Monday, April 13, 2009

Poetry, Please!

There's a poetry reading thing, not of our own poetry, but of bits of famous or other poetry, and I've been asked to read some Middle English poetry. We are asked to read up to maybe 40 lines. (Shorter is better!)

So, I need suggestions, please!

If you were asked to read UP TO 40 lines of Middle English verse, what would you read?


Okay, folks, I obviously wasn't clear. I'm wondering exactly which 40 lines.

So far, I'm thinking of the description of Chaunticleer and Pertolet from the NPT, or maybe a description of spring; there's a nice one in the Parliament of Fowles. I also thought about the entry in Gawain, or part of the ax swinging part.

I enjoy the sexy stuff plenty, but I don't want to read some leering, sexist stuff as most people's sole experience with Middle English literature. Nor, to be honest, do I have a lot of interest in reading something overtly Christian in a way that sounds pious. (I did consider a bit of the annunciation stuff from the N-Town plays, because it blows me away that the fate of the world waits on Mary.) Nor, do I have time to contextualize a fart joke about Christianity.

I know that limits things.

I know this reveals the depths of my fakery about medieval stuff, but I don't actually own an ME edition of Piers Plowman. And I also must admit that I never really got into it.

I'm also not sure I can pull off Gawain well, since what poor ME I do have tends to have been learned via Chaucer stuff. So I don't think I get the dialect at all, really. And I don't want to make more of a fool of myself than necessary in front of colleagues (the regular folks might not know the difference, but a few colleagues will).


  1. Ooh, how about something from Gawain and the Green Knight *or* The Book of Margery Kempe?

    (This is totally not my area but those were things I thought were cool in my sole ME class.)

  2. Gawain is very cool. You might also consider a few stanzas from Pearl or some lines from Ubi sunt qui ante nos feurunt? for a kind of double "thinking on antiquity" feel. Or, turning the page, I see that Agincourt Carol is a mere 30 lines, and tangentially links to old Bill. Also, the refrain for the Agincourt Carol is deo gracias, which you just might get the audience to percieve as a call and response thing.

  3. Wife of Bath's Prologue! Either the "who painted the leoun" bit, or the part where she reminisces about her lost youth, and you see flashes of pathos behind all the bravado.

    Or else the first two stanzas of Fitt Two of Gawain, the part about the changing seasons.

  4. Just realized as I was washing the dishes and dreamily remembering reading Gawain and Margery Kempe that you said poetry, and MK isn't poetry, is it? Oops!

    On a happy note, though, even just the query catapulted a nonmedievalist into thinking about Middle English lit, so that is cool, right? :)

  5. Oh, and I second Heo re: Pearl, too. :)

  6. Sorry for all the comments.

    But what did you pick?

  7. Ballads! Sir Patrick Spens, maybe, or Robin Hood---something with a narrative line people can follow.

  8. I was going to say you should do some of the Wife of Bath's Tale prologue too. But since I'm late to the party, I'm glad someone else got there first!

    Someone in our dept did a dramatic reading of the WoBT prologue at a big university event last year and it was awesome. Even people totally outside of our field thought it was hilarious. Admittedly she used subtitles (via powerpoint).