1390 | London

Gentleman and Scholar

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Oxford man.

An Oxford cleric, still a student though,
One who had taken logic long ago,
Was there; his horse was thinner than a rake,
And he was not too fat, I undertake,
But had a hollow look, a sober stare;
The thread upon his overcoat was bare.
He had found no preferment in the church
And he was too unworldly to make search
For secular employment. By his bed
He preferred having twenty books in red
And black, of Aristotle’s philosophy,
Than costly clothes, fiddle, or psaltery.
Though a philosopher, as I have told,
He had not found the stone for making gold.
Whatever money from his friends he took
He spent on learning or another book
And prayed for them most earnestly, returning
Thanks to them thus for paying for his learning.
His only care was study, and indeed
He never spoke a word more than was need,
Formal at that, respectful in the extreme,
Short, to the point, and lofty in his theme.
A tone of moral virtue filled his speech
And gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.


Geoffrey Chaucer

From The Canterbury Tales. Courtier, diplomat, and “the first finder of our language,” Chaucer in the 1370s traveled to Italy, where he was influenced by his contemporaries Petrarch and Boccaccio. He died in 1400 without having completed all of the tales he intended to write.