Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dreams and Allegory :: Medieval Love Poetry

During these last few weeks I've been taking a class on the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer, specifically a class on The Canterbury Tales and Troilus and Criseyde. Dreams and allegory, often intermingled, float through the under-current of most medieval poetry and occasionally rise to the surface in a glorious display of poetic expression. I find these two dreams, the first from Troilus and Criseyde and the second from Dante's Vita Nuova, to be shocking and rather beautiful. Their violent imagery, so foreign to our post-modern and often too sentimental notions of love, captures that sense of new-found love that can, when we are not prepared, overthrow our hearts and minds. Enjoy.

And as she slep, anonright tho hire mette
How that an egle, fethered whit as bon,
Under hire brest his longe clawes sette,
And out hire herte he rente, and that anon,
And dide his herte into hire brest to gon-
Of which she nought agroos, ne nothying smerte-
And forth he fleigh, with herte left for herte.
(Troilus and Criseyde, II.925-31, Geoffrey Chaucer)

To every captive soul and loving heart
to whom these words I have composed are sent
for your elucidation in reply,
greetings I bring you for your sweet lord's sake, Love.
The first three hours, the hours of the time
of shining stars, were coming to an end,
when suddenly Love appeared before me
(to remember how he really was appalls me).
Joyous, Love seemed to me, holding my heart
within his hands, and in his arms he had
my lady, loosely wrapped in folds, asleep.
He woke her then, and gently fed to her
the burning heart; she ate it, terrified.
And then I saw him disappear in tears.
("To Every Captive Soul," Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri)

"To Every Captive Soul" translated by Musa, Mark. The Portable Dante. Penguin, 1995. 592.