23 May 2005

Chaucer, day one

Chaucer class begins today. We’re beginning with the “General Prologue,” whose beginning is wonderful:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke. (1–18)

In high school, I remember thinking, “This Chaucer guy really can’t spell.” Once I learned that he writes in Middle English, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for what’s going on here. I like the promise of spring and how April’s healing rains refresh the land and the plants that grow on it. Compare that to the parable of the sower, and there’s a logical connection with the desire for pilgrimage: the pilgrims wish to thank the saints who healed their own sicknesses, who brought them back to life.