Many decades ago I had skimmed through some of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in the modern intelligible version, for sure. I recall how that reading, with a version of medieval English on another page, made me aware of the way languages change with time. What we write today will be hardly understood by people five hundred years from now.
Years later, when I saw Chaucer’s name and tomb in Westminster Abbey, I had difficulty believing that beneath that stone lay some of the remains that genius of the English language, surrounded by those of other illustrious poets.
I thought at that time of two other immortal poets: Kamban of Tamil literature and Kalidasa of Sanskrit. Their bodies were cremated and have become one with the planet, but I wished I knew where exactly they breathed their last.
Back to Chaucer, I remember reading a book on him by Derek Brewer. wherein I discovered that Chaucer had written several other books, bearing such titles as The House of Fame, Romaunt of the Rose, and the Parlemant of Foules. This last work is also known as the Assembly of Fowls. Here one reads about a parliament where three aristocratic birds (eagles) are seeking the hand of she-eagle. The birds of the non-noble caste protest. Mother Nature gives a whole year to the she-eagle to decide. The fantasy story is narrated in a dream.
It is difficult for us of this age to imagine how the prolific writers of those distant days wrote and propagated their works. Maybe a good many works of geniuses all over the world have perished beyond a trace, and only a handful of them have remained for the benefit of posterity. Quite possibly many wonderful compositions of African creative genius have also disappeared because of only the oral tradition which has no guarantee of long-range survival.
July 16, 2011