Personal Choice 11



Spring, Chaucer wrote in the prologue to The Canterbury Tales, is the time when people begin to stir themselves, and think of going on pilgrimages. The opening lines to the prologue are some of the most powerful writing about spring in English literature – or any literature. It is not gentle writing. Chaucer’s spring is full of restless energy and wildness and violent passions. I don’t want to go on a pilgrimage. I want to stay home. I know that wherever I go, I will find I have taken myself with me. Seven centuries ago, on the other side of the world, Chaucer’s pilgrims set out to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury. Here in Gawler in the present day, I dig in my compost, pull my weeds and push seeds into damp soil.


The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue

Opening Lines


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 weak.


(Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury

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.)


Geoffrey Chaucer




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