Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Eight O'Clock - Sara Teasdale

Supper comes at five o'clock,
At six, the evening star,
My lover comes at eight o'clock-
But eight o'clock is far.

How could I bear my pain all day
Unless I watched to see
The clock-hands laboring to bring
Eight o'clock to me.

More than a poem, I think of this beautifully rhythmic and metrical Sara Teasdale poem like a song.  And just like a song, its directness is its strength.  Through her use of conventional rhyme and rhythm, the poem falls off the tongue easily.  The repetitions of various "o'clock[s]" build anticipation for eight o'clock, when as she tells us, her lover comes.  The anticipation is such that she can't help but watch the clock, hoping for it to bring her lover with each hand's stroke.

There isn't much to say here, but I like the way Teasdale sets up the schedule of her afternoon and night to us in the first stanza.  It helps cement, to me, at least, our relationship with time, and touches very accurately on how things we desire and anticipate always seem to take a little longer to arrive.  It's a lovely little song of a poem, and I hope you enjoy it, and think fondly of happy times that you couldn't wait to arrive.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

"Although the wind..." - Izumi Shikibu

translated by Jane Hirshfield

Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu was a Heian era Japanese poet (late 10th century, early 11th century), and her poetry frequently combines romantic, erotic longing with Buddhist contemplation.  This poem comes to us courtesy of Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani's 1990 book, The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan.  I do not typically feature poetry in translation, but this gripped me for the way it frames nature and our perception of it through an ephemeral human lens.

Wind and moonlight, in this poem, act like invaders.  The wind blows terribly, and the moonlight leaks through roof planks.  The house is ruined.  That said, the wind and moonlight didn't ruin it.  If anything, the house was the invader.  The framing of familiar poetic elements through the slats of a house falling apart is inherently romantic, and instills a sense of longing into the poem.  It does so with great economy, being only five lines.  It's also an incredibly clear image, despite having so little detail.  I know it certainly got my imagination racing.

I hesitate to go much further in analysis, given that this is in translation, and I have no personal ability to compare it to the source material.  I don't know if there are shades of meaning that are lost to translation, or if I am reading into the text things that aren't there due to Shikibu's biography, but I can also think of this poem as a reaction to a love that has fallen apart.  The house would be the relationship itself, and the wind that blows so terribly through it the falling out of love of the participants.  I don't think that's textually supported, but it's a romantic thought nonetheless.

Monday, May 14, 2018

'Out, Out-' - Robert Frost

The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behind the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood behind him in her apron
To tell them 'Supper.' At the word, the saw,
As if to prove saws knew what supper meant.
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap-
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
The boy's first outcry was a rueful laugh,
As he swung toward them holding up the hand
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all-
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart-
He saw all spoiled. 'Don't let him cut my hand off-
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!'
So. But the hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took fright.
Little--less--nothing!--and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.

From time to time, I like to remind myself that poetry can be truly awful.  Not awful in the sense that it is poorly written, or low quality, but awful in the gut-wrenching, heart-breaking sense, like this Robert Frost poem.  There's little for me to explain.  Frost uses plain English, and starkly little in the way of poetic technique to tell the gruesome, awful tale of a boy who loses his hand, and his life, to a buzz saw.  A boy too young to rightly be called a man, so precisely described as "big boy, /Doing a man's work, though a child at heart."

What stands out, apart from the truly terrible story at the heart of this poem, is the specificity of detail within.  From the number of mountains, to the size and smell of the planks of wood being cut, the account is vivid in the extreme.  Who among us who has seen tragedy has not had the specifics of the scene burned into their minds?  For my parents' generation, everyone remembers where they were when they heard that JFK had been assassinated.  For my generation, everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard of the terror attacks on September 11th, 2001.  So it is with this poem. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Usual Subject - Simon Darragh

One grows used to the loss itself;
it is the details catch, and scourge:
the extra tea-cup on the shelf;
the kitchen table, grown too large.

Not in sorrow for wasted days
of love unspoken,
but by trivia such as these
the heart is broken

I came across this poem courtesy of Conor Kelly, proprietor of the excellent Poem Today Twitter feed, in which he posts tweet sized poems.  It's an excellent daily feed, and a wonderful way to find new poetry.  If you search @poemtoday you will find his Twitter, and he also has a blog, which you can find here.  Conor Kelly is a poet as well, and perhaps with his blessing, I will post some of it here in the future.

This poem from Simon Darragh speaks to the realities of loss in practical terms, much like the excellent Roo Borson poem, "After a Death."  In Darragh's excellent short poem, it is not "sorrow for wasted days" that makes loss so hard.  Rather, it is the details left behind by someone's loss.  As he so expertly puts, it is the "extra tea-cup" or the now too spacious kitchen table.  It is the void left in our practical, material reality that stands out most.  What I appreciate about this poem in comparison with Borson's is that this speaks to a more general sense of loss.  While I do feel that this speaks to death more than anything, it could just as well apply to a traumatic romantic loss.  Reading the poem with both senses in mind causes different images to come to mind.  The "trivia" that breaks the heart is unique to each of us, and that is the power of the poem.  What I picture will be different than what you picture, and I like that Darragh avoided too many specifics, preferring instead to give examples.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wood - Richard Brautigan

We age in darkness like wood
and watch our phantoms change
     their clothes
of shingles and boards
for a purpose that can only be
     described as wood.

What sort of purpose is wood, exactly?  I can't pretend to know, but I find this short poem from Beat poet Richard Brautigan a fascinating sort of riddle to chew on.  I've been thinking about it for a few days now, and I am happy to report that I am no closer to understanding it than I was when I first read it.  More than any sort of understanding or hidden meaning, I think frustration wrapped in a fascinating image is sort of the point here.  Let's unpack a little and see what we can find.

Being in the first person plural, Brautigan is including us in this poem.  "We" is inclusive, and therefore we ought to think of ourselves as we read and try to make sense of this poem.  The first line, "We wood."  What exactly does that mean?  Well, as wood ages, it can harden, but it can also rot.  It depends on how it's treated.  Nice parallel with people, there, yes? 

What then, are our phantoms?  That's personal, isn't it?  But what's more important is that the wood parallel continues.  Our phantoms, facsimiles of ourselves, perhaps our fears, clothes themselves in shingles and boards, continuously renewing by changing their clothes.  They are like us, but without the full body of substance.  What purpose, then?  Wood.  That's just how we are.  That's my take-away, at least.  I think more than anything, this is just a reflection from Brautigan on our state of being, and how our phantoms take on a form like ours, continually renewing.  There's tantalizingly little solid about this poem, but I hope my brief explication has helped, reader.  If you read it differently, please leave a comment and let me know!  I feel like this is so open a poem that most interpretations are completely valid.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

An Inscription - Ambrose Bierce

     For a statue of Napoleon

A conqueror as provident as brave,
He robbed the cradle to supply the grave.
His reign laid quantities of human dust:
He fell upon the just and the unjust.

While Ambrose Bierce's mysterious disappearance and uncertain fate remain a mystery even today, it is no mystery why he is still held in high regard in the world of American literature.  His short stories are held in esteem nearly to Poe's, and his first-hand accounts of the American Civil War.  While other authors wrote movingly about the American Civil War, Bierce fought on the front lines for the Union for the duration of the war, including some of its bloodiest battles.  From all accounts, he acted heroically, rescuing wounded men despite being under heavy gunfire.  He spent the duration of the war in almost continuous combat, and he said of himself, "When I ask of myself what has become of Ambrose Bierce the youth, who fought at Chickamauga, I am bound to answer that he is dead."  His essays detailing his experiences in the War are essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

This poem, written in 1910, three years before his disappearance,  shows the world weariness and cynicism that marked much of his writing.  Speaking on Napoleon, he casts harsh indictment upon the strife and violence he brought to the world.  "He robbed the cradle to supply the grave" is as damning a line as I can imagine.  Napoleon is spoken of here almost as a plague, laying down "quantities of human dust" upon the just and unjust alike.  I am not certain, but I imagine that this is in reference to Napoleon Bonaparte, not Napoleon III, though it seems fitting for both men.

I admire short form poetry that manages to have such a strong impact in so few lines.  Bierce may be best known for his essays and short stories, but his poetry remains modern and worthwhile, and I encourage you to look up more of it if you had your interested piqued by this little poem, or the brief biographical information I provided.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3 1802 - William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Is there anything more magical than a huge city completely silent?  That's what Wordsworth, in his breathlessly excited account of London in early morning, as viewed from Westminster Bridge, captures so perfectly.  I have actually seen this scenario myself, though about 212 years after this poem.  I have to agree, in that early dawn hour, it does seem as though "the very houses seem asleep."  I can only wonder what Wordsworth would think of things like the London Eye if he marvels so at "ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples" that line the river Thames.

There really isn't much to this poem, but given the title, I like to imagine that Wordsworth was passing by and was so taken by the beauty of the scenery that he had no choice but to compose a poem right then and there.  It's a very Romantic idea, and Wordsworth is one of the architects of Romantic poetry.  Read the poem slowly and luxuriate in its illuminating imagery and language.

Monday, May 7, 2018

A Dream - Edgar Allan Poe

In visions of the dark night
I have dreamed of joy departed -
But a waking dream of life and light
Hath left me broken-hearted.

Ah! what is not a dream by day
To him whose eyes are cast
On things around him with a ray
Turned back upon the past?

That holy dream - that holy dream,
While all the world were chiding,
Hath cheered me as a lovely beam
A lonely spirit guiding.

What though that light, thro' storm and night,
So trembled from afar-
What could there be more purely bright
In Truth's day-star?

Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most revered American poets and short story writers, and it occurs to me that I've engaged with very little of his work here.  Let's change that!  His poetry and short stories continue to exert a strong influence on American culture and literature, and is still very much worth reading today.

This poem in particular reminds me of a sonnet from John Milton, his Sonnet 23, specifically.  In that sonnet, Milton, who had gone blind during the course of his life, dreamed that he saw his departed wife, and as she came to embrace him, he woke, "and day brought back [his] night." Upon waking, he was again blind, and alone.  The overall sentiment of Poe's poem is similar, I find.  Indeed, the first stanza contains much of the narrative action of Milton's poem.  In this first stanza, the narrator finds his "joy departed" only "In visions of the dark night."  Waking leaves him broken-hearted.  It is much the same as in Milton's poem.  But whereas Milton stops at his waking, Poe goes on to ponder what such dreams are and what they mean to us, and our relationship with them.

In the second stanza, Poe asks what a dream is.  It is not a general question, but rather, what is a dream to someone "whose eyes are cast / on things around him with a ray / Turned back upon the past?"  Essentially, what is a dream to someone who looks at all things through the lens of the past?  The narrator of this poem is fixated on their "joy departed" which I have trouble not interpreting romantically, given the strong parallels with Milton's poem and the overall content of Poe's poetic work.  It could just mean thinking back to a happier time, but my interpretation is that this is a lover in question, especially given that upon waking from the dream, Poe's narrator is "broken-hearted."

The final two stanzas present Poe's answer to that question.  The dream cheers Poe, like a "lovely beam" that guides his lonely spirit.  He calls it even "a holy dream" and repeats that phrase twice, cementing its importance and impact.  Even though the world chides, the dream, the holy dream of his joy departed guides his spirit.  Poe is aware that he is engaging with a fantasy, however.  In the final stanza, he admits as much, albeit in a roundabout manner. 

Though the "light" of this dream's "lovely beam" can tremble from afar, it is brighter to Poe's narrator than "Truth's day-star."  It is brighter than reality itself, brighter than Truth.  The Truth here is that this joy is in fact departed, is no more.  But through storm and night, Poe clings to it, more purely bright than truth to a man whose eyes are cast on things around him with a ray turned back upon the past.  It's truly amazing how Poe manages to fit such depth of emotional content into a simple four stanza poem made of simple sing-song ABAB rhymes.  It's a testament to his skill and to the power of the content matter that it can resonate so strongly even now.

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Poet's Epitaph - John Black

When comes the last long silence to this lute,
And by its plea no more the calm is broken,
In charity, O world, let it be spoken:
No human sorrow found this player mute!

I came across this small poem by accident.  I had been reading a James Joyce poem, "She Weeps Over Rahoon" which was published in the November 1917 issue of Poetry Magazine.  Since I was reading a scan of that page, I saw the poem that accompanied it, a short ABBA quatrain epitaph by John Black.  It caught my eye, and its straightforward earnestness caught me off guard.  I have been unable to find any biographical info on the poet John Black, and would welcome any readers who know anything more.

What stands out most to me about this short poem is its interpretation of what poetry is.  The narrator, presumably Black himself, as this is "A Poet's Epitaph," wishes to be remembered for a refusal to be silent in the face of human sorrow.  It's a brave role, and aspirational.  Black isn't dead yet, but "When comes the last long silence to this lute" he wishes to be remembered for never being "mute."  The publishing date also stands out to me.  In 1917, the western world was in the midst of World War I, then known as The Great War.  There were countless poet-soldiers, many of whose work I've looked at here.  Is this a war poem?  I'm having difficulty finding concrete info on this poem apart from the actual page on which it was published.  Still, I feel like this epitaph is a reminder of what a poet can be.  Poetry can be an enduring testament to the human spirit and righteousness in the face of evil, and indeed, oftentimes it is.  While Black's lute may be silent, as I can find almost no info about him, his epitaph endures as a reminder of our highest hopes, aspirations, and anxieties about how the world will remember us (if indeed it does) after we're gone.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Of Dying Beauty - Louis Zukofsky

"Spare us of dying beauty," cries out Youth,
"Of marble gods that moulder into dust-
Wide-eyed and pensive with an ancient truth
That even gods will go as old things must."
Where fading splendor grays to powdered earth,
And time's slow movement darkens quiet skies,
Youth weeps the old, yet gives new beauty birth
And molds again, though the old beauty dies.
Time plays an ancient dirge amid old places
Where ruins are a sign of passing strength,
As is the weariness of aged faces
A token of a beauty gone at length.
Yet youth will always come self-willed and gay-
A sun-god in a temple of decay.

This wonderful sonnet comes to us from the 20th century American poet Louis Zukofsky.  Born to Russian Jewish immigrants in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1904, Zukofsky came to literature first through Yiddish, then through English, interweaving multiple literary traditions.  This poem was written when he was only 20 years old, and while it is not so ambitious or well-honed as his later works, I feel it's notable for the way it uses its form to play both with and against its subject matter.

The central conflict of the sonnet is between Youth and entropy.  Entropy is the thermodynamic principle that all things eventually break down towards disorder.  That's a gross oversimplification, but the essence is that things fall apart over time.  It is the gradual movement from order to disorder.  What we see in this poem is the cycle of creation and entropy, in perpetuity.  "Youth weeps the old, yet gives new beauty birth / And molds again, though the old beauty dies."  Youth asks to be spared this cycle in the first quatrain of the poem.  Despite asking to be exempt, to be spared the "marble gods" of the past, it goes on and creates its own doomed monuments, its own ruins that signify passing strength.

For all this, "youth will always come self-willed and gay- / A sun-god in a temple of decay."  No matter how the old gods have "mouldered" Youth will always be there, constant amid the entropy.  This is where I find the formal choices Zukofsky made to be significant.  He wrote a traditional, straightforward sonnet, a form hundreds of years old.  It's as if in doing so, Zukofsky is honoring the traditions that Youth, in the poem, asked to be spared, despite being a young man himself.  I think it elevates the poem from just being a routine sonnet to something a touch more thoughtful, and it is certainly beautiful.  It's easy to imagine a beaming sun-god, standing proud and tall, though all things must eventually come to dust.  Such is power of Youth, and Zukofsky obviously realized that.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Today - Thomas Carlyle

So here hath been dawning
Another blue Day:
Think wilt thou let it
Slip useless away.

Out of Eternity
This new Day is born;
Into Eternity,
At night, will return.

Behold it aforetime
No eye ever did:
So soon it forever
From all eyes is hid.

Here hath been dawning
Another blue Day:
Think wilt thou let it
Slip useless away.

I particularly like this Thomas Carlyle poem for how its intricacies are belied by its simple structure and rhyme scheme.  What at first read seems just a simple, almost childish aphorism about how every day is a new day, upon closer looks, perhaps has more to reveal to us.

The most striking feature of this poem to me, the one that makes me think this is more than just some bumper sticker type maxim, is the lack of  a question mark in that central repeated phrase: "Think wilt thou let it / Slip useless away."  If this were a question, it would be asking the reader directly, "Are you going to let this day slip you by?"  Instead, we are given a statement.  I read it almost as, "If you think too much, this day will pass you by."

Rather than asking the reader, it's more cautionary, in my view.  Carlyle lived an extraordinarily long life, from 1795 to 1881, and was a titan in the Victorian literary scene.  Also inextricable from his work is his Scottish birth, upbringing, and life.  While he eventually moved to Chelsea, his formative years and early adult years were spent in Scotland, and he was very much of the Calvinist persuasion.  Carlyle had an obsession with order, duty, and destiny.  Calvinists were a Christian sect particularly fond of the notion of predestination.  So for Carlyle, when he writes that every day is new, and never before seen, and says, "Think wilt thou let it/ Slip useless away" it takes on a much different tone. 

I get the sense that beneath the sing-song feeling of the poem is an earnest warning to productivity and industry.  It is another blue day, and it will pass you by, and that day will never come again.  It is not a question of whether it should slip useless away or not.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Excerpt from the General Prologue to the Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer

     Here bygynneth the Book of the tales of Canterbury

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours y-ronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye,
So priketh hem Natúre in hir corages,
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially, from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.

Bifil that in that seson on a day,
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay,
Redy to wenden on my pilgrymage
To Caunterbury with ful devout corage,
At nyght were come into that hostelrye
Wel nyne and twenty in a compaignye
Of sondry folk, by áventure y-falle
In felaweshipe, and pilgrimes were they alle,
That toward Caunterbury wolden ryde.
The chambres and the stables weren wyde,
And wel we were esed atte beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was to reste,
So hadde I spoken with hem everychon,
That I was of hir felawshipe anon,
And forward erly for to ryse,
To take oure wey, ther as I yow devyse.

But nathelees, whil I have tyme and space,
Er that I ferther in this tale pace,
Me thynketh it acordaunt to resoun
To telle yow al the condicioun
Of ech of hem, so as it semed me,
And whiche they weren and of what degree,
And eek in what array that they were inne;
And at a Knyght than wol I first bigynne.

As it is a beautiful spring day today, I can't stop thinking of the general prologue to the Canterbury Tales.  I've presented here the first three stanzas of Chaucer's introduction to his magnum opus, and while it is in Middle English, if you take it slowly, it's still fairly easy to understand.  I have posted poems in Middle English before, but if you haven't read one before, here are a few general guidelines:

1)  Pronounce vowels as if they are Latin vowels.  Think of vowels in Spanish, for reference.  A, instead of being our English A, which is a dipthong, is a pure "ah" sound.

2)  Pronounce consonants!  The word "Knyght" rather than being pronounced knight, as we would say today, is closer to kuh-nicht.  Think of the bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with the French soldier taunting King Arthur and his coterie.  Rather than just being silly, his pronunciation is actually fairly historically authentic.  That's just another layer to a great joke!

3)  If there's a word you don't know, don't worry too much about it.  There are going to be words you don't recognize, but don't let it stop you.  Context can usually help, and in cases where it doesn't, hopefully I either provide you with a little help, or you can look it up.  Don't be afraid to sound things out.  A word like "ye" would be pronounced "ee-uh" which means "eye."  You may feel silly sounding words out, but you shouldn't!  Reading silently was not common practice, and Middle English often makes use of puns that only make sense when audible.

With all that said, let's take a bit of a closer look at the poem itself!

Here begins the Book of the tales of Canterbury!  Chaucer so declares, and so it is!  It's the start of a long journey.  17,000+ lines, in fact.  And Chaucer didn't even finish his tale!  Initially he planned to have each of the thirty pilgrims he introduces tell four tales each, two on the way there, two on the way back, in a story-telling competition while they took their pilgrimage to Canterbury (and the shrine of St. Thomas of Beckett).  This would have been a common pilgrimage, as St. Thomas of Beckett was visited by those who felt themslves to be sinful.

To begin, Chaucer starts setting the scene.  It's April, which is the season of "shoures soote" (sweet breath) that pierces the drought of March.  April is the season in which the countryside comes back to life.  Here in my native Connecticut, it seems to have taken until May for that to really happen, but no matter!  I don't mind posting a poem a day late.  April has "bathed every veyne (vine) in swich licour (sweet liquor)" that has woken every "flour" (flower).

One word that comes up in Middle English is "eek" or "eke."  This simply means "also."  So when Chaucer writes, "Whan Zaphirus eek with his swete breeth" you can simply think "also."  So those lines, loosely translated, can read, "When Zephirus (the Greek god of the west wind) also breatheed his sweet breath, he raised the tender crops (brought life to the fields).  If we go slowly through lines, it's not so hard, right?  "Smale fowles maken melodye, That slepen all the nyght with open ye."  Small birds sing, that sleep all night with open eyes.  Chaucer is just setting the scene here, and painting a vivid image of a lively spring, animated with images that tickle every sense.

But what happens to us people when Spring starts happening like this?  "So priketh hem Nature in his corages, / Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages."  Why, we want to go on pilgrimages, of course, and enter out into the beautiful world!  (Translated, Nature pricks us with its courages, so we long to go on pilgrimages.)  Where do we especially want to go?  "Specially, from every shires ende / Of Engelond, to Canterbury they wende."  Ah, we want to go to Canterbury, from every shire's end, from all corners of England!

Now, many presentations of the General Prologue stop after that first stanza, but I feel a little more context makes it much richer.  Don't worry, we don't have to read all 800 lines of the General Prologue, though I certainly encourage you to do so on your own time!  The second stanza introduces Chaucer as the narrator of this tale.  He is at the Tabard Inn in Southwark, which operated from 1300 until 1873!  Chaucer there was "redy to wenden on my pilgrymage / To Caunterbury wil ful devout corage" when that night another group arrived.  "nyne and twenty in a compaignye" arrived, all going to Canterbury.  Nine and twenty plus Chaucer gives us thirty in total.  Worth noting, the word "wend" means to go.  We sometimes still use that in modern English, though it is somewhat archaic.

In the last stanza that I've included, Chaucer addresses us directly, with an aside.  It's a very straightforward stanza, which translated, effectively says, "Nevertheless, while I have the time, before I go any further, I think I'll tell you about each of the travelers: who they are, their condition, how they were dressed, and I'll begin with the Knight."  I stopped there, because what follows in the prologue is Chaucer going on to describe each character in detail.  They certainly are characters, too, and Chaucer gives us a clear picture of each of them, both in terms of disposition and appearance.  I included that last stanza to give you a glimpse at the more human element of this narration.  Chaucer, through his narrator, speaks to us readers directly.  It's like any storyteller saying, "Oh, while I've got time, let me tell you about these folks."  It really brings to bear the directness of the storytelling, and throughout the whole of the Tales, Chaucer uses that narrator as a character in rich and interesting ways, acting in a shockingly modern, self-deprecating manner.  That's neither here nor there in the General Prologue, but I felt that the third stanza could give you a glimpse of the character of the later work by letting Chaucer speak more frankly.

I hope it hasn't been too hard or boring getting through this Middle English with me.  I dearly love the challenge and sound of Middle English, and feel that it is still accessible without too much ornery scholarship.  And once you get into the rhythm of it, it becomes a true delight.  I've attached for you a reading of the Prologue so that you may hear what I mean about how Middle English sounds.  It's my hope that one day, you will attempt reading Middle English on your own, not in translation, reader, and take great satisfaction from it, much as I do when presenting it to you.

And to further get you in the mood for a pilgrimage, here is a wonderful album of music from the time of Chaucer, specifically, drinking songs!  Start this playlist, read along, and get caught up in the time!  There's something especially buoyant about this music and this poetry, as if it captures the very essence of Spring.