Saturday, April 20, 2013

“Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote”

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Last night’s heavy rain shower reminded me of the famous opening lines of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

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…

In looking for an online edition from which I could copy those famous lines to post here (being sure that the copyright has expired*), I was reminded of this anonymous painting, dating from around 1415, of Chaucer (c1343-1400) reciting his poetry (said to be Troilus and Cressida) to the court of Richard II:



One might imagine a scene like that on April 17, 1397, the date on which Chaucer is said to have recited the Canterbury Tales to Richard II and his court.

Here's the lovely prologue of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales:

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 halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthein 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.


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.



* Yes, I know damn well that copyright laws did not exist in Chaucer’s time, thank you very much.

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