Saturday, 10 July 2010

Top lines from Chaucer No. 4

Gat-tothed was she, soothly for to seye.
Up-on an amblere esily she sat
Y-wimpled wel, and on hir heed an hat
As brood as is a bokeler or a targe;
A foot-mantel aboute hir hipes large,
And on hir feet a paire of spores sharpe.
In felawschip wel coude she laughe and carpe.
Of remedyes of love she knew perchaunce
For she coude of that art the olde daunce.

(She was gap-toothed, to tell the truth. She sat comfortably on a nag, well wimpled [i.e. her cheeks and neck veiled] and on her head a hat as broad as a buckler or a shield; a plaid around her wide hips, and on her feet a pair of sharp spurs. In company she could laugh and chatter. As it happened she knew all the old tricks for curing venereal diseases.)

This is Chaucer's Wife of Bath. (Isn't there a pub named after her in Canterbury or thereabouts?) She's next to last, just in front of the Pardoner, in the photo. She'd been married five times, and was looking for a sixth husband. We're not told if she found one among the other pilgrims on the road to Canterbury.

I've had this felt picture for years and years, and the colours are as fresh today as they were when it was made in the mid-50s. It hangs in my study. Each pilgim is faithfully depicted, so whoever designed it knew their Chaucer. I'm in two minds about it. I love Chaucer dearly (maybe you've picked this up already), but I'm not convinced that sewing patches of coloured felt on to a pre-outlined canvas backing is the best medium for expressing the exuberant, post-Black Death energy of 14th Century England. On the photo above there's a curious diagonal mark towards the foot, and if I enlarge it...

...clearly somebody else is drawn to the Canterbury Pilgrims too. I found him when I first entered my study yesterday morning. He appears to be aiming straight for the Wife of Bath. He's a lacewing. Isn't he handsome? He appeared yesterday morning. One of our high summer tasks is to open all the doors and windows at 4am. Cool air floods through the house until we shut everything and close the shutters at about 9 o'clock, trapping the dawn coolth for the rest of the day. Consequently any passing early lacewing finds open house here. As I see the fashion for posting insect studies has been established recently here, I wouldn't want to be found wanting.

Besides, we know what happens in popular mythology when princesses kiss frogs. Who knows, maybe in their mythology remarkable things happen when lacewings kiss wives of Bath. Moreover, our lacewing has since disappeared. Like the W. of B.'s other five husbands. H'm...

Incidentally, can you identify the pilgrims? 7 and 8 are, as mentioned, the Wife of Bath and the Pardoner. I have my own ideas about the others, but I'd be very glad to know what you think.

No comments: