The Canterbury Tales

Prayer of Chaucer

<1>Prayer of Chaucer*

Now pray I to you all that hear this little treatise or read it, that

if there be anything in it that likes them, that thereof they thank

our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom proceedeth all wit and all

goodness; and if there be anything that displeaseth them, I pray

them also that they arette [impute] it to the default of mine

unconning [unskilfulness], and not to my will, that would fain

have said better if I had had conning; for the book saith, all that

is written for our doctrine is written. Wherefore I beseech you

meekly for the mercy of God that ye pray for me, that God have

mercy on me and forgive me my guilts, and namely [specially]

my translations and of inditing in worldly vanities, which I

revoke in my Retractions, as is the Book of Troilus, the Book

also of Fame, the Book of Twenty-five Ladies, the Book of the

Duchess, the Book of Saint Valentine's Day and of the

Parliament of Birds, the Tales of Canter bury, all those that

sounen unto sin, [are sinful, tend towards sin] the Book of the

Lion, and many other books, if they were in my mind or

remembrance, and many a song and many a lecherous lay, of the

which Christ for his great mercy forgive me the sins. But of the

translation of Boece de Consolatione, and other books of

consolation and of legend of lives of saints, and homilies, and

moralities, and devotion, that thank I our Lord Jesus Christ, and

his mother, and all the saints in heaven, beseeching them that

they from henceforth unto my life's end send me grace to bewail

my guilts, and to study to the salvation of my soul, and grant

me grace and space of very repentance, penitence, confession,

and satisfaction, to do in this present life, through the benign

grace of Him that is King of kings and Priest of all priests, that

bought us with his precious blood of his heart, so that I may be

one of them at the day of doom that shall be saved: Qui cum

Patre et Spiritu Sancto vivis et regnas Deus per omnia secula.

Amen. <2>

Notes to the Prayer of Chaucer

1. The genuineness and real significance of this "Prayer of Chaucer," usually called his "Retractation," have been warmly disputed. On the one hand, it has been declared that the monks forged the retractation. and procured its insertion among the works of the man who had done so much to expose their abuses and ignorance, and to weaken their hold on popular credulity: on the other hand, Chaucer himself at the close of his life, is said to have greatly lamented the ribaldry and the attacks on the clergy which marked especially "The Canterbury Tales," and to have drawn up a formal retractation of which the "Prayer" is either a copy or an abridgment. The beginning and end of the "Prayer," as Tyrwhitt points out, are in tone and terms quite appropriate in the mouth of the Parson, while they carry on the subject of which he has been treating; and, despite the fact that Mr Wright holds the contrary opinion, Tyrwhitt seems to be justified in setting down the "Retractation" as interpolated into the close of the Parson's Tale. Of the circumstances under which the interpolation was made, or the causes by which it was dictated, little or nothing can now be confidently affirmed; but the agreement of the manuscripts and the early editions in giving it, render it impossible to discard it peremptorily as a declaration of prudish or of interested regret, with which Chaucer himself had nothing whatever to do.

2. "[You] Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest God for ever and ever.