Geoffrey Chaucer

The Canterbury Tales


Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2007, All Rights Reserved.

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The Squire’s Prologue

The Prologue to the Squire’s Tale

‘Squire, come near, if your wish it be,

And speak somewhat of love, for certainly

You know as much of it as any man.’

‘Nay, sire,’ quoth he, ‘but what I can

I will right heartily, I’ll not rebel

Against your wish; a tale will I tell.

Excuse me, if I should speak amiss.

My intent is good; lo, my tale is this.’

The Squire’s Tale

Here begins the Squire’s Tale

At Sarai, in the land of Tartary,

There dwelt a king who warred with Muscovy,

In which wars died many a mighty man.

This noble king was called Cambiuskan,

Who in his time was of such great renown

That there was nowhere in no region found

So excellent a lord in everything.

He lacked naught that does befit a king.

As to the sect in which he had been born,

He kept the law, to serve which he had sworn;

Added to this he was wise, brave and rich,

And merciful, and just, constantly fixed

On truthful speech, benign and honourable,

As firmly set as the centre of a circle,

Young, fresh and strong, he war espoused

As keenly as any true knight of his house.

A fair person he was and fortunate,

And ever so maintained his royal state

That there was nowhere such another man.

This noble king, this Tartar, Cambiuskan,

Had two sons by Elpheta his wife;

The eldest of the two named Algarsife,

The other son in turn called Cambalo.

A daughter had this noble king also,

Youngest of all; her name was Canace.

But to tell you of all her beauty,

Lies not in my tongue nor understanding.

I dare not undertake so great a thing;

My English too would prove insufficient.

Only a rhetorician, excellent

In all the frills belonging to that art,

Could describe her to you in every part.

I am none; I must speak then as I can.

And so befell it, when this Cambiuskan

Had twenty winters worn his diadem,

He held a feast, a custom among them,

To celebrate his own nativity

Which was proclaimed through Sarai city,

On the Ides of March, in the new year;

Phoebus the sun shone bright and clear,

For he was near his exaltation,

In Mars’ face, and in his mansion

In Aries, the choleric hot sign.

Cheerful was the weather and benign,

So that the birds in the sun’s gleam –

What with the season and the fresh green –

Full loudly sang out their affection.

Feeling they had at last won protection

Against the sword of winter, keen and cold.

This Cambiuskan, of whom I have told,

In royal vestments sat on his dais,

With diadem, full high in his palace,

And held his feast, so solemn and so rich

That in this world there was none other which

Could match it: and if I told of its array,

Then would I occupy a summer’s day;

Nor is there reason for me to advise

You of the order of the meal in any wise.

I’ll not list the exotic dishes, swans

In any number, also young herons.

And in that land too, so say the knights old,

There are meats that men as dainties hold,

Though in this country their worth is small.

There is no man who could tell them all;

I will not delay you now, for it is prime,

It would be fruitless, simply wasted time;

To my initial theme, then, I’ll have recourse.

It so befell that after the third course,

While the King in splendour sat, I say,

Listening to his minstrels sing and play

Before him at the table, delightfully,

In at the hall door, all suddenly,

There came a knight upon a horse of brass,

And in his hand a mirror, broad, of glass;

Upon his thumb he had a golden ring,

And by his side a naked sword hanging,

And up he rode to the King’s high board.

In all the hall was spoken never a word

For wonder at this knight; him to behold

Full eagerly they waited, young and old.

The unknown knight who came thus suddenly,

All armed, save for his head, full richly,

Saluted King and Queen and lords all,

In order, as were seated through the hall,

With such deep reverence and obeisance,

As much in speech as in his countenance,

That Gawain, with his ancient courtesy,

Though he were come again, out of Faery,

Could not have bettered him in any word.

And after this, before the King’s high board,

He in a manly voice proclaimed his message,

According to the manner of his language,

Without defect of syllable or letter.

And that his tale might appear the better,

As his words did, so did his face appear,

Like those who learn the art of speech here.

And though I cannot imitate his style,

Nor can I climb over so high a stile,

Yet say I this: as to the general intent,

What follows next adds up to what he meant –

If it be that I have it still in mind.

He said: ‘The King of Araby and Inde,

My liege lord, upon this solemn day

Salutes you as best he can and may,

And sends you, in honour of your feast,

By me who am ready to serve your needs,

This horse of brass, that easily and well

Can in the space of one day natural –

That is to say, in four and twenty hours –

Wherever you wish, in drought or in showers,

Transport your body into every place

Where your heart wishes you to pace,

Without harming you, through foul and fair.

Or if you choose to fly as high in air

As an eagle does when he seeks to soar,

This same steed will bear you evermore,

Unharmed, till you are where you think best,

Though you sleep on his back or rest,

And return again, when you twist this pin.

Who wrought it knew many a cunning thing;

Through many a starry configuration

He waited to perform this operation,

And many a seal and bond did understand.

This mirror, too, that I have in my hand

Has such a power that a man may in it see

When will befall any adversity

Unto your kingdom, and to yourself also,

And openly who is your friend or foe.

And moreover, if any lady bright

Has set her heart on any manner of knight,

If he is false, she shall his treason see –

His new love and all his secrecy –

So clearly then, that he shall nothing hide.

Wherefore, again, this cheerful summer-tide,

The mirror and the ring that you can see

He has sent to my lady Canace,

Your excellent daughter sitting here.

The virtue of the ring, if you will hear,

Is this: that if she should choose to wear

It on her thumb, or in her purse it bear,

There is no bird flying in the heavens

Whose tongue she’ll not understand as given,

And know its meaning openly and plain,

And answer it in its language once again;

And every herb that grows on its root,

She shall know too, and whom it will suit,

Although his wound be ever so deep and wide.

This naked sword that hangs by my side

Such virtue has, that whoever shall you smite,

Through his armour it will carve and bite,

Though it were thick as is a branching oak.

And whoever is wounded by its stroke,

Shall never be whole till you choose, of grace,

To stroke him with the flat of it in the place

Where he is hurt; that’s as much as to say

You must with the flat of the sword again

Stroke the wound and it will swiftly close.

This is the truth indeed, may all men know;

It will not fail while it is in your hold.’

And when the knight had thus his tale told,

He rode out of the hall and did alight.

His horse that glittered as the sun so bright,

Stood in the courtyard, still as any stone.

The knight to a chamber was led alone,

His armour off, to the table then he sat.

The gifts were carried, royally at that –

That is to say, the sword and the mirror –

In procession into the high tower,

By certain officers to this so sworn.

And unto Canace the ring was born

Solemnly, to where she sat at table.

But assuredly, without a touch of fable,

The horse of brass itself could not be moved,

It stands as if to earth it has been glued.

It cannot be stirred by any man alive

Though with pulley and windlass they may strive.

And why, then? – Because they lack the skill.

And therefore in that place they leave it still,

Until the knight shall teach them the manner

Of moving it, as you shall shortly hear.

Great was the crowd that swarmed to and fro

To gaze at the horse that stood there so,

For it was that high, and broad and long,

And well proportioned, so that it was strong,

As if it had been a steed of Lombardy;

And withal so quick of eye and lively

As if it an Apulian courser were.

Indeed, from its tail up to its ear,

Nature and art could not the horse amend

For the better, so all said in the end.

But always the greatest wonder was

How it could move about if it were brass.

It was a work of faery, so it seemed.

Various folk, they variously scheme,

As many minds as heads, yet none agrees,

Murmuring as does a swarm of bees,

And think according to their fantasy,

Repeating fragments of old poetry,

Saying it is in truth like Pegasus,

Who fled through the air, the winged horse;

Or else like the Greek horse of Sinon,

That brought great Troy to its destruction,

As they had in the oldest stories read.

‘My heart,’ quoth one, ‘is evermore in dread;

I fear some men at arms lie there within,

Whose intent is this city for to win.

It would be well if we such things could know.’

Another whispered to his neighbour, low,

And said: ‘He’s wrong: it’s rather, by my logic,

An apparition fashioned by some magic,

As tricksters conjure things, at feasts of state.’

Of sundry doubts they chatter, and debate

As the unknowing will do, commonly,

Regarding things fashioned far more subtly

Than they in their ignorance can comprehend;

Yet leap to the wrong conclusion in the end.

And some of them marvelled at the mirror,

That had been carried to the master tower,

Wondering how men things in it could see.

Another answered and said it might well be

Naturally, and by combinations

Of angles and skilful reflections,

And said that in Rome was such a one,

They spoke of Witelo and Alhazen,

And Aristotle, who all left directives

Concerning curious mirrors and perspectives,

As men know who have their works explored.

And other folk marvelled at the sword

That would pierce clear through everything,

And spoke of Telephus the Mysian king,

And of Achilles with his wondrous spear,

For he could wound and heal, as you may hear,

Just in the way that men may with this sword,

Of which right now heard our king and lord.

They spoke of clever tempering of metal,

And spoke of the agents to be used withal,

And how and when it should tempered be,

A thing unknown – at least it is to me.

Then they spoke about Canace’s ring,

And all conceded such a wondrous thing

Of ring-craft they had never heard, not one,

Except that Moses and King Solomon

Were said to have true knowledge of the art;

Thus said the people, gathering apart.

And in addition, some declared, it was

Marvellous to make of fern-ash glass,

And yet glass is unlike the ash of fern,

Though since this was nothing new to learn,

Those soon ceased their chattering and wonder.

Some wonder just as deeply about thunder,

And ebb and flood, and gossamer, and mist,

And other things as long as doubts exist.

Thus they chatter, wrangle and advise,

Till the King from the table deigns to rise.

Phoebus had left the line meridional,

And still ascending was the beast royal,

The noble Lion, and his star, Aldiran,

When the Tartar King, Cambiuskan,

Rose from the table, at which sat he.

Before him went the sound of minstrelsy

Till in the state room all men were present

Where sounded there diverse instruments

That it was heavenly for them to hear.

Then there danced sweet Venus’ children dear,

For their Lady in the Fishes sat, on high,

And gazed on them with a friendly eye.

The noble King was seated on his throne;

The unknown knight was fetched: he alone

Into the dance he goes with Canace.

Now is there revelling and jollity

That no dull man might easily devise!

He must have known of love in every guise,

And be a jovial man, as fresh as May,

Who could devise for you a like array.

For who could describe for you the dances

So strange in form, the fresh countenances,

Such secret glances and dissimulations,

For dread of jealous men’s observations?

No man but Lancelot, and he long dead.

Therefore I pass from all this joy, instead;

I say no more, but in their happiness

I leave them, till their supper they address.

The steward orders spices, by and by,

And also wine, the minstrelsy’s ally.

The ushers and the squires swiftly gone,

The spices and the wine arrive anon.

They eat and drink, and when that’s at an end,

Unto the temple, as is right, they wend.

The service done, they feasted all the day.

What need to tell you of all this array?

Each man well knows, that at a king’s feast

There’s plenty for the greatest and the least,

And more dainties than are in my knowing.

After the supper went the noble King

To see the horse of brass, with a whole rout

Of lords and ladies gathered round about.

Such marvelling was there at this horse of brass

That, since the great siege of Troy came to pass,

Where men marvelled at a horse also,

There was never such wonder here below.

But finally, the King asked the knight

The virtues of the courser, and its might,

And prayed him to explain its governance.

The horse soon began to frisk and dance,

When the knight laid hand upon its rein,

And said: ‘Sire, there’s no more to explain

But, when you wish to ride off anywhere,

You turn the pin inserted in its ear,

Which I shall tell you of, between us two.

You must tell him the places to which you

Wish to go, or the country where you’d ride.

And when you reach a place where you would bide,

Bid him descend, then turn another pin –

For the action of the creature lies therein –

And he’ll descend and execute your will.

And in that place he will bide, quite still;

Though all men to the contrary be sworn,

He cannot be dragged from there or drawn.

But if you choose to bid him hence be gone,

Turn the pin, and he will vanish anon

Out of every man and woman’s sight,

Yet return once more, whether by day or night,

When you choose to summon him again,

In such a manner as I will explain

Between us two, and that full soon. Now you,

May ride when you wish; there’s no more to do.’

Informed as the King was, by the knight,

When he had grasped all in his mind aright

Both the manner and form of the whole thing,

Full glad and blithe, the fine and noble King

Repaired to his revels as before.

The bridle then into the tower they bore,

And kept it with his jewels, prized and dear;

The horse then vanished – how I am not clear –

Out of his sight; you get no more of me!

But thus I leave, in joy and jollity,

Cambuskian, with his lords a-feasting,

Till well nigh the day began to spring.

(Part Two)

The nourisher of our digestion, Sleep,

Began to wink on them, and bade them keep

Note that much drink and labour must have rest.

And with a yawning mouth all there he kissed,

And told them all that sleep must have its hour,

For the humour of blood was now in power.

‘Cherish your blood, Nature’s friend,’ quoth he.

They thanked him, yawning, by two and three,

And everyone began to seek their rest,

As sleep commanded, and all thought it best.

Their dreams shall not be told, or not by me;

Their heads were those of inebriety,

That fashions dreams with no significance,

They slept till it was prime, at a glance,

Or most of them – except for Canace.

She was quite temperate, as women be;

For of her father she had taken leave

To go and rest soon after it was eve –

She had no wish both pale and wan to be,

Nor jaded the next morn, for all to see –

And slept her first sleep, and then awoke.

For such a joy in her heart now spoke,

Telling of her curious ring and mirror,

That twenty times she had changed colour.

And in her sleep, due to the impression

The mirror made on her, she had a vision.

Wherefore she, ere the sun began to glide

Skywards, called the governess at her side,

And told her that she wished to rise.

This old woman, pleased to appear wise,

Being her governess, answered her anon,

And said: ‘Madame, shall you be gone,

And where this early, folk are all at rest?’

‘I will arise,’ quoth she, ‘I think it best

To sleep no longer, and to walk about.’

The governess summoned then a great rout

Of women, and up they rose, ten or twelve.

And up rose fresh Canace herself,

As rosy and bright as does the new sun

That of the Ram has four degrees now run –

No higher was he when she ready was.

And forth she walked on an easy course,

Arrayed, as for the pleasant season sweet,

Lightly, to play and roam with idle feet,

And only five or six of her company,

By woodland path forth through the park goes she.

The vapours rising from the earth abroad

Made the sun seem redder and full broad;

But nonetheless it was so fair a sight

That it made all their hearts soar with delight,

What with the new season and the morning,

And all the birds that she heard singing,

For right anon she knew what they all meant

By their songs, and all their true intent.

The nub and gist of every tale that’s told,

If it is hidden till desire grows cold

In those who’ve listened to what came before,

The savour passes: the longer it is the more,

Through an abundance of prolixity.

And for the same reason, it seems to me,

I should to the nub and gist now descend,

And make of her walking soon an end.

Upon a tree, from drought as white as chalk,

Where Canace was idling on her walk,

There sat a falcon, over her head full high,

That with a piteous voice began to cry

Till all the wood resounded far and deep.

She had beaten herself so piteously

With both her wings, that the crimson blood

Ran crown to root of the tree on which she stood.

And ever and again she uttered cry and shriek,

And pricked and stabbed herself so with her beak

That there is never a tiger or cruel beast

That dwells in wood or forest deep at least,

That would not have wept, if weep it could,

For pity of her, shrieking where she stood.

For there was never yet a man alive –

If only I could the falcon well describe –

Who has heard of another of such fairness,

Both in her plumage and her nobleness

Of shape, and all things that might valued be.

A peregrine falcon she appeared to be,

From foreign lands; and ever, as she stood,

She swooned now and again for loss of blood,

Till she had well nigh fallen from the tree.

The King’s fair daughter, Canace,

Who on her finger wore the curious ring

By which she comprehended everything

That any bird might in its language say,

And could give answer in the selfsame way,

Understood now what the falcon said,

And for pity of it was good as dead.

And to the tree she hastened rapidly,

And at the falcon gazed all mercifully,

And held her skirt out wide, for she knew

The falcon must fall from the branch too

When it next swooned, from the lack of blood.

A long while waiting there she stood,

Till at last she spoke in this manner here,

To the hawk, as you shall swiftly hear:

‘What is the reason, if you’re free to tell,

That you so feel the furious pains of Hell?’

Quoth Canace to the hawk high above.

‘Is it for sorrow at death or loss of love?

- For I think those the causes two below

That most may cause a noble heart woe.

Of other kinds of harm I need not speak,

For you yourself upon yourself harm wreak,

Which proves that it is either ire or dread

Provides the reason why you cried and bled,

Since I can see no other who does you chase.

For love of God, toward yourself show grace,

Or say how I may help? – For west or east

I never saw before now bird or beast

That behaved towards itself so piteously.

You slay me with your sorrow, verily,

I possess for you such great compassion.

For God’s love, from the tree now come,

And as I am here a king’s daughter true,

If that I in truth all the reason knew

For your distress, if it lay in my might,

I would ease it, before the fall of night,

So help me the great God of kin and kind!

And herbs I shall in plenty for you find,

To heal all your hurts, and that right swiftly.’

Then the falcon shrieked more piteously

Than before, and fell to the ground anon,

And lay in a swoon, dead and like a stone,

Till into her lap did Canace her take,

And she began from the swoon to wake.

And when that she out of her swoon awoke,

Then in her hawk’s language thus she spoke:

‘That pity flows readily in gentle heart,

Feeling its likeness in another’s smart,

Is proved every day, as men may see,

As well by practice as authority,

For gentle heart reveals its gentleness.

I see indeed, you show for my distress

Compassion, now, my fair Canace,

Out of true womanly benignity

Nature in your character has set there.

And not in any hope my fate to better,

But replying to your generosity,

And so that others may be warned by me,

As by the puppy’s punishment the lion,

For that reason and to that conclusion,

While I have opportunity and space,

I will confess my hurt, as I die apace.’

And all the while the one her sorrow told,

The other wept, as if turned to water cold,

Until the falcon bade her to be still;

And with a sigh thus she spoke her will.

‘Where I was bred – alas, that bitter day! –

And fostered on a rock of marble grey,

So tenderly that nothing troubled me,

I never knew a day’s adversity

Till I could fly high beneath the sky.

There dwelt a male falcon close nearby,

Who seemed the well of all gentleness.

Yet was he full of treason and falseness,

That was cloaked so by a humble manner

And the hue of truth, beneath the banner

Of pleasantries, and his taking every pain,

That no one would have known how he could feign,

So deeply ingrained appeared his colours.

Just as a serpent lurks beneath the flowers

And waits the time its evil to commit,

Just so this God of Love’s hypocrite

Did so with ceremony and obeisance,

Kept up appearances with due observance,

Consistent with the courtesies of love.

As in a tomb all seems fair above,

While beneath it is the corpse, as you know,

Such was this hypocrite, both hot and cold.

And in this way pursued he his intent,

That, save the fiend, none knew what he meant,

Till he so long had wept and complained,

And many a year his service to me feigned,

Until my heart, too merciful and foolish,

All innocent then of his crowned malice,

Fearful of his death, as it seemed to me,

Given his oaths, and from false security,

Granted him its love, on this condition:

That evermore my honour and renown

Be guaranteed, privately and apart.

That is to say, I gave him all my heart

According to his deserts, and all my thought –

God knew, and he, otherwise I would not –

Took his heart in exchange for mine, I say.

But truth it is, and has been many a day,

A true man and a thief think not as one.

And when he saw that things so travelled on

That I had fully granted him my love,

In such manner as I have said above,

And given him my true heart as free

As he swore he had given his to me,

Anon this tiger, full of deceitfulness,

Fell on his knees, in devout humbleness,

With such deep reverence, seemed there

So like a noble lover in his manner,

So ravished, it appeared then, by joy

That neither Jason nor Paris at Troy –

Jason, I say? For sure, no other man

Since Lamech, he who at first began

To love two women, as was said of yore –

No never, since the first man was born,

Could man contrive the twenty thousandth part

Of the false sophistry of all his art,

None were worthy to lace his shoe,

When false duplicity was there to do,

Nor one who could pay thanks as he to me!

His manners were so heavenly to see

To any woman: were she ever so wise;

So painted he and polished to the eye

His speech as fine as was his countenance.

And I so loved him then for his obeisance,

And for the truth I thought was in his heart,

If there was anything that caused him smart,

However slight it was, I could ne’er resist

The pain, and felt how death my heart did twist.

And briefly, so far now this matter went,

That my will was his will’s instrument;

That is to say, my will obeyed his will

In everything that was also reasonable,

Keeping the limits of my honour ever,

Never was anyone so dear, none dearer,

Than he to me, none shall be so, God knows.

This lasted longer than a year or so,

With I believing of him naught but good.

Yet finally, so at the last it stood,

That Fortune herself no longer wished him

To dwell in the same location I was in.

Whether I felt woe, is not in question;

I cannot give you any true description,

But one thing I’ll say boldly, I

Know what the pain of death is thereby.

Such pain I felt, so deeply did I grieve.

Thus on that day of me he took his leave,

So sorrowfully too, I thought verily

That he had felt the hurt as deep as me,

When I heard him speak, saw his pale hue.

For despite all, I thought that he was true,

And also thought that he’d return again

Within a little while, I should explain –

And there were reasons why he had to go

Matters of honour: it often happens so –

So I made virtue of necessity,

And took it well, since thus it had to be.

As I best might, I hid from him my sorrow,

And took his hand, Saint John keep all us so,

And said to him thus: “Lo, I am yours, in all.

Be such as I have been to you, evermore.”

What he replied, I need not now rehearse.

Who spoke better than him? Who acted worse?

After he’d spoken well, came evil soon!

Therefore is she in need of a long spoon,

Who sups with the devil; so I’ve heard say.

Well, in the end he set forth on his way,

And forth he fled, till where it pleased him best

He chose a place, and there he took his rest.

I think he must have had this text in mind,

That “everything according to its own kind

Takes its delight” – thus men say: I guess,

Men by their nature love new-fangledness,

As a bird does that in a cage they feed;

For though night and day they give him heed

Strew his cage as fair and soft as silk,

And give him sugar, honey, bread, and milk,

Yet, on the instant that his door is up,

He with his feet will kick away the cup,

And to the wood he’ll fly and worms eat.

So newfangled are they in their meat,

Novelty love, by nature and by kind;

No nobleness of blood has power to bind.

Such was this tierce, this falcon, woe the day!

Though he was gentle born, and fresh, I say,

And goodly for to see, humble and free,

He saw one day a kite all swiftly flee,

And all at once he loved this kite so

That all his love from me did swiftly go,

And thus he broke his word in that wise.

Now has the kite my love before her eyes,

And I am lost, and there’s no remedy!’

And the falcon cried at that with misery,

And swooned away next on Canace’s arm.

Great was the sorrow at the hawk’s harm,

That Canace and all her women betrayed.

They knew not how the falcon might be saved;

But Canace bore her homeward in her lap,

And softly in bandages then did her wrap,

Wherever she with her beak had hurt herself.

Now Canace must seek for herbs and delve

Them out of the ground, and make salves new

Of herbs both potent and of finest hue

To heal the hawk; to and fro day and night

She works the business and with all her might.

And by her bed-head she wrought a mew,

To house the hawk, covered with velvet blue,

The colour of constancy in women seen.

And all without the mew was painted green,

In which were pictured all the false fowls,

Such as the titmice are, tierces and owls,

And magpies, to screech at them and chide,

Out of spite were painted alongside.

So I leave Canace her hawk nursing.

I will say no more now about her ring

Till it should serve my purpose to explain

How the falcon claimed her love again

Repentant, for the story tells us so,

Through the good offices of Cambalo,

The King’s son of whom I have you told.

But henceforth I will my tale unfold,

By speaking of adventures and of battles,

Of which were never heard greater marvels.

First will I tell you of Cambiuskan,

Who in his day many a city won;

And afterwards I’ll speak of Algarsife,

And how he won Theodora to wife,

For whom he often in great peril was,

For which he sought help of the horse of brass;

And after will I speak of Cambalo,

Who in the lists, her two brothers’ foe,

Fought for Canace, ere he might her win.

And where I left off, I’ll again begin.

(Part Three)

Apollo whirled his chariot up so high,

Into the god’s house, Mercury the sly –

The end of the Squire’s Tale, which Chaucer left unfinished