Geoffrey Chaucer

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Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1380)
Ful wys is he that kan hymselven knowe!.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343October 25, 1400) was an English author, poet, philosopher, bureaucrat (courtier), and diplomat. Chaucer is most famous as the author of The Canterbury Tales. He is sometimes credited with being the first author to demonstrate the artistic legitimacy of the vernacular English language, rather than French or Latin.


The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.
Th' assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,
The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne;
Al this mene I be love.
  • The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lerne.
    Th' assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,
    The dredful joye, alwey that slit so yerne;
    Al this mene I be love.
  • For out of olde feldes, as men seith,
    Cometh al this new corn fro yeer to yere;
    And out of olde bokes, in good feith,
    Cometh al this newe science that men lere.
    • Parlement of Foules, l. 22-25
  • Nature, the vicar of the Almightie Lord.
    • Parlement of Foules, l. 379
  • Soun is noght but air ybroken,
    And every speche that is spoken,
    Loud or privee, foul or fair,
    In his substaunce is but air;
    For as flaumbe is but lighted smoke,
    Right so soun is air ybroke.
  • For I am shave as neigh as any frere.
    But yit I praye unto youre curteisye:
    Beeth hevy again, or elles moot I die.
    • The Complaint of Chaucer to His Purse, l. 19–21
Wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do
  • Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
    Withinne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
    That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
    Us thinketh hem
    ; and yet they spake hem so,
    And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
    Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
    In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.
    • Book 2, line 22-28
  • Of harmes two the lesse is for to cheese.
    • Book ii, line 470
  • For which he wex a litel red for shame,
    Whan he the peple upon him herde cryen,
    That to beholde it was a noble game,
    How sobreliche he caste doun his yen.
    Criseyda gan al his chere aspyen,
    And let so softe it in her herte sinke
    That to herself she seyde, "Who yaf me drinke?"
    • Book 2, line 645-651
  • Or as an ook comth of a litel spir,
    So thorugh this lettre, which that she hym sente,
    Encressen gan desir, of which he brente.
    • Book 2, line 1335-37
    • The earliest known near-usage in English of the proverb "Great oaks from little acorns grow."
  • It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.
    • Book 3, line 764
  • For of fortunes sharp adversitee
    The worst kynde of infortune is this,
    A man to han ben in prosperitee,
    And it remembren, whan it passed is.
    • Book 3, line 1625-1628
  • He helde about him alway, out of drede,
    A world of folke.
    • Book 3, line 1721
  • Oon ere it herde, at tothir out it wente
    • One ear heard it, at the other out it went
    • Book 4, line 434
  • Eke wonder last but nine deies never in toun.
    • Book 4, line 525
  • For tyme y-lost may not recovered be.
    • Book 4, line 1283
  • I am right sorry for your heavinesse.
    • Book 5, line 146
  • And for ther is so gret diversite
    In Englissh and in writyng of oure tonge,
    So prey I God that non myswrite the,
    Ne the mysmetre for defaute of tonge;
    And red wherso thow be, or elles songe,
    That thow be understonde, God I biseche!
    • Book 5, line 1793-1798
  • Go, little booke! go, my little tragedie!
    • Book 5, line 1798
  • O yonge fresshe folkes, he or she,
    In which that love up-groweth with your age,
    Repeyreth hoom fro worldly vanitee,
    And of your herte up-casteth the visage
    To thilke God that after his image
    Yow made, and thynketh al nis but a faire
    This world, that passeth sone as floures faire.
    • Book 5, line 1835-1841
He coude songes make, and wel endite.
What is this world? what asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Allone, withouten any compaignye.
Thanne is it wysdom, as it thynketh me,
To maken vertu of necessitee.
  • Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
    The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
    And bathed every veyne in swych 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 halve 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 of his port as meke as is a mayde.
    • General Prologue, l. 69
  • He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght.
    • General Prologue, l. 72
  • He coude songes make, and wel endite.
    • General Prologue, l. 95
  • Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
    Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
    And Frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
    After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
    For Frenssh of Parys was to hire unknowe.
    • General Prologue, l. 122-126
  • A Clerk ther was of Oxenforde also.
    • General Prologue, l. 287
  • For him was lever han at his beddes hed
    A twenty bokes, clothed in black or red,
    Of Aristotle, and his philosophie,
    Than robes riche, or fidel, or sautrie.
    But all be that he was a philosophre,
    Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre.
    • General Prologue, l. 295-300
  • Of studie took he most cure and most hede.
    Noght o word spak he more than was nede,
    And that was seyd in forme and reverence,
    And short and quik, and ful of hy sentence.
    Souninge in moral vertu was his speche,
    And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche.
    • General Prologue, l. 305 - 310
  • Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas,
    And yet he semed bisier than he was.
    • About the Sergeant of Law
    • General Prologue, l. 323-324
  • His studie was but litel on the Bible.
    • General Prologue, l. 440
  • For gold in phisike is a cordial;
    Therefore he loved gold in special.
    • General Prologue, l. 445
  • Wide was his parish, and houses fer asonder.
    • General Prologue, l. 493
  • This noble ensample to his shepe he yaf, —
    That first he wrought, and afterwards he taught.
    • General Prologue, l. 498
  • But Cristes lore, and his apostles twelve,
    He taught; but first he folwed it himselve.
    • General Prologue, l. 529
  • And yet he had a thomb of gold parde.
    • General Prologue, l. 565; referencing the proverb, "Every honest miller has a golden thumb".
  • Who so shall telle a tale after a man,
    He moste reherse, as neighe as ever he can,
    Everich word, if it be in his charge,
    All speke he never so rudely and so large;
    Or elles he moste tellen his tale untrewe,
    Or feinen thinges, or finden wordes newe.
    • General Prologue, l. 733
  • For May wol have no slogardie a-night.
    The seson priketh every gentil herte,
    And maketh him out of his slepe to sterte.
    • General Prologue, l. 1044
  • That field hath eyen, and the wood hath ears.
    • The Knight's Tale, l. 1524
  • And therfore, at the kynges court, my brother,
    Ech man for hymself, ther is noon other.
    • The Knight's Tale, l. 1181-1182
  • What is this world? what asketh men to have?
    Now with his love, now in his colde grave
    Allone, withouten any compaignye.
    • The Knight's Tale, IV, 1919 - 1921
  • This world nys but a thurghfare ful of wo,
    And we been pilgrymes, passynge to and fro
    Deeth is an ende of every worldly soore.
    • The Knight's Tale, lV, 1990 - 1992
  • What maketh this, but Juppiter the kyng,
    That is prince and cause of alle thyng
    Convertynge al unto his propre welle
    From which it is deryved, sooth to telle,
    And heer-agayns no creature on lyve
    Of no degree availleth for to strive.

    Thanne is it wysdom, as it thynketh me,
    To maken vertu of necessity,

    And take it weel, that we may nat eschue;
    And namely, that to us alle is due.

    • The Knight's Tale, lV 2177 - 2186
  • Up rose the sonne, and up rose Emelie.
    • The Knight's Tale, l. 2275
  • Min be the travaille, and thin be the glorie.
    • The Knight's Tale, l. 2408
  • To maken vertue of necessite.
    • The Knight's Tale, l. 3044
  • Men sholde wedden after hir estat,
    For youthe and elde is often at debat.
  • And brought of mighty ale a large quart.
    • The Miller's Tale, l. 3497
  • Ther n' is no werkman whatever he be,
    That may both werken wel and hastily. 4
    This wol be done at leisure parfitly.
    • The Merchant's Tale, l. 585
  • Yet in our ashen cold is fire yreken.
    • The Reeve's Tale, l. 388
  • The gretest clerkes ben not the wisest men.
    • The Reeve's Tale, l. 4051
  • So was hire joly whistle wel ywette.
    • The Reeve's Tale, l. 4153
  • In his owen grese I made him frie.
    • The Wife of Bath's Prologue, l. 487
  • Forbede us thing, and that desiren we;
    Preesse on us faste, and thanne wol we flee.
    With daunger oute we al oure chaffare:
    Greet prees at market maketh dere ware,
    And too greet chepe is holden at litel pris.
  • Allas! allas! that evere love was synne!
    • The Wife of Bath's Prologue, l. 614
  • And for to see, and eek for to be seie.
    • The Wife of Bath's Tale, l. 6134
  • I hold a mouses wit not worth a leke,
    That hath but on hole for to sterten to.
    • The Wife of Bath's Tale, l. 6154
  • Loke who that is most vertuous alway,
    Prive and apert, and most entendeth ay
    To do the gentil dedes that he can,
    And take him for the gretest gentilman.
    • The Wife of Bath's Tale, l. 6695
  • That he is gentil that doth gentil dedis.
    • The Wife of Bath's Tale, l. 6752
  • For thogh we slepe, or wake, or rome, or ryde,
    Ay fleeth the tyme; it nyl no man abyde.
  • This flour of wifly patience.
    • The Clerk's Tale, part v., l. 8797
  • Ther nis no werkman, whatsoevere he be,
    That may bothe werke wel and hastily.
  • Therfore bihoveth hire a ful long spoon
    That shal ete with a feend.
  • They demen gladly to the badder end.
    • The Squire's Tale, l. 10538
  • Love is a thyng as any spirit free.
    Wommen, of kynde, desiren libertee,
    And nat to been constreyned as a thral;
    And so doon men, if I sooth seyen shal.
  • Fie on possession,
    But if a man be vertuous withal.
    • The Franklin's Tale, l. 10998
  • Truth is the highest thing that man may keep.
    • The Franklin's Tale, l. 11789
  • But yet that holden this tale a folly,
    As of a fox, or of a cock and hen,
    Taketh the morality, good men.
    For Saint Paul saith that all that written is,
    To our doctrine it is y-writ, ywis;
    Taketh the fruit, and let the chaff be still.
    • The Nun's Priest's Tale, l. 672-677
  • Certes, they been lyk to houndes, for an hound whan he comth by the roser, or by other bushes, though he may nat pisse, yet wole he heve up his leg and make a contenaunce to pisse.

Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919)

Quotes reported in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919).
  • Your duty is, as ferre as I can gesse.
    • The Court of Love, line 178
  • O little booke, thou art so unconning,
    How darst thou put thy-self in prees for drede?
    • The Flower and the Leaf, line 59
  • Of all the floures in the mede,
    Than love I most these floures white and rede,
    Soch that men callen daisies in our toun.
    • Prologue of the Legend of Good Women, line 41
  • That well by reason men it call may
    The daisie, or els the eye of the day,
    The emprise, and floure of floures all.
    • Prologue of the Legend of Good Women, line 183
  • For iii may keep a counsel if twain be away.
    • The Ten Commandments of Love

Canterbury Tales

  • But all thing which that shineth as the gold
    Ne is no gold, as I have herd it told.
    • The Chanones Yemannes Tale, l. 16430
  • The firste vertue, sone, if thou wilt lere,
    Is to restreine and kepen wel thy tonge.
    • The Manciples Tale, l. 17281
  • The proverbe saith that many a smale maketh a grate.
    • Persones Tale
  • Right as an aspen lefe she gan to quake.
    • L. 1201

Quotes about Chaucer

The father of English poetry.
John Dryden
  • Chaucer, notwithstanding the praises bestowed on him, I think obscene and contemptible;—he owes his celebrity, merely to his antiquity, which he does not deserve so well as Pierce Plowman, or Thomas of Ercildoune.
    • Lord Byron, from a memorandum book dated 30 November 1807, in Letters and Journals of Lord Byron, ed. T. Moore (1830), p. 36
  • The worshipful father and first founder and embellisher of ornate eloquence in our English.
  • Chaucer was one of the most original men who ever lived. There had never been anything like the lively realism of the ride to Canterbury done or dreamed of in our literature before. He is not only the father of all our poets, but the grandfather of all our hundred million novelists.
  • As he is the Father of English Poetry, so I hold him in the same Degree of Veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil: He is a perpetual Fountain of good Sense; learn'd in all Sciences; and, therefore speaks properly on all Subjects: As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a Continence which is practis'd by few Writers, and scarcely by any of the Ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. ... Chaucer follow'd Nature every where, but was never so bold to go beyond her.
  • 'Tis sufficient to say according to the Proverb, that here is God's Plenty.
  • That noble Chaucer, in those former times,
    The first enriched our English with his rhymes,
    And was the first of ours that ever broke
    Into the Muses' treasures, and first spoke
    In weighty numbers, delving in the mine
    Of perfect knowledge.
  • One of those rare authors whom, if we had met him under a porch in a shower, we should have preferred to the rain.
  • One... characteristic of medieval space must be noted: space and time form two relatively independent systems. First: the medieval artist introduced other times within his own spatial world, as when he projected the events of Christ's life within a contemporary Italian city, without the slightest feeling that the passage of time has made a difference, just as in Chaucer the classical legend of Troilus and Cressida is related as if it were a contemporary story. When a medieval chronicler mentions the King... it is sometimes difficult to find out whether he is talking about Caeser or Alexander the Great or his own monarch: each is equally near to him. ...the word anachronism is meaningless when applied to medieval art... in Botticelli's The Three Miracles of St. Zenobius, three different times are presented upon a single stage.
  • I read Chaucer still with as much pleasure as almost any of our poets. He is a master of manners, of description, and the first tale-teller in the true enlivened natural way.
    • Alexander Pope, as quoted in Joseph Spence's Anecdotes, Observations, and Characters, of Books and Men, ed. ‎S. W. Singer (1820), p. 19
  • Dan Chaucer, well of English undefiled
    On Fame's eternal beadroll worthy to be filed.
  • Dan Geffrey, in whose gentle spright
    The pure well-head of poetry did dwell.
  • The morning star of song, who made
    His music heard below;
    Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
    Preluded those melodious bursts that fill
    The spacious times of great Elizabeth
    With sounds that echo still.
  • It is pretty generally admitted that Geoffrey Chaucer, the eminent poet of the fourteenth century, though obsessed with an almost Rooseveltian passion for the new spelling, was there with the goods when it came to profundity of thought.
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