(Poem #327) The Knight's Portrait
A knyght ther was, and that a worthy man, That fro the tyme that he first bigan To riden out, he loved chivalrie, Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisie. Ful worthy was he in his lordes werre, And therto hadde he riden, no man ferre, As wel in cristendom as in hethenesse, And evere honoured for his worthynesse. At alisaundre he was whan it was wonne. Ful ofte tyme he hadde the bord bigonne Aboven alle nacions in pruce; In lettow hadde he reysed and in ruce, No cristen man so ofte of his degree. In gernade at the seege eek hadde he be Of algezir, and riden in belmarye. At lyeys was he and at satalye, Whan they were wonne; and in the grete see At many a noble armee hadde he be. At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene, And foughten for oure feith at tramyssene In lystes thries, and ay slayn his foo. This ilke worthy knyght hadde been also Somtyme with the lord of palatye Agayn another hethen in turkye. And everemoore he hadde a sovereyn prys; And though that he were worthy, he was wys, And of his port as meeke as is a mayde. He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde In al his lyf unto no maner wight. He was a verray, parfit gentil knyght. But, for to tellen yow of his array, His hors were goode, but he was nat gay. Of fustian he wered a gypon Al bismotered with his habergeon, For he was late ycome from his viage, And wente for to doon his pilgrymage.
(From the Canterbury Tales, pub. 1387-1394) There's a Modern English translation at [broken link] http://www.litrix.com/canterby/cante001.htm#1 While the Middle English is somewhat hard on its own, it's perfectly comprehensible when read side by side with the translation, and indeed has a charm only enhanced by its unfamiliarity. Chaucer needs little introduction... the outstanding English poet before Shakespeare and "the first finder of our language." His 'The Canterbury Tales' ranks as one of the greatest poetic works in English. -- EB Though a run through his life and times makes interesting reading: [broken link] http://icg.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/varia/life_of_Ch/ch-life.html#chronology [broken link] http://www.siue.edu/CHAUCER/14thcent.html Of course, no mention of Chaucer would be complete without a quick introduction to his most famous work, the Canterbury Tales ... By far Chaucer's most popular work, although he might have preferred to have been remembered by Troilus and Criseyde, the Canterbury Tales was unfinished at his death. No less than fifty-six surviving manuscripts contain, or once contained, the full text. More than twenty others contain some parts or an individual tale. The work begins with a General Prologue in which the narrator arrives at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, and meets other pilgrims there, whom he describes. In the second part of the General Prologue the inn-keeper proposes that each of the pilgrims tell stories along the road to Canterbury, two each on the way there, two more on the return journey, and that the best story earn the winner a free supper. Since there are some thirty pilgrims, this would have given a collection of well over a hundred tales, but in fact there are only twenty-four tales, and some of these are incomplete. Between tales, and at times even during a tale, the pilgrimage framework is introduced with some kind of exchange, often acrimonious, between pilgrims. In a number of cases, there is a longer Prologue before a tale begins, the Wife of Bath's Prologue and the Pardoner's Prologue being the most remarkable examples of this. -- [broken link] http://ccsun7.sogang.ac.kr/~anthony/Chaucer/index.htm Chaucer is justly considered the father of English poetry: In the first place, as he is the Father of English Poetry, so I hold him in the same Degree of Veneration as the Grecians held Homer, or the Romans Virgil: He is a perpetual Fountain of good Sense; learn'd in all Sciences; and, therefore speaks properly on all Subjects: As he knew what to say, so he knows also when to leave off; a Continence which is practis'd by few Writers, and scarcely by any of the Ancients, excepting Virgil and Horace. -- John Dryden The above is from a wonderful essay on Chaucer, in which Dryden also commented upon his verse: Chaucer's Meter Defective 'Tis true, I cannot go so far as he who publish'd the last Edition of him; for he would make us believe the Fault is in our Ears, and that there were really Ten Syllables in a Verse where we find but Nine: But this Opinion is not worth confuting; 'tis so gross and obvious an Errour, that common Sense (which is a Rule in everything but Matters of Faith and Revelation) must convince the Reader, that Equality of Numbers, in every Verse which we call Heroick, was either not known, or not always practis'd, in Chaucer's Age. It were an easie Matter to produce some thousands of his Verses, which are lame for want of half a Foot, and sometimes a whole one, and which no Pronunciation can make otherwise. We can only say, that he liv'd in the Infancy of our Poetry, and that nothing is brought to Perfection at the first. and defended his decision to translate it... You have here a Specimen of Chaucer's Language, which is so obsolete, that his Sense is scarce to be understood; and you have likewise more than one Example of his unequal Numbers, which were mention'd before. Yet many of his Verses consist of Ten Syllables, and the Words not much behind our present English: as for Example, these two Lines, in the Description of the Carpenter's Young Wife: Wincing she was, as is a jolly Colt, Long as a Mast, and upright as a Bolt. I have almost done with Chaucer, when I have answer'd some Objections relating to my present Work. I find some People are offended that I have turn'd these Tales into modern English; because they think them unworthy of my Pains, and look on Chaucer as a dry, old-fashioned Wit, not worth receiving. [...] Chaucer, I confess, is a rough Diamond, and must first be polish'd, e'er he shines. And delivers a wonderful tribute to his genius for characterisation... Here is God's Plenty He must have been a Man of a most wonderful comprehensive Nature, because, as it has been truly observ'd of him, he has taken into the Compass of his Canterbury Tales the various Manners and Humours (as we now call them) of the whole English Nation, in his Age. Not a single Character has escap'd him. All his Pilgrims are severally distinguished from each other; and not only in their Inclinations, but in their very Phisiognomies and Persons. Baptista Porta could not have describ'd their Natures better, than by the Marks which the Poet gives them. The Matter and Manner of their Tales, and of their Telling, are so suited to their different Educations, Humours, and Callings, that each of them would be improper in any other Mouth. Even the grave and serious Characters are distinguished by their several sorts of Gravity: Their Discourses are such as belong to their Age, their Calling, and their Breeding; such as are becoming of them, and of them only. Some of his Persons are Vicious, and some Vertuous; some are unlearn'd, or (as Chaucer calls them) Lewd, and some are Learn'd. Even the Ribaldry of the Low Characters is different: the Reeve, the Miller, and the Cook, are several Men, and are distinguished from each other, as much as the mincing Lady-Prioress, and the broad-speaking, gap-tooth'd wife of Bathe. -- John Dryden Read the whole essay at [broken link] http://icg.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/dryden/dry-intr.html Prosody: Chaucer's contribution to English prosody is undeniable. From syllable stress metre (the basis for nearly all of English poetry)... It has been shown that the metre of "Vertue" is determined by a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables arranged into feet and that a precise number of feet determines the measure of the line. Such verse is called syllable-stress verse (in some terminologies accentual-syllabic) and was the norm for English poetry from the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century. Syllable stress became more or less established in the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400). In the century that intervened between Chaucer and the early Tudor poets, syllable-stress metres were either ignored or misconstrued. By the end of the 16th century, however, the now-familiar iambic, trochaic, dactylic, and anapestic metres became the traditional prosody for English verse. through the ever popular heroic couplet... The preeminent English couplet is the heroic couplet, two rhyming lines of iambic pentameter with a caesura (pause), usually medial, in each line. Introduced by Chaucer in the 14th century, the heroic couplet was perfected by John Dryden and Alexander Pope in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. and, of course, iambic pentameter itself... Geoffrey Chaucer employed iambic pentameter in The Canterbury Tales as early as the 14th century, although without the regularity that is found later in the heroic couplets of John Dryden and Alexander Pope. and a rather surprising piece of etymological lore... doggerel: One of the earliest uses of the word is found in the 14th century in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer, who applied the term "rym doggerel" to his "Tale of Sir Thopas," a burlesque of the long-winded medieval romance. he has left his mark indelibly on the corpus of English poetry. (All quotes from the Britannica) And finally, here's a nice comprehensive Chaucer site (one of many, let me add) : http://www.luminarium.org/medlit/chaucer.htm m.