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The Sweet Showers of April

Michael McLure at Last Waltz concert, 1976, reading from The Canterbury Tales

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.

Chaucer, the narrator

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 Reckoning
  • Beckett
  • 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 - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 27, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Mountain Rye; Blog: Colossal Roughhousing on Boundary Pass [ See link in profile ] ...

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The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland

The good earth! We survive the big storm! Been inside all day so I’m going swimming and the hot tub awaits. .
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#coldwaterswimming #coldwaterswim #coldwatertherapy #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - October 20, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Purple Barley Sourdough; Blog: To All the Bakers: Past, Present, Future and Imaginary! [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 20, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Purple Barley Sourdough; Blog: To All the Bakers: Past, Present, Future and Imaginary! [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 15, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Blog: Happy Monk Bread Teachers: Francis Olive [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 15, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Blog: Happy Monk Bread Teachers: Francis Olive [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 6, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sesame-Wheat Sourdough; Blog: Making Your Own Bread - You've Got This; Video: Bake Day with the Happy Monk [See Link in Profile ] ...

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Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Bake Day with the Happy Monk. The amazing @jomosenpai (my son) came over to Pender last summer on a bake day. Was in my face all the time, taking pictures, shooting video. It was so great having him around, and I’m amazed the bread (Polenta Rosemary Sourdough) turned out so well. This video he made turned out very well, too!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #polenta #polentabread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 22, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; Blog: Sourdough September and the Real Bread Campaign [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 22, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; Blog: Sourdough September and the Real Bread Campaign [ See link in profile ] ...

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A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino.

A horizontal world, an endless beach with long rollers, sandwiched beneath a low sky ceiling … and hundreds of surfers. Chesterman’s Beach, Tofino. ...

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Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]

Post to The Happy Monk Baking Company
Happy Monk Tidings - September 1, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Rye and Seed Bread; Blog: We're all rich when you think about it; South Pender Growers and Makers and Heritage Market; The Happy Monk Holidays - [ Link in profile ]
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 25, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; Blog: Marriage, Laurie Anderson and the Weddings of Pender; and more! [ See links in profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 18, 2021 🍞 - This week's Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: A Benediction on Mount Norman. [ See links in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 11, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Polenta and Rosemary Sourdough; Blog: Here's to the Homely Loaves! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland

Lo! The mighty Seed Feast! Favoured by Happy Monk customers the Pender Islands over! These loaves, just rolled out of Mildrith, are hot and fragrant with seeds, nuttiness and bready wholesome-ness. O for a steamy slice and a schmear of butter! That I may eat “and leave the world unseen, and with thee fade away into the forest dim.” (Apologies to the ghost of John Keats).
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#seedfeastbread #seedbread #seedybread #sourdough #sourdoughbread #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #woodfiredbread #coboven #earth.oven #bread #breadlove #baker #bbga #happymonkbaker #happymonkbaking #naturallyleavened #artisanbread #realbread #breadpoetry #rusticbread #penderisland #southpenderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 4, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Volkornbrot (German Rye) with Sunflower Seeds; also Seed Feast; Blog: Why Eat Ancient and Heritage Grains?; Goin' Fishin' Soon! [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 28, 2021 🍞- Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut; Blog: Mildrith's Body of Miracles; Goin' Fishin' - [ See Link in Profile ] ...

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Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m. 
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 #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

Moonset and high tide, South Pender Island at 3:50 a.m.
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #clayoven #clayovenbaking #coboven #cobovenbaking #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 21, 2021 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Rye Bread: The Agony and the Ecstasy [ See link in profile ] ...

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In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery

In the early light of dawn, Mildrith oven-springs sourdough, caramelizes crusts gold and brown and leaves heavenly smells as evidence. Inside her hot clay dome, 12 boules of Salish Sourdough are on the final stage of their journey. Behold the steam rising out of the chimney!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #clayoven #clayovenbakery #clayovenbread #woodfiredbaking #woodfiredbread #sourdoughbread #sourdoughbaking #breadmaking #breadbaking #breadlove #bread #bakersofinstagram #bakerslife #penderisland #southpenderisland #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbc #happymonk #happymonkbakingcompany #happymonkbakery
...

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2 thoughts on “The Sweet Showers of April

  1. […] The Pilgrim’s Road, used by pilgrims who traveled from London to Canterbury (including Chaucer’s pilgrims of The Canterbury Tales), passes by not far from the […]

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