Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Parliament of Foules (Fowls)

This Valentine's week, the old man came across The Parliament of Foules (The Gathering of Birds) by Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 - 1400). It is the first known recorded celebration of the holiday of Valentine's Day. The poem begins with an old poet's attempt to understand love. First he begins with an erudite discussion of Cicero's Somnium Scipionus. But an academic enterprise is doomed to failure. In Chaucer's words the venture, "ledeth (leads) to the sorweful (sorrowful) were (weir/fishing hole). Ther as a fissh in prison is al (all) drye (dry).

Then, the poet is taken to Nature's shady place where he watches over a gathering of the birds. All the species of birds pair off. And the powerful eagle makes its case for its mate, in competition with other birds of prey. The other species chime in and Nature is left to step in and put the debate off for another year.

The old man wonders, ... "Love's errand is not for a fowl (foules), but a fool?"

The poem is fairly short, 700 stanzas, written in Middle English, meaning that it takes a little thought to understand its subtle meanings.

It is quite lovely and wel wirth the rede:

The lyf (life) so short, the craft so long to lerne, 
Thassay (They say) so hard, so sharp the conquering,
The dredful Ioy (Joy), that alwey slit (slips away) so yerne (young), 
Al this mene (mean) I by love, that my feling 
Astonyeth (Astonished) with his wonderful worching (working)
So sore y-wis (there known), that whan I on him thinke, 
Nat wot I wel wher that I wake or winke (dream). 

For al be that I knowe nat (not) love in dede (deed), 
Ne (Nor) wot how that he quyteth (quietith) folk hir (her) hyre (here), 
Yet happeth (happens) me ful ofte in bokes (books) rede (read)
Of his miracles, and his cruel yre (ire); Ther rede I wel he wol (will) be lord and syre (sire), 
I dar not seyn (say), his strokes been so sore, 
But God save swich (such) a lord! I can no more. ...

lines 1 through 15, and, as you wish, the rest of the poem

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