Happy April, good readers!
Today is many things (April Fool’s among them, so be on your guard), but best of all, today is the day that begins Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. You can read –AND LISTEN TO– the beginning here: http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/gp-aloud.htm.
There’s plenty to say about why Chaucer matters– he was enormously prolific; the Canterbury Tales are the backbone of the English canon; he was the father of English (or is that Shakespeare? Or Milton? Or Mark Twain?); etc, etc, etc.
But for me, Chaucer is important in the same way that most authors are: he shows me that people are generally the same throughout time and across place. He teaches me that humor is the best instructor (and the most restorative salve); his words make me fidget, and struggle, and laugh, and google, and wonder, and write “WTF” in my margins.
And as a medievalist, I am drawn to Chaucer not just because he’s “part of the field,” but because his works transcend our field so well. We’ve all heard about Richard III’s reburial and the Anglo-Saxon cure for a modern-day superbug, but as I’ve written about already, Chaucer’s works recast our present-day scenarios in ways that allow us to reflect critically and meaningfully on our own lives.
With that in mind, I’d like to toast all the participants in #whanthataprilleday15 and encourage all of my friends to find out a little bit more about these important cultural legacies that dumb luck and genius librarians have bequeathed to us:
And speaking of bequeathing, I thought I’d practice my own preaching and share – with you and my son – part of my favorite of Chaucer’s poems, The Book of the Duchess. I wrote about it in my master’s thesis a zillion years ago, and, even after doctoral exams, I still love it. The story is GOOOOOOOORGEOUS and sad, funny, complicated, dream-like, life-like, and – most important to my purposes here – it involves a puppy.
Our narrator (the dreamer) has fallen asleep reading a book, and wakes up to a new but eerily familiar world. He witnesses a great hunt, the escape of the hart, and the recall of the hunting party. He now finds that he is alone in the woods, but not for long:
Until next time, sweet dreams!