The Prologue – English Literature Essay (100 Level Course)
What is remarkable in this passage is, first of all, the use of couplets with ten syllables and five accents in each line, and then the wealth of detail which Chaucer uses to describe the time of year when the pilgrimage took place. The month is April, when showers begin to fall, bringing new life to the earth, when Zephyrus (or the west wind)
starts blowing over groves and heaths and the sun has already covered half his course in the zodiac sign of the Ram (i.e. Aries,’ astronomical references were frequent in medieval literature, as we find, for instance, in Dante).
On the other hand, if we compare these lines with others from previous periods, we see how the new way of looking at nature has been emphasized. March, for example, is usually a cold wet month in England, so the reference to “the drought of March” (1 2) as opposed to the showers of April is invented to underline the beauty of sp ring, another literary convention quite frequent in the Middle Ages.
The image we infer from the first eleven lines is one of peace and serenity. We feel that there is a new harmony between man and his environment. Spring, in fact, is not only the season of pilgrimages (which would obviously have been rather more uncomfortable in other seasons), but of flowers and love as well. Inspired by the rebirth of nature, “people long to go on pilgrimages” to seek spiritual regeneration. The pilgrimage, therefore, bringing new life to the soul, in the same way as April brings new life to the parched soil, turns into a symbolic journey towards spiritual salvation (which once more reminds us of Dante ‘s Divina Commedia), while also pre serving its peculiar aspect of holiday-making and amusement.
The second part of the passage adds more information about the number of pilgrims (“nine and twenty “, L 24), their varying social background (“sundryfolk”, l. 25), and the place where they meet (“in Southwark, at The Tabard”, 1. 20). The initial setting is very simple: no longer palaces and Courts, but an inn, with comfortable rooms and stables (l. 28) where the “company” finds suitable accommodation. This company later allows Chaucer himself “to take the way to Canterbury” with them, thus turning him into a true eyewitness and adding credibility to his narrative.