Preface to the Canterbury Tales

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Preface to the 1993
Printed Edition

We present here, for both the beginning and more advanced student of Chaucer, the first complete new translation of The Canterbury Tales to appear in over half a century. The product of twenty years' labor, it is intended to be as faithful to the original, in both its poetical and prose portions, as a modern English rendering permits. We foresee this work as being useful in beginning courses such as surveys of British and world literature, intermediate courses of medieval literature in translation, and advanced courses in Chaucer as well. Beginning students may now gain a more balanced view of the genius of Geoffrey Chaucer by having before them in translation the complete Tales in all their variety. Likewise, advanced students will now be able to read and judge the Tales in their entirety without the necessity of reading some of the longer ones in Middle English. The project was begun by Ron Ecker as a result of his finding, while studying Chaucer at the University of Florida, no satisfactory translation of the verse tales. Previous verse translations have been justly criticized for such shortcomings as lack of fidelity to content and what David Wright has called “bathetic rhyme carpentry.” Mark Van Doren, in his preface to R. M. Lumiansky's prose translation, suggested that any translator, in seeking to capture the “absolute plainness” of Chaucer's poetry, should translate in prose, rhymed verse in modern English being an “impossible substitute,” in Van Doren's view, for Chaucer's “wise, sweet verse.” Wright seems of much the same mind, having chosen, in his own verse translation, to work in various forms of inexact rhyme and often no rhyme at all. The present project, while making no pretense of matching the poetical quality of the original, was initiated in the belief that a good, faithful translation in rhymed verse of Chaucer's verse tales was at least theoretically possible and a goal worth pursuing. Gene Crook, as a...
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