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14. KNIGHT, PARSON, AND PLOUGHMAN

[CHAUCER: Canterbury Tales]

Chaucer describes three typical characters which bring out the best side of the social system in the second half of the fourteenth century, as Langland brings out its ugliest side.

A knight there was, and that a worthy man,
That fro the tyme that he first bigan
To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye.
Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre,
And therto hadde he ridden (no man ferre)
As wel in Christendom as Hethenesse,
And ever honoured for his worthiness,

At Alisaundre he was, whan it was wonne ;
Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne1
Aboven alle naciouns in Pruce.

In Lettow hadde he reysed2 and in Ruce,
No Cristen man so ofte of his degree.
In Gernade at the sege 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 aryve" hadde he be.

At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for our feith at Tramissene

In listes thryes, and ay slayn his fo.
This ilke worthy knight had been also
Sometyme with the lord of Palatye,
Ageyn another hethen in Turkye:

And evermore he hadde a sovereyn prys.
And though that he were worthy he was wys
3 landing.

1 passed.

2 warred.

And of his port as meke as is a mayde.
He never yet no vileinye ne sayde
In al his lyf, unto no maner wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knight.

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But for to tellen yow of his array,
His hors were gode, but he was nat gay.
Of fustian he wered a gipoun

Al bismotered1 with his habergeoun;

1 stained.

For he was late y-come from his fiage,

And wente for to doon his pilgrimage.
A good man was ther of religioun,
And was a povre Persoun of a toun1:
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
That Cristes Gospel trewely wolde preche;

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His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
Benigne he was, and wonder diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;

And swich he was y-proved ofte sythes2.

Ful looth were him to cursen for his tythes, But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,

Unto his povre parisshens aboute

Of his offring, and eek of his substance,

He coude in litel thing han suffisaunce.

Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,

But he ne lafte nat, for reyn ne thonder,

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In siknes nor in meschief, to visyte

The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lyte1,
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 this 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 preest take keep,

A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shold live.
He sette nat his benefice to hyre,

And leet his sheep encombred in the myre,
And ran to London, unto seÿnt Poules,

To seken him 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 miscarie;
He was a shepherde and no mercenarie.
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful man nat despitous,
Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne3,
But in his teching discreet and benigne.
To drawen folk to heven by fairnesse
By good ensample, was his bisinesse:
But it were any persone obstinat,
What-so he were, of heigh or lowe estat,

Him wolde he snibben sharply for the nones. A bettre preest, I trowe that nowher noon is. 3 scornful.

1 small.

I. S. B.

2 dirty.

13

He wayted after no pompe and reverence,
Ne maked him a spyced conscience,

But Cristes lore, and his apostles twelve,
He taughte, and first he folwed it himselve.

With him ther was a Plowman, was his brother,
That hadde y-lad of dong ful many a fother1,
A trewe swinker and a good was he,

Livinge in pees and parfit charitee,

God loved he best with al his hole herte
At alle tymes, thogh him gamed or smerte,
And thanne his neighebour right as himselve.
He wolde thresshe, and therto dyke and delve,
For Cristes sake, for every povre wight,
Withouten hyre, if it lay in his might.
His tythes payed he ful faire and wel,
Both of his proper swink and his catel2.
2 Both in labour and goods.

1 load.

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