The Canterbury Tales

The Parson's Tale


By that the Manciple his tale had ended,

The sunne from the south line was descended

So lowe, that it was not to my sight

Degrees nine-and-twenty as in height.

Four of the clock it was then, as I guess,

For eleven foot, a little more or less,

My shadow was at thilke time, as there,

Of such feet as my lengthe parted were

In six feet equal of proportion.

Therewith the moone's exaltation,*


*In meane* Libra, gan alway ascend,

*in the middle of*

As we were ent'ring at a thorpe's* end.


For which our Host, as he was wont to gie,*


As in this case, our jolly company,

Said in this wise; "Lordings every one,

Now lacketh us no more tales than one.

Fulfill'd is my sentence and my decree;

I trow that we have heard of each degree.*

from each class or rank

Almost fulfilled is mine ordinance;

in the company

I pray to God so give him right good chance

That telleth us this tale lustily.

Sir Priest," quoth he, "art thou a vicary?*


Or art thou a Parson? say sooth by thy fay.*


Be what thou be, breake thou not our play;

For every man, save thou, hath told his tale.

Unbuckle, and shew us what is in thy mail.*


For truely me thinketh by thy cheer

Thou shouldest knit up well a great mattere.

Tell us a fable anon, for cocke's bones."

This Parson him answered all at ones;

"Thou gettest fable none y-told for me,

For Paul, that writeth unto Timothy,

Reproveth them that *weive soothfastness,*

*forsake truth*

And telle fables, and such wretchedness.

Why should I sowe draff* out of my fist,

*chaff, refuse

When I may sowe wheat, if that me list?

For which I say, if that you list to hear

Morality and virtuous mattere,

And then that ye will give me audience,

I would full fain at Christe's reverence

Do you pleasance lawful, as I can.

But, truste well, I am a southern man,

I cannot gest,* rom, ram, ruf, <1> by my letter;

*relate stories

And, God wot, rhyme hold I but little better.

And therefore if you list, I will not glose,*

*mince matters

I will you tell a little tale in prose,

To knit up all this feast, and make an end.

And Jesus for his grace wit me send

To shewe you the way, in this voyage,

Of thilke perfect glorious pilgrimage, <2>

That hight Jerusalem celestial.

And if ye vouchesafe, anon I shall

Begin upon my tale, for which I pray

Tell your advice,* I can no better say.


But natheless this meditation

I put it aye under correction

Of clerkes,* for I am not textuel;


I take but the sentence,* trust me well.

*meaning, sense

Therefore I make a protestation,

That I will stande to correction."

Upon this word we have assented soon;

For, as us seemed, it was *for to do'n,*

*a thing worth doing*

To enden in some virtuous sentence,*


And for to give him space and audience;

And bade our Host he shoulde to him say

That alle we to tell his tale him pray.

Our Hoste had. the wordes for us all:

"Sir Priest," quoth he, "now faire you befall;

Say what you list, and we shall gladly hear."

And with that word he said in this mannere;

"Telle," quoth he, "your meditatioun,

But hasten you, the sunne will adown.

Be fructuous,* and that in little space;

*fruitful; profitable

And to do well God sende you his grace."

Notes to the Prologue to the Parson's Tale

1. Rom, ram, ruf: a contemptuous reference to the alliterative poetry which was at that time very popular, in preference even, it would seem, to rhyme, in the northern parts of the country, where the language was much more barbarous and unpolished than in the south.

2. Perfect glorious pilgrimage: the word is used here to signify the shrine, or destination, to which pilgrimage is made.


[The Parson begins his "little treatise" -(which, if given at

length, would extend to about thirty of these pages, and which

cannot by any stretch of courtesy or fancy be said to merit the

title of a "Tale") in these words: --]

Our sweet Lord God of Heaven, that no man will perish, but

will that we come all to the knowledge of him, and to the

blissful life that is perdurable [everlasting], admonishes us by

the prophet Jeremiah, that saith in this wise: "Stand upon the

ways, and see and ask of old paths, that is to say, of old

sentences, which is the good way, and walk in that way, and ye

shall find refreshing for your souls," <2> &c. Many be the

spiritual ways that lead folk to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the

reign of glory; of which ways there is a full noble way, and full

convenable, which may not fail to man nor to woman, that

through sin hath misgone from the right way of Jerusalem

celestial; and this way is called penitence. Of which men should

gladly hearken and inquire with all their hearts, to wit what is

penitence, and whence it is called penitence, and in what

manner, and in how many manners, be the actions or workings

of penitence, and how many species there be of penitences, and

what things appertain and behove to penitence, and what things

disturb penitence.

[Penitence is described, on the authority of Saints Ambrose,

Isidore, and Gregory, as the bewailing of sin that has been

wrought, with the purpose never again to do that thing, or any

other thing which a man should bewail; for weeping and not

ceasing to do the sin will not avail -- though it is to be hoped

that after every time that a man falls, be it ever so often, he may

find grace to arise through penitence. And repentant folk that

leave their sin ere sin leave them, are accounted by Holy Church

sure of their salvation, even though the repentance be at the last

hour. There are three actions of penitence; that a man be

baptized after he has sinned; that he do no deadly sin after

receiving baptism; and that he fall into no venial sins from day

to day. "Thereof saith St Augustine, that penitence of good and

humble folk is the penitence of every day." The species of

penitence are three: solemn, when a man is openly expelled

from Holy Church in Lent, or is compelled by Holy Church to

do open penance for an open sin openly talked of in the

country; common penance, enjoined by priests in certain cases,

as to go on pilgrimage naked or barefoot; and privy penance,

which men do daily for private sins, of which they confess

privately and receive private penance. To very perfect penitence

are behoveful and necessary three things: contrition of heart,

confession of mouth, and satisfaction; which are fruitful

penitence against delight in thinking, reckless speech, and

wicked sinful works.

Penitence may be likened to a tree, having its root in contrition,

biding itself in the heart as a tree-root does in the earth; out of

this root springs a stalk, that bears branches and leaves of

confession, and fruit of satisfaction. Of this root also springs a

seed of grace, which is mother of all security, and this seed is

eager and hot; and the grace of this seed springs of God,

through remembrance on the day of judgment and on the pains

of hell. The heat of this seed is the love of God, and the desire

of everlasting joy; and this heat draws the heart of man to God,

and makes him hate his sin. Penance is the tree of life to them

that receive it. In penance or contrition man shall understand

four things: what is contrition; what are the causes that move a

man to contrition; how he should be contrite; and what

contrition availeth to the soul. Contrition is the heavy and

grievous sorrow that a man receiveth in his heart for his sins,

with earnest purpose to confess and do penance, and never

more to sin. Six causes ought to move a man to contrition: 1.

He should remember him of his sins; 2. He should reflect that

sin putteth a man in great thraldom, and all the greater the

higher is the estate from which he falls; 3. He should dread the

day of doom and the horrible pains of hell; 4. The sorrowful

remembrance of the good deeds that man hath omitted to do

here on earth, and also the good that he hath lost, ought to

make him have contrition; 5. So also ought the remembrance of

the passion that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered for our sins; 6.

And so ought the hope of three things, that is to say,

forgiveness of sin, the gift of grace to do well, and the glory of

heaven with which God shall reward man for his good deeds. --

All these points the Parson illustrates and enforces at length;

waxing especially eloquent under the third head, and plainly

setting forth the sternly realistic notions regarding future

punishments that were entertained in the time of Chaucer:-] <3>

Certes, all the sorrow that a man might make from the

beginning of the world, is but a little thing, at retard of [in

comparison with] the sorrow of hell. The cause why that Job

calleth hell the land of darkness; <4> understand, that he calleth

it land or earth, for it is stable and never shall fail, and dark, for

he that is in hell hath default [is devoid] of light natural; for

certes the dark light, that shall come out of the fire that ever

shall burn, shall turn them all to pain that be in hell, for it

sheweth them the horrible devils that them torment. Covered

with the darkness of death; that is to say, that he that is in hell

shall have default of the sight of God; for certes the sight of

God is the life perdurable [everlasting]. The darkness of death,

be the sins that the wretched man hath done, which that disturb

[prevent] him to see the face of God, right as a dark cloud doth

between us and the sun. Land of misease, because there be three

manner of defaults against three things that folk of this world

have in this present life; that is to say, honours, delights, and

riches. Against honour have they in hell shame and confusion:

for well ye wot, that men call honour the reverence that man

doth to man; but in hell is no honour nor reverence; for certes

no more reverence shall be done there to a king than to a knave

[servant]. For which God saith by the prophet Jeremiah; "The

folk that me despise shall be in despite." Honour is also called

great lordship. There shall no wight serve other, but of harm

and torment. Honour is also called great dignity and highness;

but in hell shall they be all fortrodden [trampled under foot] of

devils. As God saith, "The horrible devils shall go and come

upon the heads of damned folk;" and this is, forasmuch as the

higher that they were in this present life, the more shall they be

abated [abased] and defouled in hell. Against the riches of this

world shall they have misease [trouble, torment] of poverty, and

this poverty shall be in four things: in default [want] of treasure;

of which David saith, "The rich folk that embraced and oned

[united] all their heart to treasure of this world, shall sleep in the

sleeping of death, and nothing shall they find in their hands of

all their treasure." And moreover, the misease of hell shall be in

default of meat and drink. For God saith thus by Moses, "They

shall be wasted with hunger, and the birds of hell shall devour

them with bitter death, and the gall of the dragon shall be their

drink, and the venom of the dragon their morsels." And

furthermore, their misease shall be in default of clothing, for

they shall be naked in body, as of clothing, save the fire in

which they burn, and other filths; and naked shall they be in

soul, of all manner virtues, which that is the clothing of the soul.

Where be then the gay robes, and the soft sheets, and the fine

shirts? Lo, what saith of them the prophet Isaiah, that under

them shall be strewed moths, and their covertures shall be of

worms of hell. And furthermore, their misease shall be in default

of friends, for he is not poor that hath good friends: but there is

no friend; for neither God nor any good creature shall be friend

to them, and evereach of them shall hate other with deadly hate.

The Sons and the daughters shall rebel against father and

mother, and kindred against kindred, and chide and despise each

other, both day and night, as God saith by the prophet Micah.

And the loving children, that whom loved so fleshly each other,

would each of them eat the other if they might. For how should

they love together in the pains of hell, when they hated each

other in the prosperity of this life? For trust well, their fleshly

love was deadly hate; as saith the prophet David; "Whoso

loveth wickedness, he hateth his own soul:" and whoso hateth

his own soul, certes he may love none other wight in no

manner: and therefore in hell is no solace nor no friendship, but

ever the more kindreds that be in hell, the more cursing, the

more chiding, and the more deadly hate there is among them.

And furtherover, they shall have default of all manner delights;

for certes delights be after the appetites of the five wits

[senses]; as sight, hearing, smelling, savouring [tasting], and

touching. But in hell their sight shall be full of darkness and of

smoke, and their eyes full of tears; and their hearing full of

waimenting [lamenting] and grinting [gnashing] of teeth, as

saith Jesus Christ; their nostrils shall be full of stinking; and, as

saith Isaiah the prophet, their savouring [tasting] shall be full of

bitter gall; and touching of all their body shall be covered with

fire that never shall quench, and with worms that never shall

die, as God saith by the mouth of Isaiah. And forasmuch as they

shall not ween that they may die for pain, and by death flee from

pain, that may they understand in the word of Job, that saith,

"There is the shadow of death." Certes a shadow hath the

likeness of the thing of which it is shadowed, but the shadow is

not the same thing of which it is shadowed: right so fareth the

pain of hell; it is like death, for the horrible anguish; and why?

for it paineth them ever as though they should die anon; but

certes they shall not die. For, as saith Saint Gregory, "To

wretched caitiffs shall be given death without death, and end

without end, and default without failing; for their death shall

always live, and their end shall evermore begin, and their default

shall never fail." And therefore saith Saint John the Evangelist,

"They shall follow death, and they shall not find him, and they

shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them." And eke Job

saith, that in hell is no order of rule. And albeit that God hath

created all things in right order, and nothing without order, but

all things be ordered and numbered, yet nevertheless they that

be damned be not in order, nor hold no order. For the earth

shall bear them no fruit (for, as the prophet David saith, "God

shall destroy the fruit of the earth, as for them"); nor water shall

give them no moisture, nor the air no refreshing, nor the fire no

light. For as saith Saint Basil, "The burning of the fire of this

world shall God give in hell to them that be damned, but the

light and the clearness shall be given in heaven to his children;

right as the good man giveth flesh to his children, and bones to

his hounds." And for they shall have no hope to escape, saith

Job at last, that there shall horror and grisly dread dwell without

end. Horror is always dread of harm that is to come, and this

dread shall ever dwell in the hearts of them that be damned.

And therefore have they lost all their hope for seven causes.

First, for God that is their judge shall be without mercy to them;

nor they may not please him; nor none of his hallows [saints];

nor they may give nothing for their ransom; nor they have no

voice to speak to him; nor they may not flee from pain; nor they

have no goodness in them that they may shew to deliver them

from pain.

[Under the fourth head, of good works, the Parson says: --]

The courteous Lord Jesus Christ will that no good work be lost,

for in somewhat it shall avail. But forasmuch as the good works

that men do while they be in good life be all amortised [killed,

deadened] by sin following, and also since all the good works

that men do while they be in deadly sin be utterly dead, as for to

have the life perdurable [everlasting], well may that man that no

good works doth, sing that new French song, J'ai tout perdu --

mon temps et mon labour <5>. For certes, sin bereaveth a man

both the goodness of nature, and eke the goodness of grace.

For soothly the grace of the Holy Ghost fareth like fire, that

may not be idle; for fire faileth anon as it forleteth [leaveth] its

working, and right so grace faileth anon as it forleteth its

working. Then loseth the sinful man the goodness of glory, that

only is to good men that labour and work. Well may he be sorry

then, that oweth all his life to God, as long as he hath lived, and

also as long as he shall live, that no goodness hath to pay with

his debt to God, to whom he oweth all his life: for trust well he

shall give account, as saith Saint Bernard, of all the goods that

have been given him in his present life, and how he hath them

dispended, insomuch that there shall not perish an hair of his

head, nor a moment of an hour shall not perish of his time, that

he shall not give thereof a reckoning.

[Having treated of the causes, the Parson comes to the manner,

of contrition -- which should be universal and total, not merely

of outward deeds of sin, but also of wicked delights and

thoughts and words; "for certes Almighty God is all good, and

therefore either he forgiveth all, or else right naught." Further,

contrition should be "wonder sorrowful and anguishous," and

also continual, with steadfast purpose of confession and

amendment. Lastly, of what contrition availeth, the Parson says,

that sometimes it delivereth man from sin; that without it neither

confession nor satisfaction is of any worth; that it "destroyeth

the prison of hell, and maketh weak and feeble all the strengths

of the devils, and restoreth the gifts of the Holy Ghost and of all

good virtues, and cleanseth the soul of sin, and delivereth it

from the pain of hell, and from the company of the devil, and

from the servage [slavery] of sin, and restoreth it to all goods

spiritual, and to the company and communion of Holy Church."

He who should set his intent to these things, would no longer be

inclined to sin, but would give his heart and body to the service

of Jesus Christ, and thereof do him homage. "For, certes, our

Lord Jesus Christ hath spared us so benignly in our follies, that

if he had not pity on man's soul, a sorry song might we all sing."

The Second Part of the Parson's Tale or Treatise opens with an

explanation of what is confession -- which is termed "the

second part of penitence, that is, sign of contrition;" whether it

ought needs be done or not; and what things be convenable to

true confession. Confession is true shewing of sins to the priest,

without excusing, hiding, or forwrapping [disguising] of

anything, and without vaunting of good works. "Also, it is

necessary to understand whence that sins spring, and how they

increase, and which they be." From Adam we took original sin;

"from him fleshly descended be we all, and engendered of vile

and corrupt matter;" and the penalty of Adam's transgression

dwelleth with us as to temptation, which penalty is called

concupiscence. "This concupiscence, when it is wrongfully

disposed or ordained in a man, it maketh him covet, by covetise

of flesh, fleshly sin by sight of his eyes, as to earthly things, and

also covetise of highness by pride of heart." The Parson

proceeds to shew how man is tempted in his flesh to sin; how,

after his natural concupiscence, comes suggestion of the devil,

that is to say the devil's bellows, with which he bloweth in man

the fire of con cupiscence; and how man then bethinketh him

whether he will do or no the thing to which he is tempted. If he

flame up into pleasure at the thought, and give way, then is he

all dead in soul; "and thus is sin accomplished, by temptation, by

delight, and by consenting; and then is the sin actual." Sin is

either venial, or deadly; deadly, when a man loves any creature

more than Jesus Christ our Creator, venial, if he love Jesus

Christ less than he ought. Venial sins diminish man's love to

God more and more, and may in this wise skip into deadly sin;

for many small make a great. "And hearken this example: A

great wave of the sea cometh sometimes with so great a

violence, that it drencheth [causes to sink] the ship: and the

same harm do sometimes the small drops, of water that enter

through a little crevice in the thurrok [hold, bilge], and in the

bottom of the ship, if men be so negligent that they discharge

them not betimes. And therefore, although there be difference

betwixt these two causes of drenching, algates [in any case] the

ship is dreint [sunk]. Right so fareth it sometimes of deadly sin,"

and of venial sins when they multiply in a man so greatly as to

make him love worldly things more than God. The Parson then

enumerates specially a number of sins which many a man

peradventure deems no sins, and confesses them not, and yet

nevertheless they are truly sins: -- ]

This is to say, at every time that a man eateth and drinketh more

than sufficeth to the sustenance of his body, in certain he doth

sin; eke when he speaketh more than it needeth, he doth sin; eke

when he heareth not benignly the complaint of the poor; eke

when he is in health of body, and will not fast when other folk

fast, without cause reasonable; eke when he sleepeth more than

needeth, or when he cometh by that occasion too late to church,

or to other works of charity; eke when he useth his wife without

sovereign desire of engendrure, to the honour of God, or for the

intent to yield his wife his debt of his body; eke when he will not

visit the sick, or the prisoner, if he may; eke if he love wife, or

child, or other worldly thing, more than reason requireth; eke if

he flatter or blandish more than he ought for any necessity; eke

if he minish or withdraw the alms of the poor; eke if he apparail

[prepare] his meat more deliciously than need is, or eat it too

hastily by likerousness [gluttony]; eke if he talk vanities in the

church, or at God's service, or that he be a talker of idle words

of folly or villainy, for he shall yield account of them at the day

of doom; eke when he behighteth [promiseth] or assureth to do

things that he may not perform; eke when that by lightness of

folly he missayeth or scorneth his neighbour; eke when he hath

any wicked suspicion of thing, that he wot of it no

soothfastness: these things, and more without number, be sins,

as saith Saint Augustine.

[No earthly man may eschew all venial sins; yet may he refrain

him, by the burning love that he hath to our Lord Jesus Christ,

and by prayer and confession, and other good works, so that it

shall but little grieve. "Furthermore, men may also refrain and

put away venial sin, by receiving worthily the precious body of

Jesus Christ; by receiving eke of holy water; by alms-deed; by

general confession of Confiteor at mass, and at prime, and at

compline [evening service]; and by blessing of bishops and

priests, and by other good works." The Parson then proceeds to

weightier matters:-- ]

Now it is behovely [profitable, necessary] to tell which be

deadly sins, that is to say, chieftains of sins; forasmuch as all

they run in one leash, but in diverse manners. Now be they

called chieftains, forasmuch as they be chief, and of them spring

all other sins. The root of these sins, then, is pride, the general

root of all harms. For of this root spring certain branches: as ire,

envy, accidie <6> or sloth, avarice or covetousness (to common

understanding), gluttony, and lechery: and each of these sins

hath his branches and his twigs, as shall be declared in their

chapters following. And though so be, that no man can tell

utterly the number of the twigs, and of the harms that come of

pride, yet will I shew a part of them, as ye shall understand.

There is inobedience, vaunting, hypocrisy, despite, arrogance,

impudence, swelling of hearte, insolence, elation, impatience,

strife, contumacy, presumption, irreverence, pertinacity, vain-

glory and many another twig that I cannot tell nor declare. . . .]

And yet [moreover] there is a privy species of pride that waiteth

first to be saluted ere he will salute, all [although] be he less

worthy than that other is; and eke he waiteth [expecteth] or

desireth to sit or to go above him in the way, or kiss the pax,

<7> or be incensed, or go to offering before his neighbour, and

such semblable [like] things, against his duty peradventure, but

that he hath his heart and his intent in such a proud desire to be

magnified and honoured before the people. Now be there two

manner of prides; the one of them is within the heart of a man,

and the other is without. Of which soothly these foresaid things,

and more than I have said, appertain to pride that is within the

heart of a man and there be other species of pride that be

without: but nevertheless, the one of these species of pride is

sign of the other, right as the gay levesell [bush] at the tavern is

sign of the wine that is in the cellar. And this is in many things:

as in speech and countenance, and outrageous array of clothing;

for certes, if there had been no sin in clothing, Christ would not

so soon have noted and spoken of the clothing of that rich man

in the gospel. And Saint Gregory saith, that precious clothing is

culpable for the dearth [dearness] of it, and for its softness, and

for its strangeness and disguising, and for the superfluity or for

the inordinate scantness of it; alas! may not a man see in our

days the sinful costly array of clothing, and namely [specially] in

too much superfluity, or else in too disordinate scantness? As to

the first sin, in superfluity of clothing, which that maketh it so

dear, to the harm of the people, not only the cost of the

embroidering, the disguising, indenting or barring, ounding,

paling, <8> winding, or banding, and semblable [similar] waste

of cloth in vanity; but there is also the costly furring [lining or

edging with fur] in their gowns, so much punching of chisels to

make holes, so much dagging [cutting] of shears, with the

superfluity in length of the foresaid gowns, trailing in the dung

and in the mire, on horse and eke on foot, as well of man as of

woman, that all that trailing is verily (as in effect) wasted,

consumed, threadbare, and rotten with dung, rather than it is

given to the poor, to great damage of the foresaid poor folk,

and that in sundry wise: this is to say, the more that cloth is

wasted, the more must it cost to the poor people for the

scarceness; and furthermore, if so be that they would give such

punched and dagged clothing to the poor people, it is not

convenient to wear for their estate, nor sufficient to boot [help,

remedy] their necessity, to keep them from the distemperance

[inclemency] of the firmament. Upon the other side, to speak of

the horrible disordinate scantness of clothing, as be these cutted

slops or hanselines [breeches] , that through their shortness

cover not the shameful member of man, to wicked intent alas!

some of them shew the boss and the shape of the horrible

swollen members, that seem like to the malady of hernia, in the

wrapping of their hosen, and eke the buttocks of them, that fare

as it were the hinder part of a she-ape in the full of the moon.

And more over the wretched swollen members that they shew

through disguising, in departing [dividing] of their hosen in

white and red, seemeth that half their shameful privy members

were flain [flayed]. And if so be that they depart their hosen in

other colours, as is white and blue, or white and black, or black

and red, and so forth; then seemeth it, by variance of colour,

that the half part of their privy members be corrupt by the fire

of Saint Anthony, or by canker, or other such mischance. And

of the hinder part of their buttocks it is full horrible to see, for

certes, in that part of their body where they purge their stinking

ordure, that foul part shew they to the people proudly in despite

of honesty [decency], which honesty Jesus Christ and his friends

observed to shew in his life. Now as of the outrageous array of

women, God wot, that though the visages of some of them

seem full chaste and debonair [gentle], yet notify they, in their

array of attire, likerousness and pride. I say not that honesty

[reasonable and appropriate style] in clothing of man or woman

unconvenable but, certes, the superfluity or disordinate scarcity

of clothing is reprovable. Also the sin of their ornament, or of

apparel, as in things that appertain to riding, as in too many

delicate horses, that be holden for delight, that be so fair, fat,

and costly; and also in many a vicious knave, [servant] that is

sustained because of them; in curious harness, as in saddles,

cruppers, peytrels, [breast-plates] and bridles, covered with

precious cloth and rich bars and plates of gold and silver. For

which God saith by Zechariah the prophet, "I will confound the

riders of such horses." These folk take little regard of the riding

of God's Son of heaven, and of his harness, when he rode upon

an ass, and had no other harness but the poor clothes of his

disciples; nor we read not that ever he rode on any other beast.

I speak this for the sin of superfluity, and not for reasonable

honesty [seemliness], when reason it requireth. And moreover,

certes, pride is greatly notified in holding of great meinie

[retinue of servants], when they be of little profit or of right no

profit, and namely [especially] when that meinie is felonous

[violent ] and damageous [harmful] to the people by hardiness

[arrogance] of high lordship, or by way of office; for certes,

such lords sell then their lordship to the devil of hell, when they

sustain the wickedness of their meinie. Or else, when these folk

of low degree, as they that hold hostelries, sustain theft of their

hostellers, and that is in many manner of deceits: that manner of

folk be the flies that follow the honey, or else the hounds that

follow the carrion. Such foresaid folk strangle spiritually their

lordships; for which thus saith David the prophet, "Wicked

death may come unto these lordships, and God give that they

may descend into hell adown; for in their houses is iniquity and

shrewedness, [impiety] and not God of heaven." And certes, but

if [unless] they do amendment, right as God gave his benison

[blessing] to Laban by the service of Jacob, and to Pharaoh by

the service of Joseph; right so God will give his malison

[condemnation] to such lordships as sustain the wickedness of

their servants, but [unless] they come to amendment. Pride of

the table apaireth [worketh harm] eke full oft; for, certes, rich

men be called to feasts, and poor folk be put away and rebuked;

also in excess of divers meats and drinks, and namely [specially]

such manner bake-meats and dish-meats burning of wild fire,

and painted and castled with paper, and semblable [similar]

waste, so that it is abuse to think. And eke in too great

preciousness of vessel, [plate] and curiosity of minstrelsy, by

which a man is stirred more to the delights of luxury, if so be

that he set his heart the less upon our Lord Jesus Christ, certain

it is a sin; and certainly the delights might be so great in this

case, that a man might lightly [easily] fall by them into deadly


[The sins that arise of pride advisedly and habitually are deadly;

those that arise by frailty unadvised suddenly, and suddenly

withdraw again, though grievous, are not deadly. Pride itself

springs sometimes of the goods of nature, sometimes of the

goods of fortune, sometimes of the goods of grace; but the

Parson, enumerating and examining all these in turn, points out

how little security they possess and how little ground for pride

they furnish, and goes on to enforce the remedy against pride --

which is humility or meekness, a virtue through which a man

hath true knowledge of himself, and holdeth no high esteem of

himself in regard of his deserts, considering ever his frailty.]

Now be there three manners [kinds] of humility; as humility in

heart, and another in the mouth, and the third in works. The

humility in the heart is in four manners: the one is, when a man

holdeth himself as nought worth before God of heaven; the

second is, when he despiseth no other man; the third is, when he

recketh not though men hold him nought worth; the fourth is,

when he is not sorry of his humiliation. Also the humility of

mouth is in four things: in temperate speech; in humility of

speech; and when he confesseth with his own mouth that he is

such as he thinketh that he is in his heart; another is, when he

praiseth the bounte [goodness] of another man and nothing

thereof diminisheth. Humility eke in works is in four manners:

the first is, when he putteth other men before him; the second is,

to choose the lowest place of all; the third is, gladly to assent to

good counsel; the fourth is, to stand gladly by the award

[judgment] of his sovereign, or of him that is higher in degree:

certain this is a great work of humility.

[The Parson proceeds to treat of the other cardinal sins, and

their remedies: (2.) Envy, with its remedy, the love of God

principally and of our neighbours as ourselves: (3.) Anger, with

all its fruits in revenge, rancour, hate, discord, manslaughter,

blasphemy, swearing, falsehood, flattery, chiding and reproving,

scorning, treachery, sowing of strife, doubleness of tongue,

betraying of counsel to a man's disgrace, menacing, idle words,

jangling, japery or buffoonery, &c. -- and its remedy in the

virtues called mansuetude, debonairte, or gentleness, and

patience or sufferance: (4.) Sloth, or "Accidie," which comes

after the sin of Anger, because Envy blinds the eyes of a man,

and Anger troubleth a man, and Sloth maketh him heavy,

thoughtful, and peevish. It is opposed to every estate of man --

as unfallen, and held to work in praising and adoring God; as

sinful, and held to labour in praying for deliverance from sin;

and as in the state of grace, and held to works of penitence. It

resembles the heavy and sluggish condition of those in hell; it

will suffer no hardness and no penance; it prevents any

beginning of good works; it causes despair of God's mercy,

which is the sin against the Holy Ghost; it induces somnolency

and neglect of communion in prayer with God; and it breeds

negligence or recklessness, that cares for nothing, and is the

nurse of all mischiefs, if ignorance is their mother. Against

Sloth, and these and other branches and fruits of it, the remedy

lies in the virtue of fortitude or strength, in its various species of

magnanimity or great courage; faith and hope in God and his

saints; surety or sickerness, when a man fears nothing that can

oppose the good works he has under taken; magnificence, when

he carries out great works of goodness begun; constancy or

stableness of heart; and other incentives to energy and laborious

service: (5.) Avarice, or Covetousness, which is the root of all

harms, since its votaries are idolaters, oppressors and enslavers

of men, deceivers of their equals in business, simoniacs,

gamblers, liars, thieves, false swearers, blasphemers, murderers,

and sacrilegious. Its remedy lies in compassion and pity largely

exercised, and in reasonable liberality -- for those who spend on

"fool-largesse," or ostentation of worldly estate and luxury,

shall receive the malison [condemnation] that Christ shall give

at the day of doom to them that shall be damned: (6.) Gluttony;

-- of which the Parson treats so briefly that the chapter may be

given in full: -- ]

After Avarice cometh Gluttony, which is express against the

commandment of God. Gluttony is unmeasurable appetite to eat

or to drink; or else to do in aught to the unmeasurable appetite

and disordered covetousness [craving] to eat or drink. This sin

corrupted all this world, as is well shewed in the sin of Adam

and of Eve. Look also what saith Saint Paul of gluttony:

"Many," saith he, "go, of which I have oft said to you, and now

I say it weeping, that they be enemies of the cross of Christ, of

which the end is death, and of which their womb [stomach] is

their God and their glory;" in confusion of them that so savour

[take delight in] earthly things. He that is usant [accustomed,

addicted] to this sin of gluttony, he may no sin withstand, he

must be in servage [bondage] of all vices, for it is the devil's

hoard, [lair, lurking-place] where he hideth him in and resteth.

This sin hath many species. The first is drunkenness, that is the

horrible sepulture of man's reason: and therefore when a man is

drunken, he hath lost his reason; and this is deadly sin. But

soothly, when that a man is not wont to strong drink, and

peradventure knoweth not the strength of the drink, or hath

feebleness in his head, or hath travailed [laboured], through

which he drinketh the more, all [although] be he suddenly

caught with drink, it is no deadly sin, but venial. The second

species of gluttony is, that the spirit of a man waxeth all

troubled for drunkenness, and bereaveth a man the discretion of

his wit. The third species of gluttony is, when a man devoureth

his meat, and hath no rightful manner of eating. The fourth is,

when, through the great abundance of his meat, the humours of

his body be distempered. The fifth is, forgetfulness by too much

drinking, for which a man sometimes forgetteth by the morrow

what be did at eve. In other manner be distinct the species of

gluttony, after Saint Gregory. The first is, for to eat or drink

before time. The second is, when a man getteth him too delicate

meat or drink. The third is, when men take too much over

measure [immoderately]. The fourth is curiosity [nicety] with

great intent [application, pains] to make and apparel [prepare]

his meat. The fifth is, for to eat too greedily. These be the five

fingers of the devil's hand, by which he draweth folk to the sin.

Against gluttony the remedy is abstinence, as saith Galen; but

that I hold not meritorious, if he do it only for the health of his

body. Saint Augustine will that abstinence be done for virtue,

and with patience. Abstinence, saith he, is little worth, but if

[unless] a man have good will thereto, and but it be enforced by

patience and by charity, and that men do it for God's sake, and

in hope to have the bliss in heaven. The fellows of abstinence be

temperance, that holdeth the mean in all things; also shame, that

escheweth all dishonesty [indecency, impropriety], sufficiency,

that seeketh no rich meats nor drinks, nor doth no force of [sets

no value on] no outrageous apparelling of meat; measure

[moderation] also, that restraineth by reason the unmeasurable

appetite of eating; soberness also, that restraineth the outrage of

drink; sparing also, that restraineth the delicate ease to sit long

at meat, wherefore some folk stand of their own will to eat,

because they will eat at less leisure.

[At great length the Parson then points out the many varieties of

the sin of (7.) Lechery, and its remedy in chastity and

continence, alike in marriage and in widowhood; also in the

abstaining from all such indulgences of eating, drinking, and

sleeping as inflame the passions, and from the company of all

who may tempt to the sin. Minute guidance is given as to the

duty of confessing fully and faithfully the circumstances that

attend and may aggravate this sin; and the Treatise then passes

to the consideration of the conditions that are essential to a true

and profitable confession of sin in general. First, it must be in

sorrowful bitterness of spirit; a condition that has five signs --

shamefastness, humility in heart and outward sign, weeping with

the bodily eyes or in the heart, disregard of the shame that

might curtail or garble confession, and obedience to the penance

enjoined. Secondly, true confession must be promptly made, for

dread of death, of increase of sinfulness, of forgetfulness of

what should be confessed, of Christ's refusal to hear if it be put

off to the last day of life; and this condition has four terms; that

confession be well pondered beforehand, that the man

confessing have comprehended in his mind the number and

greatness of his sins and how long he has lain in sin, that he be

contrite for and eschew his sins, and that he fear and flee the

occasions for that sin to which he is inclined. -- What follows

under this head is of some interest for the light which it throws

on the rigorous government wielded by the Romish Church in

those days --]

Also thou shalt shrive thee of all thy sins to one man, and not a

parcel [portion] to one man, and a parcel to another; that is to

understand, in intent to depart [divide] thy confession for shame

or dread; for it is but strangling of thy soul. For certes Jesus

Christ is entirely all good, in him is none imperfection, and

therefore either he forgiveth all perfectly, or else never a deal

[not at all]. I say not that if thou be assigned to thy penitencer

<9> for a certain sin, that thou art bound to shew him all the

remnant of thy sins, of which thou hast been shriven of thy

curate, but if it like thee [unless thou be pleased] of thy

humility; this is no departing [division] of shrift. And I say not,

where I speak of division of confession, that if thou have license

to shrive thee to a discreet and an honest priest, and where thee

liketh, and by the license of thy curate, that thou mayest not

well shrive thee to him of all thy sins: but let no blot be behind,

let no sin be untold as far as thou hast remembrance. And when

thou shalt be shriven of thy curate, tell him eke all the sins that

thou hast done since thou wert last shriven. This is no wicked

intent of division of shrift. Also, very shrift [true confession]

asketh certain conditions. First, that thou shrive thee by thy

free will, not constrained, nor for shame of folk, nor for malady

[sickness], or such things: for it is reason, that he that

trespasseth by his free will, that by his free will he confess his

trespass; and that no other man tell his sin but himself; nor he

shall not nay nor deny his sin, nor wrath him against the priest

for admonishing him to leave his sin. The second condition is,

that thy shrift be lawful, that is to say, that thou that shrivest

thee, and eke the priest that heareth thy confession, be verily in

the faith of Holy Church, and that a man be not despaired of the

mercy of Jesus Christ, as Cain and Judas were. And eke a man

must accuse himself of his own trespass, and not another: but he

shall blame and wite [accuse] himself of his own malice and of

his sin, and none other: but nevertheless, if that another man be

occasion or else enticer of his sin, or the estate of the person be

such by which his sin is aggravated, or else that be may not

plainly shrive him but [unless] he tell the person with which he

hath sinned, then may he tell, so that his intent be not to

backbite the person, but only to declare his confession. Thou

shalt not eke make no leasings [falsehoods] in thy confession

for humility, peradventure, to say that thou hast committed and

done such sins of which that thou wert never guilty. For Saint

Augustine saith, "If that thou, because of humility, makest a

leasing on thyself, though thou were not in sin before, yet art

thou then in sin through thy leasing." Thou must also shew thy

sin by thine own proper mouth, but [unless] thou be dumb, and

not by letter; for thou that hast done the sin, thou shalt have the

shame of the confession. Thou shalt not paint thy confession

with fair and subtle words, to cover the more thy sin; for then

beguilest thou thyself, and not the priest; thou must tell it

plainly, be it never so foul nor so horrible. Thou shalt eke shrive

thee to a priest that is discreet to counsel thee; and eke thou

shalt not shrive thee for vain-glory, nor for hypocrisy, nor for

no cause but only for the doubt [fear] of Jesus' Christ and the

health of thy soul. Thou shalt not run to the priest all suddenly,

to tell him lightly thy sin, as who telleth a jape [jest] or a tale,

but advisedly and with good devotion; and generally shrive thee

oft; if thou oft fall, oft arise by confession. And though thou

shrive thee oftener than once of sin of which thou hast been

shriven, it is more merit; and, as saith Saint Augustine, thou

shalt have the more lightly [easily] release and grace of God,

both of sin and of pain. And certes, once a year at the least way,

it is lawful to be houseled, <10> for soothly once a year all

things in the earth renovelen [renew themselves].

[Here ends the Second Part of the Treatise; the Third Part,

which contains the practical application of the whole, follows

entire, along with the remarkable "Prayer of Chaucer," as it

stands in the Harleian Manuscript:--]

De Tertia Parte Poenitentiae. [Of the third part of penitence]

Now have I told you of very [true] confession, that is the

second part of penitence: The third part of penitence is

satisfaction, and that standeth generally in almsdeed and bodily

pain. Now be there three manner of almsdeed: contrition of

heart, where a man offereth himself to God; the second is, to

have pity of the default of his neighbour; the third is, in giving

of good counsel and comfort, ghostly and bodily, where men

have need, and namely [specially] sustenance of man's food.

And take keep [heed] that a man hath need of these things

generally; he hath need of food, of clothing, and of herberow

[lodging], he hath need of charitable counsel and visiting in

prison and malady, and sepulture of his dead body. And if thou

mayest not visit the needful with thy person, visit them by thy

message and by thy gifts. These be generally alms or works of

charity of them that have temporal riches or discretion in

counselling. Of these works shalt thou hear at the day of doom.

This alms shouldest thou do of thine own proper things, and

hastily [promptly], and privily [secretly] if thou mayest; but

nevertheless, if thou mayest not do it privily, thou shalt not

forbear to do alms, though men see it, so that it be not done for

thank of the world, but only for thank of Jesus Christ. For, as

witnesseth Saint Matthew, chap. v., "A city may not be hid that

is set on a mountain, nor men light not a lantern and put it

under a bushel, but men set it on a candlestick, to light the men

in the house; right so shall your light lighten before men, that

they may see your good works, and glorify your Father that is

in heaven."

Now as to speak of bodily pain, it is in prayer, in wakings,

[watchings] in fastings, and in virtuous teachings. Of orisons ye

shall understand, that orisons or prayers is to say a piteous will

of heart, that redresseth it in God, and expresseth it by word

outward, to remove harms, and to have things spiritual and

durable, and sometimes temporal things. Of which orisons,

certes in the orison of the Pater noster hath our Lord Jesus

Christ enclosed most things. Certes, it is privileged of three

things in its dignity, for which it is more digne [worthy] than

any other prayer: for Jesus Christ himself made it: and it is

short, for [in order] it should be coude the more lightly, [be

more easily conned or learned] and to withhold [retain] it the

more easy in heart, and help himself the oftener with this orison;

and for a man should be the less weary to say it; and for a man

may not excuse him to learn it, it is so short and so easy: and

for it comprehendeth in itself all good prayers. The exposition

of this holy prayer, that is so excellent and so digne, I betake

[commit] to these masters of theology; save thus much will I

say, when thou prayest that God should forgive thee thy guilts,

as thou forgivest them that they guilt to thee, be full well ware

that thou be not out of charity. This holy orison aminisheth

[lesseneth] eke venial sin, and therefore it appertaineth specially

to penitence. This prayer must be truly said, and in very faith,

and that men pray to God ordinately, discreetly, and devoutly;

and always a man shall put his will to be subject to the will of

God. This orison must eke be said with great humbleness and

full pure, and honestly, and not to the annoyance of any man or

woman. It must eke be continued with the works of charity. It

availeth against the vices of the soul; for, assaith Saint Jerome,

by fasting be saved the vices of the flesh, and by prayer the

vices of the soul

After this thou shalt understand, that bodily pain stands in

waking [watching]. For Jesus Christ saith "Wake and pray, that

ye enter not into temptation." Ye shall understand also, that

fasting stands in three things: in forbearing of bodily meat and

drink, and in forbearing of worldly jollity, and in forbearing of

deadly sin; this is to say, that a man shall keep him from deadly

sin in all that he may. And thou shalt understand eke, that God

ordained fasting; and to fasting appertain four things: largeness

[generosity] to poor folk; gladness of heart spiritual; not to be

angry nor annoyed nor grudge [murmur] for he fasteth; and also

reasonable hour for to eat by measure; that is to say, a man

should not eat in untime [out of time], nor sit the longer at his

meal for [because] he fasteth. Then shalt thou understand, that

bodily pain standeth in discipline, or teaching, by word, or by

writing, or by ensample. Also in wearing of hairs [haircloth] or

of stamin [coarse hempen cloth], or of habergeons [mail-shirts]

<11> on their naked flesh for Christ's sake; but ware thee well

that such manner penance of thy flesh make not thine heart

bitter or angry, nor annoyed of thyself; for better is to cast away

thine hair than to cast away the sweetness of our Lord Jesus

Christ. And therefore saith Saint Paul, "Clothe you, as they that

be chosen of God in heart, of misericorde [with compassion],

debonairte [gentleness], sufferance [patience], and such manner

of clothing," of which Jesus Christ is more apaid [better

pleased] than of hairs or of hauberks. Then is discipline eke in

knocking of thy breast, in scourging with yards [rods], in

kneelings, in tribulations, in suffering patiently wrongs that be

done to him, and eke in patient sufferance of maladies, or losing

of worldly catel [chattels], or of wife, or of child, or of other


Then shalt thou understand which things disturb penance, and

this is in four things; that is dread, shame, hope, and wanhope,

that is, desperation. And for to speak first of dread, for which

he weeneth that he may suffer no penance, thereagainst is

remedy for to think that bodily penance is but short and little at

the regard of [in comparison with] the pain of hell, that is so

cruel and so long, that it lasteth without end. Now against the

shame that a man hath to shrive him, and namely [specially]

these hypocrites, that would be holden so perfect, that they

have no need to shrive them; against that shame should a man

think, that by way of reason he that hath not been ashamed to

do foul things, certes he ought not to be ashamed to do fair

things, and that is confession. A man should eke think, that God

seeth and knoweth all thy thoughts, and all thy works; to him

may nothing be hid nor covered. Men should eke remember

them of the shame that is to come at the day of doom, to them

that be not penitent and shriven in this present life; for all the

creatures in heaven, and in earth, and in hell, shall see apertly

[openly] all that he hideth in this world.

Now for to speak of them that be so negligent and slow to

shrive them; that stands in two manners. The one is, that he

hopeth to live long, and to purchase [acquire] much riches for

his delight, and then he will shrive him: and, as he sayeth, he

may, as him seemeth, timely enough come to shrift: another is,

the surquedrie [presumption <12>] that he hath in Christ's

mercy. Against the first vice, he shall think that our life is in no

sickerness, [security] and eke that all the riches in this world be

in adventure, and pass as a shadow on the wall; and, as saith St

Gregory, that it appertaineth to the great righteousness of God,

that never shall the pain stint [cease] of them, that never would

withdraw them from sin, their thanks [with their goodwill], but

aye continue in sin; for that perpetual will to do sin shall they

have perpetual pain. Wanhope [despair] is in two manners [of

two kinds]. The first wanhope is, in the mercy of God: the other

is, that they think they might not long persevere in goodness.

The first wanhope cometh of that he deemeth that he sinned so

highly and so oft, and so long hath lain in sin, that he shall not

be saved. Certes against that cursed wanhope should he think,

that the passion of Jesus Christ is more strong for to unbind,

than sin is strong for to bind. Against the second wanhope he

shall think, that as oft as he falleth, he may arise again by

penitence; and though he never so long hath lain in sin, the

mercy of Christ is always ready to receive him to mercy.

Against the wanhope that he thinketh he should not long

persevere in goodness, he shall think that the feebleness of the

devil may nothing do, but [unless] men will suffer him; and eke

he shall have strength of the help of God, and of all Holy

Church, and of the protection of angels, if him list.

Then shall men understand, what is the fruit of penance; and

after the word of Jesus Christ, it is the endless bliss of heaven,

where joy hath no contrariety of woe nor of penance nor

grievance; there all harms be passed of this present life; there as

is the sickerness [security] from the pain of hell; there as is the

blissful company, that rejoice them evermore each of the other's

joy; there as the body of man, that whilom was foul and dark, is

more clear than the sun; there as the body of man that whilom

was sick and frail, feeble and mortal, is immortal, and so strong

and so whole, that there may nothing apair [impair, injure] it;

there is neither hunger, nor thirst, nor cold, but every soul

replenished with the sight of the perfect knowing of God. This

blissful regne [kingdom] may men purchase by poverty spiritual,

and the glory by lowliness, the plenty of joy by hunger and

thirst, the rest by travail, and the life by death and mortification

of sin; to which life He us bring, that bought us with his

precious blood! Amen.

Notes to the Parson's Tale

1. The Parson's Tale is believed to be a translation, more or less free, from some treatise on penitence that was in favour about Chaucer's time. Tyrwhitt says: "I cannot recommend it as a very entertaining or edifying performance at this day; but the reader will please to remember, in excuse both of Chaucer and of his editor, that, considering The Canterbury Tales as a great picture of life and manners, the piece would not have been complete if it had not included the religion of the time." The Editor of the present volume has followed the same plan adopted with regard to Chaucer's Tale of Meliboeus, and mainly for the same reasons. (See note 1 to that Tale). An outline of the Parson's ponderous sermon -- for such it is -- has been drawn; while those passages have been given in full which more directly illustrate the social and the religious life of the time -- such as the picture of hell, the vehement and rather coarse, but, in an antiquarian sense, most curious and valuable attack on the fashionable garb of the day, the catalogue of venial sins, the description of gluttony and its remedy, &c. The brief third or concluding part, which contains the application of the whole, and the "Retractation" or "Prayer" that closes the Tale and the entire "magnum opus" of Chaucer, have been given in full.

2. Jeremiah vi. 16.

3. See Note 3 to the Sompnour's Tale.

4. Just before, the Parson had cited the words of Job to God (Job x. 20-22), "Suffer, Lord, that I may a while bewail and weep, ere I go without returning to the dark land, covered with the darkness of death; to the land of misease and of darkness, where as is the shadow of death; where as is no order nor ordinance, but grisly dread that ever shall last."

5. "I have lost everything - my time and my work."

6. Accidie: neglectfulness or indifference; from the Greek, akedeia.

7. The pax: an image which was presented to the people to be kissed, at that part of the mass where the priest said, "Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum." ("May the peace of the Lord be always with you") The ceremony took the place, for greater convenience, of the "kiss of peace," which clergy and people, at this passage, used to bestow upon each other.

8. Three ways of ornamenting clothes with lace, &c.; in barring it was laid on crossways, in ounding it was waved, in paling it was laid on lengthways.

9. Penitencer: a priest who enjoined penance in extraordinary cases.

10. To be houseled: to receive the holy sacrament; from Anglo-Saxon, "husel;" Latin, "hostia," or "hostiola," the host.

11. It was a frequent penance among the chivalric orders to wear mail shirts next the skin.

12. Surquedrie: presumption; from old French, "surcuider," to think arrogantly, be full of conceit.