The General Prologue - The Reeve

The reeve he was a slender, choleric man,
Who shaved his beard as close as razor can.
His hair was cut round even with his ears;
His top was tonsured like a pulpiteer’s.
Long were his legs, and they were very lean,(5)
And like a staff, with no calf to be seen.
Well could he manage granary and bin,
No auditor could ever on him win.
He could foretell, by drought and by the rain,
The yielding of his seed and of his grain.(10)
His lord’s sheep and his oxen and his dairy,
His swine and horses, all his stores, his poultry,
Were wholly in this steward’s managing;
And, by agreement, he’d made reckoning
Since his young lord of age was twenty years;(15)
Yet no man ever found him in arrears.
There was no agent, hind, or herd who’d cheat
But he knew well his cunning and deceit;
They were afraid of him as of the death.
His cottage was a good one, on a heath;(20)
By green trees shaded with this dwelling-place.
Much better than his lord could he purchase.
Right rich he was in his own private right,
Seeing he’d pleased his lord, by day or night,
By giving him, or lending, of his goods,(25)
And so got thanked—but yet got coats and hoods.
In youth he’d learned a good trade, and had been
A carpenter, as fine as could be seen.
This steward sat a horse that well could trot,
And was all dapple-grey, and was named Scot.(30)
A long surcoat of blue did he parade,
And at his side he bore a rusty blade.
Of Norfolk was this reeve of whom I tell,
From near a town that men call Badeswell.
Bundled he was like friar from chin to croup,(35)
And ever he rode hindmost of our troop.

Footnotes

  1. "Coats" here refers to a coat of arms that marked certain families as nobility. The color of "hood" one was allowed to wear also marked their place in society. The Reeve is great at his job, rich for a Reeve, and appreciated by his master, but he is not of the landed gentry class and will never receive "coats and hoods."

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. A reeve was generally a royal official that supervised towns or districts. As a representative of the king in the country, a reeve would administer royal justice and collect royal taxes. He was a bit like a sheriff or judge. This reeve, however, is not a royal representative but a manager of a nobleman's estate.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. "Choleric" is a reference to the four humors believed to control humans and their emotions in Chaucer's time. People believed that yellow bile, one of the four humors, caused a choleric disposition. Being choleric meant being quick to anger or aggression.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Editor