Important Quotations Explained 1. 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 The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne, And smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen al the nyght with open ye (So priketh hem nature in hir corages), Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages. (General Prologue, 1–12) These are the opening lines with which the narrator begins the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales . The imagery in this opening passage is of spring’s renewal and rebirth. April’s sweet showers have penetrated the dry earth of March, hydrating the roots, which in turn coax flowers out of the ground. The constellation Taurus is in the sky; Zephyr, the warm, gentle west wind, has breathed life into the fields; and the birds chirp merrily. The verbs used to describe Nature’s actions—piercing (2), engendering (4), inspiring (5), and pricking (11)—conjure up images of conception. The natural world’s reawakening aligns with the narrator’s similarly “inspired” poetic sensibility. The classical (Latin and Ancient Greek) authors that Chaucer emulated and wanted to surpass would always begin their epic narrative poems by invoking a muse, or female goddess, to inspire them, quite literally to talk or breathe a story into them. Most of them begin “Sing in me, O muse,” about a particular subject. Chaucer too begins with a moment of inspiration, but in this case it is the natural
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