A Golden Age of English Poetry
Edited By Gerald Morgan
ANNE J. DUGGAN‘The Hooly Blisful Martir for to Seke’ 15
Anne J. Duggan ‘The Hooly Blisful Martir for to Seke’ Virtually everyone who knows even the name of Chaucer remembers him as the author of the Canterbury Tales, one of the monuments of Middle English poetry, with its collection of stories told by an assortment of pil- grims with whom he (or perhaps rather his fictional surrogate) claimed to have travelled to Canterbury from London in the 1380s.1 Its opening lines are almost as familiar (GP, A 1–2, 12–13 and 15–18): Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote The droghte of March hath perced to the roote, … Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages, And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes, … 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. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, the focus of the poem was on the pilgrims who represented a range of recognizable fourteenth-century types and on their exemplary tales. Of the goal of their journey very little was said. For whatever reason, Chaucer did not provide even a brief description of the city, its cathedral or the great shrine that had drawn him and his com- panions to undertake the journey.2 Fortunately, his anonymous fifteenth- century continuator was not so reticent. The rearranged and expanded version of the Canterbury Tales, which survives in one manuscript only,3 supplies what a modern editor has called the ‘Canterbury Interlude’. This described the pilgrims’ arrival...
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