Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Long Day


Yesterday started when I left the house before 7am and did not end until I returned home at 10:30.  Other than the total of maybe 45 minute of eating all day and an hour or two of driving, the rest of the day was spent teaching, preparing for class, directing theater practice, and a few other extra faculty duties.

And yet, this poem is now stuck in my head.  I think I have heard it too may times in the last few weeks:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, 
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, 
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour; 
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth 
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth 
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne 
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne, 
And smale foweles maken melodye, 
That slepen al the nyght with open ye, 
So priketh hem Natúre 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. 

"Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales

In modern English if you wish to read it:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend,
The holy blessed martyr there to seek
Who helped them when they lay so ill and weal

4 comments:

silvereagle said...

Canterbury! Chaucer!! High school and college English 101....ahh...such memories....but I do not recall a professor as handsome as the one in the photograph....:-(

Jay M. said...

I blanked it all at graduation! HAHAHAHA
Yet, this tale still resonates.
I just want to know why it's stuck in your head. Is it still an earworm if it's poetry as opposed to a song?
Peace <3
Jay

brotherdoc said...

But... it's not April, it's November! Here's another high school quote:
"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can." Melville, Moby Dick

Steve said...

Glad to find someone else who loves the Prologue as much as I do.

That's not a bad "modern" English translation except for (a) the "ramp and rage" part -- as gentle birdsongs of the night are not "rage" -- and (b) the last line. "Ill and weal???" "Weal" doesn't rhyme with "seek," or have anything else to recommend it that I can tell. What's wrong with "weak" in that spot?

Going back to "ramp and rage," another reason why I don't like that rendition is that it is not harmonious with the overall theme that Chaucer is creating -- that the lengthening days of Spring are "inspiring" positive attitudes and actions throughout nature. I view the line "priketh hem Natur in hir corages" as a pivot from the world of plants and animals to the human actions that are likewise inspired by Spring - namely the desire to undertake a pilgrimage. In other words, Nature is pricking us in our hearts as much as it is the birds.

For that matter, I'd prefer to keep the word "inspired" in the sixth line for the effect of the Zephyr on the tender wood and heath, since it prefigures the inspiration that the pilgrims feel, and is also a nice play on the scriptural/ metaphorical link between "spirit" and "wind." (See John 3:8)