It would be impossible to overstate the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales." A work with one metaphorical foot planted in the Florentine Renaissance literary tradition of Boccaccio's "Decameron" and the other in works ranging from John Bunyan, Voltaire, and Mark Twain to the popular entertainments of our own time, "The Canterbury Tales" stands astride the cultures of Great Britain and America, and much of Europe, like a benign colossus.
Beyond its importance as a cultural touchstone and literary work of unvarnished genius, Chaucer's unfinished epic poem is also one of the most beloved works in the English language and for good reason: It is lively, absorbing, perceptive, and outrageously funny an undisputed classic that has held a special appeal for generations of readers. Chaucer has gathered twenty-nine of literature's most indelible archetypes from the exalted Knight to the bawdy Wife to the besotted Miller to the humble Plowman in a vivid group portrait that captures the full spectrum of late-medieval English society and both informs and expands our discourse on the human condition.
Presented in these pages in a new unabridged translation by the esteemed poet, translator, and scholar Burton Raffel whose translation of Beowulf has sold more than a million copies this Modern Library edition also features an Introduction by the well-known and widely influential medievalist and author John Miles Foley that discusses Chaucer's work as well as to his life and times.
Despite the brilliance of Geoffrey Chaucer's work, the continual evolution of our language has rendered his words unfamiliar to many of us. Burton Raffel's magnificent new translation brings Chaucer's poetry back to life, ensuring that none of the original's wit, wisdom, or humanity is lost to the modern reader.
About the Author
Thought to have been born in London, England, circa 1342 or 1343, Geoffrey Chaucer is considered "the first finder of our language" even before the time of Shakespeare. The Canterbury Tales ranks as one of the greatest poetic works in the English language. Perhaps the chief characteristics of Chaucer's works are their variety in subject matter, genre, tone, style, and in the complexities presented concerning man's pursuit of a sensible existence. Yet his writings also consistently reflect an all-pervasive humor, combined with serious and tolerant consideration of important philosophical questions. From his writings Chaucer emerges as a poet of love, both earthly and divine. His stories lead the listener to speculate about man's relationship both to other people and to his Maker, while simultaneously providing entertaining views of the frailties and follies, as well as the nobility, of mankind.
Burton Raffel is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southwestern Louisiana and author of many books, including Artists All (Penn State, 1991) and The Art of Translating Poetry (Penn State, 1988). He is the translator of Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel (1990), winner of the 1991 French-American Foundation Translation Prize; Balzac's Pere Goriot (1994), and a forthcoming new version of Cervantes's Don Quijote.
John Miles Foley is William H. Byler Distinguished Chair in the Humanities and Curators' Professor of Classical Studies and English at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the editor and founder of the journal Oral Tradition. Among his recent books are Traditional Oral Epic (1990) and The Singer of Tales in Performance (1995).
“A delight . . . [Raffel’s translation] provides more opportunities to savor the counterpoint of Chaucer’s earthy humor against passages of piercingly beautiful lyric poetry.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Masterly . . . This new translation beckons us to make our own pilgrimage back to the very wellsprings of literature in our language.” —Billy Collins
“The Canterbury Tales has remained popular for seven centuries. It is the most approachable masterpiece of the medieval world, and Mr. Raffel’s translation makes the stories even more inviting.”—Wall Street Journal