The loneliness which has become this petty little blog has likewise taken a hold of its author and father (in what is a lame attempt at drawing a melodramatic analogy to something that is and something that is not). I was in what is called “The Little Apple” the other day, meeting with a fellow student teacher who, though in a different town, was arriving at the same location as myself. We both painted identical portraits of what was happening in our respective studies: Books piled high and wide, notes strewn across the room, more notes being created by a hunched-over young man scared to death some student will ask the one question he is not anticipating. It is in this image that I leave myself at the present.
I have been unable to blog as consistently as I would like due to the restrictions listed above. Teaching is far more than the subject area. It is more like being required to know everything about everything and then concluding that you actually know nothing about anything. The problem that my friend and I find ourselves in is the typical feeling all new teachers probably go through. I will admit, however, that the image of me in my study, surrounded with books and notes and nothing but me and my authors is an enticing image no doubt (put a cup of tea in my hand and we have it made). The problem I face is that that is not what it is all about anymore unfortunately, but for our purposes here and for the sake of the future, I will focus on those authors flying around my head at the moment.
The first act of this semester’s play occurs in the Middle Ages, and Geoffrey Chaucer is the lead actor. This summer I read roughly half of The Canterbury Tales in the original Middle English, and I am now engaging the text with the helpful translation by none other than Nevill Coghill. Professor Coghill is probably an unfamiliar name for many, but those who know him recognize him as perhaps the third most popular figure in the literary group known as “The Inklings.” JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis as well as Owen Barfield were all a part of the great group. Coghill’s greatest work was probably his translation of The Canterbury Tales. After reading the General Prologue and the two tales my students will be reading this semester, I must agree with that assessment.
As one may read in another post, I generally dislike reading any translation of a work unless there is an absolute need. However, I was bound to adopt the translation both to knowing exactly where my students will be and in better understanding the text. One may at this point wonder how difficult it can be to translate a poem written in Middle English to one written in Modern English. After all we are translating the same language are we not? The difficulty certainly does not come from the mere translation for meaning’s purpose, the real difficulty comes in maintaining the laborious rhyme scheme and the art of the poetical meter. Though I am sure Nevill had a fun go at it, I can imagine the strain certain lines must have put on him.
Upon entering the first two lines, we already have an issue: How on earth do we adapt the two lines to rhyme? After translating the last two words of each line (soote and roote) into modern English we get sweet and root. And again, in the second line we get liquor and flower, two words that can only attain near rhyme if any. This is one reason why translations always tamper with the text to some degree. The Middle English pronunciation was vastly different than ours making any attempt at a word-for-word translation while maintaining the rhyme virtually impossible.
With all this said, I believe in my humble opinion that Coghill did a tremendous job at the translation and maintaining both meter and rhyme scheme. No translation is perfect, and so as I would always lobby for a new reader to give the Middle English a try first, this is certainly not a bad option.
This post must come to an unfortunate end as tomorrow begins the slow end of it for me and my unit. My ship sets sail and whether it stays afloat or slowly sinks out of the poor steering and maintenance of its captain; whether it staves off the onslaught of pirates or is commandeered and submerges; whether it finally descries the long sought for lands it longs for or proceeds forever lost, an orphan at sea, is all yet to be seen. My hope is that the setting sun it sails to does not completely set before that beautiful December Sun sleeps: the date and only other item my eyes are glued to other than those authors slinking around in my head.