Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE CHARACTER OF A GOOD PARSON, by GEOFFREY CHAUCER



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THE CHARACTER OF A GOOD PARSON, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: A parish priest was of the pilgrim train
Last Line: He needs no foil, but shines by his own proper light.
Variant Title(s): Fables Ancient And Modern: The Character Of A Good Parson, Imitated
Subject(s): Chaucer, Geoffrey (1342-1400); Clergy; Fables; Priests; Rabbis; Ministers; Bishops; Allegories


A parish-priest was of the pilgrim train;
An awful, reverend, and religious man.
His eyes diffused a venerable Grace,
And Charity itself was in his face.
Rich was his soul, though his attire was poor
(As God had clothed his own ambassador);
For such, on earth, his bless'd Redeemer bore.
Of sixty years he seemed; and well might last
To sixty more, but that he lived too fast;
Refined himself to soul, to curb the sense,
And made almost a sin of abstinence.
Yet had his aspect nothing of severe,
But such a face as promised him sincere.
Nothing reserved or sullen was to see
But sweet regards, and pleasing sanctity;
Mild was his accent, and his action free.
With eloquence innate his tongue was armed;
Though harsh the precept, yet the preacher charmed,
For, letting down the golden chain from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky,
And oft with holy hymns he charmed their ears
(A music more melodious than the spheres).
For David left him, when he went to rest,
His lyre; and after him he sung the best.
He bore his great commission in his look
But sweetly tempered awe, and softened all he spoke.
He preached the joys of Heaven and pains of Hell,
And warned the sinner with becoming zeal,
But on eternal mercy loved to dwell.
He taught the Gospel rather than the Law
And forced himself to drive, but loved to draw.
For fear but freezes minds; but love, like heat,
Exhales the soul sublime to seek her native seat.
To threats, the stubborn sinner oft is hard,
Wrapped in his crimes, against the storm prepared;
But when the milder beams of mercy play
He melts, and throws his cumbrous cloak away.
Lightnings and thunder (Heaven's artillery)
As harbingers before the Almighty fly.
These but proclaim his style, and disappear;
The stiller sound succeeds, and God is there.
The tithes his parish freely paid, he took;
But never sued, or cursed with bell and book,
With patience bearing wrong, but offering none,
Since every man is free to lose his own.
The country churls, according to their kind
(Who grudge their dues, and love to be behind),
The less he sought his offerings, pinched the more,
And praised a priest contented to be poor.
Yet, of his little, he had some to spare
To feed the famished, and to clothe the bare,
For mortified he was to that degree,
A poorer than himself, he would not see.
True priests, he said, and preachers of the Word,
Were only stewards of their sovereign Lord.
Nothing was theirs, but all the public store
Entrusted riches to relieve the poor
Who, should they steal for want of his relief,
He judged himself accomplice with the thief.
Wide was his parish, not contracted close
In streets, but here and there a straggling house;
Yet still he was at hand, without request
To serve the sick, to succour the distressed;
Tempting, on foot, alone, without affright,
The dangers of a dark tempestuous night.
All this the good old man performed alone
Nor spared his pains, for curate he had none.
Nor durst he trust another with his care,
Nor rode himself to Paul's, the public fair,
To chaffer for preferment with his gold
Where bishoprics and sinecures are sold;
But duly watched his flock by night and day,
And from the prowling wolf redeemed the prey,
And hungry sent the wily fox away.
The proud he tamed, the penitent he cheered,
Nor to rebuke the rich offender feared.
His preaching much, but more his practice, wrought
(A living sermon of the truths he taught);
For this, by rules severe his life he squared
That all might see the doctrine which they heard.
For priests, he said, are patterns for the rest
(The gold of Heaven, who bear the God impressed);
But when the precious coin is kept unclean,
The Sovereign's image is no longer seen.
If they be foul on whom the people trust,
Well may the baser brass contract a rust.
The prelate for his holy life he prized,
The worldly pomp of prelacy despised.
His Saviour came not with a gaudy show,
Nor was His Kingdom of the world below.
Patience in want, and poverty of mind,
These marks of Church and Churchmen He designed
And living taught, and dying left behind.
The crown He wore was of the pointed thorn;
In purple He was crucified, not born.
They who contend for place and high degree
Are not His sons, but those of Zebedee.
Not but he knew the signs of earthly power
Might well become St Peter's successor.
The Holy Father holds a double reign:
The Prince may keep his pomp; the Fisher must be plain.
Such was the Saint, who shone with every grace
Reflecting, Moses-like, his maker's face.
God saw His image lively as expressed;
And His own work, as in Creation, blessed.
The Tempter saw him too, with envious eye,
And, as on Job, demanded leave to try.
He took the time when Richard was deposed,
And high and low with happy Harry closed.
This prince, though great in arms, the priest withstood,
Near though he was, yet not the next of blood.
Had Richard unconstrained resigned the throne,
A King can give no more than is his own;
The title stood entailed, had Richard had a son.
Conquest, an odious name, as laid aside
Where all submitted; none the battle tried.
The senseless plea of right by Providence
Was, by a flattering priest, invented since
And lasts no longer than the present sway,
But justifies the next who comes in play.
The People's Right remains: let those who dare
Dispute their power, when they the judges are.
he joined not in their choice, because he knew
Worse might, and often did, from change ensue.
Much to himself he thought, but little spoke;
And, undeprived, his benefice forsook.
Now through the land his cure of souls he stretched,
And like a primitive apostle preached,
Still cheerful; ever constant to his call;
By many followed; loved by most, admired by all.
With what he begged, his brethren he relieved,
And gave the charities himself received;
Gave, while he taught; and edified the more
Because he showed, by proof, 'twas easy to be poor.
He went not with the crowd to see a shrine,
But fed us by the way with food divine.
In deference to his virtues I forbear
To show you what the rest in orders were.
This brilliant is so spotless and so bright
He needs no foil, but shines by his own proper light.








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