I have several favourite poems, but one stands out more than all the others.
Interestingly, however, it’s not exactly a poem.
If you had a chance to read my post on Tuesday , you know how much I value memorization of poetry. It had a profound effect on me, as I developed my love of poetry – and began my journey as a writer of poetry – only after reading the classic works of people like Shakespeare, Shelley, and Chaucer. It is the latter I am featuring today.
It was in 9th or 10th grade – I don’t recall exactly – that my British Lit teacher, Mrs. Jencks, gave us a memorization project. We were in the process of reading early- and middle-English verse literature (like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) when she told us we would need to memorize the first 18 lines of the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. We could choose either the original middle-English version or a contemporary translation, and each one of us would recite it before the entire class and have it recorded onto cassette tape so we could listen back to it.
Ah yes, the good ol’ days – when embarrassing students by making them perform in front of the class was a standard part of the curriculum.
Being an actor even then, I had no qualms about doing anything in front of the class, and since I always liked to take the road less travelled, I opted for the middle-English version; it was, after all, the way the writer had intended it to be read, and it had been written so beautifully I couldn’t bear to do the injustice of committing to memory a pale reproduction of the original. (Yes, I realize there are some beautiful translations out there – along with some less-than-impressive ones – but none can compare to Chaucer’s words)
So…getting back to Tuesday’s post…all this talk about memorization got me to thinking about the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I recited it to myself, wondering if I could still remember it. Sure enough, I did.
So I present to you this Poetry Friday, two firsts for my fledgling blog: the first poem I’ve featured that is not my own, and the first time I’ve posted audio. (A number of people have suggested I should record a poem; being a voiceover artist, I’m not sure what took me so long, but I thought it was a good idea!) The pronunciations are close but probably not perfect – but I’m basing this reading on a recitation I performed from somewhere in the mid-’80’s – so try, if you can, to cut me some slack. ;)
Hope you like it! And for the rest of the Poetry Friday posts from across the interweb, Amy at The Poem Farm has rounded them all up for you! Feel free to click the link below to play the audio and follow along with the text. The player shouldopen up in a new window, but if it doesn’t, just right click the link and select ‘Open in New Window.’ (And if you’re not sure of a particular word or phrase, click here for a modern-day translation!)
The Canterbury Tales: General Prologue
By Geoffrey Chaucer, 1340–1400
Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Caunterbury: