Poesie: Longfellow’s Chaucer

Longfellow, for one, did not seem to associate Chaucer with the sounds and smells of 14th century London.

This is a rather interesting sonnet about Chaucer, given that he was a city-lad, so to speak, as opposed to the Pearl Poet, who would have been more of a country-person, though the two seem to have know each other.


An old man in a lodge within a park;
The chamber walls depicted all around
With portraitures of huntsman, hawk, and hound,
And the hurt deer. He listeneth to the lark,
Whose song comes with the sunshine through the dark
Of painted glass in leaden lattice bound;
He listeneth and he laugheth at the sound,
Then writeth in a book like any clerk.
He is the poet of the dawn, who wrote
The Canterbury Tales, and his old age
Made beautiful with song; and as I read
I hear the crowing cock, I hear the note
Of lark and linnet, and from every page
Rise odors of ploughed field or flowery mead.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow wrote rather educational sonnets on several English poets, but since he was one of the greatest American sonnet writers of the 19th century, his sonnets are much better poems than the adjective “educational” might suggest.

Longfellow 1868
Longfellow in 1868

Short Story: A Fold in Time

It was just a matter of the mind, no doubt.

The local library has a creative writing contest this summer which prompted me to write a little something.  It turned out to be a bit long for the contest.  However, I was quite happy with it, so instead of submitting it, I will offer it up here for your kind consideration.  Have fun!


A Fold in Time

Every kindly thing that is
Hath a kindly stede ther he
May best in hit conserved be;
Unto which place every thing
Through his kindly enclyning
Moveth for to come to.

Chaucer, House of Fame


Drab and dreary.  Walking down Yankee Run Road, this was the only phrase that came to mind.  Drab and dreary.  The factories and warehouses on both sides of the broad, yet deserted street were gray, dark windows gaping behind high fences and metal gates, with only the occasional light fighting its way through dirty window panes.  Garbage bags, uncollected, provided food and cover for raccoons as well as far less pleasant critters.  The occasional chimney belched fumes into the evening sky.  No tree graced the sidewalk, no shrub, let alone flower provided comfort for the weary eye, no babbling brook reached the ear and cheered the heavy heart, and only fumes and unpleasant odors of various sorts insulted the nose.  The Run had long disappeared underground to make way for this desert of concrete and blacktop.  All that remained was a name.

Walking on, I shut out the views and fumes and noises.  There were better things to think about.  “Kindly enclyning”, for example.  And “kindly stede”, for that matter.  Surely there was a place somewhere where I belonged, a kindly stede that my being was kindly enclying to, and moved for to come to.  It wasn’t this place, that much was obvious, but maybe if I kept on walking, I would eventually reach that place Chaucer was talking about.  It was just a matter of the mind, no doubt.  Was I not the one responsible for where I had been, where I was and where I was going?  Couldn’t think of anyone else I could shift this off onto.

The concrete was beginning to wear out my shoes and my feet alike, but on I went, and on and on, pondering how we once were not obsessed with regulations and laws, but saw in the universe a mirror of our own wishes and dreams, and believed that somehow, the physical and the spiritual were one thing, even if we weren’t quite sure how.  Wearily I closed my eyes, walking on with one hand trailing along the wall that I knew ran on this side of the road until it ended at the top of the hill ahead, where it met the State Route.  And then I heard the bird.

It was a cardinal.  Quite sure it was.  I almost couldn’t believe it, so I pinched my eyes shut, hoping to hear it again, not daring to look for fear that opening my eyes would destroy the illusion.  For an illusion it must surely be.  No bird could have been in this area in ages, not in this man-made desert.  There it was again, loud and clear.  A smile crept over my face, and at the same moment, my fingers lost the wall, my foot hit an obstacle, and stumbling forward I hastily opened my eyes, raising my hands to break my inevitably unpleasant fall onto the concrete.  But there was no concrete anymore.  Leaves now covered the ground, and moss, with the root I had stumbled over being the only hard thing my shin hit when I went down.

Instead of the various gradients of the color of dirt, the world I found myself in was mostly green.  Never had I seen so many different shades of green!  The sun, a moment ago still mostly hidden behind black smoke, shone through spring green leaves, dappling the mossy forest floor on which I now lay with bright, jolly spots.  Birds sang, not just the cardinal I had first heard, but others, too. “Drink-your-teeeeea” trilled the Eastern Towhee, like a blast from the past.  I hadn’t heard a towhee since my childhood!  Then another sound reached my ears: a babbling brook.  Hastily I looked around, there it was, meandering between the trees, glittering in the sunlight, forming a little pool not far ahead before flowing on through the woods. In a flash of blue and orange by the pool, a kingfisher darted from the bank to the water’s surface, catching his breakfast.  Greedily I breathed in the fresh forest air and felt better almost immediately.  This was the kind of place my whole being was kindly enclyned to move to and no mistake.  How could this be?

But why wonder if there was so much nature to enjoy, pure, unadulterated nature, with all the smells and sounds and sights of the woods?  Buzzing insects with glittering wings filled the air, chipmunks and squirrels rustled around in the leaf mold, a woodpecker hammered away at a dead tree trunk merrily, much to the dismay of the undoubtedly numerous grubs under the bark of his chosen pantry, and through it all ran this delightful little brook.  Getting up, I decided to follow it.  How pleasant it was to walk in the woods rather than on concrete!  I felt light and free, almost breaking into a run as I skipped along the water’s edge, now stepping into it, now jumping out again to enjoy the fragrance of a wild violet or pick a wild strawberry that the wood’s inhabitants had overlooked when they had had breakfast.  And then I stopped.  Breakfast?  Hadn’t it just been evening when I walked down Yankee Run Road, weary in body and heart?  It had, of this I was certain, just as certain as this place had all the feeling of morning about it, a new morning, almost like the first morning, if ever there had been one.

Breathing deeply, I slowed down my pace, walking on, pondering, looking around.  The woods didn’t seem to be deep, indeed, I already could see the trees thinning.  Ahead of me and to the right was an incline with the brook flowing away to its left, apparently into some fields that opened out behind the tree line.  Up the small hill I climbed, holding on to young beeches and jutting out rocks until I had reached the summit.  Here, too, the woods ended and rolling fields dotted with groves and other small hills like the one I had just climbed came into view.  In the distance, I saw a small cottage here and there.  The lay of the land looked strangely familiar, though all I could imagine was that this was a landscape I longed for, rather than had seen before, a place where I may best in hit conserved be and hence was kindly enclyned to move towards.  Not for decades had there been this much undisturbed nature anywhere around where I lived.

Filled with joy and wonder, I started down the hill when I suddenly stumbled over something jagged and hard.  Catching my fall just in time, I turned to look at the half buried object.  It looked like part of an old street sign.  Half curious, half disgusted at this intrusion of modernity into these innocent woods, I knelt down to wipe away the leaves and dirt stuck to its surface.  It said “NKEE RUN RO”.  I blinked.  Blinked again.  Could it be that this brook I had been following was the Run, resurfaced and restored to its former beauty, and that here had been Yankee Run Road once upon a time?  Once upon a time?  Slowly I got up, the deteriorated sign dangling from my hand.  Looking over the fields, I knew now why the lay of the land looked familiar.  It was familiar.  It was where I had lived all my life, only during my lifetime, it had never been this green, this undisturbed, this beautiful.  I sighed and closed my eyes, letting the sign slide out from between my fingers.

It hit the blacktop with a clunking noise.  Without opening my eyes, I knew that it was evening again, that I had reached the end of the road, the end of the wall, and that, upon opening my eyes, I would look out over rolling hills crammed with houses and chimneys and streets and factories and vehicles and people as far as the eye could see, a harsh sight, mellowed only by the light of the setting sun, barely visible through the smog.  

Time had never been linear; the sign at my feet was proof of that.  The question was, could I find the strength to glean comfort from the knowledge I was now granted?  Could I find solace in knowing that nature would eventually take back what was rightfully hers, and that one fine day, the Run would run again like it used to, merrily and free?  It was just a matter of the mind, no doubt.


1451 words including quote and title.

%d bloggers like this: