The Canterbury Tales From the Prologue - The Parson
by Geoffrey Chaucer

 

Fr Jim Irvine

 

A good man was ther of religioún,
And was a poore Parson of a town;
But riche he was of holy thought and werk.
He was also a lernèd man, a clerk
That Cristes gospel gladly wolde preach;
His parishioners devoutly wolde he teach.
Benigne he was, and wondrous diligent,
And in adversitee ful pacient;
And such he was i-provèd ofte to be.
To cursen for his tithes ful lothe was he,
But rather wolde he given out of doute,
Unto his pore parishioners aboute,
Of his offrynge, and eek of his substaunce.
He coude in litel thing have sufficience.
Wyd was his parish, and houses far asonder,
But yet he lafte not for reyne or thonder,
In siknesse and in meschief to visíte
The ferthest in his parisshe, smal and great
Uppon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
This noble ensample unto his sheep he gaf,
That ferst he wroughte, and after that he taughte,
Out of the gospel he those wordes caughte,
And this figúre he addid yet therto,
That if gold ruste, what shulde iron do?
For if a priest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder if the ignorant shulde ruste;
And shame it is, if that a priest take kepe,
A dirty shepperd and a clene shepe;
Wel oughte a priest ensample for to give,
By his clennesse, how that his sheep shulde lyve.
He sette not his benefice to hire,
And lefte his sheep encombred in the myre,
And ran to Londone, unto seynte Paules,
To seeken him a chaunterie for soules,
Or with a brothurhood to be withholde;
But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
So that the wolfe made it not myscarye.
He was a shepperde and no mercenarie;
And though he holy were, and vertuous,
He was to sinful man ful piteous,
Nor of his speche wrathful nor yet fine,
But in his teching díscret and benigne.
To drawe folk to heven by clenenesse,
By good ensample, was his busynesse:
But were it eny person obstinat,
What-so he were of high or lowe estat,
Him wolde he snubbe sharply for the nonce.
A bettre priest I trowe ther nowher non is.
He wayted after no pompe nor reverence,
Nor made himself spicèd in conscience,
But Cristes love, and his apostles twelve,
He taught, and ferst he folwed it himselve.

There was a good man of religion, too,
A country parson, poor, I warrant you;
But rich he was in holy thought and work.
He was a learned man also, a clerk,
Who Christ’s own gospel truly sought to preach;
Devoutly his parishioners would he teach.
Benign he was and wondrous diligent,
Patient in adverse times and well content,
As he was oft times proven; always blithe,
He was right loath to curse to get a tithe,
But rather would he give, in case of doubt,
Unto those poor parishioners about,
Part of his income, even of his goods.
Enough with little, coloured all his moods.
Wide was his parish, houses far asunder,
But never did he fail, for rain or thunder,
In sickness, or in sin, or any state,
To visit to the farthest, small and great,
Going afoot, and in his hand, a stave.
This fine example to his flock he gave,
That first he wrought and afterwards he taught;
Out of the gospel then that text he caught,
And this figure he added thereunto
That, if gold rust, what shall poor iron do?
For if the priest be foul, in whom we trust,
What wonder if a layman yield to lust?
And shame it is, if priest take thought for keep,
A shitty shepherd, shepherding clean sheep.
Well ought a priest example good to give,
By his own cleanness, how his flock should live.
He never let his benefice for hire,
Leaving his flock to flounder in the mire,
And ran to London, up to old Saint Paul’s
To get himself a chantry there for souls,
Nor in some brotherhood did he withhold;
But dwelt at home and kept so well the fold
That never wolf could make his plans miscarry;
He was a shepherd and not mercenary.
And holy though he was, and virtuous,
To sinners he was not impiteous,
Nor haughty in his speech, nor too divine,
But in all teaching prudent and benign.
To lead folk into Heaven but by stress
Of good example was his busyness.
But if some sinful one proved obstinate,
Be who it might, of high or low estate,
Him he reproved, and sharply, as I know.
There is nowhere a better priest, I trow.
He had no thirst for pomp or reverence,
Nor made himself a special, spiced conscience,
But Christ’s own lore, and His apostles’ twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himself.

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