Six hundred years ago, Geoffrey Chaucer started ``The Canterbury Tales.'' Writing in English was a new idea in the 14th century, when the languages of culture were French and Latin. We excerpt from the Prologue in Chaucer's Middle English from the new edition of ``The Riverside Chaucer,'' published by Houghton Mifflin, and from David Wright's modern translation published by Oxford University Press.
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licour Of which vertu engendred is the flour; Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth Inspired hath in every holt and heeth The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne, And smale foweles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye, (So priketh hem nature in hir corages), Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes; And specially from every shires ende Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende, The hooly blisful martir for to seke, That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
When the sweet showers of April have pierced The drought of March, and pierced it to the root, And every vein is bathed in that moisture Whose quickening force will engender the flower; And when the west wind too with its sweet breath Has given life in every wood and field To tender shoots, and when the stripling sun Has run his half-course in Aries, the Ram, And when small birds are making melodies, That sleep all the night long with open eyes, (Nature so prompts them, and encourages); Then people long to go on pilgrimages, And palmers to take ship for foreign shores, And distant shrines, famous in different lands; And most especially, from all the shires Of England, to Canterbury they come, The holy blessed martyr there to seek, Who gave his help to them when they were sick. THE RIVERSIDE CHAUCER, Third Edition (ed. Larry D. Benson.) Copyright 1987 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Used by permission. THE CANTERBURY TALES, Copyright 1986 by David Wright. Used by permission of Literistic Ltd.