Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Canterbury Limericks?

A clever fellow in the writers group I attend is named Mr. Kohoutek. He may be a distant relation of the comet of the same name. One of his talents is organizing things. His latest project was a limerick contest. A "poet" in spite of himself, his own contribution is a series of related limericks.

I'm inspired to share them with you because they were dedicated to me!

The Canterbury Limericks
Frank Kohoutek

There once was a bloke name of Chaucer, 
Who wrote as he drank from his saucer,
The church said, "Geoffrey, my lad,
You must not be bad, 
And do not break the law, sir!"

He started to write anyway,
Hid his thoughts in word play,
Had they figured it out,
They'd be left with no doubt,
But he outfoxed them and got it away!

What were his messages about?
He hid his thoughts--couldn't shout, 
So thoroughly hidden,
His meanings unbidden,
It took Dolores to figure them out!

And so we are left with his tales,
Which some say are slower than snails,
But don't ever be blue,
'Cause this isn't true,
Mrs. Cullen has lifted the veils!


Saturday, December 13, 2014

In the Christmas spirit!

What do you know about Chaucer? I mean Chaucer the man or Chaucer the pilgrim character in the Canterbury Tales.The second book I wrote--Pilgrim Chaucer: Center Stage--explores both sides of him. To tell his whole story, I had to include an X-rated chapter!

If you'd like a copy of the book -- at no cost to you -- email your address to me (Chaucer600@aol.com) and I'll send you a copy. The offer is only good for US residents. Sorry, rest of the world.

If you want me to sign it, just say so. I'd be happy to. The number available is limited, of course. Isn't everything?

Y'all have a Merry Christmas and a splendid 2015.

(PS I've only received a small number of requests. Don't be shy.  lol  The offer is good through the Twelfth Day of Christmas --January 6.)

Friday, December 5, 2014

On the cyber trail

A comment I received a couple of days ago was a special treat. It had had quite a cyber trail before it reached me. Chaucer  ain't like Gospel! is linked to Facebook. What I received by email was a "friend" request for Facebook from a Mr. Mault, whom I knew not at all.

So for curiosity, if for nothing else, I queried, "Why would you want me as a friend? Who do you know that I know?" and "What's your opinion of Chaucer?"

Aha, Mr. Mault responded that he had seen my Chaucer chat on YouTube!

He also expressed the intention of reading my books and Chaucer's. Therefore, recognizing Mr. Mault of Ohio as a man of noble spirit and good intentions, I accepted him as a Facebook "friend."

When he next contacts me, I'll be sure to direct him to my website

which holds a wealth of Chaucer information and considerable news of current Chaucer events and publications as well as stuff to download. 

A link to my radio interview (Oct 21) will also be there soon. 

With all the busyness of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, the powers that be just haven't gotten around to it yet. 

Blessings of the Season to all of you!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Computer rehab!

My trusty 7 year old Mac has serious problems. It’s been trying to keep up with the competition, but its memory has been failing. It’s headed for rehab in a couple of days. Don’t know how long it will be before it shapes up. . . . sigh . . . I’ll miss it. I just hope I still recognize it when it comes back.
         I’ll be thinking about Chaucer while it’s gone and gathering some new ideas to share with you. Until then, peace be with all of you.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Cock-a-doodle who?

A couple of entries back (Oct 9) I said we'd find another bird concealed among the pilgrims. Now is the time.
     The General Prologue, that introduces all the pilgrims, begins with two trios of travelers. We've already seen the Knight, Squire, and Yeoman as a trinity; the third person is a peacock. The Prioress, the Second Nun and their accompanying Priest also make up a trinity and, again, as a parody of the Catholic Trinity, we'll find a bird masquerading in the third person--the Nun's Priest.
     We're told nothing about the Priest-Pilgrim until he is called upon to tell his tale. Recall that at the surface we see transportation is by horse, but at the covert level what is said of the transport can also divulge something about the Pilgrim. Instead of being respectful, the Host speaks rudely to the Priest calling his "horse" foul and lean. That's the first "bird" clue, and foul will be used again. When the Priest had his tale attamed/atamed, it can mean he began his story, but it can also say he controlled his tail!    
     After the Priest tells the very entertaining story of Chaunticleer (a rooster), the Host has much to say about the Priest's tendencies and appearance, often reflecting the fictional rooster's attributes. It has long been assumed the the Host is poking fun at a "man" with bird terminology. That works on the surface, but we aim to see the identity at a second level hidden within the pilgrim disguise.
     If the Priest had been a secular, he'd have been a trede-foul (there's foul again) meaning he'd have been a sexually active bird. Chaunticleer had seven hens for his pleasure, but this character would need seven times seventeen hens! His "braun" is admirable; the word refers to flesh as meat. Chaunticleer was described stretching his neck; this priest also has a great neck and a large breast, as well, to add to his bird portrait. His eyes are bird eyes, like those of a hawk. Now add a splash of color to the picture. Where Chaunticleer had a comb redder than fine coral, we learn that no dye is needed for this Priest's features because they are naturally bright red. Visualize a cockscomb and wattle.
     Once you picture this priest as a rooster a couple of other lines yield a second meaning. The bird role mimics the Catholic image of "Victim and Priest." Roosters were the victims in pagan augury. They would be sacrificed and their entrails examined to determine whether the future would bring good fortune--or no. Chaucer provides hints of augury.
     To begin with, the Priest declares he must always be merry or he will be blamed. A happy outcome is always desired or the sacrificed bird will be the bearer of bad news! Then, during the story, Chaunticleer he is distressed, fearful. And what does Pertelote, his wife, recommend for her rooster husband? Take a laxative! That will improve the condition of his entrails which, in turn, will brighten the future.
     (That's enough for here. But, if you want more details of how Chaucer wove extensive pagan elements into this trinity, see Chaucer's Pilgrims, pages 278-299.)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Thanks for the memories

The big Chaucer weekend is a lovely memory now. Hope some of you were able to attend the festivities.
     Triple digit temps left just in time. We had a few cool days for baking the poundcakes for the Chaucer celebration at the Claremont Library. The oven needs to be on for several hours to make enough poundcakes, so you don't want to start out on a day that's expected to get to the 90s.
     The cakes are sliced, plastic wrapped and handed out to Chaucer fans all afternoon. Many folks come back each year especially looking for the poundcake. It's become a tradition!
     Some folks ask "Why Chaucer and poundcake?" as if there is a mystical or historic connection. My answer may disillusion them, but it's simple: they are easy to make and easy to serve.

A few days before the celebration, I was pleasantly surprised by an invitation to do a radio interview about--what else?--Chaucer. Matthew Arnold is the interviewer. At the end of the program, he even put in a plug for the Saturday events.
     The show is now in the archives of the station. Just click on the link below and then October 21--


The music at the Mass was splendid. It got nothing but rave notices and complimentary remarks afterward. The Latin and medieval instruments transported us to the 14th century. Along with the perfect weather of the day, it's all treasured memories now.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chaucer comes first!

After dealing, last time, with the peacock disguised as a  Canterbury Pilgrim, I thought I'd tell you about another bird who parades incognito. But an email from a friend made me put that off. Our big event of the year is almost here. I'd better tell you about that so you can make your plans to participate.
     Every year--since 2000, the 600th anniversary--the Chaucer lovers here in Claremont, CA celebrate out favorite poet. We'll start this year at the front door of the city library at 2nd and Harvard. I'll be there from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. with slices of homemade poundcake and prizes and books and such.
     The second part of the event is quite splendid and has been in rehearsal for several weeks. You'll know how special it is if I just copy the announcement my friend forwarded. It's from a local Recorder Society Newsletter:

Saturday, October 25, 5:30 pm
Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Claremont presents: Annual Mass for Chaucer
Musica Ficta will provide music of Chaucer's time before, during and after the Mass. We will be playing Josquin's "Ave Maria -- virgo serena" as a prelude at 5:25. Music for the Mass includes a "Gloria" from the Old Hall Manuscript (1415 -- 1421), the ever popular "Deo Gracias, Anglia," Abelard's "O Quanta Qualia," selections from the Spanish Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, and "Angelus ad Virginem" (which is mentioned in the "Canterbury Tales.") Instruments include Praetorius style recorders, two sizes of psalteries, krumhorn, and percussion. We accompany the singing for the Mass, as well as playing instrumental pieces before, during and after.
Free Will Offering
Our Lady of the Assumption Church   435 N. Berkeley Ave, Claremont, CA
Phone: 909-626-3596

If you need it,  the zip is 91711. Come if you can. You'll enjoy it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Unexpected ideas--including a bird!

The afternoon at Rowland Heights Library was unforgettable. It goes to prove that we need to ask questions about what Chaucer is doing. His works are not stiff, not dead, not completely understood. Questions add life, interest and new paths to investigate. Three gray-haired Chaucer lovers--Helen and Linda and Tom--demonstrated just how exciting it can get.

I generally start my presentation by promoting Middle English. As an ice-breaker, I  pass out little pink papers with a medieval version of the story of the three pigs. When I asked for a volunteer to read it, Linda said she'd try. You have to have a little courage, a little self-confidence to read Middle English in public, but it's not impossible--Three litel pigges eche hadde a hous--oon was straw, a-nothir was woode, the thridde brikkes.--See what I mean?
     After Linda's fine delivery, we moved on to the "game" I created that shows how Chaucer presents dual descriptions: the Canterbury travelers are really an organized group but each is disguised as a pilgrim. Really? Yes, really.
     Helen came to hear what I had to say about Chaucer because she had enjoyed reading his tales in high school many years ago. It astonished her when she correctly identified the hidden, the concealed, figure of one of the pilgrims. When the game had run its course she said, "I came today because I like Chaucer, but I was not prepared for this whole new world you've opened up!"
     That pleased me, as you can imagine. To make readers aware of the unacknowledged genius of Chaucer is my aim. His creativity goes far beyond that of a mere storyteller.
     Linda added that her class in Chaucer's Tales talked about the possibility of the Pilgrims being identified as Christ's Apostles. There are many ways to see the plan of the Tales. With biblical figures in mind, a brief perusal of a Chaucer concordance finds mention of Adam and Eve in Paradise, Noah and the flood, Joseph, Mary, Herod, Caesar, Magdalene, Satan, hell, heaven and ever-present Judgment. Of course, a "brief perusal" is only a place to start. With enough thought and research, a Bible message might be revealed in the Tales. That's especially true because the best storytellers in Chaucer's day were expected to provide a hidden meaning--a challenge to be discovered.
     When our conversation turned to a religious topic, Tom spoke up. He said, "I've always wondered about the Knight, his son and their servant. That has all the makings of a Trinity." I added that I had had a similar thought.  [It's covered in detail in my Chaucer's Pilgrims, pp. 263-277.] Here's the gist of it.
     The servant--Yeoman--has one of the briefest introductions, a mere seventeen lines. The image is exceptionally colorful, and peacock feathers are an unexpected feature. His head is close-cropped, and his face is brown. He has a coat and hood of green and a green shoulder strap for his horn. He is  equipped with a sword and an elegant dagger as sharp as the point of a spear.
     Put the details together and see the neat, brilliant green head of a peacock with eyes and a beak of brown. The horn provides its raucous voice. Bird's talons were described by Pliny, centuries before Chaucer, as "weapons [that] grow upon their legs."
     Now, how to begin to explain why the Yeoman must be a peacock? We have before us a group of three figures: the father, the son and the peacock. It recalls for me an exasperated reply I once heard given by a theologian. In response to a question about the role of the Holy Spirit, he sputtered, "That damned bird!" The third person of the Trinity is not a bird. That's just a mental picture we are attached to. I see Chaucer replicating here that picture of the Trinity with pagan personifications. That's why a bird needs to be part of this group.
     One heretical opinion saw the Holy Spirit as "a mere creature, who differs only in degree from the angels." And, angels wings, in medieval illustrations, were made of peacock feathers. We can see Chaucer's portrayal in a pagan light as a poetic variation of the third person of the Trinity.
     The Yeoman tells no story. After he is introduced, he is never seen or heard from again. This fits because the Holy Spirit is often referred to as silent--going about His work in silence.
     So Rowland Heights gained the stimulation of new, unexpected ideas. That's what Chaucer deserves.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weather Alert!

The presentation I did at Rowland Heights Library was a day to remember! Unfortunately the temperature when we left the air-conditioned library was 106º. The next day it was 111º.  I'm sorry, but I lack energy when it gets that hot.
     When our triple-digit spell is over I plan to do a review of the Rowland Heights experience. Many things echoed the purpose of this blog--Chaucer Ain't Like Gospel. We can question what has been taught in the past. We can propose new and different ideas. That's just what Helen and Linda and Tom did. I'll be back soon to tell you all about it.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

An APP by any other name . . .

Please consider this a public service announcement. I have a granddaughter who is savvy about new internet technology. She recently sent a message to her friends and family which looks mighty important--even though I don't understand what it means. But I'm sure many of you will.

Here it is, word for word:

I have discovered the Overdrive Media Console app and my reading life will never be the same. I can check out library books onto my Kindle. Oh yeah!

Now doesn't that look important? Enjoy!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Y'all come!

I'm pleased to announce that I've been invited by the Rowland Heights Library to give a presentation. My subject? Chaucer! What else?

I'll tell you about the moment that changed my life forever. I mean exactly that. And we'll play a game that gives you the opportunity to experience that same amazing moment your self!

If you live near LA--or will be visiting in mid-September--the date and time are:
Saturday, September 13 at 2 p.m.

The address of the library is:
1850 Nogales St., Rowland Heights, CA 91748

My books and t-shirts will also be available.
Would love to see you there.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Now for something completely different!

I just past 20 years of attending the San Dimas writers' group. Their critiquing has been vital to the Chaucer books I've published. When I attended for the first time I wanted to make a good impression; I feared they'd find Chaucer too weird, too stuffy. (It turned out that I was wrong; they became fascinated.) Anyway, here is that initial offering--a "safe" piece of general interest about a personal experience.

One Thing Left to Do
Two dogs . . . long-time friends . . . sleeping cozily, legs intertwined. So what changed things? They both wanted to catch the 'possum in the yard that night. That must have been it--"It created an instinctive rivalry." So after that they never went out together at night--"One of them in the dog run and then the other. No possibility of a problem. That's the answer." So we thought.
     But the afternoon I was picking apricots in the yard, it happened. Both dogs had been sunning themselves in the run, and then . . . I couldn't believe my ears . . . a snapping bark, a long, low growl, some thrashing about and then a piercing shriek. It wasn't the night or the 'possum We didn't have the answer.
     I dropped the box of apricots and dashed for the back gate of the run, shouting "No! No!" a word our obedience-trained dogs understood. But the screeching and thrashing just became more agitated. I slammed the gate closed behind me.
     How could I save them from themselves? My mind raced. "Ted's not home. The neighbors aren't about to get involved with two Dobermans fighting. What can I do? . . . The hose!" I snatched up the hose that was lying on the ground and rushed into the cloud of dust they were kicking up. Their teeth were sunk into the side of each other's face. Blood was already oozing down their necks and onto their chests. I smacked their rumps with the hose. "Kukla, NO! Tabitha, NO!" Through their growling and screaming, they never heard me.
     One good thing, their rearing and tossing was moving them toward the gate near the house. "If I can get one into the yard and keep the other in the run that would be the end of it." I dropped the  hose and grabbed onto Kukla's collar, pulling this 70 pound dynamo closer to the gate each time her feet left the ground as Tabitha, the larger of the two, jerked her off balance. Finally I was close enough to undo the latch and open the chain link gate just far enough for one dog to pass through. How I did it, I don't know, but, still hanging onto Kukla I kneed Tabitha in the chest, forcing her backward through the opening.
     I pushed the gate closed as far as I could but the dogs' jaws never released their hold. I moved the gate little by little, trying not to add to their injuries. At last, the latch fell into place and I released Kukla's collar. But the barrier wasn't enough. Even though they were on either side of the gate now, their hold had never slacked. Through the gap between the gate and the post they still hung on. Froth and blood were running down the chain links. "Lord, what more can I do? . . . Water! Why did I think of it before?"
     With the water turned on high, I aimed the flow from the hose directly into their faces; there was no visible reaction. But I continued the water because it was my only hope. Then, after several minutes, they simply let go of each other. Tabitha, panting, lay down on her side on the walkway. Kukla sat and licked the gash in her thigh.
     I turned off the water, went into the kitchen, close the door and dropped onto the nearest chair. Not until then did I realize my heart was pounding. I sat there trembling, tears running down my face. But soon I was overwhelmed with thankfulness. It was over. Now there was only one thing left to do: decide which of my "friends," which of my dogs, must go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What an attractive number!

Several years ago my grandson Andy and Judy Hernandez' son Chris--both young men with talent and know-how--made a video of a talk I gave about what Chaucer has hidden in the Canterbury Tales. Later Bill, my webmaster, put the video on YouTube.

Now, I know that some hits come from robots. Nevertheless, the number it has reached is just so attractive that I think it's time to rejoice. Yesterday it broke 1000. It's now at 1013 as I write this.
Rejoice with me!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Let's look at Leo

In the entries called "Written in the Stars" (April 2012), I gave the cosmic clues for Leo. Now let's take a more detailed look. Chaucer's allegory provides a variety of information beneath the surface image of the Monk, that is, Leo.
     Chaucer's depiction of a lion as a man participates in the witticism among manuscript illustrators of the Middle Ages. Various animal could be seen walking erect in grand procession while wearing liturgical vestment. 

These examples are not perfect, but they are the best I found online.
     Lions, well known from early times, were admired for fierceness and bravery. The Monk is portrayed as no poor cloisterer or novice, but masterful of muscles and bones. The Host questions why the Monk's cope is so wide, which draws attention to the lion's splendid mane. Then, an odd remark about the elegance of the Monk's skin sets the pattern. Isn't his attractive skin what we notice first about a lion? A succession of body parts are admired: sleeves "trimmed" with the finest fur; boots that are supple; his head smooth, bright and shining.
     Called a "prikasour," he is someone who pierces, punctures. When the Host is at a loss as to how to address the Monk, he settles on "daun Piers" as the Monk's name--a play on pierce.
     Recalling that a pilgrim's mode of transport (horse) discloses facts about the pilgrim himself, the Monk's horse is appropriately brown as a berry.
     Twice his voice is said to be loud as a church bell. Such intensity of sound compares to the mighty roar of a lion.
     The Monk's eyes are "stepe," that's elevated or wide-open: "elevated" in the constellation; "wide-open" as an allusion to the medieval belief that a lion never closed its eyes, not even to sleep. When we are told that his eyes glow--hardly a human trait--it indicates the star Algieba.
     It's no surprise that the Monk is a master at hunting. His celestial dogs, generally associated with Orion, are "as swift as fowl in flight." For all his expertise, he aims not for big game, but for lowly hares--the constellation Lepus. Swan, his favorite roast, is Cygnus.
     Leo's figure has three prominent stars. The curious gold pin below the Monk's chin denotes brilliant Regulus, often called "the Lion's Heart." Next is the "love-knot in the greater end." What is a Monk's greater end? There is no confusion in the constellation; Denebola (Arabic, "the Lion's Tail) marks the end of Leo's tail. A third star, Algieba, above Regulus, is called "Brow of the Lion."
     Leo had strong astrological significance. Fierceness of the lion caused the unrelenting heat of midsummer. Ancient astrologer Manilius claimed the sign was "a predator" intending unmitigated disaster. The individual stars have their own influences. Regulus, according to early English astrologers, brought glory, riches and power to those born under the sign. Note that there is no promise of happiness. Denebola held portents of misfortune and disgrace. And medieval doctors, who were guided by the stars, blamed Leo if potentially curative baths and properly prescribed medicines resulted in a relapse rather that a cure!
     The mythical explanation of the celestial lion says that Hercules, in the first of his twelve tasks, kills a lion with his bare hands. In commemoration, the lion became a zodiac sign. Later biblical conversions identified Leo as the Lion of Judah, or one of the lions that did no harm to Daniel while he was in the lion's den.
     Chaucer uses several of the preceding identities in the Tale the Monk/Leo tells. These are stories of the lives (and deaths) of prominent figures demonstrating the power and riches of those born in Leo--and the misfortune and distress. His seventeen little stories each reveal how the featured person falls into unspeakable misery. There is no relief to the misfortunes--being crushed, poisoned, starved to death or hanged, along with assorted suicides and murders.
     We've saved the most spectacular celestial feature for last. In mid-November, there is a meteor shower, the Leonids, that issues from the constellation. Records of the Leonids go back almost to the birth of Christ. At the peak of a thirty-year cycle (Nov. 12, 1833), hundreds of thousands of shooting stars were observed in one night. In 1966, Arizona saw another peak display when over 100,000 meteors per hour were seen.
     And how are the Leonids portrayed by Chaucer? He translates this visual phenomenon to an audible one. The Monk rode "in a whistling wind" (to indicate November) and, "men might hear his bridle jingling." The poet refers a second time to the splendid show as the "clinking of your bells, / That on your bridle hang on every side."
      Such a rich portrait and how entertaining! Chaucer delights in drawing from many possible aspects.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Have you hiked the Grand Canyon?

An email from a friend who wants to hike the Canyon has momentarily distracted me from my yard sale preparations.

I lived in "Flag" (Flagstaff) for two years around 1960 in a house across the street from Arizona State College. (Now Northern Arizona University.) The college had a sightseeing caravan for newcomers to acquaint them with local attractions: the San Francisco Peaks, scenic backdrop of the town; Oak Creek Canyon, with walls of evergreens and a road that leads to the red rock formations at Sedona; and Wupatki Indian ruins. But the highlight was the Grand Canyon.
     The view is splendid, truly awesome. Its immensity is breathtaking, the stark beauty beyond description. I had an irresistible desire to know the Canyon.
     I took some courses at the college and became acquainted with Roma Butchart and her husband, Dr. Harvey Butchart, chairman of the math department. It was well known that Harvey spent a lot of time in the Canyon, but that meant little to me aside from its being his "hobby."
     Not until many years later did I learn that Harvey's "hobby" had made him the recognized authority on the Canyon. The Park Service asked him to write the book on the Canyon. His detailed journals were the basis. "Butchart methods" now aid novices as well as veteran hikers.
     When Roma heard that I would move to California at the end of the school year, she offered to hike the Canyon with me, but she had one stipulation: "We must go before the end of April." She had "done" the Canyon six times already. Those who know never go to the bottom from May to October. Why? Because the temperature at the river is the same as that of Phoenix!
     Saturday would be the day. We'd go down the steeper Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel, a gentler grade with covered rest stops and water fountains. The plan had to be reversed, however, because wild horses were being brought up Kaibab that morning. We descended Bright Angel, trekked along the muddy, swift flowing river, crossed the bridge that spans the river and headed for the Phantom Ranch. Roma figured a swim in the pool at the ranch would be refreshing before our ascent. Another change of plans. The pool had been drained for maintenance. So, after a short rest, we crossed the bridge again and headed for the Kaibab Trail.
     When we reached the rim, it was dark but the moon lighted the trail. Were we tired? Twenty miles in a day? Of course we were, but fatigue was a small payment for my treasured memories. What a simple means of gaining this rare experience--just agree on a date and go.

Now to my friend's email that inspire this reminscence. About a year ago, I read that the Canyon has become an international attraction drawing an unbelievable number of visitors. The Park Service had plans to review the matter. Here is my friend's message:

 I haven't hiked the G C yet....and I want to....but it's complicated!....you must have a reservation, and you must make it a year in advance...just a pipe dream at the moment.

I didn't realize how privileged I'd been. The world has changed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Have you ever moved?

I'm changing my lodgings. Exciting, right? Well, if you've ever moved you know excitement is only part of the deal. What also happens is facing the reality of your burden of stuff.
     True, I will have more room. But after a trip to my store room, I begin to wonder! As I start to take stock of all the stuff I've acquired, I'm shocked to realize how crammed my storage is with stuff. Where did all this come from?
     Where to begin? How will I judge what has value and what is a throw-away? There are things I've kept for ten or fifteen years but have never used. If I haven't used them for fifteen years, is there a  point in hanging on to them?
     Then there are the surprises--the "I didn't know I still had THAT" reaction. Boxes of supplies and instruction books for scrapbooking, for example. And here are the patterns and rolls of colorful jute I bought for the short-lived macramé craze. I can't see any future interest in either one of those crafts.
     Ah, yes. And here are the boxes that belong to Hazel who asked me to store them "just for NOW." She moved half way across the country. We keep in touch, but there is no hint of "please forward my stuff."
     And what's all this in the corner? Oh, yes, "generous" Linda knew I'd love to have several items she had to leave behind when she ran out of room in her rental truck. I admit I did want them at the time, but they sure slipped my mind. I never even got around to looking at them after stashing them in that corner.
     Ah, but a brilliant idea just came to me: Here is a great opportunity to pass on things to people for whom they'd be a perfect fit. The large linen table cloths I no longer need are just right for Regina, who often entertains. Here's a long-forgotten-but-still-valid gift certificate worth $15; fashionable Alice would enjoy using that. My fancy flower pots should go to Martha; my thumb is black, while Martha's provides a positive aura for plants to thrive.
     OK. That's a good start, I say as I pat myself on the back. That takes care of three items in my quest for perfect recipients. Now there are only--dozens more. This method is NOT the answer to getting rid of stuff. Uh-oh! I see the glimmer of a yard sale.   hmmmmm   That's a separate project in itself. But it gets rid of a lot more stuff all at once.
     So, I'll get the go-ahead for the sale. I'll print up some flyers announcing the event and search out willing folks to lend a hand. And I figure if the proceeds go to the charity that received the money we made on those Franciscan dolls, that will add interest and maybe inspire a few more eager buyers. Do you live near Claremont, CA? Get in touch through the comments below. I'll send you an email with the particulars.
     If you're wondering why I haven't posted anything about Chaucer lately, all of the above is my explanation. Wish me luck. I'll be back when I'm re-settled.
     In the meantime check out my website    celebratechaucer.com
You'll find a link to my YouTube presentation. There are naughty and nice papers I've written and connections for the Chaucer books to download. It's worth a look.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Yeoman: Why so informative?

The challenge of allegory is to identify a second meaning--using the same words. So what will we find in the Canon's Yeoman?

His disclosure is crammed with things: chemicals, utensils, vegetable and animal products. Scholars compare these "poetic" lines to and inventory. The vocabulary is equally unfamiliar whether in Middle or Modern English. Here's a sample:
           As boole armonyak, verdegrees, boras,
          And sondry vessels maad of erthe and glas,
          Oure urynals and oure descensories,
          Violes, crosletz, and sublymatories,
          Cucurbites and alambikes [also],
          . . . 
         Arsenyk, sal armonyak, and brymstoon;
         And herbes koude I telle [also many a one],
         As egremoyne, valerian, and lunarie.
This goes on for 38 lines! Alchemy is the accepted subject, but many alternate definitions deal with pigment, book-binding, water-proofing, etc.
     Much of the vocabulary serves at cross purposes. The patron saint called upon is "Seint Gile." If not personified, the two words--seint gile--mean holy fraud. "Coles" that feed a fire alternately communicate glue or sizing in book construction. Time, introduced as the French temps, plays a complicated role sometimes merging with tempren (to mix). Mulling over the lines heavy with stuff that produces ink, pigment, fixatives and more, I saw the image of a book.
     Seeing this servant as a book, it's no wonder he has so much information to give and such great willingness to inform!
          . . . I tell each proportion
          Of things which we worked upon.
          . . . 
          I will tell you as I was taught.
     He provides early memories of a book being constructed, details of things necessary for the manufacture of paper, vellum and inks. When the presentation suddenly changes from a first person narration to a second person report (regarding a procedure gone awry), this tells of notations being made in the book.
     Though a canon is a clergyman, the Yeoman clearly states that the canon he is describing in NOT the Canon that was his original companion. "Canon" also refers to scientific volumes of codified information, principles of calculation, or records of celestial events. Chaucer's Astrolabe includes a "canon" that teaches how to compute information about the zodiac, the moon, and the planets.
     The Yeoman's laboring at, and lamenting over, multiplication implies the effort of recording tables as one of his "services." When the Yeoman complains of a false canon, this means faulty information, which causes errors in judgment or calculations. The fourteenth century gained new methods of calculating as Arabic numerals (replacing Roman numerals) came into standard use. Besides greater ease of computing, tables were more readily constructed and interpreted.
     The Host's first personal question of the Yeoman asks,
          Why art thou so discolored of thy face?
The Yeoman responds,
          I am so used in the fire to blow
          That it hath changed my color.
What can this mean in regard to a  book? A pocket-sized book of Chaucer's day that held information on a particular subject (and would be handy to fan a fire!) was a common personal possession, easily carried from place to place. Because it was so transportable, it was called a vade mecum ("go with me"). This is precisely the role given the Yeoman; he traveled with the Canon.
     A vade mecum would be used a great deal, which would cause deterioration of its binding and fading of the print--as if one's eyes were bleary as the Yeoman complains.
          And of my work yet bleared is mine eye.
     The original red pigment of the cover, with wear, would lose its vibrancy and pale to grey--as the Yeoman indicates,
          And where my color was both fresh and red
          Now is it wan and of a leaden hue.
     To minimize wear on this much-used book, it was provided with a protective sheath.
          Now may I wear an hose upon mine head.
The "hose" worn by the Yeoman is the poet's playful way of indicating that protective sheath for a vade mecum.
     Chaucer creates two very different double images in the Tales. One is the pair of pilgrim brothers as Gemini. The other is the Canon and his Yeoman as two variations of the term "canon"!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The comet comes and goes

So far we've only seen froth and clothing trailing behind Chaucer's Canon. Now a "male" is mentioned (a man or a pouch) on the "horse's" hind-quarters. It's a tweyfoold (twofold) indicating two parts.  (A "male" is also associated with the Parson and his brother as Gemini.) The Canon and his Yeoman (servant) are actually a double image. We'll pursue that as we get to know the two of them better.
     Action  begins as "a man" is seen trying to overtake the pilgrims. The narrator describes his streaming clothes, his light array, and his speed. He enters shouting.
          "God save," quote he, "this jolly company!
          Fast have I spurred," quote he, "for your sake,
          Because I would overtake you
          To ride in this merry company."
After this resounding greeting, his servant, who has arrived without notice, explains:
          . . . "Sirs, during the morning
          Out of your hostelry I saw you ride
          And informed my lord and sovereign here
          Who is very eager to ride with you
          For his amusement; he loves conversation."
     For all the Canon's desire to join the pilgrims and converse, there is no conversation. We learn about his lifestyle through questions the Host asks the servant, who appears eager to volunteer information.
     The Host asks,
          "Can he tell a merry tale or two, 
          With which he may glad this company?"
The servant replies,
          "Who sir? my lord? yes, yes, without a lie,
          . . . 
          If you knew him as well as I do
          You would wonder how well and craftily
          He could work and in how many ways.
          He has taken on many great enterprises."
Astrologically, the lines confide the power and influence of a comet.    
     The servant concludes a stream of disclosures with,
          "He is a man of high discretion
          I assure you, he is a passing man."
While "passing" usually intends great approval, the ambiguous sense here is movement passing high above.
     The Host inquires again:
          "Is he a cleric, or not? tell what he is."
The question asks what he is, rather than who he is. The talkative servant obliges.
          "Nay, he is greater than a cleric, for sure,"
          Said this Yeoman, "and in words few,
          Host, of his craft somewhat I will show you.
          . . . 
          That all this ground on which we are riding,
          Until we come to Canterbury town,
          He could clean turn it upside down
          And pave it all with silver and gold."
In the covert reading, of course, there is no ground beneath their feet; they are travelers in the firmament. Then a comet's glowing tail would naturally spread for miles.
     The Host becomes critical. How can the Canon's personality be as described?
          "Why is thy lord so slovenly, I pray thee.
          And he has the power better clothes to buy,
          If his deeds accord with thy speech?"
The penetrating query makes the servant hesitate.
          "Why?" said his Yeoman, "why do you ask me?
          God help me so, for he shall never thrive!
          (But I will not admit what I said,
          And therefore keep it secret, I pray you.)
      The Host persists.
          "Where do you dwell, if it can be told?"
Unable to resist informing, the servant replies:
          "Outside the walls of a town," said he,
          "Lurking in secret places and dark, hidden lanes
          Where robbers and thieves by their nature 
          Keep their private fearful residence,
          Like they that dare not show their faces;
          So we fare, if I say the truth."
Here Chaucer sketches where comets abide when unseen--where evil astrological forces reside.
     The Canon draws near and listens.
           And thus he said to his Yeoman:
          "Hold thou thy peace, and speak no words more,
          For if you do, you shall pay dearly for it.
          You slander me here in this company,
          And reveal what thou shouldst hide."
The Host encourages the servant:
          ". . . tell on, what happened.
          Don't be concerned over his threats."
     A one-line response follows:
          "In faith," said he, "I do no more that 'lyte.'"
If "he" is the  servant, then he is minimizing his disclosures:
          "In faith, I do no more that a little."
But if "lyte" is a play on light, "he" the Canon is claiming innocence of wrongdoing:
          "In faith, I do no more than light."
The Canon/comet protests that he is only an object of illumination.
     Now the Canon takes leave as suddenly as he came.
          And when this Canon saw it would not be,
          But that his Yeoman would tell his private matters,
          He fled away for sorrow and shame.
The poet creates an excuse for the Canon's departure. In allegory, once the Canon is identified as a comet, he must "leave as suddenly as he came." That's his role.    
     But wait, the informative servant has been left behind!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Chaucer saw Halley's Comet?

Chaucer did see Halley's Comet. It wasn't called Halley's then, but astronomers, calculating backward, noted details of appearances of a comet (Latin, cometa, long-haired star) at 70-75 year intervals since at least 240 BC. Many chronicles tell of multiple tails, or a tail that stretched 60 degrees across the sky, or a star whose light was greater than the brilliance of the moon. It is claimed that there is no mention of the 1378 apparition. But Chaucer may have left one.
     What do we know about comets? They appear, stay a while among the stars, then vanish. They have long tails and can be visible to the naked eye. In the Middle Ages they were believed to be portentous, usually disastrous. A chronicler in 1066 rants, "You've came, have you? . . .  you source of tears to many mothers, you evil. I hate you."
     Chaucer could have read about these intruders into the orderliness of the heavens. He surely saw one firsthand in 1378. The poet's Canon, sudden intruder on the Canterbury journey, has all the characteristics of a comet among the celestial pilgrims.
     The narrator draws attention to the meeting about to take place.
          Before we had ridden fully five miles, 
          At Boghtoun under Blee we began to be overtaken
          By a man clothed in black clothes,
          And underneath he had a white surplice.
          His hackney, that was all dappled grey,
          So sweat that it was a wonder to see.
The narrator is captivated by the amount of sweat produced by the advancing figure.
          About the breastplate the foam stood very high,
          He was all flecked with foam and looked like a magpie.
Froth is heaped on the harness and spatters the rest of the horse's body, looking like white splotches on an otherwise black bird.
          But it was a joy to see him sweat!
          His forehead dripped like part of a distillery
Perspiration creates an aura surrounding the rider--a very workable depiction of a comet.
     Besides the sweat, the Canon's "garments" become part of this trailing image.
          In my heart I began to wonder
          What he was, until I understood
          How his cloak was sewed to his hood;
          For which, when I had thought a while,
          I judged him to be some sort of canon.
A canon is a type of clergyman. (We'll have reason to expand on that later.) Wonderment ceases when it's understood how the cloak and hood were joined. That doesn't help understand "what he was," but it fits the comet game.
     A hat is added for good measure.
          His hat hung by a cord down his back.
The connection is tenuous. The narrator describes how it's possible for cloak, hood and hat to stay together in spite of the pace at which the Canon travels.
     Speed of a comet, compared to the movement of the rest of the heavens, is the topic when,
          It seemed he had pricked (spurred), for three miles.
He's prodding his mount to close the gap between the pilgrims and himself. Chaucer's "it seemed" indicates "but not really." The distance is an imaginative approximation.
          For he had ridden at more than a trot or pace;
          He had spurred (sped), as if he were a madman.
     The Canon/comet will be in their presence for a little over 100 lines. Then, as expected, he "fled away" and was gone forever.
     So far, we've seen the insubstantial train of the comet and its speed. Visibility is also part of its spectacle. Here, using word-play with "lite," which means both light and little, the game continues.
          It seemed he carried "lite" array  (little clothing).
          All light for the summer rode this worthy man.
He carried little clothing is the usual reading. But, as our comet, the words tell of his luminous quality as well, his lighted participation among the arranged figures in the night sky.
     It's curious that the Canon is prepared for summer if the pilgrims had set out one April morning. The words "lite array" for the "somer," that is, "Light for all of the summer," provide a reasonable time span for a comet's visibility.
     When the Host comments on the tattered condition of the clergyman's clothing the term lite is used once again. And, for the last time, lite accompanies the circumstances of his departure.
     When the narrator first notes the Canon's approach, a brief mention is made of a male (in Middle English, either a male human being or a bag, pouch) on the hind-quarters of the "horse." We'll take that up next time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chaucer books to download!

It's been a long time in the works, but it's finally complete. My three Chaucer books are available to download--just to read or to keep. The link is on my homepage:     http://celebratechaucer.com/
Just follow the New Download prompts and enjoy.

Friday, April 4, 2014

These are Franciscans

. . . and so am I.  Making dolls (or quilts) is something I do when I'm not writing about Chaucer. Thought you'd like to see the latest batch.
     Their clothing is made from remnants of the fabric of an actual Conventual Franciscan friar's habit made by a friend of mine. They are about 16 inches tall and will be auctioned for charity.

Friday, March 21, 2014

What's it all about, Geoffrey?

If you have been reading this blog, you know that a moment of amazing insight changed my life. I suddenly understood that Chaucer's pilgrims had a double identity in an allegory. They were all celestial figures disguised as pilgrims. I wanted to tell the whole world. I still do.
     But why did Chaucer include himself as one of them? It took a while for me to understand his plan.
     First, guided by the clues in his words, I needed to discover all the zodiac signs and the planets that were his companions. When I'd found all of them--there was one pilgrim left over! The Clerk. He tells a story of more that 1000 lines. But his presence seemed unnecessary. Trusting Chaucer's words, however, told me who the "extra" is, and gave me the reason for Chaucer to accompany the group as observer and commentator.
     The Clerk turned out to be Petrarch, Italian poet and letter writer. More important, he is "the first humanist" and renowned for his love of studying, solitude, classic literature and books. The loss of friends and loved ones to the plague gave him a deep sense of how fragile life can be.
     His hidden identity is that of a deceased human being.
          A Clerk there was of Oxford also, 
          That according to logic had long gone.
Associating the Clerk with Oxford expresses the presence of the "long gone" Petrarch's ideas, which rapidly spread throughout Europe.
          And he was not very fat, I declare.     
          But looked hollow, and thereto solemn.
A hollow and solemn image conjures up the medieval depiction of a cadaver: a skeleton. This is the deceased Petrarch.
          Completely threadbare was his outer garment;
          For he had got himself no ecclesiastical position, 
          Nor was he as worldly as to have other employment.
This "outer garment" is a threadbare shroud. His not being "worldly" indicates one who is no longer in this world. Chaucer goes on to itemize Petrarch's well-known qualities. He'd rather have
          Twenty books clad in black or red,
          Of Aristotle and his philosophy,
          Than rich robes, or fiddle, or gay psaltery.
"Aristotle" defines the period of literature Petrarch loved. Books were his passion compared to clothing or music-making.
          He had but little gold in his "cofre" (coffer/coffin).
The Middle English word "cofre" conceals an ambiguity: no concern about riches in his coffer; and he had no need for gold in his coffin.
          But all that he might of his friends receive,
          On books and on learning he spent.
     Petrarch accepted invitations from nobility only if they didn't interfere with his studies. "Study," he said, "provides us with the fellowship of [the] most illustrious men."
          Not one word spoke he more than was needed.
His habit was often to "remain silent" while others around him conversed.
     The very last line in the Clerk's portrait is one of Chaucer's oft quoted gems.
          Resounding in moral virtue was his speech
          And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
There is a reverence here for Petrarch. Some believe he and Chaucer met in Padua.
     As a teacher, Petrarch's "Humanists' creed" shocked the tradition-bound Middle Ages taught to dwell upon death and prepare for the blessings of the hereafter. His words, "Among mortals, the care of things mortal should come first," encouraged the development of the whole person and each person's uniqueness.  
     The Clerk states in his prologue,
          I will tell a tale that I
          Learned at Padua from a worthy clerk.
He even confirms the "worthy clerk" as Petrarch. References in the third person refer to his former earthly life.

The Clerk is not an afterthought. He arrived at the Tabard at sunset as one of the company of journeyers. By including Petrarch among the otherworldly characters, Chaucer is transforming him from an earthly body into a celestial body. It's called stellifying.
     A mythological example describes Venus' action following Caesar's murder. She caught up the passing soul of Caesar and bore it toward the stars of heaven. Higher than the moon it mounted and gleamed as a star. In the same way, Chaucer's contemporaries immortalized King Arthur's ascension to the star Arcturus, "the bright castle which Astronomers call Arthur's Constellation." Chaucer bestows the same honor upon Petrarch!
     In the House of Fame, Chaucer wonders whether "Jove will me stellify." This poetic commonplace for a journey to the afterlife, then, is the underpinning, the basic structure of the Canterbury Tales. Traveling with companions whose covert identities are cosmic figures represents the creative fulfillment of the poet's clearly expressed longing for a heavenly destiny as recorded in his Retraction, the prayer of supplication that ends Chaucer's Tales.
     The cosmic plan of the tales is the poet's ardent desire to become "one of them," one of the lights of the firmament.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pardoner: Getting to know all about him

We've heard a description of the Pardoner from the General Prologue in the previous entry. What follows now is the picture the Pardoner paints of himself in the prologue to his Tale.
     Regarding his preaching, he says,
          My theme is alwey oon [one], and ever was
          . . . and that is avarice.
And to stir listeners to devotion, I show forth my . . . relics.
     As he displays the shoulder bone of an animal, he exhorts:
          Pay attention to what I say:
          If this bone is immersed in your well water
          All your animals will be cured.
          Your beasts and your stores shall multiply.
Beyond those wonders, the water also overcomes jealousy!
          If soup is made with this water, 
          Never more shall a husband mistrust his wife.
     In another area of his talents, he assures,
          If anyone has committed a horrible sin,
          Or a wife has cuckolded her husband,
          I'll absolve them as I've done
          Year after year for 60 pounds.
     He has only one objective.
          All my preaching is to make them generous
          To give their money, namely unto me.
          For my intent is naught but to win,
          And nothing for correction of sin.
     But beware. Do not provoke his outrage.
          If anyone offends me or my friends,
          None will escape being falsely defamed.
          . . .
         Thus I spit out my venom under pretense
          Of holiness, to seem holy and truthful.
     His reputation is built on his old stories because he knows
          Simple people love old tales
          Which they can retell and remember. 
     Asceticism has no appeal for him. He'll not live like "the apostles."
           I will have money, wool, cheese, and wheat,
          No matter if it were given by the poorest servant,
          Or the poorest widow in a village,
          Even if her children die of hunger.
     Though at times he will present an edifying story, it is always with the idea of profiting.
         For though myself be a full vicious man,
          A moral tale yet I can tell you
          Which I am wont to preach for gain. 
He directly recommends to all,
          It is an honor to everyone that is here
          That ye have a pardoner
          To absolve you, as you ride,
          In case someone falls 
          Down from his horse,
          And breaks his neck.
The worthy Pardoner will absolve you
          When the soul shall from the body pass.
      After all his expressions of depravity, it comes as a surprise when the Pardoner--in a moment of candor--admits he still believes Christ is the Savior.
          And Jesus Christ, that is our souls physician,
          So grant you his pardon to receive,
          For that is best; I will not deceive you.
     As an evil man, we detest him. But, as Pisces, the Sign of the Fish, a personification of the Church, his actions are covert accusations against the life of the Church!
     lack of concern for souls
     and Mariolatry
Chaucer has created a many-faceted portrait that recognizes and anticipates the protests that led to the Reformation.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Pardoner: Getting to know him

Chaucer cleverly depicts the Pardoner/Pisces as the image of a fish. Then he has a bit of fun with the two images combined as he transitions to the characteristics of a man. Following that, he provides a brief identification of the actual sign.
     Here he is still concentrating on the area of the "hair."
          A hood, for jollity, wore he none.
He wears no hood. That's clear. But what can we make of,
          Disheveled, save his cap, he rode all bare.
The line is generally explained to say he was bareheaded--except for his cap. But as a fish, of course, he rides all bare! (Disheveled, in this case, means unbound hair rather than unkempt. We had previously learned his appearance is neat and orderly.)
     Identifying the sign of Pisces echoes Manilius, an ancient astronomer: One half of Pisces concludes winter, the other introduces spring. How does Chaucer express this?
          Of his craft, from Berwick into Ware,
          Never was there such another pardoner.
The Pardoner/Pisces is one of a kind, but so is each of the signs. Scrutinizing the names of the specific towns as words, the most meaningful is "Ware." It means spring. For example, In ware tyme he sews his whete. If "Ware" is spring, "Berwick" must communicate winter. "Ber" as an alternate spelling of bare (without vegetation) combined with "wick" (Hardwick, Brunswick) as a land area says "a region that is bare." Transforming the bare land of winter into the new life of spring is, indeed, the province of Pisces.
     Once the identification is done with, the poet launches into a  character study. In his traveling bag, the Pardoner claims to have Our Lady's veil, a portion of the sail from St. Peter's boat, and a glass filled with pig's bones; he declares all are holy relics. He uses these items to make fools of people. He flatters and tricks poor people and other clergymen. In doing so, he succeeds in taking in more money in a day than devoted preachers do in two months.
     His performance in church, nevertheless, is outwardly exemplary. He preaches and sings expertly. His motivation, however, is greed. With a better performance, the "more silver he'd win."
     This portrait is part of the undercurrent of protests in the Tales. The reason given for his expert performance, for example, conceals the exaggerated medieval devotion to Mary.
          Therefore he sang merrier and loud. 
Even more powerful is the line that follows the attention to  his sleek surface.
          I trust he were a gelding or a mare.
Because of his utter lack of beard, he is said to be impotent. To deny the power of the pardon of the "sign of the fish"--Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven--is heresy!
     The final member of Chaucer's clique is the Pardoner. The closing prayer of the Tales expresses the poet's need of forgiveness for his sins. So the concerns demonstrated in the group are Money/ the Manciple, the Devil/ the Miller, Judgment/ the Reeve, Death/ the Summoner, and the Sign of the Fish--the Church/ the Pardoner.
     This General Prologue presentation does not end Chaucer's exposure of this pilgrim. These disclosures may repel us, but when the Pardoner speaks for himself, as he does in the prologue to his Tale, he becomes even more hateful. Chaucer want us to know him well.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Pardoner and point of view

We'll get to the Pardoner in a bit, but first let's revisit the purpose of this blog. The name "Chaucer ain't like gospel!" tells you that it's OK to question the opinions of other scholars. As additional information comes to light, or circumstances change, or someone offers a different point of view, we should be comfortable in examining new ideas, not holding on to previous opinions as if they are unalterable.
     In the previous entry, for example, notes generally explain the name Rouncivale to be that of a  hospital in the London area. But if Chaucer sets up the role of this pilgrim--the Pardoner--as having come "straight from the court of Rome," isn't this a rather prestigious introduction? Would he come straight from Rome just to visit a local hospital? The name of the 14th-century hospital, of course, held an allusion to the event in the Song of Roland that celebrated the collaboration of pardon and death. It's high time to acknowledge that potent covert intention connecting the Pardoner with the Summoner.
     In addition, earlier blog entries about the Host detailed his alternate identity as Christ, the guide of pilgrims. (See 2012-2013) Chaucer, a man of courage and faith, risked his life to inform his audience about matters of consequence he had experienced. Let's give this creative genius his due.

Now let's get to know the Pardoner. As I sorted out who was who among celestial images of the pilgrims, the one male figure left had to be Pisces. The test, then, is does "the sign of the fish" fit Chaucer's description? Close association with Aquarius, the adjoining zodiac sign, is a good start. They both lie in a region of the sky often called the Sea because of its many water-related star groups.
     Significantly, the poet devotes five lines just to describe the Pardoner's hair. It becomes his dominant feature.
          This Pardoner had hair as yellow as wax,
          And smooth it hung as does a bunch of flax;
          By "ounces" hung his locks that he had,
          And therewith his shoulders were overspread;
          But thin it lay, by "colpons" one and one [or on and on].
We learn nothing of other body parts--no hands, no legs, etc. (Physical properties that don't approximate the body of a man are avoided.) His wax-like yellow "hair" spreads very smoothly over his shoulders and appears remarkably "thin." It hangs "by ounces" (in very small quantities)), by "colpons" (pieces or slices). What an imaginative analogy for the scales of a fish! The "one and one" (or "on and on") gives a distinct impression of the continuing, orderly pattern of the surface of a fish. "Hair" spreading out over the shoulders gives the proper fish contour with no mention of a neck.
     To the color and orderliness, Chaucer adds another visual characteristic.
          No beard had he, nor ever should have;
          As smooth it was as if it were lately shaved. 
As a fish, absence of a beard is a foregone conclusion. The poet, however, emphasizes ultrasmooth sleekness.
     Along with the bright color, orderly surface arrangement, and exceptional smoothness, there is one last physical detail. As fishes go, an outstanding feature would he his "fish eyes." That's precisely what we get--sort of.
          Such glaring eyes had he as does a hare.
How grotesque! Our vision is binocular, but the eyes of hares--and fish--look to the sides. Several lines interrupt depicting the sleek surface and describing these eyes. This keeps the covert image from becoming obvious.
     Next time we'll take up the Pardoner's personality and his professional practices.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Summoner/Pardoner: death and pardon

The Summoner and Pardoner are said to be companions but we will come to see them as collaborators.
          With him (the Summoner) ther rood a gentil Pardoner
          Of Rouncivale, his freend and his compeer.
The camaraderie acted out between the Summoner (Aquarius/Death) and this Pardoner, has no comparable elaboration anywhere else in the General Prologue. Where the rest of the group is concerned, a friend of one of the travelers is merely said to be "in the company" of the other. In cases of pilgrims who are blood relatives--brothers, father and son--the poet only says "with him" was his son or his brother. The Summoner/Pardoner alliance is unique. The first six lines of what we would expect to be exclusively the Pardoner's introduction are taken up, instead, with details of the interaction between there two characters.
          With (the Summoner) there rode a noble Pardoner
          Of Roncevalles, his friend and his intimate companion,
          That had come straight from the court of Rome.
          Full loud he sang "Come hither, love, to me!"
          The summoner bore him a stiff burden;
          Was never a trumpet half so great a sound.
A direct clue to the source of their closeness is the Pardoner's connection to Rouncivale (modern Roncesvalle, in northern Spain). Importance of the city's name goes back centuries to Charles the Great, Charlemagne, and to the battle memorialized in the Song of Roland. Chaucer refers to it in the Book of the Duchess.
     Written about the year 1100, Roland's epic is filled with crusading, although the action spoken of takes place in the 700s, predating the Crusades by centuries. Roland and the rear guard for Charlemagne were caught in an ambush. The hero's words, "We may be martyred" is terminology used in stories of saints who gave their lives for their faith. Archbishop Turpin, who is among the rear guard, encouraged the knights who were about to do battle against the "pagans":
          "Charles has left us here, lord barons.
          He is the king. It is our duty
          To die for him and Christianity.
          It's battle now for all you men;
          There they are, the Saracens!
          Confess your sins, and God's forgiveness
          Will be ensured for those I bless.
          If you die, you will be as martyrs, 
          High in Paradise hereafter."
Pardon is granted because of the circumstances of their death; they were designated as martyrs, pardoned of all sins, and destined for an immediate place in heaven. Roland's Song is a record of Pardon and Death collaborating at Rouncivale.
     This form of general absolution was also granted to the actual Crusades. Pope Eugene III (in 1145) declared, "Those who devoutly undertake and accomplish [a crusade], or who die by the way, shall obtain absolution for all their sins . . . and receive (from God) the reward of eternal life." It is a promise that a soul will forego the cleansing of purgatory, as well as be released from the threats of hell. Chaucer knew of the close ties between death and pardon. Crusades, and plans for crusade, though lesser efforts, were made while he lived.
     Now let's return to the two Canterbury pilgrims and Rouncivale. They perform a song together. The Summoner's voice, said to be more powerful than a trumpet blast, evokes heavenly trumpets proclaiming Judgment. It also serves as an allusion to Roland's trumpet call, a signal mystically heard miles away by Charlemagne.
     Their duet says more than the words admit on first reading. The Summoner, with his great voice, is carrying a "stif burdoun." Musically that is a strong bass vocal line. At a deeper level there is a grim vision--the carrying of a rigid corpse, the daily mission of this Summoner/Death. The lyric "Come hither, love, to me," when delivered in unison by Pardon and Death, gives rise to foreboding. The significance of the medieval religious perspective may be difficult to assimilate today. However, the  words "Come hither, love, to me" covertly convey "Become a Christian or die." The Song of Roland expresses this very sentiment, especially in the baptismal scene. It recounts the guiding principle of Charlemagne and his forces in avenging the fallen French martyrs. A throng of defeated Saracens are gathered together. Then, a simple ceremony of "conversion" begins.
          The bishops speak their holy words
          Over the water, and they lead
          The pagans to the baptistry:
          Any who opposes Charles's will
          Is hung or burnt or otherwise killed. 
          A hundred thousand are baptised.
If the "come hither" invitation is refused, there is only one alternative.
     A closer look at the Pardoner next time.