Saturday 30 October 2010

The Chaucer Stone

If you want to know what Jesus looked like you need only inspect a drainpipe in Coventry where his face miraculously appeared. I've never been utterly certain how, upon inspection of a piece of toast or a puffy cloud, people manage to identify a historical figure. The omissions of ancient portraiture mean that any burnt piece of toast could be a holy likeness for a Christian, or a blasphemous one for a Muslim.

Those, like me, who worship at the shrine of verbiage and prostrate themselves before the blessed poets will be more interested in the Chaucer Stone, which is kept in the British museum and depicts, geologically, the face of the blessed Geoffrey.

And there's a real portrait to which we can compare it. Chaucer hovers over English literature with agonising influence. Even Chaucer found it hard to live up to Chaucer. In the Man of Law's Prologue he says:

I can right now no thrifty tale seyn [say]
That Chaucer, though he can but lewedly
On metres and on rhyming craftily,
Hath said hem in swich [such] English as he can
Of olde tyme, as knoweth many a man;
And if he have noght said hem, leve [dear] brother,
In o book, he hath said hem in another.
For he hath told of loveris up and doun
Mo than Ovid made of mencioun
In his Epistles, that been full old.
What shold I tellen hem, syn [since] they been tolde?

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