Birth Passages: Maternity and Nostalgia, Antiquity to Shakespeare

By Theresa M. Krier | Go to book overview

5

From Aggression to Gratitude:
Air and Song in the Parlement
of Foules

The number of successive saltations the nimble thought can make . . . [t]he habit . . . of not pausing but going on, is a sort of importation or domestication of the Divine effort in a man.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chaucer among all early poets in English seems to love salience in Emerson's sense: going on, wandering, venturing forth, sallying out, taking leaps, crossing unanticipated thresholds—as in the Parlement of Foules, where his saltations surprisingly lead him to Dame Nature and to song. 1. In her region he engages with forms of cultural nostalgia for the shelter provided by maternal sound, insofar as the mother's singing, crooning, encompassing the child with a volume of air shaped by her voice constitute long-lived and haunting topoi. Psychoanalytic theory makes much of maternal voice. Recent theorists of song, especially of opera and its audiences, find it indispensable. But how can we have the textured richness of interior life borne on that voice, while also paying the debt to the mother, saluting her distinctness and difference from us?

____________________
1.
Emerson's notions of saliency and sallying are articulated in many places in his works; the epigraph comes from “Poetry and Imagination, ” in Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 8 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1903), 8:1-75, at 72.

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