Literary Daybook, April 18

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
April 18, 2002 12:00PM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On April 18, Esme's wedding day.
-- "For Esme with Love and Squalor" (1953)
by J.D. Salinger

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day (or possibly the next) in 1394, Geoffrey Chaucer's 29 pilgrims met at the Tabard Inn in Southwark to prepare for their departure to Canterbury. Chaucer's poem condenses the four-to-five-day trip into one, and scholars have used various textual references and astrological calculations to establish that day as the day before Easter, thus allowing the pilgrims to arrive at Canterbury Easter morning, after a 55-mile hike through a pleasant English spring:

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire with flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)--
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire's end
Of England they to Canterbury wend ...

Weather and good company aside, the game established at the Tabard the night before is a competition for the tale "of best sentence and moost solaas," to earn its teller "a soper at oure aller cost." Chaucer leaves no doubt that some of his pilgrims would rank the prospect of a free meal more highly than the compensation promised at the cathedral: a view of not only St. Thomas Becket's body, but the whole arms of 11 saints, the bed of the Blessed Virgin as well as some of her weaving, fragments of the rock at Calvary and of rock from the Holy Sepulchre, Aaron's Rod, a piece of the clay from which Adam was made, and more. As Chaucer does not get all his tales told, nor his pilgrims to their destination, neither earthly nor spiritual nourishment is realized.


-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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