Course Content
Environmental Studies
English Language and Linguistics
Private: BA English
About Lesson


General Prologue, The Canterbury Tales – Introduction, Lines 1-31

Geoffrey Chaucer

Learning Outcomes

Upon the completion of this unit, the learner will be able to:

  • identify the style used by Chaucer
  • Become aware of the variety of English that was used in the Middle Ages
  • Be cognizant of some of the characteristics of England of the Medieval period


Have you read The Arabian Nights? What do you think it is popular for? Yes, for the interesting Middle Eastern folk tales that transport you to enchanted worlds. The book is a combination of folk tales taken from different parts of the world, including Arabic, Egyptian, Indian, Persian and Mesopotamian tales. What makes these stories special is that they have the power to keep you enchanted for hours and hours. Sir Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales is a work of medieval poetry. It is a collection of twenty-four stories that comprises over 17000 lines. There is a General Prologue, which is the first part of The Canterbury Tales, which presents the framework of the whole story, and also gives a brief description of the characters and the settings. We will deal with the first part of the General Prologue here

Key Themes

Influence of Religion ( It is evident in that the poem takes place in a religious setting, all the people in the poem are going for a pilgrimage to Canterbury.)

Companionship ( The theme of companionship is very strongly and evidently visible in this section of the poem. The members from different classes of the society get together, and become good companions on their way to visit the shrine.)


4.1.1 Summary

Lines 1 – 31

At the time when April with its sweet showers has penetrated the drought of March to the root and submersed everything in such liquor that makes the flowers bloom, and when Zephyrus, the West Wind, with his sweet breath has roused the tender crops in every woods and hills, and when the young Sun has traversed half of his course in the sign of Aries the Ram, and small birds that sleep all the night without closing their eyes make melody, then people wish to go on pilgrimages to distant lands, to the shrines of saints, especially to the Shrine of the holy blissful Martyr Saint Thomas à Beckett, in Canterbury. Saint Thomas à Beckett has helped in curing them of their diseases.

It happened in that season, as I lay in bed in the Tabard Inn at Southwark, with my heart full of pious feelings, prepared for a pilgrimage to Canterbury, a group of twenty-nine people from various strands of life came there at night. For some reason or the other, they fell into fellowship. They were all pilgrims riding to Canterbury. There was ample space in the chambers and stables of the inn to accommodate them all. And, shortly before night, I spoke to each of them, and they invited me into their company. I agreed with them to wake up early to start our journey to Canterbury.

Did you know?

There are 857 lines in the “General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.

Word Meanings

Engendering – Producing
Zephyrus – The Greek god of the west wind Grove – A small wood or other group of trees Heath – Moorland
Ram – The zodiac symbol of Aries
Sundry – Various
Hostelry – Inn


“The Prologue” begins in a very bright and blissful mood, with the description of April, the Spring season. The Spring shower is brought forth by the West Wind. Spring is a season that compels the natural world to grow, the birds to sing and men to visit pilgrimages. People travel to strange lands to visit the shrines of far-off saints. It is during this time that the people from all parts of England go to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett at Canter-bury. St. Thomas Beckett was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 to 1170, who was killed by the followers of King Henry II, inside the Canterbury Cathedral. The reason behind the murder was a conflict between him and the King regarding the privileges and rights of the Church. He was, later, in 1772, canonised as a saint by Pope Alexander III. It is believed that visiting his shrine will help in relieving people of different kinds of ailments.

Modern readers are familiar with the account through the poetic dramas like Tennyson’s Beckett (1884), T.S.Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (1935), and Jean Anouilh’s Becket (1959).

The second stanza gives a brief description of the inn in which he stayed. It was the Tabard Inn in Southwark in London. There were twenty-nine people who joined him there, and all of them were on their pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Thomas Beckett. They were from different classes of the society. The inn had many rooms and stables, and was well-equipped to accommodate them. They all got acquainted, and decided to start their journey the next morning itself.

The poem is written in Middle English, which was the form of English used from the 12th to the 15th centuries in England. These lines serve as an introduction to the context, and setting of the poem.

Although the general tone of the whole poem is satiric and ironic, this section of the poem does not present it heavily. The poem is written in iambic pentameter lines.

Iambic Pentameter

It is a line of verse consisting of five metrical feet, with one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed syllable.

Chaucer employs many symbols to present his views in this poem. In this section, the month of April stands as a symbol to represent rejuvenation and rebirth.


  • Month of April
  • Description of the beauty of Nature
  • People wish to go on pilgrimages
  • Shrine of St. Thomas Beckett, Canterbury
  • The Saint is known for curing people from diseases
  • A group of twenty-nine pilgrims assemble at Tabard Inn in Southwark, London
  • Ample space for everyone to stay
  • Host – Harry Bailey
  • All the twenty-nine people are from different walks of life
  • Decide to wake up early in the morning to start the journey

Objective questions

  1. Who was St. Thomas Beckett?
  2. To which inn did the pilgrims arrive?
  3. Who is the host of the Tabard Inn?
  4. How many pilgrims arrived at the Tabard Inn?
  5. Where is the Tabard Inn situated?
  6. Where is the Shrine of St. Thomas Beckett situated at?


  1. Archbishop of Canterbury
  2. Tabard Inn
  3. Harry Bailey
  4. 29
  5. Southwark, London
  6. Canterbury


  1. Read the complete Prologue to get a deeper insight into the poem.
  2. Describe how successful Chaucer has been in presenting a description of Nature.

Suggested Readings

  • Albert, Edward. A Short History of English Literature. Oxford UP, 2009.
  • Bowden, Muriel. A Reader’s Guide to Geoffrey Chaucer. Syracuse UP, 2001.
  • Brewer, D.S. Chaucer and Chaucerians: Critical Studies in Middle English Lit-erature. BCC, 1967.
  • Coghill, Nevill. Poet Chaucer. Oxford UP, 1967.
  • Halliday, F.E. Chaucer and His World. House of Stratus, 2001.
  • Long, William J. English Literature. Maple, 2021.