The Canterbury Tales
A READER-FRIENDLY EDITION
Put into modern spelling
1 When April with its sweet showers has pierced the drought of March to the root and bathed every rootlet in
the liquid by which the flower is engendered; when the west wind also, with its sweet breath, has brought forth
young shoots in every grove and field; when the early sun of spring has run half his course in the sign of Aries, and
when small birds make melody, birds that sleep all night with eyes open, (as Nature inspires them to) --THEN
people have a strong desire to go on pilgrimages, and pilgrims long to go to foreign shores to distant shrines
known in various countries. And especially they go from every county in England to seek out the shrine of the holy
blessed martyr who has helped them when they were sick.
2 4: "By virtue (strength) of which the flower is engendered."
3 8: The early sun of Spring has moved part way through the sign of Aries (the Ram) in the Zodiac.
4 13-14: "Pilgrims seek foreign shores (to go) to distant shrines known in different lands." Palmers: pilgrims,
from the palm-leaves they got in Jerusalem.
The opening is a long, elaborate sentence about the effects of Spring on the vegetable and animal
world, and on people. The style of the rest of the Prologue and Tales is much simpler than this
opening. A close paraphrase of the opening sentence is offered at the bottom of this page.1
When that April with his showers soote
its showers sweet
The drought of March hath piercd to the root
And bathd every vein in such liquor
rootlet / liquid
Of which virtúe engendered is the flower;2
When Zephyrus eke with his sweet breath
West Wind also
Inspird hath in every holt and heath
grove & field
The tender cropps, and the young sun
young shoots / Spring sun
Hath in the Ram his half course y-run,3
in Aries / has run