Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Aprill Shoures

"If April Showers bring May Flowers, What do Mayflowers bring? Pilgrims!"

Ha ha! That's always been one of my favorites!

I have mentioned before that I was an English major in college. I was interested particularly in the history of English and medieval studies--the Anglo Saxons and the Vikings. Don't ask my why--it just seemed cool. One of the courses I took along the way was a semester-long reading of The Canterbury Tales in Middle English. My course was taught by a fabulous professor, Donald Rowe. He was gruff, demanding and could be intimidating. But I adored him. He was an expert in Middle English Literature. And when he talked about Chaucer, it was wonderful! That course was a memorable experience for me and I was disappointed when we reached the end of the book and the end of the semester. One of Professor Rowe's requirements for the class was that we had to memorize the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales and recite them for him in his office. We were graded on memorization as well as pronunciation, so we were expected to listen to tapes and practice. (I was amazed to find this version on youtube--what don't they have there? The phonetic translation is a little off, but the accent sounds just about like I remember.) I was proud that he complimented me on my pronunciation, though this was the first and only time that anyone said I had a good Middle English accent. He joked to the class and said that we might not remember anything else from his course, but 10 years in the future, we'd still be able to recite those first 18 lines. Well, it's been more like 20 years for me, and I can still do it. And, in fact, when April rolls around each year, those lines weave in and out of my consciousness as I recall elements of the poetry. This April is nearly over, and seeing that it is Earth Day today, I feel that I need to honor the insistent memory of April, the Canterbury Tales, and Professor Rowe.

(These lines are from my textbook, edited, translated and annotated by Robert A. Pratt)

Here bygynneth the
      book of the 
tales of Canterbury

Whan that Aprill with his shores soote                      soote: sweet
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in switch licour                  veyne: vein, sap vessel. switch: such. licour: sap
Of which vertu engendered is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth               Zephirus: the west wind. eek: also
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth                        inspired: breathed on , quickened. holt: wood
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne                 croppes: shoots
Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,                     yronne: run
And smale foweles maken melodye,                        foweles: birds (pronounced "fools")
That slepen al the nyght with open eye
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);                    priketh: spurs. hir:their. corages:hearts 
Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,                goon: go
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes           straunge: foreign. strondes: shores
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;              ferne: distant. halwes: shrines. kowthe: known
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Canterbury they wend,
The hooly blissful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen when that they were seeke.   hem: them. holpen: helped. seeke: sick

Roughly translated by me, this says that when April's sweet showers end the drought of March and fill the veins of the trees and plants with flowing sap, giving us flowers, and when the west wind breathes life into tender shoots, and when the year is just coming to life again in the spring, and the small birds sing and stay awake through the night because Nature has struck them lovesick, then this is the time that the people want to head out on pilgrimages, seeking meaning and cures at the holy shrines.

For me, April is the time that I see signs of those first lines everywhere. The "shores soote" came again just last week and "bathed every veyne in swich licour".
April Showers--Raindrops on Redbud leaves
"Of which vertu engendered is the flour".

Bring May Flowers--Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)
And I see signs of Zephirus's "sweete breeth" in the "tendre croppes" in the yard as the new plants come to life and grow. Especially some of the plants that send up thick shoots, like the Coralbean.
Tendre croppes--Sprout from Coralbean (Erythrina herbaceae)
But the part I think of most often is the "smale foweles maken melody" because I wake happily each morning to a "small fool" Carolina Wren calling "teakettle, teakettle, teakettle" next to our bedroom window.
Smale foweles--A Baby Carolina Wren cheeps in the bushes all day long!
And often I will wake to the sound of Mockingbirds and toads calling through the night. Nature hath "priketh hem in hir corages", all right! Nature pricks all our hearts at this time of year. There is new life all around--flowers, caterpillars, spiders, tadpoles, armadillos, grebes and even horses.
Brand new batch of Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillars

Spiderlings on Lyre-leaf Sage

Great Big Tadpole

Baby Armadillo exploring

Pied Billed Grebe and Chicks

Baby Horses and their mothers, nursing
We all feel joyful and full of life in the spring. And now is the time to start new adventures and growth. Here's to Spring! Happy Earth Day, Pilgrims!


  1. I visit you often, but don't leave footprints. Today I will. I always enjoy your words, and your photographs are gorgeous. I also add I share your reverence for nature.
    My blog, Flying Pages, (donnasfernandez.blogspot.com) shares ruminations on the written word. However, the post this week was virtual word-free as I had to share one aspect of my bountiful Florida garden. Smile.

    1. Hi Donna, Thank you so much! You made my day. And now I am a subscriber to your blog as well. This is the best thing about the internet--being able to connect to interesting people everywhere! I am so happy you took the time to comment. I hope to hear from you again!