Monday, April 10, 2006

The Rite of Spring

When I was but a wee sophomore in high school, we had not only to read the Canterbury Tales, but to recite the first 20 lines of them as well, and in Middle English. Mr. Ashe was a rakish (dissipated not dashing), short and balding Irishman, who loved to tell us about how he had instructed young Van Morrison; the lad was no good a'tall. Ashe taught us Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Shakespeare, and even some heraldry. For this class we designed personal shields. He should have had a bend sinister emblazoned on his own for his ignominious tactics as a track coach. After recruiting me for the high jump and 1500, it was (I sucked at both), he gave a uniform a size too small. When I protested, he glibbed, "It looks great on you." Though a tall girl, and an able student, I was crippled with virginal shyness most of the time. Shame on you, dirty little Leprechaun.

Anyway, each year he would don his sneakers for that special time, known on our campus as "Chaucer Day." Class was cancelled for every sophomore, but if he could find and catch you before the last bell (well, truthfully we had no bells), a perfunctory recitation was due. If you failed by his measure, a yellow slip was sent home. If your oratory skills were polished, a similarly styled Bravo! slip was sent to your parents, all calligraphed and old-timey rhymey.

This is what we said (I can still recite it):

Whan that Aprille with his shoures sote
The Droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe course y-ronne,
And smale fowles 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 palmers for to seken straunge strondes -
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke. ...

- Geoffrey Chaucer, 14th c

(If ye be needing some translation, click on the post title.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gentle reader, please see my comment under "A Little Skit" above.

Apologies for the run around.

ex LA guy