Aprill Shoures Brung May Flours: April Is for Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, so it makes sense that one of English literature’s oldest poems opens with a reference to this very month. Check out this opening to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

Um…what does that mean? Don’t worry, I’m not exactly fluent in Middle English myself. Fortunately there’s a translation:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.

Whether April’s inspired you to make a pilgrimage to Canterbury or not, you can check out the rest of The Canterbury Tales here. I didn’t have the best experience with Chaucer in college, which of course makes me think I should go back and investigate this Chaucer guy. I mean, dude did popularize the English language. We need to give him props for that.

May your April showers be sweet with fruit!

3 thoughts on “Aprill Shoures Brung May Flours: April Is for Poetry

  1. Jim Kane says:

    I am so very glad to have you quote Chaucer in Middle English. Most of that segment I can recite in ME – from my Early/Middle English undergrad class of well, let’s just say a while back! Thanks Annie!

  2. Keri Peardon says:

    My 12th grade English teacher made us memorize that portion of the Prologue. I can still read it in an English accent. (Although it’s possible that my native Tennessee accent is closer to 14th century English than a modern-day English person’s accent; certainly that’s true by the time of Shakespeare.)

    I went to visit my best friend from high school in the hospital a few months ago, and somehow we started talking about doing this, then we started quoting it. Between the two of us–and even though she was hopped up on pain medicine–we still remembered almost every line.

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