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The Canterbury Tales: The Parson's Prologue

Heere folweth the Prologe
of the Persouns Tale

By that the Maunciple hadde his tale al ended, The sonne fro the south lyne was descended So lowe that he nas nat, to my sighte, Degrees nyne and twenty as in highte. Foure of the clokke it was tho, as I gesse, For ellevene foot, or litel moore or lesse, My shadwe was at thilke tyme, as there, Of swiche feet as my lengthe parted were In sixe feet equal of proporcioun. Therwith the moones exaltacioun, I meene libra, alwey gan ascende, As we were entryng at a thropes ende; For which oure Hoost, as he was wont to gye, As in this caas, oure joly compaignye, Seyde in this wise: "lordynges everichoon, Now lakketh us no tales mo than oon. Fulfilled is my sentence and my decree; I trowe that we han herd of ech degree; Almoost fulfild is al myn ordinaunce. I pray to God, so yeve hym right good chaunce, That telleth this tale to us lustily. "Sire preest," quod he, artow a vicary? Or arte a person? Sey sooth, by the fey! Be what thou be, ne breke thou nat oure pley; For every man, save thou, hath toold his tale. Unbokele, and shewe us what is in thy male; For, trewely, me thynketh by thy cheere Thou sholdest knytte up wel a greet mateere. Telle us a fable anon, for cokkes bones!" This Persoun answerde, al atones, "Thou getest fable noon ytoold for me; For Paul, that writeth unto Thymothee, Repreveth hem that weyven soothfastnesse, And tellen fables and swich wrecchednesse. Why sholde I sowen draf out of my fest, Whan I may sowen whete, if that me lest? For which I seye, if that yow list to heere Moralitee and vertuous mateere, And thanne that ye wol yeve me audience, I wol ful fayn, at Cristes reverence, Do yow plesaunce leefful, as I kan. But trusteth wel, I am a southren man, I kan nat geeste 'rum, ram, ruf,' by lettre, Ne, God woot, ryn holde I but litel bettre; And therfore, if yow list - I wol nat glose - I wol yow telle a myrie tale in prose To knytte up al this feeste, and make an ende. And Jhesu, for his grace, wit me sende To shewe yow the wey, in this viage, Of thilke parfit glorious pilgrymage That highte Jerusalem celestial. And if ye vouche sauf, anon I shal Bigynne upon my tale, for which I preye Telle youre avys, I kan no bettre seye. But nathelees, this meditacioun I putte it ay under correccioun Of clerkes, for I am nat textueel; I take but the sentence, trusteth weel. Therfore I make protestacioun That I wol stonde to correccioun." Upon this word we han assented soone, For, as it seemed, it was for to doone, To enden in som vertuous sentence, And for to yeve hym space and audience; And bade oure Hoost he sholde to hym seye That alle we to telle his tale hym preye. Oure Hoost hadde the wordes for us alle: "Sire preest," quod he, "now faire yow bifalle! Telleth," quod he, "youre meditacioun. But hasteth yow, the sonne wole adoun; Beth fructuous, and that in litel space, And to do wel God sende yow his grace! Sey what yow list, and we wol gladly heere." And with that word he seyde in this manere.

Explicit prohemium

The Manciple's Tale | The Parson's Tale
The Parson’s Tale is a sermon on sins and contrition and explains several concepts. He goes into detail about penitence, describing the steps of penitence that lead to heaven, and further details some of these steps. He also talks about venial and deadly sin, and then goes into the seven deadly sins. After describing each sin and its effects, the Parson proposes remedies for each one, which basically amount to changes in attitude and behavior.

His tale, being a sermon, is definitely moralistic, delivering in no uncertain terms descriptions of the consequences of each sin he explains. It is meant to be taken to heart, and is thus also a serious tale, told with the purpose of informing and convincing the listeners.

The point the Parson tries to make is that sins such as pride, envy, anger, accidie, avarice, gluttony, and lechery can lead to dire circumstances, and so they should be avoided at all costs. He essentially says that people should not give in to such temptations, but rather follow the way of God through penitence and its steps of contrition, confession, satisfaction, grace, and Love of God.

In the Prologue, the Parson is described as a very devout and sincere man, and this is proven further in his tale when he lectures on the dangers of sin and the heavenly rewards of following God. His true concern for the religious welfare of his flock is also evident in the fact that he proposes solutions to the problems he describes, providing a remedy after each explanation. His piety and example to his followers is also evinced in the Prologue to the tale, where he says, “I’ll offer virtuous matter, moral teaching.... in reverence of Christ” (page 504).

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