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 halve cours yronne…
Thus begins the first great English poem. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1343-1400) wasn’t the first poem in what we call Middle English, nor did it cause English to become the official language of the British Isles. What it did do, says author Peter Ackroyd in his modern English prose translation, was mark the emergence of English as the language that was becoming what most people spoke. The royal court still conducted its business in French, but that, too, was changing.
It is a work that stopped as a work in progress. Chaucer completed the General Prologue and less than a third of the planned 120 tales, stories told by a group of pilgrims traveling to and from St. Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury Cathedral. The pilgrims represent virtually all levels of society – merchants, knights, religious figures, tradesman, lawyers, doctors, and more. Chaucer didn’t confine himself to men – in fact, the Wife of Bath is one of the most memorable characters in the entire poem, and with a prologue that is the longest of any of the tales.
To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.