analysis of prologue to the canterbury tales
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The imagery in this opening passage is of spring’s renewal and rebirth. April’s sweet showers have penetrated the dry earth of March, hydrating the roots, which in turn coax flowers out of the ground. The constellation Taurus is in the sky; Zephyr, the warm, gentle west wind, has breathed life into the fields; and the birds chirp merrily. The verbs used to describe Nature’s actions—piercing (2), engendering (4), inspiring (5), and pricking (11)—conjure up images of conception.
The natural world’s reawakening aligns with the narrator’s similarly “inspired” poetic sensibility. The classical (Latin and Ancient Greek) authors that Chaucer emulated and wanted to surpass would always begin their epic narrative poems by invoking a muse, or female goddess, to inspire them, quite literally to talk or breathe a story into them. Most of them begin “Sing in me, O muse,” about a particular subject. Chaucer too begins with a moment of inspiration, but in this case it is the natural inspiration of the earth readying itself for spring rather than a supernatural being filling the poet’s body with her voice.
After the long sleep of winter, people begin to stir, feeling the need to “goon on pilgrimages,” or to travel to a site where one worships a saint’s relics as a means of spiritual cleansing and renewal. Since winter ice and snow made traveling long distances almost impossible (this was an age not only before automobiles but also before adequately developed horse-drawn carriages), the need to get up, stretch one’s legs, and see the world outside the window must have been great. Pilgrimages combined spring vacations with religious purification.