The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury tales

Geoffrey Chaucer; Oxford University Press 2008

I really enjoyed this modern verse translation, by Peter Levi, of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It’s taken a while to read my way through, I started the book in January, but well worth the effort. Levi’s verse is excellent and colourful, Some fun quotes (just realised they are all rather focussed on getting old…)

The Reeve’s Prologue

There’s life in the old dog yet; It’s long ago
Since first my tap of life began to flow;
For surely it was Death, when I was born,
That drew the tap of life and let it run,
And it’s been flowing ever since, so fast
There’s little left in the neat empty cask,
A few drops only, on the barrel-rim.

The Reeve’s Tale

And, as her pedigree was a bit smirched,
She stank with pride, like water in a ditch;
Was full of supercilious disdain
Because—or so it seemed to her—what with
Her family and her convent education,
A lady ought to keep herself aloof.

Introduction to the Sergeant-at-Law’s Tale

I tell you, sirs, that Time wastes night and day
And steals from us in secret while we are sleeping,
And through our carlessness when we are waking,
Just like a stream that never turns again,
Descending from the mountain to the plain.
Seneca and many a philosopher
Laments for time lost more than treasure;
For, as he says, lost wealth’s reparable,
But time, once lost, is irrecoverable.
It won’t come back, any more than Molly
Gets back the maidenhead lost by folly;
And so let’s not get mouldy doing nothing.

The Prologue of the Wife of Bath’s Tale

But age, alas, that cankers everything,
Has stripped me of my beauty and spirit.
Let it go then! Goodbye, and devil take it!
The flour’s all gone; there is no more to say.
Now I must sell the bran as best I may;
But all the same I mean to have my fun.
And now I’ll tell you about my fourth husband.

The Pardoner’s Tale

O paunch! O belly! O you stinking bag!
Filled full of dung and rotten corruption,
Making a filthy noise at either end,
What an enormous labour and expense
To keep you going! These cooks, how they pound
And strain and grind, and transform and transmute
One thing to another, to placate
Your greedy, gluttonous lustful appetite!