Whan that April with his showres soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veine in swich licuor,
Of which vertu engendred is the flowr;
Whan Zephyrus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tender croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye
That sleepen al the night with open y -
So priketh hem Nature in hir corages -
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seeken straunge strondes
To fern halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Canterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martyr for to seeke
That hem hath hoplen whan that they were seke.
From 'The General Prologue' of
'The Canterbury Tales' (c. 1386-1400) by Geoffrey Chaucer.
Source: 'The Longman Anthology of British Literature' (1999).
If someone offered you a lifetime of encounters with fascinating
people, what would you do? When the offer was made to me, I asked no
questions. I said "yes" emphatically.
The opportunity came in my high school days. Somewhere between
"Beowulf" and Shakespeare, our English teacher brought it up. Mrs.
Whitner said that if we memorized the beginning of the prologue to
Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," she could assure us we'd
begin to discover one fascinating person after another who had
memorized it, too. It didn't feel like an assignment. The way she
presented the idea so charmed us that we fairly clamored to memorize
those 18 lines.
While the memorization process wore on for us as homework, in
class we learned of Chaucer's impact on English literature. By
writing graceful, musical, expressive couplets in Middle English, he
gave respectability to what had been considered a crude "people's"
language. Our teacher suggested that the giants of English
literature owed Chaucer their very tools - the vital, varied words
"The Canterbury Tales" was an ambitious project. Delightfully
diverse characters, bound together on a springtime pilgrimage, were
to entertain each other along the way with stories. Imagine the
potential of so many storytellers. Chaucer had intended to include
120 tales in this work, but only completed 24. What he did, however,
with those 24 tales was quite a marvel. He created a vivid, rich
tapestry of life in 14th-century England.
The day came when we were ready to earn our prize. Before the
first volunteer started the cavalcade of recitations, our teacher
delivered a final pep talk. She reminded us that as we recited our
lines, we'd be wrapping our tongues around the very roots of our
English language. …