Monday, November 26, 2012

Goeffrey Chaucer, genius

He was born in 1343 and died in 1400 -- over 600 years ago.  He was a customs official, a member of the middle class, a family man, a genius who wrote his various works, especially the Canterbury Tales, over a period of time, in an age when the majority could not read and books were rare.  He had traveled as far as Italy and he had read widely of what was available.  Like all literary geniuses, he understood his times and the people in them, be they upper middle class, like himself, or poor plowmen, members of the clergy or knights and squires, young lovers or high born.

My classes in the Canterbury Tales were interrupted by the storms early in November so we have double classes on Mondays, almost a total immersion in the 14th century and its language, people and the fascinating literary genius that is Chaucer.  I'm enjoying it greatly.  I read a poignant line he had written at the end of Troilus and Cressida, "go litle bok, go..." I had no idea I could feel so close to someone from such a long time ago, a different culture, a life I can barely imagine in its every day detail. But I understand the feeling of a writer, unsure of his skill, unsure of his audience, wondering if he has wasted hours and hours of his life making marks on a page.  I wrote a little poem that is a wee drop  of water in the great lake of creativity that was Chaucer's output.

 “Go, litel bok, go” wrote Goeffrey C.
upon finishing Troilus and Cressida.
A story writer, like me,
a teller of tales hoping, like me,
for an audience,
for a reputation,
another scribbling
ordinary Joe – or Jeff or June.

Yes, it was long ago,
yes, his words sound grand
and, to our modern ears, strange.
But he spoke and wrote our language.
If we read aloud our ears will hear
words our unaccustomed eyes confound.
No, friend, I didn’t read your poetic romance
but I know the voices of ordinary pilgrims
chatting “that Aprille with hits shoures soote”
much like people I know,
learned or illiterate,
born high or low, bawdy or brash.

Times have changed and books are many.
Writers today who say,  “Go, little book, go,”
are telling their beloved brainchild
“Play in the street, cross the freeway.”
Most are doomed as a tortoise or groundhog,
to become a bloody smear, unnoticed,
never valued, certainly not remembered.

“Go, litel bok, go.”
I feel your hopes and dreams,
uncertain poet.  Aren’t we all?
Oh, happy Goeffrey,
600 years later still read.
I can't hope to imitate you.
But if my little book were read
by even a few,
I’d call it a grand success;
and be well content.

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