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The Canterbury Tales

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A SOMNOUR was ther with us in that place,
That hadde a fyr-reed cherubinnes face,
For sawcefleem he was, with eyen narwe.
As hoot he was, and lecherous, as a sparwe;
With scalled browes blake, and piled berd;
Of his visage children were aferd.
Ther nas quik-silver, litarge, ne brimstoon,
Boras, ceruce, ne oille of tartre noon,
Ne oynement that wolde dense and byte,
That him mighte helpen of his whelkes whyte,
Nor of the knobbes sittinge on his chekes.
Wel loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes,
And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood.
Thanne wolde he speke, and crye as he were wood.
And whan that he wel dronken hadde the wyn,
Than wolde he speke no word but Latyn.
A fewe termes hadde he, two or three,
That he had lerned out of som decree;
No wonder is, he herde it al the day;
And eek ye knowen wel, how that a Iay
Can clepen ‘Watte,’ as well as can the pope.
But who-so coude in other thing him grope,
Thanne hadde he spent al his philosophye;
Ay ‘Questio quid iuris’ wolde he crye.
He was a gentil harlot and a kinde;
A bettre felawe sholde men noght finde.
He wolde suffre, for a quart of wyn,
A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf-month, and excuse him atte fulle:
Ful prively a finch eek coude he pulle.
And if he fond o-wher a good felawe,
He wolde techen him to have non awe,
In swich cas, of the erchedeknes curs,
But-if a mannes soule were in his purs;
For in his purs he sholde y-punisshed be.
‘Purs is the erchedeknes helle,’ seyde he.
But wel I woot he lyed right in dede;
Of cursing oghte ech gilty man him drede—
For curs wol slee, right as assoilling saveth—
And also war him of a significavit.
In daunger hadde he at his owne gyse
The yonge girles of the diocyse,
And knew hir counseil, and was al hir reed.
A gerland hadde he set upon his heed,
As greet as it were for an ale-stake;
A bokeler hadde he maad him of a cake.
There was also a SUMMONER traveling with us, a man who worked as a bailiff in a religious court. He had a fire-red face just like a little angel’s because he had so many pimples. He was a pretty sketchy guy who scared little kids because of his scabby black eyebrows and his scraggily beard. There wasn’t a medicine or ointment in the world that could get rid of the pimples and boils on his face. He liked to eat garlic, onions, and leeks and drink wine that was as red as blood. And when he’d get good and drunk, he’d go about shouting like crazy in Latin. He really only knew a few words in Latin, only because he heard the judges say them day in and day out in the courtroom. He’d repeat them over and over like a parrot. And if anyone challenged him by asking to say something else in Latin, he’d simply repeat the same question over and over: “Questio quid juris?” which meant, “I wonder which law applies in this situtation?” He was a friendly guy who’d loan his girlfriend to you for a year for a bottle of wine, probably because he knew he could secretly find another girl on the side. He had all the ladies of the court wrapped around his little finger And if he caught another man cheating, he’d tell him not to worry about being punished by the Church because all he had to do was pay a bribe. On this subject, though, I know he was lying. Everyone should fear excommunication. He was riding around with a garland on his head to be funny, and he carried around a cake that he pretended to be his shield.

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