Wednesday 2 December 2009

Chaucer and Poets' Corner

According to today's Times there's a campaign to put up a memorial to Ted Hughes in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Seamus Heaney, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, Sir Andrew Motion, the former Poet Laureate, and Lord Bragg of Wigton, the author and broadcaster, are among those who have written to the Dean of Westminster calling for Hughes to be included. [I love the the perennial "calling" of the news]

Simply because your life wouldn't be worth living if you didn't know: Poet's Corner should really be called the Lying-Around-With-Chaucer Corner.

Geoffrey, you see, took a 53-year lease on a house beside Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve 1399. It was on the site of what's now the Henry VII Chapel. It was a place to live, nothing more. Less than a year later he had died (of natural causes despite what crazed ex-Pythons may imagine).

So he was buried in Westminster Abbey simply because it was his parish church: nothing to do with his being a poet. Indeed, if any excuse were needed, his being an MP and civil servant may have helped. Edmund Spenser was buried nearby in 1599 and so the poet idea took hold.

As we're on the subject of Chaucer and death, here is Geoffrey rhyming craftily about a man being led to his execution:

Have ye nat seyn sometyme a pale face,
Among a prees, of hym that hath be lad
Toward his deeth, wher as hym gat no grace,
And swich a colour in his face hath had
Men myghte knowe his face that was bistad
Amonges alle the faces in that route?

[prees=crowd, lad=led, swich=such, bistad=in trouble]

That, to putte othir men in rémembraunce

P.S. In case you were wondering, The Riverside Chaucer is, along with the Longman Paradise Lost, the best edition of any work in English.

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