Ne was so worldly for to have office. For him was levere have at his beddes heed Twenty bookes

From the General Prologue (285-300) of The Canterbury Tales. I got the new Norton Chaucer last year and am finally paging through it. It’s less comfortable than Jill Mann’s Penguin original spelling edition (the text I use here, with Nevill Coghill’s Penguin ‘translation’ below ) but the Norton’s vocab glosses in the margin with longer notes at bottom is far less disruptive than vocab at bottom and longer notes at the end. I’m also a fan of the hardbound bible paper since my copy of Mann’s – maybe ten years old at this point – is already age toning and of course spine-breaking from only one reading and occasional referencing.

A CLERK ther was of Oxenford also,
That unto logik hadde longe ygo.
As leene was his hors as is a rake,
And he was nat right fat, I undertake,
But looked holwe and therto sobrely.
Ful thredbare was his overeste courtepy;
For he hadde gete him yet no benefice,
Ne was so worldly for to have office.
For him was levere have at his beddes heed
Twenty bookes, clad in blak or reed,
Of Aristotle and his philosophye,
Than robes riche, or fithele, or gay sautrye.
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in coffer!
But al that he mighte of his frendes hente,
On bookes and on lerninge he it spente

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

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