Springtime in the Canterbury Tales
Brooke Schweitzer Dr. O’Callaghan Eng 402 April 11, 2010 Springtime in The Canterbury Tales _See how the lilies of the field grow. …Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. -Matthew 6:28-29_ Springtime and beauty is inevitably linked in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Chaucer uses the images of springtime from the very beginning of the prologue to promote the idea of renewal and overall joyfulness. Not only is it used to establish tone or theme in the prologue, but is also used closely with the descriptions of beauty for the tales that follow.
Chaucer knew that that his readers would without hesitation identify with springtime and the idea of renewing ourselves for a new season, just like the pilgrims we read about. Anyone who reads the Canterbury Tales will find pilgrims who are not without faults going on a pilgrimage to a religious site looking to purify themselves. By placing them in springtime he has set up a direct contrast between what early Christians would have deemed a “holy” life and the ones led by the travelers. Found even in descriptions of beauty.
The pilgrims stories are in way, asking us to look closely at our own nature and perhaps institute the idea of changing ourselves for the better. Chaucer uses an intense theme of springtime to promote the ideas of youthfulness and beauty. The most prominent example is in the very opening lines of the General Prologue, “Whan that April with his shoures soote/ The droghte of March hath perced to the roote/ And bathed every veyne in swiche licour” (Pg 41 line 1-3) In the beginning we have the opening of April. We know that it is the very beginning of the month because the second line mentions that “March hath pierced to the roote. Although many would say that this would mean there had been a “droghte” leaving things dry. When I read this line I considered the geographical weather patterns of Britian and concluded that it is always raining there. Even if the weather may have been different than the weather patterns we have there today, I assumed this to be a poetic way to say that March has completed it’s time. Along with the idea of the beginning of April, Chaucer tells us, “…With… shoures soote/…And bathed every veyne in swiche licour. ” So we have the imagery of everything being drenched in nutrient rich water.
If everything is healthy, we can assume then that all the flowers, trees, grass and even the animals are now young and growing. Nature is awakening to a renewed season just like the pilgrims seeking renewal. The direct connection with our own self renewal along with nature is also mirrored in the descriptions of beauty. There are at least two examples of the women of the tales being described in terms of nature and the beauty of spring. In the Knights Tale Emily is described, “that fairer was to sene/ than the lylie upon his stalk green/ and fressher than the May with Floures newe. Again we are seeing this connection with not only a flower but again the idea of early May with new, young flowers. She is fresh, without blemish. She is indeed then the perfect idea of beauty. She does not need renewal or to change her nature. I believe that it is safe to say that in Chaucer’s time the image would be in the likness of freshness in terms of faith. Perhaps by describing Emily in such a way the idea is that she is without sin. She is the perfect idea of a Christian lady.
We see this again when the carpenter’s wife from the Miller’s Tale is described. Her looks are described at length until it is mentioned, “She was full moore blissful to see/ Than is the newe perejonette tree. ” It is rather comedic that she is compared to a young tree. Unlike a young flower, a young pair tree is small and frail. It does not have many leaves or contain much fruit. In modern day terms it is difficult to see beauty in a tree. Trees are certainly something to marvel, but the point being that she is beautiful but is not without her faults.
Unlike Emily from the former story, she has some rough edges. She is described as wild and flighty, By setting up these two different descriptions, Chaucer shows the reader that it is far better to be a “lily on a stalk of green” than ” a new pear tree. We are seeing how the pilgrims want to change themselves to resemble something as fresh as a flower. It also worth considering the idea that since we define the beginning of spring when we first start to see flowers and leaves on trees, that perhaps Chaucer is saying that women are in control of love?
By describing them in such a way could suggest that many of the women in the stories are in control of the situation. They can deny or accept a man. Although the connections between the springtime setting and the descriptions of beauty are subtle ones, they impact the overall theme that the reader takes away from the story. Like the pilgrims, we find ourselves being educated, entertained and chastised for our behavior. Springtime is a time of freshness and everything having a new start.
Having an overall Christian audience for his story, Chaucer new they would relate to the freshness of spring. It is the same reason we celebrate Easter today. The entire tradition relies on the idea of being “born again” and rising up from who we are before. It is about letting go of the faults that hold us down. Just like the pilgrims in the stories we read, we reflect on the morals that the travelers tell each other. By the end we find that the common and rich alike have them and it is about who we as people believe we should behave, live and learn.