[from] The Canterbury Tales

The Clerk  [a graduate student of Philosophy]

by Geoffrey Chaucer

A CLERK there was of Oxford town also,
Who had set himself to logic long ago.
Thinner was his horse than many a rake,
And he was none too fat, I’ll undertake,
But gazed quite hollowly, and soberly.
His jacket threadbare, where the eye could see;
For he had not yet found a benefice,
Far too unworldly ever to seek office.
He would rather have at his bed-head
Twenty books, clad in black or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
Than rich robes, fiddle, and sweet psaltery.
But though he was a true philosopher
No stone for making gold lay in his coffer!
But every single penny his friends lent,
On books and on learning it was spent,
And for the souls he offered up a prayer,
Of those who funded him to be a scholar.
Of study he took most care, and most heed.
He spoke not one word more than he need,
And that was formal, said with reverence,
Short, and quick, and in a noble sentence.
Agreeing with moral virtue all his speech,
And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.

Canterbury Tales, General Prologue 1387 – 1400 Translated from Middle English by A. S. Kline © 2007

One thought on “[from] The Canterbury Tales”

  1. Another gem. It is not widely known that Christopher Columbus’ son was a librarian. He undertook to collect a library of all the books in the world in every language and topic. No doubt Canterbury Tales would have been in his library in Seville. There is a new book out “the Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books” about Hernando Columbus. The title refers to a shipment of books he had purchased in Venice – 1,637 titles. They sank in the Bay of Naples. He had a list of the titles and set about to re-collect all.


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