Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The Droghte of Marche heth perced to the rote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe course y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye, -
So priketh hem nature in hir corage:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages -
And palmers for to seken straunge stronde -
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke...
[When the sweet showers of April have pierced
The drought of March, and pierced it to the root,
And every vein is bathed in that moisture
Whose quickening force will engender the flower;
And when the west wind too with its sweet breath
Has given life in every wood and field
To tender shoots, and when the stripling sun
Has run his half-course in Aries, the Ram,
And when small birds are making melodies,
That sleep all the night long with open eyes,
(Nature so prompts them, and encourages);
Then people long to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers to take ship for foreign shores,
And distant shrines, famous in different lands;
And most especially, from all the shires
Of England, to Canterbury they come,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek,
Who gave his help to them when they were sick...]
The opening lines of the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 - 1400). The translation from the Middle English is by David Wright.
"Palmers" are pilgrims, so called because they carried palms to show that they had been to Jerusalem.
"The holy blessed martyr" is St Thomas a Becket, murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
The illustration is a 15th century woodcut.