Monday, March 29, 2010

Chaucer in Colorado

Upon completion of my junior year in high school, I transferred to Colorado Springs High School for my final year. Before school started, I had an appointment with my new counselor to complete my class schedule. Much to my surprise, I found that a schedule had already been made for me, which included senior math classes and physics, the primary reason for my transfer, since these were not available at my previous school.

Also included, however, was "Senior English," a course which I had no intention of taking, since the state required only three years of English. I said, "This is all right, except I am not taking English." The counselor replied, "Yes, you are." And I did.

My senior English teacher was Miss Lillian Bateman. The class met (I think I recall this correctly) during second period of the day, late enough that being tardy would not foil this class, yet early enough that the energy had not yet flagged. The year I was in her class, Miss Bateman was sixty-one years of age, one might say in her prime. For some reason which eludes me to this day, she chose to designate me "Able Seaman," notwithstanding the nearest I had ever been to a ship was the rowboat in the park. Wanna know what struck fear into my heart? "Mr. Lacy, Able Seaman." Until I eventually learned that the worst that was going to happen was that I would appear to be a fool; and thus I strove to insure that would not happen. What a technique: scare the ignorance out of you. (Knew some preachers during this time in my life who used a similar ploy to "scare the hell out of you.")

One of the assignments as we were studying the Middle English period was to memorize the first twelve lines of the Prologue to Canterbury Tales. I imposed a few extra lines on myself. I can recite it to this day in my very best Chaucerian English, should you ask me to do it.
But here, learn it for yourself. Unfortunately, Miss Bateman is no longer with us to teach you pronunciation and inflection.

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale fowles maken melodye,
That slepen al the night with open ye,
(So priketh hem nature in hir corages:
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmers for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The holy blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seke.

-----Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 - 1400)

Lillian Bateman 1890 - 1985 RIP


Anonymous said...

So did this provoke a love for Chaucer, or just a memorization of it?

Secondary Roads said...

When I saw the title, I recited those first four lines. Like you, I had to memorize them in High School English Literature class.

vanilla said...

You're shrewd, Jim. Let us say it expanded my literary horizons.

Chuck, guys "of a certain age" have something that I fear today's youngsters miss.