The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue & Frame Story
How we cite our quotes:
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.
(General Prologue 14 – 17)
When people voyage to Canterbury, says the poem, they are seeking "the holy blisful martir." Their pilgrimage is not just about the spiritual: it's also about seeking the physical remnants of holiness, like the body of a martyr. Accordingly it's not enough to just pray to the martyr; there's something to be gained in the physical trek to Canterbury to see, and maybe touch, his body.
He yaf nat of that text a pulled hen,
That seith that hunters ben nat holy men.
(General Prologue 176 – 177)
There were lots of things about hunting that might make it unholy. But delighting in the kill of another living being was probably not as troublesome to the medieval Christian soul as delighting, period. Any immoderate emotions, like those that could be inspired by the hunt, were seen as sinful.
For unto a povre ordre for to yive
Is signe that a man is wel y-shrive –
For if he yaf, he dorste make avaunt,
He wiste that a man was repentaunt.
(General Prologue 225 – 228).
How do you measure repentance? For obvious reasons, the Friar wants to measure it in donations to himself. Although this impulse is selfish in the Friar's case, it's not totally out of line with the expectations for a penitent, who needed to show outward signs of their sorrow and do acts of restitution.