Week 9: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

The Tale of the Sailor, cont.

Reading time: 5 minutes. Word count: 900 words.

After her conversation with the monk, the wife goes to find her husband in his counting-house, but he refuses to come out. Dan John visits the merchant later and borrows the 100 francs from him, which the merchant is glad to give him as a loan. Then, when the merchant leaves for Bruges in Flanders, the monk comes back and spends the night with his wife!

Up to her husband is this wife then gone,
And knocked upon his counting-room boldly.

"Qui est la?" asked he.
....................................................."Peter! It is I,"
Said she; "What, sir, and how long will you fast?
How long time will you reckon up and cast
Your sums and books and other tiresome things?
The devil take away such reckonings!
You have enough, by gad, of God's mercy;
Come down today, and let your gold-bags be.
Why, are you not ashamed that our Dan John
Has fasted miserably all morning gone?
What! Let us hear a Mass and then go dine."

"Wife," said this man, "little can you divine
The curious businesses that merchants have.
As for us traders, as may God me save,
And by that lord that all we call Saint Yve,
Among twelve merchants scarcely two shall thrive
Continually, and lasting into age.
We must keep open house and blithe visage,
While goes the world as it may chance to be,
And hold all our affairs in secrecy
Till we are dead; or else we must go play
At pilgrimage, or else go clean away.
And therefore have I great necessity
That on this curious world advised I be;
For evermore we merchants stand in dread
Of chance and mishap as our ways we tread.
To Flanders go I at the break of day,
And I'll come back as soon as ever I may.
For which, my dearest wife, your aid I seek
To be, to all, both courteous and meek,
And to maintain our wealth be studious,
And govern honourably and well our house.
You have enough in every sort of wise
That, to a thrifty, household, should suffice.
You've clothes and food, I've seen to each detail,
And silver in your purse shall never fail."

And with that word his counting-door he shut
And down he went, no longer tarrying, but
Right hastily a Mass for them was said,
And speedily the tables there were spread,
And to the dinner swiftly all they sped;
And richly then the monk this merchant fed
After the dinner Dan John soberly
This merchant took aside, and privately
He said to him, "Cousin, it stands just so,
For I see well that you to Bruges will go.
God and good Saint Augustine speed and guide!
I pray you, cousin, that you'll wisely ride;
Guard your health well, and govern your diet
Temperately, especially in this heat.
Neither of us requires outlandish fare;
Farewell, dear cousin; God shield you from care.
If anything there be, by day or night,
If it lie in my power and my might,
That you would have me do, in any wise,
It shall be done, just as you may devise.
One thing, before you go, if it may be,
I pray you do, and that is, to lend me
A hundred francs, for but a week or two,
For certain cattle I must buy, to do
The stocking of a little place of ours.
So help me God, I would that it were yours!
I will not fail you, come next settling day,
Not for a thousand francs, a mile away.
But let this thing be secret, pray, for I,
Even tonight, must go these beasts to buy;
And farewell now, my own good cousin dear.
And many thanks for entertainment here."

This noble merchant, civilly, anon,
Answered and said: "O cousin mine, Dan John,
Now surely this is but a small request;
My gold is yours and aye at your behest.
And not gold only, no but all my ware;
Take what you like, God shield that you should spare.
There's but one thing, which you know well enow
Of traders, for their money is their plow.
We may on credit trade, while we've a name,
But to be goldless is to lose the game.
Pay it again when you are at your ease;
In all I can, full fain am I to please."

These hundred francs he went and got anon,
And privately he gave them to Dan John.
No one in all the world knew of this loan,
Saving this merchant and Dan John alone.
They drink, and talk, and walk awhile, and play,
Until Dan John sets out for his abbey.
The morrow came and forth this merchant rides
Toward Flanders; and his apprentice guides
Until he came to Bruges all happily.

Now went this merchant fast and busily
About his trade, and bought, and borrowed gold;
He neither played at dice nor danced, I'm told,
But like a merchant, briefly here to tell,
He led his life, and there I let him dwell.

On the first Sunday after he was gone,
To Saint-Denis is come again Dan John,
With face and tonsure shining from a shave.
In all the house was not so small a knave,
Nor any other, but was right glad, then,
Because my lord Dan John was come again.
And coming briefly to point, anon
This lovely wife agreed with her Dan John
That for these hundred francs he should, all night,
Have her within his arms and bolt upright;
And this agreement was performed in bed.
In mirth all night a busy life they led
Till it was dawn, when Dan John went his way,
Bidding the household "Farewell!" and "Good-day!"
For none of them, nor any in the town,
Had of Dan John the least suspicion shown.
So forth he rode, home to his own abbey,
Or where he wished; no more of him I say.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • how does the merchant react when his wife summons him to dinner?
  • how does the monk get 100 francs to give to the woman?
  • when is the monk able to spend the night with the woman?

Source: The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer. Modern English translation (name of translator not given). Website: Litrix Reading Room

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM