Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Pardoner's Tale : an Excerpt


I mentioned yesterday that I have been listening to the Canterbury Tales on CD, by Geoffrey Chaucer, as translated by Burton Raffel from the Middle English. Here is an excerpt from one I particularly liked, The Pardoner's Tale. Don't think, however, that the Pardoner was a good man, for he was probably one of the earliest versions of the TV preachers who ask continually for money. But his tale was excellent, and I am sharing the part I like best below. You can find the full tale at the Pitt e-text site.

The Pardoner ( picture from public domain) in Chaucer's time was a cleric who could sell forgiveness for your sins. How handy that must have been--to sin as you like and then pay someone so you could assure the safety of your soul. (Somehow I don't think it can really work that way...)
Excerpt from the Pardoner's Tale
"...The three unruly men ran ... to the tree, and there they found a pile of golden florins, well nigh onto eight bushels of them, they thought. The sight of all the bright and beautiful florins quickly caused them to abandon their search for Death, and their thoughts turned to how they might best protect their newly found treasure.

The worst of them spoke the first word, "Brothers," he said, "Fortune has given us this great treasure, but if we carry it home by light of day, people will call us thieves, and our own treasure will send us to the gallows. We must take it home by night, and then with utmost prudence and caution. Let us draw lots to see which one of us should run to town and secretly bring back bread and wine. The other two will stay here and guard the treasure. Then in the night we will carry the treasure to wherever we think is best."

The lot fell to the youngest, and he immediately departed for the town.

He had no sooner left when the one said to the other, "You are my sworn brother, and I will tell you what will profit you the most. You know our friend has gone. There is gold here aplenty, but our shares will be much greater if we divide it by two than if we divide it by three.

"That's true, said the other, "but what can we do?"

The first one answered, "The two of us are stronger than the one of him. You engage him in a playful wrestling game, and I will run my dagger through his back. Then you do the same thing with your dagger, and all this gold will be for you and me alone."

Now the youngest, while walking toward the town, thought over and over again about the bright new florins. "If only I could have this treasure to myself," he said, "then I would be the happiest man alive!"

The Fiend, our Adversary, put into his heart the thought that he might buy poison and thus kill his two friends. And so, arriving in the town, he sought out an apothecary whom he asked for a poison to kill rats and also a polecat that was in his yard.

The apothecary answered, "Here is a mixture that will kill any creature, even if it were to eat an amount no larger than a kernel of grain."

Carrying this poison in a box, he ran to the next street where he borrowed three bottles. He poured poison into two of them, keeping the third one clean for his own drink. Then he filled all three bottles with wine and returned to his friends.

But why make a sermon of it? They killed him, just as they had planned, and when the deed was done, one of them said, "Now let us sit and drink and make merry. Afterward we will bury his body." And while still talking, he drank from the poisoned bottle, and his friend drank as well, and thus the two of them died."

The twist of this tale is intriguing, don't you think? The pleasure of listening to these tales is that each is very different from the other. Some are bawdy, some comic, some heroic, others sad and dark. A few are very moral and religious. The variety of Chaucer's ideas for his tales is amazing and his characters so true that I feel as if I am in their company, riding along and listening to a talented and plainspoken group of live storytellers.

I am just over halfway through the stories, so there is a lot of excellent listening ahead. As any listener of audiobooks knows, the reader is fully half of the pleasure. This CD set employs a variety of readers so there are many unique voices, adding to the illusion of a company of companions riding and telling tales together. Imagine if we could take off on an adventure this today. Would we be as good at telling stories? Would we know enough stories to tell?

6 comments:

The Cotton Wife said...

I was one of the only people who loved reading Chaucer in my class in high school. Thanks for sharing!

And thanks for visiting my blog!

Granny Sue said...

You've got a lovely blog, Cotton Wife. I'll be adding you to my blog list. I enjoy reading about the lives of other women who live in the country--there is so much variety to our lives. When I was in Alabama this year, I took photos of cotton fields. They're beautiful. And several years ago, I grew a little cotton in my garden. I still have the Christmas ornaments I made from it. It's an interesting plant.

Laura said...

I loved Chaucer in high school, too. A few of us figured out that some of the tales were to "risque" for our literature book, so we checked the complete works out in the library to read them. We found a few of them quite amusing. I guess our teacher knew what she was doing when she told us why some were left out.

Granny Sue said...

they are funny, Laura--some of them. The one I'm listening to now is fairly preachy and long, but I am hoping the ending to the story will make it worth the listen. In any event, some of the observations of this story are right on the mark even today when it comes to war, peace, anger and who to trust.

doreen gudits said...

hai,nice story....

doeen gudits said...

i love it...

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