The Canterbury Tales

by Geoffrey Chaucer

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The Shipman's Tale - The Prologue

Our Host upon his stirrups stood anon,
And saide; "Good men, hearken every one,
This was a thrifty* tale for the nones. *discreet, profitable
Sir Parish Priest," quoth he, "for Godde's bones,
Tell us a tale, as was thy *forword yore:* *promise formerly*
I see well that ye learned men in lore
Can* muche good, by Godde's dignity." *know
The Parson him answer'd, "Ben'dicite!
What ails the man, so sinfully to swear?"
Our Host answer'd, "O Jankin, be ye there?
Now, good men," quoth our Host, "hearken to me.
I smell a Lollard <2> in the wind," quoth he.
"Abide, for Godde's digne* passion, *worthy
For we shall have a predication:
This Lollard here will preachen us somewhat."
"Nay, by my father's soul, that shall he not,
Saide the Shipman; "Here shall he not preach,
He shall no gospel glose* here nor teach. *comment upon
We all believe in the great God," quoth he.
"He woulde sowe some difficulty,
Or springe cockle <3> in our cleane corn.
And therefore, Host, I warne thee beforn,
My jolly body shall a tale tell,
And I shall clinke you so merry a bell,
That I shall waken all this company;
But it shall not be of philosophy,
Nor of physic, nor termes quaint of law;
There is but little Latin in my maw."* *belly
Notes to the Prologue to the Shipman's Tale

1. The Prologue here given was transferred by Tyrwhitt from the place, preceding the Squire's Tale, which it had formerly occupied; the Shipman's Tale having no Prologue in the best manuscripts.

2. Lollard: A contemptuous name for the followers of Wyckliffe; presumably derived from the Latin, "lolium," tares, as if they were the tares among the Lord's wheat; so, a few lines below, the Shipman intimates his fear lest the Parson should "spring cockle in our clean corn."

3. Cockle: A weed, the "Agrostemma githago" of Linnaeus; perhaps named from the Anglo-Saxon, "ceocan," because it chokes the corn. (Transcriber's note: It is also possible Chaucer had in mind Matthew 13:25, where in some translations, an enemy sowed "cockle" amongst the wheat. (Other translations have "tares" and "darnel".))

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