The Canterbury Tales in Modern Verse

The Canterbury Tales in Modern Verse

The Canterbury Tales in Modern Verse

The Canterbury Tales in Modern Verse


This daring new translation of 21 of the tales, most of them rendered in iambic tetrameter, conveys the content, tone, and narrative style of the original in a line as expressive as it is economical. An Introduction treats Chaucer's works, influences, life, learning, and the world of 14th-century London. Includes a glossary.


Geoffrey Chaucer was born in the early 1340s though no one knows the exact year. Both his parents belonged to rich merchant families, and his father, John, had served as an officer of the royal court. He was educated in London, possibly at Saint Paul's Cathedral, and later in the great aristocratic courts, where he played a variety of roles. Although a commoner, he moved in the highest circles, beginning as a page in the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, the wife of Prince Lionel, one of the sons of King Edward III. There he came to know John of Gaunt, another of Edward's sons and father of the future King Henry IV.

Before he was twenty, Chaucer took part in a military expedition to France, one episode in the Hundred Years' War that smoldered with episodic flare-ups throughout his lifetime. He was captured near Reims and promptly ransomed along with other prisoners. Though this was the beginning and end of his military career, he later came to know parts of Europe well through extended trips to France, Spain, Flanders, and Italy, generally on government business.

In 1366 Chaucer married Phillipa de Roet, a court lady from northern France whose life, like his, intertwined with the English royal family's. She was lady-in-waiting to the queen and later to Constance of Castile, John of Gaunt's second wife. Her sister, Katherine Swynford, was John of Gaunt's mistress and later his wife.

In his twenties Chaucer was recognized as an esquire, the first degree of knighthood though still somewhat below the aristocracy. He may also have been studying then at one of the Inns of Court, the London law societies that governed the legal profession. There is no record he ever attended Oxford or Cambridge, the two British universities of the time.

In 1372, still only about thirty years old, Chaucer traveled as part of an embassy to Genoa and later visited Florence, where he might have met Petrarch and Boccaccio, two famous poets he draws on repeatedly throughout his work.

Soon after, he was appointed controller of duties on wool for the port of London, a critical post he held for the next dozen years. Wool was England's . . .

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