Friday, March 03, 2006

Friday Poetry

This is part of Arcite's death speech to his beloved Emilye, in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale." My seminar talked about this speech today. It really got to me, but not so much to my students. I wish I could communicate effectively about it so they'd get it, but I really didn't have the words.

(In case you don't know the story, Arcite's just won a tournament against his cousin, Palamon, and so has won the right to marry Emilye. But while Arcite was taking his victory lap, an infernal fury sent by Pluto at the request of Saturn scared his horse, which went down, smacking Arcite's head and crushing his breastbone. Thus, having won the tournament, and at the height of his glory, he's struck down by the gods to resolve a minor conflict between them. Of course, he doesn't realize what caused his horse to start.)

Naught may the woful spirit in myne herte
Declare o point of alle my sorwes smerte
To you, my lady, that I love moost,
But I biquethe the servyce of my goost
To yow aboven every creature,
Syn that my lyf may no lenger dure.
Allas the wo! Allas, the peynes stronge,
That I for you have suffred, and so longe!
Allas, the deeth! Allas, myn Emelye!
Allas, departynge of oure compaignye!
Allas, myn hertes queene! Allas, my wyf,
Myn hertes lady, endere of my lyf!
What is this world? What asketh men to have?
Now with his love, now in his colde grave
Allone, withouten any compaignye.

I think what gets me here, in addition to the repetition of "allas" and his realization of what he's losing, is his sense that he's moving from a world of warm companionship (especially his earlier companionship with Palamon), and heading alone into a cold grave. ("The grave's a fine and private place / but none, I think, do there embrace.")

Why am I so death obsessed on a fine Friday? No clue, really, except that we worked through this in class, and I started to tear up. What a sap I am.

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