Having come up to the Romantic Age, with which this series started, in my 52nd essay, I had thought to conclude it, with a year gone by. But I realized that I should not omit the beginnings of English poetry, or rather the beginning of what can be attributed to a known writer.
I refer to Geoffrey Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales began the whole business, and which still stands as one of the most remarkable poems in the language. When I say the language, I use the term loosely, for Chaucer wrote before the age of print. It was print that set language in stone as it were, so that we can readily understand what Shakespeare wrote, though 400 years have passed. There were only 200 years between Chaucer and Shakespeare, but the language they used is poles apart. So reading Chaucer now in the original is only possible for dedicated students of English Literature.
I think this would have put me off, for I found extremely painful having to read the other string to Chaucer’s bow, Troilus and Cressida, for my Advanced Levels. But fortunately I had been introduced previously to Chaucer by perhaps the most inspiring teacher in my time at S. Thomas’, Anton Tissera, who had one period a week with us when we were not yet teenagers. He would read from the literature he enjoyed, which was not always to the taste of my fellow students. So sometimes the class seemed a private lesson between him and me, and I cannot thank him enough for the wonders to which he introduced us, nearly half a century ago. Continue reading