Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Poem of the Week 1/28/2008: from Canterbury Tales

I have included the Miller's Prologue in Middle English first, but following it is the Modern English translation.
from the Miller's Prolouge, Middle English:

Whan that the Knyght had thus his tale ytoold,
In al the route ne was ther yong ne oold
That he ne seyde it was a noble storie,
And worthy for to drawen to memorie;
5 And namely the gentils everichon.
Oure Hooste lough, and swoor, "So moot I gon,
This gooth aright; unbokeled is the male,
Lat se now who shal telle another tale,
For trewely the game is wel bigonne.
10 Now telleth on, sir Monk, if that ye konne
Somwhat to quite with the Knyghtes tale."
The Millere that for dronken was al pale,
So that unnethe upon his hors he sat,
He nolde avalen neither hood ne hat,
15 Ne abyde no man for his curteisie,
But in Pilates voys he gan to crie,
And swoor, "By armes and by blood and bones,
I kan a noble tale for the nones,
With which I wol now quite the Knyghtes tale."
20 Oure Hooste saugh that he was dronke of ale,
And seyde, "Abyd, Robyn, my leeve brother,
Som bettre man shal telle us first another,
Abyd, and lat us werken thriftily."

"By Goddes soule," quod he, "that wol nat I,
25 For I wol speke, or elles go my wey."
Oure Hoost answerde, "Tel on, a devel wey!
Thou art a fool, thy wit is overcome!
"Now herkneth," quod the Miller, "alle and some,
But first I make a protestacioun
30 That I am dronke, I knowe it by my soun;
And therfore, if that I mysspeke or seye,
Wyte it the ale of Southwerk I you preye.
For I wol telle a legende and a lyf
Bothe of a carpenter and of his wyf,
35 How that a clerk hath set the wrightes cappe."
The Reve answerde and seyde, "Stynt thy clappe,
Lat be thy lewed dronken harlotrye,
It is a synne and eek a greet folye
To apeyren any man or hym defame,
40 And eek to bryngen wyves in swich fame;
Thou mayst ynogh of othere thynges seyn."

Modern English:
Now when the knight had thus his story told,
In all the rout there was nor young nor old
But said it was a fine and noble story
Worthy to be kept in memory;
5 And specially the gentle folk, each one.
Our host, he laughed and swore, "So may I run,
But this goes well; unbuckled is the mail;
Let's see now who can tell another tale:
For certainly the game has well begun.
10 Now shall you tell, sir monk, if't can be done,
Something with which to pay for the knight's tale."

The miller, who of drinking was all pale,
So that unsteadily on his horse he sat,
He would not take off either hood or hat,
15 Nor wait for any man, in courtesy,
But all in Pilate's voice began to cry,
And "By the arms and blood and bones," he swore,
"I have a noble story in my store,
With which I will requite the good knight's tale."
20 Our host saw, then, that he was drunk with ale,
And said to him: "Wait, Robin, my dear brother,
Some better man shall tell us first another:
Submit and let us work on profitably
"Now by God's soul," cried he, "that will not I!
25 For I will speak, or else I'll go my way."
Our host replied: "Tell on, then, till doomsday!
You are a fool, your wit is overcome."
"Now hear me," said the miller, "all and some!
But first I make a protestation round
30 That I'm quite drunk, I know it by my sound:
And therefore, if I slander or mis-say,
Blame it on ale of Southwark, so I pray;
For I will tell a legend and a life
Both of a carpenter and of his wife,
35 And how a scholar set the good wright's cap."
The reeve replied and said: "Oh, shut your tap,
Let be your ignorant drunken ribaldry!
It is a sin, and further, great folly
To asperse any man, or him defame,
40 And, too, to bring upon a man's wife shame.
There are enough of other things to say."
This dronke Millere spak ful soone ageyn,
And seyde, "Leve brother Osewold,
Who hath no wyf, he is no cokewold.
45 But I sey nat therfore that thou art oon,
Ther been ful goode wyves many oon,
And evere a thousand goode ayeyns oon badde;
That knowestow wel thyself, but if thou madde.
Why artow angry with my tale now?
50 I have a wyf, pardee, as wel as thow,
Yet nolde I for the oxen in my plogh
Take upon me moore than ynogh,
As demen of myself that I were oon;
I wol bileve wel, that I am noon.
55 An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf
Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf.
So he may fynde Goddes foysoun there,
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere."

This drunken miller spoke on in his way,
And said: "Oh, but my dear brother Oswald,
The man who has no wife is no cuckold.
45 But I say not, thereby, that you are one:
Many good wives there are, as women run,
And ever a thousand good to one that's bad,
As well you know yourself, unless you're mad.
Why are you angry with my story's cue?
50 I have a wife, begad, as well as you,
Yet I'd not, for the oxen of my plow,
Take on my shoulders more than is enow,
By judging of myself that I am one;
I will believe full well that I am none.
55 A husband must not be inquisitive
Of God, nor of his wife, while she's alive.
So long as he may find God's plenty there,
For all the rest he need not greatly care."

-Geoffrey Chaucer 1400.

In this poem, I hope, more than any Great and Wise Idea, you search for some sense of a person and a conversation. Reading can be a kind of seeing--watching specific people move around in a specific manner in their specific lives. And Chaucer was a master of specificity--if you can even pick out the characteristics of a person from one of his portraits in The General Prologue, you will learn something most certainly. Part of the genius of Chaucer (though not all, for his runs deep) is that he has such an open eye for types of people. Unconstrained by like for one or judgment for another, though his narrator sometimes expresses these feelings, he still presents them as they are. How easy is it to do? Not very. Some of the novels I have been reading are not necessarily full of very specific or deep voices, nor of types of people.

In this little train of thought, I am influenced by William Blake's comments about Chaucer. He writes,

The Characters of Chaucers Pilgrims are the Characters that compose all Ages & Nations, as one Age falls another rises. different to Mortal Sight but to Immortals only the same, for we see the same Characters repeated again & again in Animals in Vegetables in Minerals & in Men. Nothing new occurs in Identical Existence . . Accident ever varies Substance can never suffer change nor decay.

He always has something new to say.

Good luck reading this, and I hope that you enjoy it!

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