We present here, for both the beginning and more advanced student of Chaucer, the first complete new translation of The Canterbury Tales to appear in over half a century. The product of twenty years’ labor, it is intended to be as faithful to the original, in both its poetical and prose portions, as a modern English rendering permits. We foresee this work as being useful in beginning courses such as surveys of British and world literature, intermediate courses of medieval literature in translation, and advanced courses in Chaucer as well.
Beginning students may now gain a more balanced view of the genius of Geoffrey Chaucer by having before them in translation the complete Tales in all their variety. Likewise, advanced students will now be able to read and judge the Tales in their entirety without the necessity of reading some of the longer ones in Middle English. The project was begun by Ron Ecker as a result of his finding, while studying Chaucer at the University of Florida, no satisfactory translation of the verse tales.
Previous verse translations have been justly criticized for such shortcomings as lack of fidelity to content and what David Wright has called “bathetic rhyme carpentry. ” Mark Van Doren, in his preface to R. M. Lumiansky’s prose translation, suggested that any translator, in seeking to capture the “absolute plainness” of Chaucer’s poetry, should translate in prose, rhymed verse in modern English being an “impossible substitute,” in Van Doren’s view, for Chaucer’s “wise, sweet verse. Wright seems of much the same mind, having chosen, in his own verse translation, to work in various forms of inexact rhyme and often no rhyme at all. The present project, while making no pretense of matching the poetical quality of the original, was initiated in the belief that a good, faithful translation in rhymed verse of Chaucer’s verse tales was at least theoretically possible and a goal worth pursuing. Gene Crook, as a teacher of Chaucer at Florida State University, was glad to join forces as he saw the desirability of having Chaucer’s long neglected prose pieces once again available in modern English form.
Translators have habitually excluded The Tale of Melibee and The Parson’s Tale on the assumption that these are long moral treatises that today would interest no general reader. But their exclusion shortchanges the student and has thus been a major shortcoming of translations of Chaucer over the last five decades. Accordingly, Ron Ecker translated the verse tales and Gene Crook the prose tales, with each translator reading and offering suggestions on the work of the other. The basis for our translation has been the text of the second edition of F. N. Robinson’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, with assistance from the editions of Albert C. Baugh, Chaucer’s Major Poetry; John H. Fisher, The Complete Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer; Robert A. Pratt, The Poetry and Prose of Geoffrey Chaucer; and Larry D. Benson, The Riverside Chaucer. The present work includes a glossary of terms and names for quick reference. Also, for the student’s ease in locating particular lines, we have retained in our translation the use of line numbers, an aid that past translators have somehow seen fit to omit. It is an additional way in which we are pleased to facilitate the student’s enjoyment of Chaucer. R. L. E.