John Lydgate

Prologue to The Siege of Thebes

The text is lightly glossed; see the glossary in the Riverside Chaucer for words not glossed here.




































Whan brighte Phebus passed was the Ram
Mid of Aprille and in-to Bole cam,
And Satourn old with his frosty face
In Virgine taken had his place,
Malencolie and slowgh of mocioun,
And was also in th'oposicioun
Of Lucina the mone, moist and pale,
That many showr fro heuene made avale;
Whan Aurora was in the morowe red,
And Jupiter in the Crabbes Hed
Hath take his paleys and his mansioun;
The lusty time and joly fressh sesoun
Whan that Flora the noble mighty quene,
The soil hath clad in newe tendre grene,
With her flowres craftyly ymeint,
Braunch and bough with red and whit depeint,
Fletinge the bawme on hilles and on vales:
The time in soth whan Canterbury Tales
Complet and told at many sondry stage
Of estates in the pilgrimage,
Everich man lik to his degre,
Some of desport, some of moralite,
Some of knighthode, love, and gentillesse,
And some also of parfit holynesse,
And some also in soth of ribaudye
To make laughter in the companye,
(Ech admitted, for non wold other greve)
Lich as the Cook, the Millere, and the Reve
Aquitte hem-self, shortly to conclude,
Boistously in her termes rude,
Whan they hadde wel dronken of the bolle,
And ek also with his pilled nolle
The Pardouner, beerdlees al his chin,
Glasy-eyed and face of cherubin,
Telling a tale to angre with the frere,
As openly the storie kan yow lere,
Word for word with every circumstaunce,
Echon ywrite and put in remembraunce
By him that was, yif I shal not feyne,
Flowre of Poetes thorghout al Breteyne,
Which sothly hadde most of excellence
In rethorike and in eloquence
(Rede his making who list the trouthe fynde)
Which never shal appallen in my mynde,
But alwey fressh ben in my memorye:
To whom be yove pris, honure, and glorye
Of wel seyinge first in oure language,
Chief Registrer of this pilgrimage,
Al that was tolde foryeting noght at al,
Feyned tales nor thing Historial,
With many proverbes, divers and unkouth,
By rehersaile of his sugred mouth,
Of eche thing keping in substaunce
The sentence hool with-oute variance,
Voiding the chaff sothly for to sayn,
Enlumining the trewe piked grain
By crafty writinge of his sawes swete.

Fro the time that they diden mete
First the pilgrimes sothly everichon,
At the Tabard assembled on by on,
And fro Southwerk shortly forto seye,
To Canterbury riding on her weye,
Tellinge a tale as I reherse can,
Lich as the hoste assigned every man.
None so hardy his bidding disobeye.

And this while that the pilgrimes leye
At Canterbury wel logged on and all,
I not in soth what I may it call,
Hap or fortune, in conclusioun,
That me bifel to entren into toun,
The holy seint pleinly to visite
After siknesse my vowes to aquite,
In a cope of blak and not of grene,
On a palfrey slender long and lene,
With rusty bridel made nat for the sale,
My man to-forn with a voide male;
Which of Fortune took min inn anon
Wher the pilgrimes were logged everichon,
The same time her governour, the host,
Stonding in halle ful of winde and bost,
Lich to a man wonder sterne and fers,
Which spak to me and seide anon, "Daun Pers,
Daun Dominik, Dan Godfrey, or Clement,
Ye be welcom newly into Kent,
Thogh youre bridel have neither boos ne belle;
Besechinge you that ye wil me telle
First youre name and of what contree
With-oute more and shortely that ye be,
That loke so pale, al devoide of blood,
Upon youre hede a wonder thred-bar hood,
Wel arrayed for to ride late."

I answerde my name was Lydgate,
"Monk of Bery, nigh fifty yere of age,
Come to this towne to do my pilgrimage,
As I have hight; I have therof no shame."

"Daun John," quod he "wel broke ye youre name!
Thogh ye be soul, beth right glad and light!
Praying you soupe with us to-night,
And ye shal have made at youre devis,
A gret pudding or a rounde haggis,
A Franchemole a tansey or a froyse.
To ben a Monk slender is youre koyse;
Ye han be seke, I dar min hede assure,
Or late fed in a feynt pasture.
Lift up youre hed, be glad, tak no sorowe!
And ye shal hom ride with us to-morowe!
I seye, whan ye rested han your fille.
Aftere soper slepe wil do non ille.
Wrappe wel youre hede with clothes rounde aboute!
Strong notty ale wol make you to route.
Tak a pillow that ye lye not lowe!
(if nede be Spare not to blowe!
To holde wynde, by min opinioun,
Wil engendre Collikes passioun
And make men to greven on her roppes,
Whan they han filled her mawes and her croppes.
But toward night ete some fenel rede,
Annis, Comin or coriandre sede!
And lik as I power have and might,
I charge yow rise not at midnight,
Thogh it so be the moone shine cler.
I wol my-self be youre Orloger
To-morow erly whan I see my time,
For we wol forth parcel a-fore Prime,
A company pardee shal do you good.

"What! look up, Monk, for by kokkes blood,
Thou shalt be mery, who so that sey nay.
For to-morowe, anoon as it is day,
And that it ginne in the Est to dawe,
Thou shalt be bounde to a newe lawe,
At going oute of Canterbury towne,
And leyn a-side thy professioun.
Thou shalt not chese nor thy-self withdrawe,
Yif eny mirth be founden in thy mawe,
Lik the custom of this companye;
For non so proude that dar me denye,
Knight nor knaue, chanon, prest, ne nonne,
To telle a tale pleynly as they konne,
Whan I assigne and se time opportune.

And for that we our purpoos wil contune,
We wil homward the same custome use,
And thow shalt not platly the excuse.
Be now wel war! Stody wel to-night!
But for al this, and be of herte light!
Thy wit shal be the sharper and the bet."

And we anon were to soper set,
And served wel unto oure plesaunce;
And sone after be good governaunce
Unto bed goth every maner wight.
And towarde morowe anon as it was light,
Every Pilgrime bothe bet and wors,
As bad oure hoste toke a-non his hors,
Whan the sonne roos in the est ful clere,
Fully in purpoos to come to dinere
Unto Osspring and breke ther our faste.
And whan we weren from Canterbury paste
Noght the space of a bowe draught,
Our hoost in haste hath my bridel raught,
And to me seide as it were in game,
"Come forth, Daun John by your Cristene name,
And lat us make some manere mirth or play!
Shet youre portoos a twenty develway!
It is no disport so to patere and seye.
It wol make youre lippes wonder dreye.
Tel some tale and make ther-of a jape!
For be my rouncy thow shalt not eskape.
But preche not of non holynesse!
Ginne some tale of mirth or of gladnesse,
And nodde not with thyn hevy bekke!
Telle us some thing that draweth to effecte
Only of joye! Make no lenger lette!"

And whan I saugh it wolde be no bette,
I obeyed unto his biddinge,
So as the lawe me bonde in al thinge;
And as I coude with a pale cheere,
My tale I gan anon as ye shal here.

Explicit Prologus. Incipit Pars Prima. Per &c.;

[Here is the opening of Part I as a sample of the whole:]

Prima Pars.

Sirs quod I sith of your curtesye
I entred am in-to your companye,
And admitted a tale for to telle
By him that hath pouer to compelle,
I mene our hoste, gouernour and guyde
Of yow echon riding her be-side;
Thogh that my wit barayn be and dul,
I wol reherce a story wonderful,
Towchinge the siege and destruccioun
Of worthy Thebees the mighty Royal toun,
Bylt and begonne of olde antiquite,
Upon the time of worthy Iosue,
Be dyligence of king Amphioun,
Chief cause first of his fundacioun,
For which his fame which nevere shal away,
In honure floureth yit unto this day,
And in story remembred is and preised.
But how the wallys weren on heghte reised,
It is wonder and merveil forto here.
But if ye list I shal yow platly lere
The maner hool shortly in sentence,
Under support of youre pacience,
As writ min auctour and bochas both two,
Rede her bookes and ye shal fynde it so,
How this king thys prudent Amphyoun,
With the swetnesse and melodious soun
And armonye of his swete song
The Cytee bylt that whilom was so strong,
Be vertue only of the werbles sharpe
That he made in Mercuries harpe,
Of which the strenges were not touched softe,
Wherby the walles reised weren a-lofte,
With-oute craft of eny mannys hond,
Ful yoor agon myd of Grekes lond;
Which is a thing of Poetes told,
Nevere yseyn neither of yong nor old.

Bull, Taurus


come down

palace, house

mixed in

bald head

teach, inform




one by one

not = ne wot

i.e., plain
empty purse



Bury St. Edmunds


a kind of haggis types of pancake
of late, recently unfruitful

nutty snore

break wind

red fennel
anis, cumin


will (go) partly, a little



bow shot

Shut portable breviary
say the Pater Noster


beak, nose
is important

The text of the prologue has been adapted (light regularization and glossing) for beginning readers of Middle English from The Tale of Beryn, ed. F.J. Furnivall and W.G. Stone London, Chaucer Society, 1897 [Widener 11483.7]; reprinted as EETS, Extra series, 105, London, 1909 [Widener 11473.105]

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