hero. Long while of the day
fled ere he felt the floor of the sea.
Soon found the fiend who the flood-domain
sword-hungry held these hundred winters,
greedy and grim, that some guest from above,
some man, was raiding her monster-realm.
She grasped out for him with grisly claws,
and the warrior seized; yet scathed she not
his body hale; the breastplate hindered,
as she strove to shatter the sark of war,
the linked harness, with loathsome hand.
Then bore this brine-wolf, when bottom she touched,
the lord of rings to the lair she haunted
whiles vainly he strove, though his valor held,
weapon to wield against wondrous monsters
that sore beset him; sea-beasts many
tried with fierce tusks to tear his mail,
and swarmed on the stranger. But soon he marked
he was now in some hall, he knew not which,
where water never could work him harm,
nor through the roof could reach him ever
fangs of the flood. Firelight he saw,
beams of a blaze that brightly shone.
Then the warrior was ware of that wolf-of-the-deep,
mere-wife monstrous. For mighty stroke
he swung his blade, and the blow withheld not.
Then sang on her head that seemly blade
its war-song wild. But the warrior found
the light-of-battle [footnote 1] was loath to bite,
to harm the heart: its hard edge failed
the noble at need, yet had known of old
strife hand to hand, and had helmets cloven,
doomed men's fighting-gear. First time, this,
for the gleaming blade that its glory fell.
Firm still stood, nor failed in valor,
heedful of high deeds, Hygelac's kinsman;
flung away fretted sword, featly jewelled,
the angry earl; on earth it lay
steel-edged and stiff. His strength he trusted,
hand-gripe of might. So man shall do
whenever in war he weens to earn him
lasting fame, nor fears for his life!
Seized then by shoulder, shrank not from combat,
the Geatish war-prince Grendel's mother.
Flung then the fierce one, filled with wrath,
his deadly foe, that she fell to ground.
Swift on her part she paid him back
with grisly grasp, and grappled with him.
Spent with struggle, stumbled the warrior,
fiercest of fighting-men, fell adown.
On the hall-guest she hurled herself, hent her short sword,
broad and brown-edged, [footnote 2] the bairn to avenge,
the sole-born son. — On his shoulder lay
braided breast-mail, barring death,
withstanding entrance of edge or blade.
Life would have ended for Ecgtheow's son,
under wide earth for that earl of Geats,
had his armor of war not aided him,
battle-net hard, and holy God
wielded the victory, wisest Maker.
The Lord of Heaven allowed his cause;
and easily rose the earl erect.
1. Kenning for "sword." Hrunting is bewitched, laid under a spell of uselessness, along with all
other swords.
2. This brown of swords, evidently meaning burnished, bright, continues to be a favorite
adjective in the popular ballads.
Chapter 23
'MID the battle-gear saw he a blade triumphant,
old-sword of Eotens, with edge of proof,
warriors' heirloom, weapon unmatched,
— save only 'twas more than other men
to bandy-of-battle could bear at all —
as the giants had wrought it, ready and keen.
Seized then its chain-hilt the Scyldings' chieftain,
bold and battle-grim, brandished the sword,
reckless of life, and so wrathfully smote
that it gripped her neck and grasped her hard,
her bone-rings breaking: the blade pierced through
that fated-one's flesh: to floor she sank.
Bloody the blade: he was blithe of his deed.
Then blazed forth light. 'Twas bright within
as when from the sky there shines unclouded
heaven's candle. The hall he scanned.
By the wall then went he; his weapon raised
high by its hilts the Hygelac-thane,
angry and eager. That edge was not useless
to the warrior now. He wished with speed
Grendel to guerdon for grim raids many,
for the war he waged on Western-Danes
oftener far than an only time,
when of Hrothgar's hearth-companions
he slew in slumber, in sleep devoured,
fifteen men of the folk of Danes,
and as many others outward bore,
his horrible prey. Well paid for that
the wrathful prince! For now prone he saw
Grendel stretched there, spent with war,
spoiled of life, so scathed had left him
Heorot's battle. The body sprang far
when after death it endured the blow,
sword-stroke savage, that severed its head.
Soon, [footnote 1] then, saw the sage companions
who waited with Hrothgar, watching the flood,
that the tossing waters turbid grew,
blood-stained the mere. Old men together,
hoary-haired, of the hero spake;
the warrior would not, they weened, again,
proud of conquest, come to seek
their mighty master. To many it seemed
the wolf-of-the-waves had won his life.
The ninth hour came. The noble Scyldings
left the headland; homeward went
the gold-friend of men. [footnote 2] But the guests sat on,
stared at the surges, sick in heart,
and wished, yet weened not, their winsome lord
again to see. Now that sword began,
from blood of the fight, in battle-droppings, [footnote 3]
war-blade, to wane: 'twas a wondrous thing
that all of it melted as ice is wont
when frosty fetters the Father loosens,
unwinds the wave-bonds, wielding all
seasons and times: the true God he!
Nor took from that dwelling the duke of the Geats precious things, though a plenty he saw,
save only the head and that hilt withal
blazoned with jewels: the blade had melted,
burned was the bright sword, her blood was so hot,
so poisoned the hell-sprite who perished within there.
Soon he was swimming who safe saw in combat
downfall of demons; up-dove through the flood.
The clashing waters were cleansed now,
waste of waves, where the wandering fiend
her life-days left and this lapsing world.
Swam then to strand the sailors'-refuge,
sturdy-in-spirit, of sea-booty glad,
of burden brave he bore with him.
Went then to greet him, and God they thanked,
the thane-band choice of their chieftain blithe,
that safe and sound they could see him again.
Soon from the hardy one helmet and armor
deftly they doffed: now drowsed the mere,
water 'neath welkin, with war-blood stained.
Forth they fared by the footpaths thence,
merry at heart the highways measured,
well-known roads. Courageous men
carried the head from the cliff by the sea,
an arduous task for all the band,
the firm in fight, since four were needed
on the shaft-of-slaughter [footnote 4] strenuously
to bear to the gold-hall Grendel's head.
So presently to the palace there
foemen fearless, fourteen Geats,
marching came. Their master-of-clan
mighty amid them the meadow-ways trod.
Strode then within the sovran thane
fearless in fight, of fame renowned,
hardy hero, Hrothgar to greet.
And next by the hair into hall was borne
Grendel's head, where the henchmen were drinking,
an awe to clan and queen alike,
a monster of marvel: the men looked on.
1. After the killing of the monster and Grendel's decapitation.
2. Hrothgar.
3. The blade slowly dissolves in blood-stained drops like icicles.
4. Spear.
Chapter 24
BEOWULF spake, bairn of Ecgtheow:—
"Lo, now, this sea-booty, son of Healfdene,
Lord of Scyldings, we've lustily brought thee,
sign of glory; thou seest it here.
Not lightly did I with my life escape!
In war under water this work I essayed
with endless effort; and even so
my strength had been lost had the Lord not shielded me.
Not a whit could I with Hrunting do
in work of war, though the weapon is good;
yet a sword the Sovran of Men vouchsafed me
to spy on the wall there, in splendor hanging,
old, gigantic, — how oft He guides
the friendless wight! — and I fought with that brand,
felling in fight, since fate was with me,
the house's wardens. That war-sword then
all burned, bright blade, when the blood gushed o'er it,
battle-sweat hot; but the hilt I brought back
from my foes. So avenged I their fiendish deeds
death-fall of Danes, as was due and right.
And this is my hest, that in Heorot now
safe thou canst sleep with thy soldier band,
and every thane of all thy folk
both old and young; no evil fear,
Scyldings' lord, from that side again,
aught ill for thy earls, as erst thou must!"
Then the golden hilt, for that gray-haired leader,
hoary hero, in hand was laid,
giant-wrought, old. So owned and enjoyed it
after downfall of devils, the Danish lord,
wonder-smiths' work, since the world was rid
of that grim-souled fiend, the foe of God,
murder-marked, and his mother as well.
Now it passed into power of the people's king,
best of all that the oceans bound
who have scattered their gold o'er Scandia's isle.
Hrothgar spake — the hilt he viewed,
heirloom old, where was etched the rise
of that far-off fight when the floods o'erwhelmed,
raging waves, the race of giants
(fearful their fate!), a folk estranged
from God Eternal: whence guerdon due
in that waste of waters the Wielder paid them.
So on the guard of shining gold
in runic staves it was rightly said
for whom the serpent-traced sword was wrought,
best of blades, in bygone days,
and the hilt well wound. — The wise-one spake,
son of Healfdene; silent were all:—
"Lo, so may he say who sooth and right
follows 'mid folk, of far times mindful,
a land-warden old, [footnote 1] that this earl belongs
to the better breed! So, borne aloft,
thy fame must fly, O friend my Beowulf,
far and wide o'er folksteads many. Firmly thou shalt all maintain,
mighty strength with mood of wisdom. Love of mine will I assure thee,
as, awhile ago, I promised; thou shalt prove a stay in future,
in far-off years, to folk of thine,
to the heroes a help. Was not Heremod thus
to offspring of Ecgwela, Honor-Scyldings,
nor grew for their grace, but for grisly slaughter,
for doom of death to the Danishmen.
He slew, wrath-swollen, his shoulder-comrades,
companions at board! So he passed alone,
chieftain haughty, from human cheer.
Though him the Maker with might endowed,
delights of power, and uplifted high
above all men, yet blood-fierce his mind,
his breast-hoard, grew, no bracelets gave he
to Danes as was due; he endured all joyless
strain of struggle and stress of woe,
long feud with his folk. Here find thy lesson!
Of virtue advise thee! This verse I have said for thee,
wise from lapsed winters. Wondrous seems
how to sons of men Almighty God
in the strength of His spirit sendeth wisdom,
estate, high station: He swayeth all things.
Whiles He letteth right lustily fare
the heart of the hero of high-born race, —
in seat ancestral assigns him bliss,
his folk's sure fortress in fee to hold,
puts in his power great parts of the earth,
empire so ample, that end of it
this wanter-of-wisdom weeneth none.
So he waxes in wealth, nowise can harm him
illness or age; no evil cares
shadow his spirit; no sword-hate threatens
from ever an enemy: all the world
wends at his will, no worse he knoweth,
till all within him obstinate pride
waxes and wakes while the warden slumbers,
the spirit's sentry; sleep is too fast
which masters his might, and the murderer nears,
stealthily shooting the shafts from his bow!
1. That is, "whoever has as wide authority as I have and can remember so far back so many
instances of heroism, may well say, as I say, that no better hero ever lived than Beowulf."
Chapter 25
"UNDER harness his heart then is hit indeed
by sharpest shafts; and no shelter avails
from foul behest of the hellish fiend. [footnote 1]
Him seems too little what long he possessed.
Greedy and grim, no golden rings
he gives for his pride; the promised future
forgets he and spurns, with all God has sent him,
Wonder-Wielder, of wealth and fame.
Yet in the end it ever comes
that the frame of the body fragile yields,
fated falls; and there follows another
who joyously the jewels divides,
the royal riches, nor recks of his forebear.
Ban, then, such baleful thoughts, Beowulf dearest,
best of men, and the better part choose,
profit eternal; and temper thy pride,
warrior famous! The flower of thy might
lasts now a while: but erelong it shall be
that sickness or sword thy strength shall minish,
or fang of fire, or flooding billow,
or bite of blade, or brandished spear,
or odious age; or the eyes' clear beam
wax dull and darken: Death even thee
in haste shall o'erwhelm, thou hero of war!
So the Ring-Danes these half-years a hundred I ruled,
wielded 'neath welkin, and warded them bravely
from mighty-ones many o'er middle-earth,
from spear and sword, till it seemed for me
no foe could be found under fold of the sky.
Lo, sudden the shift! To me seated secure
came grief for joy when Grendel began
to harry my home, the hellish foe;
for those ruthless raids, unresting I suffered
heart-sorrow heavy. Heaven be thanked,
Lord Eternal, for life extended
that I on this head all hewn and bloody,
after long evil, with eyes may gaze!
— Go to the bench now! Be glad at banquet,
warrior worthy! A wealth of treasure
at dawn of day, be dealt between us!"
Glad was the Geats' lord, going betimes
to seek his seat, as the Sage commanded.
Afresh, as before, for the famed-in-battle,
for the band of the hall, was a banquet dight
nobly anew. The Night-Helm darkened
dusk o'er the drinkers. The doughty ones rose:
for the hoary-headed would hasten to rest,
aged Scylding; and eager the Geat,
shield-fighter sturdy, for sleeping yearned.
Him wander-weary, warrior-guest
from far, a hall-thane heralded forth,
who by custom courtly cared for all
needs of a thane as in those old days
warrior-wanderers wont to have.
So slumbered the stout-heart. Stately the hall
rose gabled and gilt where the guest slept on
till a raven black the rapture-of-heaven [footnote 2]
blithe-heart boded. Bright came flying
shine after shadow. The swordsmen hastened,
athelings all were eager homeward
forth to fare; and far from thence
the great-hearted guest would guide his keel.
Bade then the hardy-one Hrunting be brought
to the son of Ecglaf, the sword bade him take,
excellent iron, and uttered his thanks for it,
quoth that he counted it keen in battle,
"war-friend" winsome: with words he slandered not
edge of the blade: 'twas a big-hearted man!
Now eager for parting and armed at point
warriors waited, while went to his host
that Darling of Danes. The doughty atheling
to high-seat hastened and Hrothgar greeted.
1. That is, he is now undefended by conscience from the temptations (shafts) of the devil.
2. Kenning for the sun. — This is a strange role for the raven. He is the warrior's bird of battle,
exults in slaughter and carnage; his joy here is a compliment to the sunrise.
Chapter 29
"So held this king to the customs old,
that I wanted for nought in the wage I gained,
the meed of my might; he made me gifts,
Healfdene's heir, for my own disposal.
Now to thee, my prince, I proffer them all,
gladly give them. Thy grace alone
can find me favor. Few indeed
have I of kinsmen, save, Hygelac, thee!"
Then he bade them bear him the boar-head standard,
the battle-helm high, and breastplate gray,
the splendid sword; then spake in form:-"Me this war-gear the wise old prince,
Hrothgar, gave, and his hest he added,
that its story be straightway said to thee. -A while it was held by Heorogar king,
for long time lord of the land of Scyldings;
yet not to his son the sovran left it,
to daring Heoroweard, -- dear as he was to him,
his harness of battle. -- Well hold thou it all!"
And I heard that soon passed o'er the path of this treasure,
all apple-fallow, four good steeds,
each like the others, arms and horses
he gave to the king. So should kinsmen be,
not weave one another the net of wiles,
or with deep-hid treachery death contrive
for neighbor and comrade. His nephew was ever
by hardy Hygelac held full dear,
and each kept watch o'er the other's weal.
I heard, too, the necklace to Hygd he presented,
wonder-wrought treasure, which Wealhtheow gave him
sovran's daughter: three steeds he added,
slender and saddle-gay. Since such gift
the gem gleamed bright on the breast of the queen.
Thus showed his strain the son of Ecgtheow
as a man remarked for mighty deeds
and acts of honor. At ale he slew not
comrade or kin; nor cruel his mood,
though of sons of earth his strength was greatest,
a glorious gift that God had sent
the splendid leader. Long was he spurned,
and worthless by Geatish warriors held;
him at mead the master-of-clans
failed full oft to favor at all.
Slack and shiftless the strong men deemed him,
profitless prince; but payment came,
to the warrior honored, for all his woes. -Then the bulwark-of-earls [footnote 1] bade bring within,
hardy chieftain, Hrethel's heirloom
garnished with gold: no Geat e'er knew
in shape of a sword a statelier prize.
The brand he laid in Beowulf's lap;
and of hides assigned him seven thousand, [footnote 2]
with house and high-seat. They held in common
land alike by their line of birth,
inheritance, home: but higher the king
because of his rule o'er the realm itself.
Now further it fell with the flight of years,
with harryings horrid, that Hygelac perished, [footnote 3]
and Heardred, too, by hewing of swords
under the shield-wall slaughtered lay,
when him at the van of his victor-folk
sought hardy heroes, Heatho-Scilfings,
in arms o'erwhelming Hereric's nephew.
Then Beowulf came as king this broad
realm to wield; and he ruled it well
fifty winters, [footnote 4] a wise old prince,
warding his land, until One began
in the dark of night, a Dragon, to rage.
In the grave on the hill a hoard it guarded,
in the stone-barrow steep. A strait path reached it,
unknown to mortals. Some man, however,
came by chance that cave within
to the heathen hoard. [footnote 5] In hand he took
a golden goblet, nor gave he it back,
stole with it away, while the watcher slept,
by thievish wiles: for the warden's wrath
prince and people must pay betimes!
1. Hygelac.
2. This is generally assumed to mean hides, though the text simply says "seven thousand." A
hide in England meant about 120 acres, though "the size of the acre varied."
3. On the historical raid into Frankish territory between 512 and 520 A.D. The subsequent
course of events, as gathered from hints of this epic, is partly told in Scandinavian legend.
4. The chronology of this epic, as scholars have worked it out, would make Beowulf well over
ninety years of age when he fights the dragon. But the fifty years of his reign need not be taken
as historical fact.
5. The text is here hopelessly illegible, and only the general drift of the meaning can be rescued.
For one thing, we have the old myth of a dragon who guards hidden treasure. But with this runs
the story of some noble, last of his race, who hides all his wealth within this barrow and there
chants his farewell to life's glories. After his death the dragon takes possession of the hoard and
watches over it. A condemned or banished man, desperate, hides in the barrow, discovers the
treasure, and while the dragon sleeps, makes off with a golden beaker or the like, and carries it
for propitiation to his master. The dragon discovers the loss and exacts fearful penalty from the
people round about.
Chapter 30
THAT way he went with no will of his own,
in danger of life, to the dragon's hoard,
but for pressure of peril, some prince's thane.
He fled in fear the fatal scourge,
seeking shelter, a sinful man,
and entered in. At the awful sight
tottered that guest, and terror seized him;
yet the wretched fugitive rallied anon
from fright and fear ere he fled away,
and took the cup from that treasure-hoard.
Of such besides there was store enough,
heirlooms old, the earth below,
which some earl forgotten, in ancient years,
left the last of his lofty race,
heedfully there had hidden away,
dearest treasure. For death of yore
had hurried all hence; and he alone
left to live, the last of the clan,
weeping his friends, yet wished to bide
warding the treasure, his one delight,
though brief his respite. The barrow, new-ready,
to strand and sea-waves stood anear,
hard by the headland, hidden and closed;
there laid within it his lordly heirlooms
and heaped hoard of heavy gold
that warden of rings. Few words he spake:
"Now hold thou, earth, since heroes may not,
what earls have owned! Lo, erst from thee
brave men brought it! But battle-death seized
and cruel killing my clansmen all,
robbed them of life and a liegeman's joys.
None have I left to lift the sword,
or to cleanse the carven cup of price,
beaker bright. My brave are gone.
And the helmet hard, all haughty with gold,
shall part from its plating. Polishers sleep
who could brighten and burnish the battle-mask;
and those weeds of war that were wont to brave
over bicker of shields the bite of steel
rust with their bearer. The ringed mail
fares not far with famous chieftain,
at side of hero! No harp's delight,
no glee-wood's gladness! No good hawk now
flies through the hall! Nor horses fleet
stamp in the burgstead! Battle and death
the flower of my race have reft away."
Mournful of mood, thus he moaned his woe,
alone, for them all, and unblithe wept
by day and by night, till death's fell wave
o'erwhelmed his heart. His hoard-of-bliss
that old ill-doer open found,
who, blazing at twilight the barrows haunteth,
naked foe-dragon flying by night
folded in fire: the folk of earth
dread him sore. 'Tis his doom to seek
hoard in the graves, and heathen gold
to watch, many-wintered: nor wins he thereby!
Powerful this plague-of-the-people thus
held the house of the hoard in earth
three hundred winters; till One aroused
wrath in his breast, to the ruler bearing
that costly cup, and the king implored
for bond of peace. So the barrow was plundered,
borne off was booty. His boon was granted
that wretched man; and his ruler saw
first time what was fashioned in far-off days.
When the dragon awoke, new woe was kindled.
O'er the stone he snuffed. The stark-heart found
footprint of foe who so far had gone
in his hidden craft by the creature's head. —
So may the undoomed easily flee
evils and exile, if only he gain
the grace of The Wielder! — That warden of gold
o'er the ground went seeking, greedy to find
the man who wrought him such wrong in sleep.
Savage and burning, the barrow he circled
all without; nor was any there,
none in the waste.... Yet war he desired,
was eager for battle. The barrow he entered,
sought the cup, and discovered soon
that some one of mortals had searched his treasure,
his lordly gold. The guardian waited
ill-enduring till evening came;
boiling with wrath was the barrow's keeper,
and fain with flame the foe to pay
for the dear cup's loss. — Now day was fled
as the worm had wished. By its wall no more
was it glad to bide, but burning flew
folded in flame: a fearful beginning
for sons of the soil; and soon it came,
in the doom of their lord, to a dreadful end.
Chapter 31
THEN the baleful fiend its fire belched out,
and bright homes burned. The blaze stood high
all landsfolk frighting. No living thing
would that loathly one leave as aloft it flew.
Wide was the dragon's warring seen,
its fiendish fury far and near,
as the grim destroyer those Geatish people
hated and hounded. To hidden lair,
to its hoard it hastened at hint of dawn.
Folk of the land it had lapped in flame,
with bale and brand. In its barrow it trusted,
its battling and bulwarks: that boast was vain!
To Beowulf then the bale was told
quickly and truly: the king's own home,
of buildings the best, in brand-waves melted,
that gift-throne of Geats. To the good old man
sad in heart, 'twas heaviest sorrow.
The sage assumed that his sovran God
he had angered, breaking ancient law,
and embittered the Lord. His breast within
with black thoughts welled, as his wont was never.
The folk's own fastness that fiery dragon
with flame had destroyed, and the stronghold all
washed by waves; but the warlike king,
prince of the Weders, plotted vengeance.
Warriors'-bulwark, he bade them work
all of iron — the earl's commander —
a war-shield wondrous: well he knew
that forest-wood against fire were worthless,
linden could aid not. — Atheling brave,
he was fated to finish this fleeting life, [footnote 1]
his days on earth, and the dragon with him,
though long it had watched o'er the wealth of the hoard! —
Shame he reckoned it, sharer-of-rings,
to follow the flyer-afar with a host,
a broad-flung band; nor the battle feared he,
nor deemed he dreadful the dragon's warring,
its vigor and valor: ventures desperate
he had passed a-plenty, and perils of war,
contest-crash, since, conqueror proud,
Hrothgar's hall he had wholly purged,
and in grapple had killed the kin of Grendel,
loathsome breed! Not least was that
of hand-to-hand fights where Hygelac fell,
when the ruler of Geats in rush of battle,
lord of his folk, in the Frisian land,
son of Hrethel, by sword-draughts died,
by brands down-beaten. Thence Beowulf fled
through strength of himself and his swimming power,
though alone, and his arms were laden with thirty
coats of mail, when he came to the sea!
Nor yet might Hetwaras [footnote 2] haughtily boast
their craft of contest, who carried against him
shields to the fight: but few escaped
from strife with the hero to seek their homes!
Then swam over ocean Ecgtheow's son
lonely and sorrowful, seeking his land,
where Hygd made him offer of hoard and realm,
rings and royal-seat, reckoning naught
the strength of her son to save their kingdom
from hostile hordes, after Hygelac's death.
No sooner for this could the stricken ones
in any wise move that atheling's mind
over young Heardred's head as lord
and ruler of all the realm to be:
yet the hero upheld him with helpful words,
aided in honor, till, older grown,
he wielded the Weder-Geats. — Wandering exiles
sought him o'er seas, the sons of Ohtere,
who had spurned the sway of the Scylfings'-helmet,
the bravest and best that broke the rings,
in Swedish land, of the sea-kings' line,
haughty hero. [footnote 3] Hence Heardred's end.
For shelter he gave them, sword-death came,
the blade's fell blow, to bairn of Hygelac;
but the son of Ongentheow sought again
house and home when Heardred fell,
leaving Beowulf lord of Geats
and gift-seat's master. — A good king he!
1. Literally "loan-days," days loaned to man.
2. Chattuarii, a tribe that dwelt along the Rhine, and took part in repelling the raid of (Hygelac)
3. Onela, son of Ongentheow, who pursues his two nephews Eanmund and Eadgils to
Heardred's court, where they have taken refuge after their un- successful rebellion. In the
fighting Heardred is killed.
Chapter 32
THE fall of his lord he was fain to requite
in after days; and to Eadgils he proved
friend to the friendless, and forces sent
over the sea to the son of Ohtere,
weapons and warriors: well repaid he
those care-paths cold when the king he slew. [footnote 1]
Thus safe through struggles the son of Ecgtheow
had passed a plenty, through perils dire,
with daring deeds, till this day was come
that doomed him now with the dragon to strive.
With comrades eleven the lord of Geats
swollen in rage went seeking the dragon.
He had heard whence all the harm arose
and the killing of clansmen; that cup of price
on the lap of the lord had been laid by the finder.
In the throng was this one thirteenth man,
starter of all the strife and ill,
care-laden captive; cringing thence
forced and reluctant, he led them on
till he came in ken of that cavern-hall,
the barrow delved near billowy surges,
flood of ocean. Within 'twas full
of wire-gold and jewels; a jealous warden,
warrior trusty, the treasures held,
lurked in his lair. Not light the task
of entrance for any of earth-born men!
Sat on the headland the hero king,
spake words of hail to his hearth-companions,
gold-friend of Geats. All gloomy his soul,
wavering, death-bound. Wyrd full nigh
stood ready to greet the gray-haired man,
to seize his soul-hoard, sunder apart
life and body. Not long would be
the warrior's spirit enwound with flesh.
Beowulf spake, the bairn of Ecgtheow:-"Through store of struggles I strove in youth,
mighty feuds; I mind them all.
I was seven years old when the sovran of rings,
friend-of-his-folk, from my father took me,
had me, and held me, Hrethel the king,
with food and fee, faithful in kinship.
Ne'er, while I lived there, he loathlier found me,
bairn in the burg, than his birthright sons,
Herebeald and Haethcyn and Hygelac mine.
For the eldest of these, by unmeet chance,
by kinsman's deed, was the death-bed strewn,
when Haethcyn killed him with horny bow,
his own dear liege laid low with an arrow,
missed the mark and his mate shot down,
one brother the other, with bloody shaft.
A feeless fight, [footnote 2] and a fearful sin,
horror to Hrethel; yet, hard as it was,
unavenged must the atheling die!
Too awful it is for an aged man
to bide and bear, that his bairn so young
rides on the gallows. A rime he makes,
sorrow-song for his son there hanging
as rapture of ravens; no rescue now
can come from the old, disabled man!
Still is he minded, as morning breaks,
of the heir gone elsewhere; [footnote 3] another he hopes not
he will bide to see his burg within
as ward for his wealth, now the one has found
doom of death that the deed incurred.
Forlorn he looks on the lodge of his son,
wine-hall waste and wind-swept chambers
reft of revel. The rider sleepeth,
the hero, far-hidden; [footnote 4] no harp resounds,
in the courts no wassail, as once was heard.
1. That is, Beowulf supports Eadgils against Onela, who is slain by Eadgils in revenge for the
"care-paths" of exile into which Onela forced him.
2. That is, the king could claim no wergild, or man-price, from one son for the killing of the
3. Usual euphemism for death.
4. Sc. in the grave.
Chapter 33
"THEN he goes to his chamber, a grief-song chants
alone for his lost. Too large all seems,
homestead and house. So the helmet-of-Weders
hid in his heart for Herebeald
waves of woe. No way could he take
to avenge on the slayer slaughter so foul;
nor e'en could he harass that hero at all
with loathing deed, though he loved him not.
And so for the sorrow his soul endured,
men's gladness he gave up and God's light chose.
Lands and cities he left his sons
(as the wealthy do) when he went from earth.
There was strife and struggle 'twixt Swede and Geat
o'er the width of waters; war arose,
hard battle-horror, when Hrethel died,
and Ongentheow's offspring grew
strife-keen, bold, nor brooked o'er the seas
pact of peace, but pushed their hosts
to harass in hatred by Hreosnabeorh.
Men of my folk for that feud had vengeance,
for woful war ('tis widely known),
though one of them bought it with blood of his heart,
a bargain hard: for Haethcyn proved
fatal that fray, for the first-of-Geats.
At morn, I heard, was the murderer killed
by kinsman for kinsman, [footnote 1] with clash of sword,
when Ongentheow met Eofor there.
Wide split the war-helm: wan he fell,
hoary Scylfing; the hand that smote him
of feud was mindful, nor flinched from the death-blow.
— "For all that he [footnote 2] gave me, my gleaming sword
repaid him at war, — such power I wielded, —
for lordly treasure: with land he entrusted me,
homestead and house. He had no need
from Swedish realm, or from Spear-Dane folk,
or from men of the Gifths, to get him help, —
some warrior worse for wage to buy!
Ever I fought in the front of all,
sole to the fore; and so shall I fight
while I bide in life and this blade shall last
that early and late hath loyal proved
since for my doughtiness Daeghrefn fell,
slain by my hand, the Hugas' champion.
Nor fared he thence to the Frisian king
with the booty back, and breast-adornments;
but, slain in struggle, that standard-bearer
fell, atheling brave. Not with blade was he slain,
but his bones were broken by brawny gripe,
his heart-waves stilled. — The sword-edge now,
hard blade and my hand, for the hoard shall strive."
Beowulf spake, and a battle-vow made
his last of all: "I have lived through many
wars in my youth; now once again,
old folk-defender, feud will I seek,
do doughty deeds, if the dark destroyer
forth from his cavern come to fight me!"
Then hailed he the helmeted heroes all,
for the last time greeting his liegemen dear,
comrades of war: "I should carry no weapon,
no sword to the serpent, if sure I knew
how, with such enemy, else my vows
I could gain as I did in Grendel's day.
But fire in this fight I must fear me now,
and poisonous breath; so I bring with me
breastplate and board. [footnote 3] From the barrow's keeper
no footbreadth flee I. One fight shall end
our war by the wall, as Wyrd allots,
all mankind's master. My mood is bold
but forbears to boast o'er this battling-flyer.
— Now abide by the barrow, ye breastplate-mailed,
ye heroes in harness, which of us twain
better from battle-rush bear his wounds.
Wait ye the finish. The fight is not yours,
nor meet for any but me alone
to measure might with this monster here
and play the hero. Hardily I
shall win that wealth, or war shall seize,
cruel killing, your king and lord!"
Up stood then with shield the sturdy champion,
stayed by the strength of his single manhood,
and hardy 'neath helmet his harness bore
under cleft of the cliffs: no coward's path!
Soon spied by the wall that warrior chief,
survivor of many a victory-field
where foemen fought with furious clashings,
an arch of stone; and within, a stream
that broke from the barrow. The brooklet's wave
was hot with fire. The hoard that way
he never could hope unharmed to near,
or endure those deeps, [footnote 4] for the dragon's flame.
Then let from his breast, for he burst with rage,
the Weder-Geat prince a word outgo;
stormed the stark-heart; stern went ringing
and clear his cry 'neath the cliff-rocks gray.
The hoard-guard heard a human voice;
his rage was enkindled. No respite now
for pact of peace! The poison-breath
of that foul worm first came forth from the cave,
hot reek-of-fight: the rocks resounded.
Stout by the stone-way his shield he raised,
lord of the Geats, against the loathed-one;
while with courage keen that coiled foe
came seeking strife. The sturdy king
had drawn his sword, not dull of edge,
heirloom old; and each of the two
felt fear of his foe, though fierce their mood.
Stoutly stood with his shield high-raised
the warrior king, as the worm now coiled
together amain: the mailed-one waited.
Now, spire by spire, fast sped and glided
that blazing serpent. The shield protected,
soul and body a shorter while
for the hero-king than his heart desired,
could his will have wielded the welcome respite
but once in his life! But Wyrd denied it,
and victory's honors. — His arm he lifted
lord of the Geats, the grim foe smote
with atheling's heirloom. Its edge was turned
brown blade, on the bone, and bit more feebly
than its noble master had need of then
in his baleful stress. — Then the barrow's keeper
waxed full wild for that weighty blow,
cast deadly flames; wide drove and far
those vicious fires. No victor's glory
the Geats' lord boasted; his brand had failed,
naked in battle, as never it should,
excellent iron! — 'Twas no easy path
that Ecgtheow's honored heir must tread
over the plain to the place of the foe;
for against his will he must win a home
elsewhere far, as must all men, leaving
this lapsing life! — Not long it was
ere those champions grimly closed again.
The hoard-guard was heartened; high heaved his breast
once more; and by peril was pressed again,
enfolded in flames, the folk-commander!
Nor yet about him his band of comrades,
sons of athelings, armed stood
with warlike front: to the woods they bent them,
their lives to save. But the soul of one
with care was cumbered. Kinship true
can never be marred in a noble mind!
1. Eofor for Wulf. — The immediate provocation for Eofor in killing "the hoary Scylfing," Ongentheow, is
that the latter has just struck Wulf down; but the king, Haethcyn, is also avenged by the blow. See the
detailed description below.
2. Hygelac.
3. Shield.
4. The hollow passage.
Chapter 34
WIGLAF his name was, Weohstan's son,
linden-thane loved, the lord of Scylfings,
Aelfhere's kinsman. His king he now saw
with heat under helmet hard oppressed.
He minded the prizes his prince had given him,
wealthy seat of the Waegmunding line,
and folk-rights that his father owned
Not long he lingered. The linden yellow,
his shield, he seized; the old sword he drew: —
as heirloom of Eanmund earth-dwellers knew it,
who was slain by the sword-edge, son of Ohtere,
friendless exile, erst in fray
killed by Weohstan, who won for his kin
brown-bright helmet, breastplate ringed,
old sword of Eotens, Onela's gift,
weeds of war of the warrior-thane,
battle-gear brave: though a brother's child
had been felled, the feud was unfelt by Onela. [footnote 1]
For winters this war-gear Weohstan kept,
breastplate and board, till his bairn had grown
earlship to earn as the old sire did:
then he gave him, mid Geats, the gear of battle,
portion huge, when he passed from life,
fared aged forth. For the first time now
with his leader-lord the liegeman young
was bidden to share the shock of battle.
Neither softened his soul, nor the sire's bequest
weakened in war. [footnote 2] So the worm found out
when once in fight the foes had met!
Wiglaf spake, — and his words were sage;
sad in spirit, he said to his comrades:—
"I remember the time, when mead we took,
what promise we made to this prince of ours
in the banquet-hall, to our breaker-of-rings,
for gear of combat to give him requital,
for hard-sword and helmet, if hap should bring
stress of this sort! Himself who chose us
from all his army to aid him now,
urged us to glory, and gave these treasures,
because he counted us keen with the spear
and hardy 'neath helm, though this hero-work
our leader hoped unhelped and alone
to finish for us, — folk-defender
who hath got him glory greater than all men
for daring deeds! Now the day is come
that our noble master has need of the might
of warriors stout. Let us stride along
the hero to help while the heat is about him
glowing and grim! For God is my witness
I am far more fain the fire should seize
along with my lord these limbs of mine! [footnote 3]
Unsuiting it seems our shields to bear
homeward hence, save here we essay
to fell the foe and defend the life
of the Weders' lord. I wot 'twere shame
on the law of our land if alone the king
out of Geatish warriors woe endured
and sank in the struggle! My sword and helmet,
breastplate and board, for us both shall serve!"
Through slaughter-reek strode he to succor his chieftain,
his battle-helm bore, and brief words spake:—
"Beowulf dearest, do all bravely,
as in youthful days of yore thou vowedst
that while life should last thou wouldst let no wise
thy glory droop! Now, great in deeds,
atheling steadfast, with all thy strength
shield thy life! I will stand to help thee."
At the words the worm came once again,
murderous monster mad with rage,
with fire-billows flaming, its foes to seek,
the hated men. In heat-waves burned
that board [footnote 4] to the boss, and the breastplate failed
to shelter at all the spear-thane young.
Yet quickly under his kinsman's shield
went eager the earl, since his own was now
all burned by the blaze. The bold king again
had mind of his glory: with might his glaive
was driven into the dragon's head, —
blow nerved by hate. But Naegling [footnote 5] was shivered,
broken in battle was Beowulf's sword,
old and gray. 'Twas granted him not
that ever the edge of iron at all
could help him at strife: too strong was his hand,
so the tale is told, and he tried too far
with strength of stroke all swords he wielded,
though sturdy their steel: they steaded him nought.
Then for the third time thought on its feud
that folk-destroyer, fire-dread dragon,
and rushed on the hero, where room allowed,
battle-grim, burning; its bitter teeth
closed on his neck, and covered him
with waves of blood from his breast that welled.
1. That is, although Eanmund was brother's son to Onela, the slaying of the former by
Weohstan is not felt as cause of feud, and is rewarded by gift of the slain man's weapons.
2. Both Wiglaf and the sword did their duty. — The following is one of the classic passages for
illustrating the comitatus as the most conspicuous Germanic institution, and its underlying
sense of duty, based partly on the idea of loyalty and partly on the practical basis of benefits
received and repaid.
3. Sc. "than to bide safely here," — a common figure of incomplete comparison.
4. Wiglaf's wooden shield.
5. Gering would translate "kinsman of the nail," as both are made of iron.
Chapter 35
'TWAS now, men say, in his sovran's need
that the earl made known his noble strain,
craft and keenness and courage enduring.
Heedless of harm, though his hand was burned,
hardy-hearted, he helped his kinsman.
A little lower the loathsome beast
he smote with sword; his steel drove in
bright and burnished; that blaze began
to lose and lessen. At last the king
wielded his wits again, war-knife drew,
a biting blade by his breastplate hanging,
and the Weders'-helm smote that worm asunder,
felled the foe, flung forth its life.
So had they killed it, kinsmen both,
athelings twain: thus an earl should be
in danger's day! — Of deeds of valor
this conqueror's-hour of the king was last,
of his work in the world. The wound began,
which that dragon-of-earth had erst inflicted,
to swell and smart; and soon he found
in his breast was boiling, baleful and deep,
pain of poison. The prince walked on,
wise in his thought, to the wall of rock;
then sat, and stared at the structure of giants,
where arch of stone and steadfast column
upheld forever that hall in earth.
Yet here must the hand of the henchman peerless
lave with water his winsome lord,
the king and conqueror covered with blood,
with struggle spent, and unspan his helmet.
Beowulf spake in spite of his hurt,
his mortal wound; full well he knew
his portion now was past and gone
of earthly bliss, and all had fled
of his file of days, and death was near:
"I would fain bestow on son of mine
this gear of war, were given me now
that any heir should after me come
of my proper blood. This people I ruled
fifty winters. No folk-king was there,
none at all, of the neighboring clans
who war would wage me with 'warriors'-friends' [footnote 1]
and threat me with horrors. At home I bided
what fate might come, and I cared for mine own;
feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore
ever on oath. For all these things,
though fatally wounded, fain am I!
From the Ruler-of-Man no wrath shall seize me,
when life from my frame must flee away,
for killing of kinsmen! Now quickly go
and gaze on that hoard 'neath the hoary rock,
Wiglaf loved, now the worm lies low,
sleeps, heart-sore, of his spoil bereaved.
And fare in haste. I would fain behold
the gorgeous heirlooms, golden store,
have joy in the jewels and gems, lay down
softlier for sight of this splendid hoard
my life and the lordship I long have held."
1. That is, swords.
Chapter 36
I HAVE heard that swiftly the son of Weohstan
at wish and word of his wounded king, —
war-sick warrior, — woven mail-coat,
battle-sark, bore 'neath the barrow's roof.
Then the clansman keen, of conquest proud,
passing the seat, [footnote 1] saw store of jewels
and glistening gold the ground along;
by the wall were marvels, and many a vessel
in the den of the dragon, the dawn-flier old:
unburnished bowls of bygone men
reft of richness; rusty helms
of the olden age; and arm-rings many
wondrously woven. — Such wealth of gold,
booty from barrow, can burden with pride
each human wight: let him hide it who will! —
His glance too fell on a gold-wove banner
high o'er the hoard, of handiwork noblest,
brilliantly broidered; so bright its gleam,
all the earth-floor he easily saw
and viewed all these vessels. No vestige now
was seen of the serpent: the sword had ta'en him.
Then, I heard, the hill of its hoard was reft,
old work of giants, by one alone;
he burdened his bosom with beakers and plate
at his own good will, and the ensign took,
brightest of beacons. — The blade of his lord
— its edge was iron — had injured deep
one that guarded the golden hoard
many a year and its murder-fire
spread hot round the barrow in horror-billows
at midnight hour, till it met its doom.
Hasted the herald, the hoard so spurred him
his track to retrace; he was troubled by doubt,
high-souled hero, if haply he'd find
alive, where he left him, the lord of Weders,
weakening fast by the wall of the cave.
So he carried the load. His lord and king
he found all bleeding, famous chief
at the lapse of life. The liegeman again
plashed him with water, till point of word
broke through the breast-hoard. Beowulf spake,
sage and sad, as he stared at the gold. —
"For the gold and treasure, to God my thanks,
to the Wielder-of-Wonders, with words I say,
for what I behold, to Heaven's Lord,
for the grace that I give such gifts to my folk
or ever the day of my death be run!
Now I've bartered here for booty of treasure
the last of my life, so look ye well
to the needs of my land! No longer I tarry.
A barrow bid ye the battle-fanned raise
for my ashes. 'Twill shine by the shore of the flood,
to folk of mine memorial fair
on Hrones Headland high uplifted
that ocean-wanderers oft may hail
Beowulf's Barrow, as back from far
they drive their keels o'er the darkling wave."
From his neck he unclasped the collar of gold,
valorous king, to his vassal gave it
with bright-gold helmet, breastplate, and ring,
to the youthful thane: bade him use them in joy.
"Thou art end and remnant of all our race
the Waegmunding name. For Wyrd hath swept them,
all my line, to the land of doom,
earls in their glory: I after them go."
This word was the last which the wise old man
harbored in heart ere hot death-waves
of balefire he chose. From his bosom fled
his soul to seek the saints' reward.
1. Where Beowulf lay.
Chapter 37
IT was heavy hap for that hero young
on his lord beloved to look and find him
lying on earth with life at end,
sorrowful sight. But the slayer too,
awful earth-dragon, empty of breath,
lay felled in fight, nor, fain of its treasure,
could the writhing monster rule it more.
For edges of iron had ended its days,
hard and battle-sharp, hammers' leaving; [footnote 1]
and that flier-afar had fallen to ground
hushed by its hurt, its hoard all near,
no longer lusty aloft to whirl
at midnight, making its merriment seen,
proud of its prizes: prone it sank
by the handiwork of the hero-king.
Forsooth among folk but few achieve,
— though sturdy and strong, as stories tell me,
and never so daring in deed of valor, —
the perilous breath of a poison-foe
to brave, and to rush on the ring-board hall,
whenever his watch the warden keeps
bold in the barrow. Beowulf paid
the price of death for that precious hoard;
and each of the foes had found the end
of this fleeting life. Befell erelong
that the laggards in war the wood had left,
trothbreakers, cowards, ten together,
fearing before to flourish a spear
in the sore distress of their sovran lord.
Now in their shame their shields they carried,
armor of fight, where the old man lay;
and they gazed on Wiglaf. Wearied he sat
at his sovran's shoulder, shieldsman good,
to wake him with water. [footnote 2] Nowise it availed.
Though well he wished it, in world no more
could he barrier life for that leader-of-battles
nor baffle the will of all-wielding God.
Doom of the Lord was law o'er the deeds
of every man, as it is to-day.
Grim was the answer, easy to get,
from the youth for those that had yielded to fear!
Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan, —
mournful he looked on those men unloved:—
"Who sooth will speak, can say indeed
that the ruler who gave you golden rings
and the harness of war in which ye stand
— for he at ale-bench often-times
bestowed on hall-folk helm and breastplate,
lord to liegemen, the likeliest gear
which near of far he could find to give, —
threw away and wasted these weeds of battle,
on men who failed when the foemen came!
Not at all could the king of his comrades-in-arms
venture to vaunt, though the Victory-Wielder,
God, gave him grace that he got revenge
sole with his sword in stress and need.
To rescue his life, 'twas little that I
could serve him in struggle; yet shift I made
(hopeless it seemed) to help my kinsman.
Its strength ever waned, when with weapon I struck
that fatal foe, and the fire less strongly
flowed from its head. — Too few the heroes
in throe of contest that thronged to our king!
Now gift of treasure and girding of sword,
joy of the house and home-delight
shall fail your folk; his freehold-land
every clansman within your kin
shall lose and leave, when lords highborn
hear afar of that flight of yours,
a fameless deed. Yea, death is better
for liegemen all than a life of shame!"
1. What had been left or made by the hammer; well-forged.
2. Trying to revive him.
Chapter 38
THAT battle-toil bade he at burg to announce,
at the fort on the cliff, where, full of sorrow,
all the morning earls had sat,
daring shieldsmen, in doubt of twain:
would they wail as dead, or welcome home,
their lord beloved? Little [footnote 1] kept back
of the tidings new, but told them all,
the herald that up the headland rode. —
"Now the willing-giver to Weder folk
in death-bed lies; the Lord of Geats
on the slaughter-bed sleeps by the serpent's deed!
And beside him is stretched that slayer-of-men with knife-wounds sick: [footnote 2] no sword
on the awesome thing in any wise
to work a wound. There Wiglaf sitteth,
Weohstan's bairn, by Beowulf's side,
the living earl by the other dead,
and heavy of heart a head-watch [footnote 3] keeps
o'er friend and foe. — Now our folk may look
for waging of war when once unhidden
to Frisian and Frank the fall of the king
is spread afar. — The strife began
when hot on the Hugas [footnote 4] Hygelac fell
and fared with his fleet to the Frisian land.
Him there the Hetwaras humbled in war,
plied with such prowess their power o'erwhelming
that the bold-in-battle bowed beneath it
and fell in fight. To his friends no wise
could that earl give treasure! And ever since
the Merowings' favor has failed us wholly.
Nor aught expect I of peace and faith
from Swedish folk. 'Twas spread afar
how Ongentheow reft at Ravenswood
Haethcyn Hrethling of hope and life,
when the folk of Geats for the first time sought
in wanton pride the Warlike-Scylfings.
Soon the sage old sire [footnote 5] of Ohtere,
ancient and awful, gave answering blow;
the sea-king [footnote 6] he slew, and his spouse redeemed,
his good wife rescued, though robbed of her gold,
mother of Ohtere and Onela.
Then he followed his foes, who fled before him
sore beset and stole their way,
bereft of a ruler, to Ravenswood.
With his host he besieged there what swords had left,
the weary and wounded; woes he threatened
the whole night through to that hard-pressed throng:
some with the morrow his sword should kill,
some should go to the gallows-tree
for rapture of ravens. But rescue came
with dawn of day for those desperate men
when they heard the horn of Hygelac sound,
tones of his trumpet; the trusty king
had followed their trail with faithful band.
1. Nothing.
2. Dead.
3. Death-watch, guard of honor, "lyke-wake."
4. A name for the Franks.
5. Ongentheow.
6. Haethcyn.
Chapter 39
"THE bloody swath of Swedes and Geats
and the storm of their strife, were seen afar,
how folk against folk the fight had wakened.
The ancient king with his atheling band
sought his citadel, sorrowing much:
Ongentheow earl went up to his burg.
He had tested Hygelac's hardihood,
the proud one's prowess, would prove it no longer,
defied no more those fighting-wanderers
nor hoped from the seamen to save his hoard,
his bairn and his bride: so he bent him again,
old, to his earth-walls. Yet after him came
with slaughter for Swedes the standards of Hygelac
o'er peaceful plains in pride advancing,
till Hrethelings fought in the fenced town. [footnote 1]
Then Ongentheow with edge of sword,
the hoary-bearded, was held at bay,
and the folk-king there was forced to suffer
Eofor's anger. In ire, at the king
Wulf Wonreding with weapon struck;
and the chieftain's blood, for that blow, in streams
flowed 'neath his hair. No fear felt he,
stout old Scylfing, but straightway repaid
in better bargain that bitter stroke
and faced his foe with fell intent.
Nor swift enough was the son of Wonred
answer to render the aged chief;
too soon on his head the helm was cloven;
blood-bedecked he bowed to earth,
and fell adown; not doomed was he yet,
and well he waxed, though the wound was sore.
Then the hardy Hygelac-thane, [footnote 2]
when his brother fell, with broad brand smote,
giants' sword crashing through giants'-helm
across the shield-wall: sank the king,
his folk's old herdsman, fatally hurt.
There were many to bind the brother's wounds
and lift him, fast as fate allowed
his people to wield the place-of-war.
But Eofor took from Ongentheow,
earl from other, the iron-breastplate,
hard sword hilted, and helmet too,
and the hoar-chief's harness to Hygelac carried,
who took the trappings, and truly promised
rich fee 'mid folk, — and fulfilled it so.
For that grim strife gave the Geatish lord,
Hrethel's offspring, when home he came,
to Eofor and Wulf a wealth of treasure,
Each of them had a hundred thousand [footnote 3]
in land and linked rings; nor at less price reckoned
mid-earth men such mighty deeds!
And to Eofor he gave his only daughter
in pledge of grace, the pride of his home.
"Such is the feud, the foeman's rage,
death-hate of men: so I deem it sure
that the Swedish folk will seek us home
for this fall of their friends, the fighting-Scylfings,
when once they learn that our warrior leader
lifeless lies, who land and hoard
ever defended from all his foes,
furthered his folk's weal, finished his course
a hardy hero. — Now haste is best,
that we go to gaze on our Geatish lord,
and bear the bountiful breaker-of-rings
to the funeral pyre. No fragments merely
shall burn with the warrior. Wealth of jewels,
gold untold and gained in terror,
treasure at last with his life obtained,
all of that booty the brands shall take,
fire shall eat it. No earl must carry
memorial jewel. No maiden fair
shall wreathe her neck with noble ring:
nay, sad in spirit and shorn of her gold,
oft shall she pass o'er paths of exile
now our lord all laughter has laid aside,
all mirth and revel. Many a spear
morning-cold shall be clasped amain,
lifted aloft; nor shall lilt of harp
those warriors wake; but the wan-hued raven,
fain o'er the fallen, his feast shall praise
and boast to the eagle how bravely he ate
when he and the wolf were wasting the slain."
So he told his sorrowful tidings,
and little [footnote 4] he lied, the loyal man
of word or of work. The warriors rose;
sad, they climbed to the Cliff-of-Eagles,
went, welling with tears, the wonder to view.
Found on the sand there, stretched at rest,
their lifeless lord, who had lavished rings
of old upon them. Ending-day
had dawned on the doughty-one; death had seized
in woful slaughter the Weders' king.
There saw they, besides, the strangest being,
loathsome, lying their leader near,
prone on the field. The fiery dragon,
fearful fiend, with flame was scorched.
Reckoned by feet, it was fifty measures
in length as it lay. Aloft erewhile
it had revelled by night, and anon come back,
seeking its den; now in death's sure clutch
it had come to the end of its earth-hall joys.
By it there stood the stoups and jars;
dishes lay there, and dear-decked swords
eaten with rust, as, on earth's lap resting,
a thousand winters they waited there.
For all that heritage huge, that gold
of bygone men, was bound by a spell, [footnote 5]
so the treasure-hall could be touched by none
of human kind, — save that Heaven's King,
God himself, might give whom he would,
Helper of Heroes, the hoard to open, —
even such a man as seemed to him meet.
1. The line may mean: till Hrethelings stormed on the hedged shields, — i.e. the shield-wall or
hedge of defensive war — Hrethelings, of course, are Geats.
2. Eofor, brother to Wulf Wonreding.
3. Sc. "value in" hides and the weight of the gold.
4. Not at all.
5. Laid on it when it was put in the barrow. This spell, or in our days the "curse," either
prevented discovery or brought dire ills on the finder and taker.
Chapter 40
A PERILOUS path, it proved, he [footnote 1] trod
who heinously hid, that hall within,
wealth under wall! Its watcher had killed
one of a few, [footnote 2] and the feud was avenged
in woful fashion. Wondrous seems it,
what manner a man of might and valor
oft ends his life, when the earl no longer
in mead-hall may live with loving friends.
So Beowulf, when that barrow's warden
he sought, and the struggle; himself knew not
in what wise he should wend from the world at last.
For [footnote 3] princes potent, who placed the gold,
with a curse to doomsday covered it deep,
so that marked with sin the man should be,
hedged with horrors, in hell-bonds fast,
racked with plagues, who should rob their hoard.
Yet no greed for gold, but the grace of heaven,
ever the king had kept in view. [footnote 4]
Wiglaf spake, the son of Weohstan:—
"At the mandate of one, oft warriors many
sorrow must suffer; and so must we.
The people's-shepherd showed not aught
of care for our counsel, king beloved!
That guardian of gold he should grapple not, urged we,
but let him lie where he long had been
in his earth-hall waiting the end of the world,
the hest of heaven. — This hoard is ours
but grievously gotten; too grim the fate
which thither carried our king and lord.
I was within there, and all I viewed,
the chambered treasure, when chance allowed me
(and my path was made in no pleasant wise)
under the earth-wall. Eager, I seized
such heap from the hoard as hands could bear
and hurriedly carried it hither back
to my liege and lord. Alive was he still,
still wielding his wits. The wise old man
spake much in his sorrow, and sent you greetings
and bade that ye build, when he breathed no more,
on the place of his balefire a barrow high,
memorial mighty. Of men was he
worthiest warrior wide earth o'er
the while he had joy of his jewels and burg.
Let us set out in haste now, the second time
to see and search this store of treasure,
these wall-hid wonders, — the way I show you, —
where, gathered near, ye may gaze your fill
at broad-gold and rings. Let the bier, soon made,
be all in order when out we come,
our king and captain to carry thither
— man beloved — where long he shall bide
safe in the shelter of sovran God."
Then the bairn of Weohstan bade command,
hardy chief, to heroes many
that owned their homesteads, hither to bring
firewood from far — o'er the folk they ruled —
for the famed-one's funeral. " Fire shall devour
and wan flames feed on the fearless warrior
who oft stood stout in the iron-shower,
when, sped from the string, a storm of arrows
shot o'er the shield-wall: the shaft held firm,
featly feathered, followed the barb."
And now the sage young son of Weohstan
seven chose of the chieftain's thanes,
the best he found that band within,
and went with these warriors, one of eight,
under hostile roof. In hand one bore
a lighted torch and led the way.
No lots they cast for keeping the hoard
when once the warriors saw it in hall,
altogether without a guardian,
lying there lost. And little they mourned
when they had hastily haled it out,
dear-bought treasure! The dragon they cast,
the worm, o'er the wall for the wave to take,
and surges swallowed that shepherd of gems.
Then the woven gold on a wain was laden —
countless quite! — and the king was borne,
hoary hero, to Hrones-Ness.
1. Probably the fugitive is meant who discovered the hoard. Ten Brink and Gering assume that
the dragon is meant. "Hid" may well mean here "took while in hiding."
2. That is "one and a few others." But Beowulf seems to be indicated.
3. Ten Brink points out the strongly heathen character of this part of the epic. Beowulf's end
came, so the old tradition ran, from his unwitting interference with spell-bound treasure.
4. A hard saying, variously interpreted. In any case, it is the some- what clumsy effort of the
Christian poet to tone down the heathenism of his material by an edifying observation.
Chapter 41
THEN fashioned for him the folk of Geats
firm on the earth a funeral-pile,
and hung it with helmets and harness of war
and breastplates bright, as the boon he asked;
and they laid amid it the mighty chieftain,
heroes mourning their master dear.
Then on the hill that hugest of balefires
the warriors wakened. Wood-smoke rose
black over blaze, and blent was the roar
of flame with weeping (the wind was still),
till the fire had broken the frame of bones,
hot at the heart. In heavy mood
their misery moaned they, their master's death.
Wailing her woe, the widow [footnote 1] old,
her hair upbound, for Beowulf's death
sung in her sorrow, and said full oft
she dreaded the doleful days to come,
deaths enow, and doom of battle,
and shame. — The smoke by the sky was devoured.
The folk of the Weders fashioned there
on the headland a barrow broad and high,
by ocean-farers far descried:
in ten days' time their toil had raised it,
the battle-brave's beacon. Round brands of the pyre
a wall they built, the worthiest ever
that wit could prompt in their wisest men.
They placed in the barrow that precious booty,
the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile,
hardy heroes, from hoard in cave, —
trusting the ground with treasure of earls,
gold in the earth, where ever it lies
useless to men as of yore it was.
Then about that barrow the battle-keen rode,
atheling-born, a band of twelve,
lament to make, to mourn their king,
chant their dirge, and their chieftain honor.
They praised his earlship, his acts of prowess
worthily witnessed: and well it is
that men their master-friend mightily laud,
heartily love, when hence he goes
from life in the body forlorn away.
Thus made their mourning the men of Geatland,
for their hero's passing his hearth-companions:
quoth that of all the kings of earth,
of men he was mildest and most beloved,
to his kin the kindest, keenest for praise.
1. Nothing is said of Beowulf's wife in the poem, but Bugge surmises that Beowulf finally
accepted Hygd's offer of kingdom and hoard, and, as was usual, took her into the bargain.
Grendel, “Chapter 12”
John Gardner, 1971
I touch the door with my fingertips and it bursts, for all its
fire-forged bands--it jumps away like a terrified deer--and I plunge
into the silent, hearth-lit hall with a laugh that I wouldn't much
care to wake up to myself. I trample the planks that a moment before
protected the hall like a hand raised in horror to a terrified mouth
(sheer poetry, ah!) and the broken hinges rattle like swords down the
timbered walls. The Gears are stones, and whether it's because they're
numb with terror or stiff from too much mead, I cannot tell. I am
swollen with excitement, bloodlust and joy and a strange fear that
mingle in my chest like the twisting rage of a bone-fire. I step onto
the brightly shining floor and angrily advance on them. They're all
asleep, the whole company! I can hardly believe my luck, and my wild
heart laughs, but I let out no sound. Swiftly, softly, I will move
from bed, to bed and destroy them all, swallow every last man. I am
blazing, half--crazy with joy. For pure, mad prank, I snatch a cloth
from the nearest table and tie it around my neck to make a napkin. I
delay no longer. I seize up a sleeping man, tear at him hungrily, bite
through his bone-locks and suck hot, slippery blood. He goes down in
huge morsels, head, chest, hips, legs, even the hands and feet. My
face and arms are wet, matted. The napkin is sopping. The dark floor
steams. I move on at once and I reach for another one (whispering,
whispering, chewing the universe down to words), and I seize a wrist.
A shock goes through me. Mistake!
It's a trick! His eyes are open, were open all the time,
cold-bloodedly watching to see how I work. The eyes nail me now as his
hand nails down my arm. I jump back without thinking (whispering
wildly: jump back without thinking). Now he's out of his bed, his hand
still closed like a dragon's jaws on mine. Nowhere on middle-earth, I
realize, have I encountered a grip like his. My whole arm's on fire,
incredible, searing pain--it's as if his crushing fingers are charged
like fangs with poison. I scream, facing him, grotesquely shaking
hands--dear long-lost brother, kinsman-thane--and the timbered hall
screams back at me. I feel the bones go, ground from their sockets,
and I scream again. I am suddenly awake. The long pale dream, my
history, falls away. The meadhall is alive, great cavernous belly,
gold-adorned, bloodstained, howling back at me, lit by the flickering
fire in the stranger's eyes. He has wings. Is it possible? And yet
it's true: out of his shoulders come terrible fiery wings. I jerk my
head, trying to drive out illusion. The world is what it is and
always was. That's our hope, our chance. Yet even in times of
catastrophe we people it with tricks. Grendel, Grendel, hold fast to
what is true!
Suddenly, darkness. My sanity has won. He's only a man; I can escape
him. I plan. I feel the plan moving inside me like thaw-time waters
rising between cliffs. When I'm ready, I give a ferocious kick--but
something's wrong: I am spinning--Wa!--falling through bottomless
space--Wa!--snatching at the huge twisted roots of an oak... a
blinding flash of fire... no, darkness. I concentrate. I have fallen!
Slipped on blood. He viciously twists my arm behind my back. By
accident, it comes to me, I have given him a greater advantage. I
could laugh. Woe, woe!
And now something worse. He's whispering--spilling words like showers
of sleet, his mouth three inches from my ear. I will not listen. I
continue whispering. As long as I whisper myself I need not hear. His
syllables lick at me, chilly fire. His syllables lick at me, chilly
fire. His syllables lick at me, chilly fire. His syllables lick...
A meaningless swirl in the stream of time, a temporary gathering of
bits, a few random specks, a cloud... Complexities: green dust, purple
dust, gold. Additional refinements: sensitive dust, copulating dust...
The world is my bone-cave, I shall not want... (He laughs as he
whispers. I roll my eyes back. Flames slip out at the corners of his
mouth.) As you see it it is, while the seeing lasts, dark
nightmare-history, time-as-coffin; but where the water was rigid there
will be fish, and men will survive on their flesh till spring. It's
coming, my brother. Believe it or not. Though you murder the world,
turn plains to stone, transmogrify life into I and it, strong
searching roots will crack your cave and rain will cleanse it: The
world will burn green, sperm build again. My promise. Time is the
mind, the hand that makes (fingers on harpstrings, hero-swords, the
acts, the eyes of queens). By that I kill you.
I do not listen. I am sick at heart. I have been betrayed before by
talk like that. "Mama!" I bawl. Shapes vague as lurking seaweed
surround us. My vision clears. The stranger's companions encircle us,
useless swords. I could laugh if it weren't for the pain that makes me
howl. And yet I address him, whispering, whimpering, whining.
"If you win, it's by mindless chance. Make no mistake. First you
tricked me, and then I slipped. Accident."
He answers with a twist that hurls me forward screaming. The thanes
make way. I fall against a table and smash it, and wall timbers crack.
And still he whispers.
Grendel, Grendel! You make the world by whispers, second by second.
Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or a garden of
roses is not the point. Feel the wall: is it not hard? He smashes me
against it, breaks open my forehead. Hard, yes! Observe the hardness,
write it down in careful runes. Now sing of walls! Sing!
I howl.
"I'm singing!"
Sing words! Sing raving hymns!
"You're crazy. Ow!"
"I sing of walls," I howl. "Hooray for the hardness of walls!"
Terrible, he whispers. Terrible. He laughs and lets out fire.
"You're crazy," I say. "If you think I created that wall that cracked
my head, you're a fucking lunatic."
Sing walls, he hisses.
I have no choice.
"The wall will fall to the wind as the windy hill
will fall, and all things thought in former times:
Nothing made remains, nor man remembers.
And these towns shall be called the shining towns!"
Better, he whispers. That's better. He laughs again, and the nasty
laugh admits I'm slyer than he guessed.
He's crazy. I understand him all right, make no mistake. Understand
his lunatic theory of matter and mind, the chilly intellect, the hot
imagination, blocks and builder, reality as stress. Nevertheless, it
was by accident that he got my arm behind me. He penetrated no
mysteries. He was lucky. If I'd known he was awake, if I'd known there
was blood on the floor when I gave him that kick...
The room goes suddenly white, as if struck by lightning. I stare
down, amazed. He has torn off my arm at the shoulder! Blood pours down
where the limb was. I cry, I bawl like a baby. He stretches his
blinding white wings and breathes out fire. I run for the door and
through it. I move like wind. I stumble and fall, get up again. I'll
die! I howl. The night is aflame with winged men. No, no! Think! I
come suddenly awake once more from the nightmare. Darkness. I really
will die! Every rock, every tree, every crystal of snow cries out
cold-blooded objectness. Cold, sharp outlines, everything around me:
distinct, detached as dead men. I understand. "Mama!" I bellow.
"Mama, Mama! I'm dying!" But her love is history. His whispering
follows me into the woods, though I've outrun him. "It was an
accident," I bellow back. I will cling to what is true. "Blind,
mindless, mechanical. Mere logic of chance." I am weak from loss of
blood. No one follows me now. I stumble again and with my one weak arm
I cling to the huge twisted roots of an oak. I look down past stars to
a terrifying darkness. I seem to recognize the place, but it's
impossible. "Accident," I whisper. I will fall. I seem to desire the
fall, and though I fight it with all my will I know in advance that I
can't win. Standing baffled, quaking with fear, three feet from the
edge of a nightmare cliff, I find myself, incredibly, moving toward
it. I look down, down, into bottomless blackness, feeling the dark
power moving in me like an ocean current, some monster inside me, deep
sea wonder, dread night monarch astir in his cave, moving me slowly to
my voluntary tumble into death.
Again sight clears. I am slick with blood. I discover I no longer feel
pain. Animals gather around me, enemies of old, to watch me die. I
give them what I hope will appear a sheepish smile. My heart booms
terror. Will the last of my life slide out if I let out breath? They
watch with mindless, indifferent eyes, as calm and midnight black as
the chasm below me.
Is it joy I feel?
They watch on, evil, incredibly stupid, enjoying my destruction.
"Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all."
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