February 22, 2018
Chaucer's PilgrimsOn this day (or possibly the next) in 1394, Geoffrey Chaucer's twenty-nine pilgrims met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to prepare for their departure to Canterbury. Chaucer's poem condenses the four to five day trip into one, and scholars have used various textual references and astrological calculations to establish that day as the day before Easter, thus allowing the pilgrims to arrive at Canterbury Easter morning, after a fifty-five-mile hike through a pleasant English springtime:
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire with flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend. . . .
(trans. J.U. Nicolson)
In the eyes of one enterprising 15th century writer, the incompleteness of Chaucer's journey presented the opportunity for a sequel. "The Tale of Beryn" purports to be told by the Merchant as Chaucer's pilgrims make their way back to the Tabard. In the Prologue to this tale we learn that while the others were busy with their own amusements during the one night layover in Canterbury -- Knight and Squire to see the battlements, Prioress and Wife of Bath a tour of the gardens, etc. -- the Pardoner attempted to romance and rob a barmaid. Perhaps appropriately for a dealer in sham relics, he not only fails but is beaten up, and spends the night in a dog's kennel.
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