The Canterbury Tales:
General Prologue

Greetings, Pilgrims! I promised I would introduce you to The CanterburyTales. The Tales begin with the General Prologue, which opens with a “naturingang” or “nature-beginning,” found in many Provencal, Italian and German courtly romances and lyrics. The “nature-beginning” describes the coming of Spring. This motif possibly originated with Guido delle Colonne and his Historia destrucionis Troiae. Listen to the Middle English version of this tale as you scroll down.

The Middle English text is from Larry D. Benson., Gen. ed., The Riverside Chaucer,
Houghton Mifflin Company

Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury.

1.  Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
When fair April with his showers sweet,

2.   The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root

3.   And bathed every veyne in swich licour
And bathed each vein in such liquid,

4.   Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
The strength of which creates the flower;

5.   Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
When the West Wind, with his sweet breath,

6.   Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Has breathed life into every copse and heath,

7.   The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Into each tender shoot, and the young sun

8.   Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
Has moved halfway through the house of Aries,

9.   And smale foweles maken melodye,
And small birds sing their songs,

10. That slepen al the nyght with open ye
Those birds who sleep all night with open eye

11. (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
(For nature stirs up their spirits),

12.  Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
Then folk long to go on pilgrimage,

13.  And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
And “professional” pilgrims to seek strange strands,

14.  To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And distant shrines, famous in foreign lands,

15.  And specially from every shires ende
And specially from every shire's end

16.  Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
Of England to Canterbury they wend,

17. The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek,

18. That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Who watched over them when they were sick.

19. Bifil that in that seson on a day,
It happened in that season that one day

20. In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
In Southwark, at the Tabard, where I lay

21. Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage
Ready to set out on my pilgrimage

22. To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
To Canterbury, filled with a devout spirit,

23. At nyght was come into that hostelrye
There came that night to that hostelry

24. Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
A group of twenty-nine, a company

25. Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
Of various sorts of people, fallen

26. In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
By chance into fellowship, and every one of them a pilgrim

27. That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
Bound for the shrine in Canterbury.

28. The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
The bedrooms and the stables were roomy

29. And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And we were taken care of in the best way.

30. And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
In brief, when the sun had sunk to its rest,

31. So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
Since I had spoken to every one of them,

32. That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
I soon became one of the crowd,

33. And made forward erly for to ryse,
Planning to be ready to leave early the next day

34. To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.
At first light for the destination I’ve already told you about

At this point, let’s move to another page where we can look at the kinds of genres used in The Canterbury Tales.