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The Canterbury Tales (14th century)

In April the sweet showers fall
And pierce the drought of March to the root, and all
The veins are bathed in liquor of such power
As brings about the engendering of the flower.

--General Prologue

You each, to shorten the long journey,
Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury.

--General Prologue

Gold stimulates the heart, or so we're told.
He therefore had a special love of gold.

--General Prologue

For God's love, take things patiently, have sense,
Think! We are prisoners and shall always be.
Fortune has given us this adversity,
Some wicked planetary dispensation,
Some Saturn's trick or evil constellation
Has given us this, and Heaven, though we had sworn
The contrary, so stood when we were born.
We must endure it, that's the long and short.

--The Knight's Tale

And so it is in politics, dear brother,
Each for himself alone, there is no other.

--The Knight's Tale

What God, from everlasting, has foreseen,
Is of such strength, that though the world had been
Sure of the contrary, by Yea and Nay,
That thing will happen on a certain day,
Though never again within a thousand years.
And certainly our appetites and fears,
Whether in war or peace, in hate or love,
Are governed by a providence above.

--The Knight's Tale

Death is the end of every worldly pain.

--The Knight's Tale

Certain, when I was born, so long ago,
Death drew the tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task,
And now there's little but an empty cask.

--The Reeve's Prologue

This lad was known as Nicholas the Gallant,
And making love in secret was his talent,
For he was very close and sly, and took
Advantage of his meek and girlish look.

--The Miller's Tale

There was a prentice living in our town
Worked in the victualling trade, and he was brown,
Brown as a berry; spruce and short he stood,
As gallant as a goldfinch in the wood.
Black were his locks and combed with fetching skill;
He danced so merrily, with such a will,
That he was known as Revelling Peterkin,
He was as full of love, as full of sin
As hives are full of honey, and as sweet.
Lucky the wench that Peter chanced to meet.

--The Cook's Tale

I only preach of avarice and the like,
And in this way induce them to be free
In giving cash--especially to me.
Because my only interest is in gain;
I've none whatever in rebuking sin.
No, none! When they are pushing up the daisys,
Their souls, for all I care, can go to blazes.

--The Pardoner's Prologue

A yokel mind loves stories from of old,
Being the kind it can repeat and hold.

--The Pardoner's Tale

Experience--and no matter what they say
In books--is good enough authority
For me to speak of trouble in marriage.
For ever since I was twelve years of age,
Thanks be to God, I've had no less than five
Husbands at church door--if one may believe
I could be wed so often legally!

--The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Purity in body and heart
May please some--as for me, I make no boast.
For, as you know, no master of a household
Has all of his utensils made of gold;
Some are wood, and yet they are of use.

--The Wife of Bath's Prologue

For if you singe a cat it will not roam
And that's the way to keep a cat at home.
But when she feels her fur is sleek and gay
She can't be kept indoors for half a day
But off she takes herself as dusk is falling
To show her fur and go a-caterwauling.

--The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Then you compared a woman's love to Hell,
To barren land where water will not dwell,
And you compared it to a quenchless fire,
The more it burns the more is its desire
To burn up everything that burnt can be.
You say that just as worms destroy a tree
A wife destroys her husband and contrives,
As husbands know, the ruin of their lives.

--The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Alas, alas, that ever love was sin!
I ever followed natural inclination
Under the power of my constellation
And was unable to deny, in truth,
My chamber of Venus to a likely youth.

--The Wife of Bath's Prologue

A love grown old is not the love once new.

--The Clerk's Tale

Well may a man in sickness wail and weep
Who has no wife to nurse him and to keep
His house for him; do wisely then and search
For one and lover her as Christ loves His Church.
For if you love yourself you love your wife,
For no one hates his flesh, nay all his life
He fosters it, and so I bid you wive
And cherish her, or you will never thrive.
Husband and wife, whatever the worldly say
In ribald jest, are on the straight sure way.

--The Merchant's Tale

For there's one thing, my lords, it's safe to say;
Lovers must each be ready to obey
The other, if they would long keep company.
Love will not be constrained by mastery;
When mastery comes the god of love anon
Stretches his wings and farewell! he is gone.

--The Franklin's Tale

Patience is a conquering virtue.
The learned say that, if it not desert you,
It vanquishes what force can never reach;
Why answer back at every angry speech?
No, learn forbearance or, I'll tell you what,
You will be taught it, whether you will or not.

--The Franklin's Tale

No one alive--it needs no arguing
But sometimes says or does a wrongful thing;
Rage, sickness, influence of some malign
Star-constellation, temper, woe or wine
Spur us to wrongful words or make us trip.
One should not seek revenge for every slip.

--The Franklin's Tale

And so I meekly beseech you, for God's mercy, that you pray for me, that Christ may have mercy upon me and forgive me my trespasses, in particular any translations and my authorship of works of worldly vanity, the which I revoke in this Retraction.

--The Author's Valediction and Retraction

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