Saturday, May 14, 2011

a Canterbury tale

Whan that Aprille, with hise 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 swete 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, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende

Of Engelond, to Caunturbury they wende,

The hooly blisful martir for the seke

That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke

Cathedral and St. Augustine Abbey ruins
If you don't know already, those are the first lines from Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. I had to memorize these first lines in Middle English and recite them in a class I took on the 14th Century, and it was actually really fun. (If you've never heard anyone read these lines in the Middle English before, I've included the youtube video at the bottom of the page.) For the few of you who don't speak Middle English, here's the gist: Once spring comes along in April, and the weather starts getting really nice, people grow a little antsy and start thinking about leaving the house and going on a pilgrimage. A lot of those people, from all over England, head out to Canterbury to visit the cathedral where St. Thomas a Beckett was martyred. And there you have it.

Today I joined in that very long tradition of pilgrims to the shrine in the Canterbury Cathedral.  Just like Chaucer explains, once the weather turns nice and the warm breezes blow I get antsy and feel compelled to leave the city, enjoy the clean country air, and visit some cathedrals.  Today was the loveliest day I could have chosen for such a pilgrimage.  My journey was actually quite short. Since I took the fast train from London, it was only a 50 minute, rather comfortable and boring, pilgrimage.  There certainly wasn't enough time to tell any tales (and I was alone anyway), but I did enjoy the beautiful countryside.