The opening lines of the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, with Chaucer’s classically poetic and amorous language, describe the evocation of spring, echoing in the minds of his audience, as if the renewed warmth, sweet sounds and refreshing smells could be perceived by human senses.
“When April with his showers sweet
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with such power
To generate fresh strength and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every wood 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 urges them on to ramp and rage)”
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Besides, Chaucer employs vivid verbs, together with rhythmic phrases like “holt and heath”, “shoots and buds”, “ramp and rage”, which convey a strong sense of masculine energy to further intensify the renewed reproductive power of spring. The verbs like “engender” (sire), “pierce”, “inspire” (quicken), “prick” translated from the original text describing natural movement of spring, all have an amorous connotation behind them to add to its sexual vigor. However, quite different from the monotonous opening of a conventional love story with its moderate description, the first 11 lines have a mysterious and dreamy quality, since the narrator talks in an all-knowing tone about the cycle of the seasons, the constellations in the geocentric model. It seems that he views the medieval world from the God’s perspective.
Apparently, the author isn’t going to talk a love story. So it may be surprising to readers that right after the depiction of spring’s rebirth, says “Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage.” In the later part of the opening lines of the General Prologue, the author talks about the desire of people to undertake an introspective religious journey to Canterbury to thank God for having survived the winter and overcome their illness and weakness and then introduces how the 29 people met and how their story began. But in this part, Chaucer has abandoned the formal and energetic depiction and his detached point of view. Instead, he uses easy and gentle words, and identifies himself by inserting first person narration. I suppose this is probably what Chaucer, one of the first humanists during the medieval time, tries to do: to illustrate the ambiguity of the relationship between the secular and spiritual world; and to hold a perfect balance between them, between our secular anticipation of vitality and love, and the common spiritual needs of us to worship our God.