The Tabard Inn, 1390s

wife of

I’d changed my dusty travel clothes at once.
Put on my best red stockings, coifed my hair –
the road from Bath had been both long and rough.
But now this pilgrimage would start in truth.
I looked around the company gathered there:
prissy prioress and worldly monk;
guildsmen, cook, the ploughman and the priest…
Which one could I entangle and enchant
before we reached St Thomas’ shrine? (And there
I’d pray the saint to heal my deaf right ear)

I wasn’t after anything too great –
I’d had enough of husbands after five –
no, just a little dalliance by the way…
The knight? Too high, and honourable. His son?
Oh, far too young, though a good-looking lad.
And some of them, though willing, far too crude:
the miller, to take one – I’ve got more taste
than let that red-haired lout breathe over me.
The franklin is worth thinking on, perhaps…

And then I saw the quiet one in a nook.
Some sort of well-off clerk he seemed to me.
And scribbling notes, then looking round some more,
assessing all the gathering, as was I…
At first I couldn’t make his purpose out,
and then he looked at me and gave a wink:
not a come-on one, but one which said
“You too find pleasure in observing folk”

So then I realised: he was drawing us
in words, it seemed – as I drew near to him
I saw the scribbled notes, the inkhorn and the quill.
“We are a motley crew that’s gathered here,”
he said, “And your sharp eye discerns them all”
I answered, “You are capturing us in words:
write kindly when you come to put me down”
“You may be sure of that,” he said. And smiled.

Elizabeth Horrocks
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Elizabeth Horrocks would be pleased to hear them.