“The Former Age”

Read by Susan Yager
as edited by Larry Benson
The Riverside Chaucer, Third Edition
Houghton Mifflin, 2000
(text reproduced below with permission)

“The Former Age” in MP3 format

A blisful lyf, a paisible and a swete,
Ledden the peples in the former age.
They helde hempayed of the fruites that they ete,
Which that the feldes yave hem by usage;
They ne were nat forpampred with outrage.
Unknowen was the quern and ek the melle;
They eten mast, hawes, and swich pounage,
And dronken water of the colde welle.>

Yit nas the ground nat wounded with the plough,
But corn up-sprong, unsowe of mannes hond,
The which they gnodded and eete nat half ynough.
No man yit knew the forwes of his lond,
No man the fyr out of the flint yet fond,
Unkorven and ungrobbed lay the vyne;
No man yit in the morter spyces grond
To clarre ne to sause of galantyne.

No mader, welde,or wood no litestere
Ne knew; the flees was of his former hewe;
No flesh ne wiste offence of egge or spere.
No coyn ne knew man which was fals or trewe,
No ship yit karf the wawes grene and blewe,
No marchaunt yit ne fette outlandish ware.
No trompes for the werres folk ne knewe,
Ne toures heye and walles rounde or square.

What sholde it han avayled to werreye?
Ther lay no profit, ther was no richesse;
But cursed was the tyme, I dare wel seye,
That men first dide her swety bysinesse
To grobbe up metal, lurkinge in derknesse,
And in the riveres first gemmes soghte.
Allas, than spong up al the cursednesse
Of coveytyse, that first our sorwe broghte.

Thise tyraunts putte hem gladly nat in pres
No wildnesse ne no busshes for to winne,
Ther poverte is, as seith Diogenes,
Ther as vitaile is ek so skars and thinne;
That noght but mast or apples is therinne;
But, ther as bagges ben and fat vitaile,
Ther wol they gon, and spare for no sinne
With al hir ost the cite for to asayle.

Yit was no paleis-chaumbres ne non halles; In caves and wodes softe and swete
Slepten this blissed folk withoute walles
On gras or leves in parfit quiete.
Ne doun of fetheres ne no bleched shete
Was kid to hem, but in seurtee they slepte.
Hir hertes were al oon withoute galles; Everich of hem his feith to other kepte.

Unforged was the hauberk and the plate;
The lambish peple, voyd of alle vyce,
Hadden no fantasye to debate,
But ech of hem wolde other wel cheryce.
No pryde, non envye, non avaryce,
No lord, no taylynge by no tyrannye;
Humblesse and pees, good feith the emperice.

Yit was not Jupiter the likerous,
That first was fader of delicacye,
Come in this world; ne Nembrot, desirous
To regne, had nat maad his toures hye.
Allas, allas, now may men wepe and crye!
For in oure dayes nis but covetyse,
Doublenesse, and treasoun, and envye,
Poyson, manslawhtre, and mordre in sondry wyse.