Medieval Literature Class

Whan that Aprill with his 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 sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(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 fram every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Canterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght was come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by aventure yfalle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we weren esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everichon
That I was of hir felaweshipe anon,
And made forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey ther as I yow devyse.

The Poem

Let us take the example of medieval literature to the left, and see what emerges when we apply the techniques of Practical Criticism to it.

Practical Criticism is designed, as has been said, to define the style of a work. However, this text is 600 years old, written in one dialect of a form of English called Middle English (comprising the many forms of English written between around 1100 and 1550). Before we can think seriously about style, then, we must be able to understand the prose sense of the passage. Many words have slightly changed their form and might look unfamiliar even though their sound will be close to their modern sound. Use the link below to listen to the poem being read aloud by Dr Chris Page. You may need to save the file to your hard drive if you have trouble listening to it in your web browser.

prologue.mp3 (1.5MB, 1 m 37 s, 128kbps, mono)

©James Simpson 2000