Neville Coghill and The Canterbury Tales

With their astonishing diversity of tone and subject-matter, The Canterbury Tales have become one of the touchstones of medieval literature. The tales are told by a motley crowd of pilgrims as they journey for five days from Southwark to Canterbury. Drawn from all levels of society and all walks of life (from knight to nun, miller to monk), the pilgrims reveal a picture of English life in the fourteenth century that is as robust as it is representative.

Rendered with consummate skill and sensitivity into modern English verse by Neville Coghill, The Canterbury Tales (which Geoffrey Chaucer began in 1386 and never completed) retain all their vigour, their humour and indeed their poetry.

Neville Coghill did a great service to Chaucer in making his work live for many people who would not otherwise have been able to appreciate it. C S Lewis thought it masterly, and was very pleased that his friend's labour had brought the ancient text to modern eyes whilst retaining it's basic character.

A Postscript
Professor Coghill used to appear on request before various groups to read from his Chaucer translations, and, on one occasion which he cherished long after, a lady came up afterwards and said, "That was wonderful. Thank you so much. We are so sorry that Mrs. Chaucer was unable to come with you."

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Surprised by Joy

Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine." All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit. For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion. Of course I could do nothing - I could not last out one hour - without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit. But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call "prayer to God" breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest. Idealism can be talked, and even felt; it cannot be lived.

Surprise by Joy (XIV Checkmate)

(I see Jack's "Mere Christianity" is once again top of the Christian bestsellers list this week in the UK)
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A taste of Tolkien's alliterative verse

To the throne of Thingol were the three now come;
there their speech well sped, and he spoke them fair,
for Hurin of Hithlum he held in honour,
whom Beren Ermabwed as a brother had loved
and remembering Morwen, of mortals fairest,
he turned not Turin in contempt away.
There clasped him kindly the King of Doriath,
for Melian moved him with murmured counsel
and he said: "Lo, O son of the swifthanded,
the light in laughter, the loyal in need,
Hurin of Hithlum, thy home is with me,
and here shalt sojourn and be held my son.

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.... for a week. See you on the 13th?


From Betjeman to Lewis (never sent)

It seems to me that we have two different approaches to poetry. Both, I hope, have a sense of the sound of words and of metre and stress in common. After that there is no common ground. Your approach is philosophical, or metaphysical or abstract or something I do not understand. Mine is visual. I would cite a bit of your own poetry - a poem called 'The Planets' which opens with the line: "Lady Luna in light canoe". I don't see how anyone who has looked at the moon can think of it as "cruising monthly" in a light canoe. If we are going back to the day of my lack of style, what 'style' us this?

John Betjeman - Unpublished Letter : 13th December 1939
Cited in the 'Daily Telegraph' - 29th July 2006
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