Prologue to the Canterbury Tales / Geoffrey Chaucer

So how have I lived my life since 1999 and not known that March 21 (the day after my anniversary) is World Poetry Day as declared by the UN / UNESCO?!?

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
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 cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages):
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke…
—Geoffrey Chaucer, from The Canterbury Tales

When the sweet showers of April follow March,
Piercing its drought down to the roots that parch,
Bathing each vein in such a flow of power
That a new strength’s engendered in the flower—
When, with a gentle warmth, the west-wind’s breath
Awakes in every wood and barren heath
The tender foliage, when the vernal sun
Has half his course within the Ram to run—
When the small birds are making melodies,
Sleeping all night (they say) with open eyes
(For Nature so within their bosom rages)—
Then people long to go on pilgrimages,
And palmers wander to the strangest strands
For famous shrines, however far the lands.
Especially from every shire’s end
Of England’s length to Canterbury they wend
Seeking the martyr, holiest and blest
Who helped them, healed their ills, and gave them rest….
—translated by Louis Untermeyer, as included in Collins Albatross Book of Verse, (1960)














(Untermeyer was himself a poet, you might have noticed.)

Since it’s spring, even though it’s not yet April, I thought I’d offer up something thematic, musical, and technically English. You can listen to the music of it here:


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