Armèd complaint, alarm and fierce outrage.
The body in the bushe, with throte y- bled:
A thousand slayne, and none of sickness dead;
The tiraunt, with the prey bi force y-refte;
The toune distroyèd, there was no thing lefte.
Ther burnt the shippes daunsyng up and doun;
Ther dyed the hunter by the wilde lion:
The sowe eatyng the child right in the cradel;
The cook y-skalded, for al his longe ladel.
Nought was forgot the ill-fortune of Mart;
The carter over-ridden by his cart,
Under the wheel ful lowe he lay adoun.
Again, some care has been taken to preserve Chaucers melody. The italicised e is to be very lightly sounded, so lightly that the sound is hinted at rather than heard, and the pronunciation of this gently- dropping e is the pronunciation of the a in the word china, when the reader whispers the word china. With this simple rule, the Chaucerian line, an ordinary line of ten syllables, will be found to be generally musical and again and again to be music itself. For, to be thoroughly appreciated, the Tales must be read aloud.
I have now explained my offence. I have done no more than many other modernising editors, except for this, that the version I submit to the reader is, I hope, nearer to Chaucer than theirs. And to the modern reader I leave it, adding the beautiful words which Lowell says should be the inscription on Chaucers workswords which, from Chaucers own pen, best describe the pleasure that awaits in every age the reader of the Canterbury Tales:
Of hertes helth, and dedly woundes cure;
Through me men go unto the welle of Grace
Where grene and lusty May shal ever endure.
This is the way to al good aventure.
Be glad, then, reader, and thy sorrow off-caste,
Al open am I, pass in and speed thee faste.
Of Geoffrey Chaucer little is known. He is said to have been born in 1340, and his life ended with the century. At the age of seventeen he was in the service of an aristocratic house, and two years later he was fighting in France, where the Hundred Years War had began. He was taken prisoner, but was soon ransomed, and before the age of thirty he had married (probably a lady whose sister was John of Gaunts wife) and was again fighting in France. Thus, already, courtly houses, captivity, the humours and horrors of war were known to him by experience; and of all of them he writes vividly in the Knightes Tale and in many other places. Very soon afterwards we find Chaucer engaged on foreign missionssometimes in Italy, sometimes in France; and his first civil employment was that of Comptroller of Customs in London. At the age of forty-six Chaucer sat in the Parliament as a knight of the shire for Kent, and later he received an appointment as Clerk of the Kings Works. From this time to his death he was again and again in straits for money, and he seems always to have been anticipating or selling such pensions as he had. He died in 1400. The piety of Nicholas Brigham (1556) built or rebuilt his tomb in Westminster Abbey, and no more fitting line could have been engraved on it than the one chosen, Requies aerumnarum mors: or as Chaucer himself writes it:
Deth is the end of every worldly sore.
The motto and the other lines on the tomb sadly need regilding. Above the tomb is the Chaucer window.
It is customary to speak in all prefaces of Chaucers humour and of his power as a narrator; now and then a critic like Lowell (in My Study Windows) lays deserved stress on the melody of his verse. But it is difficult to know where to begin when we enumerate Chaucers excellencies, and instead of this, let us see him as he is. In the Tales he stands self-revealed; and the rest of this introduction is but an attempt to show the real Chaucer, by calling attention to a few lines in which his own heart speaks.
Before all else we must recognise his delight in life:
When smale fowles maken melodie.
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