What sholde he studie and make hymselven wood,
Upon a book in cloystre alwey to poure,
Or swynken with his handes and labóure,
As Austyn bit?
(= Why should he study and make himself mad / Always poring over a book in the cloisters / Or work and labour with his hands / As St Augustine commands?)
It feels that, in this rhetorical question, the Monk is starting to ventriloquize naïve pilgrim character of Chaucer. But behind this, Chaucer the poet is pulling the strings to show the hypocrisy of the Monk’s position.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was one of the pre-eminent Christian bishops and writers.
He is most famous now for his Confessions, but here Chaucer is probably referring to De opera monchorum.
Monks were supposed to study and work with their hands: this one does neither.
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “The Canterbury Tales (General Prologue)” by Geoffrey Chaucer and leave a comment on the lyrics box