The General Prologue - The Monk

A monk there was, one made for mastery,
An outrider, who loved his venery;
A manly man, to be an abbot able.
Full many a blooded horse had he in stable:
And when he rode men might his bridle hear(5)
A-jingling in the whistling wind as clear,
Aye, and as loud as does the chapel bell
Where this brave monk was master of the cell.
The rule of Maurice or Saint Benedict,
By reason it was old and somewhat strict,(10)
This said monk let such old things slowly pace
And followed new-world manners in their place.
He cared not for that text a clean-plucked hen
Which holds that hunters are not holy men
Nor that a monk, when he is cloisterless,(15)
Is like unto a fish that’s waterless;
That is to say, a monk out of his cloister.
But this same text he held not worth an oyster;
And I said his opinion was right good.
What? Should he study as a madman would(20)
Upon a book in cloister cell? Or yet
Go labour with his hands and swink and sweat,
As Austin bids? How shall the world be served?
Let Austin have his swink to him reserved!
Therefore he was a rider day and night;(25)
Greyhounds he had, as swift as fowl in flight.
Since riding and the hunting of the hare
Were all his love, for no cost would he spare.
I saw his sleeves were lined around the hand
With fur of grey, the finest in the land;(30)
Also, to fasten hood beneath his chin,
He had of good wrought gold a curious pin:
A love-knot in the larger end there was.
His head was bald and shone like any glass
And smooth as one anointed was his face.(35)
Fat was this lord, he stood in goodly case.
His bulging eyes he rolled about, and hot
They gleamed, and red, like fire beneath a pot;
His boots were soft; his horse of great estate.
Now certainly he was a fine prelate:(40)
He was not pale as some poor wasted ghost.
A fat swan loved he best of any roast.
His palfrey was as brown as is a berry.

Footnotes

  1. The Monk carries a number of expensive and flashy items with him on his pilgrimage. These possessions not only contradict a monk's vow of poverty, but also suggest that the Monk has taken donations contributed by rich aristocrats to the monastery for his own personal gain.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. A "prelate" is a high ranking clergy member that is supposed to act as an example to all other monks. The narrator calls the Monk a "fine prelate" suggesting he is good at his duties. Since he has just presented a man who loves hunting, seems to not care about his vows, and uses money donated to the monastery to buy material possessions, the narrator changes what it means to be a "fine prelate." This suggests that Chaucer uses this character to critique corrupt church practices.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. Since he is a monk, "all his love" should be directed to God. However, the Monk loves hunting more than his vows. This statement further supports the presence of irony earlier in this introduction.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. In the beginning of this introduction, the narrator stated that the Monk was a good monk. However, after a description of the Monk's beliefs, he reiterates the statement and follows it with a string of rhetorical questions, each one pointing out the absurdity in the Monk's actions and beliefs. Chaucer's sequencing of lines suggests that this line should be read ironically or sarcastically; the Monk is not progressive but rather defying his calling and vows.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. The Monk rejects religious texts that say that monks should not hunt, indulge in food, or leave the cloister. Notice that the Monk's "progressive" disagreement with these religious texts are all told through food metaphors. This could suggest that the Monk is of the body that must eat rather than of the spirit.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. A cloister is an enclose walkway generally attached to a church or cathedral. Cloisters were used by monastic orders because they served as a physical barrier between the monks and the lay people. This physical structure metaphorically represented the separation of the monks from the world and worldly practices.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. Referring to the Rule as old and too strict is ironic since one of the major tenants of being a monk are strictly following ancient scriptures. The positive words in this description suggest that the monk is progressive to throw away these "old" things. However, this irony suggests that the description is actually a biting criticism meant to point out the Monk's hypocrisy.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. Saint Benedict is called the father of Western monasticism. He established the Benedictine Rule in order to regulate how monks behaved in monasteries. These practices consisted of reading, praying and performing manual labor and imagined the monastery as the father and the monks as brothers. Maurice was his disciple who introduced the Rule to France.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. This simile compares the bells on the monk's bridle to the bells in a church in order to suggest that they are of equal importance to the Monk. Notice that the description of the Monk's riding gear gets three lines here while the church only gets one. This could suggest that the Monk's riding is more important to him than his calling.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. In Chaucer's time this word meant two things: personable and virile. Again, these are not traits one would generally assign to a pious monk. However, the narrator states that these qualities make the monk an "able abbot," meaning these qualities make him a good monk. This suggests that the narrator sees all monks as worldly and impious and implicitly acts as a critique of the church.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. In these first two lines, the narrator describes the Monk as someone who is allowed to leave the monastery and loved to hunt. These characterizations contradict the typical traits of a monk. Instead, the narrator seems to present characteristics that show church corruption.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. Austin here refers to Augustine of Canterbury, a Benedictine monk who would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury—an important role in the Anglican Church. Augustine of Canterbury believed that monks should labor in service of the Lord, working in cloisters and on the land to prove their piety. It's clear that the Monk doesn't follow this rule.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor