Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reasonable, even self-evident

I don't understand the trouble you've had in getting your ideas about Chaucer accepted. Your thoughts seem reasonable and even self-evident. That's what my friend Rose said when my first book was published.
     And what did she see as "self-evident"? My demonstrating the concealed identity of the Canterbury Host. Many others have also recognized it as self-evident.
     As I read the description of the Host at the end of the General Prologue, what took shape in my mind's eye was the figure of Christ. His image became clearer with one detail after another.
     The name "Host" opens the mind to the possibilities. His first action--after a warm welcome to the pilgrims--is to serve them best food and strong wine. Such words were, and still are, often used poetically to describe the Eucharistic Host. He offers to guide the pilgrims at his own cost. The group must accept his terms without discussion. He promises a banquet at the end of their journey. His repetition of "the way" in speaking of the journey echoes the biblical declaration of Christ as "the way," (truth and life). And, as the travelers prepare to depart in the morning, he gathers them in a flock. Did you see a momentary shepherd image--the Good Shepherd? Each detail plays a part in creating the portrait.
      The Pilgrim Cook mentions the Host's actual name--Herry Bailly--but it is never used. If the pilgrims had addressed him as Herry, the image of Christ within the figure would not exist. Instead, the ongoing use of "Host" reinforces the Eucharistic potential.
      Critics have a habit of referring to the Host as "Herry." It's more comfortable, I'm sure, but it distorts Chaucer's intention; the guide of the pilgrim journey becomes just a guy named Herry. No wonder the "self-evident" identity of Christ has been overlooked.
      If a religious underpinning to Chaucer's masterpiece surprises, it shouldn't. The poet's chosen frame for the collection is "pilgrimage."

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