Geoffrey Chaucer, "The Reeve's Prologue," Canterbury Tales
I.3867-3898 (tr. Nevill Coghill):
But I am old. Dirt doesn't go with doddering.
Grass-time is done and I'm for winter foddering.
My hoary top-knot writes me down for old;
Same as my hair, my heart is full of mould,
Unless I be like them there medlar-fruit,
Them that gets rottener as they ripen to't,
Till they be rotted down in straw and dung.
That's how we get to be, no longer young.
Till we be rotten we can never ripe.
We hop along, as long as world will pipe;
Our will is always catching on the nail,
Wanting a hoary head and a green tail,
Like leeks have got; the strength to play that game
Is gone, though we love foolishness the same.
What we can't do no more we talk about
And rake the ashes when the fire is out.
Yet we have four live coals, as I can show;
Lies, boasting, greed and rage will always glow.
Those are the sparks among the ancient embers
Though we be nigh unwelded in our members.
Desire never fails, and that's the truth,
For even now I have a coltish tooth,
Many as be the years now dead and done
Before my tap of life began to run.
Certain, when I was born, so long ago,
Death drew the tap of life and let it flow;
And ever since the tap has done its task,
And now there's little but an empty cask.
My stream of life's but drops upon the rim.
An old fool's tongue will run away with him
To chime and chatter of monkey-tricks that's past;
There's nothing left but dotage at the last!
But ik am oold; me list no pleye for age,
Gras time is doon; my fodder is now forage,
This white top writeth mine olde yeris;
Min herte is also mowled as mine heris, 3870
But if I fare as dooth an openers —
That ilke fruit is ever lenger the wers
Til it be roten, in mullok or in stree.
We olde men, I drede, so fare we:
Til we be roten kan we nat be ripe. 3875
We hoppe alwey whil that the world wol pipe;
For in oure wil ther stiketh evere a nail,
To have an hoor heed and a grene tail,
As hath a leek; for thogh oure might be goon,
Oure wil desireth folye evere in oon. 3880
For whan we may nat doon, than wol we speke,
Yet in oure asshen olde is fir yreke.
Foure gleedes have we, whiche I shal devise:
Avaunting, liyng, anger, coveitise;
Thise foure sparkles longen unto eelde. 3885
Oure olde limes mowe wel been unweelde,
But wil ne shal nat faillen; that is sooth.
And yet ik have alwey a coltes tooth,
As many a yeer as it is passed henne,
Sin that my tappe of lif bigan to renne. 3890
For sikerlik, whan I was bore, anon
Deeth drough the tappe of lif and leet it goon;
And evere sith hath so the tappe yronne
Til that almoost al empty is the tonne.
The streem of lif now droppeth on the chimbe; 3895
The sely tonge may wel ringe and chimbe
Of wrecchednesse that passed is ful yoore!
With olde folk, save dotage, is namoore.
- A.H. MacLaine, "Chaucer's Wine Cask Image: Word Play in The Reeve's Prologue," Medium Ævum 31 (1962) 129-131
- Carol Falvo Heffernan, "A Reconsideration of the Cask Figure in the 'Reeve's Prologue',"
Chaucer Review 15.1 (1980) 37-43
- Carol A. Everest, "Sex and Old Age in Chaucer's 'Reeve's Prologue'," Chaucer Review 31.2 (1996) 99-114