Wednesday 11 April 2007

In the Middle of English

Who would have thought that Chaucer would be the first author to get a mention here in Blog Towers? Don't worry, this isn't going to be a particularly highbrow blog (as exemplified by some rather childish cartoons) - but currently I'm rather weighed down by Geoffrey and his pals. That little bevvy is Chaucer, Gower, and the ever-elusive Pearl-Poet (Petey to his Mum) - and they have been my constant companions these last few days.

Hmm. The jury's out. I can quite enjoy a bit of Chaucer - emphasis on a BIT - but finding it difficult to really engage with the other authors, especially when I have to look words up every other line, and understand a slightly variant alphabet. Now, I'm sure lots of you out there are aficiandos (and can probably spell it too, which is more than me) - tell me; what is it about these authors that I can enjoy?

Currently, the following cartoon expresses my feeling. (Again, you might have to click on it to make it big enough). I did it instead of reading an essay on Chaucer's Dream Visions, but I think it was quite a productive use of time. Ahem. And don't ask why Chaucer is crouching beside the Enquiries desk... but it's just the sort of thing he WOULD do...



  1. I like a bit of Chaucer as well, although I have to admit that my experience with him is rather slow - my bookmark hasn't moved through the Canterbury Tales in quite some time. The thing that I particularly like about his work - and I bet this is applicable to other Middle English - is how it sounds out loud. Once you've heard someone read a bit of it aloud, it's very easy to get a feel for how it works.

    Middle English, when spoken, is an awesomely rich, earthy language, and the amount of rhyme, rhythm and alliteration that you find in it just makes it great fun. Of course, if you're reading in a public place you have to put up with the odd looks from people as you mutter strange rhythmic phrases under your breath, but we all have to make little sacrifices...

  2. I met C many years ago, 1972 to be exact, when we "did" the Prologue (queue Frankie Howard voice) from CT. for "O" Level. I have to admit that I haven't met him again but I do retain warmest feelings for him. I hope he has fully recovered from his nasty experience in the library. Does the bespectacled, be-bunned librarian do weight training on her day off?

    Keep up the good work.

  3. I don't care to remember just how long ago it has been (!), but once upon a time I took an entire semester of Canterbury Tales in Middle English. My prof, Larry Benson, did what Phil is suggesting and read reams of it aloud - definitely the way to go; lovely stuff! And it is has a certain contemporary resonance: "Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote the droghte of March hath perced to the roote..." - exactly what's happening in Canterbury right now!

  4. I really got into Chaucer as an undergrad and I think it is true that read aloud it makes more sense. Also the more you go on with it the more you get the hang of the language. As for the Pearl poet -- isn't he the person I think of as the Gawain poet (as in Gawain and the Green Knight)? Now there is a poem to stir the mind and emotions....


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