Watch and listen to U.S. poet Michael McClure (above) recite an excerpt from the General Prologue to Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. The poem, from the late 1300s, is one of the first great works of literature when English as we know it was taking shape.
I love the strangeness of the language, the odd pronunciations, the French cast to the words, the rhythm and musicality of Middle English poetry.
McClure’s performance was in an unusual context: on the stage of the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, November 26, 1976. It was the last concert performed by The Band, along with guests like Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and Muddy Waters.
There was a pause in the music when McClure walked onstage, found a microphone, and began intoning the ancient lines. In the words of The Atlanta Poetry Review, he “lilted, rolled, and seduced the audience into the lyric tonality of Middle English.”
Whan that Aprille …
When the month turns to April, I find myself reciting the words:
Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, And bathed every veyne in swich licóur Of which vertú engendred is the flour
Hard words to pierce. They’re like another language from a different time. But they’re all too human.
When April, with its sweet rains,
Has pierced the drought of March to the root
And bathed every (plant) vein in such liqueur
That engenders the flower
It speaks of the land awakening from a cold, dark winter. How the West Wind breathes life into every wood and field, giving new life to the trees and flowers. The birds, that sleep all night with open eyes, begin to sing of this renewal.
An Ode to Joy Chorale
We’re in Chaucer’s moment right now. The sap stirs in our Garry Oak and cherry trees, whose branches fill with new leaves and blossoms. On bake days, I rise in the dark and silence. The birdsong starts when the morning light first shows itself. It crescendoes into a full-on “Ode to Joy” chorale by the time the first loaves are coming out of the oven. Choirs of croaking frogs rise from the creeks at the corner of the property.
Nature’s renewal fills the hearts of people, too. The characters of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales set out on pilgrimages to holy shrines, where they seek the intervention of martyrs and saints to cure their sickness and suffering.
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
I don’t feel the need to visit the shrine of St. Thomas á Beckett, as Chaucer’s pilgrims do, but I do seek a cure of sorts. I want to move outdoors, to breathe in the air, see the green colouring in the flat brown and grey of the woods, to welcome the flowers and greet the birds. My connection to nature is the cure, the purification.
Swimming in the clear waters of Boundary Pass, these days, is my purification, my salvation!
Thanne longen folk …
The Canterbury Tales are a collection of 24 stories told by members of a group of pilgrims traveling from London to Canterbury, the resting place of the martyred St. Thomas.
There is plenty of time for talk on the three-day journey. Each storyteller is an archetype of some aspect of medieval life, a miller, priest, knight, a “wife,” cook, lawyer, sailor.
The stories are often cartoon-like. They provoke comments and criticisms from other characters. Together they reveal divisions in some of the moral, ethical, religious aspects of English society in the 14th century. They are bawdy, humorous, thought-provoking, and profoundly human.
Bring a flagon of ale!
Apart from fighting with the Middle English, The Canterbury Tales was a pure delight when I first read it. It was a revelation to see these characters, although two dimensional, reach out of the middle ages and come to life. It felt as if I could have a conversation with each of them, drinking a glass of ale.
But it is those few opening lines that come forward to me each Spring when the sap stirs, and the birds sing, and smell of fresh bread coming out of the Mildrith the wood-fired oven.
What are your favourite medieval films?
It was my love of The Canterbury Tales that inspired an enduring interest in the Middle Ages, a period of great upheaval and innovation that formed many of the cornerstones of modern society.
I love films that realistically depict the Middle Ages. That is, movies that dramatize historical events, or that depict medieval life or ideas with some accuracy.
If you’re looking for something other than the usual Netflix fare, here are a few of my all-time favourite films set in the Middle Ages:
The Name of the Rose
The Seventh Seal
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Henry V (1989)
There are many more! Let me know what your choices would be!
Happy Monk Tidings - May 18, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Olive Bread; UPDATE: Canal Bridge project postponed; Assume normal delivery schedule; BLOG: The Breadman's Quest for the Stanley Cup - [See LinkTree in Profile ]...
Fun visit from @thiswolfeislandlife on bread day Friday. Laura Buckley and partner Peter from Wolfe Island near Kingston, ON to compare notes and share a few laughs. So great when bakers get together! Thanks for the photos, Laura! See you next on Wolfe Island!
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This guy, Davy Rippner, @leathersmithe, our neighbourhood sandal-maker, wood-chopper and story teller extraordinaire, is one of my best buddies. He comes every Friday morning to help me bag each loaf of bread and get ‘em out the door in time for delivery. He turns the whole process into a heck of a lotta fun, laughs and great conversation. Lucky to have him as a friend and Happy Monk helper. These are Spelt-Honey Sourdough loaves, by the way. Adapted from Michael James’ Tivoli Road Baker.
#bread #breadbaking #bakery #bakeries #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #spelt #speltbread #michaeljames #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries...
Mooning for the camera, first light on bake day, with the first load of Salish Sourdough singing at the table..
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These corn kernels are headed to the mill to make cornmeal for Anadama Bread this week. It’s a bread with origins on the east coast, but that shouldn’t stop us west coasters from enjoying it, too, godanadamit! This is organic field corn from @fieldstoneorganics of Armstrong, B.C. … and the hard red whole wheat from Metchosin, B.C. make this Happy Monk take on Anadama a bona fide west coast phenomenon! Just sayin’!
#anadama #anadamabread #cornmeal #cornmealbread #metchosinbc #armstrongbc #stoneground #stonegroundflour #stonemilled #stonemilledflour #stonemilledbread #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #sourdough #sourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries...
I cut open the loaf to reveal a pretty pleasing and moist crumb. Wow! If you don’t mind a little char, this burned loaf has some pleasures, like a super crispy crust contrasted with the soft crumb and the nutty chew. The char does dominate the flavour, though 😂. But would you put it in the display case of your bakery? (Thanks for the comments, all 😉)...
John-boy’s got his arms loaded with a bunch of Happy Monk bread, one of his favourite states of being. He’s generous to a fault, though, and spread the loaves around his close circle of friends. That’s m’boy!...
The 2kg Desem miche is out of focus, in the back ‘cause it would have drowned out the little 1kg Durum Sesame loaf in front. The miche is a monster but every bit as delish as the Durum loaf! The Desem’s coming soon! Won’t be a miche, though!...