From The Pardoner's Tale. From The Pardoner'

The Pardoner’s Tale has a considerable mythic pedigree.  Readers of “The King’s Ankus” in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books will have encountered an analogous narrative, the theme of which Kipling borrowed from an ancient Buddhist fable.  However, the story has been transmuted by Chaucer into a sharply realised medieval situation, offered in the form of a sermon on the theme of Radix malorum est cupiditas (“the root of evils is cupidity”).  That the Pardoner is notoriously corrupt and deceitful adds an extra degree of interest and creative tension to that interplay of tale and teller which is a characteristic of the cycle.

The passage offered here is at the beginning of the Pardoner’s narrative.  It describes the way in which the three young riotoures set off to seek death, guided by a mysterious old man - and find it, disguised as a pile of gold.

A marginal glossary has been supplied.  Glossed words are underlined in the text.  Interpretative notes for words and phrases marked with small Roman numerals (eg. (i), (ii) etc.) appear at the end of the passage.

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But, sires, now wol I telle forth my tale.
Thise riotoures thre of whiche I telle, 

Longe erst er prime rong of any belle, 

Were set hem in a tauerne to drynke,

And as they sat, they herde a belle clynke           5

Biforn a cors, was caried to his graue. 

That oon of hem gan callen to his knaue: 

“Go bet,” quod he, “and axe redily 

What cors is this that passeth heer forby

And looke that thou reporte his name weel.”      10

“Sire”, quod this boy, “it nedeth neuer-a-deel

It was me toold er ye cam heer two houres. 

He was, pardee, an old felawe of youres,

And sodaynly he was yslayn tonyght,                   14 

Fordronke, as he sat on his bench vpright

Ther cam a privee theef men clepeth Deeth, 

That in this contree al the peple sleeth,

And with his spere he smoot his herte atwo,

And wente his wey withouten wordes mo.          19

He hath a thousand slayn this pestilence

And, maister, er ye come in his presence,

Me thynketh that it were necessarie

For to be war of swich an aduersarie.

Beth redy for to meete hym eueremoore;

Thus taughte me my dame; I sey namoore.”      25

“By Seinte Marie!” seyde this taverner,

“The child seith sooth, for he hath slayn this yeer, 

Henne ouer a mile, withinne a greet village, 

Bothe man and womman, child, and hyne, and page; 

I trowe his habitaciouns be there.                       30 

To been auysed greet wysdom it were, 

Er that he dide a man a dishonour.”

“Ye, Goddes armes!” quod this riotour,

“Is it swich peril with hym for to meete?

I shal hym seke by wey and eek by strete,  35 

I make auow to Goddes digne bones! 

Herkneth, felawes, we thre been al ones;

Lat ech of vs holde vp his hand til oother,

And ech of vs bicomen otheres brother,

And we wol sleen this false traytour Deeth.  40

He shal be slayn, he that so manye sleeth,

By Goddes dignitee, er it be nyght!”

Togidres han thise thre hir trouthes plight

To lyue and dyen ech of hem for oother,

As though he were his owene ybore brother.  45

And vp they stirte, al dronken in this rage,

And forth they goon towardes that village

Of which the taverner hadde spoke biforn.

And many a grisly ooth thanne han they sworn,

And Cristes blessed body they torente --  50 

Deeth shal be deed, if that they may hym hente

Whan they han goon nat fully half a mile,

Right as they wolde han troden ouer a stile,

An oold man and a poure with hem mette. 

This olde man ful mekely hem grette,   55

And seyde thus, “Now, lordes, God yow see!”

The proudeste of thise riotoures three

Answerde agayn, “What, carl, with sory grace! 

Why artow al forwrapped saue thy face? 

Why lyuestow so longe in so greet age?”  60 

This olde man gan looke in his visage,

And seyde thus: “For I ne kan nat fynde

A man, though that I walked into Ynde

Neither in citee ne in no village,

That wolde chaunge his youthe for myn age;  65

And therfore moot I han myn age stille

As longe tyme as it is Goddes wille.

Ne Deeth, allas, ne wol nat han my lyf

Thus walke I, lyk a restelees kaityf

And on the ground, which is my moodres gate, 70

I knokke with my staf, bothe erly and late,

And seye ‘Leeue mooder, leet me in!

Lo how I vanysshe, flessh, and blood, and skyn! 

Allas, whan shul my bones been at reste?

Mooder, with yow wolde I chaunge my cheste 75 

That in my chambre longe tyme hath be,

Ye, for an heyre clowt to wrappe me!’ 

But yet to me she wol nat do that grace,

For which ful pale and welked is my face. 

“But, sires, to yow it is no curteisye   80

To speken to an old man vileynye,

But he trespasse in word or elles in dede.

In Hooly Writ ye may yourself wel rede

‘Agayns an oold man, hoor vpon his heed, 

Ye sholde arise’; wherfore I yeue yow reed,  85 

Ne dooth vnto an oold man noon harm now,

Namoore than that ye wolde men did to yow

In age, if that ye so longe abyde

And God be with yow, where ye go or ryde!

I moot go thider as I haue to go.”    90

“Nay, olde cherl, by God, thou shalt nat so,”

Seyde this oother hasardour anon;

“Thou partest nat so lightly, by Seint John!

Thou spak right now of thilke traytour Deeth, 

That in this contree alle oure freendes sleeth. 95

Haue heer my trouthe, as thou art his espye,

Telle where he is or thou shalt it abye

By God and by the hooly sacrement!

For soothly thou art oon of his assent

To sleen vs yonge folk, thou false theef!”  100

“Now, sires,” quod he, “if that yow be so leef

To fynde Deeth, turne vp this croked wey,

For in that groue I lafte hym, by my fey

Vnder a tree, and there he wole abyde;

Noght for youre boost he wole him no thyng hyde.

Se ye that ook?  Right there ye shal hym fynde. 106 

God saue yow, that boghte agayn mankynde

And yow amende!”  Thus seyde this olde man;
And euerich of thise riotoures ran

Til he cam to that tree, and ther they founde  120

Of floryns fyne of gold ycoyned rounde 

Wel ny an eighte busshels, as hem thoughte.

No lenger thanne after Deeth they soughte,

But ech of hem so glad was of that sighte,

For that the floryns been so faire and brighte, 125

That doun they sette hem by this precious hoord.


before the first hour


corpse [who] was ..

quickly; ask


11: servant; it’s not at all needed

15: very drunk; straight

stealthy; call


20: during this plague

26: truth





35: also
promise; noble


43: pledged themselves

by birth


50: tore apart


an old and poor man

56: may god save you

“art thou”; wrapped up

do you live 


63: India 


68: nor does death, alas, want to have my life


waste away

75: strongbox



see Leviticus 19: 32.
grey/white (of hair)

85: give; advice


remain alive

94: that same

pay for it

in league with him



107: who redeemed mankind


121: gold coins


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