Literature

‘The General Prologue’: The Very Beginning of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

The opening lines of the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s great fourteenth-century literary work The Canterbury Tales is one of the most powerful and evocative poems about spring in all of English literature, from its first reference to the rejuvenating qualities of April showers through to the zodiacal allusions to Aries (the Ram). Here it is, in the original Middle English: a time machine taking us back to a spring more than six centuries ago.

Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre 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.

If you enjoyed the opening to Chaucer’s General Prologue, you might also enjoy our pick of the best Canterbury Tales.

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8 Comments

  1. So nice to read this again. When I was in high school (back somewhere in another century), we were required to memorize this prologue. I can still recite it, having forgotten only a few words. That’s how well it sticks in the mind.

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  6. I memorized this for school last year, and it’s one of my favorite poems that I have memorized! The rhyme and rhythm is so pleasing.

  7. I always recite this for my students when I introduce The Canterbury Tales. I struck gold last year because it happened that my principal came in for a surprise observation on that day. I certainly scores high marks for my content knowledge that day!
    It’s just so beautifully written and flows so well!

  8. Takes me back to school too. I wasn’t such a fan of Middle English then!

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