Zephirus Swete Breeth
The cherry blossoms have whisked away, the forsythia have had their fun. Spring rollicks into summer, and I’ve left a gray street and passionate darkness on the front page of my blog. This cannot stand. And who better to usher in the pleasures of summer than the rollicker himself, Sir Geoffrey?
How acutely I recall standing in the office of the Head of the English Department at Yale reciting the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. I’d climbed and climbed the stone steps to the top floor of Linsly-Chittenden Hall to find…was the door open? The scene cuts to a book-lined garret, burnished wood and lancet windows, and there the Head, an ex-hockey player, waited, not old enough to be not confusing, and altogether too good looking, in a jock-y (Chaucer-toting?) way. Did I stumble through my recitation? Or maybe I had fun. That pesky thing, memory. So acute, but a trickster at heart, much like our friend, Geoffrey.
So here we are, ready to embark on summer’s next adventure. When read a few times out loud, the rhythm, even without footnotes, of Chaucer’s Prologue transports like Zephirus’ sweet breath or the prick of longing to go on a pilgrimage somewhere. Tally ho!
The Prologue to THE CANTERBURY TALES
By Geoffrey Chaucer (1340?-1400)
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.