Monday, February 19, 2024

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is a 14th century poet best known as the author of Canterbury Tales ― a collection of twenty-four stories, voiced by characters on pilgrimage from London to visit the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. They were written mostly in verse, in a London dialect of late Middle English.

Some of Chaucer’s pilgrims (such as the Second Nun) are devout, some (the Pardoner) use religion for personal gain, and some (the Prioress) simply lack spiritual depth. He uses humour and irony, as his characters quote scripture in ways that often demonstrate their own failings. The author sometimes lets his readers decide, through subtle details like showy jewellery, about each pilgrim’s sincerity. The intent, I believe, is to encourage people to be authentic in their faith, and to caution them against the flaws in religious practice in Chaucer’s England.

Chaucer’s Retraction, here in translation, shows how he would like Canterbury Tales to be seen:
--------Now I pray to all who hear or read this little treatise,
--------that if there is anything in it that they like, they thank
--------our Lord Jesus Christ for it, from whom proceeds all wisdom
--------and goodness. And if there is anything that displeases them,
--------I pray also that they ascribe it to the fault of my ignorance
--------and not to my will, which would readily have spoken better
--------if I had the knowledge. For our book says, "All that is
--------written is written for our doctrine," and that is my intention.
--------Therefore I beseech you, for the mercy of God, that you pray
--------for me that Christ have mercy on me and forgive my sins,
--------especially my translations and compositions of worldly
--------vanities, which I revoke in my retractions…

The following translation by A.S. Kline is from The Knight’s Tale (Section 2/Lines 807-816) ― the first of the stories told ― and though the story itself comes from a pre-Christian world view, it is written so that it speaks of the sovereignty of God.

from The Knight’s Tale

Destiny, that Minister-General,
Who executes on earth, over all,
The Providence that God saw long before,
Has such power that though all men swore
The contrary of a thing by yea or nay,
Yet there will come to pass upon a day
What will not happen in a thousand years.
For certainly our appetites down here,
Be they for war, or peace, hate or love,
All are ruled by the vision that’s above.

Here is another section, from The Second Nun's Tale, (scroll down to the open tab) that I posted at Poems For Ephesians.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the author of five poetry collections including Angelicus (2021, Cascade) ― a book of poems written from the point-of-view of angels. His books are available through Wipf & Stock.