My dear friend Rose was only one of many who readily see the image of Christ in Chaucer's Host. John, my publisher, recognized what Chaucer was doing and so did Eric, book designer extraordinaire.
Preparation of my first book (Chaucer's Host) for publication was lengthy and complicated, but exciting. Galleys to proof. Deadlines to meet. I loved the cover design. When I received a copy of the material for the back cover, the synopsis of the book meant to be a hook to catch a reader, I called John immediately, but it was Eric who answered the phone.
"Eric, who chose the quote to head the back cover?"
"I did. Why? Is something wrong?"
"No. Nothing's wrong. It's perfect!"
When Eric read the book to get a feel for the image he wanted to create, he singled out that phrase: "Harrow, by nails and by blood!" It is the most powerful "clue" the Host speaks--that is, as words spoken by Christ. "By nails and by blood" is easy to grasp as a reference to crucifixion, but what is "harrow"?
Typical guidance from footnotes in the Tales will explain the word to be "a common ejaculation of obscure origin." That's one way to look at it. But what is in tune with the presence of Christ is the religious drama popular in Chaucer's day: The Harrowing of Hell. It is the portrayal of the crucified Christ, during the three days before his resurrection, descending to the gates of hell to burst them and release the righteous souls who had been waiting to be delivered by Him. The phrase--Chaucer's line--then, is a recollection of the harrowing of hell, as a consequence of being crucified. Harrow is not "obscure" at all; it is the object of Christ's sacrifice. He came to die and harrow hell.
Eric saw the words he chose as the core of the book's message.