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Chaucer and his time

Geoffrey Chaucer was born in about 1344 and wrote The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales in about 1387.

Chaucer is the first notable poet since the Norman Conquest to use English (as opposed to Latin or French) as the medium for writing literature.

F. N. Robinson describes English in general and Chaucer's writing in particular:

There is a real simplicity in the English language of Chaucer's period, as contrasted with modern English, and simple directness is a marked characteristic of Chaucer's individual style.

Here are the opening lines of The General Prologue:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
the droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

soote = sweet
engendred = generated
line 4 = "whose creative influence brings flowers into blossom"
Zephirus = the warm west wind
holt = copse
the Ram = Aries
line 11= "so strongly are they moved by natural impulse"
palmeres = pilgrims who wore the palm as a sign that they had visited the Holy Land
strondes = shores (cf "strand")
ferne = far-off
halwes = shrines
kowthe = known, familiar (cf "uncouth")
the hooly blisful martir = Thomas a Becket, whose shrine was at Canterbury, where he was murdered in 1170
that hem hath holpen = "who has cured them"
seeke = sick

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